Railways and Transport Safety Bill

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Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk): To return to the hon. Gentleman's second point, can he explain why, if there are lower limits on the continent, there are none the less higher death rates?

Mr. Foster: I can tell the hon. Gentleman of a number of factors that contribute to that. In some cases, they have different speed limits. I hope that all Committee members—[Interruption.] The Minister says that that is not true. It certainly is. Only a few countries are introducing speed limits on their motorways, autobahns and so on. The second reason is road design, and the third is street lighting.

5 pm

There is a range of crucial issues, so the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Bacon) would be

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wrong to separate out this one. The problem is that road safety is complex. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree with the hon. Member for Vale of York and with me that the biggest shame is that the Bill contains no road safety measures. Will he, therefore, support our amendments, which are designed to create an opportunity to discuss road safety as a major part of the Bill?

Mr. Hopkins: The hon. Gentleman has made my point—road deaths are not due solely to alcohol. There are other factors. Nevertheless, does he not agree that there is a clear graph that suggests that if one reduces alcohol intake, one reduces road deaths?

Mr. Foster: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's support. He is right. All research evidence shows something that, sadly, the Minister of State seems not to accept. There are clear correlations between the amount of alcohol consumed and the likelihood of being involved in an accident that leads to serious injury or death. That graph continues below the 80 mg limit, demonstrating clearly, as all the research shows, that any level of alcohol can have a detrimental effect on ability. The Minister compounds his felony with nonsense about telling people that they are a complete menace if they have more than one pint. The research shows that one can, particularly in relation to driving cars—but it is true of other vehicles—be a complete menace when one has had only one pint. I hope that the Minister will look at that detailed research.

Mr. Spellar: May I ask the hon. Gentleman whether all his Liberal Democrat colleagues, who represent substantial rural areas and villages, do campaign on the issue in their areas?

Mr. Foster rose—

The Chairman: Order. We are not discussing road traffic safety. We are discussing ships and ports. I would ask the hon. Gentleman to speak to the amendment.

Mr. Foster: Perhaps the Minister will save up that question until, perhaps with even more passion than I had intended, I move the amendment in relation to the reduction of alcohol. I am slightly at a loss. I have great respect for the Minister's concern about transport issues and the seriousness with which he takes them. I compliment him for having introduced the Bill. This is the first time in a long time that I have heard him respond in such a way, and that is a great disappointment. In order to allow him time to reflect on his response, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 78 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 79

Penalty

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

Miss McIntosh: It would be helpful, for the purposes of clarification, if the Minister would say how the clause relates to the existing law and to similar offences that have been committed on the railways or

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on the roads or if it is purely consequential on the Marchioness disaster.

Mr. Spellar: I assure the hon. Lady that the penalties are the same as those applicable to offences by mariners under sections 58 and 117 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995.

Mr. Randall: Those found guilty of road traffic offences may be disqualified or have their licences endorsed. Is there provision for revoking or marking the certificate of a professional pilot if he commits such an offence?

Mr. Spellar: First, there would be disciplinary matters with their employer, and there could be questions about their professional status.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 79 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

[Mr. Khalid Mahmood in the Chair]

Clause 80

Specimens, &c. Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Miss McIntosh: I welcome Mr. Mahmood to the Chair.

Clause 80 replicates certain provisions of the Road Traffic Act 1988. It is curious, given the rather tetchy conclusion to the debate on the Liberal Democrats' amendments, that we are replicating matters that pertain to road traffic. I am sure that the Minister will share his reasons for that with us.

Clause 80 replicates certain provisions of the Road Traffic Act 1988 with the intention of using the same procedures to take specimens from mariners as from motorists. Clause 80 also applies certain provisions of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 to offences under clauses 75, 76 and 77 of the Bill by substituting navigation functions for references in the 1988 Act to driving a motor car. I am sure that the hon. Member for Bath, having been, if I may use the expression ''put down'' during the debate on amendment No. 9, now shares my bemusement that we are accepting lock, stock and barrel the provisions of the Road Traffic Act 1988. I am playing devil's advocate; I am not saying whether I agree with that or not. We wish to use the debate to elicit from the Government an explanation for their choice.

This is a good opportunity to discuss problems that have arisen when specimens have been taken on the railways. I find it curious that the Government have chosen to take specimens under the Road Traffic Act 1988 rather than under existing provisions relating to the railway sector, where there have been a number of difficulties in taking specimens. I think that the breathalyser was introduced in 1967.

Mr. Jamieson: It was.

Miss McIntosh: The Under-Secretary confirms the date. The breathalyser was introduced 45 years ago, and I would like to think that any teething difficulties have been ironed out. The Minister will probably

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argue that that is why this particular specimen has been used.

I urge the Under-Secretary to explain the extent to which medical fitness has a bearing on people's ability to give a specimen that can be tested. It is generally recognised under Project Sentinel that medical fitness is an important aspect of drug and alcohol testing. That is certainly the case for the railway industry; indeed, since 1 September 2002, it has been mandatory for people to provide documentary proof, presumably prior to being appointed, that they have undertaken a medical and pre-employment drugs screening before the commencement of training.

[Mr. Jimmy Hood in the Chair]

Are the Government considering random testing? Will random specimens be taken, or will it be part and parcel of an ongoing system of testing? Will the Minister say whether random testing will take place, or whether professional mariners will be given specific tests before recruitment? I would expect the Government to see merit in medical fitness on recruitment, and that subsequent random testing would have an important role.

As for clause 80, the specimen is going to be hugely important in determining whether or not a new offence has been committed. It is surely in the Government's interests to recognise the importance of testing and of the taking of specimens. It is no surprise to learn that people are debating which are the best methods of collecting and testing. I am sure that the Minister will let us know.

I am a doctor's daughter, so I shall not be in the least squeamish if the Minister wants to go into detail about the various tests and specimens that can be taken. Unfortunately, every time a doctor or nurse tries take blood from my veins, it is like taking blood from the proverbial stone—it is done only with great difficulty, and I end up rather bruised. That is my one and only sensitivity. I shall not dwell on it, however, because it makes me feel quite ill. Will the Under-Secretary say why the Government decided to use the Road Traffic Act 1988 as the basis for the provisions, instead of existing railway legislation? Railways are a main feature in the Bill, but road transport is excluded from its remit.

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Urine testing is the standard method in the railway industry and will apparently remain so for the foreseeable future. The Health and Safety Executive and Railtrack—and presumably Network Rail—uphold it as the favoured method, which forms my question about why road traffic provisions have been selected as the basis for the specimen-taking provisions.

Mr. Randall: I am listening with great interest to my hon. Friend, and she may be able to help me with my major question. I can imagine the situation in an accident such as the Marchioness disaster, when people were near the bank or shore. However, if something happened further out to sea, the use of road

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traffic provisions would seem to be incongruous. Does she not agree?

Miss McIntosh: I have a great deal of sympathy with my hon. Friend's point, but I remind him that we are talking about UK waters only and those in charge of inland waterway craft, such as the hon. Member for Luton, North, whose experiences as a youngster were obviously so enjoyable that they remain vividly with him today. However, it is curious. The number of accidents, fatalities and injuries is so much higher with road transport, which would appear to be one argument in favour of using road traffic specimen-taking measures, but we all agree that disasters such as the Marchioness are so spectacularly devastating because they are so rare. That is how I would answer my hon. Friend's remarks, but I hope that the Minister will respond too.

Last year on 1 July, members of the Association of Railway Industry Occupational Physicians heard Scientifics Ltd's toxicologist, Fiona Coope, deliver a balanced analysis of the technical merits of urine collection or testing compared with the newer method, which I am ready to accept, of using a mouth swab to collect fluid samples known as oral mucosal transudate from the inner side of both cheeks. I do not know whether it is the same as DNA testing, but it appears to be a more reliable form of specimen taking than that used for urine. I do not imagine that it is used in road traffic circumstances, so would it be appropriate to use such oral testing for mariners and seafarers rather than the specimen taking for road traffic users?

 
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