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We are all concerned with safety and with all those involved getting access to any site as fast as they can. Obviously, that is crucial. However, it seems worth asking the Government about subsection 1(b), which reads,
Will the Minister explain a little more as to why the provision is in the Bill? Of course we understand that someone might have to go through someone's house to get to a particular embankment or part of a railway system, but we were somewhat concerned at the idea that, in the words of the Minister in another place, it may be necessary to move heavy lifting equipment. That was his response to the amendment, so I would be interested in the answer of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. I beg to move.
Lord Dixon-Smith: I want to support the amendment. Particularly in countryside areas, one could envisage a railway frankly being a very long way from even the nearest road. That happens, and an accident could occur somewhere remote. Access could be a problem. We talk about moving heavy lifting equipment, but the accident could happen to be in the fens or somewhere like that. The idea of moving such equipment across that rather soft and structureless soil is preposterous, to say nothing of the fact that there would probably be intervening dykes and other problems. We need to be a little careful.
We also have to remember that we are talking about the accident investigation board. The number of cases when it will actually need the heavy lifting gear will be fairly small. The people who will really need heavy lifting gear if an awkward accident does structural damage, or rolling stock has broken down or been smashed up, are the railway operators. For them, there is no question but that in most circumstances the best, easiest and quickest way of access will be down a
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The example that I would give is Selby. In order to get to the accident site there, one had to go across land. As the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, says, that land could be a very long way from a road. Let me make it clear that when the Bill states,
There is no question of going through the house. However, one might have to go quite a long way, with or without heavy lifting equipment, and possibly through a piece of land with a dwelling house on it. One might have to go through someone's garden or, more likely, their private access road. There is also a possibility that some part of the train could fly off a considerable distance from the actual site of the accident, and could land in the garden of a house more than 500 yards away.
Lord Dixon-Smith: I entirely take what the Minister said, but I am not sure that I yet understand why an accident investigator might be the person who has to move in heavy lifting gear. Almost invariably, it will be the operator who has to do that, even with a bit of rolling stock that has managed to fly 500 yards.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The operators might wish to use specialist lifting gear for the immediate purpose, say, of getting people out or moving things to one side. However, the rail accident investigation branch may subsequently want to use specialist lifting gear, which might not be heavy lifting gear, to investigate the causeto isolate the bogies, or something of that sort. I am no expert on the subject, but I would rather not tie the investigators down in the way that the amendment would.
The noble Viscount said: The amendment seeks to clear up what I believe could be some confusion in the Bill about the powers of inspectors. As I understand it, the provisions are not similar to those involved in aviation and marine law, but perhaps I am wrong and the Minister will correct me. I think it would be better to list the powers given to inspectors and investigators, as in the two existing boards, which are more specific.
It seems important that where the powers exist in terms of investigations and entry there is a clear understanding of what they are, and what can and cannot be done under them. I am interested in the Minister's explanation. I beg to move.
Lord Bradshaw: I do not support the amendment. I have very wide experience of the investigation of railway accidents, and have never known a riparian owner object to an inspector or person investigating the accident actually seeking access to the railway, although usually or very often such people come along the railway, as has been said. I particularly do not wish the inspector to have to be accompanied by a member of the British Transport Police, because that simply makes another call on police time, which is very scarce. I do not think that it does anything more than perhaps give the impression of a criminal investigation, but probably no criminal act has occurred.
My argument goes with the grain of what I have said all along. I want the inspectorate to be independent and seen to be independent. We all know that, if the press are there and the police appear, people put two and two together and make 99. Whatever is done in those circumstances, we see screaming headlines in the local paper saying, "Police investigate railway
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The answer is that we are following what happens for the Marine Accident Investigation Branch, the Air Accident Investigation Branch and, indeed, Her Majesty's Railway Inspectorate. They do not have to have warrants or to be accompanied by the police. That seems to work all right. Lord Cullen said that we should follow that example, and that is what we are doing.
Viscount Astor: I thank the Minister for that reply. I quite agree with him in terms of Lord Cullen and the powers. I will look more carefully at the powers given to investigators in the aviation and marine branches, because I am not entirely convinced that they are similar at the moment.