Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Berkeley: The example that the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, quoted has been subject to enormously long investigations by the Health and Safety Executive and, probably the British Transport Police, when it is quite clear that the problem was road-related. To some extent, that example supports the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw. The cause is clear. How can railway operators stop cars landing on the track unless they close railways down? I shall return to that in later amendments. It is a roads problem; therefore, I suggest that it has nothing to do with the rail accident investigation branch. The problem would probably be resolved if we knew the definitions of "serious", "non-serious", and other terms. Until we do, I support the plea of the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, for flexibility. Perhaps the Minister will have some information about what is a serious railway accident.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I cannot give a definitive answer yet. A European rail safety directive is due to come into force towards the end of the year. The current draft of it, which is the Council of Ministers' working definition, is subject to change. At present, it reads:


Committee Members can see why we do not include definitions of that sort in the Bill. The definition could change. But that is what we will have to do in a directive that will, not come into force, but be finalised, towards the end of this year or early next year.

We are making advance provision in the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, used the phrase "full-scale investigation". The Great Heck example that the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, gave us is simple in railway terms but not in road terms. If the case is as simple as is thought, the investigation and the publication of the report will be very quick, and nothing will have been lost.

Lord Bradshaw: I thank the Minister for his reply. He has not really gone fully to assuage my concern that we will end up spending much time investigating either self-evident accidents or relatively minor ones. I would like the Minister to consider whether the provision can be tightened in some way to allow the chief inspecting officer some way out of undertaking what will be, unfortunately, a bureaucratic exercise if the need for it is not evident. Perhaps we can discuss the matter. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

19 May 2003 : Column GC16

Viscount Astor moved Amendment No. 8:


    Page 3, line 12, at end insert—


"(1A) The Rail Accident Investigation Branch may investigate any railway situation which it judges to have the potential for fatality or injury."

The noble Viscount said: Clause 7(1)(c) states that the rail accident investigation branch,


    "shall investigate a non-serious railway accident or railway incident if required to do so by or in accordance with regulations made by the Secretary of State".

My amendment would give the RAIB more powers. It states that if it wishes to investigate any railway situation, it may do so. I cannot think either of any situations that the RAIB could not investigate or that the Secretary of State should make regulations requiring it to investigate a situation that it would not wish to investigate. I am confused as to why Clause 7(1)(c) is necessary. I admit, too, that my amendment should have proposed the insertion of one provision and the deletion of the other. People could regard it as a belt-and-braces exercise. Will the Minister give that explanation in his response? This is a probing amendment to discover the width of the RAIB's remit. I beg to move.

Lord Bradshaw: I certainly cannot support the amendment. Almost anything that happens on the railway has the potential to result in fatality or injury. It is in the nature of transporting people at speed around the country that any incident may lead to a fatality or injury. It is not a result that one welcomes; one hopes that it will not arise. None the less, there is remarkably broad scope, which I, for one, am trying to constrain.

Lord Berkeley: Is their similar provision to allow the Air Accident Investigation Branch and the Marine Accident Investigation Branch in their own remit to investigate anything that has the potential for fatality or injury?

Lord Dixon-Smith: I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, as regards the potential of the railway industry to cause fatalities. One could make the perfectly logical argument that standing on a station platform involves a risk of fatality—it certainly does if someone goes too close to the edge of the platform and slips at the wrong moment. Little can be done about that. To that extent, I do not sympathise with the amendment as worded.

Had the amendment referred to the potential to cause an accident, rather than the potential for fatality or injury, it would be an entirely different kettle of fish. I could see the point of empowering the branch to look at situations that might give rise to an accident, as opposed to those that have the potential to cause fatality. There is a clear distinction. In my experience, it is usually productive to think about accident prevention.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I certainly agree with that last point. The Bill is rationally drafted here. We

19 May 2003 : Column GC17

have already agreed that the rail accident investigation branch must investigate a serious railway accident. Clause 7(1)(b) states that it,


    "may investigate a non-serious railway accident or a railway incident"

and paragraph (c) provides that it,


    "shall investigate a non-serious railway accident or a railway incident if required to do so by or in accordance with regulations made by the Secretary of State".

In reading out the current state of the European definition of a serious railway accident, it has become clear why, in Clause 2(4) we have provided for regulations rather than a definition in the Bill on what is to be treated as an incident. That is why, in Clause 7(1)(c), we provide that the investigation shall be carried out in accordance with regulations made by the Secretary of State.

I see no value in adding a new subsection referring to something different—a "situation" rather than an accident or an incident. The chief inspector should have the flexibility to order an investigation into any other less serious accidents and incidents that she thinks may hold safety lessons for the rail industry. They could include near misses, crowding on a platform or anything with the potential for fatality and injury. I do not think that Amendment No. 8 adds anything to the careful way in which the Bill is drafted.

Viscount Astor: I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. I agree with my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith that perhaps my amendment should have been drafted as he suggested. I shall consider the matter and whether I need to return to it at the next stage.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Perhaps I may add that what we are providing is comparable to provision for marine and air accidents.

Viscount Astor: That is very helpful, as I was about to say that I would be looking to see whether that provision was different and whether it would be necessary to return to the issue. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Viscount Astor moved Amendment No. 9:


    Page 3, line 13, leave out subsection (2).

The noble Viscount said: The amendment would delete Clause 7(2), which relates to tramways. Subsection (2) states that,


    "a tramway shall not be treated as a railway (despite section 1(1))".

I want to know why not. What provisions do tramways come under?

The Deputy Chairman of Committees: The Division bell has rung. The Grand Committee is adjourned for 10 minutes.

[The Sitting was suspended for a Division in the House from 4.42 to 4.51 p.m.]

Viscount Astor: If Committee Members will forgive me, I shall start again. I hope that I say something

19 May 2003 : Column GC18

vaguely similar to what I did on moving the amendment. The purpose of Amendment No. 9 is to find the meaning of Clause 7(2), which states:


    "For the purposes of subsection (1)(a) a tramway shall not be treated as a railway (despite section 1(1))".

Clause 1(1) states that,


    "'railway' means a railway or tramway within the meaning given by section 67 of the Transport and Works Act 1992".

Are tramways included? They seem to be excluded. If so, why? Who is responsible for regulating tramways? What Act does it come under? If tramways are excluded, surely it should be done in a way that gives the Government the power to change the definition, as with the previous amendment that we discussed? The Government should be able to change the definition of railway incidents and accidents in Clause 2 so that they apply to tramways.

The drafting is extraordinarily muddled. It certainly confused me, but so do many government Bills, so it is not entirely surprising. It has confused others also. Will the Minister explain the provision? It is not clear whether the rail accident investigation branch can or cannot investigate a tramway accident or incident. Will the railway safety and standards board have any remit? It is important because more and more towns and cities in this country are either introducing tramways or considering doing so. The Government's intentions must be clarified. At present, they are obscure, to say the least. I beg to move.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page