Railways and Transport Safety Bill

[back to previous text]

Mr. Spellar: I think that I can assist my hon. Friend. Under clause 5, the chief inspector of rail accidents may arrange for the rail accident investigation branch to assist

    ''any person . . . with or without charge''.

That might appeal to the Scottish Executive. That help may be provided

    ''inside or outside the United Kingdom.''

That discretionary power would enable the investigation branch to provide assistance, should it be required, in the event of there being a tramway in Scotland.

Mr. Lazarowicz: I thank my right hon. Friend for that welcome assurance. In case it was thought that my raising the point was unnecessary, given that there are no tramways in Scotland, I should explain that there are plans to develop tramways there. Indeed, thanks to the generous support of the Scottish Executive, plans are well advanced for a tramway in Edinburgh, the first line of which will run substantially through my constituency.

Mr. Randall: I seek further clarification of what the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mr. Lazarowicz) has just spoken about. I accept what the Minister says. I simply wonder whether clause 13(2) takes precedence over what was said earlier, because it states:

    ''In the application of this Part in relation to Scotland any reference to a tramway shall be disregarded.''

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I wonder whether lawyers will have a lot of fun over that, or whether the Minister's assurance in Committee will be sufficient.

11.15 am

Mr. Spellar: We first had questions about the differences between trolley buses and trams. Both run for part of the distance on roads, although trolley buses run on wheels and with no track, whereas trams run on tracks, some of which are on roads. To answer the question asked by the hon. Member for Vale of York, trolley bus accidents would be investigated by the local police force, not the British Transport police.

The hon. Member for Uxbridge is right that clause 13(2) takes precedence on the question of jurisdiction. To answer the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith, clause 5 provides that the RAIB can assist if requested to do so by the body that has jurisdiction over the tramway system in Scotland. The question of which body has jurisdiction is clear from clause 13(2). As for the operational side, if there were a request from the body with jurisdiction—the relevant Scottish body—the RAIB could provide assistance and expertise, as it is given discretion to do under clause 5.

Miss McIntosh: I hate to speak in such bleak terms, but I shall put this as bluntly as I dare. The Government are in a mess over this provision. That emerged clearly on the Floor of the House in questions to the Secretary of State for Scotland. This touches on the pertinent point raised by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith. The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, who responded to my question on behalf of the Secretary of State, could not have put it more clearly. I do not have the Hansard in front of me, but if memory serves me correctly, she said that the issues in relation to what was devolved and what was reserved had not been resolved and were a matter of ongoing discussion.

We have waited a considerable time for the Bill to come before the House and the Committee. I think that it was promised at a very early stage of this Parliament and may even have been referred to—[Interruption.] There is no point in the two Ministers chuntering away with their hon. Friends. They are, rightly, deeply embarrassed. They have had plenty of time to avoid typographical errors such as we have seen.

Mr. Lazarowicz: Having raised the issue, may I tell the hon. Lady that I for one am entirely satisfied with the answer given by the Minister? Rather than pursuing points about which she perhaps has not read as much recently as she should have, she should pursue schedule 6 to the Scotland Act 1998, which explains the way in which any disputes can be resolved.

Miss McIntosh: I shall respond in kind by referring the hon. Gentleman to the Hansard of Tuesday 4 February. As I said, the Under-Secretary, responding to my question, stated that the matters had not been resolved at the highest level and were subject to ongoing consultation. It is highly regrettable and

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unacceptable that these provisions are before us when those matters could have been resolved before we reached this stage. The Bill will leave the House in a state of confusion.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 13 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

New Clause 5


    No. NC5, to move the following Clause:—

    '(1) Part 1 shall not apply to Eurotunnel. Any channel tunnel accident investigation should be undertaken by the body established under subsection 2 below.

    (2) An international body shall be established to investigate accidents in the channel tunnel'.—[Miss McIntosh.]

    Brought up, and read the First time.

Miss McIntosh: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

I hope that new clause 5 is fairly self-explanatory, since I established that Eurotunnel is not Crown property. With the help of the Clerks, I found the right place in the Bill for this new clause. The official Opposition were not privy to the full and comprehensive consultation undertaken over many months by the Government in preparation for the Bill. I remind the Committee that I am a shareholder of Eurotunnel, although happily my shares are not of significant pecuniary value.

In 1983-84, I worked in the humble capacity of adviser to the Conservatives in the European Parliament. I had meetings with a number of officials at No. 10 in the heyday when we were in power. The No. 10 policy unit was well known to me, as eventually was the then Secretary of State.

Mr. Spellar: Is this a declaration of interest or a confession?

Miss McIntosh: It is background information. I have long been a firm believer that there should be a fixed link. At the time, 20 years ago, we were all much younger than we are today—

Mr. Foster: Twenty years to be precise.

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Miss McIntosh: I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his mathematical prowess. I was a firm subscriber to the view that there should be a fixed link and in my view Eurotunnel was the best form for it to take. I put my money where my mouth was.

Mr. Randall: I am listening with great interest. At the risk of criticising my hon. Friend, I think I am correct in saying—this may help with her declaration of shares—that the tunnel under the channel is not called Eurotunnel; that is one of the companies involved. There is a slight fault in our new clause, which we should have corrected, but it is a probing measure. We want to know what the situation is. That mistake means that a very interesting debate is to come.

Miss McIntosh: I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend. That typographical error is clear, so we will be enable to pursue the matter. I would have preferred the new clause to read that part 1 should not apply to the channel tunnel. For the purposes of history, may I say that I was delighted when the channel tunnel scheme was chosen for the fixed link. Eurotunnel was the company to which we were invited to subscribe by the then Government. I felt that someone like me who was passionate about the fixed link not so much with France but with the rest of the European continent should make a modest investment.

That is not to detract from my enthusiasm for the North sea ferries out of ports such as Harwich—you will know, Mr. Hurst, that I represented Harwich for 10 years in the European Parliament. I would not wish to have a dialogue with you wearing your hat as the hon. Member for Braintree.

I apologise to the Committee for the error. Obviously, part 1 should not apply to the channel tunnel, or Eurotunnel or Eurostar.

Mr. Randall: Or the shuttle.

Miss McIntosh: Indeed.

Mr. Spellar: Let us have a disquisition on the hovercraft.

Miss McIntosh: We will come to the hovercraft in due course.

Mr. Foster: Lest there be confusion in the record—

It being twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

        Adjourned till this day at half-past Two o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:

Column Number: 107

Hurst, Mr. Alan (Chairman)
Bacon, Mr.
Brake, Tom
Cairns, David
Clapham, Mr.
Foster, Mr. Don
Gapes, Mike
Hopkins, Mr.
Jamieson, Mr.

Column Number: 108

Lazarowicz, Mr.
McIntosh, Miss
Mahmood, Mr.
Murrison, Dr.
Perham, Linda
Randall, Mr.
Ryan, Joan
Spellar, Mr.
Watts, Mr.

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