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Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, before the noble and learned Lord sits down, will he deal with the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe; namely, that this could be a preliminary or interim report rather than a final report?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, that is a matter for the committee in the usual way, and that is the conventional role of all committees. It appears that the end of the Session is not unduly taxing in terms of the timetable. I am sure that noble Lords will be content with the representation on the committee, form their own judgment and report back to the House, as I indicated on Wednesday last week. We shall then have a full debate on the substantive issues and not, as the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said, on process, about which I thought there was general agreement.

Lord Elton: My Lords, I join my noble friend Lord King in complimenting the Leader of the House on the way in which he managed the affair since it went off the rails and I thank him for the way in which he handled today's debate. I also thank those who supported me in this debate and join them in wishing the committee well.

The only moment of sadness for me was when it appeared that I had totally failed to make myself clear to the noble Lord, Lord Peston. His claim that the debate has been out of order rested on his total failure to grasp the significance of the fact that the Speakership and the Chancellorship at present are unified in one person and that that is our way into the Cabinet for one person. The committee must consider that. I see that I have yet to convince the noble Lord but he would not want me to spend more time on that matter; nor, I assume, would other noble Lords.

The noble Lord suggested that the object of the debate is to delay—if I could have his attention. I know that there are other more interesting people to listen to around him but at the moment I believe that I have the Floor.

The noble Lord suggested that the object behind all of this was delay. He picked up on a few of the soundbites that had been used long ago in the debate on the abolition of the hereditary Peers. The dramatis personae are quite different in this regard and so are the issues. This is not a party political issue, nor is it an issue between one sort of Peer and another; it is an issue about the welfare of this House. I do not apologise for taking up the time of noble Lords because I can think of no better steer to the committee than the speeches that have been made. I am most grateful to noble Lords for them.

The second of my two amendments, which received the most support in the corridors, as it were, before the debate and which was warmly supported in this debate, was answered by the point that was made by

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the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, and which was endorsed by the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House. In fact, the report that the committee is required to make before the end of the Session can perfectly well be an interim report. The second amendment is therefore unnecessary and I shall not proceed with it.

The first amendment touches on the matter on which I was unable to convince the noble Lord, Lord Peston, who vigorously nods his head. Perhaps I failed to convince other noble Lords. The arguments in favour of it—I see three heads nodding opposite—were so strongly put by many noble Lords, notably so by my noble friend Lord Alexander of Weedon, that the point has been adequately made. While I know that there is an anti-climax when one has sat through a debate in the hope of a refreshing visit to the Lobby, we can rest on the assurances that have been given. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment to the Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) (No. 2) Bill

12.9 p.m.

Read a third time, and passed.

Co-operatives and Community Benefit Societies Bill

Read a third time, and passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.

Railways and Transport Safety Bill

12.11 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Lord McIntosh of Haringey): My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales to acquaint the House that they, having been informed of the purport of the Railways and Transport Safety Bill, have consented to place their prerogative and interests, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

Bill read a third time.

Clause 7 [Investigations]:

Lord Bradshaw moved Amendment No. l:

    Page 3, line 23, at end insert "not later than twelve months following an accident"

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I wish to touch again on the question of the railway accident inspection branch furnishing its report within 12 months of an accident. At an earlier stage the Minister said that he believed that there were often technical and engineering investigations to be undertaken which may preclude the report being

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published. I believe that the whole tenor of the Bill is to get a report on an accident quickly into the public domain so that people may know what caused the accident and what steps are to be taken to prevent it happening again. I do not believe that it would very often be the case that a report need be delayed more than 12 months. In fact, I hope it will be published much more quickly than that.

I ask the Minister that we make sure that it is not likely to be delayed by the exercise of various judicial processes, departmental policy or ministerial convenience and that we quickly get to the truth. It is the fact that reports to the Government are often delayed by processes which have nothing to do with the incident being reported on, but because the courts require it, some kind of legal process is invoked to prevent publication, or because it is politically or administratively convenient for either the Minister or officials.

I am very anxious that reports are published quickly because if they are not, the whole of the railway accident investigation branch would be condemned extremely quickly and what we would hope would be a fresh start would cease to be so and we retire to a rather tired, old process which delays us in knowing what happened. I beg to move.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, and seek what further comfort my noble friend may be able to give us. Potters Bar is the latest in a series of accidents where no solution has yet been found. In the very well respected Modern Railways, under the heading "Informed Sources" by Roger Ford, there is the headline

    "Potters Bar—criminal investigations frustrate search for truth".

That is exactly why the Government are setting up the railway accident investigation branch, which we have all welcomed. It is worth recording that the process being undertaken at the moment is led by British Transport Police, for whom the accident is a potential crime. As I believe I said at Report, 70 or so people in the Network Rail contractors have had notices of possible intended prosecution served on them, which does not help in getting to the cause of the problem.

The Health and Safety Executive is in the queue, as the accident is a potential breach of the Health and Safety at Work Regulations. Only when that is dealt with does the Railway Inspectorate become involved. To some extent it is overseen by an investigation board, none of whose members have any first-hand experience of working railways. As Mr Ford concludes,

    "The final HSE report will not be published until after the conclusion of any legal proceedings, or after they have been ruled out".

We still do not know the cause of the accident. We have not been told but perhaps the HSE knows, but it is not going to say for fear of legal proceedings. It is very important that not only is maximum support given to an independent accident investigation branch to conclude its report quickly into the causes of the accident, but that the department recognises that if

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anything has to be changed in the light of experience following the accident, it should be encouraged to take place with maximum speed.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, has set out exactly why we are setting up the railway accident investigation branch. Its purpose is to improve the safety of railways and prevent railway accidents and incidents. It will improve safety by reporting quickly. That is exactly the point that the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, makes.

What we are proposing is in conformity with the European Safety Directive. That states that reports would normally be published within 12 months. It states,

    "the investigating body shall make public the final report in the shortest possible time and normally not later than 12 months after the date of the occurrence".

That is what the RAIB will do. But the directive does not say—and we are not proposing—that it must be forced to publish a report before it is ready. Surely, it is better to get a full and detailed report after 13 months than a hurried and incomplete report before 12 months has lapsed. The decision on the report should be for the chief inspector of rail accidents to make. As regards the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, that criminal proceedings brought by the police or Health and Safety Executive might be a barrier to publication of an RAIB report, the Government are firmly of the view that safety lessons and reports can still be published.

Clause 7(6) provides for the chief inspector to be able to publish even if criminal or civil proceedings are brought or are likely in connection with the accident. Similarly, the law of contempt of court will still apply to the RAIB, but in deciding when to publish a final report the chief inspector must always balance the public interest in publishing in order to share safety lessons against the public interest in people being brought to account for criminal behaviour and their right to a fair trial. It is perfectly legitimate for her to come down in favour of publishing.

The RAIB cannot prevent any person from inferring whatever they want from a report, but the Bill makes it very clear in Clause 7(5) that the RAIB itself,

    "(a) shall not consider or determine blame or liability, but (b) may determine and report on the cause of an accident or incident whether or not blame or liability is likely to be inferred from the determination or report".

Pending the final report, it will be possible for the RAIB to publish an interim report, which sounds familiar from our last debate, to ensure that urgent safety lessons are promulgated. The Bill already makes provision for such reports in Clause 9(3). The existing AAIB and MAIB can and do publish interim reports and the RAIB should be able to do so as well.

Finally, I want to say to the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, that, if it becomes apparent that the publication of RAIB reports is being materially delayed,

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the Government will take the necessary action to ensure that the RAIB will be able to achieve its purpose and duties.

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