Railways and Transport Safety Bill

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Mr. Spellar: The hon. Lady rightly says that the level 3 fines and imprisonment imply fairly strong sanctions that are obviously aimed at getting people to attend in order to provide evidence. That does not necessarily apply only to the person being inquired into. The person could be a witness who is required to attend and therefore has to incur personal costs. It would not apply only to someone into whom there might be an inquiry because there might be a generic inquiry in which the person was an involved party. That mirrors section 34 of the Police Act 1997.

Subsection (3) states:

    ''A person commits an offence if without reasonable excuse he fails to comply with a summons . . . to co-operate with an inquiry''.

That entails quite a substantial fine, which I understand is a criminal fine and a term of imprisonment that is slightly longer than that in the 1996 Act. It has been altered to allow for changes in the Criminal Justice Bill.

The power of inquiry relates to how the force is run, so it is inappropriate for an inquiry to get hold of any title documents for land—in a private house, for example. Only land belonging to the authority is relevant, which I hope clarifies the issue.

Miss McIntosh: That was helpful. The Minister seems highly knowledgeable about acronyms relating to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, but when we try to hold him to account on the wording of an updated provision, he is rather less forthcoming. If I understood him correctly, the Minister views the provisions as dealing with serious offences and he said that imprisonment is for a longer term than under the 1997 Act. He also referred to parallels with the Criminal Justice Bill. I would have liked to hear why the offence is deemed to be more serious: what has happened between 1997 and today to make it more serious and why has the penalty been increased? Will the Minister satisfy me about taxation? Will the

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auditor of the court be involved in the taxation of costs?

Mr. Spellar: The reason why the maximum was changed from six months to 51 weeks is that it was part of a detailed package of measures by which sentences for summary offences—currently set at the maximum penalty of six months—were automatically increased to 51 weeks. The change was made for the sake of consistency and harmonisation between different legislation. On taxation, I shall have to revert to the hon. Lady.

Miss McIntosh: I cannot delay proceedings, but I do take an interest in taxation matters. As the Minister has graphically revealed this afternoon, someone, having been summoned and with no earthly reason not to attend, could be put to considerable expense. I hope that by tomorrow the Minister will be able to supply me the information in writing. It is regrettable that, in view of the generous time allotted by the Government to consider the provisions, they are not as well prepared as they should be.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 58 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 59

Public consultation

Mr. Foster: I beg to move amendment No. 78, in

    clause 59, page 24, line 7, after 'Executive', insert—

    '( ) employees in railway services and trade unions related to railway services'.

I am not sure whether Ministers were well prepared for debating the earlier clause, but I am sure that they will be well prepared for this amendment. All I expect at this stage is an ''all right then'' response. If I do not receive that, I still hope for some good news in a short time. For the sake of brevity—

Mr. Spellar: Can I help the hon. Gentleman by saying ''all right then'', saving him from having to make any further contribution?

Hon. Members: Hear, hear!

Mr. Foster: In the spirit of wanting to make progress and given the clear assurance of the Minister that he will further consider the lacuna identified in the amendment—the failure to take account of employers and trade unions in the consultation list—I am delighted to accept his ''all right then'', and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

3.45 pm

Miss McIntosh: The clause is welcome and we wholeheartedly applaud it. Subsection (1) provides a list. Is it indicative or fully comprehensive? As I mentioned earlier, in some circumstances, parish councils would have an interest in obtaining information about the policing of the railways. In the initial consultation the Passenger Transport Executive gave the Government the benefit of its

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views, which is why I want to know the extent to which the list is all embracing.

The Rail Passengers Council would be the most appropriate body for the consultation of passengers, but the Consumers Association and its laudable publication Which? often examines transportation by rail and other modes of transport. To what extent are the Government minded to consult it? Scottish Ministers are also mentioned in the list, so to what extent will the Government consult them and other Scottish organisations? Welsh communications could also be mentioned.

The Under-Secretary missed the point when I spoke about victims as a worthy inclusion in the statistics column. He said that statistics on victims appeared in the PINS and statistical bulletin, but I also mentioned gender, age, ethnicity and ability. On that last factor, I refer again to the Royal National Institute of the Blind, which welcomed clause 59 on reviewing opinions about the policing of the railways. In his response, will the Minister confirm whether the Secretary of State intends to table an amendment to the clause? Apparently not, but the Committee is still young and further sittings lie ahead.

Will the Government propose an amendment to require consultation with disabled passengers and their representatives so that their views can be taken into account in the planning process? Will future consultation documents be produced in large print, tape and Braille and be made available on an accessible web site to allow blind and partially sighted people to participate? Those questions are highly pertinent for the less able and the less mobile, as well as for the partially sighted and the blind. Hard-of-hearing passengers might also like to be consulted. Does the Minister expect consultation by the British Transport police to take into account the views and real concerns of disabled passengers?

By the same token and in view of the volume of statistics on offenders being apprehended through the good services of the British Transport police, would the Minister see fit to consider that such consultations should have regard to the interests of victims? Perhaps the consultation would be opportune in that regard. It would also be helpful for the victims to feel that they were being consulted on what for them are extremely serious issues.

The list of bodies to which the Bill refers is not exhaustive or comprehensive, so presumably the Government will want to consult the other bodies to which I have referred. Will the Minister look favourably on consulting, for example, the Royal National Institute of the Blind and those passengers, both less able and able-bodied, who have been victims in the past?

Obviously, paragraph (m) is the cover-all provision. It refers to

    ''other persons with an interest in the railways whom the Authority thinks it appropriate to consult.''

I revert to the point about parish councils. I am thinking particularly of parish councils that represent areas such as Cattal, which I mentioned this morning. Cattal station is a commuter station on a very busy

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line between Harrogate and York. It serves the golden triangle, in that it serves Harrogate and York, and provides access to Leeds. Parish councils that represent areas in which a busy line and station are located should be considered.

It goes without saying that one would expect the chief constable to be consulted. However, I am slightly concerned that

    ''Before making or reviewing arrangements under this section the Authority shall . . . have regard to any guidance issued by the Secretary of State.''

Will the Minister be good enough to tell us what specific guidance has been laid down and how it is brought to the attention of the authority and those who would wish to be consulted? It is extremely important that they all know what they are doing. I hope that the Minister will confirm that the consultation will be conducted in the most open and transparent way possible.

Mr. Foster: Having persuaded the Minister to extend the clause by adding the words that I have proposed, or the alternative that he will now propose to cover the same point, I now ask him whether he would be prepared to make up for that addition by allowing a small deletion. I study these matters with some interest. Will he explain why subsection (4)(c) is in the clause?

The Committee will be aware that two requirements are placed on the authority:

    ''The Authority shall make, and review from time to time, arrangements to obtain the opinions''

of various people, and

    ''shall make, and review from time to time, arrangements to invite the co-operation of the persons listed''.

However, we are then told under subsection (4)(c) that

    ''The Secretary of State may . . . require the Authority to review arrangements under this section.''

As the authority has no choice—it has to conduct reviews from time to time—why is there the addition that the Secretary of State ''may'' ask them to do so? He insists that they do that earlier in the clause. I am slightly confused.

Mr. Spellar: The hon. Member for Vale of York said that the list of organisations identified was not exhaustive or comprehensive. However, that is precisely why we have paragraph (m), which enables the authority to take into account

    ''other persons with an interest in the railways whom the Authority thinks it appropriate to consult.''

The hon. Member for Bath is right that the authority shall make, and review from time to time, the arrangements. However, just as a backstop, the Secretary of State can intervene if it is thought that those arrangements are not working satisfactorily. We certainly hope that they will work satisfactorily, which is why we do not want to be over-prescriptive. It could be argued that the list is quite lengthy. However, it could be extended much further. That is precisely why we have the enabling power for the authority under

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paragraph (m). It is for the authority to review the arrangements to ensure that there is the widest and most effective consultation possible with all those who might have an appropriate interest in the matter.

 
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