Railways and Transport Safety Bill

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Mr. Foster: I am sorry to be so pernickety, as I am aware that the total area covered by the UK side of the tunnel is relatively small. Nevertheless, the Minister just said that we will carve it out of the area of operation for the RAIB. I therefore ask him again how the Government intend to correct what is clearly an error in clause 13.

Mr. Jamieson: I referred to clause 13 and the role of the British Transport police. It might be more appropriate for us to discuss the issue later.

Mr. Foster: Perhaps I should help the Minister by pointing out that clause 13 specifically refers to the extent of coverage of this part of the Bill on the work of RAIB. The Minister told us categorically that the RAIB will not operate in the tunnel on the UK side. An exclusion must therefore be added to clause 13(1).

Mr. Jamieson: I apologise. I was looking at another amendment. This is not an error, typographical or otherwise. The regulations under clause 2 will deal with the issue that the hon. Gentleman raised.

Miss McIntosh: The Under-Secretary has confirmed why there is a need for a probing amendment. As the hon. Member for Bath said, a more specific exclusion should be added to clause 13. I do not disagree with what the Under-Secretary said, but I am concerned to hear that an important EU rail safety directorate is being considered that may amend a directive in which I would have been involved and in which I maintain a close interest, as you would expect, Mr. Hood, since you wear another hat as Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee. I am concerned that we are discussing a Bill that will be affected by a subsequent adoption of a European rail safety directive, and had I not tabled the new clause, we would not have heard about it. I hope that there will be opportunities to discuss the matter, perhaps in the European Scrutiny Committee. It has been proved adequately that clause 13 is defective, and we retain the right to return to the point later.

Mr. Foster: While the hon. Lady has been speaking, I have had an opportunity to examine clause 2, which is where the Minister said that the solution to the dilemma might lie. Knowing the Bill as well as she does, the hon. Lady will know that clause 2(2)(b) refers to the ability to

    ''make provision about circumstances in which an accident or incident is to be or not to be treated as being relevant to the operation of a railway for the purposes of this Part''.

The Minister will undoubtedly tell us that if the accident or incident happens in the Channel tunnel, that is part of the relevant set of circumstances. However, if that is the Government's argument, why do we bother with the other exemptions in clause 13? Does the hon. Lady agree that the Government have got it wrong and that the paragraph that I quoted is a fig leaf that the Minister is using to try to cover it up?

Miss McIntosh: I have been accused of speaking for the Government twice today, but it is not my position to do so. I recall that the Minister for Transport said in the context of clause 2 that the European rail safety

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directive is precisely the reason why nothing has been adopted. The Government did not know what definition the European Parliament, European Commission and Council of Ministers would choose. I am not a Eurosceptic; nothing could be further from the truth.

Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North): The hon. Lady made some slighting remarks about the French.

Miss McIntosh: Since the place of my birth and France are two of the closest allies, I can put the hon. Gentleman's mind at rest about that point.

I am making a serious point. We wanted to scrutinise the clauses in part 1 as comprehensively and successfully as possible, and it would be helpful to have had more discussion about the implications for clauses 2 and 13 of the European rail safety directive. There may be another opportunity at a later stage to return to the point, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 14


Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Miss McIntosh: We turn now to part 2 of the Bill, which appears a rather innocent beast—I would almost, but not quite, call it a cheeky little number. Clause 14 refers simply to the establishment of the office of rail regulation:

    ''There shall be a body corporate to be known as the Office of Rail Regulation . . . Schedule 1 (which makes provision about the Office) shall have effect.''

I refer the Committee to the words of the Secretary of State on Second Reading:

    ''Part 2 provides that the Office of the Rail Regulator should be restructured. The rail regulator is working well, but we want to take this opportunity to bring the railways into line with other regulated industries, replacing the individual regulator with a regulatory board, which is consistent with the recommendations of the Better Regulation Task Force.

    The Bill restructures the existing Office of the Rail Regulator, creates a statutory regulatory board in place of the regulator, building on the existing advisory board that he already has, and enables a wide range of experience and views to be brought to decision making. We will not make the change before mid–2004, which will enable the regulator to complete the useful work that he is doing in reviewing access charges.''—[Official Report, 28 January 2003; Vol. 398, c. 772–3.]

I record my enormous admiration for the rail regulator, who has been put through trying circumstances recently. I have a question for the Minister for Transport about the sequence in which the Government intend to implement the recommendations of the Better Regulation Task Force. Is the rail regulator being taken in sequence with the gas industry, the electricity industry and all the others, or is the rail regulator being taken out of turn, perhaps as a one-off? I ask that because it became a real issue to those of us who followed the scenario of Railtrack going into administration.

The former Secretary of State for Transport—the right hon. Member for Tyneside, North (Mr. Byers)—went on the record by giving evidence to the former

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Transport, Local Government and the Regions Committee. He said, under the heading ''Ev 104'':

    ''It is for Parliament to decide the role and the responsibility of a regulator . . . whatever structure we come up with after administration there will be a need for independent, economic regulation.''

The Opposition are concerned, because the present rail regulator, who I hope will be allowed to serve out his term if the changes are not introduced before 2004, is a gentleman of the utmost integrity, who has shown in the most testing circumstances that he is fully independent of the Government of the day. We are concerned that the independence of the economic regulator, and therefore the economic regulation, of the rail sector is being compromised by this sweeping change, which I think is not in kilter with what is happening in the other regulated industries, such as gas, in sectors that are equally subject to the recommendations of the Better Regulation Task Force. The rail regulator has been singled out.

Under Ev 88 on 7 November 2001, the regulator, Mr. Winsor, told the Select Committee:

    ''My independence can only be taken away by Parliament and Parliament has not done that.''

This is the first opportunity that the Government have had to weaken the independence of the rail regulator, although that independence has worked extremely well. For that reason, I believe that the Bill is regrettable.

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Clause 14, which sets out its provisions very simply, and the whole of part 2—we will come to schedule 1 in due course, under which functions are transferred—raises a number of questions to which we alluded earlier, and it would be appropriate to consider them now. What is the relationship between the new Office of Rail Regulation and other bodies? As the Committee will know, the Strategic Rail Authority, the rail regulator and the health and safety commissioner—the three pillars of railway regulation in Great Britain—are expected to work together to ensure that the railways are run safely and in the public interest, for effective and accountable regulation. The relative jurisdiction of the regulator and the Strategic Rail Authority, and the possibility of overlap, have also been issues.

Mr. Hopkins: I am listening with interest. The hon. Lady suggests that regulators in the railway sector are becoming less significant. Regulators are established in naturally monopolistic industries, which were formerly publicly owned, in order to replace accountability to Parliament and the Government. Therefore, as the railway industry comes back towards Government and public ownership—I welcome that—is not it likely that the need for that kind of regulation will diminish?

Miss McIntosh: I will not rise to that challenge and say whether I think that there should be a return to a total monopoly of the railways, whereby just one provider supplies train services. Nor shall I say whether I would rather have a separate rail network that looks after the track. Even under the revised

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structure that the Government propose, the Office of Rail Regulation, albeit supported by a board, will remain as, if not more, important as it is now, given how powerful the Strategic Rail Authority has become. The SRA said in December that its targets would be met, then reversed the announcement in January. However, I do not want to stray too far from my point.

The relative jurisdiction of the regulator and the Strategic Rail Authority and the possibility of overlap have been issues since the mid–1990s, when the structure was first set up under the Railways Act 1993. When the Government came to power, they passed the Transport Act 2000, which made an effort to rationalise the two roles. However, the Government were still not happy, and felt that the situation was inconclusive.

When Railtrack was put into administration, the then Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Tyneside, North, announced that he planned to legislate when parliamentary time allowed—it seems that this is the first available occasion—to rationalise the regulatory structure to provide a stronger strategic direction. He also wanted to reduce the burdens of day-to-day interference in the industry, and the self-defeating system of penalties and compensation. We were told that that would deliver clearer accountability and end perverse incentives.

The proposals for reform in clause 14 and part 2 were put out to consultation in October 2002, but in a limited form. Only one change was proposed, and that was to establish a statutory regulatory board that would have all the powers currently exercised by the rail regulator. Part 2 and schedule 1 provide for that regulatory board. A further question is raised about the jurisdiction of the Bill. This part of the Bill applies to England and Wales and to Scotland but is not intended to extend to Northern Ireland. It would be helpful to know why that is so.

The full extent of the amendments that the Government propose is not immediately clear from the very limited drafting. The rail regulator helped the Transport and Regional Affairs Committee, and I think that he can help us to understand the fundamental relationships in the railway industry. The report states—

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