One body may cover rail, road, sea and air safety

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A raft of measures to improve safety on Britain's railways, roads, airlines and at sea form the heart of the draft Safety Bill unveiled by the Government yesterday.

A raft of measures to improve safety on Britain's railways, roads, airlines and at sea form the heart of the draft Safety Bill unveiled by the Government yesterday.

Long-awaited legislation from John Prescott, the deputy Prime Minister, will offer Labour a chance to claim that it is responding to huge public concern in the wake of the Hatfield rail crash and the resulting chaos on the network.

But because the Bill is in draft form, it will not become law until at least after the general election and it could be as late as 2002 before it reaches the statute book.

A centrepiece of the proposals will implement the forthcoming recommendations of the Cullen Inquiry into the Paddington rail crash last year.

The inquiry, which is due to report next year, is likely to suggest moves to create a new safety body for the railways and will determine which form of train protection system is the most appropriate.

One option being considered by ministers is the creation of a single transport safety body to oversee all forms of travel. The new body, which would be modelled on the US National Safety Transportation Board, could bring all forms of travel under the responsibility of one organisation.

Road safety will feature highly in the Bill, giving police wider powers to conduct "evidential" roadside breath testing for drugs and alcohol.

More controversially, there will also be changes to penalties for road-traffic offences. Final decisions on the detail of the new penalties will be taken by ministers in the light of responses to a consultation paper to be issued shortly.

The Safety Bill includes proposals to cut alcohol and drug abuse by air cabin crews, air traffic controllers and members of a ship's crew, bringing controls more closely into line with those already in place on the roads and railways.

Blood alcohol limits will be introduced and the police will be given powers to test suspected offenders - changes recommended by Lord Justice Clarke's inquiry into Thames safety after the Marchioness disaster.

Safety standards in harbours will be promoted and fire authorities are to be allowed to recover costs when fighting blazes at sea, while a new Police Authority for the British Transport Police will be created.

The Bill will also aim to improve standards of health and safety in the workplace by increasing penalties for offenders and removing Crown Immunity from prosecution from some public bodies.

The proposals would represent the first major overhaul of workplace safety since the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act, one of the most successful pieces of legislation of the last Labour Government.

The Rail Maritime and Transport union welcomed the Bill. "The days following the Hatfield derailment showed there were massive gaps in safety responsibility while the drive for profit intervenes," a spokesman said.

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