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Tuesday, 7 November, 2000, 13:39 GMT
'Corporate killing law would hit safety'
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By BBC News Online's Alex Hunt at the CBI conference

Railtrack chief Gerald Corbett has argued that proposals to bring in new corporate killing laws would be counter-productive and reduce safety standards on the UK rail network.

Mr Corbett said that making firms or the individuals within them legally accountable in such cases would lead to buck-passing and promote a secretive culture.

The corporate killing proposal was put out to consultation by the government in May, and included a range of different punishments for firms and individuals held responsible for causing death.

Mr Corbett, who said the UK's rail system was now in a better state than before privatisation, was speaking at the Confederation of British Industry's annual conference in Birmingham.

But as the conference closed the CBI director general Digby Jones said he did not agree that such a law would reduce safety.

He said that a corporate manslaughter law would ensure that those in the firing line made sure that safety was a priority throughout their organisations.

Rail replacement

However, the law needed to be carefully worded to avoid business people being too afraid to make decisions, said Mr Jones.

In his speech earlier the Railtrack chief revealed that many of the cracked rails being replaced were as little as one year old, a problem which was being investigated.

He said the current track replacement programme, brought in after the Hatfield rail tragedy, would be largely completed before Christmas.

Investment, performance and safety were all statistically better now than before privatisation: "I think the record on the railways has been better than it is perceived to be."

He also held out the prospect of dedicated tracks for freight, as the current network reaches capacity.

Minister in a jam

In a separate address, transport minister Lord Macdonald said the government was "pro-car, but anti-pollution" as he outlined details of a 10-year plan to improve the UK's creaking transport system.

Lord Macdonald, who was late for a Confederation of British Industry debate after being stuck in a Birmingham traffic jam, said urgent action was needed to improve road and rail systems.

He stressed that the government was not against motorists - a view which ministers have been especially keen to deflect following the summer fuel crisis.

Lord Macdonald said: "We are pro-car, but anti-pollution and anti-congestion."

He outlined details of a 180bn investment strategy, which involved 100 new bypasses, improved rail and bus services, plus better information for drivers.

Transport priorities

Ahead of the debate, the CBI issued its priorities for transport schemes it wants to see in the next decade.

CBI director general Digby Jones said: "There is so much good work going on but recent events have shown our transport system is close to breaking point.

"Much of this is due to years of under-investment and unacceptable delay in delivering improvements."

Its list of priority schemes include road, rail improvements as well as the controversial Heathrow Terminal Five scheme.

Road schemes

The road schemes included tackling congestion on motorways including the M1 and M25

Other priority schemes identified included modernising London Underground and commuter rail routes to the capital.

In the south, it proposes upgrading the M27 near Southampton, while elsewhere building the Birmingham Northern relief road, widening the M6 through the Midlands, completing the M80 in Scotland, improving links between North and South Wales, and upgrading the Belfast-Newry road.

The background to CBI conference

Key stories

Background

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See also:

01 Nov 00 | Business
17 Oct 00 | Business
23 Oct 00 | Business
14 Sep 00 | Business
02 Nov 00 | Pre budget report
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