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Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington): I echo the condolences expressed by the Secretary of State and the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) to the families affected, and their supportive statements about the

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emergency services. The Secretary of State said that this is a one-off incident, but we need to await the Health and Safety Executive's comments. What is clear, however, is that signals were apparently not involved. I wonder whether he is considering reviewing the use of SPADs—signals passed at danger—as the key safety performance indicator.

If this incident is shown to be linked to the management of contractors—a key concern in the leaked, overdue Hatfield report, and in the Cullen report—or to contractors' ability to obtain the necessary skilled staff, or to the inconsistent safety standards that the Cullen report also highlighted, would the Secretary of State agree that the incident perhaps constitutes not a one-off, but one of several such incidents? Will the Secretary of State confirm when he intends to introduce safety legislation to deal with such issues, and will he use that as an opportunity to update the House on the progress that is being made on the different recommendations emerging from the Hatfield report, Lord Cullen's inquiry, and Professor Uff's inquiry?

Finally, does the Secretary of State now have confidence in the information provided to him by Railtrack concerning this particular set of points? He said that gauge corner cracking was present in the vicinity of the relevant section of track, but can he confirm whether it was present on that particular section?

Mr. Byers: The hon. Gentleman raises several points. In terms of judging safety, SPADs have been regarded as effective, but I am always open to suggestions on the ways in which safety might be improved. An important part of learning lessons on improving safety is always to reflect on what might offer the best performance indicator.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned concerns about contractors. Without expressing a view on what the investigation may reveal in this case, I agree with him that the Cullen report made some clear recommendations about contractors, and I am concerned that not enough progress is being made on their implementation. On 1 May, I wrote to the chairman of the Health and Safety Commission, asking him to report to me by the end of May on the progress made on Cullen's recommendations—a point that I reinforced when I met him this morning. This is a crucial issue, irrespective of what the investigations into this case might discover. Progress must be made on the Cullen report's recommendations.

We regard the safety Bill as a priority, but I cannot pre-empt what might appear in the Queen's Speech later this year. The hon. Gentleman raised specific points about whether gauge corner cracking was present on that particular site. I refer him back to my statement, because that contained the latest information that I received from Railtrack, just 40 minutes before I came into the Chamber. It said that gauge corner cracking had been identified on rails in the vicinity in September 2001. I will be more than happy to inform the hon. Gentleman, the hon. Member for Maidenhead and other right hon. and hon. Members about the exact location of gauge corner cracking when I receive further information, but neither Railtrack nor the railway inspectorate believes that it was a factor in the incident.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): My right hon. Friend will be aware that this latest dreadful

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accident has shaken the confidence of the public in what is manifestly a safe rail system. It therefore behoves the House of Commons to ensure that we take urgent action to restore that confidence. Is he prepared to call together Railtrack, the companies, the Health and Safety Executive and the railway inspectorate to ensure that the whole system of employment of contractors is looked at urgently, because there have been constant rumours about the time taken to obtain classification and qualifications, as well as about the employment of unskilled labour? If the rail system is to be returned to its proper safety level, the public demand is for clear accountability. We should no longer have to wait for reports from accident inspectors, and from those concerned with day-to-day maintenance of safety on the railways, before urgent action is taken.

Mr. Byers: I understand the concerns expressed by my hon. Friend and her Select Committee has drawn our attention to those points in relation to the maintenance of the railway network. There are real concerns about the use of contractors and, in some cases, sub-contracted labour. We do not know the particular circumstances in relation to Potters Bar, but I have just been handed a letter that has been faxed to me by the company secretary of Jarvis, a Mr. Mason, in which he says that all the inspections of those particular points


Clearly, the matter will need to be investigated, but that is a direct quotation from a letter that I have just received from the company secretary of Jarvis.

Irrespective of the outcome of the investigations and what happened in this case, Cullen identified an issue in relation to the use of contract staff. As I say, I have asked the chair of the Health and Safety Commission to report to me by the end of this month on procedures that he will put in place with the industry. I met him this morning and reinforced that point. Genuine concerns exist and must be addressed, irrespective of the outcome of the investigations of this derailment.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere): I thank the Secretary of State for his invitation on Saturday and for the co-operation of his office. As the Member of Parliament most directly affected, I join him in extending condolences to all those who have lost loved ones in the accident. Our thoughts must be with them at this time.

I also join the Secretary of State in the tribute he paid to the railway staff, including those stationed at Potters Bar railway station, and to the emergency services—the Hertfordshire police, ambulance and fire services, as well as other members of the services—who attended so promptly and skilfully, and so professionally. Their skill has been commended by all who witnessed the terrible sights at Potters Bar. I also join in his tribute to the members of the public who helped in the moments immediately after the accident. People in the vicinity of the station, on the platform and in local shops and businesses did everything they could to help. The emergency services were also supported and helped by members of the local voluntary services.

Will the Secretary of State bear it in mind that, in the midst of their sorrow, people in Potters Bar and other

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users of that extremely busy line are naturally concerned that this tragic incident took place close to the site of another tragic incident at Hatfield? They now want a high degree of reassurance. Does the Secretary of State agree that such reassurance can best be provided by the fullest possible answers to the questions how and why that tragic incident came about? It has left my constituents with the sorry spectacle of that carriage lodged in the middle of their railway station after it had travelled down the platform. My constituents never want to see such a sight again—in Potters Bar or anywhere else—and hope that every possible lesson can be learned from this incident.

Mr. Byers: Once again, may I say how grateful I was that the hon. Gentleman was able to join me in both visiting the scene on Saturday and meeting members of the local fire service who carried out such heroic work? We were both amazed at the modesty of individual firemen, who saw such work as part of their job. Having seen the scale of what happened, it is a remarkable compliment to them that they see such work as part of what they do. The hon. Gentleman is also right to point out the important role of the voluntary services in such situations.

I fully understand the concerns felt by people in Potters Bar, which is just a few miles south of Hatfield. The situation is different, however; Hatfield was a generic problem as regards the network. All the information available thus far is that that is not the case on this occasion.

The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that people will want answers to the question: how did this occur? It is now becoming clear how the incident occurred, but we do not know why. The investigation will now have to focus on that aspect. The hon. Gentleman is also right to point out that if we are to regain the confidence of the travelling public, they will want answers to those clear and appropriate questions.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): Is my right hon. Friend aware that there has been universal acclaim on both sides of the House for the efforts of those public services, in Potters Bar and elsewhere, that managed to save lives and help the families of those who lost people in that horrific accident? Is not it time—especially after this Secretary of State's action on Railtrack, which caused fury among the Opposition—that there were more people in the public services? That would be wonderful. As a start, perhaps when the inquiry has been held, the Secretary of State might consider taking over the infrastructure of Railtrack and all the rest of it—together with the maintenance—and getting rid of Jarvis and all the subcontractors, who, without doubt, probably played a part in the matter.


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