HC Deb 22 February 2000 vol 344 cc1373-84 12.30 pm
The Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. John Prescott)

With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to make a statement on rail safety.

There is a lot of progress to report in the four months since the tragic accident at Paddington last October. In the week of the Coroner's inquiry into the deaths at Paddington and the Professor Uff report on the Southall tragedy, the deepest sympathies from hon. Members on both sides of the House go out to the relatives and friends of those who died.

That prompts us to redouble our efforts to raise the standards of railway safety. Today is a day for decisions, but not for final decisions. We are taking a significant step towards a safer and more secure railway system. The Paddington disaster taught us that we must do more to improve railway safety in Britain. I have asked Lord Cullen for a full, comprehensive report on rail safety and I have asked Sir David Davies to look at the immediate steps that could be taken now to improve safety.

Both the Davies and the Health and Safety Executive reports published today show that we can make a start on improving rail safety. I am not prepared to wait for the most perfect technology to be developed, for the most perfect administrative machinery to be put in place or for the most perfect legislation to be drafted if that means needless delay in the meantime. What can be done must be done to improve rail safety immediately.

I have been pressed, rightly, not to pre-empt Lord Cullen's inquiry and report, and I shall not do so. What motivates me is asking whether there is anything that I can reasonably do as quickly as possible to improve railway safety. The decisions that I am announcing today are not, therefore, final decisions. They are part of a step-by-step process that started before Paddington and has moved forward today with the Davies and HSE reports.

That process will move forward again when Lord Cullen reports, and again when we put in place any legislative changes that follow from that. The report will cover the overall regime of safety management and safety regulation on the railway. Lord Cullen set to work immediately after the Ladbroke Grove incident.

Shortly after the crash, I called together the industry's leaders to talk about an urgent action plan. We agreed a programme that covers matters such as driver training, signals passed at danger, train protection and a national confidential safety reporting system, which was welcomed by everyone. That programme is on target.

One issue that has caused great concern, particularly in the House, is signals passed at danger. I am glad to report that far fewer trains are now passing red lights. The average monthly figure over the past three months has fallen by one third, from 56 to 38, compared with the same period a year ago. Over the past decade that figure has nearly halved. I am sure that the House will welcome that and congratulate all those who have played a part in reducing the number of those incidents.

I said to the House last year that I was minded to separate out the main functions of Railtrack's safety and standards directorate—that is, its responsibilities towards train operators. I made it clear that that required careful consideration to ensure greater coherence on safety and not increased risk. I can now announce steps to achieve that separation, pending Lord Cullen's public inquiry. The separation is needed to remove conflicts of interest between Railtrack's responsibility to manage the network safely, which it must retain, and the responsibilities of its safety and standards directorate to train operators, principally in approving their safety cases.

The Transport Sub-Committee identified that conflict, as did the Health and Safety Commission, and today I am taking action to correct it. I asked the commission to investigate those concerns further. It has made a detailed examination of the way in which Railtrack undertakes its safety duties, and will now establish a programme of action to achieve best practice in that work.

A second report was prepared by a senior team with wide experience of safety management and regulation drawn from different industries and led by my Department. It made several recommendations. First, the main area of conflict in Railtrack's safety directorate is its prime role in approving the safety cases for train operating companies. Contrary to press reports, I accept the recommendation that Railtrack should be stripped of that responsibility, which will in future be carried out by the Health and Safety Executive. Secondly, Railtrack will lose direct control of its remaining industrywide responsibilities, principally to develop group standards and prepare the rail group safety plan.

The department concerned, Railtrack's safety and standards directorate, will become a free-standing subsidiary company. New conditions in Railtrack's network licence and a board representing the whole industry, with outside members and an independent chairman, will ensure the independence of that company from Railtrack's commercial interests. It will have finances and accounts separate from those of Railtrack. The company's chief executive will be appointed by the separate independent board, not by Railtrack, and he or she will not be a director of Railtrack. His or her remuneration will be based on safety, not on Railtrack's commercial success.

The existing safety advisory board, a broadly based body with industry and trade union representation, will continue to provide strategic advice to the new company. The new company will be separated from Railtrack's operational management. The Health and Safety Executive will play a greater role in safety audits. The new company will be tasked with a more comprehensive audit regime, including annual audits of safety case holders.

The two reports confirm my judgment that immediate action was needed. The measures can be taken now, without awaiting primary legislation and without pre-empting Lord Cullen's recommendations. They emphasise Railtrack's responsibility to operate the network safely; however, Railtrack's dominance of the industry's safety agenda has not delivered and it must end.

In addition, I have decided that it is not right that responsibility for setting and enforcing security standards, including anti-terrorist measures, should reside in a private company. Therefore, I am transferring that role from Railtrack to my Department, which will bring security regulation of the railways in line with that of aviation, shipping and the channel tunnel.

I should like to make two things clear: first, nothing relieves any railway company of its proper responsibility to protect the safety of passengers, staff and the general public. Secondly, today's announcement sets out an interim position; the final fate of the SSD will be decided following Lord Cullen's report.

The Paddington crash underlined the need for better train protection systems to protect trains from passing red signals, independent of a driver's response. I was determined that our railways should provide the best train protection at the earliest opportunity. I asked Sir David Davies, president of the Royal Academy of Engineering, to assess the effectiveness, practicability and cost of train protection systems.

Sir David's principal conclusion is to support the installation of the train protection and warning system across the network as soon as possible, with automatic train protection on lines with speeds above 100 mph when they are upgraded. Track installation of train protection warning systems will be complete by the end of 2002, a year earlier than planned, and installation on rolling stock by the end of 2003. The system will be brought into use across most of the network before then, starting with the Bedford-Brighton line this year.

Sir David supports an enhanced version, TPWS-plus, which would increase the speed at which TPWS is effective from 75 to 100 mph. It would add some £70 million to the approximately £250 million cost of TPWS. Sir David's clear advice is that that strategy strikes the right balance, irrespective of cost. With the added benefit of TPWS-plus, the system will provide within four years a level of protection that it would take 10 years to achieve if we switched to a programme of installing ATP retrospectively across the network to the fastest realistic time scale.

ATP is already in operation on the Great Western line, the Chiltern line and the Heathrow Express. It is being fitted on the channel tunnel rail link, and will be included in the resignalling of the west and east coast main lines. Sir David recommends that all lines running at over 100 mph should be fitted with ATP as they are upgraded. He specifically recommends taking forward the current programme to fit ATP on the west coast main line from 2002; fitting ATP on the east coast main line, with work starting in 2006, if possible; and fitting full ATP to the Midland main line.

TPWS would have prevented the Paddington crash. The enhanced TPWS that Sir David recommends would have prevented the Southall crash. It can be introduced quickly and it can save lives—more than seven out of 10 accidents are caused by trains passing red signals.

Looking further ahead, Sir David recommends that the industry start planning now for a transition to the most advanced European standard of automatic train protection and train control. That is the next generation of ATP, which will use radio-controlled moving-block signalling for optimum safety at all speeds.

At this stage, it is not possible to put a precise figure on the cost of future ATP installation. Radio-controlled moving-block systems should be cheaper and offer greater benefits than current technologies. Some have estimated the cost at between £1 billion and £2 billion. That is a cost which the industry would have to cover, as safety is not an optional extra.

Sir David's report contains a thorough analysis and a comprehensive programme for now and for the future. I am extremely grateful to him for his clear account of a complex and much misunderstood area. It now falls to the industry to take Sir David's recommendations forward without delay. I look to the industry to take urgent action to upgrade the current TPWS programme to the TPWS-plus that Sir David recommends.

Sir David's other recommendations will provide valuable input to the joint inquiry by Lord Cullen and Professor Uff into train protection systems, which will start this autumn. All reports are being published and placed in the House of Commons Library today.

Since coming to power, and particularly since the Paddington crash, the Government and the safety regulator have taken comprehensive action across all aspects of rail safety. We have worked to bring forward the removal of old slam-door rolling stock from the network; to improve driver training; to protect trains from passing red lights; to improve the processes for setting and enforcing standards; and to address the conflicts and confusions that arose from the way in which the railway was fragmented.

The Strategic Rail Authority is already giving leadership. Lessons learned from investigating the causes of the Southall crash have already been put to good effect in the investigation of Paddington.

On Thursday this week, the Health and Safety Commission is publishing the report of the public inquiry chaired by Professor Uff into the Southall crash in 1997, which will make further recommendations.

Taken together with the decisions that I have announced, I believe that we are now well on the way to a significantly safer railway than the one that we had three years ago, before the Southall crash. Last October, I said that the Paddington tragedy must be a watershed for railway safety. The Government give safety in transport the highest priority. As the House knows, I have campaigned for it all my political life.

Never before have we seen such a concerted effort by such respected authorities to ensure greater safety on our railways. Their work is impressive; their conclusions are persuasive; and the industry's response is positive. Now we look forward to Lord Cullen's report on how the strongest possible culture of safety can be constructed throughout the railway industry. Such a total commitment to safety is the response demanded by the tragedies of Southall and Ladbroke Grove, as I am sure the whole House will agree.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex)

I thank the Deputy Prime Minister for his statement and for providing me in advance with a copy of it and of the three reports. I join him in his renewed expression of sympathy for those involved in the Paddington crash.

The Conservatives will shortly submit proposals on rail safety reform to the Cullen inquiry for consideration. We support entirely the Government's objective of strengthening the safety culture on the railway—immediately, if possible. However, the railways could learn from civil aviation, an industry that is privatised and fragmented but enjoys the best safety record of the transport industries.

We want the Cullen inquiry to consider whether the railway inspectorate should be removed from the health and safety inspectorate, and put in a specialist legislative framework with the rail regulator, thus resembling the Civil Aviation Authority.

The Cullen inquiry should consider whether the Government should establish a new independent rail accident investigation branch of the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, similar to that which exists for air and marine accidents to ensure the impartiality of investigations. It should also consider whether Railtrack should continue to be responsible for the safety and standards directorate and, if so, in what form.

We have already recommended an independent chairman for the safety and standards directorate. The report issued this morning recommends that its prime functions—setting group standards and the intra-industry system of safety assurance—remain in Railtrack. Does the Deputy Prime Minister accept that recommendation?

I shall remind the House of the chronology of events that surround the safety and standards directorate. The intensity of the immediate reaction to the Paddington disaster on 5 October demanded a cool head and measured judgment. On Wednesday 6 October, the day after the fatal crash, the Deputy Prime Minister announced the Cullen inquiry, and we gave that decision the fullest possible support. When I visited the crash site with Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, the Minister for Transport, on Friday 8 October, he gave no hint that the Government were about to do anything precipitate.

Why, therefore, did we read in newspapers on Sunday 10 October that the Government were to "strip" Railtrack of its safety role? The Deputy Prime Minister has had to change his mind, and I respect him for coming to the House to make his announcement. However, I ask him to reflect on whether his briefing to the Sunday papers on Friday 8 and Saturday 9 October contributed anything to rail safety. Is not there a lesson to be learned? Does the Deputy Prime Minister recall the words of Sir Alastair Morton, the chairman of the Strategic Rail Authority, who gave the following warning: If you change the rail safety regime in haste, you will repent it at leisure"? I welcome the Deputy Prime Minister's assurance that nothing that he has said today or on previous occasions is intended to limit the remit of the Cullen inquiry. Whatever our view of the issues, that is the basis on which we supported his decision to set up the inquiry. That is also the view of the victims' families.

I welcome the conclusion of Sir David Davies' inquiry, which vindicates the decisions of the Deputy Prime Minister and his predecessors to proceed with TPWS. What assurances can the right hon. Gentleman give that the next generation of ATP and computerised train control systems, which we all support, can be delivered? What assurances can he give about the increase in the number of signals passed at danger in the past month? What does he learn from the most recent figures and when will the welcome initiative on driver training begin to bear fruit?

It is our duty to question and hold the Deputy Prime Minister to account on this matter as on any other. However, I assure him that we shall put no obstacle in his path to prevent the improvement of rail safety, not only for the sake of today's rail passengers and staff but for those who were injured, those who died and those who were bereaved last October.

Mr. Prescott

I thank the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) for his statement and his intention to give evidence to the Cullen inquiry. We should all do that if we believe that lessons can be learned and improvements made.

Some of the hon. Gentleman's statements tried to rewrite history. I do not want to go into detail, but I shall respond to two points that he made. I am glad that he welcomes Sir David Davies' recommendation on TPWS, but the previous Administration did not make a decision on that. This Government made the decision. Arguments took place in the previous Administration about whether they should adopt TPWS and, indeed, ATP.

Mr. Jenkin

indicated dissent.

Mr. Prescott

Well, it is a matter of record. I shall not go into the arguments, but we had to make a decision. That is why I came to the House and made the decision. However, that is history.

If we can combine to improve safety on the railways, I welcome that. I also welcome the hon. Gentleman's first point and the general tone of his response, for which I am grateful.

On whether there should be a separate regulatory body similar to the Civil Aviation Authority, although I understand the respect that is shown for it as a safety regulatory body, it was hoped that the same might have been achieved for the maritime safety body, but after the Marchioness affair people do not feel quite the same. There is no guarantee that that will occur, but my point is that the Select Committee made it absolutely clear that it wants a separate transport safety body. That is why I set up the transport safety review, which is about to report. There are a number of options—the hon. Gentleman identified one or two and I look forward to the debates on that matter—but it is important to separate the safety and commercial functions. Let me now deal with his point about Railtrack.

Under health and safety legislation, every company in this country—whether a railway company or not—has a direct responsibility for safety. Nobody has ever suggested that Railtrack should be stripped of its direct safety responsibilities, but, like the Health and Safety Executive report, we draw a distinction. I ask the hon. Gentleman to believe that I did not brief on that report. I should make it clear that that is not my style; I do not play that way—I did not do so even yesterday, I might add. The separation of those responsibilities was asked for. Group standards affect the train operating companies, for example, and they complained of unfairness and a conflict of interest because Railtrack administers railway system standards.

I initiated two reports—one by the Health and Safety Executive and another, to which I am referring today, by my Department—which confirmed that judgment. That is why I have separated those responsibilities—I have not left responsibility for governing group safety with Railtrack. I ask the hon. Gentleman to read the reports to see why I have reached that conclusion. The separation of powers is clear to this extent: there is an independent company and an independent chairman—[Interruption.] Well, we shall continue the debate, but the prime purpose of the statement is to show exactly what the reports asked of me—that there should be separation.

There could be an argument for going all the way and legislating to take safety out completely, but I would like to hear what Lord Cullen has to say. However, I am not prepared to do nothing and wait for him. I believe that the statement will improve safety. My obligation is to achieve the best possible safety on the railway system, and that is what I have recommended today.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

My right hon. Friend cares very much about railway safety and when he identified Ladbroke Grove as the watershed he expressed the views of many of the people of this country. Can he tell us, therefore, whether the independent company will be a subsidiary of Railtrack? If so, to whom will the independent chairman report? Will he report directly to the Secretary of State and not through Railtrack under any circumstances?

My right hon. Friend will be aware that, since the accident, not one senior Railtrack executive, apart from the person responsible for public relations, has been required to resign. That is a matter of considerable astonishment. Can he give the House a very precise timetable for the implementation by the train operating companies and Railtrack of the new TPWS that he suggests? That can be only an interim measure before we move on, in the next decade, to the new and much tougher equipment.

Mr. Prescott

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's comments. The work of her Select Committee has influenced us a great deal in these matters. She asks when TPWS can be implemented. The date has been brought forward by a year, so I can confirm that it should be implemented by 2003. However, I would not want people to believe that that is all we are doing. ATP is already being implemented in the system and it is important that we continue with that, but the argument is about achieving the best balance and the best mix. Going with one—at least TPWS, but not ATP—would not achieve the best possible safety. However, adopting the TPWS recommendation means that about 70 or 75 per cent. of accidents can be avoided, so it is my obligation to implement it as quickly as possible. As Sir David Davies says, it will take the best part of eight or 10 years to implement ATP completely, but I have to make a judgment for the safety not only of train drivers, but of the passengers on the system. We must also consider prevention. That is sufficient justification for me to act today.

The company that is being set up will have an independent chair and the directors will be appointed by the company. It will be a subsidiary of Railtrack.

The main concern is not Railtrack's responsibility for stations and tracks but its responsibility for group safety involving the operators and freight companies. The subsidiary company will have direct responsibility in those matters. It will produce annual reports, be audited and work closely with the Health and Safety Executive. Its finance will come from Railtrack, but it will not be involved in Railtrack's commercial decisions. Its finances will be properly audited, separated and ring-fenced so that we can all make a judgment.

It is important to take this step now, but a total separation may be necessary, as the Transport Sub-Committee has recommended. I await Lord Cullen's report, but my statement improves the situation and reduces the confusion.

Mr. Don Foster (Bath)

I begin by reiterating our sympathy to the friends and relatives of all who died in the Paddington rail crash. I thank the Deputy Prime Minister for his statement, especially the reaffirmation of his commitment to making safety his first priority. I also thank him for making available a copy of the Davies report. I welcome that report and the Deputy Prime Minister's acceptance of its main recommendations.

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House whether it is his intention that the total cost of meeting those recommendations will fall on the operating companies, and subsequently on the users of the services, or whether the Government will make a contribution towards those costs? I found his answer to the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) somewhat ambiguous. In October, he agreed with me that public confidence in our railways would be re-established only with the setting up of an entirely separate body responsible for establishing and monitoring safety standards. What he has proposed is half baked. I do not believe that it will give the clarity that the public require.

Although I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman has no intention of pre-empting the Cullen inquiry, will he reaffirm to the House his statement in October last year that he is minded to have a complete separation, not this half separation that he is offering? As he has just said, the money for the subsidiary body will still come from Railtrack.

Mr. Prescott

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words, and his congratulations to Sir David Davies on an excellent piece of work. In commissioning that report, I was asking an independent engineer to give a proper judgment on the technical possibilities of the different systems and their cost. The cost is approximately £250 million across the industry. The industry is already gearing up for and carrying those costs: it entered into an agreement with me 12 months ago, so they are already being fed into the system.

The hon. Gentleman asked me whether the costs will come out of the directors' pockets or be covered by the fare structure. I think that he will agree with me that the regulated framework of fares and track charges will cover most of the costs. Sir David Davies makes it clear that he has made his judgment not on cost, but on safety. That is what the House wanted him to do, and he has given his judgment.

My position on a separate body remains the same, but I am in some difficulty. I could make the decision now to introduce legislation and separate the function entirely before Lord Cullen makes his recommendations and before I have been able to come to a full and proper conclusion on the advice presented to me by the Select Committee. However, it is also necessary to consider other issues, such as the proper evidence of inquiries, whether there are conflicts between inquires and court cases, and the whole business of corporate responsibility. Those matters are being decided now.

I think that the proper way to deal with the problem is to separate these functions. The House will make a judgment about whether the subsidiary company is operating independently. I have no doubt about that. I am sure that the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) will read the reports and make a judgment about the recommendations given to me. It is not me who is making a judgment: the inquiry will give me, and the Select Committee has given me, recommendations and the House can make its own judgment.

I believe that this measure is the best solution at the present time. We can make changes in the licence that governs the railways to improve safety without primary legislation. I have tried to do what relatives and lawyers have often asked me to do, which is not to pre-empt Lord Cullen's report. That is absolutely right. I have no doubt that it will require legislation, and then I can deal with the matter properly.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

May I offer strong support for the Deputy Prime Minister's statement? I support both his recognition that the best is sometimes the enemy of the good, and the passion with which he spoke. But will the Deputy Prime Minister do one thing that relates to my constituents? It is a question of the Forth rail bridge, and the outrageous circumstances in which the firm, Wilkie Hook, which is carrying out the maintenance without which the bridge might be in danger, has been driven into receivership by an absurd row—not of its making—between Railtrack and Rigblast? Will the Deputy Prime Minister ask Railtrack what on earth it thinks it is doing?

The chairman of the Royal Bank of Scotland, George Younger—who is known to the House—is as exasperated as I am by the idea that the greatest monument to 19th-century engineering, let alone the connection to the highlands, has been put in danger. This is a safety issue: it honestly is.

Mr. Prescott

My hon. Friend always makes a powerful case—

Madam Speaker

It does not always relate to what is being discussed.

Mr. Prescott

My hon. Friend related his question to safety in this instance. Let me reassure him: he has raised an important issue, and I shall write to him.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)

Can the Deputy Prime Minister tell us by what date the process of fitting ATP to all lines on which trains run at more than 100 mph will be completed?

Mr. Prescott

I recommend Sir David Davies's excellent report to the hon. Gentleman. The report says that ATP cannot be introduced before 2008 to 2010. I was forced to decide whether to wait until the modern European technology arrived, or whether to act now, some five or six years earlier, and possibly prevent a great many accidents. I think that I achieved the right balance.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud)

Like a number of other hon. Members, I lost constituents in the Paddington disaster. I lost a good friend in Bob Cotton.

I think that what the Deputy Prime Minister has said will allay the fears of relatives and friends. In the immediate aftermath of Paddington, he met MPs representing people affected by what happened. Will he keep that dialogue open? It is relatives and friends who will pay most attention to what he has said today. I feel that we should do all that we can to convey to them that steps are being taken, and that a balance is being achieved between action now and waiting for the results of, in particular, the Cullen report.

Mr. Prescott

I am grateful for what my hon. Friend has said. He brought to mind the moment when, on the day of the tragedy, Rodney Bickerstaffe—also known to hon. Members—rang me to ask about his close friend Bob Cotton, who, tragically, was on the train.

My hon. Friend reminded us of the role and the concerns of relatives. As the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) said, it behoves us all to ensure that we establish the best possible safety measures, and we must all work to achieve that.

I did meet a number of people, and intend to retain the obligation as we carry out the various processes involved in improving safety. Many changes will be necessary. In the next year or so we shall receive important reports—quite apart from those that we have already received—and, in view of that, I shall certainly maintain my direct dialogue with relatives.

Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest)

I listened carefully to the right hon. Gentleman's answer to the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster). He has announced that the safety and standards directorate will, after all, be part of Railtrack. Will he confirm that that is contrary to his previous announcements? We all appreciate that it is important to take account of the reports of the various commissions and that of the Transport Sub-Committee. Why, then, did the right hon. Gentleman say anything at all about his intentions in October, given that he has now completely changed his mind?

Mr. Prescott

I know that the hon. Lady is usually given a question to ask, but I will try to give the best answer. I made the statement about being minded to make a change because I had received a Health and Safety Commission report on the day of the collision itself. Indeed, I commissioned that report in response to the request of the Select Committee to look at the conflict of interest in Railtrack.

That report made it clear—we quoted it and the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) has quoted it at the Dispatch Box—that there was a feeling that there was a conflict of interest—[Interruption.]

Madam Speaker


Mr. Prescott

The report said that there was a feeling in the industry of a conflict of interest, particularly from the train operating companies. It is a matter of record; it has been written into the record of the House. I have had two reports since then to confirm that. Therefore, I am taking action of the kind that I have set out today. It is a proper balance; the balance is right. It may not have finished the process, but basically it will make the position safer. The Opposition would have done better to understand that, as they directed the safety system and implemented it under the privatisation of the railways.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough)

My constituency of Slough is very concerned about this matter—five people who worked in Slough were killed at Notting Hill. I can forgive my constituents for being confused about what is going on because, having read this morning's newspapers, I arrived thinking that we were planning to go completely backwards from the Deputy Prime Minister's welcome statement to the House. I have been immensely reassured by what he has said, particularly by his statement that the step to improve the independence of the safety and standards directorate is not the end of his consideration of the matter, but that, quite properly, he will reflect further after the Cullen inquiry. Particularly in view of the question from the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing), perhaps he could reassure my constituents that, if the conclusion of all that consideration is that having independence in that function is the way to make our railways safer, he will introduce any necessary legislation to do that.

Mr. Prescott

I have some sympathy for my hon. Friend's remarks. With the modern communications of today, there are always complaints about leaks and whether statements are made to the House. It has always been my intention—and my history—to make statements for which I have responsibility to the House.

I cannot guarantee that there will not be leaks. That is unfortunate, with even the Opposition perhaps responding to them. I find that the turf is set out before I can make the statement. It leaves me a little bemused, but my job is to come to the House and to make the statement. I have done that today. I have given my best judgment of what the balance is with regard to independence. My hon. Friend can rest assured that, if necessary, and certainly if Cullen recommends it, we will take the necessary legislative actions to ensure that we have the best and safest railway system in Europe.

Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe)

Will my right hon. Friend accept my congratulations on the two-stage approach that he has outlined: immediate improvement by separating responsibility for safety; and the prospect of further steps if so recommended by Lord Cullen? Just half an hour before the statement, there were television interviews of relatives of victims of the tragedy on the basis that no change was to be made. Does he agree that that was totally irresponsible and that victims should not be exploited by the media on the basis of press speculation?

Mr. Prescott

I thank my hon. Friend for his words of support. I agree with what he has said, particularly having heard the reports on the BBC. It was made clear to the BBC that the reports could not be based on the statement that I was making. It made no difference. It had all the interviews lined up, went on and made its case.

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