Railways and Transport Safety Bill

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The Chairman: Order. There is always a temptation to talk about what is not in a Bill, but I think that we should restrain ourselves to talking about what is in the Bill.

Miss McIntosh: I was just trying to elicit from the Minister whether he was told that the Bill had to be a particular size, and why certain categories were not included.

Mr. Spellar: Legislation could always be expanded infinitely; there will always be other measures that people will wish to add. That leads to prioritisation by Departments. I believe that the measures before us reflect those priorities. In addition, as I said, a number of measures are, helpfully, being taken forward in private Member's legislation.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 108, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 109 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 110

Short title

Miss McIntosh: I beg to move amendment No. 28, in

    clause 110, page 48, line 27, leave out 'and' and insert 'Road, Aviation and Maritime,'.

I did not realise when I drafted the amendment that the title is always considered last. Most people would, when writing a press release, for example, do the same.

It is highly regrettable that the Bill deals only with the rail, air and sea matters that we have considered. I refer to the words of my hon. Friend the Member for

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Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins), shadow Secretary of State for Transport, on Second Reading:

    ''our starting point should be the fact that a life is a life is a life. Saving a life on the roads or in the air is at least as valuable to society as saving one in any other context.''

He continued:

    ''One aspect that Conservative Members will want to explore in Committee and on Report is whether we should be thinking about moving towards a system whereby the Government seek to save life and to commit resources that are likely to save life on the same basis across all modes of transport without differentiating, as sometimes happens now, between expenditure that would save our lives on the railway as opposed to that which would save lives in other contexts.—[Official Report, 28 January 2003; Vol. 398, c. 778.]

It is deeply regrettable that, given the number of deaths and offences, road safety is not covered by the Bill. The figures speak for themselves and show that, each year, about 1,000 people are killed or seriously injured on icy or snow-covered roads. Snow and ice deterrent is essential to prevent the toll from rising and we want that covered by the Bill. We want the Committee's approval of the amendment. Hon. Members may not be aware that there is currently no legal responsibility for local authorities in England and Wales to take reasonable steps to clear ice and snow from roads, whereas, under Scottish law, it is abundantly clear that local authorities must take such action. Public and highways authorities need the protection that extending such provisions to England and Wales would bring.

10.30 am

When preparing for the debate, I sought from the Library the most recent drink-driving figures to show why the Bill should cover road safety and why the lack of that is a serious omission. The figures—adjusted for under-reporting—show the number of fatal accidents involving illegal alcohol levels and consequent casualties between 1979 and 2001. There has been a steep decline since 1979 from 1,380 fatalities, but accidents still account for 420 fatalities each year. The number of serious injuries was 1,820. The number of slight injuries was 9,780, leading to a total of more than 12,000. The figures, based on the details held by coroners and procurators fiscal, show that the percentage of all riders and drivers who are killed and who are over the limit—

The Chairman: Order. The hon. Lady will need to convince me that her argument relates directly to the amendment.

Miss McIntosh: I am justifying our wish to amend the title of the Bill. Our proposal covers other provisions that we wish to insert into it. The Bill's present title relates specifically to proposals that we have discussed at some length in Committee, such as setting up a rail accident branch and the creation of new aviation and maritime offences. I was presenting arguments to persuade the Minister that, were we to amend the title, it would create the legal basis to enable us to consider other new clauses.

Mr. Foster: Perhaps the hon. Lady, like me, is optimistic that new clauses relating to the establishment of a road accident investigation branch

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will be successful. Therefore, it is appropriate at this stage to change the name of the Bill to encompass what we know will happen later.

Miss McIntosh: I am only partly with the hon. Gentleman. We would stop short of creating a separate body with a whole new bureaucracy. I referred earlier to STATS 19, the road accident survey, which is the least bureaucratic method and very effective. Forms are filled in by the police at the scene of a road traffic accident. The police send the completed forms to the Transport Research Laboratory where the information is collated and conclusions are drawn that are then shared with the Government. It is less clear whether the conclusions are shared with all hon. Members. I wished to explain why it is necessary to consider road safety and the tightening-up of road safety provisions. We will return to the matter when we consider the new clauses.

The Minister said only this morning that the Government do not envisage that there will be a great deal of testing of aviation pilots, and I am sure that he would say the same of sea pilots of commercial vessels or recreational craft. I do not expect that massive numbers would be involved. There has been only one notable but devastating disaster to date in this respect—that of the Marchioness. However, the evidence speaks for itself: the scale of the casualties was enormous.

I believe that the hon. Member for Bath supports me—he is also curious why the Minister did not see fit to extend the provisions of the Bill to cover road safety and tighten up provisions for road safety offences. I part company with the hon. Gentleman, however, because we do not see the value of creating a separate bureaucracy. We all agree with Lord Cullen's recommendations about why we need a rail accident investigation branch. There are compelling reasons for including road safety in the Bill to give a legal basis to the new clauses that we wish to discuss.

We have talked about omissions from the Greater London Authority Act 1999. It may not seem quite as obvious to an hon. Member who represents a Plymouth constituency as it is to me that there should be a legal responsibility to clear the roads of ice and snow. However, we all saw the devastation that was caused recently and the acceptance by the Highways Authority—

Mr. Jamieson: What does that have to do with the Bill?

Miss McIntosh: We wish roads to be included in the provisions of this Bill. We were told that the Bill had to be a particular size, so will the Minister say that there was no room and that the Government will return to the issue at a later, albeit not-too-distant date?

Mr. Foster: I am sure that the Committee will be delighted to know that it is my birthday on 31 March.

Mr. Hopkins: Is it the bus pass?

Mr. Foster: I should be protected from such scandalous assertions, Mr. Hurst.

Importantly, 31 March will also be the third anniversary of the Government's road safety strategy

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announcement. Although I join others in congratulating the present and previous Governments on several measures that they have taken on road safety, which have led to a continuing reduction in the number deaths and serious injuries on our roads, it is clear to me, and I suspect to everyone in Committee, that more needs to be done. Many people expected, during the three years since the launch of the Government's strategy, to see road safety legislation introduced. The Bill provides the opportunity for that to be done; if it does not happen, I hope that we will hear from the Minister, perhaps in response to subsequent amendments, further details of the Government's thinking on future activities to improve the situation on our roads.

This country deserves some congratulation for having the best overall road safety figures in Europe, although there are worrying aspects, particularly in respect of young people. I am prepared to pay tribute where it is due, but more action is needed.

We need remember only two statistics when we talk about why it is important to draw attention to the need for additional road safety measures: since the Government came to power, approximately 151 people have died on our railways; in the same period, 17,000 have died on our roads. The difference between those figures is enormous. We have spent a great deal of time debating measures to improve safety on our railways—rightly so—but given that huge discrepancy, it strikes me that the hon. Member for Vale of York is absolutely right, as was the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale on Second Reading, to raise road safety. The Liberal Democrats therefore join them in saying that we need an opportunity to discuss that subject.

Mr. Jamieson: Until your timely intervention, Mr. Hurst, there was a danger that the debate would begin to cover matters that appear in later parts of the Bill. The reason why railways are referred to in the Bill's title is because the Bill includes rail measures that do not affect safety. For example, clause 14 establishes the Office of Rail Regulation. I am sure that the hon. Member for Vale of York accepts that to agree to her amendment to change the title, bearing in mind that the Bill includes no provisions for roads, would not be proper. She must accept that even if we were to accept some later amendments, the term ''transport safety'' adequately covers roads, maritime and aviation.

 
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