HL Deb 23 March 2000 vol 611 cc397-9
Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What they consider to be the implications for public policy of the Uff report into the 1997 rail accident at Southall.

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

My Lords, both Professor Uff's report and the other recent reports on Railtrack's safety responsibilities indicate the need for a stronger railway safety regulatory regime and highlight the need for greater co-operation and action from the industry. The Government are taking action on this. The Health and Safety Commission is now establishing wit h all the relevant parties an action plan for taking forward Professor Uff's recommendations.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply and I look forward to hearing the results of progress towards a new approach to safety which the noble Lord outlined in his response. However, does he agree that one of the implications of the Uff report is that the technical investigation into the causes of an accident should take place immediately after the accident and before a criminal investigation, if any, is undertaken? Does he also agree that people who give evidence to the technical inquiry should be able to do so while being protected from the criminal results of that evidence because it is most important to know how the accident was caused and how to bring forward improvements?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston

My Lords, the question of post-accident procedures have been considered thoroughly in the aftermath of Southall. Indeed, they were in place by the time the Ladbroke Grove accident occurred, and the British Transport Police, emergency services, HSE and the industry parties involved have put the various protocols in place. However they will, of course, be kept under constant review, particularly now that Lord Cullen's inquiry, which first sat in December last year, is under way. I assure your Lordships that there will be as little delay as possible to the Cullen inquiry. The Attorney-General has authorised Lord Cullen to issue an indemnity from prosecution to those who give evidence to the inquiry, and that has enabled Lord Cullen to start the inquiry immediately. I know that the Lord Chancellor's Department is in the lead in a review of the larger question of the relationship between inquiries and criminal prosecutions. However, that issue goes wider than transport.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

My Lords, perhaps I may ask my noble friend about progress on the installation of train protection and warning systems. Can he confirm that the Government have accepted the recommendations of Sir David Davies that TPWS should be installed across the network as soon as possible and that ATP (advanced train protection) should be installed on high-speed lines as they are upgraded?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston

My Lords, I should point out that before the Paddington crash occurred, regulations were laid for the introduction of the train protection and warning system (TPWS) by the end of 2003. Indeed, the industry has agreed to implement the system ahead of that deadline. We were very grateful to Sir David Davies for his report because it showed that the TPWS system, which is effective at speeds of up to approximately 75 miles per hour, can be extended in a manner that will allow it to control trains travelling at speeds of up to 100 miles per hour. He believes that by introducing TPWS+, we can obtain the safety benefits in a much shorter time than would be the case with the introduction of automatic train protection.

Lord Clarke of Hampstead

My Lords, perhaps I may ask my noble friend whether there is any sign of a reduction in the number of incidents of signals passed at danger since the terrible Ladbroke Grove accident?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston

My Lords, I know that the matter of signals passed at danger, which have taken on the fairly sombre acronym of "SPADs", been of concern to your Lordships. I am pleased to say that the number of SPADs is one-third lower than it was 10 years ago. Since the action which was initiated after the Ladbroke Grove accident, monthly reports are now produced on the total of SPADs. They have fallen by approximately 25 per cent in recent months: in fact, they are 25 per cent lower than in the same period a year ago. Again, I should point out that the action on SPADs (22 actions) was initiated by Her Majesty's Railway Inspectorate before the crash occurred at Paddington.

Lord Methuen

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that Great Western Trains is now using the automatic train protection system and that it has adequate procedures in place for occasions when neither the ATP nor the automatic warning system are operable?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston

My Lords, yes, indeed. The train operating companies have agreed that they will take those matters very seriously. Great Western Trains has given assurances that it will run only trains which have automatic train protection in place. We are also working on procedures to ensure that the automatic warning system—that is, the other system involved—is operational before any trains are run.

Lord Harris of Haringey

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for referring to those signals which have been passed at danger on repeated occasions. For example, I am aware of the signal at Harrow & Wealdstone, which was also the site of the worst rail disaster of the last century. Can we be told whether specific steps are being taken with regard to signals which are passed repeatedly and whether measures have been taken which my noble friend feels are sufficient to ensure the safety of passengers who go through those signals?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston

My Lords, we have introduced a regime of monthly reporting on SPADs. There are various degrees of severity, depending on the overrun of the trains involved at any particular signal. Those are isolated and graded. More serious SPADs are acted upon. Information is also given as to whether the driver involved has previously had any problems in relation to passing signals at danger and, indeed, the number of times that a signal has been passed is flagged up. Those procedures are now much more rigorous than they were in the past.

Earl Russell

My Lords, in the course of studying the Uff report, will the Government undertake to consider whether it creates any case for reviewing their proposals for public-private partnership on the London Underground?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston

My Lords, there is hardly any comparability in relation to safety on the London Underground, particularly in regard to SPADs. They are very different types of regime. Having said that, your Lordships will find in the Library the records relating to London Underground and its very fine safety record in recent years.

The implication of that question appears to be that somehow the PPP proposed for the London Underground would make its operation less safe. I assure your Lordships that it is designed to increase the safety of that system by ensuring that we attract the resources, investment and maintenance in the front-loading of the 15-year period so that it will be safer than it is at present. I assure the House that it is a very safe system at the moment.

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