HC Deb 18 December 2001 vol 377 cc143-5
9. John Barrett (Edinburgh, West)

If he will make a statement on progress towards the implementation of recommendations made on rail safety by recent reports from the Health and Safety Commission. [21565]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Dr. Alan Whitehead)

The Government have asked the Health and Safety Commission, the regulator for rail safety, to ensure that action is taken on all the recommendations from the four recent public inquiry reports. The commission's progress reports on recommendations from the Southall and the train protection inquiries are in the House Library. Progress reports on the two Cullen reports are due in the spring.

John Barrett

Following the Southall train crash and Professor Uff's subsequent recommendations, can the Minister confirm that by February this year, 81 of the recommendations should have been implemented, yet only 15 had been? By February next year, all 93 recommendations should have been implemented. Does he expect that they will be, and if not, why not?

Dr. Whitehead

Through the offices of the Health and Safety Executive, the Government are ensuring that the reports that have been produced on rail safety are implemented progressively. It is anticipated that those reports will be fully implemented in the not-too-distant future.

Mr. Don Foster (Bath)

Does the Minister recall that following the Paddington rail crash and Lord Cullen's first report, the Secretary of State specifically required the Health and Safety Executive to produce a report on implementation of those recommendations within six months—that is, by tomorrow? Can the Minister explain why that report has been delayed until spring next year? As 41 of the 89 recommendations were due to be implemented by tomorrow, including those on improved signal arrangements in the Paddington area and improved signal siting, can the hon. Gentleman tell the House whether they have been implemented, and if not, why not?

Dr. Whitehead

I will look at the details of the hon. Gentleman's question and write to him. He should be aware that the progress reports on recommendations from all the inquiries are either in the Library now or will be made available in the early spring next year. Those reports will demonstrate, I understand, that good progress has been made in implementing all the recommendations of those inquiries.

Hugh Bayley (City of York)

Is my hon. Friend aware that in the four years prior to the privatisation of Railtrack, the number of passenger deaths on the railways decreased from 30 in 1991–92 to eight the year before privatisation, and that in the four years after privatisation, the number rose from eight to 43 in the latest year for which we have figures? Despite the claim from the shadow Transport Secretary, the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), that Railtrack made the railways safer, does my hon. Friend agree that the figures show a worrying trend? Will he tell the House what the new regime for managing the track and signalling will do to improve rail safety and reduce fatalities?

Dr. Whitehead

My hon. Friend makes an important point concerning some of the perceived consequences of Railtrack privatisation, but he should be aware that rail remains one of the safest forms of transport—seven times safer than travelling by car. The Government are working hard with Railtrack plc and the administrator to ensure that safety on the railways is maintained. A formal direction was issued to Railtrack plc on 8 October for it to bring forward a new railway safety case after administration. That has recently been accepted by HSE. HSE has doubled the number of railway inspectors actively inspecting railway safety since 1999, and intends to double the number of inspectors again by next year.

Mr. John Taylor (Solihull)

Is the Minister still actively in favour of road to rail in the overall context of safety? If so, will he comment on the proposal to construct a rail link between Land Rover in my constituency and the west coast main line?

Dr. Whitehead

The proposal is actively being considered, but obviously the question of ensuring that transport can move around the country in the most efficient way in terms of industrial productivity and safety is a very important part of any overall transport plan.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

My hon. Friend will be aware that the HSE does a fantastic job on rail safety, but is he satisfied that it has a sufficient number of trained engineers and inspectors? Is he even more satisfied that it has a sufficiently large budget to perform its necessary functions?

Dr. Whitehead

My hon. Friend is aware that a review was undertaken by the HSE—it was supported strongly by the Government—to look at the number of rail safety inspectors that it employed. She will be aware that, since 1999, the HSE has doubled the number of railway inspectors—there are currently just over 100—and that the proposal is to increase that number to 200 by next year. She will also be aware that the HSE is undertaking to do that within the budget limits set under the spending review for the last period. If it considers that it should receive an increase for this particular work, it is up to it to make a case for that. It is undertaking this increased safety regulation within the resources that it currently has, and, in my view, it is doing so very effectively.