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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Secretary of State will certainly publish it; whether he or she will wish to respond to the report before publishing it is another matter which does not need to be laid down in legislation.

As regards the 12-month point, we do propose to make regulations under Clause 9(2)(g) to specify that this should normally be within 12 months.

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. In my experience, the cause of even the most complicated accidents, such as those at Southall and Ladbroke Grove, is known within two or three days.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, an interim report can be published.

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, with respect, that is precisely my point. We can discuss this again before Third Reading. However, I am most anxious that if

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possible we can do away with the legal impediments which mean that the work is completed, the investigation is done but some lawyer finds some method of getting it locked up either in this rail accident investigation branch cupboard or the Secretary of State's cupboard, whichever it is, thus preventing the public, who need to know, from learning what is happening because it happens to suit the claim of one insurance company as opposed to another that the facts are kept from us.

I am adamantly opposed to the convenience of insurance companies being put before the needs of the general public. That is the burden of what I say. I press the Minister at least to think hard about the matter if I do not press the amendment.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am not in a position to say more. I have said that we shall publish regulations to say that the period should normally be 12 months but we do not want to tie ourselves down in cases that we cannot yet anticipate. We have already given a firm commitment that these reports will be published.

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, I have listened to the Minister's comments. I shall think about what is said but I shall take advice on whether the issue should be pressed at Third Reading. It is a matter of grave concern to us. I hope that the Minister realises that. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 8 [Investigator's powers]:

Lord Bradshaw moved Amendment No. 5:

    Page 4, line 26, at end insert—

"( ) None of the information obtained under this section shall be divulged to any other party.
( ) On completion of any report by the Chief Inspector, all information used in its preparation shall be destroyed."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 5 is similar to the previous one and, again, is meant to be helpful. I am sorry to say that this again affects our friends in the legal profession. The basis of reporting to the rail accident investigation branch is that it will interview people without the evidence that people give being on the record from the point of view of a prosecution; that is, people may speak freely to the rail accident investigation branch. They are not under caution. Nothing they say can be produced in evidence in a court of law. I believe that that is more or less the basis on which the confidential reporting systems work.

However, I am concerned that again, subsequently, the names and addresses of people who have given evidence will get into the public domain through the legal processes and that people will not feel they are speaking in confidence to the chief inspector and therefore the system will fail.

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The purpose of the two amendments is to strengthen the fact that the information is given in confidence and that the chief inspector may after completion of the report destroy the information that he or she has received. I beg to move.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, again I support the amendment. As the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, and my noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey said, it is designed to ensure that the accident investigation people have the best possible opportunity of coming up with a solution quickly. Having talked to people in the marine and air industries and in the same business, it is clear that the best information is obtained from meeting people who have been involved or seen anything very soon after an accident and who are confident that any information given will be in total confidence. By so doing, it is easier to get to the root cause of any accident or incident. Obviously, that is preferable before any other authority such as the police starts running around cautioning people.

I believe that the only way such confidence will be encouraged in the rail industry is if all the people in the industry know that anything they say will not be divulged to third parties and, as the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw said, not even their names and addresses are divulged. That is the purpose of the amendment.

For the record, this does not apply to material things such as bolts because after the accident and investigation people have carried out an inspection, it may well be that in certain circumstances the police or the Health and Safety Executive might want to inspect them, which would be reasonable.

The way in which the RAIB will work effectively is by listening to what people say in confidence about their first impressions. If other authorities such as the police and the HSE feel they need to interview people they can do so in the usual way completely separately under caution with lawyers, or whatever.

This is an important principle. No doubt my noble friend the Minister will tell the House whether the wording is correct. This is a difficult subject, but the amendment is an attempt to surround the RAIB with as much access to confidential information as possible without it leaking out.

Viscount Astor: My Lords, I am sympathetic to part of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, but I have some questions for the Minister. Following an accident which the RAIB investigates, for example, there could then be some form of prosecution. At that stage, not unreasonably, the prosecuting authorities should perhaps know who had given evidence. My question is: what has happened in the past in terms of aircraft, for example, and the Civil Aviation Authority in such situations?

I support the noble Lords, Lord Bradshaw and Lord Berkeley, in the principle that a person giving evidence needs to be free to do so without constraint; otherwise we would not get to the bottom of such matters. That is important. I am not sure about the

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names remaining merely confidential; perhaps they should be destroyed. If there is some form of ongoing prosecution, such information could be very important to the prosecution or to the defence. I pose that question to the Minister, but I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, raises an important point.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, I, too, support the amendment. It proposes a twin-track approach but I think it would be valuable for railway staff to be able to speak in confidence to the rail investigator and subsequently speak on another occasion to either the British Transport Police or to the Health and Safety Executive.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I sympathise with the concerns which give rise to the amendments. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, is right that there are two kinds of evidence. There is technical and hard evidence, such as the condition of bolts, or brake readings and suchlike. There is no reason why that should not be shared with the police and the Health and Safety Executive or anyone else who has a legitimate concern. The second kind of evidence consists of witness statements. It is enormously important that witness statements should be made freely on the express assurance that they will not be shared.

The purpose of all that is to prevent rail accidents and to learn safety lessons. Witnesses must know that they can speak freely and frankly to RAIB inspectors, even in the stressful circumstances in the immediate aftermath of a crash without having to worry that something they say may be used against them. Witness statements given to the RAIB will not be disclosed to any other person by the RAIB—here comes the catch— unless it is ordered to do so by the court. That is an issue that we simply cannot move on because we are not in control of the courts. If the courts decide, for whatever reason—if there is any query about whether the reason is good that could be the subject of an appeal—that the source must be disclosed, then it must be disclosed. We cannot prohibit that by passing legislation.

However, the court will take into account—I believe this is the assurance that the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, seeks—the general public interest in disclosure, against that of the RAIB regime and the Human Rights Act. But in deciding whether to order disclosure the court will consider the adverse consequences that an order to disclose would have on people's confidence in the confidentiality of the RAIB regime. We cannot accept the amendment in the form in which it is proposed.

Similarly I do not believe that it is appropriate that the RAIB should be required to destroy information given to it or used in preparing its reports. At the very least, investigations may need to be re-opened under the provisions of Clause 7(8)

As to the comparisons with the Air Accidents Investigation Branch and the Marine Accident Investigation Branch, my understanding is that the RAIB is not required to disclose names, but in practice

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I believe that it does. I hope that answers the points made. For the purposes of the regime we are determined to maintain as much confidentiality as possible, but there is a point beyond which we cannot go.

4.30 p.m.

Viscount Astor: My Lords, before the Minister sits down and before the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, responds, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, as I forgot to ask him one question. In the event of a public inquiry, which we have had into rail accidents, does the issue of the evidence being disclosed at such an inquiry have to go before a court? Does the noble Lord know how the matter would work in that situation?

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