§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.
The measures that the Bill introduces will play an important part in improving the safety of transport in this country. The Bill will set up a new branch to investigate accidents on the railways; introduce new alcohol offences in relation to marine and aviation activities; and create an independent police authority for the British Transport Police. It will also restructure the body responsible for regulating the railways. I shall deal with each of these matters, as well as touching on the other issues that the Bill covers.
Part 1 of the Bill establishes a rail accident investigation branch. That is in direct response to the recommendations made by Lord Cullen in his report on the Ladbroke Grove rail crash.
In the event of a railway accident, it is important that we find out as quickly as possible what caused the accident so that any safety measures and remedial action can be taken as soon as possible. At the moment there are, of course, bodies responsible for investigating accidents, but the Government agree with Lord Cullen that things can be improved. Currently, after a rail accident, the police are responsible for investigating any general criminal acts. At the same time, Her Majesty's Rail Inspectorate, which is part of the Health and Safety Executive, investigates the cause of the accident. Importantly, however, the HSE will also be responsible for prosecuting any breaches of health and safety legislation.
There is no body with responsibility solely for finding out what went wrong without attributing blame so that any lessons from an accident can be learnt as quickly as possible. That is what the rail accident investigation branch will do. As Clause 4 makes clear, the branch's aims will be, first, to improve the safety of the railways; and, secondly, to prevent railway accidents and railway incidents.
The rail branch will play a similar role to that played by the Air and Marine Accident Investigation Branches. The system works well there. In both cases, they have a long history—since 1922 in the case of the air branch—of getting to the bottom of what happened in an accident, and doing so far more quickly than has been the case on the railways. The proposal was met with general approval on both sides of another place and I hope that it will receive a similar response in this House.
800 I should now like to turn to the other parts of the Bill which I hope can be dealt with in relatively short order. Part 2 would bring the railways into line with other regulated industries by providing that the regulatory body is headed by a board rather than by an individual. It will be called the office of rail regulation. That change was recommended by the Better Regulation Task Force. The Government agree that moving to a board is sensible best practice. It will ensure a greater range of expertise at the top of the organisation, as well as enhanced continuity in decision-making. The functions and duties are unchanged from those of the current regulator.
Part 3 will create an independent police authority for the British Transport Police. At present, the transport police are accountable to a committee appointed by the Strategic Rail Authority. That fulfils many of the functions of a police authority, but it would be better for it to be replaced by an independent police authority that is properly accountable.for its actions. The Bill makes that provision. In addition, Clause 30 will put the transport police's jurisdiction over the railways on a wholly statutory footing.
Parts 4 and 5 deal with alcohol and drug offences in relation to marine and aviation activities. In particular, these parts of the Bill will introduce blood alcohol concentration limits for mariners and aviators. When breath tests for drivers were first introduced on the roads, in 1967, it is reckoned that fatalities were reduced by about 800 a year. The Government believe that it is now time to introduce a similar approach to the marine and aviation sectors.
Part 4 implements the recommendations made by Lord Justice Clarke in his review of safety on the Thames after the "Marchioness" disaster. The Bill will make it an offence for any mariner to operate while impaired by alcohol or drugs, and bring in alcohol testing and an alcohol limit of 80 milligrammes per 100 millilitres of blood—the same as on the roads. That limit will also apply to off-duty professional mariners, if they would be called upon to evacuate passengers in the event of an emergency.
Non-professional mariners will also be subject to the limits, but with one difference. The alcohol provisions that apply to professional mariners do so no matter what kind of vessel they may be on board. However, Clause 79 would allow the Secretary of State to bring forward regulations to except certain types of vessels in the case of the recreational mariner. The Government will consult on these regulations before introducing them, as it is important to get this right. But the Government intend to apply a proportionate approach that reflects the safety risks. As things stand, we are minded to except, for example, non-professional mariners on rowing boats, sailing dinghies and narrowboats. Larger, high-powered craft, including jet-skis, which pose a greater level of danger, would be included.
Part 5 will introduce similar offences for aviation activities. Here again the Government have sought to take a proportionate approach. Aircrew and air traffic controllers will be subject to a blood alcohol limit of 801 20 milligrammes, in recognition of the quicker reactions and level of concentration required by such people. Other aviation workers will be subject to an 80 milligramme limit, as on the roads.
Part 6 includes a number of miscellaneous measures, covering roads, sea and rail, including the Tube.
I wish to highlight two areas. Clause 104 enables the Health and Safety Executive to levy some of the costs of its rail-related activities on the rail industry. This levy will replace the Health and Safety Executive's current practice of charging on the basis of an hourly charging system. It will be much less bureaucratic and therefore cheaper to administer for both the Health and Safety Executive and the rail industry. The levy will also allow the industry to plan ahead as it will know up-front how much it will have to pay.
Detailed consultation will take place before any levy is introduced, but the current policy intention is that the Health and Safety Executive should seek to recover the same proportion of costs through the levy as it does from the existing charging regime—that is, about 55 per cent of the costs of Her Majesty's Railway Inspectorate's regulatory activities.
Clauses 111 and 112 amend the Greater London Authority Act 1999. Among other things, Clause Ill deals with certain parts of the GLA Act that would, as they stand, restrict the operation of some provisions of the London Underground public/private partnership contracts when they are transferred to Transport for London. In particular, it will ensure that the guarantees provided by the contracts continue to hold after transfer. It was never the intention of the GLA Act to prevent such guarantees from operating.
Clause 112 also concerns the PPP contracts. It will ensure that the PPP arbiter has the right to receive information from the regulators of regulated industries. At present, the GLA Act ensures that the arbiter can share the information that he possesses but does not give him any reciprocal rights.
The Bill is important. It will make significant changes, improving safety on the railways and at sea and in the air. I hope that its passage through the House will be relatively uncontroversial, as it was in another place. No doubt there will be points of detail which can be dealt with, but I hope that the whole House will support it. I commend the Bill to the House.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord McIntosh of Haringey.)
§ 11.14 a.m.
§ Viscount Astor
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that clear explanation of the Bill and for writing to me giving further details about it. The Bill follows the progress made by the previous Conservative government that introduced a number of transport safety Bills—the Road Traffic Act 1988, the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 and the Transport and Works Act 1992.
Perhaps I may begin by looking at the issue of rail safety. Travelling by rail is one of the safest means of transport. Evidence suggests that travel on the 802 railways is six times safer than by car. Sadly, due to a number of serious accidents on the railways, public confidence was undermined and a number of weaknesses in safety regulations became apparent.
The Cullen report made a number of recommendations following the dreadful Ladbroke Grove train crash. Can the Minister tell the House how many of its 74 recommendations have been introduced and how many have not yet been acted on or will not be brought into force by the Bill? Are there any left to be dealt with?
As the Minister said, the Bill will establish the rail accident investigation branch. Its primary duty will be to investigate accidents and to share safety lessons so as to prevent further accidents. It will report to the Secretary of State. But it will have no prosecution function. Can the Minister explain whether the Health and Safety Executive, which is responsible for prosecutions in regard to safety issues, will also be responsible for prosecutions in regard to accidents—or will that be the responsibility of the Crown Prosecution Service or any other body?
We are concerned about the overlapping relationships between the rail accident investigation branch and the Health and Safety Executive, which will remain the rail safety regulator. The Railway Inspectorate, which comes under the Health and Safety Executive, will investigate and enforce safety. It will have prosecution powers but, as I understand it, will not have the lead responsibility for accident investigation. As proposed, that will remain with the rail accident investigation branch.
In addition, there is the Rail Safety and Standards Board, which sets safety and operating standards and practices for the industry. We will want an assurance from the Minister that these bodies will work together so as to neither unnecessarily overlap each other nor allow gaps to appear between them.
We must also not forget the British Transport Police, who act on behalf of the coroner to establish the causes of deaths on the railways and who retain responsibility for the investigation of serious offences committed on the railways.
Floating above that is the Strategic Rail Authority, which is responsible for strategic direction, and the Office of the Rail Regulator which, although it is the economic regulator for the railways, must also take account of safety. Finally, at the top of this rather large and complex tree, we have the Secretary of State, who is answerable to Parliament—although the previous incumbent found that notion particularly difficult to understand and sometimes hard to accept. The Minister will have to show how these different bodies, with their various responsibilities, will work together, and how the department and Parliament will be able to monitor progress and how the system works.
Rail travel in this country is safe. It is not as safe as we would like, but it is getting safer every year. Statistics show that one is more likely to be involved in an accident on a journey to a railway station than on 803 any subsequent stage of one's journey. It is an important area and we shall probe the Government's intentions during the Committee stage.
We welcome the provisions relating to the British Transport Police. However, can the Minister explain why the opportunity presented by the Bill to formalise the extended jurisdiction temporarily granted to the British Transport Police under the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 is not being taken. That Act has to be renewed annually by Parliament. It is a process which we all hope that at a point in the future will not be necessary. But, if and when that day dawns, the British Transport Police will lose this important power. Surely the Bill presents an obvious opportunity for it to be retained. In the past, the British Transport Police have had difficulties in the vicinity of railways because they have not had the powers necessary to deal with offences. This is an important issue. I am surprised that the power is not included in the Bill and I look forward to the Minister's explanation on that point.
We welcome the creation of an independent police authority for the British Transport Police and the transfer of responsibility for the force from the SRA to the new police authority. But we are concerned about possible gaps. For example, should an offence be committed on a train en route to an airport but the culprit "legs it" from the station into the airport, the British Transport Police have no powers to follow or arrest the culprit. Will the Minister tell us how the proposed measure will work as more and more airports in this country become connected to rail links? I believe that the powers of the British Transport Police should be extended so that their jurisdiction covers the vicinity of the rail network.
Having arrived at the airport from the train as it were, let me turn to the provisions concerning aviation. The Government instituted the Wheeler report which made a number of recommendations. How many of those have been implemented? Would not the Bill have been an ideal opportunity to simplify the Aviation Security Act 1982, as recommended by the Wheeler report? What progress has been made in clarifying the powers of search on exit from cargo areas at airports? If progress has been made, why are the changes required not in the Bill? Or are they in the Bill and I have simply not found them? That is perfectly possible. Will the Minister comment on that?
The Bill introduces statutory alcohol limits and the creation of an alcohol-testing regime for aircrew, air traffic controllers and aircraft maintenance engineers. I understand that that includes drug testing. Will the Minister give a clear definition of what constitutes standby duty? That is important for those working in the industry. Am I correct in understanding that the Bill does not give the police powers to breathalyse a pilot involved in an accident? The Minister said that that regime was to be extended to maritime personnel. However, it appears from Clause 92 that different limits will be imposed. Would it not be better if there was one clear and specific limit for all those involved in safety critical work? Will the Minister comment on that?
804 The Minister said that non-professional mariners would be covered. Who will be responsible for breathalysing someone sailing, for example, in the Solent? Will it be the police? Do they have enough boats to do that? Or will it be the coastguard? Does the coastguard have the authority to carry out that task? If it is to be the police, will they be properly resourced? What will be the cost of that? Do the Government have any estimates? The Minister said that the Government would consult on the regulations to except certain types of vessels in the case of the recreational mariner. It appears that people on jet-skis may be subject to the measure but people in rowing boats may not. How will the measure work? We need to be given a clearer explanation of that.
Under the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 it is open to individual harbour authorities to take powers to prescribe a level of intoxication, but, as I understand it, only the Port of London Authority has taken powers to carry out breath tests. I also understand that there are doubts about whether magistrates would back up the authority in the event of action being taken and that the evidence of a positive test cannot be used directly by the authority in bringing a prosecution. Is that correct? A further anomaly is that while air traffic controllers will be subject to alcohol limits, harbour masters—they do a critical job in the Channel ports—will not. Why are they left out?
The most difficult and most popular but dangerous form of travel in this country is car travel. That is something that nearly all of us do almost every day. For many people car travel is essential and it is the most used form of travel but it has not received the attention in the Bill that it deserves.
The Government introduced two new clauses in the Bill in another place. The first extends the wearing of seat belts to goods vehicles. If my noble friend Lord Attlee were here, he would certainly have something to say about that issue. I very much hope that he will be back in time for Committee stage to demonstrate his well-known expertise in this area. Following an amendment moved by the Conservative Party in Committee in another place, the Government introduced their own similar amendment to impose a duty on highway authorities to keep roads clear of snow and ice which might endanger vehicles and pedestrians. We welcome the Government's acceptance of the Conservative proposal.
However, the Government resisted the important proposal that the Secretary of State should prepare and lay before Parliament an annual report on the incidence and causes of major road traffic accidents in each 12-month period. We shall want to return to that issue in Committee. It is an opportunity to make a real contribution to road safety by allowing the causes of accidents to be set out and, if possible, acted upon.
Finally, as the Minister said, the Bill makes provision for the transfer of contracts from London Regional Transport to Transport for London and for any subsequent transfer. In addition, it deals with a PPP agreement for London Underground. We are concerned about those provisions and, for example, the consequence of one of the main partners of a PPP 805 going bankrupt. We shall be looking at those issues in detail in Committee as well as the many other issues that will be raised today, in particular the burden of costs on the industry. We welcome the Bill. I look forward to the next stage.
§ 11.25 a.m.
§ Lord Bradshaw
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his courtesy in writing to noble Lords before this stage of the Bill. We welcome the part of the Bill that sets up the rail accident investigation branch although we question the inclusion of the words "wherever relevant" in Clause 4 which concerns general aims.
However, we have to judge the measure against the fact that since the Labour Party came to power 17,000 people have died in road accidents while fewer than 150 have been killed on the railways. We look for an equal concern in dealing with both those scourges, not an hysterical reaction to the former while ignoring or trivialising the latter. We note that we still await a road safety Bill. That has been long promised but has not been delivered.
We seek an assurance with regard to the absolute independence of the rail accident investigation branch and that it will be entirely free of the influence of the Strategic Rail Authority, the rail regulator or anyone else. Will the Minister give that assurance?
We believe that, with the setting up of the rail accident investigation branch, the existing Health and Safety Inspectorate and the Rail Safety and Standards Board the industry has quite enough bodies overseeing safety. We are sure that the Government—at Question Time yesterday the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, reiterated the Government's zeal to cut red tape—will try to reduce the bureaucracy involved in safety regulation.
The Rail Regulator should henceforth confine himself to matters of economic regulation and access rights and should not be involved in safety matters. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say about that. Of course, we welcome the setting up of the rail regulatory board rather than having a single person as regulator.
We believe that the arrangements for charging for the services of the Health and Safety Inspectorate are unreasonable and arbitrary. Every organisation, even the village school with one teacher, has to furnish an exacting budget. Further, the Health and Safety Executive will lose responsibility for the somewhat arbitrary cost impact of accidents which are, of course, unpredictable in their nature.
We want to see a very strict work programme, including inspections. We see no particular reason why the industry should be levied, especially as its much larger competitor, the road industry, is not levied. No doubt the costs are factored into the franchising equation somehow. So in the end, one way or another, taxpayers meet those costs. They meet them either in higher franchise premia or in the franchise itself costing more money.
806 I know that the Government have set great store by the activities of the Health and Safety Executive. Can the Minister tell us what the railway part of the organisation cost over the past year, what key results were achieved for the money, and whether that cost really represented an improvement on the activities of the former Railway Inspectorate, judged on a value for money basis or cost per life saved? How does that figure compare with those which apply to the roads?
I turn now to the issue of the British Transport Police. Under the new Chief Constable, this is a much improved force. We want to see that improvement sustained and, as the noble Viscount. Lord Astor, remarked, we are not satisfied with the definition of jurisdiction as it stands. Despite the arguments advanced by Mr Spellar in another place, we want to see the words,in the vicinity of railway premises",added to the Bill. As the noble Viscount also pointed out, we do not want to have to rely on the possible extension of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. We also want this facility to be further extended so that the jurisdiction may be extended at the request of a civil police force when circumstances make that desirable. We do not see the purpose of setting a form of boundary over which an otherwise fully-trained uniformed constable should not cross. These are modest requests, but in the main they would assist with the Government's Street Crime Initiative and deal with what is broadly described as antisocial behaviour.
We are concerned about the constitution of the proposed British Transport Police authority. While we fully support the concept of such an authority, we believe that Transport for London, which meets so much of the cost of the British Transport Police, should be guaranteed one or even two places on the authority. We question the proposed composition of the authority, in particular its freedom to choose its own chairman rather than such a person being appointed by the Minister.
One way or the other, all police forces are predominantly financed by central funds, but the 43 civilian police forces in the country are able to select from among their midst a chairman who most members feel adequately and independently represents them. Any comparisons that the Government may seek to make with the MoD police are invalid and the much better option, having settled the issue with regard to the composition of the authority, is to leave authority members to choose their own chairman on the basis of his or her competence.
We also want the British Transport Police to be enabled to employ community support officers, as are other forces, and to enjoy any rights which may be afforded to other police authorities to pay or offer an allowance to special constables.
My final point concerns Clause 111, covering the transfer in London of responsibility for the railways from London Regional Transport to Transport for London. Although we on these Benches have not supported the public/private partnership, we accept 807 the Government's right to implement it. Although I may be wrong, I understand that the final act is the passage of this clause in the Bill. As recent events on the London Underground Central Line demonstrated, it is now urgent that the transfer takes place. I should like the Minister to say whether, as an interim measure, a letter of comfort could be issued to those concerned with the PPP so that action can he taken straightaway on the assumption that this Bill will eventually become law.
My noble friend Lady Scott of Needham Market will express some of our concerns about roads and road transport when she winds up the debate, while my noble friend Lord Mar and Kellie will address aviation and shipping matters when he intervenes later in the debate. We look forward to the Committee stage and the initial and, possibly, more considered response of the Minister.
§ 11.35 a.m.
§ Lord Faulkner of Worcester
My Lords, I welcome this important Bill and wish it well. I have no relevant commercial interests to declare, but I have a long acquaintance with the British Transport Police, having worked with the force during my time at the British Railways Board, and while I served on various committees concerned with tackling hooliganism and crowd violence in football. When I speak about Part 3 of the Bill, I shall do so as someone who knows the force well.
I shall also say a few words about some of the road safety issues touched on in Part 6 of the Bill. My unremunerated interest here is as president of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents.
First, I shall deal with Parts 1 and 2. I, too, welcome the establishment of the rail accident investigation branch, which implements the recommendations of Lord Cullen's inquiry into the Ladbroke Grove accident of October 1999. I see the RAIB as a further step towards reversing the fragmentation of the railways, which was by far the worst consequence of privatisation. There was much that was wrong and frustrating about the former publicly-owned industry, but one of its great strengths—and the abiding legacy of Sir Robert Reid, the second chairman of the BRB, with whom I had the privilege of working—was a unified command structure with clearly defined levels of responsibility. That was broken up by privatisation and replaced, I fear, by what could be called a "blame culture", in which things that went wrong always seemed to be the fault of someone else. That was particularly evident with the accidents at Hatfield and Potters Bar, which followed Ladbroke Grove.
So the RAIB makes good sense and I commend the Government on bringing forward these proposals. I also welcome the late addition to the Bill, made in another place on 31st March, to require the RAIB to publish an annual report on railway safety.
I am also happy with the proposals in Part 2 to establish the office of rail regulation. I accept the logic of the Government's argument that this will bring railways regulation into line with that of other 808 industries, and I am pleased that they have resisted the temptation to absorb the regulator into the Strategic Rail Authority. This is, I think, the moment to pay tribute to the current rail regulator, Tom Winsor, only the second—and now, presumably, the last—holder of the post. His term of office has not been free of controversy, but I believe that passengers and freight users have reason to be grateful for his efforts on their behalf, particularly during his battles with Railtrack, an organisation whose public relations were so abysmal that it even managed to make the British Railways Board appear popular in retrospect, and by comparison.
I turn now to Part 3 and the proposals relating to the British Transport Police. The history of the force can be traced right back to 1825, to the start of the railways in Britain and the beginning of modern policing. During the early years, railway company police officer; were sworn in as county constables as well, as each had specific responsibility for the surrounding area. As the railway network spread across the country in 19th century Britain, and criminals discovered that offences could be committed on the move with rapid means of escape—rather in the way that the modern motorway network has created similar opportuni ties—the need for a dedicated mobile police force, able to cross county boundaries, became evident.
The network nature of the railway system also means that incidents affecting its operation in one location can reverberate down the system, creating knock-on effects for thousands of people many miles away. That is why the railways have special policing needs and why a national police force for the railways has always been a cost-effective solution. It is also why the Government are right to reject the suggestion that has been around over the past 12 months to hive off policing on the London Underground and to hand over part of the BTP's activities to the Metropolitan Police. While that might superficially have given the Home Secretary the opportunity to claim an increase in the number of police officers in London, it is far more important to maintain an integrated transport police force covering the mainline as well as the underground railways.
As my noble friend said, the proposals in the Bill follow closely those in the consultation paper published in October 2001 by the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions entitled Modernising the British Transport Police. The establishment of a new police authority is a helpful step forward and puts the BTP on the same sort of constitutional footing as Home Office forces. Although I have heard no complaint about the present police committee, it is not sensible for a commercial agreement with the constituent parts of a now diverse railway industry to be the basis of BTP authority.
It is also a good idea to put BTP pay and conditions within a regulatory framework governed by the Secretary of State. That will further reinforce the comparability with Home Office forces and help the modernisation process. I have one question on the issue for my noble friend; it was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, a moment ago. Will the 809 Government be prepared to give the chief constable of the BTP the power to appoint community support officers, in the way that Home Office police chiefs can under the provisions of the Police Reform Act? The BTP tell me that CSOs would be of great assistance to them, and such a power would seem consistent with the principles underlying the Bill and the new status proposed for the force.
The other issue to which we must return in Committee is that of the BTP's jurisdiction. I agree wholeheartedly with what the noble Viscount and the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, said on the subject. The House will recall that the Government included in the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 a provision to extend the transport police's jurisdiction beyond the immediate boundaries of the railway. Parliament was persuaded—a little reluctantly, but rightly in my view—that it was absurd and dangerous for Home Office forces not to be able to call on BTP officers to assist in situations such as the riots in Bradford in July 2001, or to pursue miscreants beyond railway premises.
The Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act has a sunset clause, however, and is subject to a Privy Council review later this year. It is possible that its provisions will not be renewed. If that were to happen, the BTP would have to rely on the Bill for the definition of its jurisdiction. The Bill repeals Section 53 of the British Transport Commission Act 1949, which uses the words "in the vicinity of" in relation to BTP jurisdiction on railway premises. Those words are not repeated in the Bill, so the force could finish up with less jurisdiction than it had prior to the passing of the emergency legislation. I hope very much therefore that the Government will accept an amendment—I suspect that it will be an all-party amendment—that puts the words "in the vicinity of" into the Bill.
Finally, and briefly, I turn to one or two of the miscellaneous provisions in Part 6. I welcome the proposals for removing the exemption for delivery drivers from wearing seatbelts in Clause 107, and the new requirements in Clause 108 for highway authorities to deal with snow and ice on their roads. But what a pity it is that the opportunity has not been taken in the Bill to outlaw the use of mobile phones by people when driving vehicles.
I shall also raise in Committee the case for reducing blood-alcohol levels for drivers from 80 milligrams to 50 milligrams, in line with the department's own consultation document entitled Combating Drink-Driving—Next Steps, the European Commission recommendation of January 2001, and the recent report of our own European Union Committee's Sub-Committee B. The Bill already contains welcome proposals for establishing maximum permitted blood-alcohol levels for safety-critical staff in the aviation and maritime sectors, so I find it extraordinary that the Government seem so reluctant to adopt a measure that would—on their own figures—save at least 50 lives a year, and result in 250 fewer serious injuries and 1,200 fewer slight injuries.
810 Those are detailed matters for debate in Committee. Meanwhile, I congratulate the Government on introducing the Bill, and am delighted to support it.
§ 11.44 a.m.
§ The Earl of Mar and Kellie
My Lords, noble Lords will be pleased to know that I have already voted in the Scottish elections, so I shall not be a non-voter. I completed the constituency ballot, which had a choice of seven, and the regional ballot, which had a choice of 15. It was rather simpler to deal with the local government ward ballot, because it had a choice of only two.
I shall concentrate on Parts 4 and 5 of the Bill, which deal with water, shipping and aviation. We should be glad to see those alcohol and drug regulations set out in the Bill, even though we may wish to dispute some of the levels that are laid down. It is helpful for seafarers and aircrew to know precisely what is demanded of them, rather than that they rely on the vague requirement not to be under the influence of drink and drugs. Although the limit for aircrew is minimal at 20 milligrams, I have to admit that, perversely, the limit for ground engineers and seafarers at 80 milligrams allows them to be under the influence, at least mildly. I should prefer the limit to be set at 50 milligrams, and to see that limit applied also to road users. The decision to legislate separately for off-duty crew members who have emergency tasks is undoubtedly sensible, as it will make everything quite clear and beyond doubt.
I am musing over the special regulations for fishing boats on two counts. First, why should the crew be granted the medicinal defence when other professional seafarers are not so entitled when on duty? My second point is on the prospect of ensuring that all the crew members are sober at the start of a four-day fishing trip on an early Monday morning. The duty placed on marine officials, especially harbour-masters and assistants, to detain a ship or fishing boat if it is believed that there are some drunk crew members aboard could be provoked, somewhat maliciously, by other crews reporting them on a sort of competitive basis. However, I note the huge discretion granted to the police in Clause 83(2)(b) not to attend in such circumstances, and thus allow the powers to detain the vessel to lapse. Clearly, the message is: get everyone aboard and out of sight, and leave harbour swiftly.
There are references to Scotland in both Parts 4 and 5. On the face of it, it seems as though Scotland is being exempted. However, it is even more morally gratifying to learn that this legislation is enabling the rest of the United Kingdom to catch up with the existing Scottish provisions for right of entry.
Finally in Part 4, the Armed Forces and visiting forces provisions wisely exempt such ships from being detained because of drunkenness among the crew. That could otherwise enable reluctant seamen to avoid going on a difficult exercise, or even on active service. With regard to the likely exemption of small boats and canoes from the alcohol limit, I am not yet persuaded at all as to why anyone should be allowed to be drunk 811 in charge of any craft, both from the safety angle—of the craft and its crew, and of other craft—and from the rescue angle.
In Part 5, the provisions for drink and drug offences among aircrew, ground staff and air-traffic controllers are similar in construction and layout. What is different is the alcohol limit set at 20 milligrams for aircrew and air-traffic controllers. That will obviously require the provision and availability of new, or at least recalibrated, test equipment. Although there are no separate provisions for on-duty and off-duty aircrew, Clause 93(5) makes it clear that staff on any form of stand-by are included in the drink and drug regulations.
There does not appear to be a provision for the power to detain before arrest similar to that granted to a marine official. I must therefore conclude that it will be up to the captain of the aircraft to decide to call for the police. No person at the airfield seems to have the same powers granted to them as the harbour-master.
I note the special limit granted to the licensed aircraft maintenance engineer. I should prefer the limit to be 50 milligrams, as I continue to want to see that applied in relation to the roads.
I conclude by mentioning some concerns about items that are not in the Bill. I am concerned that the Bill says nothing about an increase in security at harbours and airfields, as identified by my noble friend Lord Carlile of Berriew. Only yesterday, I read a report in the Daily Telegraph of a plan by the Home Secretary to increase airfield security, while noting that there were at least 80 airstrips in Kent alone. It is also undoubtedly true that our lengthy coastline has a myriad of small harbours and other landing places. I hope that the Minister can inform us about the new plans for airfields and, presumably, harbour security.
Secondly, as this is a transport safety Bill, I regret that there seem to be very few measures in relation to road safety, in particular to deal with intoxication, speeding, both excessively and inappropriately, the creation of a rural road hierarchy, "four-by-fours" on green lanes and mobile phone use while driving and moving.
To complete my remarks, I return to the subject of water and complain about the lack of provision in relation to buoyancy aids in small boats and canoes—a subject undoubtedly close to my heart as a dinghy sailor, canoeist and canoe instructor.
§ 11.51 a.m.
My Lords, first, I declare an interest as chairman of a rail freight group. In doing so, I welcome this Railways and Transport Safety Bill. As the Minister said, its prime purpose is to set up the rail accident investigation branch. I welcome that, as I do the announcement that Caroline Griffiths, an eminent mechanical engineer, has been appointed chief inspector.
As my noble friend said, the RAIB will bring the policy on rail accidents broadly in line with that on air accidents. To me, the key is the incorporation of confidential reporting. That is absolutely essential for 812 any body which wishes to get to the bottom of an accident. It will be very important that, as time and the process develop, the rail industry has confidence that confidentiality will not be breached. I am sure that it will result in much more speedy resolution of the causes of accidents without the enormous expense and the fear factor which have become endemic in the industry, caused largely, I believe, by privatisation, as referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, and my noble friend Lord Faulkner. I welcome its creation.
I also welcome the creation of the Rail Safety & Standards Board, which is completely different. It is the start of self-regulation in the industry. Part of its role includes the development of standards. Together with the European Union's Technical Specifications for Interoperability and Directives 2001/12 and 14—noble Lords will be glad to hear that I shall not go into any more detail on those—it will provide a new framework under which the railways can operate more efficiently, more safely and, I suggest, in a more cost-effective way, if they are allowed to.
At present, there are various estimates about how much the cost of doing anything on the railways has risen, but many people have said that it is at least double the cost under British Rail. Although Network Rail and the Rail Regulator are seeking to reduce and identify the cause of the costs, there is a general acceptance that the supervisory structure of the railway, the over-detailed standards and the way they are implemented are seriously out of balance compared with the application to roads. That is a major cause of such cost increases with very little, if any, safety benefit.
The new structure clearly means that the industry must manage its own safety and other standards and the custom and practice that goes with it. The Health and Safety Executive will become the national authority to ensure that the railways operate safely in accordance with EU and domestic legislation. I believe that that means a change from the structure set up to control the industry at privatisation, where every detail had to be approved, checked and reported on. In turn, that led to Railtrack—in addition to performing extremely badly—introducing a company culture of total avoidance of risk. As I said, that did little for safety, contributed greatly to the cost and added an enormous layer of bureaucracy to no benefit.
I believe that, with the creation of Network Rail, that can and must change. The Bill provides the opportunity for that to happen. I hope that the Government will allow and encourage change. Similarly, the industry must demonstrate its ability to deliver the change. Central to all this is the role of the HSE. It must take a step backwards and upwards to concentrate on its prime role—the avoidance of accidents involving people. There is some evidence that it intends to do that, and I hope that that continues. But it must take into account the similarities and competition with road transport, in terms of both passengers and freight. Therefore, I want to consider the role and responsibilities of the HSE in more detail.
813 The first question is: is the Health and Safety Executive responsible for roads? I heard yesterday from an HSE official at a conference that it was definitely responsible for road maintenance, and rightly so. In a Written Answer which I received on 22nd April 2002, the Government said:Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 places a general duty on employers to conduct their undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of the public".—[Official Report, 22/4/02; col. WA 9.]We all know that. But the Answer went on to say that Section 3 is not enforced where public and worker safety is adequately protected by more specific legislation.
Two things arise from that. I would question whether road is adequately protected by other organisations. But I do not believe that that absolves the Health and Safety Executive from responsibility, even if it has, in my parlance, sub-contracted it. Therefore, I should be pleased to hear some comments from the Minister as to whether I have interpreted that correctly.
Secondly, I am pleased to see that the Rail Safety & Standards Board's objectives will not only cover safety but that it will also be required to promote efficiency and economy on the part of persons providing rail services. Therefore, there is also a reality check in what the board does and that is very welcome.
However, central to the whole issue is the question: what is the value of a human life? I believe that that is the issue against which all new works, maintenance, procedures and standards on the railways should be checked. It is interesting that in February the Department of Transport published a book called Managing the accidental obstruction of the railway by road vehicles. That is rather a dry title, but it is the first time I have ever seen a document suggest, as it does on page 55, that the Department of Transport puts the value of a human life at £1.15 million per life saved on both road and rail. I believe that is significant.
But, at a conference a few months ago, we then heard a statement by Lord Cullen in which he said that we must never have another serious rail accident where 100 people die. I wonder whether he would say the same about an air accident where 100 people were killed or if a large double-decker coach went off the top of a viaduct and everyone was killed. It is a nice thing to say but it is unachievable. One could never totally avoid an accident unless one stopped moving around. I do not believe that Lord Cullen is suggesting that there should be no railways, no roads and no air traffic. Therefore, I suggest that it is impracticable.
The only way to consider this matter is to have the same value for a life saved on road and rail and acceptance from the Health and Safety Executive, the RSSB and others that the 10,000 or so railway standards, the custom and practice and the interpretation of safety law by HSE inspectors should be assessed against those values and nothing else.
I give noble Lords one example. The Health and Safety Executive says that one cannot join two halves of a passenger train in a station because it is unsafe, even 814 though it has been done on the southern region for longer than I have been alive. Such a recommendation may not cost very much but it reduces flexibility, and there is no evidence that anyone has been killed or even injured when such coupling takes place. I believe that one can find thousands of such examples.
Therefore, I would welcome comments from my noble friend about whether the Government are interested in pursuing this line of assessing all standards, safety and regulations on the basis of one value of human life saved across, certainly, road and rail and perhaps other forms of transport as well.
On reporting, the Health and Safety Executive designates much of the railways as "hazardous". I do not know whether it is more hazardous to work on them than on a road—and I doubt whether that is hazardous in the eyes of the HSE. However, the RIDDOR regulations published in 1995 require the reporting of every conceivable occurrence on the railways to the HSE. I shall not read out all 57 pages, but they require the reporting of any case of a train striking a buffer stop where damage is caused to the train. I thought that the role of the HSE was to prevent injury to humans. Surely, the owner of the train and the infrastructure should be concerned about whether the train is damaged.
Furthermore, it is necessary to report whether, if a train strikes cattle or horse, damage is caused to the train. Why should the HSE be interested in that? Surely, the owner of the horse, possibly the police and the owner of the train are interested. As I say, there are 57 pages of regulations. I shall not bore your Lordships with them now, but they need reviewing. I hope that my noble friend will consider that they and similar regulations should be reviewed so that reporting between road and rail is brought in line. I emphasise the fact that the only time one has to report a road accident to the police is when someone is injured.
As regards charges, several noble Lords have raised the question of whether the Health and Safety Executive should be able to propose a levy. The levy consultation was extremely rushed over the Christmas period. I obtained a copy of the HSE consultation report from the Library, which was most helpful, but I do not believe that any of the consultees have received a copy of its results. That is not in line with the Government's consultation processes.
The current method of HSE charging is inefficient and inappropriate, but a levy is not much better. Furthermore, we do not know who is to be levied and on what basis, and who will decide on the amount of the levy. It is not a way of encouraging the HSE to take a step backwards and do less; it is a way of encouraging it to do more and hope that more people can pay for it.
My question is: why should the HSE pay a levy charge? Road transport does not, so why should not the costs of the HSE in relation to railways be similarly funded out of general taxation? I shall return to that matter in Committee. In that, I have the support of the CBI, the FTA and the Railway Industry Association.
815 I would make the same comment in respect of the British Transport Police. I welcome the changes proposed in the Bill, but it is a national police force so why should it not be funded out of general taxation? As the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, said, it does not matter very much because the SRA will pay for all of it. He is right in respect of everything except Rail Freight. Rail Freight is not paid for by the SRA, so it will have to pay for the police, even though only two policemen are allocated to Rail Freight at any one time throughout the country. That is unfair, so the easiest way is for the Government to pay for the lot.
Finally, I shall have something to say about the rest of this lovely publication we received from the Department of Transport in February about cars landing on railways, the subject of the book. Although the book states that whoever is responsible for preventing cars landing on railways should pay the costs of mitigation, it appears that the Highways Agency and Network Rail have come to a cosy agreement whereby each pays 50 per cent. In my simple terms, if cars are to be prevented from landing on railways, it is the job of the highways authorities and the drivers to prevent that occurring and to pay for any mitigating measures, rather than the railways. I shall probably table an amendment on that in Committee.
Like my noble friend Lord Faulkner, I want to pay tribute to Tom Winsor, whose role is Rail Regulator, for his independence. I hope that the new structure will continue that independence with the new board. It is essential for the private sector part of the railway to retain the confidence necessary to attract private sector investment.
In conclusion, although I have raised detailed concerns, I welcome the Bill. I look forward to it completing its stages with a few positive amendments.
§ 12.4 p.m.
§ Lord Dixon-Smith
My Lords, I want to raise three matters. The first is peripheral, but I hope that the Minister will be able to respond to the point I make and set a number of hearts and minds at rest. It relates to the position of the heritage rail associations and their operations.
Heritage railways are a large tourist attraction. They operate on some 450 miles of track and their earnings run into hundreds of millions of pounds. Whether they attract tourists from abroad is a moot point, but they are immensely popular with many people in this country who love railways, love the countryside, or simply want something to do with fractious children during school holidays or weekends. They are serious enterprises. The businesses are run by volunteers and the question is whether they should be burdened with the overhead regulation that applies to the normal railways.
I am aware of two or three such operations. The Colne Valley railway, in my part of the world, operates on about one kilometre of track. The Nene Valley railway operates on about 12 miles of track. The Romney Hythe and Dymchurch railway is a longstanding, narrow gauge but specific tourist attraction.
816 There is a serious question behind all those railway operations which are non-public service but are none the less railways. It may be a matter of technical definition, but can the Minister put at rest my mind and, more importantly, those of many other people as to whether and how much such operations are affected by the Bill and by rail safety regulation generally? I acknowledge that safety must always be an important factor, but should we not establish a specific regime to deal with their particular circumstances?
The second issue I want to raise will come as no surprise to the Minister. It relates to Clause 108. The Explanatory Notes on page 2 explain that:The Bill also contains a miscellaneous section, which makes provision for measures including … a duty on highway authorities to remove ice and snow from roads for which they are responsible".Paragraph 176 of the Explanatory Notes gives the background to that. It states:On 15th June 2000, in the case of Goodes v East Sussex County Council, the House of Lordsour noble and learned friends—decided that the duty of a highway authority, under section 41 of the Highways Act 1980, to maintain a highway did not include a duty to keep the highway safe by preventing ice from forming. They considered that if such a duty were desirable, that would be a matter for Parliament".I am immensely pleased to see the paragraph because it allows us to throw some clarity on the subject, which is of great interest and concern to highways authorities across the country. They would find it useful to have a precise definition of their responsibilities and liabilities.
However, paragraph 175 of the Explanatory Notes states:This clause extends to England and Wales. Clause 108 provides a duty on a highway authority to ensure, so far as is practicable, that safe passage along a highway is not endangered by snow and ice".There is an immediate inconsistency between those two parts of the notes. The Bill repeats the words of paragraph 175, including the words "so far as is reasonably practicable". We have to spend some time in Committee exploring by way of amendment precisely the meaning of those words. I can see why they are there. Local authorities cannot control the weather and would have great difficulty if there was an obligation to prevent the formation of snow and ice on roads. One can think of events last winter where huge problems arose, particularly the event on the M11. One could imagine writs flying around and cases arising as a result of what happened. This is an important matter. It will greatly affect the costs of highway authorities if they are bound to have more and more cases against them.
The third subject relates to the use of drugs in various forms of occupation. I am grateful to the Minister for his exposition at the beginning of the Bill. The Bill deals with the use of alcohol and drugs in both the maritime and aviation sectors. It defines offences for both sectors with great precision in relation to alcohol. I hope the Minister will forgive me raising this, but a few weeks ago on 4th April I introduced a 817 Bill relating to the prevention of driving when under the influence of drugs. The Minister rightly raised the criticism that a great part of the difficulty with that Bill is that of deciding how to measure impairment in relation to drugs. I have considered the wording in this Bill and it does nothing to tackle that specific issue. Subsequently, I spoke to the Minister about that Bill and he gave me the assurance that the Government are working on this matter and hope to bring forward legislation at some future date.
It seems rather peculiar that we should be dealing with the subject of drugs and drug impairment in a piecemeal way. What we have here created is an offence which will be difficult to deal with if we do not tackle the question of impairment or a definition of being affected by drugs. Again, this is a matter which we should explore further in Committee by way of amendment. I shall have to decide precisely how to do that, but the Minister will not be in the least surprised that this particular subject arises once again.
Those are three subjects which are relevant to the Bill. It would be helpful on many fronts if we could deal with those matters and get better definition as a consequence of the passage of the Bill. I welcome the Bill in its entirety, as have all noble Lords who have spoken.
§ 12.13 p.m.
§ Viscount Simon
My Lords, your Lordships will be glad to learn that I do not intend to repeat everything other noble Lords have said. Therefore, I have struck a line through probably about nine-tenths of what I was going to say. Of the one-tenth, half relates to the Bill and the other half does not.
What is the logic between the differing levels for aircrew and engineers when the latter may also be working at night and subject to the additional effects of fatigue as well as alcohol? That seems totally inconsistent. Further, what is the logic of comparing the maritime sector with motorised road users rather than with aviation? Again, that is inconsistent. Why are harbour masters not included in this legislation when air traffic controllers are, as mentioned by the noble Viscount. Lord Astor?
I ceased to be a professional mariner in 1968. A couple of years before then, just prior to taking my master's certificate, we were leaving port—it happened to be in Australia but it could have been here—when the captain was totally and completely incapable through drink. If that happened here under the Bill, or the Act as it will become, who would enforce that? Would it be the harbour master, who is not subject to these regulations on alcohol levels? He might be three times over the limit and could not care a damn. What is the relevance of it?
Similar to the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, the second aspect I want to raise is a total digression from the Bill. A crash on the railway attracts everyone's attention even if there are no injuries or deaths to crew or passengers. Yet a death on the road, even if there are 818 four, five, six, or Heaven knows how many people involved, rarely attracts the attention of the media, except in the local press.
Indications have been given by Ministers that a road safety Bill will be introduced in some future parliamentary Session. It is a pity that that has not already happened. That is to be welcomed, but we must not lose sight of the fact that more people are killed and injured on our roads than by any other form of transport. If only one jumbo jet crashed in this country every month, something would be done. But in effect that is how many people, in rough terms, are killed on our roads every month.
I urge the Government to pay more than lip service to those killed and seriously injured on our roads. The cost savings would be immense and the health service and other government departments would benefit accordingly, as would the country.
§ 12.16 p.m.
§ Lord Greenway
My Lords, several speakers have alluded to the maritime section of the Bill. It will come as no surprise to the Minister or, indeed, to your Lordships, that I shall concentrate my brief remarks on that particular section.
As regards professional seafarers, most shipping companies have in place alcohol policies which are far stricter than those proposed in the Bill. Therefore, concern that the Bill might possibly undermine those have been unfounded. As to recreational seafarers—there have been several mentions of yachtsmen—the Government admitted at the outset when the Minister introduced the Bill in another place that that would present difficulties. The Minister here also alluded to that in his remarks.
I believe that all of us would recognise that blanket enforcement of alcohol policies and breathalysers on the yachting and boating fraternity as a whole would be completely impractical, not to mention hugely expensive. That conjures up some wonderful scenes, with which the cartoonists would have a field day. Imagine, for instance a couple of policemen in a boat observing a yacht innocently tacking its way up ahead. One policeman, reaching for his breathalyser and at the same trying to switch on the blue flashing light says to his colleague, "Come along sarge, full speed ahead. We've got one here".
There are those kind of difficulties and also the fact that unlike cars and trains, boats do not run on roads or rails; they veer all over the ocean. That does not necessarily mean that the occupant at the wheel is incapacitated through alcohol.
I have mentioned exorbitant expense, a matter touched on by the noble Viscount, Lord Astor. Paragraph 105 of the Explanatory Notes, states:The Association of Chief Police Officers has indicated that the slightly increased resource implications for the police would be largely offset by use of current resources such as harbour launches and search and rescue helicopters".I am bound to say that the operators of harbour launches have other duties to perform for much of their time. Harbour authorities would not be too 819 pleased if their boats were commandeered by policemen to chase drunken yachtsmen. On that same subject, rescue helicopters are also exorbitantly expensive if it comes to dealing with any alcohol-related offence.
In his introductory remarks I believe that the Minister said that the Government are taking a proportionate approach. I welcome that. He said that certain types of craft, such as rowing boats, sailing dinghies and narrow boats probably would be excluded. I take great comfort from that. It means that even drunk as a Lord after a heavy night ashore I can still row myself back on board without being prosecuted. As regards Members of your Lordships' House who take part in the annual dinghy race on the River Thames against another place, similarly we will be let off the hook.
As the Minister said, in terms of recreational craft, the measures are aimed primarily at fast motor-boats and personalised water craft, known as jet-skis these days. But I am bound to say that in the 30 or so years that they have been in use, incidents have been remarkably few and far between. Again, I take comfort from the final words in paragraph 105 of the Explanatory Notes. Regarding breath tests, it is envisaged that the numbers required are expected to be low, as would be the number of prosecutions.
The Government are treating this area of the Bill in the correct way. Negotiations are going on with the boating authorities regarding the regulations. I think that everything will hang on the regulations in this instance. We look forward to seeing what they will produce in the long term. In the mean time, the Minister will be pleased to know that at present I have no reason to table any amendments.
§ 12.21 p.m.
§ Lord Clinton-Davis
My Lords, I declare an interest as president of the British Airline Pilots Association. Before I turn to the aspect of aviation, in my view, this Bill is to be warmly welcomed. Passenger safety is of critical importance, whatever the mode of travel. This debate has underlined that aspect.
I turn now to Part 5 which the union has explored in considerable depth for a long period. The union has also had most useful correspondence with the Minister of State to which I shall allude in some detail. BALPA wrote to the Minister suggesting harmonisation with procedures adopted by the Federal Aviation Authority in America and applied in the British helicopter industry over several years. It was suggested that it would be appropriate for there to be 40 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood. Arguments in support of that were advanced. However, I do not propose to elaborate on that today because the Minister chose not to accept that aspect of the submission made by BALPA.
Suffice to say that that is worthy of more consideration and, of course, we shall have an opportunity to do that. But the Minister of State was clearly of the view that as regards air crew an even higher standard—namely, 20 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood—should apply. That applies to 820 train, coach, taxi and lorry drivers, as the Minister of State pointed out in the correspondence. But I am not wholly convinced that this parallel should be applicable. I am not proposing to pursue the same point today, but I think that I shall return to it later.
I want to argue for extensive peer intervention. Indeed, this is not unprecedented. It is applied in the United States through the human intervention and motivation system. It has worked as an alternative to criminal sanctions. Moreover, as the Minister of State pointed out—but it is not generally well known—the CAA utilises a procedure of this kind. In short" what the Minister of State has elaborated on is that peer intervention should be considered as complementary rather than an alternative to the provisions of the Bill. I agree with that approach.
How specifically is peer intervention to be applied evenly throughout the industry? There can all too easily be a disparity of procedure if companies introduce their own safety schemes. In my view, this is to be avoided in favour of a comprehensive application of a workable procedure. This matter should be dealt with in the Bill or by regulation. I await what the Minister has to say about that.
I turn now to the police rights of entry introduced in Clause 95. The present position needs some reinforcement. Equally, there is a need to avoid alarming passengers unduly. It would be best, in my view, that the operator should appoint an agent and that the alleged miscreant should be transferred to a side room. It is there that the police should undertake whatever tests they propose. If the person concerned refuses to co-operate in the aircraft, the police should be able to exercise their right of entry. All that can be dealt with procedurally; but out of sight, out of mind is not a bad dictum to guide us in this regard.
In a minority of cases, there is a danger that a person wrongly suspected, acting through pique or a genuine sense of grievance, would be unable to fly. Should such a situation arise—it cannot be left entirely to the individual in question—there should be a strong presumption that the flight crew should be stood down from that particular duty.
There are other matters concerning aviation which can be left appropriately to Committee stage. In the main, the Bill performs a valuable function regarding aviation.
I turn to certain aspects of the Bill which, as far as railways are concerned, implement some of the recommendations of the reports into the Southall and Ladbroke Grove cases. As others have asked my noble friend before, in what regard are the recommendations not applicable as far as the Bill is concerned?
What, in my view, is of the highest significance is the establishment of the rail accident investigation branch, rather like the Air Accident Investigation Branch. My noble friend Lord Berkeley, with whom I worked closely in opposition on transport matters, emphasised the importance of confidential reporting. I think he is entirely right about that. Incidentally, when at the end of his remarks he referred to cars venturing on to 821 railways, I became vividly concerned that he was referring to cows. However, I have been confidently assured by him that he meant to refer to cars.
As PACTS points out, the enforcement of drug and alcohol legislation comparable to that in place for the roads is of inestimable importance. Having said that, why are the words which apply to air accidents, namely "the sole objective", omitted? In my view, the improvement of the safety of the railways and the prevention of accidents and incidents is all-important.
Perhaps I can ask my noble friend two specific points. What is envisaged will be dealt with by regulations rather than by this Bill, and what does he hope will be achieved by a voluntary application? What do the Government expect will be the result of the European Rail Safety Directive?
In all, the Bill, despite some omissions, advances the cause of safety in significant areas of transport. For that reason, it is worthy of support.
§ 12.33 p.m.
§ Baroness Scott of Needham Market
My Lords, it has been, as ever, a privilege to listen to the contributions of noble Lords on transport. From these Benches, we offer our wholehearted support for the legislation, and assure the Minister that the concerns that we will express during the Bill's passage in no way detract from our support for it. Those concerns are born of a genuine commitment and, in many cases, many years of expertise. I hope that the Government will accept our comments in the spirit in which they are intended.
I start by declaring some interests. I am an elected member of Suffolk County Council, chair of the Local Government Association Transport Executive, a member of the Commission for Integrated Transport and of First Great Eastern's advisory board.
My noble friend Lord Bradshaw has flagged up some of our concerns about the Bill and some of the issues to which we intend to return during the later stages. We need to discuss the precise remit of the rail accident investigation branch and whether the wording of the Bill is exactly right. My noble friend Lord Bradshaw, along with the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, and the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, all referred to the need for greater clarity with regard to the roles of the various organisations involved in rail safety. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, made a powerful point about the need to balance the level of bureaucracy with the delivery of safety. We agree with him that we need to look most carefully at the levy on the rail companies for the Health and Safety Executive. We join the Conservative Benches, the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, and the noble Lord Lord Berkeley, in wishing to look at the powers and exact jurisdiction of the British Transport Police.
I am indebted to my noble friend Lord Mar and Kellie for his insight into marine and aviation issues. I look forward to hearing the Minister's response to the issues raised by the Conservative Benches on the Government's response to the Wheeler report which has a particular salience as far as the Bill is concerned.
822 Noble Lords will not be surprised to hear that local authorities are taking a particular interest in Clause 108 on the clearance of snow and ice. They were expecting legislation later in the year as part of a street works Act. As the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, implied, there are concerns about the exact interpretation of "reasonably practicable" and its implications for finance but, more importantly, the likelihood and nature of court challenge. The fact is, local authorities have detailed winter maintenance plans and, in most local authorities, at most times, they work. It would be a great pity if problematic legislation were to be enacted primarily on the basis of a few days when the system collapsed in a small number of places. I have a fear that these clauses are accompanied by the gentle click of joints as knees jerk throughout the Department for Transport.
I was originally under the impression that this was intended to be a railway Bill only, and I welcome the fact that it is now the Railways and Transport Safety Bill. I take a pragmatic view that parliamentary time, being limited and very precious, should be used to maximum benefit for the public. The opportunity therefore should be taken to include some other measures which have so far not found parliamentary time.
It is of course quite right that the Government and the industry should take an ever-closer look at rail safety following the tragic accidents at Paddington, Southall, Potters Bar and Hatfield. It is vital that passengers are not just as safe as they can possibly be but that they feel safe. The switch from rail to road in the aftermath of those incidents might be understandable but it puts those passengers at much greater risk, given the much greater statistical likelihood of an accident on the road rather than on the railways. We heard some very important figures from the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, the noble Viscount. Lord Astor, and my noble friend Lord Bradshaw. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, made a particularly interesting point on the need for equality and parity in the way that we measure accidents in different modes of transport.
I was particularly interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, refer to recreational railways. I have to confess that I had not given that any thought, so I look forward to hearing more about it.
This country has a good record on highway safety compared with other countries, but that leaves no room for complacency. Each of the 3,500 deaths that occur each year on our roads is a personal tragedy. We on these Benches are looking to the Government to put into practice some of the policies that they outlined in their road safety strategy three years ago. For example, we are still awaiting the regulations on home zones and quiet lanes which were introduced in the Transport Act 2000. I tabled Written Questions on this both last year and this year and was told that the regulations were on their way, but so far we still do not have them. The same applies to camera enforcements of bus lanes outside London—they were also part of the Transport Act and we still do not have them.
823 I am very disappointed that the proposed review of the rural road hierarchy as laid out in the Transport Act 2000 has never taken place. The rural road network is of particular significance in accident reduction. There is a large body of evidence suggesting that the unsuitability of much of the network for the national speed limit of 60 miles an hour is at least partly to blame for these accidents. I am very pleased that PACTS and the Council for the Protection of Rural England are supporting this change.
Another road safety issue is that of the drink-driving limit. Most countries have limits considerably lower than ours, and there is a massive body of evidence to show that the reduction to 50 milligrams has a positive effect, not only on the number of road crashes but on the rate of offending. I join other noble Lords in wanting more clarification, perhaps at a later stage, on the reasoning behind apparent inconsistencies between the limits for different modes of transport. We especially support the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, in his crusade on the issue of drugs and driving.
There are three other road-based issues that I shall raise. Two of these relate to the power of the Traffic Commissioners. Firstly, there are a number of circumstances in which heavy goods vehicles can be impounded, some of which are safety related. However, a loophole in the legislation means that vehicles that are on hire cannot be impounded. It is not unreasonable to suggest that hired vehicles are, if anything. more likely to be in breach of the rules, yet the sanction of impounding is not available.
Secondly, we wish to consider the question of extending the powers of the Traffic Commissioner with regard to heavy goods operating centres. Currently, most sites do not require planning permission in order to become licensed for HGV use, and therefore the local authority has no remit in the matter. The Traffic Commissioners have only powers to take into account the site itself and its immediate access on to the road network. In other words, provided that the immediate access is deemed to be safe, it does not matter how unsuitable or dangerous the rest of the road network might be—no one has the power to do anything about it. That is a situation that needs urgent rectification.
My final point is, I have to admit, only tangentially related to highway safety, but I hope nevertheless that your Lordships might feel moved to support me. It is the question of vehicular use of motorised vehicles on national trails. Whatever the current law allows, it seems unreasonable to most people that vehicles can travel on some of our most ancient and best loved recreational trails, such as the Ridgeway. For most people who walk, the great pleasure is in escaping from wheeled vehicles. Their presence on these routes is objectionable to most people, and the mixing of walkers, cyclists and horses with vehicles on these routes is at least potentially dangerous.
I hope that your Lordships do not object to my raising some of these issues in the context of this Bill. It is a subject on which I have some strong and passionate beliefs, for which I make no apology. Some 824 five years ago, a close friend received the phone call that every parent dreads. His 15-year-old daughter had been knocked down on her way back from school by a vehicle travelling at 60 miles an hour in a 30 milean-hour limit. For weeks, she clung to life, and after that her long-term prospects did not look good. However, the determination of her parents, the very special care that she received at the head injuries unit at Tadworth in Surrey, and above all her own spirit, mean that today she leads an almost normal life. However, having observed at close hand the misery represented by every single one of the statistics to which we refer, I cannot remain neutral on the matter.
I wish the Bill well.
§ 12.43 p.m.
§ Lord Luke
My Lords, we have had a most refreshing debate. As so often happens in your Lordships' House, speeches have reflected the knowledge and expertise that is the great strength of the House.
I simply want to reiterate some of the points made by the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, and other speakers. My noble friend asked a large number of questions, and I hope that the Minister will be able to answer most of them.
There is no doubt that the confidence of the general public in the safety of travel by rail was very badly shaken by the series of fatal disasters, in particular in Southall, Ladbroke Grove, Hatfield and Potters Bar. Statistics show how relatively safe rail travel is compared to the roads" but the public perception has been otherwise. Why is that? The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, had the answer—it is because rail disasters always become media events, and casualties sadly tend to be extensive. Far greater numbers die overall in accidents on the roads, but they get little media coverage, unless the incident is a multi-vehicle smash on a motorway, with a correspondingly large number of casualties.
As a result of those accidents, various investigations have taken place and weaknesses have been revealed that this Bill seeks to remedy. The Cullen inquiry made a large number of recommendations to the Health and Safety Executive, many of which have already been acted on. The proposed rail accident investigation branch, which everyone welcomes, is an eminently sensible development and the main plank of the Bill. Incidentally, we are pleased that the RAIB will produce an annual report of its activities.
As my noble friend said, our party regards the Bill as largely uncontroversial, as was reflected in another place on Second Reading. However, we shall address some details in Committee and I shall mention some of our concerns now.
My noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith referred to the Heritage Railway Association, which is important from a tourism point of view, especially as regards English rather than foreign tourists. It must be a moot point how much small, slow railways should be subject to rail safety regulations designed for very different railway conditions.
825 Part 2 of the Bill provides for a new regulatory board to replace the Rail Regulator, in line with standard practice for regulating utilities. We notice that the functions will remain the same.
Part 3 deals with British Transport Police, as mentioned by several of your Lordships, and particularly the jurisdiction boundaries. British Transport Police are not very happy with those proposals, and we shall explore that issue in Committee.
Part 4 deals with the statutory alcohol and drugs limits for crews of water-borne vessels in UK waters. That particular item has been discussed by more noble Lords than any other during the debate. I understand that the enforcement of the new regulations will be similar to that for drink-drivers on the roads, but passengers in cars who might have to take over in an emergency are not subject to drink-drive testing, whereas stand-by crew members on a ship are. However, crewmen of lifeboats are on permanent stand-by. Can they never, ever, have a glass of beer? Enforcement of the marine limits on drink in port should present no particular problem, but how does a police launch deal with a 55,000-ton container ship that is yawing all over the Solent? Do pilots have a role in that? There is also a proposal to extend the regulations to amateurs, but how does one define a fast motor boat or a cruiser? There is, I admit, a good case for jet skis being included in the Bill, as they are very dangerous articles. I also have a horrific vision of police launches descending on Henley Royal Regatta—not on the rowers but on the launches, which are a feature of that event.
I am glad that the Government will consult as to where lines will be drawn and hope that common sense will prevail. As the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, stated, a proportionate regime is required.
Part 5 lays down the alcohol and drug limits for air crew and all those involved in aircraft movements. I am surprised that that had not been done before. Like everyone else, we all thoroughly approve of those measures.
The Bill seeks to do a great deal to make travel safer for us all, but it must not be considered to be a panacea for all causes of accident and incident. In the end, however good the precautions and clever the technology, it will come down to the human element. Therefore, there is no substitute for rigorous training and the best possible supervision.
Technology is improving all the time and to update it always costs companies and governments far more than they feel able to afford. However, the public will not tolerate accidents occurring because of underfunding of relevant, new technological advances that are aimed at, and capable of, saving life.
I look forward to the Minister's reply to this excellent debate and conclude by wishing the Bill a fair wind from these Benches.
§ 12.50 p.m.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. It has, as always, been well informed, but on this occasion, it has been entirely constructive and supportive of the Bill. I am immensely grateful for that.
Due to the large number of questions that were raised and in order not to detain your Lordships from their lunch—at least, those noble Lords who do not have to take part in the debate on the next Bill—I propose a hierarchy in the way in which I shall respond. Where there were questions about the content of the Bill, I shall do my best to respond to them in as much detail as is necessary. Where there were questions which were not about matters in the Bill but which sought reassurance or information, I shall do my best to respond, but some questions were some way from the subject matter of the Bill. Where markers were put down for amendments in Committee on matters that are not included in the Bill at the moment, I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if I wait to see the whites of their eyes. I will address those matters in Committee rather than now. Otherwise, I will address the Bill in the order in which it is printed.
I turn first to the rail accident investigation branch. I am grateful for the welcome that was given to it and, in light of the fact that it was one of Lord Cullen's recommendations, I am sure that it is acceptable.
The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, asked which of Lord Cullen's recommendations were accepted. There were 295 recommendations from the Ladbroke Grove and Southall reports, some of which overlapped. My understanding is that 179 of them have already been met.
The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, asked whether I could assure him of the independence of the rail accident investigation branch. Yes, it is fully independent of the Strategic Rail Authority and the Office of the Rail Regulator, as Cullen recommended. It will be responsible for its own conclusions and recommendations.
The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, asked who would be responsible for prosecutions. The whole idea of the rail accident investigation branch is to produce a quick report so that safety recommendations can be implemented quickly without allocating blame. The more detailed investigation and any subsequent prosecution would remain with the police and the Health and Safety Executive.
The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, asked why the phrase "wherever relevant" is in the provisions for the rail accident investigation branch. Our idea is that there may be occasions when the rail accident investigation branch is called on to help the Air Accident Investigation Branch and the Marine Accident Investigation Branch. That phrase will enable them to do so.
There has been some confusion—but not in this House—about the relationship between the rail accident investigation branch and other bodies. I wrote to the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, and the noble 827 Viscount, Lord Astor, about that. Now that I know who has taken part in the Second Reading debate, it might be helpful if I copied that letter to all those noble Lords. The important point is that the Bill does not alter the statutory basis of the Health and Safety Executive, which is, and will remain, the rail safety regulator.
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, pointed out that the Health and Safety Executive should concentrate on prevention, but it must also take action in respect of breaches of health and safety regulation. That is true not only for the railways, but also for wherever it operates. I confirm to him that the Health and Safety Executive has an overarching brief for health and safety wherever there is not more precise sector legislation, which can be more detailed and effective. All of the other bodies remain unchanged, but the new body will be the rail safety and standards board. That will be an industry body which sets operating standards. That is accountable to its membership, which is drawn from the rail industry. There is no conflict with the rail accident investigation branch.
Turning to the general rail safety issues, I agree with a number of noble Lords who confirmed that rail is one of the safest forms of road transport. I was struck by the remark that it is more dangerous to get to the station than it is to travel on the train. Travel by rail is six times safer than travel by car.
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, made some points about the reporting of accidents. That is a matter for the Health and Safety Executive and we are anxious to maintain its independence from government.
The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, asked about the European safety directive. That is still being debated by the European Parliament, but any regulations that are enacted after Royal Assent will comply with the directive.
There was a general welcome for the change in the structure of the Office of the Rail Regulator and there were tributes to the work of Tom Winsor, the Rail Regulator. I can confirm that the change in structure is in no way to be interpreted as a criticism of Tom Winsor. It is planned not to take place before the middle of next year, which is the end of Tom Winsor's term of office. There are no other changes in the functions and duties of the Office of the Rail Regulator.
I turn to the British Transport Police. There was a general welcome for the change in its governance, but some specific questions. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, asked why the authority should not appoint its own chairman. The Secretary of State is appointing all the members of the authority. It would be a little odd for him to delegate the appointment of the chairman to a body that he had appointed himself. If I were asked to be appointed to a body of that kind, I would want to know who the chairman was before deciding whether to accept. I would want the chairman to have some say in the appointment of the other members. He could not do that unless he were appointed first.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, I declare an interest as a trustee of the National Portrait Gallery. The 828 arrangement recommended by my noble friend Lord Bradshaw is well understood and accepted in the museum and galleries world.
§ Lord Bradshaw
My Lords, I have been a member of a police authority for a long time. I think that we have changed chairmen four times. It emerged from the membership that they wanted a change of leadership and that in a closely knit body some people are better than others.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
Indeed, my Lords. That could happen. I have no doubt that if it did, the members of the authority would make their views known to the Secretary of State. We are talking about a new authority. I hope that we would wish the chairman of the new authority to have some say in the appointment of the other members.
My noble friend Lord Faulkner asked whether the British Transport Police could appoint community support officers. The chief constable has not raised that matter with us in the past. Clearly, any such request will be considered seriously.
A number of points were raised—notably by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, and my noble friend Lord Berkeley—about the funding of the British Transport Police. It has been funded by the railway industry ever since its creation in the 19th century. It is not really equivalent to the funding of the police on the roads because we do not have a roads police. We have police who cover roads and other matters. They are funded by general taxation, which includes vehicle excise duty and fuel duty from motorists and the road transport industry. So the comparison and the demand for equivalence is not really appropriate. In any event, we are talking about a budget of £136 million, which is less than 2 per cent of the rail industry's turnover and excludes London Underground.
My noble friend Lord Berkeley made a specific point regarding the rail freight industry. Freight operators will pay about £1 million in 2003–04, which is less than 1 per cent of the British Transport Police's total budget and far less than 0.1 per cent of the freight companies' turnover.
The noble Viscount. Lord Astor, the noble Lords, Lord Bradshaw and Lord Luke, my noble friend Lord Faulkner, and no doubt other noble Lords, referred to jurisdiction outside the railways. The position is that the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act gave the British Transport Police jurisdiction outside the railways in urgent situations on non-railway matters. The Act, following serious debate—perhaps I may put it that way—in Parliament included a sunset clause. It provides that the Secretary of State should appoint a committee of Privy Counsellors who must report within two years—that is, by December this year. The Secretary of State will lay a copy of the report before Parliament as soon as possible; and the report can operate so that all or part of the Act can cease to have effect six months after the report is laid 829 before Parliament. But if both Houses of Parliament pass a Motion within that period, then the provisions in question will remain on the statute book.
We do not want to pre-empt what the committee of Privy Counsellors will say on this or on any other matter on the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act. Having made that provision, it would be wrong for us to pre-empt its decision in response to strong pressure within Parliament. However, first, we believe that it is highly unlikely that the committee of Privy Counsellors will think that the jurisdiction outside the railways should not continue; and, secondly, if by any chance the committee of Privy Counsellors do so decide, we shall take action in the six-month period which is allowed to ensure that it does continue. Therefore, there will be continuity. I do not believe any amendment is necessary on that matter.
We have had little discussion of the amendments to the Greater London Authority Act. Because of its complexity, I am grateful for that. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, asked me when the transfer will take place. We are keen for it to take place as soon as possible. But, for the reasons that I have given, we need the Bill in order to ensure that the PPP contracts will continue as intended, and as intended originally in the Greater London Authority Act. The transfer cannot take place until the Bill is passed. Transport for London is involved in all these negotiations. It will give any assurances that are required.
There was generally—but not universally—a current of feeling that the Health and Safety Executive functions for the rail industry should not be charged to the rail industry. My noble friend Lord Berkeley made the comparison with roads. We are now talking about a figure only of £9 million cost, of which 55 per cent is for operational work that is being charged hourly. These are very small sums in relation to the costs of the rail industry. The Bill simplifies and improves the ways in which those sums are calculated.
On marine alcohol, I was shocked to hear the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, suggest that anyone who takes part in the Lords and Commons dinghy race might be under the influence of drink. I look to him for an "absolute assurance"—because that is how governments are always asked for assurances—that that is not the case. Of course the issue of who should be included or excluded is difficult. That is why we are consulting on the details rather than laying it down in the Bill. The noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, would wish for no exclusions; the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, poured scorn on that suggestion: I shall leave it to them to fight it out.
As to the question of harbour masters, they will be subject to the legislation when they are acting in a professional capacity on board a boat, but not otherwise. There are no equivalents to harbour masters and air traffic controllers. The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, raised the question of costs. They are set out in the regulatory impact assessment. However, I can give him a general assurance that they are not very significant.
830 The noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, made specific points about the medical defence for fishermen. Those provisions are unchanged from Section 117 of the Merchant Shipping Act. As to the point raised about standbys, who are people who must hold themselves ready to take over in a case of an emergency, clearly, that is not possible for lifeboats and fishing vessels.
I shall not comment about the demand, in particular from the Liberal Democrat Benches, for a decrease in the alcohol limit from 80 milligrams to 50 milligrams. We shall respond to any amendments that are tabled.
The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, asked me about our response to the Wheeler report. I shall write to him on that point.
§ Viscount Astor
My Lords, before the Minister leaves the subject of alcohol limits, what is the justification for different limits rather than one limit for all those involved in safety?
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I had intended to turn to that matter. We propose that the alcohol limit should be set at 20 milligrams for air crew and air traffic controllers. The reason is that a combination of concentration, unremitting attention and exceedingly swift reaction is required for air crew and air traffic controllers. That is why we have set a tougher limit. That does not apply—this is in response to the point raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Simon—to aircraft maintenance engineers. They of course have to be sober to do their work, but speed of reaction is not critical in aircraft maintenance work any more than it is in any other vehicle maintenance work.
My noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis suggested that we should adopt a process of peer intervention, as happens in the United States. I was glad to hear him suggest that it should be complementary to statutory limits rather than instead of them. In so far as it is complementary, it should be a matter for the Civil Aviation Authority rather than for legislation. But testing and the exercise of breathalyser powers should be and will be the responsibility of the police under the Act.
This is not a road safety Bill. We have a legislative programme and we shall have in due course, when parliamentary time allows, a road safety Bill. Out of the goodness of our hearts, and because we were already convinced of the merits of the case, we allowed two road safety measures—on seat belts for van drivers and on snow and ice—into the Bill in another place, but I do not want to encourage a Christmas tree. I do not want to encourage a whole range of other measures.
I listened carefully to what was said about mobile phones. We are consulting on that and will report on our conclusions as soon as possible. I listened to what was said about the 80 milligram limit. We said no to that, giving our reasons, last March—on the basis that with a slightly higher limit, we also have significantly higher penalties than countries with lower limits.
On the specific points made by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, the Heritage Rail Association is of course covered for accidents, as I am sure that he 831 would want it to be, but for many other aspects of regulation, it is not covered by public service agreements. However, it is represented on the Health and Safety Commission. On the issue of snow and ice, the phrase "reasonably practicable" follows that used in Scotland, where it seems to work all right. I gave my answer to the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, about driving under impairment from drugs when I responded to his Private Member's Bill. I have nothing to add to that.
As I said, because I have exceeded any reasonable time, I shall resist the temptation to respond to those other matters that are not contained in the Bill, but of course they will be given due and careful consideration if and when they arise in Committee. I am grateful to noble Lords for their welcome for the Bill and I commend it to the House.
§ On Question, Bill read a second time.