Clause 59 - Public consultation

Railways and Transport Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 pm on 25th February 2003.

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Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Secretary of State for Transport 3:30 pm, 25th February 2003

I beg to move amendment No. 78, in

clause 59, page 24, line 7, after 'Executive', insert—

'( ) employees in railway services and trade unions related to railway services'.

I am not sure whether Ministers were well prepared for debating the earlier clause, but I am sure that they will be well prepared for this amendment. All I expect at this stage is an ''all right then'' response. If I do not receive that, I still hope for some good news in a short time. For the sake of brevity—

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

Can I help the hon. Gentleman by saying ''all right then'', saving him from having to make any further contribution?

Hon. Members:

Hear, hear!

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

In the spirit of wanting to make progress and given the clear assurance of the Minister that he will further consider the lacuna identified in the amendment—the failure to take account of employers and trade unions in the consultation list—I am delighted to accept his ''all right then'', and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport) 3:45 pm, 25th February 2003

The clause is welcome and we wholeheartedly applaud it. Subsection (1) provides a list. Is it indicative or fully comprehensive? As I mentioned earlier, in some circumstances, parish councils would have an interest in obtaining information about the policing of the railways. In the initial consultation the Passenger Transport Executive gave the Government the benefit of its

views, which is why I want to know the extent to which the list is all embracing.

The Rail Passengers Council would be the most appropriate body for the consultation of passengers, but the Consumers Association and its laudable publication Which? often examines transportation by rail and other modes of transport. To what extent are the Government minded to consult it? Scottish Ministers are also mentioned in the list, so to what extent will the Government consult them and other Scottish organisations? Welsh communications could also be mentioned.

The Under-Secretary missed the point when I spoke about victims as a worthy inclusion in the statistics column. He said that statistics on victims appeared in the PINS and statistical bulletin, but I also mentioned gender, age, ethnicity and ability. On that last factor, I refer again to the Royal National Institute of the Blind, which welcomed clause 59 on reviewing opinions about the policing of the railways. In his response, will the Minister confirm whether the Secretary of State intends to table an amendment to the clause? Apparently not, but the Committee is still young and further sittings lie ahead.

Will the Government propose an amendment to require consultation with disabled passengers and their representatives so that their views can be taken into account in the planning process? Will future consultation documents be produced in large print, tape and Braille and be made available on an accessible web site to allow blind and partially sighted people to participate? Those questions are highly pertinent for the less able and the less mobile, as well as for the partially sighted and the blind. Hard-of-hearing passengers might also like to be consulted. Does the Minister expect consultation by the British Transport police to take into account the views and real concerns of disabled passengers?

By the same token and in view of the volume of statistics on offenders being apprehended through the good services of the British Transport police, would the Minister see fit to consider that such consultations should have regard to the interests of victims? Perhaps the consultation would be opportune in that regard. It would also be helpful for the victims to feel that they were being consulted on what for them are extremely serious issues.

The list of bodies to which the Bill refers is not exhaustive or comprehensive, so presumably the Government will want to consult the other bodies to which I have referred. Will the Minister look favourably on consulting, for example, the Royal National Institute of the Blind and those passengers, both less able and able-bodied, who have been victims in the past?

Obviously, paragraph (m) is the cover-all provision. It refers to

''other persons with an interest in the railways whom the Authority thinks it appropriate to consult.''

I revert to the point about parish councils. I am thinking particularly of parish councils that represent areas such as Cattal, which I mentioned this morning. Cattal station is a commuter station on a very busy

line between Harrogate and York. It serves the golden triangle, in that it serves Harrogate and York, and provides access to Leeds. Parish councils that represent areas in which a busy line and station are located should be considered.

It goes without saying that one would expect the chief constable to be consulted. However, I am slightly concerned that

''Before making or reviewing arrangements under this section the Authority shall . . . have regard to any guidance issued by the Secretary of State.''

Will the Minister be good enough to tell us what specific guidance has been laid down and how it is brought to the attention of the authority and those who would wish to be consulted? It is extremely important that they all know what they are doing. I hope that the Minister will confirm that the consultation will be conducted in the most open and transparent way possible.

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

Having persuaded the Minister to extend the clause by adding the words that I have proposed, or the alternative that he will now propose to cover the same point, I now ask him whether he would be prepared to make up for that addition by allowing a small deletion. I study these matters with some interest. Will he explain why subsection (4)(c) is in the clause?

The Committee will be aware that two requirements are placed on the authority:

''The Authority shall make, and review from time to time, arrangements to obtain the opinions''

of various people, and

''shall make, and review from time to time, arrangements to invite the co-operation of the persons listed''.

However, we are then told under subsection (4)(c) that

''The Secretary of State may . . . require the Authority to review arrangements under this section.''

As the authority has no choice—it has to conduct reviews from time to time—why is there the addition that the Secretary of State ''may'' ask them to do so? He insists that they do that earlier in the clause. I am slightly confused.

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

The hon. Member for Vale of York said that the list of organisations identified was not exhaustive or comprehensive. However, that is precisely why we have paragraph (m), which enables the authority to take into account

''other persons with an interest in the railways whom the Authority thinks it appropriate to consult.''

The hon. Member for Bath is right that the authority shall make, and review from time to time, the arrangements. However, just as a backstop, the Secretary of State can intervene if it is thought that those arrangements are not working satisfactorily. We certainly hope that they will work satisfactorily, which is why we do not want to be over-prescriptive. It could be argued that the list is quite lengthy. However, it could be extended much further. That is precisely why we have the enabling power for the authority under

paragraph (m). It is for the authority to review the arrangements to ensure that there is the widest and most effective consultation possible with all those who might have an appropriate interest in the matter.

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

I am sure that the Minister knows that he is waffling. Under subsection (4)(a) and (b), the Secretary of State has the power to get involved in the way in which the review is carried out. There is no need to add anything to that provision, because the authority has no choice but to review from time to time. As I said earlier, that is already covered. The provision is tautological and totally unnecessary. I do not care two figs whether there is a backstop. I had hoped that the Minister might for once agree that it was unnecessary, but if he thinks otherwise, so be it.

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

I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree that taking a belt and braces approach is not unprecedented in legislation.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

It is all very well to have belt and braces, but the hon. Member for Bath pressed the right button when he said that the Minister was slightly waffling.

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

I did not say he was ''slightly waffling'' but that he was waffling.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I find it extraordinary that although we are having a full debate, the Government seem totally unprepared to answer the pertinent questions raised by me and the hon. Gentleman. I imagine that the Royal Institute of the Blind will take a disappointing view of the fact that the Minister has not responded or said whether victims will be included in the consultation. He certainly did not deal with my specific request about whether parish councils would be included.

As for the Minister blathering on about Scottish Ministers and Members of the National Assembly for Wales, I hope that the Secretary of State would want the authority to consult other bodies in Scotland and Wales. It would have been interesting to hear which bodies they might be. I specifically asked about the relevant provisions of the Act. Rather than accuse the Minister of waffling, I would say that he is a little under-prepared for today's debate.

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

I made it clear to the hon. Lady that, under paragraph (g), the opinions would be sought of

''organisations representing local authorities in England''.

That therefore enables all local authorities to be engaged in discussions with regard to victims. The authority may well be looking at a post-incident response in order to evaluate the experience of victims and to find out what lessons could be learned that hade a more general application, rather than specific applications.

The clause allows authorities to review from time to time their arrangements for obtaining people's opinions about the policing of the railways. That is precisely why it lays that duty on the authorities. They can look at their mechanisms for obtaining such views from a range of specified organisations; but, in the hon. Lady's own words, it is by no means an exhaustive or comprehensive list. Paragraph (m) will enable those authorities to do that. If that mechanism

is found not to be effective in obtaining the widest possible range of necessary and appropriate views, the clause provides for the Secretary of State to intervene. It seems right to put that level of responsibility on the authority, but as always when setting up such bodies, we also provide a fall-back position.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 59 ordered to stand part of the Bill.