On a point of order, Mr. Hood. I would be grateful for clarification of your intentions. I noticed that on clauses 1 and 2 you proceeded immediately to a vote on clause stand part. As I wish to raise several points about the generality of clause 3, would you indicate whether you want me to refer to them during debates on the various amendments or whether you will allow a separate debate on clause stand part?
I probably will allow a debate on clause stand part for clause 3, assuming that there are not long debates on the amendments. That being the case, there will be a stand part debate.
I beg to move amendment No. 15, in
clause 3, page 2, line 19, at end insert—
(3B) The Rail Accident Investigation Branch shall present its audited annual accounts to each House of Parliament.'.
My understanding is that the present arrangements allow the Health and Safety
Executive to publish an annual report, which is debated. It emerged very clearly on Second Reading that there is a desire among hon. Members of all parties that the work of the rail accident investigation branch should be scrutinised closely once that work has commenced. As with other bodies set up under primary legislation, we believe that the most traditional and effective method of scrutiny would be by way of an annual report of the proceedings of the rail accident investigation branch to Parliament, in which case it would be laid in the normal way before the relevant Select Committee of each House and debated. If appropriate, it could even be debated on the Floor of the House or in the confines of Westminster Hall.
The rail accident investigation branch will have an important and, I hope, effective function in securing a perception of safety on the railways. The new branch would gain much credibility if an annual report were to be made and scrutinised by the House, particularly given that we shall later consider, notably under clause 7, what the branch's powers will be.
I propose that the rail accident investigation branch present its audited annual accounts to each House of Parliament. You reminded us at the outset, Mr. Hood, that the Bill carries both a money resolution and a Ways and Means resolution, which is extremely important for the scrutiny of the branch's work, as the Minister said. For example, there are currently no tramways in Scotland. Not so long ago, perhaps a century ago, there were tramways in Edinburgh and other cities in Scotland. It is not inconceivable, if the Minister does not discount it, that there will be tramways in the future.
It emerged clearly on Second Reading that there is deep concern on the Minister's own Benches about the relationship between the reserved and devolved powers. I had an opportunity to question the Advocate-General for Scotland on this point. The most vexed issue in relation to the balance between the reserved and devolved powers lies in the field of transport. The compiling of such an annual report and an audited annual account will be an opportunity for us to explore any potential conflict between the reserved and devolved powers.
Most agencies set up by primary legislation report to the relevant Select Committee—in this case, the Select Committee on Transport, on which I have the honour to serve. I believe that it is highly appropriate to consider the possibility of the branch both making an annual report and presenting audited annual accounts, as amendment No. 15 seeks.
The purpose of amendment No. 3 will be for the hon. Member for Bath to explore. I would prefer a full annual report. I do not think that there is too much daylight between my intentions and his. I would prefer the normal mechanisms of an annual report to be presented to the Select Committee on Transport and audited accounts to be presented to the Public Accounts Committee.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for the explanation of her amendment. We support it. Our own amendment does not seek to be an alternative to hers, but would add significantly to it, were both amendments to be accepted by the Government either in their current form or in a revised form.
The hon. Lady is right to stress the need for the new body set up under clause 3, the rail accident investigation branch, to present annual reports in the way she describes. I am sure that the Minister will tell us that there is no similar requirement in legislation on two similar bodies. The aviation accident investigation branch was established under regulations made under section 75 of the Civil Aviation Act 1982. Those contain no reference to a requirement to produce such annual reports. The marine accident investigation branch was established under section 267 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995. That also has no such reference, yet, as the Minister will point out, in both cases such reports are produced, even though there is no requirement on the bodies to do so.
Nevertheless, our amendment goes a stage further. It would be helpful to have a requirement for there to be such a report, but I am particularly conscious that we are establishing the rail accident investigation branch in the light of Lord Cullen's recommendations. It would be sensible to follow all his recommendations in relation to the establishment of such a body.
''I accordingly recommend that the responsibility for the investigation of accidents should be entrusted to an independent body which is set up for the purpose. The body would be similar in constitution to the AAIB and the MAIB. For convenience I will refer to it as the RAIB.''
However, in coming to that conclusion, Lord Cullen said:
''Against this I have to weigh the potential disadvantages, the most significant of which is the loss of direct connection between the investigator and the regular contact with the operation of safety systems.''
Amendment No. 3 would make it possible to resolve that difficulty. Many Committee members will be aware that over many months I have been concerned that we have not had regular reports from anybody about the progress that has been made in following the recommendations made by Professor Uff and Lord Cullen. The Committee will be well aware that 33 recommendations are now long past the recommended implementation date. With the sole exception of the European railway traffic management system, we have not heard from the Government or any other body about the intentions in relation to the remaining recommendations.
As I have said on several occasions, I am firmly of the opinion that some of the recommendations cannot necessarily be sensibly followed. In some respects, Lord Cullen's recommendations would not improve safety on our railways. For example, there are his proposals on easier access to drivers' cabs on trains and putting roof lights on carriages, which could damage their structural integrity. Nevertheless, it is
important that there be clear reports on the progress that has been made on the recommendations.
Amendment No. 3 has two effects. First, it gives us a body that will formally report on the progress of recommendations on railway safety. Secondly, it gives that responsibility to the RAIB so that it will have that close interconnection of, as Lord Cullen puts it,
''regular contact with the operation of safety systems.''
The amendment would add neatly to the one moved by the hon. Member for Vale of York. The amendments would mean that we had a regular report of the RAIB's work, together with its report on how it believes other bodies have responded to its recommendations and, in particular, to the implementation of those recommendations. I hope that the Minister will accept both the hon. Lady's amendment and the one that my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) and I have tabled. If he does not, I hope that he will at least give us an assurance that the Government will deal with the issues in their own wording, later in the Bill's passage.
I rise briefly to support my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York on amendment No. 15. Accidents on the railways are a matter of public interest. An annual report could be presented to Parliament, perhaps by the Select Committee that considers rail safety, and then debated, perhaps under the new arrangements whereby Select Committee reports are debated in Westminster Hall. I shall listen carefully to the Minister.
Annual accounts will ensure not only that money is spent appropriately, but that the public can see that sufficient money is going into the important new rail accident investigation branch. I hope that the Minister will listen, and I shall listen to his response. He may be about to concede that the official Opposition and the Liberal Democrats have made a fair point and accept the merits of our argument that there would be great public demand for an annual report and published accounts.
If the Minister is not minded to support our recommendation, what mechanism does he believe would be appropriate to ensure that there is regular reporting on the implementation of recommendations from different rail inquiries?
I support the amendment. There is a crisis of confidence in the safety of the transport network overall, and I welcome the setting up of the rail accident investigation branch because it is a way of restoring public confidence. However, it will only be any good if it is well publicised. Publication of an annual report would do just that. We have recently seen a shift from rail to road when there has been a tragedy and it is important that the public have confidence in the rail system and its safety. I believe that publication of annual accounts and an annual report would go some way towards increasing public confidence in the RAIB and our rail system.
I am grateful to hon. Members for explaining the amendments and the number of people
who support them. That may be because they anticipated my response, but they may be pleased and surprised to hear that we have considerable sympathy with some of their arguments.
The Committee will know that the Office of the Rail Regulator is currently consulting on licence modification proposals, so that standards set by the proposed rail safety and standards board will be complied with. It will be an industry-led body that will maintain a single record of recommendations made by the rail accident investigation branch as well as industry investigation recommendations, so that the state of the industry's progress towards implementation of each and every recommendation can be checked.
The Minister rightly says that the rail regulator is currently consulting on the proposal. It is also known that he believes that the body could be established within the next couple of months. Can the Minister give a clear indication—he did not do so when I asked the same question on Second Reading—that the Government fully support the establishment of such a body and of when they believe such a body will be established?
It is always difficult to set exact timetables for such matters, but we certainly support the efforts of the rail regulator in that context.
It must be right that the industry is responsible for the implementation of safety recommendations made by the RAIB, but we see merit in the RAIB reporting on the industry's actions. It will want to see that its safety recommendations are acted on, that lessons are learned and that it receives wider publicity.
The aviation accident investigation branch shares that desire. There is no statutory requirement for it to publish an annual report, as the hon. Member for Bath said, but it and the Civil Aviation Authority publish such reports setting out all undertakings or authorities to which an AAIB safety recommendation is directed, and details of the measures taken to implement the recommendation. It is not required by legislation, but it does close the feedback loop as far as safety action is concerned. It places a discipline on everyone involved to ensure that safety action is properly undertaken.
May I ask the hon. Gentleman to wait for a moment because his point might be answered in my next paragraph?
Amendment No. 3 and the first paragraph of amendment No. 15 are clearly aimed at reporting. I should like to look at the wording, with particular reference to draft European legislation. On that basis, I am happy to reflect on the matter to see whether we can produce a suitably drafted amendment at a later stage.
I am grateful to the Minister both for giving way and for what he went on to say. In the light of his remark, I may be prepared to withdraw my amendment. For accuracy on the record, however, will he confirm that the AAIB does not produce a report in conjunction with the CAA because the CAA report is
produced in conjunction with the Department for Transport? Although the AAIB feeds into the report, it is nevertheless a CAA report. Is the Minister minded to have the RAIB making the amendments, which I have proposed, or should another body make the report on implementation and recommendations?
I will need to reflect on that point, but the RAIB is likely to be responsible. The hon. Gentleman rightly pointed out that the CAA produces the report in conjunction with the Department for Transport, but the AAIB is part of the Department for Transport, as the RAIB will be. To some extent, we may have got into a semantic difficulty. I hope that the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Vale of York understand that we are taking their points on board to look at the best mechanism for publishing the annual report of the RAIB, but we want to look at possible European legislation in order to achieve a form of words sufficiently robust to bring to Committee at a later stage.
If the Minister is considering that there may be an opportunity for that requirement to go on to the face of the Bill at a later stage—the amendment will presumably be typographically pure—does he think, since the Bill covers not only railways but transport safety, that there would be any merit in putting a similar statutory requirement on the AAIB? Having said that there is no statutory requirement on the AAIB, does he think that it would be a good idea?
The current procedures seem perfectly satisfactory not only to the aviation industry but to passengers and others concerned with the issues. In many ways, they form the model for the creation of the RAIB. However, I take on board the points regarding the RAIB, which should have a procedure for publishing its reports and progress. We will certainly look at how we can incorporate such a procedure.
We do not look on the second paragraph of amendment No. 15 with such favour because it is out of step with existing arrangements for the other departmental investigation branches—the AAIB and the maritime accident investigation branch. The RAIB will, of course, be a branch of the Department. The departmental annual report covers the AAIB and the MAIB, and will cover the RAIB in future. On that basis, I ask the hon. Lady to consider withdrawing the amendment.
This has been an illuminating discussion and came as close as we have been to a positive assurance, rather than sympathy, that the Government are ready to take on, at least in part, one of the official Opposition's amendments.
I shall first respond to the comments of the hon. Member for Bath. From his explanation, I can see what he is trying to achieve, although I do not believe that an annual progress report is the right vehicle. I am also concerned that in almost every discussion that we have had in the Select Committee or on the Floor of the House about the safety of the railways, anxiety has
been expressed about the increasing fragmentation of the railways. I note the hon. Gentleman's comments and the Minister's response about the establishment of the rail safety and standards board. It prompts the question, which casts a shadow and doubt in my mind, about why we are having a separate board. I would feel more comfortable if the rail accident investigation branch were given the responsibility of setting and implementing standards.
I confess that I am surprised to hear the hon. Lady say that she wants a single body both to set and monitor standards, given Lord Cullen's firm recommendation that the two tasks should be separated. I have thought long and hard about the issue and, on reflection, I believe that he is right. The proposals for a body to set standards and a separate independent RAIB are correct. Will the hon. Lady reflect on what she has said?
I hesitate about the fact that we will have another body. We already have the Strategic Rail Authority, and will have the Office of the Rail Regulator—to replace the rail regulator himself—and the rail standards safety board. I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but I am putting down a marker that we shall monitor the development of new bodies closely. I thought it appropriate to place that on the record. We do not believe that amendment No. 3 would provide the right vehicle.
I was delighted when the Minister voiced some positive notes about the first part of amendment No. 15, and we reserve the right to return to it on Report. I have sympathy with the request of my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge that an annual report should be included as a statutory requirement in the three relevant pieces of proposed legislation—the Bill, and the forthcoming Bills on aviation and marine inspection. Each body should be required by statute to make an annual report, which should be debated either by the relevant Select Committee or on the Floor of the House.
I note with some disappointment that the Minister did not accept even the spirit of the second part of amendment No. 15. The Government devote several pages of each of their annual reports to the monitoring of the public service agreements that have been entered into by each relevant body. I note that, in connection with the police, the Bill provides for a specific public service agreement into which the Government intend the British Transport police to enter. By definition there is an omission, as the Government have not invited the rail accident investigation branch to enter into such a public service agreement. There must be good reasons for that, which we can explore later.
I am delighted that the Minister responded so positively to amendment No. 15. We will persist with it at a later stage and will hold him to his verbal assurance, which is now on the record. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I beg to move amendment No.29, in
clause 3, page 2, line 22, at end insert—
'(5) The Rail Accident Investigation Branch shall be constituted with regard to regional representation, including the Scottish
Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, and the Northern Ireland Assembly.'.
''There is specific mention of the need for Scotland, Wales and the various English regions to at least be represented. I shall be looking at how that can be done. Would individuals each have a remit to represent the views of a region, or would that representation be drawn from the experiences of the people appointed to the board? That can be discussed in Committee.''—[Official Report, 28 January 2003; Vol. 398, c. 803.]
The moment has come.
I am interested to hear that. I am sure that we have time to transpose an amendment to deal with the provisions relating to the rail regulator.
For the reasons I gave earlier, we are concerned with the aspects of reserved and devolved powers alluded to earlier by the Minister. That is the most vexing question concerning regional representation in the Bill. In the spirit of openness and co-operation, and to ensure smooth passage of the Bill, we would like the rail investigation branch to be constituted with regard to regional representation, which the hon. Gentleman would prefer to see only for the rail regulator. We would like representation from, or formal consultation of, the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly. Perhaps the Minister could explain the precise constitution of the rail accident investigation branch and what formal consultation there will be with the three devolved powers.
We support the measure, and have tabled a similar amendment.
The hon. Member for Vale of York was kind to draw attention to my remarks on Second Reading. I share the general concern—if that is not too strong a word—about getting the matter right. The issue of transport crosses the boundaries of the devolution settlement. It is not by any stretch of the imagination unique in that. Many issues cross the boundaries of devolution, but because we are dealing with safety and risk to human life, the area under discussion is more important than any other.
I am slightly puzzled as to why the amendment is much more specific than the one tabled by the hon. Lady and her colleagues in relation to the Office of the Rail Regulator, which simply speaks of the need to ensure regional representation. If she were to table that amendment to this clause, I might be minded to encourage the Government to accept it. However, what has been tabled is a specific and highly inappropriate amendment to a provision dealing with the investigatory branch.
My reading of the amendment is that it would require Members of the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly to be rail investigators. Enormously talented though those
individuals are, I do not imagine that they have the expertise to go around—
The hon. Gentleman must name names. Perhaps he is speaking about his own Members. I have an enormous regard for Ross Finnie, so perhaps that is who he has in mind.
It is simply inappropriate for Members of the Scottish Parliament to be members of the rail accident investigation branch. I cannot believe that that was the amendment's intention. Perhaps it was tabled inadvertently and should have referred to the Office of the Rail Regulator. The hon. Member for Vale of York perhaps hinted at that in her speech. I urge the Government not to accept the amendment.
Of course, it is entirely right for us to be sensitive to the devolved bodies, but let us imagine that there has been a very bad crash in England or Wales. We know that there would be 10 investigators. Would a Member of the Scottish Parliament come down to investigate it? Or would a Member of the Welsh Assembly come here to do the same? Would such people investigate crashes only in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland? The amendment is something of a dog's breakfast, and I hope that it is rejected.
I thought that after that eloquent demolition of the amendment, the hon. Lady would want to intervene rapidly to avoid further embarrassment.
I merely reiterate the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde. The amendment would probably be contrary to civil service procedures and employment law. I am sure that the hon. Lady will concede that the Opposition have probably made a typographical error and will wish to withdraw her mistake.
I hear what the Minister says. Does he have sympathy with the view of the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde that the amendment might be acceptable if it were worded differently and referred simply to representation that further involves the regions? When we come to that later, will he support it?
There are two different issues there. We are looking at employed civil servants and whether we should put geographical requirements on the employment of inspectors. As my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde pointed out, a further issue is that the amendment appears to suggest that the inspectors would have to be drawn from the Scottish Parliament. There might then be conflicts of interest relating to office of profit under the Crown. They would have to resign from the Parliament to take up that position.
The amendment is defective. We are talking not about a board, but about actual inspectors. I am sure, therefore, that the hon. Member for Vale of York will wish to withdraw the amendment.
I am satisfied that the probing amendment has served its purpose. I am delighted that the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde has indicated his early support for the principle contained in the amendment. If ''regional consultation'' were substituted for ''regional representation'', the Minister might be inclined to support the amendment.
In the clause stand part debate, we can elucidate one of the amendment's purposes—to explore how thin the Government's proposals are for the establishment of the branch. We are sensitive to issues raised by various hon. Members on Second Reading. Matters remain to be resolved, and the official Opposition are happy to take them head on to try to resolve them. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
The stand part debate provides an opportunity to raise several issues on the establishment of the RAIB that have not been discussed under the amendments. In particular, I seek greater clarification from the Minister on its size. On Second Reading, I referred to the proportion of accidents and incidents investigated by the existing body, Her Majesty's rail inspectorate, and pointed out that it has about double the number of staff assumed to be employed by the RAIB.[Mr. Michael Clapham in the Chair]
[Mr. Michael Clapham in the Chair]
The excellent briefing from the Library on the establishment of the RAIB suggests that about 10 investigators are likely to be appointed. The clause deals with the Secretary of State's power to appoint investigators and make one of them the chief inspector. The Library briefing suggests that on the customary ratio of support staff to professionals, 10 investigators are likely to be supported by eight employees. Annual total costs are estimated at £1.4 million, with staff costs of about £1 million and the rest taken up by running and other costs.
I welcome you, Mr. Clapham, to the Chair. Will the Minister tell us whether the estimates by the Library are correct? What are the Government's own estimates of the running costs of the RAIB? On Second Reading, I asked about the support services—for example, laboratory space for conducting forensic investigations—that could be made available to the RAIB. Can some laboratories be used for that purpose and, if so, how hefty would the charge be? In his response, I hope that the Minister can clarify what size of establishment the Government envisage, and whether the Library's assessment of staff and running costs is correct.
I, too, welcome you, Mr. Clapham, to the Chair.
We are worried about the omissions of the size and budget of the rail accident investigation branch. I recall serving my apprenticeship on the Committee considering the Bill that set up Ofcom. It was much more specific about what Ofcom would be like. The main concern of the official Opposition is the number
of inspectors appointed. In a worst-case scenario, where more than one incident may be ongoing at any particular time, 10 inspectors may be insufficient to carry out all the necessary work. It is another example of where the clause should be more specific about who the inspectors will be.
[Mr. Jimmy Hood in the Chair]
The Secretary of State was quite specific on Second Reading that the main justification in the Cullen report for establishing a rail accident investigation branch was ensuring a speedy investigation that reached a swift conclusion. It would be regrettable if, through the failure to appoint sufficient inspectors, that objective were called into question. It would be helpful to know more about the roles of the inspectors and the investigators and how they tie together. The Cullen inquiry was specific about the branch's work. Without the branch being too unwieldy, in a worst-case scenario of more than one investigation going on at a time, the inspectors should be sufficient in number.
Clause 3(4) states that the inspector of rail accidents
''shall carry out such of the functions of the Rail Accident Investigation Branch as may be assigned to him by the Chief Inspector''.
We believe that the Bill should be more specific.
The key to this is the chief inspector. Everything else falls from him. He sets the tasking for the inspectors and it appears that he is set to be a significant individual in rail safety. It follows that the terms of reference and description of the chief inspector need to be more clearly laid out in the Bill. What manner of individual is he to be: is he to be an executive, a career civil servant, or a safety professional, for example, recruited from the Health and Safety Executive? It would give us a better feel for how the body is to be formulated and how it is to work if we were given a clearer idea of who the chief inspector is to be. That would be an important provision in the Bill.
I point out that Her Majesty's rail inspectorate and Health and Safety Executive staff numbers cover rail safety work other than accident investigation. The hon. Member for the Vale of York made a comparison with Ofcom. Of course, there we are dealing with a separate statutory body as opposed to an accident investigation branch that, like the other branches, is part of the Department for Transport. We therefore have made an estimate as to the numbers likely to be involved and the estimated cost of averaging out likely salary levels.
The chief inspector will be able to call in external assistance. We may come to that issue on subsequent amendments. In terms of flexibility, we would not want a branch that was staffed up to deal with every eventuality. It could be dealt with flexibly by external assistance under the guidance of the chief inspector.
Can the right hon. Gentleman pause for a moment and tell us what the chain of command would be with regard to any external assistance for the purposes of clause 3? We took evidence on Railtrack, which largely contracted out
maintenance. With hindsight, it appeared to break down dramatically where there was not deemed to be a sufficient chain of command and control. It would satisfy the Committee a great deal to know what that chain is to be. The Secretary of State said loosely on Second Reading, without going into too much detail, that external systems would be called on.
I think that it is clear from the Bill that the chain of command is to be the chief inspector. That is why one of the inspectors is designated that role. In response to the hon. Member for Westbury (Dr. Murrison), a chief inspector is currently being recruited and we hope that an individual will be in post by spring or summer who will bring the necessary capabilities to that role.
A question was raised about the Health and Safety Executive and other bodies being used by the RAIB. It would be able to use them, paying the appropriate commercial rate for inter-departmental transactions. I hope that I have dealt with a number of points that were made.
I still seek greater clarification as to the size of the body. The Minister will be aware that HMRI has between 19 and 28 inspectors notionally available in any one week. We are advised that the RAIB will have 10 inspectors, yet HMRI investigates only a very small number of rail incidents. Although we have not yet had a full definition of what an incident is, for the benefit of intelligence gathering, it would be helpful for the body to have more inspectors than HMRI does. We have a body that is half the size of HMRI. It will, I hope, do more than HMRI can.
My point is not dissimilar to that of the hon. Member for Bath. The specific scenario that concerns us is that more than one accident or incident may be being investigated at any one time. It is incumbent on the Minister to let the Committee know a ballpark figure for how many inspectors the Government have in mind.
The possible structure would be of a chief inspector, a deputy chief inspector, two principal inspectors, 10 inspectors and nine support staff—23 in aggregate.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.