Clause 1 - Meaning of ''railway'' and ''railway property''

Railways and Transport Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 8:55 am on 4th February 2003.

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Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport) 8:55 am, 4th February 2003

I beg to move amendment No. 31, in

clause 1, page 1, line 11, at end insert—

'(1A) For the purposes of this Act ''railway property'' also includes premises owned by a railway company and occupied by an employee of a railway company.'.

As ever, Mr. Hood, it is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. You excelled yourself in chairing another Committee on which we both served, and I look forward to serving under your chairmanship of this one.

I remind the Committee of my declaration of interest on Second Reading—[Interruption.] The Under-Secretary may wish to spare his voice for more important matters later. I am sure that he and I will also have at least one opportunity to cross swords in an Adjournment debate on a Wednesday afternoon while the Committee continues.

I have interests in Eurotunnel, Railtrack, British Airways, BAE Systems, BAA, First Group and the Royal Automobile Club. My husband is an airline executive. It may help the Committee if I indicate that, apart from the RAC, none of those declarations is worthy of registration. They are not important in terms of pecuniary value, but may be of interest to the Committee.

I hope that the Minister and the Committee will see amendment No. 31 as a helpful way of clarifying what we see as an omission. Clause 1 transposes a number of definitions adopted under Acts of Parliament passed by Conservative Governments. We will not, therefore, go over old ground, as we remain proud of that legislation.

As I represent Vale of York, I know that railways are important to my constituents and to those of many other hon. Members. I therefore believe that railway property should be defined before we adopt and implement the Bill. We believe that the definition given would be sufficient for the purposes of the Act if it also included

''premises owned by a railway company and occupied by an employee of a railway company.''

I hope that the Minister will think that that is sufficient of itself. There may be other properties that should be included, and the Government may want a broader definition. However, we believe that a serious omission has occurred, and that that follows through into later parts of the Bill, particularly clause 7 on the investigator's powers.

Clause 1(2) states:

''The Secretary of State may by regulations amend this section.''

I noticed, on another Committee on which I served, that provision of such powers seems to be part of a general trend. Does that mean that the Government may in future be minded to define what constitutes railway property in a statutory instrument? Does a railway property definition already exist? If so, it would be immensely helpful to the Committee if we were aware of it.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

I will be particularly interested in the Minister's response, as the Government amendment to clause 2 would allow them change definitions by regulation, and they may have something in mind in that respect.

The hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) is absolutely right: it is important to understand the definition of what constitutes appropriate property. However, I have some concerns about the implications for the jurisdiction of the British Transport police. Why is it important to include the property of an employee in the definition? My understanding is that if there is a suggestion that an incident that occurred on the railway might be connected with apparatus or goods at an employee's property, the British Transport police could obtain appropriate warrants to conduct an investigation in the normal way.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

The hon. Gentleman touches on one of the most sensitive parts of the Bill, and we are pre-empting a later discussion. The founding Acts of Parliament and the subsequent amendments that set up the aviation accident inspection branch and the marine accident investigation branch referred specifically to the issuing of a warrant or summons. We are worried that the Bill does not define a dwelling or a property, as that may lead to huge controversy in later clauses.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

I am grateful for the hon. Lady's intervention, and I share her concern, but my understanding is that we will have a later opportunity to consider the issuing of warrants in respect of premises owned by an employee. I have difficulty in understanding the need for the definition of property in clause 1 to include reference to an employee's property. Train operating companies have premises that are not directly related to running the railway. Those premises should be excluded from the purposes of the Bill, especially in relation to the work of the British Transport police. I do not criticise the hon. Lady, but she has not explained why the definition should include employees' premises, which could be covered in respect of the British Transport police by warrant, or those parts of premises owned by a train operating company that are not directly related to running the railway. We are minded not to support the amendment.

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Minister of State (Department for Transport)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Vale of York for explaining her amendment, and I hope to show that we have taken into account what it would achieve.

The rail accident investigation branch will investigate accidents and incidents relevant to the operation of the railway. The definition of railway property is drafted to reflect the places where a railway accident or incident would occur that could be the subject of an RAIB investigation. Extending the definition would mean that the RAIB had a duty to investigate accidents in a railway station back office, for example, which are more properly the responsibility of the Health and Safety Executive.

During an investigation, RAIB inspectors will need to gain access to railway property, as well as to other

land or premises used in connection with the operations of the railways, if the inspector reasonably believes that they may contain evidence relevant to an accident or incident. I assure the hon. Lady that the premises of a railway company or those occupied by an employee in such circumstances could be entered using the powers in the Bill. With that assurance, I hope that she will withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

The amendment has served its purpose in eliciting an assurance from the Minister. He has not, however, responded to all the concerns raised by the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) and me. The powers are more extensive than those enjoyed by other investigation boards, but the Minister has satisfied me on that.

The amendment was also designed to establish whether the definition of what constitutes an adjoining house or property is exclusive, or whether the Minister is minded to interpret the provision more broadly along the lines suggested by the hon. Member for Bath, whereby certain properties would automatically be excluded. It is an important point, although we shall not press it to a vote at this stage.

Many aspects of the Bill are non-controversial. The hon. Member for Bath is right that implementation will be left to the British Transport police. It is in the interest of Parliament to get it right now so that we do not have to revert to the Secretary of State's right to amend by regulation. I am a Scottish lawyer, which may amount to a vested interest, but I think that it is much better to get the Bill right first time rather than depend either on court cases alleging that the power is being abused, or on the Secretary of State's right to amend through regulations. We shall not press for a Division now, but we will return to the principle later.

We may not want a clause stand part debate on the point, but it would be helpful to know why a tramway in Scotland is excluded from the Bill's purpose under subsection (1). I hope that the Minister will explain that in due course.

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Minister of State (Department for Transport)

That question involves what matters are reserved and which devolved. It is slightly complicated by the fact that Scotland has no tramways, and I know of no proposals to change that.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.