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Lord Monson: My Lords, according to a senior Railtrack executive speaking on the radio shortly after the accident, the rails at the site of the Hatfield accident had been manufactured and laid as recently as 1995 and seemingly it is most unusual for rails to fail after no more than five years. Is it possible that defective quality steel was used in the manufacture of those rails? If so, is it likely that other rails from the same defective batch were used at numerous other points in the rail network?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, that is an important question on a highly technical matter which, as the noble Lord will anticipate, I am not in a position to answer in detail today. It certainly appears to have been a stretch of track where the rails were not as old as might traditionally have been expected. The industry should have a methodology in place which allows it to check which batches of rail came from which suppliers at what time and it should therefore be possible to trace that back.

The Earl of Liverpool: My Lords, the Minister has said more than once to the House that the incidence of broken rails is numbered in the hundreds. Is he aware that, in a BBC report last night, it appeared that for each of the last three years for which statistics are available, the actual number of broken tracks was 950, 930 and 900, which are alarmingly high figures? Given that that is cause for concern, can the Minister tell the House the number of incidents in each of the last recordable years?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, for perspective I should say that the number of broken

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rails in 1980 was 1,091; in 1986 we had 847; we then have a decline to 582 in 1990 and that climbs by 1995-96 to 755. In 1997-98 the number was 755; in 1998-99 it was 952; and in 1999-2000 it was 917.

Noble Lords will be aware from the low numbers of casualties on British Railways over the decades, which was mentioned earlier, that broken rails are usually dealt with without incident and some of the actual incidents may have occurred in freight yards. We have to be careful, therefore, that we are comparing like with like. Bearing in mind the large numbers, there is no doubt that there is serious cause for concern. It is a matter of working out not simply the numbers, but also the areas of most risk. That is what I hope the new regime will concentrate on and focus money into, putting an end to broken rails in such quantities.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on his responses and the Statement. It demonstrates this Government's commitment to the railways and to safety. As he said, no transport system is 100 per cent safe and many of us fear that another accident may happen caused by vandalism, which is a growing concern. I know that my noble friend has made a great effort to remedy that.

He also mentioned that each year 3,500 people are killed on the roads. Does he agree that most are killed not by their own actions but by other people? Does he believe that a similar campaign to that now commendably taking place on the railways--that is, investigating the causes and taking action--should be undertaken in respect of roads? I believe that PACTS has produced a report showing that 1,200 deaths, about one-third of the total, are due to excessive or inappropriate speeds. Would not reducing speed limits on the roads avoid a large number of deaths commensurate with improvements in rail safety which my noble friend has outlined today?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: Again for perspective, none of us would deny that 3,500 deaths a year is utterly unacceptable. It is one of the reasons why the Government are aiming at a 40 per cent reduction in the number of people killed and seriously injured travellers on the road over the next 10 years. That is an ambitious target but it is not unrealistic. A 40 per cent reduction has been achieved during the past 15 years in the United Kingdom.

We now have the safest roads in Europe, apart from Sweden, and the safest motorway network. It is worth keeping that success in mind while also acknowledging that 3,500 deaths are unacceptable.

Similarly, as regards the railways, we could be lulled into a false sense of security by examining the figures since the tragic accident in 1988 when 34 people died. Yet since the Clapham accident the number of fatalities in train accidents were six in 1989; none in 1990; two in 1991; two in 1992; none in 1993; three in 1994; one in 1995; and one in 1996. There were seven tragic deaths in Southall in 1997 but no fatalities in 1998. There were then the deaths at Paddington and now those at Hatfield.

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We have a record of which for some years we can be proud but which shows a potential for catastrophe. That means that through the 10-year plan we must continue to invest on a scale that the railways have not seen probably for more than 100 years.

Freedom of Information Bill

4.23 p.m.

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.--(Lord Falconer of Thoroton.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Baroness Gardner of Parkes) in the Chair.]

Clause 13 [Disclosure in public interest]:

[Amendments Nos. 97 to 100 not moved.]

On Question, Whether Clause 13 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I have already spoken to Clause 13, indicating that we are deleting and replacing it with a new Clause 2. Therefore, I oppose the Question that Clause 13 shall stand part of the Bill.

Clause 13 negatived.

Clause 14 [Fees for public interest disclosure]:

[Amendments Nos. 101 to 103 not moved.]

On Question, Whether Clause 14 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I have already spoken to Clause 14 and I oppose the Question that it shall stand part of the Bill.

Clause 14 negatived.

[Amendment No. 104 not moved.]

Clause 15 [Refusal of request]:

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 105:

    Page 8, line 39, leave out subsections (2) and (3) and insert--

("(2) Where--
(a) in relation to any request for information, a public authority is, as respects any information, relying on a claim--
(i) that the duty to confirm or deny is excluded only by a provision of Part II not specified in section (Effect of exemptions)(3), or
(ii) that the information is exempt information only by virtue of such a provision, and
(b) at the time when the notice under subsection (1) is given to the applicant, the public authority (or, in a case falling within section (Decisions relating to certain transferred public records)(3) or (4), the responsible authority) has not yet reached a decision as to the application of subsection (1)(b) or (2)(b) of section (Effect of exemptions),
the notice under subsection (1) must indicate that no decision as to the application of that provision has yet been reached.

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(3) A public authority which, in relation to any request for information, is to any extent relying on a claim that subsection (1)(b) or (2)(b) of section (Effect of exemptions) does not apply must, either in the notice under subsection (1) or in a separate notice given within such time as is reasonable in the circumstances, state the reasons for claiming--
(a) that, in all the circumstances of the case, the public interest in maintaining the exclusion of the duty to confirm or deny outweighs the public interest in disclosing whether the authority holds the information, or
(b) that, in all the circumstances of the case, the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 106:

    Page 9, line 17, leave out ("12") and insert ("12(1)").

The noble Lord said: The interest behind the amendment is to understand why Clause 15(5) should apply when the public authority is relying on a claim under Clause 12(2). I differentiate between claims which have been judged to be vexatious and those which are merely repeated. I am not sure why the relief which is granted to public authorities in Clause 15 should be extended to repetitive rather than just vexatious requests. I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: The Government believe that there must be a limit on the duty placed on a public authority to respond when applications are vexatious or the same application is made repeatedly and the authority has complied with it. It may well be that the purpose behind the amendment is to prevent public authorities simply refusing requests under Clause 12, giving notice of the reason to the applicant, and then simply ignoring all further identical or substantially similar requests.

It is worth pointing out to the Committee that there is an inbuilt safety mechanism within Clause 15 at subsection (6). If in all the circumstances it would be reasonable for the public authority to serve a further notice on the applicant stating what it is relying on in refusing the application, it must do so. The clause as set out in the Bill is the most practical and sensible approach and I remind the Committee that if an applicant considers that a public authority has acted unreasonably, either because the period specified in the reply is too long or because such a period has not been specified at all, or considers that the authority is otherwise acting unreasonably in not providing full reasons for not releasing the information sought, he or she can refer the case to the commissioner for an answer. We believe that that is sufficient safeguard in those circumstances.

I hope that that explanation of how we see this part of the legislation working will encourage the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

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