|Railways and Transport Safety Bill
Miss McIntosh: The Under-Secretary has been astute in identifying the type of road that could cause problems. The Government have delayed the de-trunking programme for one year because of the introduction of a new spending formula, and that is welcome, but my concern is that considering that the roads that he identified may be causing accidents or be a contributory factor in them, is this the right time to proceed with the de-trunking programme? Would it not be better for road safety to identify the contribution that those roads make before the programme passes on the responsibility?
Mr. Jamieson: The de-trunking programme will be done with close discussion and liaison with the Highways Agency. Several issues other than road safety are involved, including controlling traffic flow, which we feel that it is better for the local authority to handle. Most authorities agree with us and are happy to take the responsibility. Road safety is an important issue, but there are others, too.
The hon. Lady asked about paying for witness statements. It is a matter in which there is no difference between traffic and non-traffic liability. However, if she wants more detail—it is a little beyond the scope of the Committee, and I know that you do not want us to talk too much about letters, Mr. Hurst—I could add that to the list of queries to respond to later.
The hon. Lady also asked about STATS 19 and the quality of information. The form provides high-quality information, but one difficulty is that the form is not compiled in a consistent way throughout the country. As the hon. Member for Bath said, the way in which the information is fed in is also important. We are closely examining the form and the information technology that backs it up to try to get better consistency and quality of information and help the police officer at the side of the road save a considerable amount of time in gathering accurate information.
Column Number: 594
We are deeply sympathetic to the idea of reducing road casualties, and improving safety is at the core of our road policies. We have provided substantial amounts of money for local authorities to improve road safety in their own areas, and the Department is doing an enormous amount to reduce casualties on our roads. Notwithstanding that, I am not convinced that, worthy as they are, the proposals would provide a cost-effective route forward. We share the ambition to create safer roads, so it is with reluctance that I urge my hon. Friends to resist the new clause.
Mr. Foster: I thank the Under-Secretary for his lengthy and detailed response, in which he rightly touched on a wider range of issues than those directly related to the proposals. As I have said on many occasions, no one will doubt the commitment or desire of the present or previous Governments, of any political party, to improve safety on our roads. We may disagree from time to time as to the exact way forward on, for example, speed limits, the use of mobile phones in cars or what the drink-drive limits should be, but no one listening to the Under-Secretary would doubt his sincerity and commitment to take action.
The new clauses have been debated in an interesting manner. When we were debating the establishment of the rail accident investigation branch, we were conscious that we were mirroring work that had already taken place in marine and aviation services. At that time, the hon. Member for Vale of York was an enthusiastic supporter of the initiative, although perhaps not of all the details. The Under-Secretary was certainly a supporter because he was one of those who proposed the idea.
We are conscious, in relation to railways, that when accidents take place, a large number of organisations and individuals are inevitably involved: the police, the train-operating companies, Network Rail, the Health and Safety Executive and so on. They all have a part to play, but I particularly stress the role of the police. Hon. Members on both sides of the House thought it appropriate and sensible to establish, in addition, the rail accident investigation branch.
When the hon. Lady responded to the new clauses that referred to roads, she told us that everybody who was involved in roads was doing a fantastic job and that everything was wonderful, so there was no need to make any change. One could interpret that unkindly as being critical of those involved in accident investigation on the railways. She appears to have a high regard for the traffic police and their investigative work, and sees no need for the establishment of a road accident body of the type that I am proposing, yet in relation to the railways, she sees the need for such a body, which implies less confidence in the work of the British Transport police. I cannot believe that that is in the hon. Lady's mind, so perhaps we should put her opposition down to the fact that she was responding to a Liberal Democrat new clause.
The Under-Secretary and the hon. Lady have both drawn attention to the large number of investigations and people, alongside the police, that will be necessary
Column Number: 595given the large number of fatalities on our roads. Both of them are right that a large number of investigators would be required for the work, but that expenditure would be well worth it: benefits would accrue from their work. I should like to place on record my gratitude to all those people who currently conduct investigations, but, as the Under-Secretary said, there remains a need to improve the quality of the information that is used to underpin STATS 19. The only way that we will improve the quality of information is by having people with appropriate skills, experience, and expertise to conduct investigations. That was the reason why I thought it appropriate to table the new clauses. However, at present the new clauses do not have the support of many Committee members. In order that there may be an opportunity to debate the issues later—perhaps in a slightly different form—I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.
|©Parliamentary copyright 2003||Prepared 11 March 2003|