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In the light of what we have just heard, I think it worth pointing out that rail travel in the UK is still one of the safest forms of travel. However, Conservative Members have some sympathy with new clause 12. Its aims are laudable. I have reservations about the potentially heavy-handed nature of these provisions, but if it is a question of balancing improved safety scrutiny against the imposition of a heavy-handed framework, we would all say that safety must come first. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure the House that the new clause is not needed.
Mr. McNulty: As the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) said, new clause 12 seeks to impose on the Office of Rail Regulation a statutory duty to publish an annual safety report. The ORR would be required to include in the report information on passenger and non-passenger injuries and fatalities, and conclusions as to their causes; recommendations resulting from consideration of these incidents; and findings and recommendations arising from reviews of safety at level crossings. The statutory duty would also require that reviews of safety at level crossings be conducted annually.
I agree with the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight)the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy seemed to make the same pointthat accidents of one sort or another are always likely to occur on our rail system. Mercifully, grave incidents are few and far between, and rail remains overwhelmingly one of the safest forms of transport. We will all agree that when accidents do occur and difficulties arise, the actions of our emergency services and all subsequent inquiries and reports are expedited, in so far as they can be, in an extremely professional and committed fashion.
The right hon. Member for East Yorkshire has anticipated me, in that I shall ask the House to resist the new clause, which is not necessary, as I hope to show. The Health and Safety Executive is currently responsible for publishing an annual report on the safety record of the railwaysa function that is set out in the memorandum of understanding drawn up by the Secretary of State for Transport and the Health and Safety Commission. That MOU details the respective working arrangements and responsibilities in respect of railway safety, including the functions to be performed by the HSE. There is no statutory requirement in the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 for the HSE to publish an annual report on railway safety. Such reports give details of incidents involving passengers and non-passengers, as well as those involving level crossings, and they are publicly available, free of charge, on the HSE's website. The HSE considers safety recommendations separately, in the context of inquiries and investigations commissioned for specific incidents.
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In transferring safety functions from the HSE to the ORR, we will seek to ensure that all such functions continue to be carried out in the same manner. Although there was no statutory requirement on the HSE to publish a safety report, the ORR should do so and we anticipate that it will. Indeed, we expect a similar reporting function to be set out in an MOU, to be drawn up by the Secretary of State and the ORR. The drawing up of an MOU with the ORR will form part of the transition arrangements.
The Rail Safety and Standards Board is also required to publish an annual safety report. Furthermore, the rail accident investigation branch will have a duty to produce a report on all accidents and incidents that are the subject of an investigation. The intention is that the regulations providing for these duties will come into force later this year. We need to consider how best to fit these publications together, with a view to providing the public with information in the most effective way. Although I cannot say at this stage exactly how that will be done, I can assure the House that the information currently available to the public will continue to be available. In that context, I suggest that the new clause is unnecessary.
The present health and safety regime on the railways will continue following the transfer to ORR, as will the publication requirements placed on the RSSB. In addition, when the RAIB comes fully into existence, information about its activities will remain in the public domain. Therefore, the proposals in the new clause are already covered by the Bill, and I ask the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy to withdraw the new clause.
Mr. Llwyd: I thank the Minister of State for that detailed explanation. Although I continue to believe that these matters should be included in the Bill and that responsibility for safety should reside with the ORR, it is possible that this is a debate for another place.
Mr. Chope: Many disabled people still feel disenfranchised when they consider embarking on a rail journey, and the new clause would put that right. Rail journeys should be a pleasant experience for everyone, regardless of whether they are disabled, and I hope that the new clause will engender the Government's support.
Mr. McNulty: The hon. Gentleman has been very brief in his presentation of the new clause, but I am sure that the House shares his concerns about disabled passengers. I disagree, however, that the new clause goes further than existing provision. When one considers the lot of disabled passengers under the previous Conservative Government between 1979 and 1997, the new clause is, frankly, a joke. However, this is an important matter for discussion.
The new clause would require the Secretary of State to promulgate a code of practice for protecting disabled railway users in England and Wales. It would empower the Secretary of State to prepare and, from time to time, revise that code of practice. It would require him to publish it, and each revision of it. Finally, it would require him to consult the Department's disabled persons transport advisory committee before preparing or revising the code. It is designed to provide for a duty on the Secretary of State to maintain a code in England and Wales that corresponds to the power in clause 47 allowing Scottish Ministers to prepare a similar code. I strongly believe that the new clause is unnecessary, and suggest that it be withdrawn. If it is not withdrawn, I ask the House to resist it because a stronger provision is already included in the Bill.
The existing requirement on the SRA to maintain a code of practice is contained in section 71B of the Railways Act 1993. Paragraph 29 of schedule 1 to the Bill preserves that requirement, substituting the Secretary of State for the SRA. The Secretary of State's duty will extend to the whole of Great Britain, with the Scottish Executive's code applying only to services that they procure, including the ScotRail franchise. The schedule 1 provision is stronger than the terms of the new clause in that it additionally requires the Secretary of State to promote the adoption and implementation of the code, but the new clause would require him only to revise and publish the code from time to time. The requirements in the new clause would not achieve anything for disabled passengers. Schedule 1 also makes transitional provision to continue in force any existing SRA code and to enable the Secretary of State to draw on any consultation already undertaken by the SRA. That will provide continuity between the position as it stands under section 71B of the Railways Act 1993 and the position in the post-SRA period. That is important, but the new clause would mean the loss of that continuity.
Amendment No. 60 seeks to add an additional requirement on the Scottish Ministers as to which bodies they must consult before publishing a code of practice for disabled rail users in Scotland under clause 47. The clause currently requires consultation with the disabled persons transport advisory committee, which is the body that SRA must currently consult when preparing a code of practice under the Transport Act 2000, and the body that the Secretary of State will be required to consult when he acquires the SRA's duty. Therefore the third element of the new clause is
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redundant, because it provides for something that already happens and will continue to happen under the new system.
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