Clause 13 - Extent

Railways and Transport Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:00 am on 6th February 2003.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

Subsection (1) states:

''This Part extends to the whole of the United Kingdom.''

Subsection (2) states:

''In the application of this Part in relation to Scotland any reference to a tramway shall be disregarded.''

That raises two questions. First, I envisage a situation in which the clause would be dropped, especially in relation to cities such as Edinburgh and Glasgow that were sufficiently large to carry a tramway and used to have trams, and bearing in mind that the Government's adviser on integrated transport, Mr. Begg, comes from the Scottish capital. I do not know how the Government would deal with a Scottish city that wanted to apply to have a tramway.

Secondly, we had an interesting but bemusing discussion with the Under-Secretary, to which I shall return as soon as possible in the time left to us. I am still hesitant about the difference between a tram and a trolley bus. I would have accepted the Under-Secretary's explanation readily had he said simply that trolley buses do not exist in the United Kingdom. Such a factual statement would be acceptable. However, if trolley buses do exist in this country and are involved in a serious accident or incident that falls under the provisions of the Bill, they will be investigated by the police, which I take to be the British Transport police.

I therefore believe that a number of issues are at fault in part 1, which cannot now be amended. There are several uncertainties, such as what constitutes a trolley bus—do they exist in this country?—what constitutes a tram, and whether Scotland is to have a tramway. It is regrettable that it is not clear who the investigating authority will be for trolley buses.

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

On a point of order, Mr. Hurst. I am a little confused about the implications of new clause 5, which will follow our deliberations on clause 13. Subsection (1) states:

''This Part extends to the whole of the United Kingdom.''

Exceptions to that provision are given in subsections (2) and (3). New clause 5 would exclude that part of the channel tunnel that is currently part of the United Kingdom. If it were successful, would we find ourselves in some difficulty?

Photo of Mr Alan Hurst Mr Alan Hurst Labour, Braintree

I think that that problem would find its resolution on Report.

Photo of Mark Lazarowicz Mark Lazarowicz Labour/Co-operative, Edinburgh North and Leith

I do not want to pursue the philosophical question of the essential nature and concept of a trolley bus, which the hon. Member for Vale of York referred to, but I would like to say something about Scotland being excluded from the clause's provisions. Unlike the hon. Lady, I have some knowledge of Edinburgh and of Scottish legislation, so I know why tramways are being excluded. The tramways are a matter that is devolved to the Scottish Parliament and Executive, whereas railways are a matter for this Parliament. However, I wonder whether the clause is too restrictive.

As the Minister made clear in Tuesday's debate, it was always envisaged that the rail accident investigation branch would have discretionary powers to investigate accidents on tramways. The relevant Scottish authorities might not have the expertise to carry out an investigation into an accident that occurred on a Scottish tramway, and they might wish to ask the United Kingdom rail accident investigation branch to investigate. So far as I can see, the exclusion in clause 13(2), which deletes references to tramways in Scotland, means that the rail accident investigation branch, which is given its powers under clause 6, would not be able to investigate such an accident, even if it were invited to by the Scottish authorities. I am sure that that is not intended; I may have read the clause incorrectly. Will the Minister confirm whether the rail accident investigation branch would have the power to investigate an accident on a tramway in Scotland if it were asked to do so by the Scottish authorities?

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

I think that I can assist my hon. Friend. Under clause 5, the chief inspector of rail accidents may arrange for the rail accident investigation branch to assist

''any person . . . with or without charge''.

That might appeal to the Scottish Executive. That help may be provided

''inside or outside the United Kingdom.''

That discretionary power would enable the investigation branch to provide assistance, should it be required, in the event of there being a tramway in Scotland.

Photo of Mark Lazarowicz Mark Lazarowicz Labour/Co-operative, Edinburgh North and Leith

I thank my right hon. Friend for that welcome assurance. In case it was thought that my raising the point was unnecessary, given that there are no tramways in Scotland, I should explain that there are plans to develop tramways there. Indeed, thanks to the generous support of the Scottish Executive, plans are well advanced for a tramway in Edinburgh, the first line of which will run substantially through my constituency.

Photo of John Randall John Randall Opposition Whip (Commons)

I seek further clarification of what the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mr. Lazarowicz) has just spoken about. I accept what the Minister says. I simply wonder whether clause 13(2) takes precedence over what was said earlier, because it states:

''In the application of this Part in relation to Scotland any reference to a tramway shall be disregarded.''

I wonder whether lawyers will have a lot of fun over that, or whether the Minister's assurance in Committee will be sufficient.

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Minister of State (Department for Transport) 11:15 am, 6th February 2003

We first had questions about the differences between trolley buses and trams. Both run for part of the distance on roads, although trolley buses run on wheels and with no track, whereas trams run on tracks, some of which are on roads. To answer the question asked by the hon. Member for Vale of York, trolley bus accidents would be investigated by the local police force, not the British Transport police.

The hon. Member for Uxbridge is right that clause 13(2) takes precedence on the question of jurisdiction. To answer the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith, clause 5 provides that the RAIB can assist if requested to do so by the body that has jurisdiction over the tramway system in Scotland. The question of which body has jurisdiction is clear from clause 13(2). As for the operational side, if there were a request from the body with jurisdiction—the relevant Scottish body—the RAIB could provide assistance and expertise, as it is given discretion to do under clause 5.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I hate to speak in such bleak terms, but I shall put this as bluntly as I dare. The Government are in a mess over this provision. That emerged clearly on the Floor of the House in questions to the Secretary of State for Scotland. This touches on the pertinent point raised by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith. The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, who responded to my question on behalf of the Secretary of State, could not have put it more clearly. I do not have the Hansard in front of me, but if memory serves me correctly, she said that the issues in relation to what was devolved and what was reserved had not been resolved and were a matter of ongoing discussion.

We have waited a considerable time for the Bill to come before the House and the Committee. I think that it was promised at a very early stage of this Parliament and may even have been referred to—[Interruption.] There is no point in the two Ministers chuntering away with their hon. Friends. They are, rightly, deeply embarrassed. They have had plenty of time to avoid typographical errors such as we have seen.

Photo of Mark Lazarowicz Mark Lazarowicz Labour/Co-operative, Edinburgh North and Leith

Having raised the issue, may I tell the hon. Lady that I for one am entirely satisfied with the answer given by the Minister? Rather than pursuing points about which she perhaps has not read as much recently as she should have, she should pursue schedule 6 to the Scotland Act 1998, which explains the way in which any disputes can be resolved.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I shall respond in kind by referring the hon. Gentleman to the Hansard of Tuesday 4 February. As I said, the Under-Secretary, responding to my question, stated that the matters had not been resolved at the highest level and were subject to ongoing consultation. It is highly regrettable and

unacceptable that these provisions are before us when those matters could have been resolved before we reached this stage. The Bill will leave the House in a state of confusion.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 13 ordered to stand part of the Bill.