Rail Passenger Safety
Baroness Thomas of Walliswood asked Her Majesty's Government:
What are their plans for passenger safety following the publication of the report of HM Chief Inspector of Railways on their safety record during 1996-97.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Baroness Hayman):
My Lords, the report of the Health and Safety Executive's Chief Inspector of Railways shows that the long-term improvement in railway safety is continuing. But it also expresses concern, which the Government share, at an increase in vandalism and the danger of operators taking encouraging statistics as an excuse for complacency.
The Government look to the Health and Safety Commission and Executive, as the railway safety regulator, to ensure that safety standards are maintained, and improved where necessary.
Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. In his report, the inspector expressed grave concerns, in the fiercest language which appears in that report, about delays in the promised implementation by Railtrack of installation and improvement of various mechanical devices which were supposed to stop trains going fast through signals. I shall not bore the House with all the technical details. The House of Commons Transport Select Committee echoed those concerns last year. Does the Minister agree that such concerns have been fully justified by the early evidence that failure or non-installation of automatic warning systems may have been a contributory cause of the Southall train crash in September? That crash was followed a month later by further instructions from the inspectors as to how the train operating companies should take care of and manage the existing automatic warning systems.
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, on the general issue raised by the noble Baroness, the Health and Safety Executive's report was indeed phrased in strong language and put a very severe warning shot across the bows of the railway companies that they must not put commercial considerations ahead of safety. My right honourable friend the Minister for Transport made very clear in his response to the HSE's report that the Government share that view.
As regards the specifics of the Southall accident inquiry, the Health and Safety Commission's public inquiry will be extremely wide ranging and the report will be published by the HSC, which will advise the Government on the recommendations. Meanwhile, it would be wrong to speculate about the cause of that
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particular accident. Pending the inquiry, the HSE will not hesitate to take any necessary action. That is demonstrated by its prompt action, following the accident, of writing to train operators to clarify the rules relating to defective safety equipment in cabs.
Lord Renton: My Lords, is not the failure of signals one of the principal causes of accidents? Can the Minister say whether the introduction of automatic signalling has led to more or fewer disasters?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, in general terms, the safety record of rail is very good and one which continues to improve. Railway fatalities, excluding trespassers and suicides, were down to 25 in 1996-97. The number of significant train accidents per million train miles was also the lowest on record.
The issue of automatic train protection has been raised. That will be fitted on the West Coast main line, the Heathrow Express and on the new high speed routes. But the HSC advised the previous government that network-wide installation of the British Rail type of ATP could not be regarded as reasonably practical. It said that alternative safety investments would be likely to be more effective in terms of saving lives.
On the issue of the relationship between casualties and specific causes, perhaps I may write to the noble Lord.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, for many years, aircraft have had to carry black boxes which, if recovered, tell inspectors exactly what happened in the moments leading up to the fatal accident. Why is it not possible to do the same in relation to trains, so that instead of continually having to procrastinate and say that we must await the results of long-winded inquiries--as, for example, in the case of the Southall accident--the Government would be able to announce very shortly after the incident exactly what had occurred?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I am not sure that I can accept the thesis which the noble Lord puts forward that it would automatically shorten the inquiry and that we should be certain that we had all the facts simply because of the presence of a black box. The railway inspectorate consists of a body of experts in that field whose membership and staffing has doubled since 1990. They are part of the Health and Safety Commission and Executive to which the Government look for advice as to the actions which should be taken to improve safety on the railways. The latest report shows how seriously and thoroughly that task is performed.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that there is indeed a great deal of concern among the public not only about safety of railways but about the general standard of service offered at present? The Minister rejected my earlier suggestion of renationalisation because of the cost of £4,000 million, which is about as much as we are spending on 22 cases of CJD at present. Can she say now, since she has rejected that suggestion of renationalisation, how the
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commitment in New Labour's manifesto before the election, that the railways would be brought under control, will be achieved and how soon will it be achieved?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, as I said when my noble friend Lord Stoddart raised this issue before, we have made it quite clear that at a cost of £4.5 billion, Railtrack renationalisation is not a priority for this Government. We must deal with the railway system as we find it rather than as we should have wished it to be.
However, we are committed to establishing more effective and accountable regulation by the rail regulator. We wish to ensure that public subsidy serves the public interest. I accept from my noble friend that there is public disquiet on issues both of safety and regulation in general.
We are also committed to establishing a new rail authority to provide a clear, coherent and strategic programme for the railways so that those expectations are met. Such considerations will be included in the consideration of an integrated transport policy and a White Paper is expected to be published next year. But, as my noble friend will be aware, in November my right honourable friend the Minister for Transport announced an interim railways package and three new measures in order to improve in the short term the regulation of the railways.
Lord Carter: My Lords, at a convenient moment after 3.30 p.m. my noble friend Lady Jay of Paddington will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement made in another place on long-term care.
I should like to take this opportunity to remind the House that the Companion indicates that discussion on the Statement, after the end of the Minister's initial reply to Opposition spokesmen, should be confined to,
"brief comments and questions for clarification".
There is a mandatory limit of 20 minutes from the end of the Minister's initial reply to the Opposition spokesmen.
Procedure of the House: Select Committee Report
The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.
The Second Report from the Procedure Committee deals with a variety of matters, and I should like to draw some of them briefly to the attention of the House.
The report reminds the House of the conventions governing our debates. The Procedure Committee is concerned about the growing number of occasions when noble Lords who speak in debates do not remain to hear the closing speeches. For that reason the report sets out
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the present guidelines; namely, that a noble Lord who is taking part in a debate is expected to attend the greater part of that debate, and that it is considered discourteous not to be present for the opening and winding-up speeches and at least the speeches immediately before and after his own speech. The report also points out that a noble Lord who becomes aware that he is unlikely to be able to stay until the end of a debate should normally remove his name from the speakers' list.
To emphasise those conventions, the committee recommends that the advice in the Companion should be strengthened as indicated in paragraph 4 of the report.
The report reminds the House that noble Lords should remain in their seats and not leave the Chamber during a maiden speech or during the following speaker's congratulations. Those entering the Chamber are expected to remain by the steps of the Throne or below the Bar.
May I say in this connection that the convention that only the following speaker congratulates a maiden speaker is not being observed. I am sure that the House will wish to observe its conventions.
The report recommends that Questions for Written Answer should no longer be printed in the Minute each day until they are answered. It recommends instead that Questions should be printed and published only once, when they are tabled, and only republished if they are altered. This would save about £80,000 a year. A full list of unanswered Questions would be kept in the Minute Room and in the Library of the House, and noble Lords could consult it there.
One matter which the committee discussed is not mentioned in the report; namely, declaration and registration of interests. The committee considered a memorandum by the Leader of the House suggesting that there was a case for a further review of this matter by the Procedure Committee or a sub-committee.
However, the committee noted that there was no suggestion that the sub-committee of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, which drew up the present rules in 1995, had overlooked any important matter or that there was a defect in the present system of registration. The committee also felt that two years was too short a period for a proper evaluation of the Griffiths recommendations. So the committee decided not to recommend an immediate review of registration and declaration of interest. The committee will, however, consider the matter again at the beginning of the next parliamentary session.
Moved, That the Second Report from the Select Committee be agreed to (HL Paper 38).--(The Chairman of Committees.)
Following is the report referred to:
The Committee considered a proposal made by the Commons Modernisation Committee 1 , and endorsed by the House of Commons 2 that it should be possible for Government Bills to be "carried over" from one parliamentary session to the next in the same way as hybrid and private Bills. The Committee accepts that there is a case for the carry-over of some Government Bills in certain circumstances. The Committee agreed that the Clerk of the
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Parliaments, after discussion with the Clerk of the House of Commons, should prepare a memorandum for the Committee, to be considered at a future meeting, in which the practical details and any necessary safeguards are examined.
2. EXPLANATORY NOTES FOR BILLS
The Committee agreed to a proposal for "Explanatory Notes" on Bills, which was made by the Commons Modernisation Committee and has been agreed to by the House of Commons 3 . The Notes will be prepared by the sponsoring Department and will combine in a single document accompanying the Bill the material provided at present in the Explanatory Memorandum and the Notes on Clauses, but will extend and improve it. There will also be Explanatory Notes for Acts.
The Committee believes that it is desirable that--
--in order to establish that the Explanatory Notes cannot be amended in Parliament, the Notes should make clear that they had been drafted by the sponsoring Department and have not been authorised by Parliament;
--the Explanatory Notes should be neutral in tone and do not try to promote the Bill or the policy underlying it;
--the Explanatory Notes should be published separately from the Bill (and the subsequent Act), in order to avoid delay in publishing the Bill, to avoid the Bill being too bulky, and to give the public a choice of whether or not to buy the Notes.
3. REPRINTING OF QUESTIONS FOR WRITTEN ANSWER
The Committee considered whether Questions for Written Answer should continue to be printed each day in the Lords Minute until they are answered, up to two weeks after tabling. If Questions were printed and published only when they were new or had been amended, an annual saving of about £80,000 could be made. The Committee recommends that Questions for Written Answer should be published only once, when they are tabled, and only republished if they are altered. A full list of unanswered Questions should be available for consultation in the Minute Room and the Library of the House.
4. ATTENDANCE AT DEBATES AND OTHER CONVENTIONS OF THE HOUSE
The Committee is concerned about the growing number of occasions when Lords who speak in debates do not remain to hear the closing speeches. The Committee wishes to remind Lords of the present guidelines in the Companion that a Lord who is taking part in a debate is expected to attend the greater part of that debate. It is considered discourteous for him not to be present for the opening and winding-up speeches and at least the speeches immediately before and after his own speech. A Lord who becomes aware that he is unlikely to be able to stay until the end of a debate should normally remove his name from the speakers' list (1st Report 1994-95; 3rd Report 1995-96).
The Committee has decided that the advice in the Companion should be strengthened by substituting for the words "A Lord who leaves early cannot expect to be answered by the Minister." the following:
"Ministers cannot be expected to answer, orally or in writing, points made by a speaker who does not stay to hear the Minister's closing speech."
The Committee reminds the House that Lords should remain in their seats and not leave the Chamber during a maiden speech or during the following speaker's congratulations. Those entering the Chamber are expected to remain by the steps of the Throne or below the Bar.
The Committee noted that the expression "the noble Minister" is increasingly being used instead of the correct form "the noble Lord, the Minister". The Committee draws the House's attention to the correct form of address.
5. JOINT COMMITTEE ON STATUTORY INSTRUMENTS: NEW STANDING ORDER
The Committee agreed to a new Standing Order governing the appointment of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments in order to reduce and simplify the Motions which have to be moved at the beginning of each session.
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6. BROADCASTING COMMITTEE: TRANSFER OF FUNCTIONS
The Committee agreed that the functions of the Broadcasting Committee, which have become largely formal, should be transferred to the Administration and Works Sub-Committee, who already deal with issues of substance relating to broadcasting, and that the Broadcasting Committee should therefore cease to exist.
7. APPLICATION OF THE ROTATION RULE TO THE SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY COMMITTEE
The Committee agreed to apply to the Chairman of the Science and Technology Committee the exemption from the rotation rule which allows Sub-Committee Chairmen to serve for three sessions.
1 First Report 1997-98: The Legislative Process (HC 190).