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28 Jan 2003 : Column 770continued
Alan Simpson: Can the Secretary of State clarify a point about high-speed trains and safety beyond the 70 mph limit of the train protection warning system? What safety protection mechanisms will be put in place on high-speed trains, as we clearly have to plan for their safety as well?
Mr. Darling: My hon. Friend is right that the basic train protection system will prevent trains from travelling at more than 70 mph. The train protection warning system plus, as it is known, will stop trains that are travelling at 100 mph. If a train is going faster than that, what happens will depend on a number of things, including signalling. That is usual. The point that I was making to my hon. Friend and to the House generally is that if there was in Europe a system that was better and ready for use, of course the Government would be prepared to consider it. The problem is that when comparing the railways in Britain with railways in continental Europe, we often find that we are dealing with completely different structures and different sorts of railways. It is unfortunate that it was suggested to Lord Cullen during his inquiry that there was an off-the-shelf system ready to be adapted, because it simply does not exist. By contrast, the train protection warning system does exist. Indeed, I can tell the House that the number of signals passed at danger is at the lowest level since records began. That can be attributed to two factorsfirst, the train protection warning system will simply stop a train and, secondly, drivers, and the industry generally, are paying greater attention to the need to observe the signals and to react appropriately.
Mr. Don Foster (Bath): I entirely agree with the Secretary of State's decision that it is sensible to wait for ERTMS level 2, rather than to rush ahead with ERTMS level 1. However, can he reassure people that TPWS and TPWS plus, although designed to work for trains travelling at up to 70 mph and up to 100 mph
Mr. Darling: The hon. Gentleman is rightwe are in complete agreement on that. If he would like to modify the press release that he put out earlier today to take account of that agreement, I should be grateful to him. That would save me having to put out a rebuttal of the Liberal Democrats' position.
Mr. Brady: Before the right hon. Gentleman moves on from the powers of investigation, will he address the point that arises in relation to clause 7(1)(b), which appears to provide investigators with a pretty open-ended power of entry to domestic dwellings? Several hundreds of my constituents live alongside railway lines. I cannot see why a provision for a warrant would not be appropriate to protect people's privacy and property.
Mr. Darling: If the hon. Gentleman is lucky enough to be included in the Committee of Selection's nominations for the Committee on the Bill, that is a point that he may wish to pursue. I agree that the granting of permission to enter people's property should be used sparingly. I urge the hon. Gentleman to take the opportunity that will be afforded to him when the Bill is in Committee to ensure that it is sufficiently tightly drawn to avoid unnecessary intrusion but still allows the investigation branch to carry out its work properly. In the past, investigators have sometimes found that their progress and ability to find things out quickly have been stymied because they could not get access. Without saying that that would happen, there are occasions where we must bear in mind that somebody might seek to conceal something, and it is important that investigators should be able to get access as quickly as possible. If the hon. Gentleman is concerned about that, the Committee is the place for him to be.
Lawrie Quinn: Before my right hon. Friend moves on to part 3, I want to ask him a question about part 1. Will he and his officialsif not now, before the Bill reaches Committeeconsider the need for definitions as regards what is an accident and what is an incident? As someone who spent 19 years working in the railway industry, I know that that is an important issue. I guess that the branch would declare whether it was an accident or an incident, but it would be helpful to the work of the branch to include such a definition in the Bill.
Mr. Darling: My hon. Friend will no doubt have looked at the Bill, and will be aware that it gives a fair amount of latitude to the chief inspector as to what he investigates. In some cases it would be mandatory; in others there would be a discretion. A similar situation applies in relation to the air and marine branches, both
Mr. Clapham: I refer the Secretary of State to the fact that at the present time the provisions of the Health and Safety Executive and RIDDORthe Reporting of Injuries, Disease and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations apply. Does he believe that those regulations, which call for the reporting of dangerous occurrences, could be a help in defining what is an accident and what is an incident?
Mr. Darling: That is possible, but as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Lawrie Quinn) a moment ago, there is sufficient latitude under clause 6 to allow the chief inspector to take a decision as to whether or not he ought to investigate. The circumstances that might lead to his investigation would depend on the information that he had before him, and existing health and safety legislation would be of help. Again, if hon. Members feel that the situation could be improved, of course the Government are open to their suggestions.
Part 3 relates to the British Transport police, and, as I said, I can deal with it in short order. A modern police service should be accountable to an independent police authority. Clause 17 allows that to be established. At present, the SRA appoints the board, but it would be better if the board were independent, and the Bill makes sure that it is. It also makes sure that the police force no longer relies on contracts with different operators as a basis for its jurisdiction. Clause 29 puts the British Transport police's jurisdiction over the railways in England, Scotland and Wales on a clear and wholly statutory basis for the first time in its history. That is a welcome step forward.
As a matter of principle, we believe that the railway industry should pay the costs of policing services. We also believe that the same approach should apply to the Health and Safety Executive, so the Bill will enable the HSE to levy costs from its rail-related activities on the rail industry. For the industry, that has the advantage that it will know up-front how much it has to pay.
I shall deal briefly with part 2, as the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), who speaks for the Liberals, expressed such great interest in the matter. Part 2 provides that the Office of the Rail Regulator should be restructured. The rail regulator is working well, but we want to take this opportunity to bring the railways into line with other regulated industries, replacing the individual regulator with a regulatory board, which is consistent with the recommendations of the Better Regulation Task Force.
Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside): What impact does my right hon. Friend expect the provisions of the Bill to have on incidents such as the one currently being investigated by British Airways, in which a pilot who was allegedly affected by alcohol was about to fly a plane over the weekend, but was stopped because of the action of passengers?
The principle has long been accepted that we ought to have measures to reduce the effect of drinking on the number of accidents. That has been accepted for many years in relation to road accidents. It is interesting that when breath tests for drivers were introduced in 1967, it was reckoned that fatalities were reduced by about 800 a year. The measure was controversial at the time, but the principle is now accepted without question. I believe that a similar approach needs to be extended to both marine and aviation activities.
I shall speak about marine activities first, so if the hon. Gentleman's question is about marine activities, I shall deal with it. Aviation activities are slightly different, and I intend to return to that topic.