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Standing Committee Debates
Railways and Transport Safety Bill

Railways and Transport Safety Bill

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Standing Committee D

Thursday 6 February 2003

(Afternoon)

[Mr. Jimmy Hood in the Chair]

Railways and Transport Safety Bill

New Clause 5

Eurotunnel

    '(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.

Motion made [this day]: That the clause be read a Second time.

2.30 pm

The Chairman: Due to the progress made by the Committee, I have issued a revised Chairman's selection list, which clarifies the selection of amendments up to schedule 5. I understand that some members of the Committee were feeling claustrophobic earlier. I can confirm that next week our sittings will be in Room 11.

Mr. Don Foster (Bath): It may be for the convenience of the Committee if I begin again. I was intervening on the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh), who had suggested that the new clause would apply to the various operators of the channel tunnel—Eurostar, Le Shuttle and so forth. Is that what she meant, or does it apply only to activities within the tunnel? Secondly, what would be the implication of the treaty of Canterbury for the second part of the new clause?

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): I hope that that will be made clear by my speaking to the new clause and the Under-Secretary's response to it. The questions put by the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) are a helpful contribution.

In moving the new clause, I should admit to an error in respect of

    ''Part 1 shall not apply to Eurotunnel''.

Of course, I meant the channel tunnel. I refer again to the wide-ranging consultations on the proposals. Members of the Committee may recall that a fire broke out in the channel tunnel in November 1996. The regulator, the Channel Tunnel Safety Authority, carried out the inquiry, and it remains the authority for tunnel accidents or incidents. The new clause attempts to fill a gap in the Bill, which refers neither to the inclusion nor exclusion of the channel tunnel.

It is generally felt that any new investigating body should be equipped with suitably qualified professionals, with appropriate experience to deal with the tunnel. Will the Under-Secretary confirm that the rail accident investigation branch might be involved in the investigation of future accidents in the channel tunnel and that the people conducting the investigation would have the requisite experience?

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I anticipate him saying that the RAIB will not have jurisdiction to investigate channel tunnel accidents, simply because no branch in this country could be permitted to carry out investigation of the French half of the system, or have the right to require French nationals to give evidence. The relevant part of the Bill covers properties of the United Kingdom, but could not possibly stretch to properties of another independent sovereign territory.

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge): With her extensive knowledge of matters European, does my hon. Friend know whether a body equivalent to the RAIB exists on the other side of the channel?

Miss McIntosh: My extensive knowledge is not so extensive after all. Perhaps someone here today could put us out of our misery. My hon. Friend has touched on the question. Surely it must be right that the rail accident investigation branch will not be given a duty or a right to investigate tunnel accidents. The right approach in any conceivable circumstance would be to give the task of channel tunnel investigation to a suitable bi-national tunnel accident investigation body. I would be mildly surprised if such a body did not already exist. I believe that that responsibility is already given to the Channel Tunnel Safety Authority under article 2(1)(c) of the treaty of Canterbury. In those circumstances, we question the need for the rail accident investigation branch to have any direct responsibility for investigating tunnel incidents, although there may be a case for co-opting RAIB experts to assist with an investigation. This part of the Bill would allow for that, as would article 2(6) of the treaty.

This is a probing new clause. Will the Minister confirm that the RAIB will not amend the treaty of Canterbury, that this part of the Bill will not give powers to any RAIB inspector or investigator to investigate such incidents, and that any such investigation will be given to a bi-national body? I am sure that we would not wish to have French inspectors crawling over our side of the channel tunnel other than under arrangements already agreed—having been born a Scot, I am obviously more tolerant. This is a possible omission in the Bill and clarification would be helpful.

Mr. Foster: The hon. Lady has done the Committee a great service by moving this new clause, notwithstanding the typographical errors it contains. I have some concern with proposed subsection (2).

Miss McIntosh: In the spirit of generosity that has reigned supreme in the first week of the Committee, I point out that the hon. Gentleman's party has admitted to typographical errors, as have the Government. I did not wish to be left out.

Mr. Foster: The hon. Lady is right: there has been a great deal of good humour in the Committee and a willingness to admit to errors where they have occurred. It is apposite that that the score is 1-1-1 so far. Subsection (2) of the proposed new clause refers to the establishment of a new international body. As the hon. Lady said, there is already a body, the Channel Tunnel Safety Authority, which was established under the treaty of Canterbury, which was signed on

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12 February 1986. It is our view that the most appropriate way forward would be to allow that body to continue to take responsibility for the investigation of accidents or incidents that occur within the confines of the channel tunnel. That will mean, perhaps to the hon. Lady's chagrin, that French investigators will be crawling over parts of the tunnel within the United Kingdom.

I believe that the arrangement has worked well, as has been demonstrated clearly by the investigation into the fire to which the hon. Lady referred. I hope that the Minister will make it clear that it is the Government's intention for those arrangements to continue. Will the Under-Secretary of State give us an absolute assurance that the continuation of the existing Channel Tunnel Safety Authority would not prevent one or more RAIB investigators from taking part in an investigation? Secondly, will he give an assurance that current arrangements for the reporting of investigations into the channel tunnel will continue and that we can expect copies of reports to be sent to the RAIB, so that it can learn any relevant lessons?

As members of the Committee will be aware, the channel tunnel police, who are part of Kent constabulary, are also quite properly involved in investigations. It may be more appropriate to debate that when we reach the provisions on a new structure for the British Transport police, but can the Minister give us some advance notice of the changes he envisages for the channel tunnel police?

Broadly speaking, we cannot support the new clause as it stands. The hon. Member for Vale of York said that it was a probing measure. However, I want it placed firmly on the record that we believe that the arrangements for investigating incidents and accidents within the channel tunnel should remain as now.

Mr. Hood, I asked your co-Chairman on a point of order what would happen if the new clause were successful. Clause 13 states:

    ''This Part extends to the whole of the United Kingdom'',

albeit with a couple of specified exceptions. If investigations into accidents in the channel tunnel continue to be carried out by the Channel Tunnel Safety Authority, a part of the United Kingdom is being excluded. We were told that the problem would be sorted out on Report. If the new clause is unsuccessful and the Under-Secretary assures us that the current arrangements will continue, would not an additional amendment be required to deal with a further exception in clause 13? The Under-Secretary might like to respond to that, too.

The Chairman: I assume that the Under-Secretary will have checked the matter since it was first mentioned in Committee. If so, I invite him to clarify the position. If he has not checked it, I invite him to do so and report back later.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson): Thank you, Mr. Hood.

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This has been one of those interesting occasions when an Opposition Member moves a new clause, speaks in favour of it and then against it. The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) told the hon. Member for Vale of York that the measure was deficient in any case. You were not present this morning, Mr. Hood, so I thought that I would enlighten you. The hon. Lady virtually made my speech for me, which was kind of her. Yesterday, we had the hon. Member for Bath doing his ''Just a Minute'' bit, and today we have had ''Whose Line Is It Anyway?'' from the hon. Lady.

This morning, the hon. Lady talked us through the merits of the channel tunnel, not to mention her various interests in that and other matters. I find it extraordinary that her new clause would establish yet another body. An international body—the Intergovernmental Commission—already exists, following the treaty of Canterbury of 1986. It was established on behalf of the Governments of France and Britain to oversee all matters relating to the operation of the channel tunnel. The Channel Tunnel Safety Authority, which was established by the same treaty, advises and assists the Intergovernmental Commission on all matters relating to the safety of the tunnel. Its functions include investigating incidents that affect safety in the tunnel, which by its very nature may often require specialist expertise.

The treaty empowers both bodies to invoke the assistance of any body or expert of their choice for the purpose of carrying out their functions. Under the provisions, the rail accident investigation branch could offer assistance to the Channel Tunnel Safety Authority, the Intergovernmental Commission or the French Government. We do not intend the rail accident investigation branch to have a duty or discretion to investigate in the tunnel, as regulations made under clause 2 would make clear. It could, however, undertake an investigation for any of those authorities if they requested it.

2.45 pm

The new clause would preclude the intergovernmental commission or the CTSA from seeking any assistance from the RAIB—a body of people that may be extremely well equipped to give such extra assistance.

The hon. Member for Bath asked whether the RAIB would be precluded from help. From what I just said, the answer is obviously no. He asked about the current arrangements for reporting accidents and asked whether copies would be available to the RAIB. Yes, they will. He also asked about any changes in relationships in the policing of the channel tunnel. There will be no changes in the relationships, which will be governed by the existing non-statutory protocols. The UK half of the tunnel is still, of course, in the UK. The CTSA will investigate in the tunnel. The RAIB regulations will carve out the tunnel so that there is no role for the RAIB in the tunnel unless it is invited to have one.

The hon. Member for Vale of York asked about the French side of the tunnel. The European Commission

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railway safety directive will require the French Government to set up a body similar to the RAIB.

 
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