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Standing Committee Debates
Railways and Transport Safety Bill

Railways and Transport Safety Bill

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Standing Committee D

Thursday 6 March 2003


[Mr. Alan Hurst in the Chair]

Railways and Transport Safety Bill

Clause 94

Arrest without warrant

8.55 am

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

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): I welcome you back to the Committee, Mr. Hurst, on this fine spring morning. We want to raise several issues, and I am sure that the Minister will respond fully. Similar problems arise in this context as arose under part 4. We want to know to what extent the principle that a constable may arrest someone without a warrant will apply, and to clarify the relevant circumstances.

It has already been noted with respect to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 that the basic principle in relation to arrest without warrant remains, whether or not the offence attracts a sentence of five years or more. There have, regrettably but rarely, been cases in which constables overstretched their power to arrest without a warrant, and those were deemed an unlawful arrest. The provisions would most frequently be applied in commercial aeroplanes, so considerable expense and inconvenience might be involved. What reparation might result in the relevant circumstances?

We are told that the clause would enable the police to arrest suspected offenders, but that the person could not be arrested while he was a hospital patient. I do not know whether the background to the current rule, which I presume comes under the Road Traffic Act 1988, is relevant, but we hope that a strict interpretation will be applied and that there will be no circumstances in which a person might try to escape custody or arrest by putting himself in hospital, by whatever means.

It would be helpful to know whether the police constable would always have to be in uniform. If he was not in uniform, as set out in clause 93, or, as my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) suggested, was without his cap, would an arrest be unlawful? Presumably, airport police would, in most circumstances, make such an arrest, as they would be the most readily available. I think I am right in saying—you are probably more familiar with the circumstances than I am, Mr. Hurst—that, to take one example, Stansted airport does not pay the full cost of its policing. Much of the cost, especially if there is a high state of terrorist alert, is borne by the county council. Clarification as to who would pay any additional costs that might arise under the clause would be helpful.

Members will recall that Stansted airport is another of my interests—indeed, I have a continuing interest in

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the British Airports Authority. I remind the Committee that airports such as Teesside international and Leeds Bradford international, which serve my constituency—we have recorded that, regrettably, Bagby does not have any international flights and is largely a recreational airport—are owned by local authorities. How will they be affected by any additional policing costs under the clause?

The clause refers to ''arrest without warrant'' for offences committed under section 89. We respectfully and helpfully argue that the Bill is defective. We all agree that it is an offence to be unfit for work through intoxication by drink or drugs, but airlines increasingly find that, rather than the crew, passengers boarding aircraft who are disruptive due to drink or drugs are the ones who put passengers at risk. We note that a private Member's Bill seeks to create a new offence. We respectfully and helpfully ask—as always, says my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge—why it has been deemed inappropriate to include such a new offence when the Bill was so long in gestation?

Such a provision would fit neatly into the Bill. Being unfit for travel could be included in clause 89, which relates to being unfit for duty. It is not only our airline personnel who put passengers at risk by being drunk or drugged, as crew and passengers are equally at risk from intoxicated passengers. Why has the offence not been included when it would fit neatly and specific behaviour could deem a person unfit to travel?

The clause could have applied equally rigorously in empowering a constable to escort and arrest a passenger who is unfit to travel, but the travelling public and Members have been left in a difficult position. Presumably, the Bill will complete all its remaining stages and go into statute some considerable time before any other Bill on a related subject. We would have liked such a provision to be extended across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Perhaps we could make that an offence and empower a police officer to arrest such a passenger without a warrant simply by amending the air navigation orders, although my understanding is that we would need primary legislation in that regard. It would have been appropriate to allow that to happen, however.

The number of disruptive passengers who endanger lives and the ability of an aircraft to take off is on the increase, which is a worrying development. One example is the recent incident involving football supporters returning to Glasgow from a match in Spain. That situation should have been addressed in the context of the Bill. Will the Minister explain why it was not? What is the legal position? Would the clause not apply to enable a police constable to arrest without warrant a passenger who was placing an aircraft at risk?

In 2001, there were 58 cases of drunkenness as an offence involving people deemed to be disruptive passengers who were putting the lives of other passengers and the crew at risk. However, the Department's latest statistics for disruptive passenger behaviour on UK aircraft reveal 1,055 incidents in the year to March 2002. Of those, 50 per cent. are classed

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as significant and 5 per cent. as serious. Alcohol was deemed to be a contributory factor in about 45 per cent. of those incidents, and the police or security attended 196 of those reported.

We are told that section 61(2)(c) of the Civil Aviation Act 1982 states that an air navigation order may carry a maximum penalty of two years' imprisonment. Accordingly, offences of endangering the safety of an aircraft, drunkenness on an aircraft and acting in a destructive manner—offences set out in the Air Navigation Order 2000—carry a maximum penalty of two years' imprisonment. Under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, powers of arrest exist only for offences with a maximum penalty of five years' imprisonment. The Air Navigation Order 2000 could have been amended to ensure that the Bill also covers disruptive passengers. Under the current rules, the police can report an offender for summons, but they cannot detain him while carrying out immediate inquiries, even if the aircrew or other passengers can identify him. That clearly puts those on the plane at risk.

David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde): What assessment has the hon. Lady made of the private Member's Bill that my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Mr. Roy) is steering through the House? What effect would it have on the problem that she highlighted?

Miss McIntosh: I take the hon. Gentleman back to the rather lengthy debate in which I set out the issues in the context of that Bill. He was present, and I am sure that he recalls with some affection the great detail that I went into and the number of statistics that I produced with the help of the House of Commons Library. It would not be appropriate to return to that debate, but I am grateful to him for reminding me of that notable Bill. None the less, it would have been more appropriate had the Government tabled an amendment to this Bill rather than giving a handout to a worthy Back Bencher. The legislation has been in gestation for a considerable time, and this would have been an opportune moment to introduce an appropriate provision. Without one, airlines, their crews and passengers will remain at risk, and so too will police officers, for the reasons that I shall give.

I am a nervous passenger at the best of times, even though I am married to an airline executive. I have not been on a long-haul flight—[Interruption.] That is another of my interests, but I told the Committee at the outset that my husband has spent 34 years in the airline business. In any case, I do not think that I am alone in being a nervous passenger, and I would not want to put myself at risk if I saw a disruptive individual who was the worse for drink or drugs. It would have been appropriate for the Bill to empower a police constable to arrest such people, and it is not fair of the Government to leave it to airline passengers or crew to do so. However, I repeat that it would still be timely and appropriate for the Government to table an amendment to the clause to grant such powers, and I invite them to do so during the remaining stages.

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If we accept the clause, the police will be able to report offenders for summons, but not to detain them. A disruptive passenger can be identified only by aircrew or other passengers, which means—

The Chairman: Order. I remind the Committee that the clause is about officials, not passengers.

Miss McIntosh: Officials. Well, my point is that the clause is defective. It would be timely for the Government to extend its provisions and to create new offences, as I have described. We are told that it would be entirely appropriate to extend the power of arrest under the Bill to such new offences, although I am sure that the Minister wants to share with us some good reasons for not extending the provisions. We believe that the Bill is defective in its current form.

The explanatory notes are silent on what constitutes a hospital for the purposes of part 4 and it would be helpful to have further clarification, although we did get some from the Minister of State, or perhaps from this Minister. We were told, for example, that a hospital on board a ship is not deemed to be a hospital. We are also told that a hospital is an

    ''institution which provides medical or surgical treatment for in-patients or out-patients.''

As the Minister will be aware, at most major airports, including Gatwick, there is a medical centre. If a passenger, who was perhaps very unwell, were taken to such a centre before going to hospital, would that centre constitute ''a hospital'' for the purposes of the clause and would being there prevent an accused person under clause 89 from being arrested?

9.15 am


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