HC Deb 28 January 2003 vol 398 cc763-825

[Relevant documents: Minutes of Evidence taken before the Transport Committee on 18th December 2002, relating to London Underground PPP: New Developments, and supplementary memoranda from Transport for London and the Department for Transport, HC 200-i (typescript available in the Vote Office).]

Order for Second Reading read.

2.54 pm
The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Alistair Darling)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill will allow us to take important steps to improve the safety of transport. It will set up a rail accident investigation branch; it will introduce new alcohol offences in relation to marine and aviation activities; and it will create an independent police authority for the British Transport police. The Bill contains other measures, which will help to improve the safety of transport, and it will make minor amendments and additions to the Greater London Authority Act 1999 in relation to the tube. I shall deal with each of those matters in turn to show how the Bill fits in with measures that have already been taken to deliver a safer and more reliable railway.

Part 1 makes provision for a rail accident investigation branch with responsibility to investigate rail accidents, including accidents on the tube. Clause 3 enables Lord Cullen's recommendations to be implemented by establishing such a branch, which will act independently of the industry and its regulators and carry out its investigations openly. It may help if I explain briefly why it is necessary.

Following a railway accident, it is necessary to find out as quickly as possible what caused the accident and to enable remedial action to be taken as soon as possible. That can happen now, but we believe that the present system needs to be improved in line with the recommendations of the Cullen report following the Paddington rail crash. At the moment, after a rail accident the police help the rescue operation and secure the site, and after that their interest in is investigating any criminal acts. The Health and Safety Executive inspectors, Her Majesty's rail inspectorate, also attend the site because of their health and safety interest. They investigate the cause and, if appropriate, they will prosecute any breaches in respect of health and safety.

At the moment, we do not have any one body with sole responsibility for finding out quickly what went wrong and why the accident happened without attempting to attribute blame. That is necessary because, very often, lessons need to be learned quickly. That is what happens now in the case of an air or marine accident, and it works well. Lord Cullen was right to recommend that the Government set up a rail accident investigation branch along the same lines. Following the accident at Ladbroke Grove near Paddington, Lord Cullen recommended that such a branch be established along similar lines to the aviation and marine accident investigation branches, and that is what we are now doing.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham)

Can the Secretary of State explain why, in the case of motor vehicles, extra speed is dangerous and we ought to have more limits on speed, but in the case of the railways, we ought to urge trains to go faster and faster? Is not it the case that as trains cannot steer out of the way of danger and cannot brake very well, extra speed will cause more accidents?

Mr. Darling

The situation is a little more complicated than that. There are obvious differences between rail travel and road travel. Generally speaking, trains run a lot faster than cars, but provided they have the right safety equipment, such as signalling and braking power—

Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Darling

I should like to finish this point before I give way to my hon. Friend.

Provided that trains have the right signalling, the right braking power and other safety mechanisms, they can run very fast. Indeed, passenger trains in this country have been running at 125 mph for many years now, to a large extent without incident, and trains in other parts of the world, such as the TGV in France, run at even higher speeds. Provided that the right safety precautions are taken, there is no reason why trains should not travel at those speeds.

Cars are rather different, for obvious reasons. They run in a different environment, and all the evidence shows that, depending on the conditions, cars that are going too fast can put drivers and other road users at risk. With respect to the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), there is a substantial difference between trains running at speed on the railway and cars running at speed on the roads.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)


Mr. Darling

I shall give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins) first.

Mr. Hopkins

I apologise for interrupting my right hon. Friend earlier. To reinforce his point, the Shinkansen system in Japan has been running at very high speeds for many decades without a single fatality.

Mr. Darling

That is right. Those trains are designed to run at high speeds and they have the necessary braking systems and track signalling.

Several hon.

Members rose

Mr. Darling

If we are to have a debate about the merits of cars and trains running at high speed, I will give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson).

Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South)

I seek my right hon. Friend's guidance about braking power. He is right to point out that Cullen made two proposals for massive structural change. One relates to the investigation of accidents and the other to the avoidance of accidents. The European model that my right hon. Friend mentioned is premised on the introduction of the European railway traffic management system for braking, or ERTMS. That was also a central point of Cullen's recommendations. The suggestion was that the regulations for the introduction of that system should be in place by 2004, and that all trains capable of travelling at more than 100 mph should be equipped with the new system by 2008. There seems to be an important gap—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

Order. That is far too long an intervention.

Mr. Darling

I shall come on to train protection, and, if my hon. Friend does not mind, I would like to do so at what I consider to be the right point.

Mr. Bercow

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Darling

Well, since the merits of fast cars and fast trains are not included in the Bill, I shall give way just once more, and then I want to make some progress.

Mr. Bercow

I am very grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. The intentions behind the Bill are laudable and we all hope that, in practice, its effects will be beneficial. However, does he not think it noteworthy that a Bill that contains 110 clauses and seven schedules appears to contain no fewer than 73 references to regulation? Could we not have had a better idea of what the content of those regulations might be, and can he at least tell the House now whether they will be subject to the negative procedure of the House, or to its affirmative counterpart?

Mr. Darling

That sounds to me like an extremely good bid to participate in the Committee stage of this Bill, when all these issues can be explored at length over several weeks.

Mr. Bercow

indicated dissent.

Mr. Darling

Perhaps some of the hon. Gentleman's colleagues would be very pleased to see him consigned to a Committee for several weeks. The making of regulations is not uncommon in this regard, but these issues can be discussed in Committee. The point that I was going to make before the intervention of some 10 minutes ago is that widespread support exists for setting up the rail accident investigation branch—

Several hon. Members


Mr. Darling

I want to make some progress, but I promise every hon. Gentleman sitting in the House, given that there are not that many of them, that I will give way in due course.

The fact that I think that this is the right thing to do is based on the experience of the air accident investigation branch and the marine accident investigation branch, both of which have worked very well since they were set up. The former body was set up in 1922 and the latter in 1989, and although they operate in different ways, they have been extremely effective in getting to the bottom of what happens in an accident, without attributing blame. Moreover, they have been able to reach conclusions infinitely more quickly than does the current system in respect of the railways, and on that basis I hope that this proposal will be accepted on both sides of the House.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)

In framing his proposals, will the Secretary of State bear in mind the experience of bereaved families such as those involved in the Potters Bar railway accident? Almost nine months after that accident, those families are still waiting for an early acceptance of responsibility, and for an authoritative and full explanation of what took place. Does the Secretary of State agree that such explanations assist in the grieving and healing process for such families?

Mr. Darling

I am very much aware of the keen interest that, for obvious reasons, the hon. Gentleman takes in the Potters Bar accident. The whole point in having a rail accident investigation branch is precisely in order to get an explanation of what happened as quickly as possible. That is one of the things that many of the relatives of those who lost their lives in that crash, and many of those who were injured, want to know as quickly as possible. So the setting up of the RAIB will be a major step forward, and it will speed matters up far more than does the current system, under which a very long time often elapses before we find out what happened and why.

Mr. Brian H. Donohoe (Cunninghame, South)

Although I welcome these proposals, we must consider the fragmentation of the industry, which the Transport Committee has examined. Given that safety is of paramount importance, I wonder whether the Secretary of State's proposals go far enough. Should we not combine all the agencies that he identifies, so that a single agency can look after safety?

Mr. Darling

No, I am afraid that I do not agree with my hon. Friend's final point. It is important to recognise that the two existing branches operate in different ways partly because of the characteristics of the industry. For example, in investigations undertaken by the air accident investigation branch, the manufacturer, air traffic control and everybody concerned are usually anxious to get to the bottom of what happened very quickly, because it may be necessary to send instructions around the world in respect of the operation of particular aircraft. On marine accidents, a slightly different approach is often taken, and the industry is structured in a different way. It has been put to me by the air accident investigation branch and the marine accident investigation branch that much of their expertise and specialism might be lost if they were merged into a single body.

I therefore think it better to establish the rail accident investigation branch and to allow the three branches to continue. If a compelling case is made in future for bringing them together, we shall look at it, but at the moment—given what I know about how they work and the nature of what they have to deal with—we would lose a lot more by setting up a single branch, rather than continuing with the existing system. What is striking about the air and the marine branches is that both work very well and seem to be highly successful; indeed, other countries throughout the world look at them and ask how they can do the same. If something works, it is best to leave it well alone.

Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby)

My right hon. Friend mentions the legacy of the rail industry, and for the reasons that he gives there is a great need for technical resources in order to carry out investigations quickly. Does he foresee that the new branch will have its own technical resources, or will it procure them from places such as the former research station at Derby, the facility through which British Railways Board built up the expertise to which he alludes?

Mr. Darling

The answer to that is probably a bit of both. My hon. Friend is probably aware of how the air accident investigation branch works. It has its own technical back-up in Farnborough, but in carrying out investigations it is heavily dependent on outside bodies. No one branch could include the expertise necessary to consider every aspect of a train incident, for example. I am certain that, from time to time, the new branch will need to go to outside bodies to get the expertise that it needs, and that is what people would expect.

Linda Perham (Ilford, North)

The Secretary of State mentioned accidents on the tube, and he will probably agree that it would have been useful if this measure had been in place when Saturday's accident happened. My constituents and I use the Central line a lot; indeed, there were 800 people on the train in question. We certainly need to look at accidents on the tube rather more seriously than we have in the past.

Mr. Darling

My hon. Friend makes a good point. Had the RAIB already been in existence, the chief inspector would probably have decided to look at Saturday's accident. As it is, we are a considerable way down the line in finding out what happened on the tube on that day, and the causes of that accident are becoming fairly clear. As my hon. Friend doubtless knows, London Underground is in the process of deciding what needs to be done to put trains back on the Central line. It clearly wants to be sure that it has identified exactly what happened, and to take appropriate remedial action, before restoring the trains. However, my hon. Friend is right, and the new branch, had it been in existence, would have wanted to get involved.

Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate)


Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)


Mr. Darling

I shall give way in order of seeing: first, to my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson).

Glenda Jackson

I am grateful to learn that my right hon. Friend is committed to allowing interventions from both genders in this House. I strongly endorse what he says about the London underground, and I realise that inquiries into the most recent accident are ongoing. However, it is not the case that as far back as the summer of 2001, when a potentially very serious accident occurred in which four trains became blocked in a tube during the hottest day of the year, London Underground's internal inquiry found that the failure was one of command and control? Indeed, some reports on the most recent accident on the Central line point the finger at the same fault. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that we do indeed learn from such mistakes, and that London Underground's current management is urged to make public such inquiries?

Mr. Darling

I spoke to the managing director of London Underground this morning, and he agreed that the findings of the inquiry should be made public, which is the best thing to do. All inquiries should be made public so that people can see for themselves what lessons can be learned. It would not be right—and possibly I would be out of order—to go through what I know and what people believe happened on Saturday, but I can assure my hon. Friend that an inquiry is being held. As soon as its conclusions are known, I hope that London Underground will make them public. At the moment, however, further investigations need to be carried out.

Mike Gapes

The Secretary of State will be aware that the implications of the accident on the Central line are serious for people who commute to work in central London from east and west London. He will be aware that it has been predicted that it could be at least several weeks before the Central line is operating properly. In those circumstances, will he join me in calling on the Mayor of London to delay the introduction of congestion charging until the Central line is fully operational; otherwise there will be continued chaos and pressure throughout east and west London as a result of the crash?

Mr. Darling

No doubt, the Mayor of London will want to consider that in relation to the new scheme. I accept my hon. Friend's point that the loss of the Central line will have a major impact on commuters who normally use it, but I believe that he would agree that it is important that London Underground identifies correctly the cause of the accident, then makes sure that it takes the right remedial action before trains are put back on the track.

If it is all right with hon. Members, I should like to make progress and return to the point touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Donohoe). It is important to remember that safety is not an add-on extra—it must be seen as an essential part of every activity, indeed every decision, every day on the railways. The new branch will help, but we must ensure that the right management and controls are in place, particularly for maintenance. As I have said before, the Strategic Rail Authority has provided the industry with strategic direction, and under its leadership different parts of the industry have worked together and have been able to get to grips with difficult problems that need to be resolved.

Maintenance is critical to safety, which is why Network Rail is making a number of fundamental changes to the way in which it controls maintenance, so getting a much-needed grip on it. We must ensure that there is accountability for what happens, and certain steps are essential if safety on the railway is to be improved. Under Railtrack, as the House will know, decisions about maintenance were farmed out to other companies in too many cases. There was no end-to-end responsibility or accountability, but that is now changing. Network Rail is operating in the public interest, and is putting safety and reliability first. In future, Network Rail will decide what work is done and how it is done. Critically, it will make sure that the work is done properly, because rigorous control of maintenance is essential for safety, as well as making good business sense. As existing maintenance contracts end, Network Rail will decide whether to extend existing arrangements or to tender new contracts to take the work back in-house, as it will do on the route between Reading and Paddington, for example. Contractors will only be appointed when Network Rail thinks that that is the right thing to do. However, whatever it does, it will ensure proper supervision of work from start to finish, which is essential and will meet demands from Members on both sides of the House for proper supervision and accountability in maintenance work. In addition, the franchising arrangements that are being overhauled will allow for tighter management of train services and ensure that some of the deficiencies left over from privatisation are finally tackled and dealt with.

With the changes that we have now made, we have the means to manage the railway, but that needs to be underpinned by substantial investment. That brings me to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South about safety. Rail investment in real terms will be more than three times as much as it was in the decade leading up to 1997. Indeed, spending will double in the four years between 2001 and 2005, and will buy new, better and safer rolling stock—there is almost £1 billion-worth of new rolling stock now on the track, and more is on order—will help to pay for the west coast main line and other improvements and upgrades, allowing for safer and reliable travel, and will pay for the train protection warning systems that are now being installed.

I can tell the House that train protection warning systems have been installed on 97 per cent. of trains and 76 per cent. of the necessary tracks. The programme is well on the way to completion. By the end of this year, the rest of the work agreed with the Health and Safety Executive will be complete, and a warning system will operate on all trains. There are, of course, some parts of track where a warning system has little or no safety benefit so, with the HSE's agreement, one will not be installed there. However, on the great bulk of track, all the work agreed with the HSE will be completed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South asked about the European position. There are three levels of warning system in Europe. Level 1 uses line-side signals and, although it could be installed in this country, it would restrict capacity on busy lines. It is fitted on a comparatively small number of lines in Europe, and its use is not widespread. Level 2, which is a slightly more sophisticated version, uses transmission-based signalling—it is installed on the train instead of on the track—and would allow increased capacity. However, the House needs to be aware that level 2 of the European safety system works only on a limited number of lines, including the line between Berne and Olten in Switzerland, which does not have any junctions and has a limited number of sidings. The problem with Lord Cullen's inquiry is that the learned judge was led to believe that there was a system in Europe that was tried, tested and working and could be installed on trains in this country. That is not the case.

The level 3 system in the long term has a great commercial and safety advantage, as it can operate on trains and monitor their progress. No doubt, one day it will be extremely useful, but the difficulty is that it is not in use anywhere at the moment. The systems put before Lord Cullen have the disadvantage that even the basic level is not in widespread use in Europe and would lead, if used here, to restrictions in the number of trains that we could run. The more sophisticated and advanced level 2 system operates on one line in Switzerland with no junctions—we do not have many lines like that—and level 3, as I said, does not exist in operation. For those reasons, I believe that we are right to ensure that the train protection warning system, which can stop trains travelling at comparatively high speed, is installed. As I told the House, 97 per cent. of trains and 76 per cent. of necessary track have already been fitted with the system.

Alan Simpson

Can the Secretary of State clarify a point about high-speed trains and safety beyond the 70 mph limit of the train protection warning system? What safety protection mechanisms will be put in place on high-speed trains, as we clearly have to plan for their safety as well?

Mr. Darling

My hon. Friend is right that the basic train protection system will prevent trains from travelling at more than 70 mph. The train protection warning system plus, as it is known, will stop trains that are travelling at 100 mph. If a train is going faster than that, what happens will depend on a number of things, including signalling. That is usual. The point that I was making to my hon. Friend and to the House generally is that if there was in Europe a system that was better and ready for use, of course the Government would be prepared to consider it. The problem is that when comparing the railways in Britain with railways in continental Europe, we often find that we are dealing with completely different structures and different sorts of railways. It is unfortunate that it was suggested to Lord Cullen during his inquiry that there was an off-the-shelf system ready to be adapted, because it simply does not exist. By contrast, the train protection warning system does exist. Indeed, I can tell the House that the number of signals passed at danger is at the lowest level since records began. That can be attributed to two factors—first, the train protection warning system will simply stop a train and, secondly, drivers, and the industry generally, are paying greater attention to the need to observe the signals and to react appropriately.

Mr. Don Foster (Bath)

I entirely agree with the Secretary of State's decision that it is sensible to wait for ERTMS level 2, rather than to rush ahead with ERTMS level 1. However, can he reassure people that TPWS and TPWS plus, although designed to work for trains travelling at up to 70 mph and up to 100 mph respectively, will significantly slow down trains that are going even faster than that, so that, in the event of their passing a signal at danger, the chance of there being a serious accident is minimised?

Mr. Darling

The hon. Gentleman is right—we are in complete agreement on that. If he would like to modify the press release that he put out earlier today to take account of that agreement, I should be grateful to him. That would save me having to put out a rebuttal of the Liberal Democrats' position.

I turn to part 3 of the Bill, which deals with the British Transport police. I hope to be able to cover it in fairly short order, because it is not particularly controversial.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)


Mr. Darling

Or maybe it is.

Mr. Brady

Before the right hon. Gentleman moves on from the powers of investigation, will he address the point that arises in relation to clause 7(1)(b), which appears to provide investigators with a pretty open-ended power of entry to domestic dwellings? Several hundreds of my constituents live alongside railway lines. I cannot see why a provision for a warrant would not be appropriate to protect people's privacy and property.

Mr. Darling

If the hon. Gentleman is lucky enough to be included in the Committee of Selection's nominations for the Committee on the Bill, that is a point that he may wish to pursue. I agree that the granting of permission to enter people's property should be used sparingly. I urge the hon. Gentleman to take the opportunity that will be afforded to him when the Bill is in Committee to ensure that it is sufficiently tightly drawn to avoid unnecessary intrusion but still allows the investigation branch to carry out its work properly. In the past, investigators have sometimes found that their progress and ability to find things out quickly have been stymied because they could not get access. Without saying that that would happen, there are occasions where we must bear in mind that somebody might seek to conceal something, and it is important that investigators should be able to get access as quickly as possible. If the hon. Gentleman is concerned about that, the Committee is the place for him to be.

Lawrie Quinn

Before my right hon. Friend moves on to part 3, I want to ask him a question about part 1. Will he and his officials—if not now, before the Bill reaches Committee—consider the need for definitions as regards what is an accident and what is an incident? As someone who spent 19 years working in the railway industry, I know that that is an important issue. I guess that the branch would declare whether it was an accident or an incident, but it would be helpful to the work of the branch to include such a definition in the Bill.

Mr. Darling

My hon. Friend will no doubt have looked at the Bill, and will be aware that it gives a fair amount of latitude to the chief inspector as to what he investigates. In some cases it would be mandatory; in others there would be a discretion. A similar situation applies in relation to the air and marine branches, both of which have that latitude. If the chief inspector sees something, or has something reported to him, that suggests that there might be some public interest in investigating it, he can do it. Of course, the Government are open to suggestions as to how the Bill could be improved if necessary.

Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Darling

Yes, then I shall move on to part 3.

Mr. Clapham

I refer the Secretary of State to the fact that at the present time the provisions of the Health and Safety Executive and RIDDOR—the Reporting of Injuries, Disease and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations apply. Does he believe that those regulations, which call for the reporting of dangerous occurrences, could be a help in defining what is an accident and what is an incident?

Mr. Darling

That is possible, but as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Lawrie Quinn) a moment ago, there is sufficient latitude under clause 6 to allow the chief inspector to take a decision as to whether or not he ought to investigate. The circumstances that might lead to his investigation would depend on the information that he had before him, and existing health and safety legislation would be of help. Again, if hon. Members feel that the situation could be improved, of course the Government are open to their suggestions.

Part 3 relates to the British Transport police, and, as I said, I can deal with it in short order. A modern police service should be accountable to an independent police authority. Clause 17 allows that to be established. At present, the SRA appoints the board, but it would be better if the board were independent, and the Bill makes sure that it is. It also makes sure that the police force no longer relies on contracts with different operators as a basis for its jurisdiction. Clause 29 puts the British Transport police's jurisdiction over the railways in England, Scotland and Wales on a clear and wholly statutory basis for the first time in its history. That is a welcome step forward.

As a matter of principle, we believe that the railway industry should pay the costs of policing services. We also believe that the same approach should apply to the Health and Safety Executive, so the Bill will enable the HSE to levy costs from its rail-related activities on the rail industry. For the industry, that has the advantage that it will know up-front how much it has to pay.

I shall deal briefly with part 2, as the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), who speaks for the Liberals, expressed such great interest in the matter. Part 2 provides that the Office of the Rail Regulator should be restructured. The rail regulator is working well, but we want to take this opportunity to bring the railways into line with other regulated industries, replacing the individual regulator with a regulatory board, which is consistent with the recommendations of the Better Regulation Task Force.

The Bill restructures the existing Office of the Rail Regulator, creates a statutory regulatory board in place of the regulator, building on the existing advisory board that he already has, and enables a wide range of experience and views to be brought to decision making. We will not make the change before mid-2004, which will enable the regulator to complete the useful work that he is doing in reviewing access charges.

Parts 4 and 5 deal with drug and alcohol limits in relation to marine and aviation activities.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside)

What impact does my right hon. Friend expect the provisions of the Bill to have on incidents such as the one currently being investigated by British Airways, in which a pilot who was allegedly affected by alcohol was about to fly a plane over the weekend, but was stopped because of the action of passengers?

Mr. Darling

I am about to explain how the Bill would help. If my hon. Friend will allow me, I shall deal with that shortly, but I shall speak first about marine accidents.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington)

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Darling

I shall make some preliminary remarks, then I shall give way.

The principle has long been accepted that we ought to have measures to reduce the effect of drinking on the number of accidents. That has been accepted for many years in relation to road accidents. It is interesting that when breath tests for drivers were introduced in 1967, it was reckoned that fatalities were reduced by about 800 a year. The measure was controversial at the time, but the principle is now accepted without question. I believe that a similar approach needs to be extended to both marine and aviation activities.

I shall speak about marine activities first, so if the hon. Gentleman's question is about marine activities, I shall deal with it. Aviation activities are slightly different, and I intend to return to that topic.

Tom Brake

I thank the Secretary of State for giving way. My question was actually on the subject of roads, to which he referred. Given that the Bill provides for prescribed limits on alcohol, why have the Government not considered using it as an opportunity to reduce the limit for drivers from 80 mg to 50 mg?

Mr. Darling

We do not have any plans to reduce the limit below the current limit. That is why the matter is not addressed in the Bill. Instead, we are introducing similar provisions in relation to both marine and aviation activities. Let me explain what we propose to do.

Clauses 75 and 77 implement the recommendations that were made by Lord Justice Clarke in his review of safety on the Thames after the Marchioness disaster. It was also a manifesto commitment of the Government. The Bill will make it an offence for any mariner to operate while impaired by alcohol or drugs. Off-duty professional mariners are included as well if they are on the vessel and they might be needed in an emergency to protect passenger safety.

Clause 77 applies to what are referred to as nonprofessional mariners—people whose employment is not in the field. We could have extended the provisions that apply to professional mariners to all boats, whatever their size and speed, but we considered that they should be proportionate. There is a difference between what is needed in relation to a large passenger-carrying ship with a professional crew and in relation to a man rowing a boat in a harbour. We will consult carefully on how best to deal with non-professional mariners.

The Bill contains a power to exempt vessels with reference to the power of their motor, size or location. We want to consult on the repercussions, as we need to get the matter right. None the less, we are minded, for example, to exempt rowing boats, sailing dinghies and narrowboats. However, larger, high-powered recreational vessels such as jet-skis would probably be included. We want to strike the right balance to ensure that we get the legislation right. The proposed blood-alcohol limit is the same as that which applies to motoring—80 mg.

David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde)

I thank the Secretary of State for that explanation. As a Member of Parliament representing a port area, I am amazed that such provisions have not already been introduced. Will he clarify what the research paper says about not extending the provisions to which he refers to non-professional mariners in Scotland? What legislation are they covered by? If the issue is important in England and Wales, how will we deal with it in Scotland?

Mr. Darling

This is a devolved matter, but perhaps it would help if I explained to my hon. Friend why I do not think the legislation needs to be extended in that way. At the moment, if a non-professional mariner is suspected of being responsible for an accident and has taken alcohol—in Scotland, that can be established by the police asking them to take a breath test—that can be an exacerbating factor in the procurator fiscal deciding what charge should be brought against that individual. For example, if alcohol was present at the time of an accident involving a death, it might lead the procurator fiscal to conclude that the charge should be culpable homicide, as opposed to a lesser charge. The reason why we have drafted the legislation in this way is not only that the matter is devolved—if the Scottish Executive want to make changes, they can do so—but that the Government believe that the current powers and law would allow us to deal with someone who was not a professional mariner, but used a boat and caused a death or serious injury for a reason of which drink was thought to be a part. The existing law would allow the courts to deal with such a person.

Moving from the sea to the air, the position is slightly different. Perhaps I can explain what we are doing and then return to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman). The Bill makes it an offence for somebody to undertake safety-critical aviation activities while they are affected by drugs or alcohol. Generally, the limits of enforcement will be on the same basis as for motorists, but there is an exception. As fast reflexes are essential on the part of aircrews and air traffic controllers, a lower limit of 20 mg will be set for those engaged in such activities. For all other aviation workers, however, the limit will be 80 mg.

On the incident to which my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside referred, I do not want to be drawn into the particular details, for reasons that she will understand. The new limit would mean that if somebody in an aircrew, for example, was found to have a blood alcohol content of more than 20 mg, they would be guilty of an offence under the Bill. Many companies have a similar requirement as part of their standing orders, as it were. It is right that the legislation on air and seagoing activities should be brought roughly into line with what has happened for a long time in relation to cars.

Mrs. Ellman

I thank the Secretary of State for his helpful answer. Can he give the House any information about the current situation? Is he aware whether the current position in relation to aircraft and alcohol consumption is causing particular difficulties?

Mr. Darling

I am aware that it has caused difficulties. A private Member's Bill that will be considered shortly adds to police powers to deal with someone who is affected by alcohol or drugs. The Government are well disposed to the measure, which is a welcome addition. However, current police powers, and those that Parliament will grant us in the Bill, mean that the police in this country have the ability that they need to deal with anybody—a member of staff or a passenger—who is drunk and incapable. It is commendable that the courts visit stiff sentences on people who misbehave in aeroplanes because they pose such a danger to everybody else. It is grossly unfair to an aircraft crew if people who are the worse for wear can abuse them. They can expect the courts to deal with them firmly.

I want to deal with London Underground and clause 105. Before I consider the detailed provisions that amend the Greater London Authority Act 1999, it would be helpful if I explained the necessity for them, and where matters stand in relation to the transfer of London Underground to Transport for London. I appreciate that that matter is of interest.

On 4 December last year, I told hon. Members that I did not consider that a transfer of the tube could take place against the background of a challenge by the Mayor and Transport for London to the European Commission's decision that the public-private partnership arrangements did not constitute state aid. I also set out my position on funding, which amounts to approximately £1 billion a year for the next seven and a half years. That position has not changed. However, we made it clear in December that we would reconsider the grant if any major unforeseen needs arose. That remains the Government's position.

In the past few days, discussions have taken place with Transport for London. I spoke to Bob Kiley several times over the weekend. Good progress has been made on discussions to resolve the matter. Transport for London understands that no more money is on offer, except in the case of unforeseen expenditure, as we said last December. That enabled us to discuss with Transport for London a process that would lead to the transfer of London Underground on the clear understanding that all legal challenges are abandoned.

Although an appeal was launched yesterday, the Mayor's office said that the move was technical, to stop the clock on the legal process. Discussions continue. I want the underground to transfer smoothly because that is in everyone's best interests. Of course, I shall keep hon. Members informed of developments.

Let us consider the sections of the Greater London Authority Act 1999 that clause 105 amends and that may work to restrict the operation of some provisions of the PPP contracts when they are transferred to Transport for London. Unless alternative arrangements that are satisfactory to all parties, including those that bid for the PPP contracts, can be made, I do not intend to transfer London Underground until the amended powers are in force, subject to Parliament's consideration of the Bill.

Mike Gapes

As a London Member of Parliament, I welcome the fact that the Government appear to be making progress in persuading the Mayor that it is time to end the legal challenges and take the road of co-operation. I hope that my right hon. Friend and his colleagues will persist in their efforts because Londoners are crying out for a resolution. We should get on with the investment that London's underground needs.

Mr. Darling

The majority of people in London now believe that whatever their differences or difficulties in the past, it is now time to get on with investing the money in the tube. I granted an indemnity to Tube Lines and Metronet because I believed that the time had come to make desperately needed investment in the tube. I am pleased that Transport for London accepts our position. We are not offering more money; we made the settlement last December. However, as we said then, the Government would have to consider unforeseen costs. The agreement, which is a development in the Mayor's past position, means that we can discuss methods of transferring the tube from London Underground to Transport for London. A smooth and orderly transfer is essential and in everyone's interests to clarify who is responsible for the tube.

Those discussions are continuing. As I have said, I have had a number of useful discussions with Bob Kiley of Transport for London. I very much hope that the matters can be resolved, because it must be in the interests of everybody in London that we get this money into the Tube, that management is put on a sound and permanent footing and that we get on with it. I am grateful for what my hon. Friend said.

Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale)

The right hon. Gentleman has twice said that he has made it clear to the Mayor that no more money is available. There are, however, media reports that he may be discussing with the Mayor bringing forward to an earlier timeframe some money that was otherwise programmed to be available. Will he confirm whether that is being discussed?

Mr. Darling

There are a variety of reports in the media that are not right, and there appear to be a variety of people telling the media various things for their own various interests.

It is very important that the House understand the situation. I set out in some detail last December the position in relation to the transfer and the funding. I have allocated funding to Transport for London, not just for the Tube but for non-Tube activities. As I said last December, the Department made it clear to London Underground and TFL that if something unforeseen came along the Government would look at it, in the same way as we would need to deal with it if the Government were directly responsible. If there is nothing unforeseen, the next time the spending will be looked at is in 2004, in the spending review in that year, which is when we shall look at all spending across the whole of government in the normal way.

Because of what I regard as an extremely helpful development on the part of the Mayor, who I think recognises that it is desirable to make progress, it is now possible to discuss how a transfer would take place.

Two matters that came to our attention in December need to be resolved before transfer by amending the Greater London Authority Act. It was always intended when the Act was drafted that as soon as the PPP was in place transfer would follow immediately. In other words, the drafters had not anticipated that there might be a prolonged dispute or appeals to the European Court, or to anywhere else for that matter.

Therefore, it is necessary to do two things, which clause 105 achieves. First, it allows the contracts to operate as intended and allows the guarantees in place in relation to the PPP to remain. Secondly, there need to be changes to the possible insolvency provisions. At present, on transfer were either of the two consortia running the PPP to become insolvent the assets would come back into the public sector. As the Act is drafted, if there is a delay and there is insolvency, that would not happen. Clearly, Parliament intended that the tube's assets should remain in the public sector. So those two changes are essential to make sure that the PPPs work.

For the sake of completeness I would add that the Tube Lines contract has now been signed. Tube Lines is now operating its three lines. I believe that the Metronet consortia will reach a financial close in March or April this year, which will allow the investment to go into London Underground—something that is desperately needed and long overdue.

The Bill puts in place significant steps to improve safety, not just on the railways, but also at sea and in the air. It is backed by the necessary investment, which is critical, as well as changes in management to ensure a better safety culture. It also makes some minor adjustments to the GLA Act. It will contribute to making sure that money goes into the London Underground railway, which is absolutely essential.

I hope that the Bill is relatively uncontroversial. There will be points of detail, which can be dealt with, but I hope that the whole House can support it without division. I commend the Bill to the House.

3.44 pm
Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale)

I can pick up on the Secretary of State's last comments by saying that I believe that the Bill is largely uncontroversial. Clearly, issues of detail will need to be examined in the Committee, but there are many parts that we welcome. Indeed, they are a worthwhile and important contribution to the cause that I am sure all parts of the House share—the wish to see greater transport safety.

In particular, we welcome the Government's decision to legislate for the creation of a railway accident investigation branch, which my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) proposed when he was shadow Transport Secretary back in December 1999. It is a sensible modelling of the successful arrangements relating to aviation and maritime accident investigation. While there are again issues of detail—no doubt the industry, practitioners and others will want them to be pursued in Committee—we have no difficulty in principle with the creation of the body. Indeed, we welcome the Government's decision to create it.

More generally, a great deal of the Bill involves the incorporation within new aspects of transport provision of legislation passed by the last Conservative Government. I refer to the extension of the Police Act 1996 to the British Transport police, matters relating to alcohol control and the Road Traffic Act 1988, the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 and the Transport and Works Act 1992. Of course, it would be somewhat anomalous if the Conservative party, having introduced such provisions in many other respects, were suddenly to find it difficult in principle to support their extension in the way that the Government propose.

We have no difficulty with that, but issues of detail need to be considered. As the Secretary of State and his colleagues know, there are areas in which the Government—perhaps for sensible reasons, perhaps for less sensible ones—have chosen to amend rather than simply copy over the existing provisions. We want to explore in Committee exactly why they have chosen to do that.

The debate has already proven itself worth while, as it has enabled us to have a wide-ranging discussion on some general principles that perhaps ought to apply to transport safety. I want to comment on one or two things that the Secretary of State said in that context. I very much hope that we can continue to achieve a degree of cross-party consensus, and our starting point should be the fact that a life is a life is a life. Saving a life on the roads or in the air is at least as valuable to society as saving one in any other context.

One aspect that Conservative Members will want to explore in Committee and on Report is whether we should be thinking about moving towards a system whereby the Government seek to save life and to commit resources that are likely to save life on the same basis across all modes of transport without differentiating, as sometimes happens now, between expenditure that would save lives on the railway as opposed to that which would save lives in other contexts.

Mr. Redwood

My hon. Friend is on to an interesting question. Was the Secretary of State too dismissive when I made the point that if slowing cars down makes them safer, surely slowing trains down makes them safer? Are not the Government speaking with forked tongue here? After every serious rail crash, they impose speed restrictions. Does not that show that similar principles apply and that speed has something to do with safety on the railways as well as on the roads?

Mr. Collins

My right hon. Friend and I are absolutely united in that we believe that similar standards and similar beliefs should be applied across modes of transport. That leads me to a particular issue that the Secretary of State touched on. Although I hope that there is no major difference between the parties, it is important to achieve clarification.

The Secretary of State talked about the aftermath of Saturday's serious and worrying incident on the Central line. He made it clear—none of us would disagree with this—that he wants to ensure that London Underground can conduct thorough safety inquiries, which I am sure it is doing. He also wants to ensure that it learns the lessons of the incident and takes whatever steps are necessary to prevent its repetition. Again, I am sure we all agree with that. However, I am perhaps a little disconcerted that he did not demur when the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) said that the Central line might be disrupted or even shut for weeks.

In that context, we in this place need to be clear about the signals that we are sending out to the railway industry, whether they relate to London Underground or the main line rail industry. It has been widely reported that 500,000 people a day rely on the Central line, so we must consider what may happen if even 10 per cent. of them switch to the roads as a result of its closure or disruption. I declare an interest in that I normally travel to the House on the Central line, but I have been unable to do so for the past two days. I have driven in, and I suspect that tens of thousands of people working in and around London have done the same.

Given what we know about the relative safety of road transport compared with rail transport, it follows that tens of thousands of our fellow citizens are risking life and limb in a way that would not be necessary were the Central line operating. We do not know, but the Central line may be kept out of service for a period of weeks. If it is, Saturday's incident, which no doubt was terrifying for the people involved in it, may lead to actual loss of life. That would be tragic.

I hope that all hon. Members will agree that London Underground should bear that possibility in mind, even though today's London Evening Standard is reporting that the rail unions are pressurising it to contemplate taking out of service permanently all the rolling stock currently running on the Central line if it is concluded that some design flaw was involved in Saturday's incident. I remind the Secretary of State that that stock has been used successfully for about a decade, and its removal from service would seem strange.

I hope that the House will agree that London Underground should reach a balanced judgment on these matters. A decision to shut down the Central line for several weeks for reasons of safety should not be taken lightly, if the consequence will be that more people risk their lives travelling by road.

The Opposition also hope that it will be possible to examine some of the other matters mentioned by the Secretary of State. I join the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) in welcoming what the right hon. Gentleman had to say about European train passenger warning systems. The Secretary of State is right to look at the practicality of such measures, and to aim for systems that work. Some siren voices always call for money to be spent on rail safety, even if that might not be terribly effective. Opposition Members will back the right hon. Gentleman if the actions that he takes to enhance rail safety are clearly based on the best science and the most rational case. Those actions should not be taken merely in response to public or media pressure to spend money for the sake of spending money.

In fact, the UK rail system is extremely safe, and becoming more so. It is not as safe as we should like, but there is no doubt that it is getting safer every year. The Transport 2000 spokesman, Mr. Stephen Joseph, has said that, even after recent serious rail accidents, it would be irrational for people to conclude that they would be safer travelling by road. That is entirely sensible: sadly, more than 3,000 people lose their lives, and about 300,000 are injured, on the roads every year. I hope that that statistic will be noted in the Standing Committee's deliberations on the Bill.

I hope too that the Committee takes note of the recent observation by Andrew Evans, professor of transport safety at University College, London. He commented that a person was far more likely to suffer an accident on the way to a railway station than at any subsequent stage of the journey. The Government are right to establish, through the Bill, a rail accident investigation unit, but the message must not be that the rail industry is unsafe in its absence, nor that we need special legislation to protect people from an unsafe system. This country's rail system is basically safe. Measures can be taken to make it safer still, but we do people no favours by perpetuating the myth that travelling by road is easier and safer than travelling by rail.

The Opposition also welcome the provisions relating to the British Transport police. The Secretary of State did not mention it, but at 10.30 pm this evening BBC 1 is showing the first part of a documentary series on the British Transport police. It will show why we have many reasons to be grateful to that force for the work that it does on behalf of so many people. I believe that tonight's episode will focus on the unpleasant but essential tasks that many members of the force perform in collecting objects—and sometimes, horrifically, body parts—from the rail network. That job has to be done and they undertake it with great care and diligence. It is right that they should have the status that will be accorded them in their incorporation under the Bill. They will no longer be treated as second-class police officers but will be recognised for doing an extremely important public safety job.

At a time when the Prime Minister rightly warns of the continuing threat to our national security from international terrorism, and given that on so many occasions in the past terrorists concentrated their attacks on parts of the rail network, it is important for the British Transport police to know that they have the full support of people throughout the country and on both sides of the House for their work. I hope that the Secretary of State's prioritisation of their work in the Bill will also be reflected in the negotiations that he and others hold with the Treasury on the provision of resources for that police service. Conservative Members continue to hold the view that our police, in general, need more backing and that certainly holds as true for the British Transport police as for any other organisation.

We note that the Secretary of State had to be prompted to refer to part 2, which relates to the changes to the Office of the Rail Regulator. He rightly referred—as I suspected he would—to the report of the Better Regulation Task Force in favour of the proposition that it is better for regulatory bodies, in general, to be organised as a board rather than as an individual. However, we shall want to explore, if not in this debate certainly in Committee and on Report, the full background to the Government's decision to change the way in which the rail regulator operates. Is it the case, as some people suspect, that the Government were not exactly reluctant to implement that recommendation of their taskforce, given that the current rail regulator, Mr. Tom Winsor, has demonstrated that he is capable of being independent not only of individual concerns within the rail industry but also of Her Majesty's Government? Some Members will recall the occasion when the regulator gave evidence to the Select Committee on Transport about a difference of opinion, or of recollection, between him and a former Secretary of State. It would be a matter of great regret and some seriousness if the Government's decision to change the whole nature of the operation of the Office of the Rail Regulator were to stem from their frustration at the regulator's actions on that occasion. We hope to be able to establish clearly that getting their own back played no part in the Government's motivation.

The Secretary of State also referred to the relatively short but none the less significant provisions towards the end of the Bill on the London underground. In his evidence to the Select Committee on 18 December, the right hon. Gentleman explained why the Bill took so long to produce, even though, when it was announced in the Queen's Speech, it was welcomed by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition as a measure that we were unlikely to oppose. The Secretary of State said that the main reason was because even by 18 December he had not reached final conclusions about whether the regulations on the London underground and Transport for London should be dealt with by primary or secondary legislation. I do not invite him to comment on that point, but I suspect that it was the main reason for the hold-up in our debating the Bill.

Earlier, the Secretary of State said that we should not believe everything that the media reported about the state of negotiations between him and the Mayor—indeed, I think that we should not believe everything in the media on any subject. However, I welcomed his comments on the tone of those negotiations and his optimism that progress is being made. It would be helpful if the Government could indicate in the Standing Committee whether, if they reach an agreement with the Mayor that incorporates the provisions to which the Secretary of State referred—that is, a binding undertaking by the Mayor not to return to legal challenge or legal action—the provisions in the Bill would be otiose and could be struck out of the draft. We shall wait to see whether the Government get into that position, but it would be helpful to know perhaps hypothetically what their view on that would be.

Transport for London does not agree with the Secretary of State that the provisions in the Bill are intended simply to carry out the original wishes of Parliament as set out in the Greater London Authority Act 1999. After all, TfL in its memorandum to the Select Committee dated 11 December points to the rather unanswerable argument that the primary purpose of the Act was to transfer responsibility for the London underground to TfL and the London Mayor. It is perfectly true, as the Secretary of State says, that other intentions were inherent, lay behind, were implied and in some cases were stated, but the primary purpose was to transfer responsibility to Transport for London. That is something that the Secretary of State does not at present propose to do.

In its memorandum TfL states: It is also certainly possible that these changes, once enacted— it refers specifically to clause 105 of the Bill— would permit the Government to retain control of LUL for an indefinite duration. That, no doubt, is not the Secretary of State's hope or wish. He has made it clear that that is not his intention, but he would find it difficult to argue but that TfL is right in its assessment of the legal consequences of that clause. We will wish to explore, perhaps in depth, in Committee whether the Government are prepared to consider some self-denying ordinances or perhaps even some legal restrictions to ensure that the provisions in the Greater London Authority Act, which envisaged that long before now London underground would be the responsibility of TfL, will be implemented rather than continually frustrated by disagreements between the Mayor, the Secretary of State, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Chancellor. I do not seek to arbitrate between those individuals. I happily take the view that they are all as bad as each other, but it seems to me that Londoners and those travelling in and out of London are suffering from the inability to reach agreement. It would be helpful if they could reach some form of consensus sooner rather than later.

The legislation will on the whole have a positive effect. Its intention is clearly to address serious and important issues in a serious and proper way. We will wish to examine points of detail. We shall in particular want to examine the way in which the welcome restrictions on the use of alcohol or drugs by aviation and maritime personnel will be implemented. The Secretary of State did not state otherwise, but he will acknowledge that legal safeguards already apply. It is an offence for someone in charge of an aircraft, for example, to be under the influence of alcohol, but he is right to say that the courageous measures introduced by Barbara Castle, who received an enormous amount of criticism for introducing the breathalyser for motorists, are not now an issue of serious public controversy or debate. It seems to me highly likely that that will also be the case once similar procedures are introduced for pilots of aircraft and maritime vessels. We will examine the detail of that in consultation with the industry, but we do not have any difficulty with it in principle.

Mr. Bercow

Hitherto the British Transport police have operated on the basis of a part-statutory, part-contractual jurisdiction over the railways. The proposal in the Bill is to give them the status of a fully statutory body—a status that my hon. Friend welcomed. Can he confirm for me and for the benefit of the House that in addition to enjoying greater esteem as a result of their increased status they will enjoy a corresponding increase in practical powers?

Mr. Collins

Until the very last moment, I thought that my hon. Friend was going to note that, of course, greater accountability is one of the principal advantages of bringing the British Transport police within the regime that applies to other police authorities under the Police Act 1996. We should certainly welcome greater accountability, and it should be seen as a strength.

Yes, it is my understanding that the changes that the Government intend to introduce will regularise the position of the British Transport police and, certainly for all purposes relating to its management, control, accounting and accountability, they will be treated essentially like any other police authority, while recognising that they are, of course, a national organisation, not based on a county structure that would otherwise be the case.

The powers of the British Transport police will not be significantly altered by the Bill, but, as I said earlier, we would all recognise that, given the security considerations that perhaps apply more to railway stations and lines than to almost any other public structure, or series of buildings or public spaces, it is indeed appropriate that the force should have the full range of powers that they need to discharge their duties, which are likely to become more, rather than less, important in the years to come.

I was saying a word or two about the provisions that relate to alcohol testing. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman)—I am afraid that she has just left her place—referred to the highly publicised incident in Stockholm. I understand that the legal authorities are still considering that matter, so we must not comment in detail on the case, but it certainly indicates that there is a topicality in the Government's proposals. That is in a sense commendable, but they cannot claim any credit for it, as they could hardly have known what was about to happen.

However, it was notable that—I hope that this does not intrude into the detail of the case—it was reported that the person concerned was breathalysed. Of course the incident occurred in Sweden, not in the United Kingdom, but it is interesting to note therefore that perhaps Sweden is slightly ahead of us in such provisions and that we are dealing with something that the international aviation business is unlikely to find particularly controversial.

It is the Conservative party's view that the Government are right to introduce legislation on transport safety, but our view is that, from time to time, it would be more appropriate for the House also to consider road safety issues, given that travelling by road is by far the most dangerous form of transport in this country. Sadly, it is by far the form of transport in which the largest number of lives is lost. Indeed, there are some very alarming statistics, not only the often-quoted figures in relation to the number of motorists or their passengers who are killed on the roads, but almost 1,000 people a year are killed even though they are pedestrians or pedal cyclists, many of whom are children. It is not easy to suggest that there are simple legislative solutions to those issues, but they need to be put on the public record and discussed in the House every time that we talk about transport safety.

When the media talk about transport safety, they almost invariably dig out the stock footage of rail crashes. There have been some very horrific rail crashes, but the media seem to ignore the fact that, tragically, 10 people die in this country, on average, on the roads every day, week in week out, and it might help if, from time to time, they gave that fact a little more publicity to balance out the reality, instead of giving a slightly misleading impression.

I had hoped that the Secretary of State might have said a word about the relationship between the railway accident investigation branch, which he proposes in the Bill, and the work of Railway Safety, which, as he will know, has been set up by Network Rail and succeeds the previous arrangements that applied to Railtrack. The Minister for Transport is nodding. Perhaps he will say a word or two about that in his closing remarks.

Railway Safety says on its website that its 2003 railway group safety plan adopts a long-term goal of reducing to zero the number of events with the potential to cause a collision or derailment and that are under the direct control of Network Rail and the train operators. That is clearly a worthwhile and welcome target, but I hope that we will not make the mistake of taking the view that, somehow, the rail industry fails if it does not deliver a reduction to zero instantly or overnight. A lot of work will have to be done before that can happen, but there is no doubt that a great deal of very hard work is being undertaken.

We do not propose to oppose the Government on this legislation for the sake of opposition. When they are doing something that we broadly welcome, we will tell them so, which is what we are doing on this occasion. We will want to explore points of detail and points that the Government have perhaps not fully thought through. On the whole, however, the Bill will and should command cross-party support, and is likely to be welcomed by all those involved in travelling when it reaches the statute book.

4.10 pm
Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby)

It is a pleasure and an honour, as someone who spent 19 years working in the railway industry, to contribute to this important debate. Before I entered the House, this subject occupied my every waking hour, and sometimes my sleeping hours. On many occasions, in the middle of the night, I was rung by control to be told that there had been an incident or accident somewhere. As I result, I had to respond in the manner to which the Secretary of State alluded in his opening remarks by trying to ensure that the system was safe and that any injured people were dealt with appropriately, and moving as swiftly as possible to restore the railway.

In relation to some of the interventions by the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) about speed and the necessity sometimes to place speed restrictions or other restrictions on the railway system, those are, of course, a result of railway group standards and the safety standards that apply to the industry. Not applying a speed restriction or a temporary signalling arrangement to a particular section of track would not only be foolhardy but very dangerous. It would add considerable risk, and defeat the whole object of what is Britain's safest transportation system.

I welcome the comments of the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins). This is a first for the Conservative Front-Bench team, but he seemed to have great knowledge that reflected research undertaken in preparation for the debate. He and I recently attended a useful and helpful reception—I in my capacity as co-chairman of the all party-group on railways, and he in his as the Opposition transport spokesman—and he was very welcoming to those in the railway community who do so much to keep our railways safe.

With those few remarks to establish my credentials to speak in this debate, I want to bring to the House's attention one or two concerns about the Bill. I tried to deal with one of them in an intervention on the Secretary of State earlier: the question of the definition of what is an accident and what is an incident. Again, I listened carefully to the thoughtful contribution from the Opposition spokesman, who continually described the accident—as I would put it—that occurred on the Central line as an incident. I do not know whether the fact that there were no fatalities was a consideration in relation to his definition. It illustrates my concern, however—and that of many who work in the railway industry— that the important question of definition should be clarified. Even if that point cannot be dealt with on the face of the Bill, I hope that the issue will be focused on in Committee.

In terms of my railway experience, a signal passed at danger—a SPAD—is an incident. It would be an accident if, as a result of that SPAD, a further collision occurred, and people were injured or substantial damage was done to the equipment and engineering systems of the railway infrastructure. I hope that that starts people thinking about what we should do to address the important problem of defining the difference between an accident and an incident.

Mr. Clapham

My hon. Friend makes an important point about the need to determine the difference between an incident and an accident. Some industries have a long history of doing that. In the mining industry, Her Majesty's inspectorate of mines would be called to incidents or occurrences. I referred the Secretary of State to RIDDOR as a pointer for such a definition.

Lawrie Quinn

My hon. Friend is right. His former industry of mining and my former industry had similar safety cultures. Some of their regulations have parallels. We learned from previous mistakes, built on the regulations and put safer systems in place.

Mr. Don Foster

I accept that we need the definitions and I have drafted an amendment that might satisfy the hon. Gentleman on that count. I hope that it will be selected for debate in Committee. Does he accept that, for the rail accident investigation branch to develop its intelligence, it will need to deal not only with accidents but the incidents that he describes, just as the air accidents investigation branch considers near misses as well as actual accidents?

Lawrie Quinn

I agree. In fact, the categorisation would allow the accident investigation branch to apply the appropriate resources and to define the specialist technical resources that it will need to decide how quickly attention should be given to an incident. For example, an incident that involves a SPAD might be the result of a problem with the signalling. It might be possible to put a temporary operating mechanism in place, such as a speed restriction, and fix the problem the following weekend to allow the tracks to be run at full line speed. Obviously, the process would be different in the case of an accident and might necessitate the closure of a line, railway diversions and so on.

Mr. Michael Weir (Angus)

Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern that the Bill differentiates between a serious accident and an accident? On the face of it, an accident may not appear serious, but the investigation could discover a fault in equipment or track that would have repercussions in other parts of the railway. A problem might not be immediately apparent when an accident occurs. Is not there a problem with the definitions?

Lawrie Quinn

There is a distinction between the need to have a definition in the Bill and the reality of the good safety culture in the railway industry. I cannot stress too strongly how safety conscious and committed to safety the people who work in that industry are.

Let us consider the perspective of the driver of the train on the Central line at the weekend. His instinct was to report the fact that there was a problem with the train. That reaction is instinctive for anyone who works in the railway industry. A clearer definition would aid the important work carried out by the new organisation and, as the hon. Gentleman said, add to the categorisation of lessons learned to ensure that we do not repeat the same mistakes.

I have a personal concern that relates to my private Member's Bill, which I hope will obtain its Second Reading on Friday. The Bill seeks to revitalise and bring up to date the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974. From my personal experience of dealing with accidents and incidents during my railway career, I have great respect for the Health and Safety Executive and its inspectors, particularly those in the railway inspectorate. I regard them as the colleagues of anyone who works in the industry.

Clause 102 proposes a new railways safety levy. My concern is that, by clever movement of public moneys, it would introduce an opaque bureaucracy that may be unnecessary. At the end of the day, the passengers and those who move freight by rail will pay, perhaps through subsidy from the Government. In an early bid to my colleagues in the Treasury, I ask them to consider the resources being given to the HSE and ensure that it is properly funded from the public purse, rather than by the merry-go-round financial arrangement that I think I detect in clause 102. I hope that the Standing Committee will consider that point.

I turn now to an issue of confidentiality that arises from clause 8(4). I have worked on many construction sites close to the railway; they are very dangerous places to be. On one site, we had a series of minor incidents, and the clerk of works placed the letters "PTB" on his hard hat. When people inquired what that meant, he replied that the letters stood for "person to blame".

People who work in the railway industry share the goal of having a safe, working transport system. They need to be confident that confidentiality will be maintained when they report a mishap and that they will not be reported to management or the police. I detect a clear consensus on witness confidentiality not only among employees in the railway industry such as my former colleagues but among employers. That is part of the system used by the air accidents investigation branch and investigations into other forms of transport, and it should be enshrined in the Bill.

Mr. Hopkins

Will my hon. Friend take that principle further and agree that there should be encouragement and support for employees who report to senior management when they see things being done incorrectly? There should be whistleblowing when corners are cut that may lead to problems later on. I understand that there is fear in the industry about whistleblowing in those circumstances.

Lawrie Quinn

On most of the sites that I looked after when I was a railway civil engineer, I was responsible for holding fortnightly safety meetings. I used to open every meeting by reflecting on the fact that if we had a safe site with good communications, and people shared knowledge of problems, such as an untied ladder or problems with overhead electrical systems, as soon as they saw them, we would prevent accidents that might have resulted in serious injury or fatality.

We must bear it in mind that we are dealing with not only those who work on the railways but the travelling public and dangerous chemicals and substances that are transported on the railways. There is a wider public obligation to make sure that information is given to the people in charge as quickly as possible, and that must be enshrined in the general safety climate of any transport system.

Mr. George Stevenson (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

On the confidential reporting of concerns, is my hon. Friend aware that, two or three years ago, some railway companies introduced a confidential reporting system on a pilot scheme basis? In the airline industry, a confidential reporting system does indeed exist, particularly in respect of air traffic control. Should that not be rolled out throughout the whole transport industry, including the railways?

Lawrie Quinn

I pay tribute to the work that my hon. Friend has done with the Transport Committee, which reflected on exactly that point in 1998. In my experience, such an idea would certainly help to create a general climate of good practice and a safe transport system; indeed, that is good practice in terms not only of protecting people, but of enhancing the safety reputation that any transport system should have. It is unfortunate that, because of the pressure of trying to get the job done, such a consensus is perhaps not reached throughout the entire organisation. The provisions included in strengthened health and safety legislation and in this Bill will encourage the establishment of the safe systems that we want.

I shall be brief as I am conscious that many colleagues want to get in. On clause 8 and learning from past investigations and mistakes, it is essential to ensure that the Secretary of State gets regular feedback from the track-side about any problems. We have started to move away from the fragmented situation to which privatisation led, whereby a more legalistic framework was put in place, and people stopped talking and wanting to share information openly.

Everyone connected with the industry always has something to learn from such investigations—from the Secretary of State to the linemen at the track-side and the people on the platforms. It is absolutely essential that the rail accident investigation branch have a statutory duty to report to the independent railway safety and standards board, which in turn should have a duty to disseminate such reports throughout the railway industry. What happened in the west country could occur in the north-east or in the north of Scotland, and it is crucial that we establish a transparent approach. Clauses 8 and 9 and clause 6(4) deal with that point, and I hope that the Standing Committee will examine in detail what can be learned from past investigations.

Last week, the all-party group on rail had the privilege and pleasure of visiting the British Transport police control room at Victoria, and it proved very useful for representatives of both Houses to witness the complexities involved. I very much welcome the Bill's proposal to enshrine a railway policing authority in British Transport police. It is important that all communities can talk directly to police forces, but I make a plea to the Secretary of State, and to the Ministers who will take the Bill forward, to look again at such provisions. The industry that I used to work in delivers many journeys and moves much tonnage every day of the year. It is important that we do not forget the staff—the people who work day in, day out—and give them an opportunity to participate in the important governance work of British Transport police. Again, I hope that Members can take a look at that in Committee. I wish the Bill well, and hope that its progress through Parliament is speedy so that we can make sure that we get an even safer railway fit for the 21st century.

4.30 pm
Mr. Don Foster (Bath)

I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Lawrie Quinn), who demonstrated in his speech, as he does in everything that he does for the all-party group, his deep knowledge and concern for the railways. No doubt, Members on both sides of the House will regard him as yet another contender for membership of the Committee considering the Bill.

As other hon. Members have mentioned, last Saturday's accident on the tube throws into stark relief the importance of vigilance on safety in public transport. Liberal Democrat Members have long argued that public transport should be safe, reliable and affordable—the most important of those three considerations is safety. Like the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins), I wish to make it clear on the record that, as the Bill includes a number of measures that will drive forward the issue of safety in our transport systems, we shall certainly support it on Second Reading, notwithstanding the fact that we want to explore a number of areas in Committee and propose some changes.

As hon. Members have said, the Bill is limited in scope. Like the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale, I find it particularly disappointing that there is little reference to the vital issue of road safety. I have already noted that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, no doubt doing yet another stint in Westminster Hall at the moment, has hinted on a number of occasions that the Government intend to introduce a road safety Bill in future. If that is the case, I hope that we will receive confirmation of the Government's intentions later, as such a measure is vital, not least because we are already three years into a supposed 10-year road transport safety strategy.

Like the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale, I think that it is important to put on the record our view of how safe the railways are already. Indeed, despite Southall, Ladbroke Grove, Hatfield and Potters Bar, our railways are five times safer than they were back in 1975. The sad truth is that those improvements have not been mirrored on our roads. In fact, the statistics are stark. Since 1997, fewer than 150 people have died on our railways, but a staggering 17,000 people have died on our roads. There is therefore much to be done to improve safety on our roads, and it is a pity that the Bill is almost silent on that issue.

Tom Brake

Does my hon. Friend agree that, in relation to road safety, the Government could look at a problem with car auctions highlighted by Families Bereaved Through Car Crime, a Belfast organisation? It is possible for an 11-year-old to purchase a car, get together with friends, then go joyriding.

Mr. Foster

My hon. Friend has made an important point. I was horrified to learn that it was possible for children as young as 11 to go to an auction, buy a car then, tragically on some occasions, go off joyriding—a euphemism, as it is certainly not joyful. I hope that the Minister of State and the Secretary of State have taken note of what my hon. Friend said.

The Bill is limited in scope. We welcome many of the measures that it includes, but it is important to set it in the context of other issues that, surprisingly, it does not cover. The hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby will know only too well how complex the issues relating to safety on the railways now are, especially following privatisation. Anyone who has read the excellent briefing, "Railway Safety and Accidents", which was published earlier this month by the Library, will get a flavour of the degree of complexity that exists. Far too many bodies are involved in railway safety. For example, authorising a new railway carriage involves three different bodies—one to authorise the safety arrangements for the interior of the coach, one to deal with the exterior, and another to say whether it is safe to go on to the track. It was therefore appropriate that Lord Cullen recommended that there should be a single rail industry safety body that would take on many of those responsibilities and reduce the need for such a large number of bodies.

The rail regulator's proposals in that respect are far less radical than those of Lord Cullen. Nevertheless, they are receiving a great deal of support and it is possible that such a body—a more limited body—will be established within the next few months. I hope that the Minister will tell us that it has the Government's approval and that the only reason that it is not mentioned in the Bill is that its establishment does not require primary legislation.

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell)

I echo the comments about the desirability of streamlining systems, structures and organisations. Given the hon. Gentleman's reference to privatisation, does he agree that it is important to put on the record that Lord Cullen's report said that there has been no deterioration in overall rail safety since privatisation, and that the tragedies that have taken place on the railway are the result of internal system failures. He was keen to stress that privatisation has not made the railways more dangerous.

Mr. Foster

We could start quibbling about interpretations of Lord Cullen's report, which I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has studied carefully, as I have. I could find other parts of the report that refer, for example, to the problems created by the fragmentation of the industry. It is increasingly clear that problems in the rail industry have arisen as a result of years of neglect and underfunding, which arose partly because of the obscene conflicts between shareholder profits and passenger safety. That is why we were keen that measures should be introduced to change the arrangements for Railtrack.

Mr. Hopkins

Might Lord Cullen have made a different comment had his report been written after Potters Bar and Hatfield, rather than before, given that contractors were clearly implicated?

Mr. Foster

I do not want to comment on that particular issue, although I shall touch on Potters Bar in a moment.

There is an urgent need to simplify the safety regulatory structure on our railways. Personally, I would much rather that those arrangements were similar to those that exist for the Civil Aviation Authority, whereby there would be a safety regulator and an economic regulator within the overall structure of the Strategic Rail Authority, but with the operation of appropriate Chinese walls. Complexity is compounded by the involvement, as is proper, of the European Union. Who, within this jungle of regulatory bodies, will be responsible for telling us which takes precedence in the event of a conflict between the operation of technical specifications for interoperability and our own railway group standards?

Mr. Clapham

As the hon. Gentleman says, there is an issue about the boundaries of the various agencies that are responsible for safety. With reference to a safety regulator, the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 applies to the railways, so the Health and Safety Commission becomes the safety regulator advising the Secretary of State.

Mr. Foster

The hon. Gentleman is right. He is aware that there are a number of other bodies, some of which are about to change their names and their functions, which are also involved in these matters. The complexity is similar to that relating to who is responsible for carrying out investigations into accidents or incidents. One of the good features of the Bill is that it will provide greater clarity.

On the aspects that are not covered by the Bill, the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby mentioned the importance of learning lessons from things that have gone wrong. He is right. It is a great pity that the Bill does not contain a specific requirement for the Secretary of State to report to the House at appropriate times on the progress that is being made in implementing recommendations arising from inquiries and investigations into accidents and incidents.

For example, 33 of the recommendations of Professor Uff and Lord Cullen are still outstanding, well after the recommended date for implementation. It may be sensible for the Secretary of State and the industry to argue that some of those recommendations are inappropriate and should be changed. We have discussed ERTMS, for example. It may be deemed appropriate not to proceed with certain recommendations, but there should be regular reports to Parliament about the progress of recommendations, with an explanation about why some are to be ditched.

There is also a concern that some investigations are taking far too long. If we are to learn the lessons, we need clear answers, as others have said. We are still waiting for the final report on the train derailment at Hatfield, which took place in October 2000. We were told some time ago that the final report would be published by the end of 2001, yet we are still waiting.

Notwithstanding the matters that have been omitted, the Bill contains many welcome measures. The establishment of an independent body responsible for rail accident investigations—a move recommended by Lord Cullen, which should have been in place by now—is proposed, and we welcome that. We are concerned that too much of the detail is to be provided in regulation rather than in the Bill, and that there may still be a number of conflicts to be resolved—for example, between those who want to carry out an investigation to find out what has happened, and those who are keen to ensure that we get the railway running again as quickly as possible.

There will be tensions between other bodies for example, the transport police, who want to establish whether anyone is culpable, and the accident investigation body, which is interested in identifying the cause of the accident, and may not be concerned with liability and responsibility. Others, such as insurance loss adjusters, will also have an interest in the investigation. If an inquiry is subsequently set up, there could be a conflict between the inquiry, the rail accident investigation branch and the various other bodies.

I am well aware that clause 7 proposes primacy for the RAIB, but there will be situations where that is inappropriate, as happens now. We need to explore with Ministers in Committee how all those potential conflicts will be resolved.

There is also concern about the resources that will be provided for the new body. It is worth remembering that Her Majesty's rail inspectorate currently aspires to investigate 3.5 per cent. of all incidents and 20 per cent. of train accidents. To do that work, between 19 and 28 inspectors are at least notionally available in any week. It will be vital for the new body to at least match that level of activity to maintain its basic intelligence, but it is a little difficult to see how it will do so with the 10 inspectors that it is likely to be given.

There is further concern about the level of support and resources, as has been mentioned. For example, will the Health and Safety Executive's laboratory at Buxton be made available to the new body? As the Minister will know, that laboratory is capable of carrying out forensic examination of large sections of track or even whole carriages. If it is to be made available, will there be a charge? Given how expensive such a charge would he, is £400,000 a year in running costs an appropriate figure?

The changes to the Office of the Rail Regulator are also welcome. After all, they take one step further the moves already introduced by Tom Winsor in setting up his own advisory body. The Secretary of State is right that the office is now the only regulatory body that does not have its own board; at least, a board is being set up and it is appropriate to bring it in line.

The sad thing about the proposal is that it does not go further. On 15 October 2001, when the then Secretary of State announced plans to turn Railtrack into a not-for-profit organisation, he said that it would need far less intense regulation. We therefore intend to streamline the existing structure".—[Official Report, 15 October 2001; Vol. 372, c. 956.] The Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions, as it then was, talked in its first report of 2001–02, which was published in January 2002, about the need for a review of the respective roles of the regulator and the Strategic Rail Authority after the change in status of Railtrack. The Bill merely establishes a regulatory board, but fails to take forward either the promise of the previous Secretary of State or the advice of the Select Committee.

Chris Grayling

The hon. Gentleman and others might remember that the previous Secretary of State intended not only to streamline the powers of the rail regulator, but pretty much to abolish them by introducing an Act of Parliament that would have removed the regulator's powers entirely. I suspect that his ambitions were even more draconian than the hon. Gentleman suggests.

Mr. Foster

Perhaps we can now persuade the former Secretary of State to become a member of the Committee, so that we can quiz him about those issues.

Many issues need to be questioned still further, but one of the welcome measures is the new arrangements in respect of the British Transport police, which not only put them on to a statutory footing, but give them their own authority. Like so many of the things done by this Government, however, that has been a long time in coming. Looking back at the history books, one finds a departmental press release from 31 July 1998 entitled "British Transport Police to get independent control." We have therefore been waiting since then for the proposal to be implemented. Belated though the measure may be, it is none the less welcome.

A couple of issues surprise me in what is being proposed. Given that the model for the new British Transport police authority is based on the Police Act 1996, I find it surprising that there will be an arrangement in which the Secretary of State will appoint the chairman. All other police authorities make the recommendation themselves.

Finally, I turn to aviation and shipping in respect of alcohol and drugs. Last Saturday's incident in Stockholm has been mentioned. It is important to place on record the fact that it was clear from what happened subsequently and the actions that were taken by the airline how seriously British Airways takes the issue. The sad truth is that for far too long we have had no alcohol limits or linked testing regimes for mariners and those who work in aspects of the air transport industry that are critical for safety. We have waited a long time for such measures.

Back in 1992, the Hayes report that followed the Marchioness disaster made recommendations for shipping. We are considering them 10 years later. The air accidents investigation branch made similar recommendations on air travel. Measures for which we have waited a long time are nevertheless welcome and we look forward to discussing some of the details in Committee.

When the Secretary of State answered the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) about whether he could reduce the acceptable amount of alcohol from 80 mg to 50 mg for drivers, he replied that he had no intention of taking action. It is therefore surprising that the Department for Transport has consulted on the matter for several years. Paragraph 13 of the consultation document that was first published in February 1998 states: This strongly suggests that drinking by drivers in the 50–80 mg range is a significant and largely hidden cause of accidents. I hope that the Secretary of State was listening to that. Clear research evidence supports a reduction to 50 mg. If that is right for drivers, it is a more appropriate amount than the 80 mg for which the Bill provides.

We understand the reasons for clause 105, which amends the Greater London Authority Act 1999. It exists to help the Secretary of State dig himself out of the hole of part-privatisation of the London underground. The poor drafting of the Act and the Government's failure to think through the details and implications of the daft part-privatisation proposals led to the provision. If the infraco goes bust between now and handing over the three tube lines to Transport for London, the liquidator is likely to use public assets to pay off the banks or other creditors. The British people would thus lose an asset through the Government's incompetence. So much for sound planning. At last, the Government are trying to put matters right. We will therefore support clause 105 because it makes sense to protect a public asset.

The Bill contains many provisions that are long overdue. Although much needs to be done to tidy it up, we broadly welcome it and we therefore support Second Reading.

4.53 pm
Mr. George Stevenson (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

I support the Bill. It is another example of the Government's determination to put safety, especially in transport, at the top of our agenda. However, I want to tease out several matters for clarification by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State.

The proposal for a rail accident investigation branch has elicited a general welcome. However, I wonder whether the Government's approach to that important issue has been sufficiently radical or courageous. I am particularly bothered about the powers of the rail accident investigation branch, which will have a duty under the Bill to investigate serious accidents. My hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Lawrie Quinn) spoke of the distinction between accidents and incidents, which is extremely important. I do not intend to labour that point. It has been well made.

The part of the Bill that deals with the branch's powers says that with regard to less serious accidents the branch will have a discretion. Indeed, the Secretary of State may by regulation enact that discretion. The point that needs to be made is that if the tragic criterion for a serious accident is the number of people killed or injured, that means that less serious accidents are those that, thankfully, do not result in death or injury, as was the case with the recent incident on the underground, bad as it was. Then we are in danger of losing a real opportunity of learning the lessons from what might be termed relatively minor accidents. Even though they did not result in people being killed or injured, their lessons could be very important in developing measures to prevent possible future accidents.

That distinction bothers me considerably, because there seems to be a determination to deal with serious accidents—those defined by the number of people tragically killed or injured—while there will be discretion with regard to those bad accidents that luckily did not result in serious injury or death, and therefore opportunities may be lost to learn lessons from them.

Next, I seek clarification on what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said about the rail accident investigation branch being based on the air accidents investigation branch model. We all understand that. Lord Cullen referred to it in his report. Let us look at what the air accidents investigation branch actually does. Regulation 4 of the 1996 regulations relating to it says that the sole objective of the investigation shall be the prevention of accidents and incidents. I emphasise "prevention".

The rail accident investigation branch, which is supposed to be based on that model, is, as I read the Bill, reactive and not proactive. That is an extremely important point. Lord Cullen made it clear in his report that he supported the approach taken by the AAIB. If I read the Bill correctly, we have a reactive situation on serious accidents, a discretionary situation on what are deemed to be less serious accidents, and no preventive responsibility at all, such as the air accidents investigation branch has. I should like my right hon. Friend the Minister of State to give us some clarification on that.

With regard to the regulatory board and the Office of the Rail Regulator, I had some sympathy with what the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) said. The proposals are based in part on the Better Regulation Task Force recommendations. A comparison of the House of Commons brief on what the task force says with what the Government propose gives rise to some areas of concern.

For example, the Better Regulation Task Force says: The advantages of a board structure were felt to include: Ensuring a wide range of expertise within the decision making process. Fine. There is also this reference to Increasing continuity of decision making". That is also fine. There is this, too: Greater transparency and accountability of decision making. Now, as I read the Bill's proposals on the regulatory board, I can see the first two of those crucial objectives being achieved—the Better Regulation Task Force refers to that, or at least to their having a good chance of being achieved—but I see no indication that transparency and accountability will be achieved. Indeed, if I read the proposals correctly, the Government are effectively proposing to transform the advisory body to the rail regulator into a statutory board. That is as far as it goes, so I ask my right hon. Friend the Minister to consider the extremely important issues of transparency and accountability.

I welcome the proposal on the British Transport police, which is very sensible as it has been explained to us. However, I want to raise two or three concerns with my right hon. Friend. A main objective of the proposals is to base British Transport police on the tripartite or triumvirate system—involving the Government, the police authority and the police—under the police Acts, which, effectively, are the framework in which our policing works. Fine. We can all support that, but the industry will continue to fund British Transport police.

There is always a little unease when an industry that clearly has a direct interest in what a body such as British Transport police is doing provides the funding for it. I do not want to labour that point, as I want to make another. People say that the British Transport police will be funded by the industry, but we should consider the fact that the industry is 80 or 90 per cent. funded by the public purse, as are Network Rail, 80 per cent. of the train operating companies and the Strategic Rail Authority.

What is really meant by the idea of the industry funding British Transport police? In truth the public purse is funding British Transport police. We should consider that alongside the tripartite or triumvirate system that the Government want to apply to the force. I also wonder how public interest and accountability will be safeguarded in that system. As I read the proposals in the House of Commons Library brief, it is anticipated that the police authority would be made up of perhaps four representatives of passenger interests and four representatives of the industry. Fine. I do not know how much expertise would be involved there.

Mr. Don Foster

Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that point, does he agree that it is important for the representatives of the rail industry to include people who are employed in it?

Mr. Stevenson

That is a valid point, but the main thrust of my remarks is that the public purse is paying.

Mr. Foster

In a roundabout way.

Mr. Stevenson

No, not in a roundabout way. The public purse is involved very directly. It is misleading to think that the industry is providing the funding. Without the public purse, none of this would be happening. Again, accountability is extremely important, and whoever sits on the British Transport police authority should reflect such accountability and transparency.

I turn briefly to the question of alcohol and drugs, and to the proposals relating to air crew and to what are called safety critical staff. I am somewhat worried about the distinction being made between air crew—that is, pilots—and other staff. Air crew will be subject to a maximum of 20 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood, on the basis that they need quick reactions. I understand that, but crew working on engines will face a limit of 80 mg per 100 ml of blood.

What sort of message does that give? I understand the effects that alcohol could have on someone piloting an aircraft, but is it any less important that people doing the critical safety work on engines should also be subject to the stricter regime? One could argue in the public interest that, for flight crew in particular, there should be no tolerance of alcohol content in the blood whatsoever

Finally, I turn to a matter that has not yet been mentioned—the incorporation into UK law of the 1999 convention on international carriage by rail, COTIF. The Government say that that will take account of the changes in railway management and the separation of operation and infrastructure. This raises an important safety issue. The fragmentation of the industry has been a factor in the serious loss of confidence in railway safety in this country. I am delighted that Network Rail has understood that in-house maintenance of the railways will be not only cheaper, but far safer. I congratulate it on taking back in house some of the Great Western railway.

Mr. Clapham

Does my hon. Friend agree that outsourcing undermines the safety culture? That is true in the nuclear industry, as well as in the railway industry. Only 18 months ago, inspectors reported on safety standards in the nuclear industry and their report showed that the privatised utility, British Energy, undermined the safety culture. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is good to see Network Rail bringing back in-house maintenance?

Mr. Stevenson

I welcome the point that my hon. Friend makes. I do not want to reopen the debate about the chaos of privatisation, but a previous chief executive of Railtrack placed on record the fact that the company was unable to reconcile the interests of shareholders with those of safety. I hope that the incorporation of COTIF into UK law does not mean that the Government intend there to be more fragmentation of the industry. The lessons are there to be learned, and Network Rail is to be congratulated. I hope that the Government will encourage as much as possible the very welcome process that puts the public interest first when it comes to safety, and the move to bring maintenance back in house. Not only is in-house maintenance safer, but the present system is three times more expensive than was the system under British Rail.

My final point is a plea to my right hon. Friend concerning mark 1 slam-door carriages. They were due to have been phased out or replaced by January this year, but that is not going to be achieved. I hope that my right hon. Friend will say something about that. I hope that my right hon. Friend will deem my observations to be positive rather than critical. I very much welcome the Bill.

5.10 pm
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire)

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Stevenson) who, through his work on the Select Committee on Transport, can bring expertise to bear on this subject. I also appreciated the speech made by the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Lawrie Quinn), who worked in the transport sector before he became a Member of the House and can thus bring to life what is sometimes a rather dry subject.

I very much welcome the Bill, which has as its theme the promotion of safety for the travelling public, and I wave it a metaphorical handkerchief as it passes through the House.

I note the view of the Council for the Protection of Rural England and some hon. Members that the Bill contains nothing on road safety. I hope that the Minister can assure the House that that does not mean that the Government accord road safety policy less priority but, rather, that it is travelling at least as quickly in a separate but parallel lane.

Travelling by rail is already much safer than travelling by road. We need to remember that point as we deal with the safety provisions in part 1. If we drive up safety on the railway and place all the costs on the tickets of the travelling public, we price people off a safer system and on to the roads, which are already less safe and which will then become more congested.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) suggested that we should make the trains slower. The difficulty with that is they would become less competitive compared to road travel. That is the wrong way to promote a coherent transport policy.

It is important for the Government to send the travelling public a clear signal that their policy is to ensure that the costs of travelling by bus or rail will not rise faster than the costs of travelling by car. That is a key component of a coherent transport strategy, which the Government risk abandoning.

With reference to part 1, safety must be paramount on the railways. Safety was improving under British Rail and has continued to improve since, but one death on the railways remains one death too many. It is not the case, as has been asserted sometimes—and, indeed, this afternoon—that a disaggregated or fragmented transport system is inherently more dangerous than an integrated one.

The most disaggregated transport industry is civil aviation. The airlines do not run the airports or air traffic control. They do not own or maintain the planes: they lease them. Just about everything from baggage handling to meals is contracted out. There are many different airlines and owners of airports.

The industry is highly fragmented, but flying is the safest means of travel. Air travel is extremely popular. Furthermore, in response to the arguments of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South, I remind the House that the industry is entirely profit-driven. I reject the argument that there is conflict between fragmentation and safety and private ownership and safety. The record disproves that.

Mr. Don Foster

I have listened with interest to the comments of the right hon. Gentleman, for whom I have great respect. Is he not fundamentally wrong on this issue? Surely he accepts that there is a difference between monopoly and competition. In the airline industry, there is competition and that automatically drives up safety standards; no one wants to fly in an unsafe plane. In the rail industry, Railtrack was a monopoly so there was a conflict between passenger safety and shareholder profit.

Sir George Young

I entirely reject that argument. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South deployed the argument that a fragmented industry was less safe than an integrated one. However, the safety record for civil aviation is even better than it is for the railways, yet the industry is the most fragmented that one could possibly find. It is subcontracted and specialised, yet it works. A comparison of civil aviation with rail substantiates the argument that there is nothing wrong with a privately owned disaggregated industry running a transport system.

Mr. Stevenson

If the right hon. Gentleman is not prepared to take my word for it, I am sure that he will look at the documented evidence from the former chief executive of Railtrack who said that fragmentation had been bad for the industry, and from the train operating companies and so on. It is not my argument; it is documented throughout the industry.

Sir George Young

Sadly, the statistics do not support the hon. Gentleman's argument. Safety has improved since privatisation. The railway is now safer than it was before privatisation, but we have to make it even safer. The hon. Gentleman's own Government have kept roughly the same structure that they inherited from the Conservatives. There is Railtrack, or Network Rail; there is a series of train operating companies with franchises; there are people who own the rolling stock; and there is a regulator. I did not intend to be so partisan, but I was driven to it by interventions.

I am attracted by the policy of replicating the well-tested air accidents investigation branch and marine accident investigation branch models. When I was at the Department of Transport, I was impressed by the AAIB at Farnborough, which puts together after an accident a jigsaw puzzle with pieces missing and pieces damaged. It is painstaking and methodical professional work against a background of tragedy, and I commend the AAIB for what it does.

The AAIB does not face the potential conflicts of interest that confront Her Majesty's railway inspectorate. As the AAIB does not validate any particular design of aircraft or system of air traffic control, it is completely impartial in investigating what goes wrong. So I see the attractions of that model.

It is possible to develop the opposite case, as the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South did, for what one might call an integrated approach, with constant contact between those investigating accidents and those monitoring safety on a daily basis. Under the proposals, the rail accident investigation branch will not receive all the reports that HMRI used to receive on signals passed at danger, severe congestion and so on. It will not have day-to-day contact with the operation of the railways, but against the background of the problems at Ladbroke Grove one can see the conflict of interest under the current regime. At the moment, the Health and Safety Executive must both discover the cause of the accident and decide whether to prosecute under the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 for any breaches of safety regulations. It is a public prosecution body; it can bring cases to court. Supposing, for the sake of argument, it has at a previous stage validated a particular layout of signals: one can see the potential conflict of interest.

The proposed regime allows the RAIB to concentrate on discovering the cause of an accident without worrying about conflict of interest or about prosecuting, but that means that another body has to go round the course to see whether there has been an infringement of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act. I have just three questions about this part of the Bill. What happens during the transitional period during which the new RAIB is set up and responsible only for inquiries but during which presumably many of the personnel come from HM RI and may have given advice under the previous regime? How are we to prevent the conflict of interest that is at the heart of the Bill in the short term?

The explanatory notes tell us that the running costs of RAIB will be £1.85 million. Is that a net increase, or are the costs offset by reductions in the costs of HMRI, which will presumably no longer do the accident work? How does the new regime interface with the criminal justice system? The RAIB will be involved after an accident. HMRI will presumably decide whether to prosecute. If there has been a fatality, the British Transport police will be involved. The railway operators will be wanting to get the system up and running again. Some rather complicated choreography will have to be worked out if we are not to have duplication, lack of co-operation and delays in getting the railways up and running again.

Turning to part 2, I have no difficulty with replacing the regulator with a board, which I gather will have four members. In considering who to appoint, the imperative for the Government must be to attract private capital back into the railways and restore confidence in railway investment following the demise of Railtrack. So I hope that the board will comprise people who understand how to attract private capital and retain investor confidence. Those on the board must not be agents of the Government, but as the responsibilities overlap to some extent with those of the Strategic Rail Authority, they need to be on roughly the same wavelength.

The regulatory task will be different with the publicly owned Network Rail, rather than with Railtrack. There will be less emphasis on preventing excess profits and more on maintaining an income stream for private capital. The wisdom of Solomon will be required in fixing the track access charges, which are at the heart of the system; they are the main costs of the train operating companies on one hand and Network Rail's main income on the other.

It is a good idea to try to depersonalise the Office of the Rail Regulator. There had been signs of an ego trip. Sadly, there have been some personal vendettas in the past and a lack of empathy with Railtrack when it existed. I hope that there will be slightly less of that with a board because the relationships between the industry's various components are crucial.

There is a risk of losing the progress made in the past 10 years in gaining access to private capital. If we go back to the previous position whereby investment in the railways was constrained by what the Government could afford, we will have lost a lot of the advantage of the past 10 years. Since 1997, and until quite recently, one of the problems that the railways did not have was that of raising capital. Railtrack was able to spend every penny that it could raise. Then we had the debacle, and now the industry cannot borrow what it needs from the private sector.

I hope that the new board will build some bridges to re-establish investor confidence in the railways, so that, on top of what the Government are putting in, it can have a substantial injection of private capital. [Interruption.] The Minister for Transport is exhibiting some agitation. If he wishes to relieve it by intervening, I should be happy to give way.

The Minister for Transport (Mr. John Spellar)

I am finding some difficulty with the model that the right hon. Gentleman seems to propose. He seems to suggest that in a situation where money kept being pushed at an inefficient company that was certainly not able to provide the service cost-effectively, a board of the regulator would have taken a more approving view of that company's coming around with the begging bowl—to use the regulator's words—to be relieved of the consequences of its inefficiency. That might work in the very short term in a bubble economy; it is no model for effective investment or a sustainable private enterprise.

Sir George Young

It is not the case that the problem was solely an inefficient company; there was an inefficient Minister and the relationships broke down. That was at the heart of the Railtrack débâcle.

Mr. Spellar

As the basis of the right hon. Gentleman's argument is that there was a conflict between the regulator and Railtrack—indeed, the begging-bowl speech took place within a few days of the last general election—in no way can any argument be made that the regulator had been influenced by a Minister. The regulator's views had been determined by his judgment of the company's management. How could a board rationally have taken a different view of that company's efficiency?

Sir George Young

The Government pulled the rug from under Railtrack because they wanted it to fail. [Interruption.] I hope that, at some point, there will be a full inquiry into Railtrack's demise, including into the Treasury's role, which was absolutely crucial in the weeks before the rug was finally pulled from under Railtrack. We saw the scene of the Secretary of State for Transport leaning over the patient, trying to encourage him back to health at the same time as he put his foot on the oxygen pipe, ensuring that the patient would expire.

I want to make progress and move on to part 3, on the role of the British Transport police. After rail privatisation, the British Transport police were parked with the Secretary of State for Transport. As a matter of interest, it would be helpful if the Minister could say in his winding-up speech whether the Home Secretary's published figures on crime and on the number of police include or exclude the British Transport police. Some 75,000 crimes a year are reported by the British Transport police, and there are 2,100 police officers. Such figures are regularly published by the Home Office, but do they include the British Transport police?

Will the Minister say whether British Transport police officers are armed, or whether they have to look to some of the other forces for that degree of specialisation? Will it be policy to have a separate brand for the British Transport police? At the moment, if one sees a policeman on a railway station, one does not know if he is in the ordinary police or the British Transport police. It may be policy to have both looking the same, or it may be that there is a desire to develop a different identity and culture for the BTP. Will the Minister shed light on that?

When the Minister winds up, will he explain the relationship between the Secretary of State for Transport and the Home Secretary on responsibility for the BTP. Clearly, most of the expertise in that area rests with the Home Office, whereas it is a small part of the Department for Transport. The consultation paper states that the Secretary of State for Transport would have regard for the Home Secretary's primary role in policing matters. It continues: The Secretary of State would undertake his duties alongside the Home Secretary. What exactly is the relationship? Is the Department for Transport simply a conduit for Home Office initiatives on law and order, or is there a separate and independent element of advice in the Department for Transport that it adds to advice from the Home Office?

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

I endorse almost everything that the right hon. Gentleman has said, which is unusual but, for me, very good. Is it not the case that one of the things that the Minister must do tonight is reassure those in the British Transport police who work on the London underground that they will not be absorbed into the Metropolitan police, which would be unhelpful for them and for the travelling public, and which I understand is under consideration at present? I am certainly against it.

Sir George Young

Although the hon. Gentleman posed the question to me, I am smart enough to see that he aimed it at someone else. I am sure that the Minister will address that issue. As I understand it, the purpose of the Bill is to establish the BTP as a separate authority and not to integrate part of it into the Metropolitan police. The words of assurance that he seeks, however, had better come from someone else.

To conclude, this is a worthy if unexciting Bill, and, as far as I am concerned, it can have a green light.

5.27 pm
David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde)

Like all Members who have spoken, I support the Bill, and I commend the various expert speeches that we have heard by Labour Members and the one that we have just heard by a distinguished former Secretary of State for Transport.

I want to commend the speech by the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) particularly with regard to his wise injunction that we do not exaggerate the level of accidents in the rail industry. It is a comparatively safe industry, and although we all aspire to make it safer, we should not scaremonger among the public about how dangerous it is. An analogy exists in relation to crime. We know that the fear of crime in people's minds is far higher than the reality. The fear of crime, however, has a knock-on effect on people's behaviour in relation to whether they go out, which has a knock-on effect on the streets and the environment in which they live. Similarly, if the fear of an accident on the railways far outstrips the likelihood of it happening in reality, people will be put off from using the railways, which will have a knock-on effect on their long-term viability.

I therefore applaud the comments of the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale and those of the Secretary of State—people might say, "He would say that, wouldn't he", but it is true. We should send out the message that although we are taking steps to set up this accident investigation branch, it is not because of some enormous crisis that needs to be addressed. It is because we are learning from best practice, learning the lessons that we need to learn from tragedies, and moving forward to make the railways even safer. There have been tragedies, however, and lives have been lost. It would be glib and offensive to say that there are no problems on the railways and no lessons to be learned. A balance must be struck.

The current arrangements are fragmentary and are in need of improvement. Lord Cullen identified in his report the need for a single investigatory body, which will act quickly and transparently. He was also looking for a body that would have the force to make recommendations that would be implemented and followed through, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Stevenson)—who has just left the Chamber—was advocating in his well-argued speech. The existence of lacunae in the system was borne out by evidence to the Cullen inquiry. The joint rail unions spoke of their concern about the relatively low number of investigations. Counsel for the bereaved and injured of the Southall and Ladbroke tragedies were worried about the lack of transparency in the system. Passenger groups expressed repeated concern about the lack of machinery to implement the recommendations of investigations and inquiries. The Bill is to be applauded if it addresses those problems.

Several hon. Members noted that the air accident and marine accident branches have existed for many years. By all accounts, they work well. However, the railways are complex. I listened with interest to the exchanges between the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) and the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) on the fragmentation of the rail industry compared with the fragmentation of the aviation industry. Those are complicated matters. Unlike the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), I would be happy to serve on the Committee, which I suppose is a pitch to whoever makes that decision. The complexity of the different regimes would repay scrutiny in Committee so that we learn lessons from them and decide what is appropriate.

The paramount consideration is the need for the independent rail accident investigation to work closely with the regulator, the Strategic Rail Authority and, ultimately, the Government. Lord Cullen had to balance those factors. In establishing an independent body, he had to decide whether to run the risk of removing it from the decision-making structures to such an extent that he weakened its impact. In the inquiry, he said: I have to weigh the potential disadvantages, the most significant of which is the loss of direct connection between the investigator and the regular contact with the operation of safety systems. However, on balance I consider that the stronger arguments are in favour of change, and I accordingly recommend that the responsibility for the investigation of accidents should be entrusted to an independent body which is set up for the purpose. Lord Cullen is flagging up a warning note that when the policy is implemented the independent body does not spin off too far from the mainstream where the decisions are made.

Hon. Members said that 10 professionals will work for the branch with eight support staff. As a complete layman, I have to say that that sounds a small number, but perhaps the reason for it will become clear in Committee when we receive an outline of their duties and responsibilities and know how they will co-operate with other agencies.

The decision to replace the single regulator with a board has been universally welcomed. It is sensible and in line with practice in other privatised utilities. The Bill makes it clear that the board will be slimline, independent and focused, with a majority of non-executive members. Is it too much to ask that they know something about the railways? The right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire spoke about the need to have people who attract private capital. That is undoubtedly true. I appreciate that the board will not be same as the Strategic Rail Authority. I have been impressed by the knowledge, experience and commitment to the railways that the new faces at the SRA have demonstrated. It must have people with experience of the private sector and the railways, which it regulates, who would be suited to serving on the board. I know that the branch board primarily has an economic regulatory function, but I would welcome people with experience of the railways serving on it. Of course we know that that was not always the case with the people who took key decisions at Railtrack.

The board will have a variety of tasks. It will have to juggle viewpoints and experiences. There will undoubtedly be stresses between the need to keep it small and tightly focused, and the need for its members to have a wide variety of experience.

There is specific mention of the need for Scotland, Wales and the various English regions to at least be represented. I shall be looking at how that can be done. Would individuals each have a remit to represent the views of a region, or would that representation be drawn from the experiences of the people appointed to the board? That can be discussed in Committee.

I want to say a few words about other safety implications that are not related to accidents on the railways. I have in mind the safety of stations. This argument may seem esoteric, and I appreciate that there have not been any major disasters connected with station buildings, but this is a live issue in my constituency. Railtrack decided that Gourock station was unsafe and, with no regard to anybody else and completely against everybody's opinion, it set about spending millions of pounds to make it safe. That money could have gone towards a larger and better development proposal to benefit the entire community.

Despite the wishes of myself, the Member of the Scottish Parliament, the local council and the developers, who have all met Railtrack, and the views expressed by the local community that the station is not unsafe and that millions of pounds should not be spent on a Victorian white elephant, Railtrack has gone ahead and spent the money. I have been wondering how I could appeal that decision. The Strategic Rail Authority said that the matter was not its concern, and as, thankfully, no accident has happened, the matter does not fall within the remit of the various accident investigation boards.

Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith)

Does my hon. Friend agree that a better use for the millions of pounds to which he refers would have been to employ more British transport police officers? One way to improve passenger safety in stations and on trains is to have more policemen and women on the beat. Would my hon. Friend like the extra strength and authority given to the British transport police in the Bill to be followed up by extra funds?

David Cairns

I agree, and I am sure that my hon. Friend will make those points if he is fortunate enough to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker. Of course, I am speaking about safety connected with the fabric of the building, and not the endangerment of the public by criminal activity.

This matter is vital to my constituency. In the spurious guise of tackling safety considerations, Railtrack has squandered millions of pounds of public money propping up a Victorian white elephant and doing work to the sea wall beneath the station, which is completely unnecessary—it could not be justified by any independent assessor. However, as the issue showed up on Railtrack's radar as one of safety, we have no avenue of appeal.

The money has been spent, the contracts have been signed and a brilliant redevelopment opportunity in my constituency has been squandered. Although I am delighted that that terrible company, which was incapable of giving a straight answer and had a "now you see it, now you don't" attitude to funding, no longer exists, my constituency has lost out badly. I hope that Members of Parliament will be able to approach the new regulator and appeal such decisions before contracts are signed.

I turn briefly to part 4 on shipping and alcohol. As a Member of Parliament for what is still a busy port, although not as busy as it once was, I welcome the Government's plans to regulate alcohol consumption in the maritime industry. I have to confess that I was slightly surprised that regulations, which apply to other modes of transport, do not already apply to shipping. People in charge of passenger ferries are every bit as liable on safety grounds as those who drive cars and buses, and they should be subject to the same breath test regime.

Although the Secretary of State greatly helped me when he responded to my earlier intervention, I am still slightly confused as to the role of non-professional maritime activity in Scotland, as opposed to that in England and Wales.

Let us consider the example of someone who is operating a jet-ski on Loch Lomond while under the influence of alcohol—although one has to be rich to own a jet-ski, it is a very popular past-time on Loch Lomond—and whose behaviour prompts a call to the police on the suspicion that they are under the influence of alcohol, even though no accident occurs. Will the new regime apply to that person in the same way that it would apply if they were using a jet-ski on Lake Windermere? My right hon. Friend told me that if an accident occurred and the procurator fiscal was looking to bring a case against the person concerned for that reason, the fact that they were under the influence of alcohol could be taken into consideration in the procurator fiscal's contemplating the level of charge.

However, I am not talking about cases where an accident occurs. Many of the people who are done for drunk-driving have not in fact caused accidents; they are pulled over because they were weaving all over the road. If the new regime will not apply in Scotland, I should like some assurance—now, in writing or in Committee—as to the measures that law enforcement agencies in Scotland could pursue to ensure that the same tough and rigorous laws that apply south of the border are also applied north of the border.

I want to finish with a quick word on the London underground. The idea that what happens on the underground is of interest only to London Members of Parliament has always amused me: that is simply not the case. Many hundreds of thousands of people travel into London from outside the Greater London area and use the underground, and the underground and the vitality of the London economy are tremendously important to the rest of the UK. We are talking about taxpayers' money that is waiting to be invested in the underground, and it is as much money paid by my constituents as it is money paid by London constituents. I am very pleased that the Mayor of London is at last seeing the sense of allowing the Government to continue with their policy, but I am disappointed that it has taken so long. Reform of, and investment in, the London underground are vital not just for London but for the whole of the British economy. So I encourage my colleagues on the Front Bench to ensure that the investment that the Government have committed to the underground, but which has been held up by the Mayor of London's dogmatic attitude, is delivered into the system to make those improvements.

On that final, slightly controversial note, I welcome the Bill and I hope that it has a speedy passage through both Houses.

5.42 pm
Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury)

It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (David Cairns), and I am particularly pleased to see the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson), in his place. Two weeks ago, he and I had a very profitable debate on transport safety in Wiltshire, and I intend to touch on that issue once or twice in the next few minutes.

I welcome the Bill, for which there has been a great deal of cross-party support. There are of course omissions, however, and I want to touch on them in my speech. I have a very fond recollection of the Health and Safety Executive. Before being elected to this place, I was involved in safety for one of the largest industrial complexes on the south coast, and I worked very closely with the HSE in that role. I grew to appreciate its expertise and dedication, and to know very well how under-resourced it was, and how difficult it was for it to carry out the functions required of it. Indeed, it was difficult for it to do anything more than the scratch the surface—a fact that left a great impression on me. I also learned that there was a slight lack of specialisation within the HSE, which it itself recognised. It is very difficult to spread the discipline of safety across the field. Certain areas have specific needs and specific quanta of expertise, and I imagine that that is why we have the air accidents investigation branch and the marine accident investigation branch. Rightly, we are now to have a rail accident investigation branch as well.

I do not want to deal principally with rail but rather to address one of the major omissions that my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) alluded to, and which relates to roads. Shortly after I was elected, I was present at the scene of a road traffic accident on the A36. A police constable—the constable with whom I was supposed to be visiting areas in my constituency that suffer from petty criminality—was summoned to the scene, and it rapidly became apparent that this was a major incident. It transpired that a family of four had lost their lives when a lorry crossed on to the wrong side of the road. That was deeply traumatic for all concerned, not least the emergency services who attended. My regard for them, already high, went up by leaps and bounds.

I mention that because we need a sense of proportion when considering accidents that occur on our transport network. As other right hon. and hon. Members have said, the accident rate on our roads vastly exceeds that on other forms of public and private transport. At Potters Bar, seven people tragically lost their lives, and 31 people died at Ladbroke Grove. However, day in, day out, 10 people a day lose their lives on our roads. Since 1997, there have been 136 rail deaths, but well over 17,000 deaths on our roads. Clearly, one's chances of sustaining a serious injury or dying on our roads greatly exceed one's chances of suffering a similar catastrophe on other forms of transport. We need to get that across, not least because we do not want people to desert public transport to use the roads and paradoxically, as other Members have said, drive up the sum total of road deaths.

Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire)

My hon. Friend is making a good point; we need to keep a sense of proportion. Does he accept that the Health and Safety Executive has not always exercised a light touch on the railways? For example, I understand that if the speaker system does not work in one carriage in a train, it is grounded and cannot run until the public announcement system is replaced. Does he think that a heavy-handed approach?

Dr. Murrison

My right hon. Friend has made a good point. Indeed, that may be one of the drivers behind the creation of a rail accident investigation branch, which would take over many of the HSE's functions. I feel very strongly, however, that there should be no latitude on safety on public transport. We all know of near misses—many hon. Members have referred to near misses in various guises this afternoon—where things have developed from apparently trivial slips or omissions. I therefore counsel caution before trivialising cases of the sort to which my right hon. Friend referred.

Rob Gifford of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety—PACTS—corresponds with most hon. Members and has said: Someone needs to do some hard thinking and ask why we are prepared to invest so heavily in rail safety and so little in road safety, which offers much better value for money per life saved. That sounds harsh—when talking about lives saved we do not necessarily want to talk about the cost. However, in public health terms, we must.

In 1997, the Government established a ministerial responsibility for public health. I have argued elsewhere that the post has not been a great success, particularly in driving down the number of casualties on our transport system. However, that area, I respectfully suggest, is of legitimate concern to a public health Minister with cross-cutting responsibility who is surely tasked with driving down mortality and morbidity. I fear, however, that the intervention of the relevant Minister has not produced that result, which is a pity. I am disappointed that the Bill does not mention road safety, given the emphasis on safety in other forms of transport. I very much hope that Ministers will address that omission in Committee.

I represent a rural area, and it is incumbent on me to mention the problems of the countryside. In the rural White Paper, the Government rightly said: Public concern about road safety in rural areas is growing. Levels of traffic are increasing faster on rural roads than on urban roads … Road accidents on rural roads are more likely to be fatal, for all types of road users, than in towns. The Government's road safety strategy says: We are therefore proposing to develop a new hierarchy of roads defined by their function and quality, which would combine flexibility at local level with consistency nationally. The road safety strategy made it clear that primary legislation was required for the rural road hierarchy to be implemented. I have to say, however, that the Minister's response to my debate on road safety in Wiltshire earlier this month was somewhat lukewarm. I hope that he will dispel that impression today. It was particularly unfortunate given that the debate took place on the same day that the Bill had its first outing.

It is a great pity that Ministers have not acted on the Transport Committee's criticism of the Government's lack of urgency in introducing a rural road hierarchy. That criticism was made in June 2001. Here we are in January 2003, yet we have heard nothing beyond blandishments and the promise of things to come. I hope that the Minister will be able to correct me if that is a misapprehension.

The grim reaper is particularly fond of inappropriate speed as an immediate way of dispatching people on rural roads, but speed acts in more subtle ways than that. It intimidates walkers, cyclists and horse riders, and generally degrades the enjoyment of the countryside for those who live there or visit it for leisure purposes. The Government's failure to incorporate their hierarchy of roads into the Bill, where it would fit very well, is a missed public health opportunity.

In dealing with accidents on roads, it is important to deal only with the evidence. A firm evidence base is essential because there are many paradoxes in transport safety, and paradoxes lead to the potential for political opportunism. The Minister will remember that we discussed examples of that in a lighter moment during the debate two weeks ago. One paradox concerns the removal of white lines on roads where one would intuitively imagine that that would make them more dangerous, not safer. In fact, the early evidence in Wiltshire suggests that that is not the case. A great deal in this field is surprisingly counter-intuitive.

A road accident investigation branch would help to introduce some rigour into the investigation of road traffic accidents, both collectively and individually, and could make suggestions on how they can be prevented. For example, the 54 per cent. reduction, from the 1981 to 1985 baseline, in those killed or seriously injured in accidents on roads in Wiltshire, compared with a 47 per cent. reduction nationwide, requires explanation. It should be the function of a road accident investigation branch to shed light on that and determine how best practice, if that is what it is, in Wiltshire can be applied more generally.

Clearly, the Bill will involve costs. The regulatory impact assessment identifies a staffing level of 22 for the rail accident investigation branch. There is some controversy as to the exact number, but we can agree that it will be fairly small. A staff of 22 is pretty lean and mean. An equivalent body for roads, given the unremitting nature of road accidents, day in, day out, would not be able to do anything with that number of staff. The cost of road traffic accidents runs into many billions of pounds a year, and the potential savings to the public purse and to others would dwarf any outlay.

I warmly welcome the Bill, but I regret the omission of the promised hierarchy of rural roads and of a road accident investigation branch, which would complement the rail accident investigation branch extremely well. I urge the Minister to think again.

5.54 pm
Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North)

I welcome the chance to speak on Second Reading, as I broadly support the Bill, like other hon. Members who have spoken. I speak as a rail commuter of 34 years' standing. I have never yet driven to the House of Commons. I have travelled by train every day, and I feel much safer being driven by my splendid ASLEF driver than I would if I were driving, even at a relatively low speed. That is a comment on my driving, as much as on the safety of the railway system. We have spoken glowingly this afternoon about how safe rail travel is, but we should remember that the genesis of the Bill was a number of serious railway accidents. Before we are all swallowed up in the warm glow of consensus, we should remember the things that have gone wrong and those that are still not right.

I offer the House a personal anecdote. Just over three years ago, it was suggested through a third party that I might take photographs of the state of the track north of Hadley Wood tunnel, an area that I know quite well, on the east coast main line, and send the photographs to my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister, who was responsible for transport at that time. I did not do that, because I did not have time and I was not minded to do it, but it was a serious suggestion. Some time later, there was an accident at Hatfield, and some time after that, an accident at Potters Bar. Potters Bar is the next station north of Hadley Wood, and Hatfield is another three stations further along on the same stretch of the east coast main line. I suggest that there might have been some good purpose in my photographing that track, and sending it to the Deputy Prime Minister at the time, although of course I take no responsibility for the terrible things that happened later.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Stevenson) suggested that we should study accidents that did not result in serious injury or death, but which illustrate the problem. I shall describe such a case, which occurred at a siding in Yorkshire, where the nose of the points was removed—that is, the central metal part of the points, where they join. Six months later a train was directed over the points and was derailed. It was a coal train and no one was hurt, but it was still a serious derailment. Why did it happen?

First, the points should have been clipped—that is, they should have been clamped together on one side so that they could not be moved. Secondly, fuses controlling the signals should have been removed. Thirdly, reminder appliances should have been placed over the operating switch in the signal box. Fourthly, notice detailing the non-availability of the points should have been issued to all drivers and signals in the area. None of that was done. The responsible contractor was Jarvis, the contractor responsible for the track at Potters Bar.

There is a problem with contracting and the contracting culture in the railway industry, and I do not stand alone in saying that. I refer to the comments by Stanley Hall, who spent a lifetime with British Rail as a senior signalling and safety officer at the highest level, who stated in "Rail" magazine this month: One of the worst decisions of those who designed the privatisation structure has proved to be the reliance of the industry on outside help … No one wants another organisational upheaval but the present system is unsafe and expensive. This month we saw Network Rail take maintenance in the Reading area in house, with the promise of two more areas being taken in house. That is to do not only with cost but with safety as well.

We should remember that even though travelling by rail is safe, and even though railway travel has become safer, it is still potentially very dangerous. One accident on a railway line can cause a horrendous number of deaths. I am old enough to remember the Harrow and Wealdstone disaster, which was terrifying and awesome.

I have made my point: the Bill goes in the right direction, but to be effective it must affect what happens on the railway track now. I could relate one or two more anecdotes told to me by staff who work in the railway industry—for example, about contractors who dispense with the use of a look-out when they are working at night. There have been fatalities of railway workers, who are as important as passengers in matters of life and death. The contracting record is not good. I look forward to the contractors being taken over progressively by Network Rail, and a much safer railway environment for the foreseeable future.

6 pm

Mr. Michael Weir (Angus)

On behalf of the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru, I also wish to give a general welcome to the Bill. I think that that gives the Minister a full set of parties supporting the Bill.

Much has been said in this debate about safety on the railways, and the Secretary of State said that safety was paramount. Many of the current worries about rail safety have undoubtedly been exacerbated by the privatisation of the railways, which has ensured that a multiplicity of organisations are responsible for rail safety, including train operating companies, Railtrack—now Network Rail—the Health and Safety Executive and others. Indeed, as the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins) pointed out, Network Rail has recently demonstrated the case by renationalising part of the line between Reading and Paddington to keep prices down and ensure the quality of the work. Victims of the Potters Bar crash have blamed Jarvis, the contractor responsible for maintaining the tracks in the area, for failing to carry out its work to the required standard, leading directly to the crash.

Those worries continue on the railway and also in respect of the London underground proposals. Much has also been said about the derailment of a train on the Central line on Saturday. The RMT has expressed serious concerns about what is happening as London Underground heads towards the PPP. Indeed, one of the weekend newspapers reported it as saying that a Piccadilly line driver had recently expressed concern about a banging noise, but was told that if he refused to drive the train and it was found to be safe, he would have to "face the consequences". If that is true, it is a terrible indictment of what is happening on the London underground. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Stevenson) made a very good point about how safety should be pre-emptive as well as reactive. That must be considered as the situation progresses.

It seems to us self-evident that privatisation has exacerbated the problem through the profit motive and the dispersal of responsibility. We believe that only by running the rail network on a not-for-profit basis can we ensure that safety is put before profit. The right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) cited the airline industry in support of his argument, but I am not sure how that position can hold water, given the perilous financial straits of many airlines. Some airlines are running on a state subsidy, while many large American ones have sued for chapter 11 protection because of their financial position.

Much was made of high-speed rail links, especially in Japan. However, its Bullet trains were brought into being with specifically designed new lines. One of the problems of the rail system in this country is that there has been no investment for many years, which makes it much more difficult to upgrade lines so that they can take new high-speed trains. That has been demonstrated by the difficulties encountered on the west coast main line.

We are pleased that the Government have decided to implement the recommendations of the Cullen inquiry and accepted that Her Majesty's rail inspectorate could not adequately perform the dual role of safety regulator and accident investigator. We accept that the new body will be better placed to deal with investigations into rail accidents.

Like many hon. Members, however, we have some concerns about the specifics of the Bill. In an intervention on the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Lawrie Quinn), I referred to the definition of accidents. While the Bill requires the new body to investigate serious accidents, it allows it discretion over whether to investigate non-serious accidents. In my mind, a problem therefore immediately arises about what constitutes a serious accident, as the Bill gives no definition. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South asked whether a serious accident was one in which people lost their lives. How is such an accident defined? In many cases, it will be obvious that an accident is serious, but there could be a fairly large grey area, so it would be helpful for the Minister to clarify his definition.

There is a potential problem of accidents that may not superficially be serious—whatever the definition—but have grave implications for safety in other parts of the system. It is worth remembering that large parts of the east coast main line were effectively closed for a long time after the Hatfield accident because of worries about equipment on the rails. The Bill does not adequately cover that.

A relatively minor accident that disclosed a fundamental flaw in some aspect of equipment or use might have a serious effect on the whole rail system. It would have been helpful if the Government had laid the regulations before the House and included definitions in the Bill. That could have assured us that the new bodies were committed to undertaking a range of investigations into all sorts of accidents rather than allowing the system to slip back into its old ways of investigating only obviously serious accidents.

I am not clear about the way in which the new body links with other organisations, especially the Health and Safety Executive, which might have a role in investigating apparently minor accidents. How would it cross-check with the rail accident investigation branch? For example, how would evidence taken by the Health and Safety Executive be used if a further matter came to light that would encourage the new body to investigate the incident further? Would the new body be informed automatically of findings during investigations into apparently minor incidents that might have wider implications? Would it be able or obliged to take over that investigation if the issue affected the rest of the rail network?

The Transport Salaried Staffs Association raised anxieties in its briefing for the debate about confidentiality, especially about clause 8(4). The briefing states: It is expected that regulations will provide that a witness statement given to the RAIB may not be disclosed to a third party (such as the police or the Health and Safety Executive) without consent, or a court order. For RAIB to be effective it is absolutely essential that operational staff have confidence in its integrity and expertise. Confidence in RAIB is dependent upon employees being assured that these statements … are treated as confidential. It argues that those matters should be specified in the Bill. I understand its point and agree in principle.

However, what would happen if the position were reversed, and an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive unearthed information that made it more appropriate for the RAIB to take it over? Could statements to the Health and Safety Executive be passed to the new body, or would the RAIB have to start from scratch?

Other hon. Members have mentioned clause 102, which gives details of the railway safety levy. There appears to be confusion about that because one briefing suggests that the provision relates to the RAIB, but it appears to refer only to the Health and Safety Executive. It is not clear who will pay the levy because that is to be stated in regulations. Subsection (5)(b) simply provides for the Secretary of State to determine the persons by whom the levy is to be paid". Disputes have occurred in the past between various parties, such as Railtrack, the train operators and the contractors about responsibility for rail accidents. That has been mentioned especially in the context of Potters Bar. At whom does the Minister intend to aim the levy? Will contractors such as Jarvis, as well as the train operating companies and, presumably, Network Rail, be obliged to contribute to the levy? It has already been said that much of the money in the rail network is public money, but there should be fair sharing between all the agencies for the levy.

The Secretary of State skipped perfunctorily over part 2, which relates to the establishment of the Office of the Rail Regulator. We would generally welcome that. The hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (David Cairns) mentioned the responsibility of members of the body for Scotland, Wales and the English regions.

It may not entirely surprise the Minister to be told that we would urge upon him the need to ensure adequate Scottish and Welsh representation on the Committee. Indeed, there may be a case for a separate Scottish Committee to consider matters relating to Scotland. The right hon. Gentleman smiles, but this is as much a practical as a political point. He should be aware that the structure and control of the railway system in Scotland is not identical to that in the rest of the United Kingdom. In particular, the Scottish Parliament has some powers in these areas.

Rail journeys that commence and end in Scotland are within the ambit of the Scottish Parliament. Those that begin in Scotland but cross over the border are within the ambit of this House. The result is that control of most of the commuter traffic in Scotland, and in particular commuter traffic going into Glasgow and Edinburgh, is devolved, while control of intercity rail travel is essentially reserved. That leads to some strange anomalies. In my Angus constituency, which is on the main east coast line, many services that are effectively local services for the people in the area are intercity trains reserved to Westminster.

Therefore, I urge the Minister to give careful consideration to this matter, and not simply to dismiss this request for separate Scottish representation. It is important that the Scottish Parliament be fully involved in discussions on all aspects of the railways that relate to Scotland, particularly within the boundaries of Scotland, for which it is responsible.

Andrew Mackinlay

I take the hon. Gentleman's point. However, a substantial part of the Bill relates to the British Transport police. Under clause 74, Scotland is included. This will now be the primary Act for the British Transport police; it is not amending legislation with regard to it. On the face of it, much of the Bill relates exclusively to England and Wales.

Mr. Weir

The policing of the railways would presumably be a devolved matter for the Scottish Parliament, as the normal police process is devolved. That is another example of the need to make sure that there is separate Scottish representation. That must be taken on board, because otherwise not only will the Scottish Parliament have no input in respect of devolved rail services, but, as the hon. Gentleman rightly says, it will have no input into their policing.

6.12 pm
Linda Perham (Ilford, North)

Like the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), I was pleased to listen to the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Lawrie Quinn), speaking with great knowledge and experience of the railway industry and as an engineer. We in this country do not value our engineers enough. I have been married to an engineer for more than 30 years and I certainly value him.

It is very important for Parliament to make laws to improve transport safety, so I extend a general welcome to the Bill, in particular its provisions to enhance and modernise the functions of the British Transport police. I spoke this afternoon to the chief constable of the British Transport police, Ian Johnston, whom I have known for a number of years, since his time as an assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan police. The service that he commands is very supportive of the Bill's provisions.

The British Transport police occupy a unique place in the world of the emergency services. It is a flexible service that facilitates and adds value to the work of other emergency services, while carrying out its own priorities of crime control and accident prevention. We are not always aware of its presence, but, as the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire said, last year it dealt with 75,000 crimes and 40,000 minor offences.

The BTP have developed particular expertise in controlling graffiti, policing sports fans and handling major incidents, including terrorist actions. While I am on the subject of major incidents, I am sure that the House will join me in sending our best wishes to those involved in dealing with the frightening accident on the Central line at Chancery lane on Saturday. As I mentioned when I intervened on my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, 800 people were involved and over 30 were injured. Large numbers of people in my London borough, including me, travel on the Central line and I have eight Central line stations in my constituency. The Central line around Bank is the busiest part of the underground, and losing the Central line service for any length of time is a huge inconvenience to my constituents as well as all commuters and visitors to the capital.

As soon as the incident was reported, the BTP responded, along with colleagues from City of London police, the Metropolitan police, the fire brigade and ambulance services. London Underground also provided a rapid specialist response. The first BTP officer was on the scene within seven minutes of the call, and assisted the other emergency services in evacuating the passengers from the train.

The role of the police service in the early stages of a major incident is to facilitate the actions of the rescue and medical services. A major incident was declared by the BTP duty officer following a quick assessment at the scene. In such cases, it is imperative that a quick assessment is made, as there is potential for terrorist incidents in the current climate. The BTP has the expertise and training to make a rapid assessment of incidents on the underground and the railway network, and it should be praised for having done so in this instance. About 30 BTP officers attended the scene, and the co-operation between the services at Chancery lane was very good indeed.

Setting up a new police authority for the BTP should be widely welcomed—indeed, it has been in the House this afternoon. That will be helpful in putting BTP officers on an equally constitutional footing to those of Home Office forces, which is important in a number of ways—for example, helping to get powers similar to those of Home Office forces to employ community support officers. An independent authority will help to address perceptions of partiality in terms of the force being too weak or too tough on the industry.

The establishment of an independent authority will address issues of confidence, trust, accountability and transparency, which were mentioned by the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) during his intervention on the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins). It is disappointing, however, that the opportunity has not been taken to formalise the BTP's extended jurisdiction, which has been secured temporarily by anti-terrorism legislation.

At present, the BTP run the risk of losing their extended powers, not because people do not believe that they should have them, but because, in the eyes of the legal purists, they were secured by the "back door" of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. The Bill's placing of jurisdiction on a statutory rather than a contractual footing is a satisfactory arrangement. Placing BTP pay and conditions in a regulatory framework governed by the Secretary of State is a helpful move in the force in modernising and achieving comparability with the Home Office forces.

I shall briefly discuss other provisions. I welcome the measures relating to alcohol limits for mariners and aviators, but I am one who happens to believe that the alcohol limits should be reduced from 80 mg to 50 mg for drivers and mariners. The hon. Members for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) and for Bath (Mr. Foster) referred to that.

Finally, the introduction of the rail accident investigation branch will provide greater clarity of responsibility and a speedier understanding of the cause of accidents. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State covered that and said in response to my intervention that, had the Bill been in place, the chief inspector of the RAIB would have been involved in considering the Central line accident. If the RAIB is to be effective in determining primacy at an accident site, it must benefit from legislative backing in resolving potential conflicts between safety and criminal justice requirements.

I would have liked the Bill to achieve a greater exploration of the scope and powers of the RAIB, but I hope that those issues will be covered in Committee, where I hope to serve.

6.19 pm
Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley)

It is a great pleasure to be called at last. I would have found sitting here throughout the debate as some people find enduring the railways under this Government were it not for the fact that that has been alleviated by some good speeches, not least that of the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Linda Perham), whom it is a pleasure to follow.

Of course, I agree with the vast bulk of the Bill. It is sensible to set up a special body to investigate accidents, particularly if that will lead to fewer fees for lawyers when such things happen. Also, I of course think it important that skippers of ships should not be inebriated. One can but approve the provision about drunkenness on ships, but I hope that the Minister will assure the House that it will be confined to ships, and that he will apply a light touch to the tiller when it comes to those who enjoy the very lavish hospitality at events such as the Henley regatta. Drunken oarsmen should not be subject to excessively draconian enforcement, as they are not intended to fall within the dominion of the Bill.

I echo what my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), a former Secretary of State for Transport, said about the role of the British Transport police. Their duties could be alleviated if it were made absolutely clear whether it was an offence to take a bicycle on a train. I know that my right hon. Friend is a keen cyclist, as I am. I hope that the Minister will recognise that bikes are clean, green and far safer in regard to other road users than cars. Their use should be encouraged. I should like the law to be applied uniformly. Everyone should have the right to take their bike on the train.

I am interested in one particular element of the Bill—what the Secretary of State called, in his opening remarks, the restructuring of the Office of the Rail Regulator. That is a euphemism: the regulator is going to be abolished, not restructured. The single regulator will be replaced by an office with at least four people appointed by the Secretary of State. There will be a separate chairman and chief executive, at a cost, according to the explanatory notes, of at least £200,000. However, that is the least of my objections to the proposal. I want to probe the Government's motives in abolishing the rail regulator in that way. Is the proposal the best thing for the rail industry and, above all, the travelling public?

It is easy to see why the Government have chosen this option when one remembers the murky events of 7 October 2001. That was when Railtrack was done to death by the Government, and when shareholders, who included my valiant, Labour-voting secretary, were despoiled. That led to a further deterioration in railway performance, and to a huge extra burden on the taxpayer. We must not forget that, in 2000, Railtrack was able to raise £2 billion on the market.

Moreover, as my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire pointed out, safety improved throughout the period of privatisation. Last summer, the proportion of trains running on time fell from 83 per cent. to 81 per cent. That compares with the 90 per cent. achieved under Railtrack.

To understand the disaster that the Government have wreaked on the railways, one must go back to the moment when the former Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, the right hon. Member for Tyneside, North (Mr. Byers), decided to ignore the regulator and destroy Railtrack. It was technically in the power of the regulator, Tom Winsor, to increase the funding to Railtrack by raising the fees payable by the 25 train operating companies. It was also possible for the regulator to order an interim review of Railtrack's funding and to save the company. In retrospect, we can see that such a move would have saved the taxpayer a great deal of money, and obviated the need to pay out £500 million or £1 billion in compensation.

Not only was the regulator circumvented, but he was threatened by the former Secretary of State with the legal extinction of his powers. The Government were less than candid about that threat, which eventually cost the former Secretary of State his job, although he made seven heroic attempts to hang on to it. It would be fair to say that the refusal of the regulator to lie down and die incurred the deep displeasure of the Government and, I suspect, that it led Ministers not merely to abolish him but also his office and to repose his powers in the hands of at least four other people appointed by the Government.

Do the Government care at all about the independence of the successor office? My case is that they should care and I shall set it out briefly. The regulator should be free to safeguard the economic health of the railways and that means operating in the interests of the travelling public and of the potential investor in the railways, and not merely acting on behalf of the Treasury.

Anyone who has flown over Britain, as I did on Saturday, can see the need for that investment. There are plenty of new prisons all over the country and plenty of shut Beeching railways, with grassed-over lines. It is fascinating. Everywhere one looks, however, one sees snarled-up, choked-up traffic—testimony to the failure of the Government's transport policy. We need an independent rail regulator not only to decide how much Network Rail needs, as he will by the end of the year, but also because he can stand up to the Treasury and reassure passengers as well as those who are thinking of investing in rail.

Rail needs massive investment and we need someone who will not be needlessly—[Interruption.] The Minister of State speaks from—what is it called? [HON. MEMBERS: "A sedentary position."]—or sitting down, to put it in Anglo-Saxon.

We need a regulator who will not deter investment by being subject to political manipulation and abuse. We need someone who will not be pointlessly controversial or on an ego trip, as my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire has pointed out, but who will be firm with the Government in the interests of the travelling public and the potential investor.

I hope that the Minister can reassure me, but I am not convinced that the new office proposed in the Bill will have that independence. Is the Government's intention that the new office of rail regulation should be composed of poodles and lap dogs, or will it be genuinely independent? The City was truly shocked by the way in which the Government rode roughshod over the present regulator and seized control of Railtrack. By that action, they undermined the confidence of potential investors in rail and we are all paying for it.

The Government have a bad record for trying to nobble regulators. We saw their scandalous behaviour recently in the matter of Sir William Stubbs and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. The net result, tragically, was not only to frustrate the legitimate expectations of thousands of hard-working A-level students but also, staggeringly and very sadly, to undermine confidence in A-levels themselves, which have served this country well for the past 50 years and—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal)

Order. Is the hon. Gentleman's point germane to the Bill?

Mr. Johnson

You will divine that the point is wholly germane, Madam Deputy Speaker, as it relates to the Government's ruthless abuse of regulators.

In conclusion, I hope that the Government will guarantee that the replacement Office of the Rail Regulator will be truly independent and that they will reassure the travelling public of that. The new office should be allowed to guarantee the economic health of the railways and to protect passengers and future investors from disastrous political interference of the kind that we have seen. If the Government can give us those guarantees, I shall be more than happy to support the Bill.

6.29 pm
Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith)

I have four brief comments. The first is about the British Transport police. Will my right hon. Friend the Minister of State use this opportunity to deal with the extended jurisdiction of the British Transport police that was provided under anti-terrorism legislation? As he knows, under the provisions of that legislation, that jurisdiction is time limited and will expire. We can scrutinise the Bill in the Standing Committee and we should take this chance to deal with that matter. Will he also confirm that the British Transport police provisions will apply to Scotland? I notice that the hon. Member for Angus (Mr. Weir), in his normal knee-jerk reaction to anything that seems to break up the United Kingdom by stealth was happy to welcome the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay). I hope that the Minister will clarify the Government's position.

On the question of what I call the interface between the UK and Scottish legislation—the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (David Cairns) and the Secretary of State covered—in one or two areas the division between the responsibilities of the Westminster Parliament and the Scottish Executive might be too inflexible in practice. I can certainly see the logic of some of the divisions of responsibilities, but it seems strange, for example, that the position of non-professional mariners and the power to enter certain places are to be left to the Scottish Parliament, but the Westminster Parliament will deal with powers to arrest on ships and aeroplanes. In the attempt to be logical, an inflexible arrangement may have been established. I hope that we can examine that matter in Committee.

Like every other hon. Member who has spoken, I welcome the Bill in most respects. However, I wish to make two further suggestions. I support the abolition of the Office of the Rail Regulator, but I do not support its replacement by an office of rail regulation. I take the view that now that we have a Strategic Rail Authority, which is rightly operating in a much more proactive fashion, we do not need so many regulators. Is it not time to simplify the regulatory system, just as we have simplified the system of ownership and train operating companies, rather than coming back in a few years with another proposal, this time to abolish the system of rail regulation?

The debate has inevitably concentrated on railway issues, but, as several hon. Members have pointed out, the debate is not only about railways but about transport safety. It is not in rail, sea or air transport but road transport that the vast majority of deaths and injuries occur. Hon. Member after hon. Member has pointed that out. Given that the Government have decided to include some measures relating to road traffic in the Bill—I refer to clause 103, which deals with road traffic penalties—could we not use this opportunity to address road safety issues? Could we not implement some of the long-awaited recommendations of the road traffic penalty review, which has been going round the circle of Departments for about five years?

Here is an opportunity to do something about road safety. I hope that the Government will consider tabling amendments in Committee or on Report, especially given the emollient words of the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins). If the Government do not wish to table amendments themselves, may I suggest that it would be a good idea to indicate that they would give a fair wind to any Back-Bench Members' moves to that effect in Committee or on Report? I know that on one or two recent issues the Government have been happy to accept amendments on controversial issues from the Back Benches. Perhaps Back-Bench Members could assist the Government in their objectives on this matter, too.

6.34 pm
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

I remind the House of my interests: my husband is an airline executive and I have personal interests in the RAC, Railtrack, Eurotunnel, British Airways, BAA and First Group. I recognise the importance to the United Kingdom economy of all the industries that the House is discussing this evening—especially rail, air and shipping—and I recognise in particular the contribution that the railway industry makes to North Yorkshire and my constituency of Vale of York.

This is big and significant Bill. It already runs to 110 clauses and 7 schedules, with scope for many implementing regulations, which might not be open to full scrutiny by all hon. Members. The Conservative party welcomes much of the Bill. As my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) said, much of it reflects Conservative party policy and draws on Acts of Parliament passed during the years of the last Conservative Government. As my hon. Friend also said, we find the Bill largely uncontroversial, although we shall seek to explore some issues of detail.

As a number of hon. Members have stated during this excellent debate, it is interesting to note that there are no provisions relating to road safety. Will the Minister take note of our concern that safety should be treated equally across all modes of transport? In the words of my hon. Friend, a life is a life is a life. So have the Government considered introducing similar provisions to those contained in STATS 19 to cover railway accidents? Will the Minister respond positively to the plea from my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Dr. Murrison) for the creation of a road accident investigation branch similar to the arrangements for rail that we are discussing now?

We welcome the setting up of an independent rail accident investigation branch, as first proposed by the Cullen inquiry and publicly backed by my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) shortly thereafter. We will carefully consider those provisions, and it would be helpful if the Minister could confirm this evening whether the RAIB will have the power to investigate accidents in the channel tunnel. The task of investigating any accident in the tunnel should be given to a suitable bi-national body.

Will the Minister further clarify with the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly the relationship between the reserved and devolved powers in the context of the Bill? The hon. Member for Angus (Mr. Weir), among others, referred to that issue.

We recognise the relative safety and increasing safety status of our railways. To his credit, even the Deputy Prime Minister recognised that rail privatisation was not a contributory factor and said: Safety was not better under the public sector in that industry. and I have never accepted 'public good, private bad".—[Official Report, 9 May 2000; Vol. 349, c. 714–15.] The statistics bear out the Deputy Prime Minister's remarks. In October 1979, five people were killed and 52 injured at Invergowrie. In April 1979, seven people were killed and 67 hurt near Paisley. In June 1975, six people were killed and 38 hurt at Nuneaton. In February 1975, 43 people were killed and 74 hurt in the Moorgate underground disaster. In December 1973, 10 people were killed and 94 hurt in the Ealing accident, and in August 1973, five people were killed and 50 hurt in Glasgow. So the statistics dispel any myth that the numbers involved in rail accidents have increased since privatisation; on the contrary, the record has improved.

The Secretary of State was reluctant to be drawn on part 2, under which the office of rail regulation will be created. If replacing the rail regulator with a board is such a good idea, why was it not introduced in the Transport Act 2000? I was privileged to be involved when the Transport Committee took evidence from the then rail regulator, who was very forthcoming about the untenability of his position when he might have been minded to act in a certain way on Railtrack's demise and when the Secretary of State told him that he was prepared to put emergency legislation through the House to prevent the rail regulator from acting in that way. The Conservative party wishes to strengthen the office and role of the rail regulator, not to weaken it. I ask the Minister what position the present rail regulator will hold on the board under the new provisions.

On part 3, under which the British Transport police will be put on a statutory basis as a separate authority, I simply note that, as was underlined by my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) and the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay), it is not entirely clear what the status of that force will be. Surely, the Bill should clearly state that the British Transport police are separate from the Metropolitan police or any other local police force. We believe that the Bill could make that clearer.

On part 4, which extends to shipping provisions on alcohol and drugs, I am curious about the exemptions put to the House this evening. We would prefer important items such as the power of the motor, the size of the ship and the location of the accident to be defined in the Bill rather than in regulations under clause 77(5)—a point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) in his intervention. That also prompts the question of how broadly the provisions in clause 76 relating to professional staff who are off duty will be applied. Surely the Government must have in mind a rota, with first on call for emergency duty, second on call for emergency duty and so on. In general, though, the provisions in part 4 are welcome in resolving situations such as that which arose in the Marchioness disaster.

Many would say that the provisions in part 5 on alcohol and drugs in relation to aviation are not just welcome but long overdue. Will the Minister confirm that those provisions apply to airlines and crews of all nationalities using UK airports? We have observed, as have several hon. Members who have raised these concerns this evening, that the differentials in the prescribed limits as between pilots and flight navigators, engineers, radio telephony operators, flight attendants, air traffic controllers and aircraft maintenance engineers are confusing. We believe that the provisions are unnecessarily complicated, and that uniform prescribed limits for all personnel would be much easier to apply. It would help our understanding of the Bill if the Minister would explain why different prescribed limits have been set.

Mr. Spellar

That is a strange position for a Conservative: wanting to over-prescribe when there is no requirement, for safety reasons, for undertaking such measures. I should have thought that the most sensible approach would be to have different levels according to the level of criticality and the nature of the job, so that we are not over-prescribing or imposing over-onerous provisions on people at work.

Miss McIntosh

Those Members who are fortunate enough to serve on the Standing Committee will have plentiful opportunity to explore the matter in detail. I firmly believe that the rules are drafted in a misleading and confusing way, which will not lead to an easy application.

Lawrie Quinn


Miss McIntosh

The hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Lawrie Quinn) made an intelligent and positive contribution. The House benefits from his knowledge and experience of the industry, and he has made a strong bid to serve on the Committee. Regrettably, owing to the time available, I will not be able to accept an intervention from him at this stage. He raised a serious point relating to how we define accidents and incidents.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Stevenson) also raised a genuine concern that minor incidents should not be blown up into major ones. The Opposition are concerned about the very sweeping nature of powers of investigation under clause 7, such as the right to enter land, including a dwelling house adjoining or abutting railway property. We shall call for the rail accident investigation branch to make an annual report to the House, which will be debated annually by the Transport Committee, to enable the House to monitor its work and the execution of its powers by its investigators.

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire and his contribution to transport policy over the years. He eloquently pointed out the potential conflict of responsibilities between the personnel of the rail accident investigation branch, Her Majesty's railway inspectorate, the Health and Safety Executive, the police and the train operating companies. Will the Minister inform the House what will be the exact relationship between those bodies in the context of this Bill?

We shall also consider closely provisions in clause 1, to which the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South again referred—regrettably, he has not returned to the Chamber—relating to the convention on international carriage by rail, separating the functions of train operating from the management of track. I remind the hon. Gentleman and other Labour Members that a former leader of the Labour party who is now a European Commissioner in Brussels first proposed such a separation. As my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire said, there is a similar separation operating in aviation policy, where it works well and profitably.

I also note that there is a huge scope in schedule 6 for an open-sesame approach to statutory instruments. The Conservative party regrets the influx of statutory instruments and regulations that are not exposed to full scrutiny either on the Floor of the House or in Committee. We note the provisions in clause 105 for the transfer of powers relating to railways in London and the history behind those.

We are delighted to give the Bill a fair wind on Second Reading. We support its main thrust, much of which is based on sound Conservative policies and on Acts of Parliament adopted under a Conservative Government, although we shall seek to explore certain aspects of it, including any omissions, in detail.

6.45 pm
The Minister for Transport (Mr. John Spellar)

I am grateful to hon. Members for contributing to a useful debate. Unlike Question Time, however, no inducements were offered to Ministers to accept various amendments. There was also the contribution by the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson), but I shall come to that later. You will know, Madam Deputy Speaker, that I have been responsible for responding to other debates, and I find it slightly unusual to make a winding-up speech both in this atmosphere and at this hour.

Before I respond briefly to the points made, I want to remind hon. Members of the Bill's significant aspects, many of which will be discussed in Committee. The Bill includes a wide and diverse set of measures ranging from the creation of a new and independent body to investigate accidents on the railways to giving British Transport police an accountability structure that we all recognise is appropriate for a modern police force. I thank the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) and others for their contributions on the British Transport police and the excellent role they play. They are increasingly successful in the fight against crime on the transport system. The Bill also introduces alcohol limits for shipping and aviation.

The creation of a body to investigate rail accidents was a main recommendation of Lord Cullen's report into the Ladbroke Grove accident. He recommended that it should be modelled on the existing investigation branches for air and marine accidents. He also recommended that its sole task should be to determine the cause of accidents. The Bill creates just such a body. Unlike existing rail accident investigators, the RAIB will be independent of the rail industry and those responsible for regulating the railways. It will carry out its investigations free of any conflicts of interest, either real or perceived. That is an important point in light of comments made in the debate. The reports will be published promptly, which deals with one of the significant criticisms of the current regime, and victims of accidents will be kept informed of the progress of investigations, a problem that has been mentioned in the past year in particular.

The Bill will also create a police authority for the British Transport police and a police force for Britain's railways. That will be modelled closely on existing authorities for local constabularies.

Andrew Mackinlay

Existing legislation provides for the British Transport police to police ports. The option is not being exercised now, but it has been in the past. Some small ports, including Tilbury, Felixstowe, Tees and Hartlepool, and all those in Scotland are not policed by dedicated police forces. Will the Minister keep that option open so that the Government can put the police back into many of our sea ports, perhaps for security reasons?

Mr. Spellar

My hon. Friend alludes to the fact that many of the major ports have dedicated police forces. Discussions take place with county constabularies on the policing of a number of minor ports. As I have said to him privately, I take his point on board. We will consider it further and get back to him. I realise that he represents the port of Tilbury and is in touch with such issues.

The British Transport police will gain a wholly statutory jurisdiction, which they currently lack. The other railway measures include the restructuring of the Office of the Rail Regulator. We propose that it now be headed by a board rather than a single regulator. I point out that that is in line with the recommendations of the Better Regulation Task Force, and I hardly think that it can be argued that it in any way undermines the position of the regulator, precisely because it is being applied throughout the regulatory regime. As far as I am aware, that has general approval from hon. Members on both sides of the House. It was unfortunate that the measure was taken out of that context in one or two contributions today.

The Bill allows the UK to ratify the new text of an international rail treaty. It provides for the introduction of a levy to fund the Health and Safety Executive's rail-related activities and to replace the overly bureaucratic system of charging by the hour. The Bill will also amend certain sections of the Greater London Authority Act 1999 regarding the London underground. It will ensure that the Act operates as intended, and I certainly assure the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale that it does not provide a position in which its implementation can be postponed indefinitely. The Bill deals with circumstances that probably could not have been envisaged when the GLA Act was passed. There is a hiatus because there is still a legal appeal by Transport for London, which could undermine the purposes of the Act. The Bill is intended to remedy that.

The Bill seeks to improve safety at sea and in the air. We propose the introduction of alcohol limits for mariners and certain aviation personnel whose role is critical in safety. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) did not clarify why she believes that where certain groups require stricter limits, those should apply to everyone else even though such limits are not required by the nature of their job.

Lawrie Quinn

My right hon. Friend is probably aware that I was trying to intervene on the hon. Lady on that very point. Will he confirm that at the moment the railway industry designates safety-related posts, and the existing legislation for that industry works very well? Indeed, if the hon. Lady seeks a model to demonstrate that it works well, she should look no further than the railway industry.

Mr. Spellar

Once again, I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I hope that the hon. Lady took those points on board. She may reflect on her position before the Bill goes into Committee.

As hon. Members will know, the introduction of legislation to control alcohol misuse by mariners was one of the recommendations made by Lord Justice Clark's inquiry into the Marchioness disaster. A new offence will apply to all on-duty professional mariners who exceed the set limit and to any off-duty mariners who would play a role in evacuating passengers in an emergency. The limit will also affect some, but not all, recreational mariners.

In reply to the hon. Lady, the reason for dealing with some of those matters by regulation is to allow us to have much fuller discussion and consultation with those who will be affected. Frankly, if we do not get the provisions right, it will also allow us to amend them more easily than we could through primary legislation. There is a useful debate to be had about the appropriate limits. We have to balance the general convenience of the public with the need to maintain safety. I am sure that the hon. Lady will come to appreciate our position during the Committee proceedings.

On the aviation side, the limits will apply to aircrew, air traffic controllers and licensed aircraft engineers. The police will be responsible for enforcing the limits, and they will be able to test mariners and safety-critical aviation personnel for alcohol where they have reasonable suspicion that an offence may have been committed.

I turn now to the points made during the debate. The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) and a number of other hon. Members raised the question of road safety, which is very important. However, it would have been helpful if they had prefaced their remarks by pointing out that our roads, along with those in Sweden, are the safest in Europe. Under Governments of both parties—I say this with a former Transport Minister on the Opposition Benches—there has been a steady decline in road deaths. Indeed, in respect of the carnage on the French roads and the measures that need to be taken in France, only a couple of months ago the President of France held up the British record as an example.

Steady progress has been made in a number of areas, and we are looking at where the next moves can be made to improve road safety. For example, we have the best record in Europe for car deaths, but our record on child pedestrian accidents—although it is improving, and although we have gone from the bottom to the middle of the European league—still has further to go. There is a very heavy geographic concentration of such accidents, particularly in the north-west. That is precisely why, in the autumn of last year, I announced some £17 million to £18 million to fund not just a study, but the undertaking of various projects in those boroughs, in order to ascertain the reason for, and the remedies for, the much higher incidence of child pedestrian accidents in those areas.

In the same way, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has launched a consultation on the use of mobile phones. Again, we will introduce secondary legislation to deal with what is widely perceived as a problem and as a threat to safety on the roads. That is the way to deal with that problem.

On the ownership and driving of vehicles, hon. Members will have encountered advertisements for the V5 registration form for cars, which will prevent people from obtaining licences so easily, particularly for stolen vehicles. Frankly, if a car auction is allowing someone to drive off a site without insurance, by definition, we should be looking at such behaviour. However, in general car, auction companies are becoming increasingly co-operative in dealing with illegal vehicles such as untaxed and uninsured vehicles. Either the Under-Secretary or I will write to the hon. Member for Bath with some of the relevant details. I hope, too, that hon. Members on both sides of the House will get the message out in their constituencies, and get their local authorities, police forces and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency to work together to deal with the problem of rogue vehicles and rogue drivers, and steadily to eliminate many of them from the roads. The hon. Member for Bath also mentioned the Office of the Rail Regulator's consultation on safety. In fact, it is almost finished, and we hope that it will come to a conclusion in the not too distant future.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Stevenson)—he is chairing a Committee elsewhere in this building, so he is unable to be here for the wind-ups—raised the question of accidents and incidents, which we shall need to discuss in Committee. However, I counsel a degree of caution in terms of the danger of over-emphasising this issue. We could arrive at the position that was reached in the nuclear industry, whereby a previous Secretary of State with responsibility for energy said that he wanted every incident, however small, to be reported to him. That led to an utterly nonsensical situation. We therefore need to look at levels of significance and prioritisation, and to keep a sensible difference in definition.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South also asked about the reason for the delay in the implementation in respect of the mark 1 trains. I am not sure whether he was present for Transport questions, when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made the reason for this problem very clear. Between them, the train operator and Railtrack totally failed to undertake the necessary work, or to realise that work was necessary to provide the electricity supply that would enable new trains to be brought on stream.

The Government are committed to delivering a transport system that is modern, reliable and safe, and central to quality of life. This Bill will be an important part of that change. It will improve safety and improve public confidence in the safety of the transport industry, and I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.