I beg to move amendment No.16, in
clause 10, page 6, line 32, at end insert
'Accident reports such as those conducted in the event of a road accident should be completed by the relevant investigators acting under the provision of this Bill, ensuring greater transparency and security across all modes of travel.'.
The amendment is designed to deal with a particular issue, so I request, particularly in view of yesterday's statement by the Secretary of State, a stand part debate on clause 10.
The amendment deals with the provision whereby:
''The Secretary of State may make regulations in connection with the investigation of railway accidents and railway incidents''
The explanatory notes say:
''Clause 10 allows the Secretary of State to make regulations which would allow, for example, requirements to be made on the reporting of accidents and incidents to the RAIB (so that they may then investigate those accidents and incidents). Such provision would not affect existing obligations to report accidents to HSE''— the Health and Safety Executive.
The document that is referred to in respect of road accidents is called Stats15 or Stats19—I cannot remember which, but the Minister will know what I am talking about. My understanding is based on familiarisation that I have had with road accident cases, and I believe that the casebook ''Wilkinson's Road Traffic Offences'' is the authority, as it goes into great detail on the issues. The police fill in road accident reports primarily to record the root cause of the accident and, in doing so, they consider driver behaviour in terms of the vehicle's speed and whether the driver was under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
The accident report also goes into detail about the state of the road surface. It notes whether it was a dry day or whether the weather could have contributed to the accident. A wet road can affect a car's braking distance, and an icy road can affect a car's ability to stop in time or not to veer off the road or into the path of an oncoming vehicle. Poor visibility owing to fog or mist can also have an impact. The statistics noted in the road accident reports are vital to determining the root cause of an accident.
The thinking behind our amendment was summed up by my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) clearly and poignantly on Second Reading, when he said:
''our starting point should be the fact that a life is a life is a life. Saving a life on the roads or in the air is at least as valuable to society as saving one in any other context.''—[Official Report, 28 January 2003; Vol. 398, c. 778.]
We enjoy an inherently good safety record on our railways and roads in this country. However, because by definition more people tend to get hurt in one railway accident or incident than in a huge number of accidents on our roads in any one day, rail accidents appear more graphic and horrific.We set great store by the fact that the loss of a life, or an injury incurred, is equally damaging and should have equal value whether it occurs on the railways, in the air, on the sea or on the roads. We want greater transparency in
respect of safety, and we want to see that we are working towards increasing the security and safety of all modes of transport. On Second Reading, we noted with regret that we should have liked the Bill to touch on aspects of road safety—but we can return to that at a later stage.
We have procedures in place. Clause 10(1) empowers the Secretary of State to
''make regulations in connection with the investigation of railway accidents and . . . incidents.''
We believe that, as part of that investigation, accident reports relating to railways could usefully draw on the experience with roads. Road accident reports have been in operation for some time. I understand that the authorities—the Under-Secretary might confirm that that includes the Highways Agency and the police—rely on them, for example, to improve the safety of a road. Clearly, if a road becomes known as an accident black spot, road accident reports will play a special role.
My next point will be particularly appropriate for the Under-Secretary. A rumour has reached me that Portland helicopter base may be under threat. In the context of saying that a life is a life and that equal value should be given to a life, whether it is lost on the railways, at sea or in the air, I hope that at some stage we can ask the Under-Secretary whether that rumour is true. It might be more appropriate to raise it under the maritime provisions of the Bill.
I hope to raise the matter at a later stage of this Bill, or under another Bill, which I believe will come to the Floor of the House at the end of this month. I am grateful to you for that helpful guidance, Mr. Hurst.
Knowing the spirit of generosity that the Under-Secretary demonstrates on these occasions, I hope that he will acknowledge that amendment No. 16 is a practical proposal. We have benefited from drawing on reports in connection with road accidents, and such reports could be used as the model for accident reports relating to the railways. When accident reports are drafted under regulations under the clause, will the Government, rather than just establishing the root cause and, under the previous clause, giving directions to the train operating company, investigate the possibility of examining the characteristics of a particular length of track, the speed at which the train was going and other factors relating to the accident? That would enable us to learn from those reports. I have explained the thinking behind the amendment and I hope that the Under-Secretary will see that it has merit.
Liberal Democrats are accused of using all sorts of parliamentary procedures to raise issues and then disseminating them in our infamous ''Focus'' leaflets, but the hon. Lady's raising of the rumoured
closure of Portland helicopter base beats even some of our attempts in Committee and on the Floor of the House.
The hon. Lady has moved an interesting amendment, suggesting that the way in which statistics on road accidents and incidents are collated should be used as a model for railways. I do not believe that it is necessarily a good model for us to follow. As she rightly says, data are collected under stats19, but if she studies the data in any detail she will see that they are relatively crude and simplistic. It is not really possible to glean from analysing the data the sort of helpful proposals that she mentioned.
The hon. Lady was right to say that it is important that such data be compiled and analysed in great detail. I hope that we will see improvements in the way road accident and incident data is gathered and analysed. The Committee will be interested—and, I am sure, Mr. Hurst, you will be delighted—to know that on Monday I was trudging through deep snow in Stockholm. My reason for going there was specifically to look at how the Swedish Government are using the collation of information on road accidents to influence vision zero, which is their scheme to reduce the number of road accidents.
The Committee will doubtless be interested to know that the Swedish Government have just established a new organisation called Strada, which is designed to bring together all the road accident and incident statistical data, not only from the police but from other bodies, including hospitals. That will be of particular relevance in respect of today's debate about data from hospitals on gunshot wounds being collated for police work.
In the same way, it is vital to ensure that detailed data on our railways are collected and that adequate information is available. I am sure that the hon. Lady is aware that such data are already collected by Railway Safety, which produces a statistical bulletin. The issue for the Minister is to give the Committee an assurance that, with the additional benefit of the work from the RAIB, we will look at ways of developing statistical analysis to ensure that we learn some significant lessons for the future improvement of rail safety.
I give an example. Strada was surprised to discover that the side of the road is more significant that previously thought. In a large number of accidents, the degree of injury was increased significantly where there were boulders on the side of the road. As a result of that research, a major programme to clear the sides of roads has begun. I am sure that other examples may arise from appropriately detailed analysis of railway statistics.
We are not minded to support the hon. Lady's amendment because we do not believe that the example she has chosen is a good one to follow. I am using this opportunity to try to obtain from the Minister a clear assurance that much more detailed gathering and analysis of statistics is intended.
I end by giving an example of where much more detailed information on the railways could be gathered and analysed. The Minister may be aware—I have received parliamentary answers on the matter—that many incidents on the railways that have led to deaths and serious injuries were the result of vandalism or the starting of fires. The Minister will also be aware that in many of those cases there is no statistical data to tell us where such incidents occur. It is therefore not possible to identify the hot spots of that sort—or black spots as the hon. Lady referred to them in relation to the roads—on the railways. Much progress is needed in that area. Will the Minister assure us that improvements will be made?
This has been an interesting and wide-ranging debate, which, Mr. Hurst, must have tested your patience. I shall, of course, stick with your stricture and focus firmly on the issues under debate.
Clause 10 is not about the rail accident investigation branch report itself. That is covered elsewhere in the Bill. The clause concerns the reporting by industry to the rail accident investigation branch that an accident or an incident has occurred. It is then the responsibility of the rail accident investigation branch to analyse the data from those reports.
I apologise to the Minister for intervening so soon, but a further question has just occurred to me. We know that, very shortly, the rail safety and standards board will be set up. That will in part replace Railway Safety, which currently gathers the statistics and carries out the analysis. Will the Minister confirm that, in future, the rail accident investigation branch, and not the rail safety and standards board, will compile that information?
I am reliably informed that RSSB will gather information and give it to the rail accident investigation branch. I hope that that addresses the hon. Gentleman's point.
The requirement in the clause is to inform the rail accident investigation branch.
The hon. Member for Vale of York made some interesting points, but sadly many of them were not relevant to the Bill. She made the good point that the importance of saving a life is just as relevant in one form of transport as it is in another. I accept the premise of that argument.
We have one of the best records on road safety in the world. Sweden also has a very good record in that area. The hon. Member for Bath went to Sweden, but he did not tell us what he did there other than look at road safety.
I am delighted to tell the Minister what I did in Sweden, because a number of issues that I discussed there will come up later in the Bill. I discussed with the Swedish Ministry of Transport the improvements that it has made in dealing with road safety issues. I then met the police and was given a very nice Swedish police baseball cap. I discussed enforcement with the police, and will return to that matter when we discuss the British Transport police.
I am sure that the Committee is endlessly grateful to the hon. Gentleman for telling us that, and I am sure that an account will appear in a ''Focus'' leaflet shortly.
The hon. Member for Vale of York made an important point about transparency, which we should address specifically. The rail accident investigation branch will carry out its investigations openly and transparently and will be required to keep all those affected by the accidents—the industry, regulators, owners, manufacturers and, importantly, the bereaved and injured—informed of the progress of the investigations. Following an accident, the rail accident investigation branch will publish a report as quickly as possible within 12 months on the accident and its causes. I assure the Committee that if urgent safety lessons emerge immediately, the rail accident investigation branch will publish interim reports so that the lessons can be shared with the industry as quickly as possible. If it became clear within days or weeks that a particular aspect of the track or a carriage had caused the accident, the branch would make an interim report to ensure that immediate action was taken, rather than wait for the final report to come out.
The hon. Member for Vale of York spoke about roads to say that investigations into rail accidents will continue to be conducted in much greater detail than the investigations that currently take place into road accidents. Most accidents on the road are not investigated at all, because the police are not called to those incidents. They may involve injury and considerable damage, and lessons could be learned from them, but many are not investigated at all. Indeed, it could be argued that it would be impractical to do so.
The rail accident investigation branch will gather all the relevant data and use them to inform safety recommendations. The hon. Lady gave the example of the state of the road or the weather, and the hon. Member for Bath asked whether the branch will analyse data fairly and draw lessons from them. The simple answer is yes. If a particular piece of rolling stock or line has a problem, it will be up to the branch to make the relevant report. I hope that hon. Members can draw comfort from that response.
I do not want to be drawn too much on helicopters, and I can say only that whether at sea, on road or on rail, we endeavour to ensure the maximum safety
commensurate with the standards set out in the relevant regulations. The hon. Lady will appreciate what I am saying.
The rail accident investigation branch will establish the root causes of rail accidents and incidents and publish detailed reports as soon as possible. That is designed to create the maximum possible transparency and security by sharing all safety lessons with the industry.
On the point of transparency, will the Minister clarify whether the statistical information to which he referred will be available publicly rather than just to the industry, and whether the information will be broken down by train operating company, so that people can compare the safety record of each company?
Yes, the aviation and marine accident investigation branch reports are public. I see them on a regular basis, and RAIB reports will be available publicly to all those who need to respond to them.
I hope that I have answered the questions of the hon. Member for Vale of York, and on that basis, I urge her to withdraw her amendment.
Subject to any later developments, I must say that it is nice to see the Under-Secretary returning to better health. I am most grateful for his reply. The amendment was designed to prompt debate and to elicit the information that we have had. If it emerges from the root causes report and from the information that will be shared with the industry that there is an accident black spot on a particular line or stretch of line, that will be useful for the industry. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
I am grateful for the chance to talk about the background and thinking behind the clause. It allows the Secretary of State to make regulations that would allow requirements to be made in the reporting of accidents and incidents to the rail accident investigation branch so that it may investigate them. We are told that such provision would not affect existing obligations to report accidents to the Health and Safety Executive.
''In April of last year my predecessor asked the Health and Safety Commission (HSC) for advice on the report of the rail industry's European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) programme team on how best to take forward the recommendations from the public inquiry on train protection systems jointly chaired by Professor Uff and Lord Cullen. I have now received the Commission's advice, in a letter to me of 5 February from the Commission Chair. I have placed a copy in the Library.''
I do not yet have a copy of that letter, but when I do, I shall read it with great interest. It would be helpful, Mr. Hurst, if we could make use of your good offices to make representations on behalf of the Committee that what is probably quite a short letter should be published in Hansard for the benefit of hon. Members rather than our having to snaffle off to the Library to find our own copy.
The Secretary of State continued:
''The Commission says that the present programme of fitting the Train Protection and Warning System (TPWS) 'is already delivering real safety benefits'. The Commission 'accepts that the Uff/Cullen timetable for installing ERTMS is not viable' and that 'the current state of technology means that at the moment further use of health and safety law to mandate ERTMS is not appropriate'. They endorse Level 2 as the best system for this country, although the Commission's consultants describe Level 2 as still at an early stage of development, and accept that Level 1 will reduce capacity. The Commission recommends that the Strategic Rail Authority take the lead in developing a single national programme for ERTMS development. I have accepted the HSC's advice.'' —[Official Report, 5 February 2003; Vol. 399, c. 14-16WS.]
I hear your strictures, Mr. Hurst, and will follow them to the letter.
The Ministers told us on Tuesday to expect an important announcement from the Health and Safety Commission that would have a bearing on the clause. In the absence of any further advice from the Ministers, I understand that that statement was released in the letter to which the Secretary of State referred, and which has now been put in the Library. The notes that the Library prepared refer to the role of the Health and Safety Executive:
''Clause 10 allows the secretary of state to make regulations which would allow requirements to be made for the reporting of both rail accidents and incidents to the RAIB. Currently all accidents are reported to the HSE and BTP when they occur and all incidents are reported to the HSE. The government proposed in the consultation document that the industry added another body, the RAIB, to the list of those who need to be reported to when an accident occurs. It did not propose the separate reporting of incidents to the RAIB and HSE but thought that the RAIB would have the right to obtain that information from the HSE as well as industry and HSE reports.''
I merely ask what bearing that work by the Health and Safety Executive will have on future work on the European rail traffic management system. Perhaps the Under-Secretary can confirm that the statement that we were expecting from the Health and Safety Executive is the one that has now been placed in the Library. That would be most helpful.
Subsection (2)(a) gives the Secretary of State far-ranging powers to make regulations that may
''require a person to notify the Rail Accident Investigation Branch of a railway accident or railway incident''.
Is that provision the same as those for, say, a serious road accident, when the drivers of the vehicles are obliged to report the accident to the police. Does subsection (2) create a new requirement for a person to give notification of such an accident? That raises the question of who that person might be. By implication, will the clause enable regulations to describe who that person should be? The clause is limited and could go much further by detailing what the regulations will specify. We are not assisted by the Library, which informs us that certain consultations took place, but does not report them in any detail.
Subsection (2) further says that the regulations may
''make provision about the timing, form and content of notice given by virtue of paragraph (a).''
It is important to elicit from the Government an indication of whether, for example, there will be a 24-hour period in which a person—again, it will be interesting to know who that person should be—should inform the railway accident investigation branch of a railway accident or incident. The Under-Secretary indicated that there are certain circumstances in which a person is not obliged to report a road accident. It is my clear understanding that a road accident must be reported if there is a fatality or a person is injured, even if only slightly. I seek an assurance that the regulations will specify that, because we are still in the dark about whether every accident will be deemed to be a railway accident or incident when a person is killed or seriously injured.
Can the Minister confirm that the regulations will specify the severity of the accident or incident and will state that precise circumstances? He alluded to circumstances in which an accident needs to be reported and there is substantial damage to property—presumably the carriage, the railway station or dwelling houses adjacent to or abutting the station. We need more information about the precise scope of the regulations.
Subsection (3) says:
''The regulations may, in particular, require a person to take or not to take specified action following an accident or incident—
(a) pending the commencement of an investigation, or
(b) during the process of an investigation.''
The Minister may like to draw on the experience of the other two branches of investigation, the marine and aviation accident investigation branches, to help us this morning. Subsection (3) is not sufficiently clear and we need further information.
Subsection (4) states that the regulation may create an offence. I imagine that it will be a new offence, but we are told that it would not be an offence
''punishable by a term of imprisonment exceeding the maximum term which may be imposed by a magistrates' court in accordance with section 78 of the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000''.
It would be helpful to know what the terms of the offence are, even in the broadest outline. I am sure that the Minister must have some idea of that. When are the Government going to produce these regulations? The clause is illuminating up to a point but leaves huge scope for the enabling regulations. The Minister for Transport indicated earlier that the regulations would
be produced shortly after the Bill receives Royal Assent and he must have more detailed knowledge that could help us to understand the clause better. The Under-Secretary may be in a position to share that with us.
I am particularly concerned about subsection (4)(b). It confers on the Secretary of State ''a discretionary function''. I always shudder when I hear that expression, although less so when it applies to the present Secretary of State than when it applied to his predecessor. What will that discretionary function be? What is the purpose of conferring a discretionary function by regulation, rather than specifying it in the Bill? What is the remit of the function? Who would exercise it on behalf of the Secretary of State? We know that the present Secretary of State is a very busy man.
Can the Under-Secretary confirm that clause 10(4)(c) is the normal format for conferring jurisdiction on a court or tribunal? Obviously, the situation will be different in England and Wales, and Northern Ireland and Scotland, but will he confirm whether the clause will apply to all parts of the United Kingdom? As the explanatory notes do not specify anything else, I can only assume that it will.
The explanatory notes also say that the additional staffing needed by the Department for Transport for the rail accident investigation branch is identified in table 1 of the regulatory impact assessment. It is anticipated that 14 professional staff and eight support staff will be needed. I assume that those are the inspectors and investigators that were referred to earlier. Will the Under-Secretary put my mind at rest and assure me that clause 10 will not lead to further employment, but that the functions of clause 10 will be carried out by those who already work for the Department?
To recap, we believe that clause 10 is misleading and does not go far enough. We need to know who will be required to notify the rail accident investigation branch in the case of a fatality or serious injury and what the timing will be. Will it be 24 hours, three months or a year? We also need to know the content of the notice given under subsection (2)(a) and whether it will be published in the usual way or in the form of a letter, leaving it, as my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) said, to the vagaries of the Post Office. Finally, I seek guidance on who will discharge the discretionary function, and would welcome a little more information about the offence created by the clause.
I shall make two brief points. First, subsection (3) refers to
''(a) pending the commencement of an investigation, or
(b) during the process of an investigation.''
Is it likely or possible that the regulations will require some action, such as monitoring a site, to be taken or not taken after an investigation?
Secondly, I want to reinforce the point made by the hon. Member for Vale of York about the discretionary function conferred by subsection (4)(b). What will be the range and remit of that function, and who will exercise it?
This has been an interesting debate, in which a considerable number of questions have been raised, and I shall endeavour to answer them.
The Government have no wish to add an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy to the system of accident reporting. Subsection (2) simply allows the Secretary of State to add the rail accident investigation branch to the list of organisations to which accidents on the railway must be notified. I hope that that clears up one point raised by the hon. Member for Vale of York. Other organisations include the Health and Safety Executive, the police and, in some circumstances, the other emergency services. The Government intend to ensure as far as possible that the additional notification requirement to the rail accident investigation branch will operate in much the same way as existing notification requirements placed on the train companies.
The hon. Lady mentioned the European rail traffic management system. In the margins of Tuesday's sitting, we drew to the attention of the official Opposition and the Liberal Democrats the fact that a statement would probably be made this week. We felt that that information should be available to the Opposition. There is no link between the Bill and any decision or announcement made by the HSE, but because this is a safety issue, we felt that it would be helpful at least to say in the debate that such a statement would be made.
That was most helpful. The Minister implied that the issue that formed part of yesterday's statement was of only marginal interest, but the Secretary of State devoted three columns of Hansard to it on Second Reading. I am mindful of your strictures, Mr. Hurst, but given that the Bill relates primarily to railways, yesterday's announcement should not be underplayed. The potential of the ERTMS—I recall, Mr. Hurst, that I am not allowed to use acronyms, so it is the European rail traffic management system—to prevent accidents is huge, so I hope that we will have some opportunity to debate its contribution. I seek guidance on what will be the appropriate stage to discuss that.
The hon. Lady rightly says that the implications of rail traffic systems are huge. Alas, they are not relevant to the clause, but I hope that we may find an opportunity—with your permission, Mr. Hurst—to discuss them. The issue was discussed on Second Reading. There was also discussion of the difference between speed on the road and speed on the railways. That was also irrelevant to the Bill, but there was quite an interesting exchange.
The hon. Lady will know that clause 7, which we have passed, creates an offence of failing to disclose evidence or otherwise obstructing an investigation. Clause 10(3) will allow regulations to ensure that people do not tamper with or destroy evidence before or during an accident investigation—for example, by deleting a record—so that an investigator cannot use it later. Similar restrictions could be placed on a railway company, so that it would not be allowed to move a carriage that was involved in an accident until the
The time scale to which the hon. Lady referred would depend to some extent on the severity of the incident. For example, a lesser time may be expected for a minor incident. The normal expectation will be that reporting takes place within 24 hours. The hon. Lady asked what would be reported. That will be in reference to accidents and incidents, which will be defined in regulations under clause 2. The hon. Lady will recall my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport saying that the regulations will be commensurate with European Union regulations.
The hon. Lady asked about clause 10(4)(b), which provides for a discretionary function. An example of that function would be if the chief inspector agreed to allow a train operating company 36 rather than 24 hours to report. The court or tribunal provision in paragraph (c) is a routine measure. She also asked about the staffing for the regulator. The figures in the impact assessment are indicative. The actual numbers will be a matter for the chief inspector to determine, but we have made an effort to indicate what we expect those figures to be. She asked about the offence in subsection (4)(a). That will be for failing to notify the rail accident investigation branch of an accident or incident.
The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) made a good point that some of the information that will be gleaned could be used to monitor a site by those who have responsibility. I hope that I have covered all the points that were raised.
The Minister did not touch on the conferring of a discretionary function or set out the range of those functions. Will he indicate the remit and who may take on the functions?
I mentioned what the discretionary function was. I said that it would give the chief inspector a small discretion over some issues and gave the example of the length of time that a train operating company had to report an incident. That is the type of discretion available.
I hope that I have been able to satisfy the Committee and that clause 10 will stand part of the Bill.
I was interested in the Under-Secretary's remarks about the European element of the regulations. He will be aware of my long-standing interest in matters European, and I am fortunate enough, Mr. Hurst, to serve on the European Scrutiny Committee under the distinguished chairmanship of your co-Chairman, Mr. Hood.
The Minister for Transport said earlier in Committee, and the Secretary of State for Transport has said elsewhere, that if the Europeans came up with regulations that the Government deemed to be a better system of safety provision for railways, we would
adopt them. Will the Under-Secretary confirm that such regulations would be subject to the European Scrutiny Committee and could be referred for debate to one of the European Standing Committees? The contents of those regulations could have—
I will stick to what is within his competence, limited as you say it is, Mr. Hurst.
I understand the Minister's comment that the purpose of clause 10 is simply to add the rail accident investigation branch to the list of bodies to which accidents will be reported. I am still unclear who the person under clause 10(2)(a) would be, and about the fact that it would amount to an offence if the time limit before which the accident should be reported were not respected. Should the limit be 24 hours, three months or a year? Will that person be told what severity of accident would apply, to enable him to realise that he is that person and that there is that time limit?
Let me cover a few of those points. The European Union regulations will be a minimum; some countries may decide, as we have, that standards should be higher. It would be nonsensical for our regulations not to be in line with, or at least commensurate with, those elsewhere in the EU. As for the European Scrutiny Committee considering the matter, I have to say that I do not call that Committee; it calls me. The train operator or Network Rail would report the accident.
The hon. Lady asked about delays in reporting. It would depend whether those organisations were unreasonably delaying or denying information. As a lawyer, she probably understands that expression, but I think that that is how it would be defined.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill.