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

Once again, I recommend that the clause does not stand part of the Bill. I hope, however, that the Committee will support new clause 30 and amendment No. 111.

This group of clauses is well intentioned. Every one of us agrees with the intent behind them. As we said, drivers who try to go through level crossings need to be dealt with severely, and we must think much more clearly about what protective measures and other measures are appropriate at level crossings. The clauses represent a cri de coeur by Network Rail, which felt that people were not listening to it when it identified the need to improve level crossings. I take full responsibility for that, although I wish that it had come to me first, rather than tabling amendments. We could have helped each other to arrive at the Government’s new clause, rather than the group of clauses inserted in the Lords.

There was a difference of opinion between the Government’s lawyers and Network Rail. Network Rail felt that the current legislation did not specify clearly enough the duty of local authorities to help it make level crossings safe. Equally, it felt that when deciding what measures to put in place, there was a legal dispute about what constituted rail equipment and road equipment. The Government’s view was that the law was clear and that there were responsibilities on local authorities as well as Network Rail. However, when we discussed the legislation with Network Rail, we realised that it could be drafted more clearly so that everyone understands their responsibilities. Hence, new clause 30 makes it clear who is responsible for safety at level crossings and who is required to work with Network Rail to devise and provide new measures for making level crossings safer.

In some cases, those measures will include rumble strips to remind drivers how fast they are going as they approach a level crossing. In others, the measures might be as simple as improved signage on the  approach or the provision of CCTV for better enforcement at a level crossing. Whatever measures are necessary must be provided to make level crossings safe, and everybody responsible for providing that equipment must realise that they have a duty to work together to devise and put in place safe arrangements.

In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney), I am pleased to say that in case there was any doubt about whether the new arrangements would fall on the council tax payer, Network Rail has agreed to pay for any improvements identified as a result of the new clause. However, it will still be the responsibility of local authorities to help implement the improvements and to work with Network Rail to design them and make level crossings much safer.