Clause 53

Part of Road Safety Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:00 pm on 18 April 2006.

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Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport 6:00, 18 April 2006

As far as the latter point is concerned, my reference to stricter enforcement and to increased penalties does not relate directly to new clause 30, but to powers elsewhere in the Bill where we have already agreed that we can increase penalties if appropriate and that we can increase the number of endorseable points that someone can get on their licence if they commit a particular offence. One of the assurances sought by the Conservatives was that there should be a thorough consultation about graduated penalties before we debated the matter properly in Committee and before the House took a position on it. That is why there will have to be a consultation process and further debate in the House. I do not believe, however, that that will unnecessarily delay increasing the penalties in a way that the hon. Member for Wimbledon might fear.

Based on the experience of the hon. Member for North Shropshire, it is not so much a question of whether the penalties are right at the moment, but that they are not being imposed at all because people are not being caught jumping traffic lights at level crossings. Those involved in the 73 incidents that he mentioned have not been penalised at all. We can get to grips with that situation straight away while discussing the increase in the seriousness of the penalties that can be incurred when someone is caught.

If I judge the mood of the Committee correctly, and if that mood is reflected by the mood of the House when the consultation is over, I suspect we will have no difficulty agreeing more severe penalties for those who commit offences at level crossings. The penalties in respect of dangerous driving and the definitions of dangerous and careless driving are already on the  statute book, and the police can already catch people for such offences and prosecute them.

New clause 30 deals with a different aspect, which is to clarify who is responsible for making level crossings safe. Network Rail was concerned about the identification of improvements needed at particular level crossings. Such improvements had to be implemented by the highway authority, which was usually the local council, and the highway authority was not prepared to engage with Network Rail in discussing design improvements and the provision of equipment, either because it thought it would cost money or because it did not see it as a priority for its road system. Network Rail was left in the frustrating position of having identified a problem that could be dealt with by some sort of engineering solution or the provision of safety equipment, while being unable to get the highway authority, which was legally the body that had to provide that equipment, to take the necessary action.

The new clause will determine that local authorities have such a duty to engage with Network Rail and that they have the duty to provide equipment when it has been identified as the appropriate equipment necessary to make conditions safe. Network Rail has said that it will pay for the process so local authorities do not need to be concerned about getting involved. It will clearly not be a burden on the council tax payer.

We are also making the definition of equipment clearer. It is not just going to refer to equipment specific to the railway; it can be equipment specific to the process of making the railway safer. Such equipment might otherwise be better defined as road equipment. I am advised that the term “barriers” is to be removed as part of the process of making it clearer that equipment that can be provided will not just come from a prescriptive list of equipment appropriate to the railway. Instead, there will be a much wider definition including equipment more akin to that used to control traffic movement on the road. That will make the legislation clearer from the point of view of the local authorities and Network Rail, which will have to work together on the redesign of some level crossings following the implementation of the Bill.

I hope that that is the reassurance that the hon. Member for Wimbledon seeks and that he will support the Government’s position.