Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, I would like very much to support the amendment. My noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester has achieved a great success with it and all the work that has gone into it. I congratulate him. There are certain railways where trams and heavy rail, be it passenger or freight, run on the same line. I imagine that that is well covered by the amendment. His concept of what would happen if a tramway were built across the frontier between England and Scotland—in Carlisle or on the east coast—is interesting. It also demonstrates, if we need any further evidence, that the transport responsibilities in Scotland and the lack of a transport and works Act probably need to be looked at in the future.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Faulkner on the diligence with which he has drafted a wholly new definition of "tramway". The amendment would define tramways in a different way from the existing legislation; namely, the Transport and Works Act 1992. I am certainly prepared to talk with him about his definition before Third Reading, but I have huge problems with accepting it now.

The major problem is that "tramway" occurs in dozens of pieces of primary and secondary legislation. If we were to amend it here, we would have different definitions of tramway on the statute book. That would be confusing, or even dangerous. We would not consider changing the definition of tramway without giving proper thought to the desirability of the change and the consequences to other pieces of legislation. We certainly could not do it at this stage of the Bill.

It is by no means clear what the effect of the change would be and, if there were an effect, how significant it would be. We are not aware of any practical difficulties arising in the 11 years that the definition has been in use. I have said that I am willing to talk to my noble friend Lord Faulkner about it. I hope that he will be prepared to tell me what the effect of the change would

19 Jun 2003 : Column 978

be—we cannot work it out—and whether there is likely to be any practical effect. We do not cover Scotland because there are no tramways in Scotland.

I am grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, for the way in which he spoke to Amendment No. 3. He wanted a particular assurance that all tramway accidents would be notified to the RAIB. I can give him that assurance; we will do that in regulation.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I am most grateful for the support expressed by the noble Viscount and by my noble friend Lord Berkeley for my amendment. I should have said earlier that I have a great deal of sympathy with what the noble Viscount seeks to do in Amendment No. 3.

I appreciate what my noble friend said in response. I look forward to having a discussion with him. I shall bring in people cleverer than myself who will help him and his officials to sort out the implications of redefining a tramway. Of course, Clause 1(2) gives the Secretary of State the power to make regulations to amend the clause. Rather than attempt to add a prescriptive amendment on "tramway" to the Bill, the Secretary of State might be prepared to use that power. On the basis that we are going to continue our discussions, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 7 [Investigations]:

Viscount Astor moved Amendment No. 2:

    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 to cause an accident."

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, in Committee, my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith commented that my amendment was too widely drawn and suggested that he would have supported my amendment if it had referred to the potential to cause an accident rather than the potential for fatality or injury. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, said at that stage that the amendment was too broad in its scope. We subsequently took it away, and redrafted it to say:

    "The Rail Accident Investigation Branch may investigate any railway situation which it judges to have the potential to cause an accident".

Therefore, there does not have to be an actual incident or accident for the RAIB to decide that something could cause danger. That is important, because while the rail accident investigation branch is responsible for investigating incidents, it is also, as the Minister said at Second Reading, responsible for safety overall. We do want to make sure that it has the power to investigate in the areas concerned. The Minister may tell me that it does, and that it is covered by another clause of the Bill. If he can give me that assurance, I should be happy to withdraw the amendment. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I can certainly give that assurance. Clause 2(4) says that regulations under subsection (2) making provision about what is to be treated as an incident may in particular include an event or omission which does not

19 Jun 2003 : Column 979

cause damage or loss, but which might do so in different circumstances. That is the precise purpose of the amendment, and it is therefore unnecessary.

Viscount Astor: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. That means that the rail accident investigation branch has the power and jurisdiction. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 3 not moved.]

Lord Bradshaw moved Amendment No. 4:

    Page 3, line 18, at end insert "not later than twelve months following an accident"

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment and several like it touch on the subject of whether the chief inspector of rail accidents is independent. We remain extremely concerned about that. That is not because the Government have any intention to make this person subservient to anyone else, but it is a fact that various legal processes can be used to delay the publication of a report on an accident. These are often employed at the instigation of insurance companies which are pursuing civil or criminal actions and believe that the information contained in the report may prejudice their case.

There is an overwhelming desire in the country to move, following any accident, to know its cause and to take remedial action straight away. If an airliner comes down and the Air Accident Investigation Branch finds metal fatigue or that something has gone wrong with the engine, a report is made within weeks and all airliners are checked for that fault. I know that the report on the "Solway Harvester" ship was delayed, after investigations had ended, at the behest of both British and foreign lawyers who are behind insurance companies.

The purpose of the Bill will be vitiated unless we insert a clause to say that a report will be published in a given period. My amendment specifies 12 months. I have been involved with many railway accidents, and the real cause was known in almost every one. All sorts of recommendations may be made afterwards—to modify signalling, change sightlines, improve training, and so on—but those are supplementary to the accident.

I ask the Minister to respond firmly on the issue of reports that are delayed again and again at the behest of some lawyer or other. I beg to move.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, I support the amendment. I too have had several discussions with investigation boards and confidential reporters from marine industries. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, is correct: the fear of legal action often causes significant delays to the publication of these reports, which after all are there to find the causes of accidents in the public interest and to recommend means of preventing their reoccurrence.

19 Jun 2003 : Column 980

A statutory duty on the inspector to publish his report within, say, 12 months, would provide tremendous strength with which to resist legal challenges. It is in the public interest that such a period should be stated. We can debate whether 12 months is right, but the principle is important. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, cited three-and-a-half years for the publication of the report on the "Solway Harvester"; accident reports must be published much more quickly, and the amendment is a good way of doing it.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, all of the amendments on the railway accident investigation branch are helpful; they are intended to strengthen the powers of the branch, and to make sure that it does the work that the Government intend more effectively. I treat them all as friendly amendments. That is true of Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 on control of the premises, and of Amendment No. 5 on the protection of witnesses. I will not say it again.

Clause 7(4) contains an obligation on the branch to report to the Secretary of State on the completion of an investigation—not 12 months after. The amendment would impose a condition of 12 months after the accident or incident; we cannot handle that. It may be an extremely complex event; scientific tests may have to be carried out which take more than 12 months, and so on. It is better to get a full and detailed report after 14 months than a hurried and incomplete one before the year is up.

The obligation to produce a report on completion of an investigation is a sufficiently clear signal to the rail accident investigation branch that it must get a move on.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, will he clarify one thing? I accept his point that Clause 7(4) requires the branch to report to the Secretary of State on completion of the investigation. Does that mean that the Secretary of State will publish the report immediately? The amendment is really about the publication of the report rather than its submission to the Secretary of State.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page