Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Viscount Astor moved Amendment No. 12:

The noble Viscount said: The amendment follows an exchange in Committee in another place, when one of my honourable friends moved a similar amendment and the Minister there replied that it,

    "would apply to land that was within 500 yd of railway property. We are talking about going across land, which may be necessary to move heavy lifting equipment and so on to get access to the railway. Her amendment would preclude that. This is not about the invasion of houses, but the crossing of property, which may include houses".—[Official Report, Commons Standing Committee D, 4/2/03; col. 57.]

That seemed to imply that in order to move the so-called heavy lifting equipment, one would have to go through a house as opposed to round it, which seems a wide power.

We are all concerned with safety and with all those involved getting access to any site as fast as they can. Obviously, that is crucial. However, it seems worth asking the Government about subsection 1(b), which reads,

    "enter land (which may include a dwelling-house)".

We ought to have some assurance that the power will not be ill-used and should be narrowly focused. I am not sure of the specific legal meaning of dwelling house, but I imagine that it is a house in which someone lives.

Will the Minister explain a little more as to why the provision is in the Bill? Of course we understand that someone might have to go through someone's house to get to a particular embankment or part of a railway system, but we were somewhat concerned at the idea that, in the words of the Minister in another place, it may be necessary to move heavy lifting equipment. That was his response to the amendment, so I would be interested in the answer of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. I beg to move.

Lord Dixon-Smith: I want to support the amendment. Particularly in countryside areas, one could envisage a railway frankly being a very long way from even the nearest road. That happens, and an accident could occur somewhere remote. Access could be a problem. We talk about moving heavy lifting equipment, but the accident could happen to be in the fens or somewhere like that. The idea of moving such equipment across that rather soft and structureless soil is preposterous, to say nothing of the fact that there would probably be intervening dykes and other problems. We need to be a little careful.

We also have to remember that we are talking about the accident investigation board. The number of cases when it will actually need the heavy lifting gear will be fairly small. The people who will really need heavy lifting gear if an awkward accident does structural damage, or rolling stock has broken down or been smashed up, are the railway operators. For them, there is no question but that in most circumstances the best, easiest and quickest way of access will be down a

19 May 2003 : Column GC23

railway line that is otherwise shut. Some explanation as to exactly what the provision means would be helpful.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The example that I would give is Selby. In order to get to the accident site there, one had to go across land. As the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, says, that land could be a very long way from a road. Let me make it clear that when the Bill states,

    "land (which may include a dwelling-house)",

it does not mean that someone has to go through a dwelling house but through land that has a dwelling house on it. It means a garden or private road that is part of the same—only local government people will know the word—curtilage.

There is no question of going through the house. However, one might have to go quite a long way, with or without heavy lifting equipment, and possibly through a piece of land with a dwelling house on it. One might have to go through someone's garden or, more likely, their private access road. There is also a possibility that some part of the train could fly off a considerable distance from the actual site of the accident, and could land in the garden of a house more than 500 yards away.

We have plenty of restrictions. The Bill talks of land,

    "which adjoins or abuts railway property".

There is no free-for-all for investigators to roam all over the countryside invading people's privacy. The provision is only what is necessary for the purposes of an investigation. Let us leave it flexible.

Lord Dixon-Smith: I entirely take what the Minister said, but I am not sure that I yet understand why an accident investigator might be the person who has to move in heavy lifting gear. Almost invariably, it will be the operator who has to do that, even with a bit of rolling stock that has managed to fly 500 yards.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The operators might wish to use specialist lifting gear for the immediate purpose, say, of getting people out or moving things to one side. However, the rail accident investigation branch may subsequently want to use specialist lifting gear, which might not be heavy lifting gear, to investigate the cause—to isolate the bogies, or something of that sort. I am no expert on the subject, but I would rather not tie the investigators down in the way that the amendment would.

Lord Berkeley: Looking at the matter from the other end of the telescope, it appears to me that the Government are constraining themselves by saying that the inspector can only,

    "enter land . . . which adjoins or abuts railway property".

An investigator could require to go through several different properties before he got to the land. Is it necessary to constrain him that much? I am referring to Clause 8(1)(b).

19 May 2003 : Column GC24

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: We have to look at Clause 8(1)(d) as well, which reads,

    "enter land which does not fall within paragraph (a), (b) or (c) if . . . it is used wholly . . . for . . . anything done on or with railway property, or ... the inspector reasonably believes that it may contain evidence relating to an accident or incident".

Viscount Astor: I am grateful for and content with the Minister's explanation, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Viscount Astor moved Amendment No. 13:

    Page 4, line 11, at end insert ", pursuant to the issuing of a warrant or pursuant to a decision by a magistrates' court and only where accompanied by a member of the British Transport Police"

The noble Viscount said: The amendment seeks to clear up what I believe could be some confusion in the Bill about the powers of inspectors. As I understand it, the provisions are not similar to those involved in aviation and marine law, but perhaps I am wrong and the Minister will correct me. I think it would be better to list the powers given to inspectors and investigators, as in the two existing boards, which are more specific.

We believe that it would also be appropriate for the investigators to enter a property or cross land,

    "only where accompanied by a member of the British Transport Police".

That would help the Government to keep within the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights, especially when entering property. That is a probing point and I want to ask the Minister about it.

It seems important that where the powers exist in terms of investigations and entry there is a clear understanding of what they are, and what can and cannot be done under them. I am interested in the Minister's explanation. I beg to move.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Bradshaw: I do not support the amendment. I have very wide experience of the investigation of railway accidents, and have never known a riparian owner object to an inspector or person investigating the accident actually seeking access to the railway, although usually or very often such people come along the railway, as has been said. I particularly do not wish the inspector to have to be accompanied by a member of the British Transport Police, because that simply makes another call on police time, which is very scarce. I do not think that it does anything more than perhaps give the impression of a criminal investigation, but probably no criminal act has occurred.

My argument goes with the grain of what I have said all along. I want the inspectorate to be independent and seen to be independent. We all know that, if the press are there and the police appear, people put two and two together and make 99. Whatever is done in those circumstances, we see screaming headlines in the local paper saying, "Police investigate railway

19 May 2003 : Column GC25

accident", when there was probably a broken rail or something of the sort, and nothing whatever to do with the police.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The answer is that we are following what happens for the Marine Accident Investigation Branch, the Air Accident Investigation Branch and, indeed, Her Majesty's Railway Inspectorate. They do not have to have warrants or to be accompanied by the police. That seems to work all right. Lord Cullen said that we should follow that example, and that is what we are doing.

Viscount Astor: I thank the Minister for that reply. I quite agree with him in terms of Lord Cullen and the powers. I will look more carefully at the powers given to investigators in the aviation and marine branches, because I am not entirely convinced that they are similar at the moment.

I understand where the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, is coming from, but he should realise that we are giving substantial powers to investigators. After all, Clause 8(2)(e) requires,

    "a person to answer a question".

Investigators can use their powers on anyone that they want to, so far as I can see. We are giving them enormous authority. I believe in their independence, but also that we must not compromise people's rights in the process. That is my concern.

I shall study what has been said. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 8 agreed to.

Clause 9 [Regulations]:

[Amendment No. 14 not moved.]

Clause 9 agreed to.

Clause 10 agreed to.

Clause 11 [Accident regulations]:

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page