House of Commons portcullis
House of Commons
Session 2005 - 06
Publications on the internet
Standing Committee Debates

Railways and other Guided Transport Systems (Safety) Regulations 2006

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Janet Anderson
Bellingham, Mr. Henry (North-West Norfolk) (Con)
Burrowes, Mr. David (Enfield, Southgate) (Con)
Carmichael, Mr. Alistair (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)
Carswell, Mr. Douglas (Harwich) (Con)
Challen, Colin (Morley and Rothwell) (Lab)
Clarke, Mr. Tom (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab)
Donohoe, Mr. Brian H. (Central Ayrshire) (Lab)
Hamilton, Mr. Fabian (Leeds, North-East) (Lab)
MacShane, Mr. Denis (Rotherham) (Lab)
Naysmith, Dr. Doug (Bristol, North-West) (Lab/Co-op)
Rowen, Paul (Rochdale) (LD)
Roy, Mr. Frank (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)
Scott, Mr. Lee (Ilford, North) (Con)
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham, South) (Lab)
Slaughter, Mr. Andrew (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush) (Lab)
Twigg, Derek (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport)
John Benger, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Third Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

Tuesday 20 June 2006

[Janet Anderson in the Chair]

Railways and other Guided Transport Systems (Safety) Regulations 2006

10.30 am
Paul Rowen (Rochdale) (LD): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the Railways and other Guided Transport Systems (Safety) Regulations 2006 (S.I. 2006, No. 599).
I want to make it clear that my party supports the bulk of what is proposed. We applaud the improvements in the safety record of the railways industry during the past few years. Since the Hatton disaster, we have seen an impressive improvement. However, like my noble Friend the Earl of Mar and Kellie in the other place, I want to put four concerns to the Minister, which we believe are important, given the Government’s blanket implementation of the European rail safety directive.
First, the directive specifically excludes trams and light railways, yet the regulations include them. Why is that? As with the other examples that I shall put before the Committee, we are concerned that imposing such conditions on light railway systems would not have great benefits. In particular, rather than using the railway inspectorate, which has a long and proud tradition in advising railway operators, tram operators will have to find their own adviser, who will have to seek insurance. We believe that that will add unnecessary costs to the running of the light railways.
Secondly, private and heritage railways are unnecessarily included. I am sure that the Committee is aware that such railways operate under quite different conditions from the mainline railways. They are restricted to speeds below 25 mph. In the main, they are tourist railways. Indeed, last year our 105 heritage railways had 5.2 million passengers and more than 7 million visitors. They are run by volunteers, and they are powerful tourist attractions. The railway that runs through Heywood in my constituency is a prime example. It is a long-forgotten part of the network that has been restored, and like the one in your constituency, Mrs. Anderson, it is well used and very popular. Imposing the directive on such railways will put them at a disadvantage and threaten their financial viability.
My third concern is about community railways. The Minister has spoken on previous occasions about the importance of community railways, which maintain the network in areas where it is not feasible for it to be part of the mainline network. Again, it is possible that community railways will be subject to the full force of the regulations.
Finally, I wish to speak about interoperability. I have no doubt that it is a sensible provision for the Channel tunnel and the line to Brussels, but I do not see the benefit of extending that provision beyond the railways that cross the continent. Our railway has a different gauge and height from those on the continent. I see no need for interoperability.
I understand from the debate in the other place that the Department has agreed to a derogation until 2010. I welcome the opportunity for further discussion, but I would appreciate it if the Minister would say that he was prepared to go beyond that if those discussions show that introducing the regulations across the board will impose unnecessary cost burdens on the railways.
The Liberal Democrat party is a great believer in Europe, although we are often accused of being Europhobic, but it seems to us that the blanket adoption of European directives without taking account of their effect is plain ridiculous.
Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): Quite right.
Paul Rowen: I do not wish to pander to the Eurosceptics on my right, but a little common sense is needed. On the whole, the directive is advantageous to the rail network, but it is not advantageous to trams and light railways, nor to community and heritage railways. It would put them at a huge disadvantage.
10.36 pm
Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con): It is a pleasure to speak. I shall not detain the Committee for too long. The hon. Member for Rochdale (Paul Rowen) has raised a number of issues. Indeed, Mrs. Anderson, you raised one yourself when you formally proposed the question that the Committee has considered the regulations. Of course, we are not here to consider them, because much of what we want to speak about has already been implemented. That makes rather a nonsense of the parliamentary scrutiny process, particularly with regard to heritage and community railways.
I too applaud the safety record of the railways; would that the roads were the same. It is intriguing that the Road Safety Bill [Lords] has yet to be scrutinised by the House, but I am sure that it will come before the end of the Session.
The hon. Gentleman said a moment ago that he was a Europhobic—did he mean that he is a Europhile?—but I am a little more Eurosceptic and Eurorealistic than he is. Today, we are extending the principle of creeping Europeanisation, on which subject we have some questions for the Minister.
The explanatory notes say that there is a common approach to breaking down technical barriers and establishing international transport operations. The hon. Gentleman spoke about the European directive. Perhaps the Minister can tell us at what pace everybody else in Europe is implementing it, and what it will cost Network Rail and the industry as a whole to implement it.
The directive imposes an obligation on member states to create a railway accident investigation body. Her Majesty’s railway inspectorate has been in existence for many years, and responsibilities for passenger safety have been taken on by the Office of Rail Regulation from the Health and Safety Executive. We also have the British Transport police, which has just been commended and endorsed by a Select Committee. The Minister might like to explain why we need another body. It is another example of creeping Europeanisation.
Creeping Europeanisation brings with it creeping gold-plating. The hon. Gentleman alluded to that. What will be the relative difference in cost of implementing the directive in the UK and in other member states? A huge number of issues have been raised by the industry about gold-plating. For instance, why do we need separate requirements for safety-critical workers, which is apparently included in the regulations?
The regulations implement the European rail safety directive. They will ensure that the ORR can take on HSE functions, and they give the HMRI inspection and approval role to “competent” persons. Herein lies an issue that we have already touched upon—the impact of the regulations on the heritage and community railways sector. In that sector, the decision as to whether altered works or vehicles require approval by a competent person rests with the railway operator, and if it is wrong it may result in a prohibition order. In the small heritage sector, very few people are both competent and independent. The explanatory notes explicitly accept that. I am keen to hear exactly what guidance the Minister will give, as the explanatory notes accept that only the large heritage operators may be able to find one person who is both. However, if the smaller groups bind together, the Department is not necessarily prepared to accept that they will be independent.
It is also clear that if the competent person is involved at any stage, particularly during the design stage, he will lose his independence. Payments will be required, and once payment is involved, there will be a further loss of independence. An inevitable problem will be that people are likely to be overzealous, specifying requirements that will impose unnecessary costs. The competent person and the heritage railway operator will require indemnity cover. Both premiums are likely to fall on the railway operator—another huge cost element.
It seems to me that not exempting the heritage railway or the light rail sectors from the regulations—the Government could have done so—will result in increasing costs and administrative burdens. That could have a significant effect on the tourism and the leisure industries. How does the Minister intend to mitigate that? What will the Government do about the training and accreditation of replacement competent persons, and how will that be paid for—especially given that some people will be standing in the background?
Finally, the Minister may wish to comment on the fact that the explanatory notes state rather blandly that the benefits of consolidation of the national safety requirements with the European rail safety directive outweigh the alternatives. That is extraordinarily and wonderfully bland. I wonder whether the Minister might care to give us five reasons why that might be so. If he cannot—he may not be able to do so today, because it will require some thinking—he might prefer to write to the Committee.
10.42 am
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Derek Twigg): It is a pleasure, Mrs. Anderson, to serve under your chairmanship. I welcome the comments of the hon. Members for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) and for Rochdale, and their broad support for the regulations and their recognition of the improved safety record of our railways.
I shall say what the regulations are intended to do. You will not be surprised, Mrs. Anderson, that I have anticipated some of the Committee’s questions in my speech, but I shall deal with the other issues raised this morning in my response. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to discuss the matter.
The primary purpose of the regulations is to transpose into British legislation the bulk of the European rail safety directive. The regulations also implement some recommendations that arise from Lord Cullen's public inquiry into railway safety following the Ladbroke Grove rail crash, and they streamline existing regulations. The creation of the Rail Accident Investigation Branch was also a requirement of the directive, but that was created and given statutory powers under other legislation.
For the record, I would like to explain what the regulations seek to achieve and how they have been received by the rail industry—a point raised by both hon. Members. The European rail safety directive introduces a common Europe-wide approach to rail safety, with the aim of maintaining existing safety standards, and improving them where “reasonably practicable”.
In practical terms, for Great Britain, that means moving from the existing system of a detailed assessment of railway safety cases to a new safety management system, which should ensure the safe management of railway operations across all member states. The new system should be more focused, better targeted and less bureaucratic, and it should be quicker for railway industry companies to obtain the necessary certification or authorisation. It will enable Her Majesty's railway inspectorate to concentrate on ensuring that operators properly control risks through their safety management system, and it will help to reduce the administrative burden on operators.
The existing safety case system applies to the majority of the railway industry, as will the new safety certification and authorisation process. The option in the directive to exclude metros, trams and light rail systems has been taken into account and the regulatory requirements for those sectors are proportionate to the risks that they create. The regulations also seek to ensure that those who manage, supervise or control the performance of safety critical workers have arrangements in place to ensure that such workers are competent.
The regulations apply to the London underground, light rail systems and heritage railways—I shall say more about those later—as well as to Network Rail and the passenger and freight train operating companies. The regulations apply in Great Britain but separate legislation applies to Northern Ireland.
The draft regulations were developed by the Health and Safety Executive, and reflect the Health and Safety Commission's policy that railway operators take responsibility for managing the risks that they create. They were subject to extensive consultation with the industry. Wide-ranging meetings were held with the industry as the proposals were being developed.
A detailed consultation document with draft regulations was published on 6 September 2004, inviting responses by 27 November. That was followed by further meetings and discussions to consider, debate and respond to the points that resulted from the formal consultation. The draft regulations continued to be amended until they were formally proposed by the Health and Safety Commission to the Secretary of State.
In October 2005, further consultation was carried out on the safety verification aspects of the draft regulations. That was in response to associated regulations to implement European directives on rail interoperability, which needed to interface with the regulations before the Committee. Given our intention to apply interoperability in a more limited way than previously, safety verification was extended to cover the whole railway network except where interoperability applied. That answers the point raised by the hon. Member for Rochdale.
Inevitably, regulations as complex as these gave rise to some specific, detailed concerns. However, in the main, the regulations have been accepted by the mainline railway operators and London Underground Ltd, as taking a pragmatic approach.
The transition to the new system will not be straightforward—systems will have to be changed—but it should result in a less bureaucratic system, with no reduction in railway safety. The rail industry will need to carry out additional initial work to comply with the regulations, but the systems that they create will be simpler and less bureaucratic than the previous regimes.
The process for making future changes to safety management systems is considerably less onerous than that required by the current safety case requirements. Small operators, particularly in the heritage and light rail sectors, had and continue to have concerns, as the hon. Gentlemen made clear, over whether they will be able to get adequate, affordable insurance if they are forced to seek third party verification of new works rather than direct approval from HMRI.
For those railway networks that are functionally separate from the mainline railway, the application of the regulations will depend on the nature of the operation. However, they have been excluded from the requirements of the railway safety directive.
The regulations came into force on 10 April. They represent a proportionate response to the regulation of rail safety, and I hope that hon. Members will feel able to give them their support.
The hon. Member for Wimbledon mentioned gold-plating. I covered some of that in my speech, but the main concerns relate to the safety-critical work. Most of the consultation responses wanted to deal with fatigue—an important subject. The public expectation is that the railway manages safety, and the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 requires equally effective measures to be implemented if safety measures are revoked. It is important that we should consider such consultation responses.
I turn to interoperability. It is not only about lines, it also covers rolling stock. The aim is to harmonise and simplify the rules. That could help our railway operators by providing cheaper approval costs when purchasing rolling stock.
I met the heritage and light rail sectors, and they said that they were content with my decision to extend full implementation to 2010. However, the ORR will need to come back following discussion with those sectors if agreement cannot be reached. We will then need to decide what can be done, but I am well aware of the concerns expressed today and by the two sectors.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Committee has considered the Railways and other Guided Transport Systems (Safety) Regulations 2006 (S.I. 2006, No. 599).
Committee rose at ten minutes to Eleven o'clock.

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2006
Prepared 23 June 2006