Railways and Transport Safety Bill

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Mr. Randall: I was waiting for an answer to my question about sky marshals.

Mr. Jamieson: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can repeat his question, as I did not hear what he said on the matter.

Mr. Randall: I do not want to be accused of repetition.

The Chairman: I am on the verge of doing so.

Mr. Randall: Under the scope of 91(1), are sky marshalssecurity personnelcovered?

Mr. Jamieson: No. I am advised that they will not be covered.

Mr. Randall: Does the Minister think that they should be?

Mr. Jamieson: No. Sky marshals are a new concept, which is why the Bill contains clauses to allow the Secretary of State to take action later should she or he think it appropriate. There is the facility to return to examine issues against the background of the changing security and safety situation.

Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk): May I say something?

The Chairman: The hon. Gentleman may speak if he has a new point.

Mr. Bacon: I assure you, Mr. Hood, that I have a new point. I woke upnot that I was asleep; I have been particularly attentive as the Government Whip will confirmwhen I heard reference to the Air Navigation Order 2000, which as the Under Secretary indicates is a matter of great interest. An order will be made under clause 91. Can the Minister confirm whether under clause 91(1)(g) the licence that is issued to NATS to provide air traffic control services in the United Kingdom is permanent or temporarythat is, time-limited?

Mr. Jamieson: I am sure that inspiration will come to me eventually that will provide a reply to the hon. Gentleman.

Miss McIntosh: It would be timely to remind the Committee that we were promised several written

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notes during last week's proceedings on points that could not be answered in Committee on part 3. Will the Minister give us those answers by lunchtime tomorrow? That will be almost a week since we asked for them. I could laboriously go through each question, some of which relate to the police clauses. My understanding was that we were promised a written answer from the Under-Secretary and the Minister of State.

We have established that some categories have not been included, and I can quite understand why the Government might not want to list sky marshals. We have given the matter some thought. We hope that the sky marshal, who may well be armed on some flights, particularly El Al flights, will be subject to the same prescriptive limits. We will want to return to the point later.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 91 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

4 pm

Clause 92

Penalty

Mr. Foster: I beg to move amendment No. 91, in

    clause 92, page 39, line 25, leave out from 'conviction' to end of line 26 and insert-

    '(i) to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum, or

    (ii) to have his licence suspended and be required to undertake a course of treatment and rehabilitation.'.

I suspect, as I look elsewhere in the Room, that our consideration of this important amendment may be interrupted. It brings us back into the territory of ''Oh, go on then''. At least I hope it does.

It is important for us to be aware that in addition to the penalties that would be meted out to people found guilty of offences under this part of the Bill, other penalties might be imposed by their employers. Under their terms of employment, action over and above anything that is proposed here might be taken against an individual found guilty of an offence under this part of the Bill. The awarding of licences to pilots is an additional issue. Clearly the Civil Aviation Authority has its own regulations on the awarding or removal of licences, which may impinge upon offences created under this part of the Bill.

I am also aware that when we debate penalties or enforcement of this part of the Bill we have relatively little evidence to go on. Until the Bill is enacted we have no prescribed limits or a testing regime. There is no history on which to judge the appropriateness of penalties. However, because the Bill draws on parallels with drink-driving offences, we have a body of evidence on which we can draw. The amendment seeks to add an additional and alternative form of enforcement, which provides for the individual's licence to be suspended and for that person to be required to undertake a course of treatment and rehabilitation.

Mr. Randall: Presumably, if the Bill is in line with the Road Traffic Act 1988, a person would have to get his licence back again.

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Mr. Foster: I was going to come to that point. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. That occurs in some countries where similar measures already exist. Clearly, the person would have to demonstrate that he met the various requirements to have the licence returned. The licence is not simply stopped; he must take positive action to get the licence back.

When we discussed proposals in this area with various bodies, it was interesting to note that Alcohol Concern accepts entirely, as we do, that the legislation in part 3 must be backed up by a remedy in law. However, it questioned whether imprisonment for what can be recognised as a society illness was counter-productive. There is quite an important debate to have on that. Alcohol Concern suggests that anyone so identified should have their licence medically suspended and should be required to undertake a course of treatment and rehabilitation, as the amendment proposes. That organisation goes on to say that the aim of the rehabilitation should be the return of the licence and job, and allowing the recovered individual to return substance-free.

David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde): Do I take it, notwithstanding what the hon. Gentleman has said about Alcohol Concern and the question of the appropriateness of imprisoning people, that the amendment would not remove the Government sanction of imprisonment?

Mr. Foster: No, that is right. That is why I said that Alcohol Concern too acknowledged the need for the back-up of a remedy in law. The hon. Gentleman is right: in some circumstances, a period of imprisonment may be deemed the right course of action. In others, a fine might be deemed the right course of action, in addition to any other action that the person's employer might take.

The British Air Line Pilots Association it is of a similar view that non-malicious alcohol or drug abuse is a disease, not a crime, and that we need to amend the Bill to allow the possibility of licence suspension and rehabilitation, rather than addressing the issue inappropriately through imprisonment. Again, however, I am sure that that body would accept the point made by the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (David Cairns) that imprisonment would be appropriate in some cases. That said, far too often, as the evidence from other countries increasingly suggests, we rely on punishment rather than on the other side of the coin, which is rehabilitation.

With all that in mind, I want to draw attention to some detailed research on drink-driving. As I said, there are parallels that we can bear in mind when we consider the impact of this part of the Bill. The evidence is building up that a very large proportion of people found guilty of drink-driving offences have an alcohol problem, whether or not we want to call them alcoholics. The same is true in respect of drugs.

Back in 1993, the previous Government recognised the value of at least considering rehabilitation, and courses were established to provide rehabilitation opportunities for people convicted of drink-driving. Much more recently, the present Government, having evaluated those trials, concluded that they had had a

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high degree of success and had reduced the likelihood of reoffending. The Government have therefore expanded the number of such places. Although they have not placed that in the Bill, they certainly recognise the importance of providing opportunities for rehabilitation.

The purpose of the amendment is to give us the opportunity to hear the Government's thinking on rehabilitation as an additional weapon that can be used in respect of enforcement of part 3. It also gives us an opportunity to seek to persuade the Government, if they are not yet minded to develop in the area of aviation that which they have already developed in relation to motor vehicle driving, that they should do so.

Miss McIntosh: I wanted to quiz the Minister. My understanding is that rehabilitation programmes already exist, so we do not need the amendment. I think that it is understood that drug rehabilitation in most circumstances will be achieved by a professionally recognised drug treatment agency meeting the standards of the Civil Aviation Authority medical branch, that recommendations will be taken into account, and that treatment following a positive alcohol test should be graded in accordance with any underlying problem, but treatment of a long-term persistent drinker should be viewed in a different light from that on someone who has been foolhardy on an isolated occasion.

Mr. Foster: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for reading out the briefing note that most of us have seen. Does she accept that in the particular case that she is talking about the practice is voluntary and there is no requirement on the individual to undergo rehabilitation? Under the amendment, we are discussing not the merits of rehabilitation, which I hope are well accepted by all Committee members, but a possible weapon in the armoury of enforcement when there would be a requirement on the individual to undergo rehabilitation.

Miss McIntosh: My point was precisely that. I am reading not from a briefing note, but from BALPA's technical policy manual, which I presume the hon. Gentleman has also studied.

I seek clarification from the Minister. The Bill creates a new offence, and I hope that we can discuss the penalties in a brief clause stand part debate, if any of us are able to talk through the lurgy by then. My understanding is that the role of the medical review officer is paramount and that that is already the case, but perhaps the Minister would be good enough to confirm that.

 
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