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House of Lords

Wednesday, 27th October 1999.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Oxford.

Lord Grabiner

Anthony Stephen Grabiner, Esquire, QC, having been created Baron Grabiner, of Aldwych in the City of Westminster, for life--Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Browne-Wilkinson and the Lord Levy.

Lord Sharman

Colin Morven Sharman, Esquire, OBE, having been created Baron Sharman, of Redlynch in the County of Wiltshire, for life--Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Razzall and the Lord Clement-Jones.

Lord Londesborough --Sat first in Parliament after the death of his father.

Viscount Hambleden --Took the Oath.

Rail Safety

2.48 p.m.

Lord Janner of Braunstone asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they will take to enforce the provisions of Section 37 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 in relation to the personal responsibility of directors and managers concerning rail safety.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): My Lords, responsibility for enforcement under Section 37 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 on issues concerning railway safety falls to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the executive arm of the Health and Safety Commission. The HSC's published enforcement policy statement sets out circumstances when the enforcing authorities, including the HSE, should consider prosecution. The enforcing authorities should identify and prosecute, or recommend prosecution of individuals, including company directors and managers, if they consider that a conviction is warranted and can be secured. Health and safety prosecutions may be brought only when there is sufficient evidence to offer a realistic prospect of conviction.

Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Does he accept that where it can be proved that a director or manager of

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Railtrack or any other company is personally responsible for the tragedy of Ladbroke Grove, then that individual should be held to account? Do the Government accept that it is not good enough to prosecute the corporation, which will have no problem in paying the penalty? Do they further accept that if we are to have the safety which passengers are entitled to expect, individuals on the boards and senior executives of the companies concerned should accept their responsibilities for safety and should be held to account when they do not perform their duties in a proper way?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, in replying to my noble friend, I should preface my remarks by saying that I am making a general point; I am not referring to any particular company or incident. Clearly in the health and safety area, it is vitally important that managers and directors take responsibility for the health and safety culture and decisions within their companies. If they are found to be directly responsible for breaches of safety procedures, they should be prosecuted. Under the present procedures, matters are more complex and the number of individual prosecutions is relatively limited. We are reviewing the situation.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, when the Statement about the Ladbroke Grove incident was made in the House on 11th October, I asked what categories of trains carried black-box recorders. At that time the Minister did not know the answer and said that he would write to me. More than two weeks have elapsed and I have not received a reply. So I put again the question. What kinds of trains carry black-box recorders--which were mentioned when the Statement was made--in order to help trace responsibility for accidents?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I apologise on behalf of my noble friend if the noble Lord has not received a reply. The answer to his question is difficult to ascertain. Black boxes are not standard fitments to all trains and one has to gather the information from the companies. I shall ensure that the noble Lord receives a reply as soon as possible.

Lord Marsh: My Lords, does the Minister accept that even though the railways remain one of the safest forms of transport available, no one will ever provide a totally safe railway system? No one will ever provide a totally safe hospital system, a totally safe farming industry, or even a totally safe private home, no matter how much one spends on it. Is it not high time that we stopped this massive speculation, sat back and waited for the report of a sensible inquiry?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I have some sympathy with the noble Lord's final remarks. It is very important that these incidents are investigated and that speculation does not prejudice any inquiries. The inquiries into the Southall and Paddington incidents are continuing. We shall need to assess the conclusions that are reached. It is right to underline the noble

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Lord's initial remark that the railway system in this country during recent years has been very safe. Last year there were no fatalities at all on the railway system. While the Ladbroke Grove accident was an absolute tragedy, we need to keep matters in perspective.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, can my noble friend indicate the last occasion when a director or manager was prosecuted in connection with any incident affecting rail safety?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I have no record of any individual railway company director being prosecuted. Under the present law and procedures, the total number of directors across the board who have been prosecuted for breaches of health and safety regulations is very small. Understandably, most cases are brought against companies, in the railway sector as elsewhere.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, I have some sympathy with the trend of the question of the noble Lord, Lord Janner. However, does the Minister agree that there is a danger that the investigation into, and the rectification of, the causes of an accident can be delayed while a prosecution is being pursued?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, that possibility has been taken into account by Ministers and by Lord Cullen. There have been previous instances of delay. That was one of the reasons why we were reviewing the safety aspects of all modes of transport well before the accident took place. We hope to reach conclusions which will take into account the lessons of the current inquiries.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, can the Minister assure the House that when the Secretary of State exercises his functions he will apply the same tests of the ratio of costs versus safety benefits to all modes of transport?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the noble Earl knows that his question is more complex than it at first sounds. We were looking at the whole aspect of transport safety across the modes precisely because some of the calculations and implications differ. It is an assessment issue as well as a procedural issue on which we hope to reach conclusions before too long.

Lord Islwyn: My Lords, as regards rail safety, has the Minister taken note that following the privatisation of British Rail much of its maintenance work, previously carried out by British Rail employees, was handed over to private contractors? I am reliably informed that this led to a good deal of delay and indecision in dealing with safety issues. This applies particularly to rail safety committees. Will the Minister look into the matter?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, my colleagues and I have received similar reports in regard to maintenance and

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other safety matters. One should not make an ideological point on this issue. As my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister has pointed out, until the tragedy the railway companies were improving their safety record, both through and after privatisation. It is not primarily a matter of the ownership of the companies. However, it is clearly important in this area, as in others, to establish where responsibility lies. If it rests with the board of directors, that should be recognised. More generally, the Law Commission has looked at the possibility of corporate manslaughter and the Home Office will shortly issue a consultation document on that and related issues.

Individual Savings Accounts

2.57 p.m.

Lord Barnett asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their policy with regard to advertisements for individual savings account investments.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, advertisements for individual savings account investments are currently regulated either under the Financial Services Act 1986 or are subject to the Banking and Building Society Codes of Conduct. The Financial Services Authority has worked closely with the banking and building society associations to ensure that comparable information is given in all ISA advertisements. The Government welcome this work by the authority in order to protect the financial interests of investors.

Lord Barnett: My Lords, I am obliged to my noble friend for that Answer. Is he aware that at the moment many such adverts seem to be deliberately misleading? I use the term objectively.

I have with me an advert--it is similar to many others--which states in very large bold print that there is a 9 per cent yield, tax free; underneath, in small print, it refers to projected yield; below that, in tiny print, about six lines inform the reader that investment value and income can go down as well as up. Does my noble friend accept that some innocent people--including, perhaps, Members of your Lordships' House--could be persuaded to invest in such an ISA? Does he agree that terrible damage can be done to people who invest without reading the small print? I see the noble Lord, Lord Saatchi, nodding. Perfectly reputable advertising agencies will no doubt draft such adverts. He will know that better than I do.

My noble friend's Answer is not good enough if we are to ensure that innocent people are protected. Will he do something more about the matter?


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