HL Deb 11 October 1999 vol 605 cc12-26

3.20 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston)

My Lords, with permission, I wish to make a Statement about the railway accident that happened at Ladbroke Grove Junction on the approach to Paddington Station on 5th October.

"At 11 minutes past eight last Tuesday morning, as we are now so tragically aware, a Great Western train travelling from Cheltenham collided with a Thames train leaving Paddington. The latest casualty list is 29 seriously injured and still in hospital, 30 confirmed dead and more still unaccounted for. All of us will have shared the shock and grief that was experienced across the country after this awful accident. All noble Lords will want to join me in expressing our deepest sympathy to the families and friends of those who have lost their lives. We hope too for the fullest possible recovery of those passengers who were injured.

"For their tireless work in the harrowing aftermath of this accident, your Lordships' House will also want to pay tribute to the emergency workers, police, fire and medical services, and to the other people who came to help so quickly—railway workers, supermarket staff, people working nearby and, of course, the survivors of the collision, some themselves injured, who displayed such courage. I also pay tribute to the staff of the Railway Inspectorate who, in such trying circumstances, worked urgently to report by last Friday their interim findings on the causes of the crash.

"We now know, subject to final confirmation, that the Thames train passed through two cautionary yellow signals and then a red signal before travelling a further 700 metres into the path of the Great Western train. Three times a warning should have sounded, and three times the automatic warning system, which would stop the train if not cancelled, appears to have been overridden. The reasons may now never be known since the Thames driver was among those killed. But the black box, which has now been recovered from the front of his train, may help inform us.

"However, the Chief Inspector of Railways has said that whatever the individual actions or omissions, these should be considered as tragic factors symptomatic of more general problems—in the organisation, culture and systems which should together constitute an effective safety regime. Clearly, the interim report of Her Majesty's Railway Inspectorate raises some fundamental issues, as well as the pressing and specific concerns arising from the Paddington crash. I have placed copies of this report in the Libraries of both Houses.

"In the inspectors' judgment, this accident would have been prevented had the train protection and warning system (TPWS) been installed and working, on the track and on the Thames train, since TPWS cannot be overridden like the existing automatic warning system. Your Lordships may recall the Railway Safety Regulations 1999, laid before Parliament on 10th August. These require TPWS to be introduced and operational across the railway network by the end of 2003.

"The Railway Inspectorate also noted that the Great Western train, in addition to its standard automatic warning system, was equipped with a pilot automate train protection system. This ATP system was switched off because of its persistent unreliability. However, this was not a factor contributing to the crash.

"The Railway Inspectorate has taken the following immediate actions. Three enforcement notices have been issued which, first, prohibit the use of signal SN109, which was passed at danger by the Thames train, until Railtrack institutes effective measures to prevent further trains from passing at danger; secondly, require Railtrack to introduce by 6th November additional controls at the other 21 signals passed at danger most frequently; and, thirdly, require Railtrack, by the same date, to produce plans to reduce the risk at all remaining signals with a recent history of being passed at danger—the so-called SPAD incidents. As well as issuing these enforcement notices, the Railway Inspectorate has instructed train operating companies to re-brief all drivers on the location en route of suspect signals and on ways of avoiding such SPAD incidents. It also required operators to review their driver training and performance monitoring arrangements. The Government support these actions.

"Additionally the Deputy Prime Minister has asked the Health and Safety Commission to report directly to him each week on the number of signals passed at danger. He has also requested a report by the end of this week on action undertaken by Railtrack to improve safety on the approach to Paddington station.

"There are also wider related issues now being addressed. The number of signals passed at danger has gone down by more than a third over recent years. But last year, 1998–99, the total rose again to 643. Of these incidents most were minor and were contained inside the safety margins on the tracks. However, the number of serious incidents which over-ran these safety margins also increased from 42 to 52 last year.

"The Railway Inspectorate, already concerned about these figures, published a report last month detailing actions companies were required to take to strengthen safety systems. Railtrack's response was received by the inspectorate last week. We are assured that all relevant actions will be taken without delay. We expect the same from the train operating companies.

"The Government have also received another related report on railway safety. Last year the then Minister for Transport asked the Health and Safety Commission to review Railtrack's role in safety regulation inside the industry. This report is being made public today at the request of the Deputy Prime Minister and I have placed copies in the Libraries of both Houses. I must stress that the report does not suggest that major failures might have resulted from Railtrack's safety regulation role. However, it reports concerns inside the rail industry about aspects of present practice.

"As a consequence, the Deputy Prime Minister announced on Saturday that he had asked the Health and Safety Commission to send in a specialist team to investigate these concerns and advise on any action required. Railtrack has publicly welcomed this initiative.

"In parallel, the Rail Regulator has asked the Health and Safety Executive to advise him, under Section 4 of the Railways Act 1993, on the sufficiency of Railtrack's system for setting safety standards and on questions raised in the HSE report as to the independence from internal pressures of Railtrack's Safety and Standards Directorate. Ministers are minded to transfer the main functions of the Safety and Standards Directorate out of Railtrack in order to ensure public confidence that there is no conflict between safety standards and commercial interest. We shall consider carefully where these functions are best located to ensure greater coherence on safety. If we need to legislate we shall do so.

"Noble Lords should be aware of other actions being taken. We want to identify the safest and most appropriate options from the range of train protection measures presently available or in development. Last week Sir David Davies, former Chief Scientific Adviser to the Ministry of Defence and President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, agreed to assess and report back, by the end of the year, on the effectiveness, practicability and cost of train protection systems, and also on how best to reduce the present incidence of signals passed at danger.

"As noble Lords will know, the public inquiry into the Southall rail crash in 1997, having been delayed by legal proceedings, is now expected to reach conclusions by the end of this year. This inquiry, under the chairmanship of Professor John Uff, is considering, among other things, train protection systems and will have the benefit of Sir David Davies' findings. There will also be a public inquiry into the accident at Paddington. Lord Cullen, who has previously reported on safety in the North Sea oil and gas industry following the disaster on the Piper Alpha platform, will chair this inquiry, and indeed has already visited the accident site and started work. Lord Cullen will be looking not just at the causes of this tragic accident, but also at wider issues of railway safety. Clearly a great deal of detailed investigation must still be carried out which may have a bearing on the timescale for Lord Cullen's inquiry.

"The Government will do all they can to avoid undue delay. I have today placed the terms of reference for Lord Cullen's inquiry and Sir David Davies's assessment in the Libraries of both Houses.

"The lasting legacy of this awful accident at Paddington—the outcome of all the urgent action now in progress—must surely be a more open, more responsive, more rigorous culture of safety across our whole rail industry. We owe the victims and their loved ones nothing less, as I am sure your Lordships will agree."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, first, I thank the Minister for making the Statement. I welcome the noble Lord to the Dispatch Box in his role as Minister for Transport. Perhaps I may say how much we sympathise with him in the fact that it is this sad occasion that brings him to the Dispatch Box for the first time in that role.

Perhaps I may join the noble Lord in expressing our sincere sympathy for the families and friends of the victims of this terrible disaster, and in wishing a speedy and complete recovery to those who are still in hospital. Perhaps I may also join the noble Lord in praising the role played by all the emergency services and others who have had to work in such appalling conditions, and whose job is not yet over.

Will the Minister say whether all the victims have been accounted for, and will he confirm that the numbers may be lower than had been forecast in the past few days? We very much hope that that is so. Will he also give the House an assurance that all possible help and support are being given to the families of the dead and injured?

The Official Opposition have sought to conduct their response to this terrible tragedy above party politics. Safety should be above party politics. That is the basis upon which we support the Government's decision to establish the two inquiries under Lord Cullen (into the crash) and Sir David Davies (into train safety systems). We look forward to reading the terms of reference of both inquiries. We have offered the co-operation of all former Conservative transport Ministers from whom Labour inherited the railways two and half years ago.

Can we be assured that the inquiry will be conducted as speedily as is possible consistent with thoroughness, and that it will be able to publish interim findings and recommendations which can be acted upon without delay? Can we also be assured that the inquiry will not be delayed by legal proceedings, as in the case of Southall to which the noble Lord referred? Will the Minister confirm that he is already aware that the Official Opposition would like to assist with any emergency legislative measures that are necessary to speed the inquiry on its way?

We want the inquiries to look at not just the role of Railtrack, which has been the focus of public attention so far, but at such issues as the design and safety of the carriages involved in the crash, their resistance to fire, the need for emergency lighting systems, and means of escape. We also believe that the safety culture of the industry has much to learn from other safety-conscious industries, such as civil aviation, particularly with regard to driver training.

However, the Government have decided not to wait for inquiry findings in one key area. It is the duty of the Opposition to raise any questions that there may be about substantive policy decisions that the Government are making and to scrutinise their actions. It is in that positive spirit that we have questions on three substantive areas.

First, does the Minister agree that it has been the shared objective ever since the Hidden inquiry into the Clapham rail crash in 1988 that systems should be installed across the railways to prevent trains from going through red lights?

Do the Government continue to share the view taken by Ministers in the previous administration on the advice of the Health and Safety Executive that the system known as ATP—automatic train protection—was not a viable bolt-on system and that the alternative train protection warning system had to be developed? Is the Minister satisfied that the installation of TPWS is proceedings as quickly as possible?

Secondly, when did the Government become aware that the number of signals passed at danger (SPADS) was increasing? What action was taken? Does the Minister agree that the matter of SPADS is as much a matter for the train operating companies, their drivers and their driver training policies as it is for Railtrack?

Thirdly, we shall support any immediate action in advance of the Cullen inquiry where there is evidence that it will improve safety standards and safety practice on the railway. On that basis, on what specific evidence or advice did Ministers decide on Saturday to transfer the safety and standards department of Railtrack to an independent body? Can the Minister say whether the new authority will have different instructions from those that Railtrack presently has? Will it use the existing staff? How will the transitional period be handled?

Will the Minister confirm that the HSC report on this issue dated 30th September states: We do not see any case for immediate concern on safety grounds in the way that S&SD (Safety and Standards Department of Railtrack) has operated its key safety functions", and that there would be "short-term substantial disruption" caused by such a move? Will he further confirm that the HSC report states: we are not aware of any specific evidence that SSD has executed the key functions with which this review is concerned in a discriminating way", and that the final paragraph of the conclusion states: We therefore think it important that any decision on the way forward should be taken in the light of a wider and more formal sounding of views in the industry"? Why have the Government decided to act without any further consultation as recommended in the report, and without waiting for the conclusions of the Cullen inquiry?

Finally, I reiterate our support for the Deputy Prime Minister's sensible decision to instigate the Cullen and Davies inquiries. We shall support the Government in any actions that help the work of those whose job it is to make our railways as safe as possible.

3.36 p.m.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank

My Lords, from these Benches I, too, welcome the Statement, although I greatly regret the necessity for it. I regret also that the Minister finds this the first occasion in his new capacity on which he has to address the House.

I am among many who feel that the clear, open and balanced way in which the Minister has personally dealt with radio and television over the past few days needs to be commended. This has been a highly sensitive and very difficult issue—sensitive for all the reasons that we understand. Here, again, I should like to be associated with everything that has been said about the families and friends of those who were killed or injured and about the different aspects of the emergency services.

The issue is difficult because the causes of the accident are complex. Under pressure, it has been easy to rush to judgment and to look for scapegoats.

I welcome the fact that in what has been said in the House today there has been no argument about the merits or otherwise of privatisation. I was strongly against it at the time, as I believe were all on these Benches. If it had to be done, it was almost certainly done the wrong way. But unless we anticipate any changes in ownership, we must take matters where they are, assume, that the question of ownership is settled, and look at structure and responsibility within the present system.

Perhaps I may suggest one or two guiding principles which do not conflict with what the Minister has already said. The first is that Ministers should not accept more day-to-day responsibility for safety. It is not a ministerial task. It ought to lie with an agency independent of the day-to-day decisions of government and with the industry itself.

Secondly, whatever may be done at the top in regard to safety, responsibility for safety must be dispersed right down the line and cannot be separated from operations. There must be a common culture throughout the industry, affecting everyone who works within it. It follows that everyone must know who is responsible for what, and that there must be adequate monitoring and discipline. Decisions must be quickly made and properly enforced. In that respect, I hope that the Government will bear mind that safety will not be helped by additional layers of bureaucracy. I am slightly worried even now by the number of reports for which the Government have called.

The Minister drew attention to the report of the Railway Inspectorate on this. Historically, most rail accidents have been caused by human error at some point. This disaster is likely to be no exception in so far as the driver appears to have gone through a red light on signal SN 109. But that seems to have been a commonplace, even routine, error. That is perhaps the most worrying factor of all affecting public confidence. It did not happen simply on one occasion. As the Minister said, it appears to have happened over 600 times in 1998: 643 signals were passed at red.

Given that we cannot eliminate human error, obviously the role of technology is to reduce the risk to the absolute minimum. Safety must be an integral part of the system and it is plain that industry must pay for safety for that reason.

I have tried to say that the situation calls for urgent measures, but I hope that they will be calm ones, justified on merit alone. In that respect, I should like to ask a few questions about what the Minister said and his present intentions.

First, can he put a figure on the relative effectiveness of automatic train protection (ATP), about 'which many statements have been made? If it is only a partially effective system, it is possible that its introduction might make others lazy about their responsibilities for safety.

Secondly, although the Minister mentioned the Southall inquiry, a number of concerns were expressed this morning at that inquiry about how far Lord Cullen's inquiry might overtake and prejudice it. It would be helpful if the Minister were able to say a word more about how far they may work together. He indicated a separateness which is not in keeping with what was said this morning by many of the parties concerned.

Thirdly, is the Minister satisfied that the Railway Inspectorate, within the Health and Safety Executive, has adequate and skilled staff? It may be clear to others, but it is still not clear to me exactly what its role has been. I had assumed that it was a major one in relation to safety, but most of the discussions since the accident seem to have assumed that that was not the case.

Fourthly, in examining where responsibilities lie, has the rail regulator no responsibilities for safety at the moment? What is the case for placing such responsibilities on him and so, it seems, dispersing responsibilities at the top? What worries me about the now rather more tentative statement about Rail track is the suggestion that the responsibility for safety may be removed from it. That sounds to me an easy and obvious answer, perhaps concerned more with public confidence today than with the long-term best interests of safety. I should like to know more from the Minister and whether he believes that that is a serious possibility or merely something on the table which will be looked at carefully when the calm examination of all the factors takes place.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston

My Lords, I thank both noble Lords on the Opposition Front Benches for their supportive attitude on the matter. I should like first to address the questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon. We fear that some people may still be unaccounted for, but the police assure us that the number who might have been killed appears to be much lower than had previously been anticipated.

On support for the bereaved, the train operating companies, the local authorities and the charitable organisations are providing valuable support for the bereaved and injured. I thank all those involved for their efforts.

We believe that we have acted as purposively as we could in these dreadful circumstances and we hope that there will be as little delay as possible in the inquiry to be conducted by Lord Cullen. As we know, the Southall inquiry was delayed by legal proceedings. It is our hope that Lord Cullen will be able to proceed as quickly as possible, having regard to all the relevant facts. We are aware of the possible interaction between the timing of the inquiry and his report and the possibility of any later prosecutions. However, we shall keep the position under review in consultation with the Attorney-General and I am grateful for the offer of support from the Opposition Front Benches to ensure that we reduce any delay.

As the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, said, the safety culture must be improved. Surely it is fundamental to the whole purpose of Lord Cullen's inquiry. We believe that there is scope for an improvement in that culture across the industry and that these dreadful events have concentrated minds across the industry on the need for a much more co-operative approach and an end to the culture of blame which has existed in some areas.

We hope that we can introduce the train protection warning system as quickly as possible. Orders were laid on 10th August that we wished to see it in place across the network and operating by the end of 2003. However, we know that the Railtrack board has discussed the matter and is investigating to see whether there is any way in which that time-scale can be accelerated. I am grateful to the board for making the matter such a priority.

The noble Lord asked when we had become aware of the increase in the number of signals passed at danger (SPADs). In August this year we were informed by Her Majesty's Railway Inspectorate of the latest figures. More detail was provided in early September when the HSE published its report which also listed action that the industry needed to take to reduce the numbers and dangers. I agree with the observation that a degree of acceptance might have come into attitudes towards signals passed at danger because so many were contained inside the safety margins and because there appeared to be a general reduction from the days of British Rail when, at the start of the decade, there were over 900 such incidents. However, the events of last year interrupted the decline and that is when attention was focused on it.

We were asked whether the transfer from Railtrack of the Safety and Standards Directorate may be premature. I accept what the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, said, about the report we received. There are many well judged and supportive statements in it about the way in which Railtrack conducts its business. I agree with the emphasis put on the fact that while Railtrack looks after the infrastructure, many of the activities on the railways are conducted by the train operating companies.

However, in examining the report, we felt that from inside the industry, from the train operating companies, from the suppliers of equipment and from others on the regulatory side, enough concern was raised about the present operation of the directorate and its location inside Railtrack for us to make it clear that we were minded to see it moved. As I emphasised, Railtrack has accepted our action and welcomed it. About 82 people work in the department; it is not a major part of Railtrack's operations; it is not responsible for all safety on the railways. I want to be clear about that.

I agree that, ultimately, safety is the responsibility of those who carry out the operations. The accountability is theirs, based on principles that I believe go back to 1974 and Lord Robens. The target is to set safety goals and ensure that people are able to organise their activities to meet them, not—as we have been warned against, quite properly, by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers—to add extra layers of bureaucracy to the process.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, in looking at figures that show the effectiveness of ATP I emphasise that that is a generic term for a whole range of systems. For example, I understand that Eurostar trains that travel to the United Kingdom cross four different systems. What we have been looking at in recent years, beginning with the previous administration, is the effectiveness of a range of systems. In taking their decision not to implement ATP the previous administration responded to the advice of British Rail, Railtrack, the Railways Inspectorate and the HSE. It is also true that the then administration did not have the advantage of a choice of a train protection and warning system. The alternative system had not been developed at that time. We decided that that development was the most practical system to introduce across the country.

I stress that the automatic train protection system was introduced on certain high-speed lines by the previous administration. For example, it exists on the Heathrow Express, Great Western and elements of the Chiltern lines, and will do so on the new Channel Tunnel link. It is not 100 per cent effective and there are difficulties in implementing it. For that reason, the systems presently in use on the Great Western line are prototypes, and new and more advanced systems are planned for the West and East Coast main lines and other fast tracks in prospect. But the system that we have offered is not mutually exclusive with automatic train protection. Certainly, it is a cheaper system but it can be introduced more quickly, perhaps in three to four years. We are informed that, if operated properly with well trained drivers, it would account for 85 per cent. of the present SPAD incidents and ensure that they did not happen. The key factor with all these systems is that they cannot be overridden by drivers and are to a large extent proof against human error. That is the present situation.

We are also advised that to introduce ATP more widely, as some have advised, would take longer, perhaps six to seven years, or even 10 years if it was introduced across the country. There is a judgment to be made here. It may be possible to introduce both systems in parallel; they need not be mutually exclusive. We hope that in order to advance on these fronts in addition to the advice of Sir David Davies we shall have the advantage of the findings of the Southall inquiry. I am aware that Professor John Uff was consulted at the time Lord Cullen was appointed. Lord Cullen, who is very experienced in these matters, has also been consulted. Both are content that they can work in parallel with different emphases on their findings, that they can be complementary and that both will be informed by Sir David Davies' findings. We believe that that sequence of inquiries should bring together the best possible information that we can use in the months ahead as quickly as possible. I hope that I have managed to cover most of the main points raised by noble Lords, and I look forward to being able to add further information in subsequent questions.

3.56 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for the manner in which he has dealt with the Statement, but can he indicate whether in the terms of reference of the inquiry there will be explicit mention of the role of train drivers, in so far as there may be a need to re-introduce the idea of two train drivers especially on long distance routes, and the role of train guards, bearing in mind that over recent years it appears that there has been a substantial change in practice in that area? Guards now seem to be much more concerned with selling goods to passengers than the duty to protect them, which I understand used to be the rule.

Can my noble friend also indicate whether he approves the statement made very recently by Railtrack, before the accident occurred, that it believed, Paddington to be the best protected major terminal station anywhere in the world"? Was that not remarkable, breathtaking complacency when it was already known that over the years Paddington had been plagued by incidents of signals being passed at red?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston

My Lords, my noble friend makes a telling point. We shall be looking at all the practices throughout the network, and the breadth of the Cullen remit will ensure that that is so. I have no doubt that many take comfort from the traditional deployment of staff across British Rail. They may also feel that after a period of inevitable dislocation as people are brought together in new groupings it is timely to try to introduce a new culture of safety in the changed structures and re-create the reputation for solidity and good practice that our railways once had. I am not aware of the recent statement relating to the approaches to Paddington and the level of protection that they offer. However, in response to my noble friend, we hope that by the time we have completed our inquiries and implemented the findings the approaches to Paddington will be among the safest anywhere.

The Lord Bishop of Hereford

My Lords, first, we thank the Minister for the Statement and welcome him to his responsibilities. We also express deep sympathy with the bereaved and injured as a result of the accident and our great admiration for the heroic work of the emergency services.

I make three brief points, the first of which concerns the safety functions. I am sure that those should be transferred away from Railtrack. I hope that the Government will see fit to put those safety functions into the hands of the rail regulator who is an extremely competent person and stands in a properly independent relationship to Railtrack. Secondly, signal 109 has received a great deal of attention. Railtrack has been heavily criticised in the past week. I believe that some of that criticism is justified and some is misguided or exaggerated. It must be remembered that that signal was altered in March of this year in response to a request from the Health and Safety Executive. All of us will have seen newspaper photographs of the driver's eye view of that signal. One wonders whether the difficulty of sighting that signal is as great as has been maintained.

We should also pay tribute to Railtrack's signalling staff. What has not been mentioned this afternoon, and perhaps is not widely known, is that the signalman who monitored the stretch of track from the Slough signalling centre was instantly aware that the Thames train had passed the signal at red and took immediate action to do what he possibly could—in other words, to put the signal for the Great Western train to red—but alas it was too late and the accident happened. We need to pay tribute to the vigilance of Railtrack's signalling staff and many other staff who work extremely hard and with devoted correctness, often in very stressful circumstances.

Finally, driver morale is absolutely crucial. I am glad that the Government will consider that area. I welcome the Cullen and Davies inquiries. I hope that they will address that issue. Traditionally, the culture of safety on the railways has been paramount and the standard of professionalism among railway staff very high indeed. Has the increase in the number of signals passed at danger to do with the present management of the train operating companies, much of which has passed into the hands of people who are not professional railwaymen and may not understand that paramountcy of safety?

What steps are taken to investigate every signal passed at danger? What is the state of mind of a driver who can pass two warning signals and a signal at red? Is it a lack of professionalism? Is it in most cases to do with some private crisis or anxiety, boredom or familiarity? We know that in very busy areas drivers repeatedly cancel the warning sign because they run against warning signals again and again.

Perhaps I may conclude with an anecdote. I travel from Cheltenham to Paddington.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, with the greatest respect to the right reverend Prelate, there is a time limit of 20 minutes. Perhaps we may hear the anecdote afterwards.

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate raises some fundamental issues. When we consider the safety functions of Railtrack—we have asked an independent team to audit them very quickly—we shall bear in mind some of the questions he has asked about where they might best be relocated. However, the office of the rail regulator is a non-ministerial government department. It is independent. But while the regulator clearly has an important role to play in ensuring that standards are maintained before he grants an operator's licence or any licence exemptions, we do not believe that it would be right to involve the regulator more deeply in the processes of rail safety.

The sighting of the signalling has been a recurring question. Railtrack says that it has tried to address it. I know that the Railway Inspectorate has also brought pressure to bear, not just here but in other areas, to ensure that signalling sighting committees are set up and address those questions as quickly as possible. If any casualness has crept into that regime, the events of last week should ensure that it is driven out as quickly as possible.

I pay tribute to the staff, in particular those at Slough, who tried valiantly but unsuccessfully to stop the accident they saw happening before them on their screens. I am sure that there are as many dedicated, hardworking people on the railways as there ever were. If their morale has been affected by the transitions of recent years, let us hope that by working together inside the industry, creating that co-operative culture of safety and ensuring from all sides of the House and politics that we support the creation of that culture of safety which tries to remove or reduce the adversarial elements which may still be too prevalent we can improve the morale not just of the drivers but of other employees. If the management of the train operating companies needed any reminding of the importance of the duties that it performs, clearly that message has been sent out in the past week. When we consider the regime, people must realise that when lights say "caution" they mean caution and are not to be overridden easily.

I did not answer an earlier question of the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, about the resources available to the Railway Inspectorate. I know that it has five teams, with three people in each, working up and down the country as well as supporting staff. I was in discussion with it only this morning. It did not suggest to me that it was under-resourced. But if that were the case, I would hope that it would bring the problem forward so that we can ensure that it is addressed.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I have a short question to which I hope that there will be a short reply. What categories of train carry the black recorder instruments? When they register the information, does it include all the information required for an investigation after an accident?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston

My Lords, I cannot answer the noble Lord's question in any technical detail. However, I shall inquire and write to him with the information.

Lady Kinloss

My Lords, has any consideration been given to installing seat belts for passengers, particularly on high speed trains? I must declare an interest as I travel on one every week.

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston

My Lords, I have not had registered officially with me from any quarter any formal request for seat belts in trains. I have seen the matter referred to. However, again it is the kind of issue that I am sure will be covered in Lord Cullen's public inquiry.

Lord Hoyle

My Lords, I am sure my noble friend is aware that there is a question mark against the efficiency of TPWS with high speed trains travelling at over 70 miles per hour. Therefore is Sir David Davies' remit wide enough not only to examine TPWS and ATP but also to consider the next generation of digital radio control signalling, ETCS, which might provide a safer system?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston

My Lords, Sir David Davies' remit is to examine all systems and not just ATP and TPWS. The information available is that TPWS would have coped with about two-thirds of the reported signals passed at danger incidents—as I said earlier, up to 85 per cent with properly trained drivers. Whether the system would work at over 70 miles per hour is as yet unclear. It has been suggested by barristers, I think at the inquiry at Southall, that it would not have worked. The technical advice is that in some circumstances with the equipment properly placed it might have worked. These are the uncertainties which I hope that Sir David Davies will clarify.

Lord Methuen

My Lords, the issue is of particular significance to me. I was a railway signal engineer and I am still a member of the Institution of Railway Signal Engineers, the professional body to which most of these people belong. I know that they will be deeply distressed by what has happened at Paddington.

The industry has a long history of taking note of what happens in these accidents, and of improving their system as a result of the inquiries which have followed, and of working closely with the Railway Inspectorate. I hope, therefore, that an independent Railway Inspectorate will result. I hope that the consideration of criminal proceedings will not delay the inquiry.

Can the Minister comment on the issue—it has not yet been raised—of the absence of rail-mounted heavy lifting gear which could have given more rapid assistance? I understand that the crane had to be brought by road from Carlisle. In the old days of British Rail such heavy rail-mounted equipment would have been at the local depots and available within four hours or so.

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston

My Lords, the availability of the heavy lifting gear has not been raised as yet with me, but I shall take account of what the noble Lord said.

On the suggestion of an independent Railway Inspectorate, let me be clear. We feel that it is for Lord Cullen to make the recommendations. If the recommendations are that there should be inspectorates or other regulatory bodies independent of our department, we shall very gladly accept that advice.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I want to ask two questions. In the wider consideration of the inquiry, will the Government look at the practice of the automatic locking of doors once a train leaves the station? The passengers should not be locked in. As the Minister will be aware, one cannot get off the train; one has to wait for the automatic unlocking before the door will open. Will he satisfy himself that clear instructions are given to passengers who might have to get out of a carriage very quickly under such terrible circumstances?

Secondly, with the greatly increased number of passengers on trains, is the Minister satisfied about the regulations which govern the number of standing passengers'? It is a common sight on trains. Ought not there to be something for passengers to hold on to so that if the train has to stop suddenly for whatever reason they are in a safer position?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston

My Lords, I take the point, which was well made. Probably all of us were unnerved to read about the problems which passengers had with doors. We welcomed the introduction of central locking because we understood that it would save many lives per year. Indeed, it has.

As regards overcrowding, such an event causes one to take stock and to wonder about people standing in such crowded circumstances at such high speeds. Again, I am sure that Lord Cullen's inquiry will address that issue

Lord Janner of Braunstone

My Lords, my noble friend referred to possible prosecutions. Will he refer the Health and Safety Commission to Section 37 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act which provides that, where a director, manager or company secretary is personally responsible through his or her consent, connivance or neglect for a hazard, that individual is liable to be prosecuted? Does he agree that there is far too much complacency among individual directors and managers, with the belief always that if there is a disaster the company will be prosecuted and it will have to pay a fine and will suffer loss of good name? Surely if individuals understood their legal as well as their criminal and moral responsibilities they might take more interest in avoiding such awful dangers, the litany of which the Minister set out in his statement.

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston

My Lords, I accept the general principle stated by the noble Lord. I hope that in this case we shall see the public inquiries proceeding without undue delay caused by legal proceedings. However, if changes to the law are required in order to ensure that responsibility is laid with those who might have been responsible—and I suggest nothing in this case—I am sure that such legislation will be brought before Parliament in due course.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, for many years I worked in an industry in which safety was of paramount importance; namely, the mining industry. The success achieved in it becoming the safest deep-mining industry in the world was due to the highly developed culture of safety throughout the enterprise, right from the top to the bottom.

The culture of safety has been mentioned by many speakers today, but will the Minister accept that it is not enough to speak about it or even to make directions about it? Does he agree that it must be given unremitting attention, careful planning and the introduction of a competitive spirit among operators to achieve the greatest safety records and the introduction of new safety measures? That is as important as, if not more important than, clarifying the regulatory system.

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston

My Lords, I agree with the points made by the noble Lord. If the railways require models to look at as they regain their reputation for safety, they will find useful paradigms in industries such as mining. Furthermore, we can look to the aviation industry for a strong safety culture. In doing so, we can dispel the belief that private companies cannot be imbued with a safety culture I do not believe that the two are incompatible. We would like to see the railway industry aspiring to the same culture in safety as exists in the aviation industry and which existed in the mining industry.