HC Deb 08 July 1996 vol 281 cc9-10
7. Mrs. Dunwoody

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will hold urgent talks with the railway inspectorate of the Health and Safety Executive to agree new mechanisms for monitoring railway safety. [34688]

Sir George Young

I am satisfied that the independent Health and Safety Executive already has appropriate mechanisms for monitoring railway safety. Provisional HSE figures for 1995–96 show that the number of passenger and staff fatalities on the railway was the lowest on record.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Is the Secretary of State aware that, following privatisation, there is now a clear conflict of interests between Railtrack, which is responsible for safety, and the fact that it is also responsible for safety on behalf of the other companies? A difficult problem may evolve if the Secretary of State is not prepared to accept that fact and ensure that the HSE changes its way of working to reflect it.

Sir George Young

It is not necessary, because the Health and Safety Commission recommended a safety regime which took into account our belief that Railtrack should be privatized—and it has been implemented in full. Therefore, the clash of interest that the hon. Lady outlined does not occur.

Mr. Harry Greenway

Is my right hon. Friend aware that some of the track suggested for use by Central Railway for its freight line in Ealing, North is regarded as totally unsafe for such a purpose and that the project will in any case be damaging to the health and safety of the people in the area and is not acceptable to them?

Sir George Young

My hon. Friend will have heard my hon. Friend the Minister for Railways and Roads answer a question about Central Railway a few moments ago. Like my hon. Friend, I have a potential constituency interest in the matter. I have therefore asked my hon. Friend the Minister of State to handle the matter in the House.

Mr. Dalyell

What is the Secretary of State's position on the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody)? Is it that a clash of interest has not taken place or that a clash of interest can never take place?

Sir George Young

The key point is that the Health and Safety Executive remains an independent safety regulatory body with full enforcement powers. It sits above Railtrack and has all the powers that it needs to enforce safety on the railways.

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