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Standing Committee Debates
Railways and Transport Safety Bill

Railways and Transport Safety Bill

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Standing Committee D

Tuesday 11 March 2003


[Mr. Alan Hurst in the Chair]

Railways and Transport Safety Bill

Clause 103

Road traffic: fixed penalty

8.55 am

Question proposed, That the clause part of the Bill.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): Mr. Hurst, I welcome you back to the Chair. It is a pleasure to be in Committee under your chairmanship. I am sad that this is the last day that we are in Committee, but I am sure that my disappointment will be short lived and that I shall fill my days with something else.

It gives me great pleasure to ask a brief question about the clause. It will ensure that section 76(2) of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 makes sense. The subsection states:

    ''No proceedings shall be brought against any person for the offence to which the conditional offer relates until the procurator fiscal receives notification in accordance with subsection (5)''.

It is orderly that the Bill is repairing an error, but it begs the question why it has been allowed to be in place for 15 years, which is a considerable time, given that other amendments have been made to the Act. It relates to fixed penalties. I wonder what damage has been done to those who have been caught under that subsection. Why has it taken the Government so long to rectify the error?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson): I am delighted to see you in the Chair, Mr. Hurst. We will approach the home straight of the Bill with sadness this afternoon. However, I am sure that that position will be assuaged by listening to the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) and possibly some of her hon. Friends for the next few hours.

Miss McIntosh: I am delighted that the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) has joined the Committee.

Will the Minister accept that the record must be held by the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), who spoke for two and a half hours without imparting anything of any substance on Friday morning?

Mr. Jamieson: I am sure that there was something of substance in that speech.

The Road Traffic Offenders Act includes provisions that allow police forces in England, Scotland and Wales to issue fixed penalty notices and conditional offers for certain road traffic offences, such as failure to obey traffic signs and not wearing a seat belt. Fixed penalty notices and conditional offers allow the offender to discharge his liability for the offence provided that he pays the financial penalty stated.

The Police Reform Act 2002 amended the provisions to allow the British Transport police to

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issue fixed penalty notices and conditional offers. The British Transport police particularly require the ability to issue conditional offers for traffic offences committed at level crossings, a matter that we dealt with earlier. In 2001–02, the police dealt with 3,792 offences under the Road Traffic Acts. In the previous year, they dealt with 2,760 offences. As we discussed under clause 66, offences at level crossings can be serious, and it is important that the British Transport police have all the powers of a local police force to detect and deter those offences.

A further amendment is needed to clarify section 76(2)(a) of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 so that it is clear when proceedings in England and Wales can be commenced after a conditional offer has been issued to an offender. Clause 103 therefore deletes the words ''of police'' from that section.

The hon. Lady was under the impression that that error had been in place for 15 years, but I assure her that it has been there for only one year, since the Police Reform Act 2002; that is why I emphasised 2002. Clearly, this is a good time to put it right.

Miss McIntosh: We would not wish to prevent the Government from amending one of its errors.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 103 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 104

Shipping legislation: application to structures, craft, &c. Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Miss McIntosh: The Committee will recall that, on Second Reading, the Secretary of State tantalisingly told us:

    ''There is a difference between what is needed in relation to a large passenger-carrying ship with a professional crew and in relation to a man rowing a boat in a harbour. We will consult carefully on how best to deal with non-professional mariners.

    The Bill contains a power to exempt vessels with reference to the power of their motor, size or location. We want to consult on the repercussions, as we need to get the matter right. None the less, we are minded, for example, to exempt rowing boats, sailing dinghies and narrowboats. However, larger, high-powered recreational vessels such as jet-skis would probably be included. We want to strike the right balance to ensure that we get the legislation right.''—[Official Report, 28 January 2003; Vol. 398, c. 774.]

The Government have the opportunity, under both this clause and clause 77, to tell the Committee and the public which ships and boats were to be included, and we regret that they have not taken it. Current case law is unclear as to whether personal watercraft such as jet-skis or chain ferries are ships. I do not know what chain ferries are, although I know what a chain letter is, so it would be helpful if the Minister could satisfy me on that point.

In so far as ships need to be defined so that the alcohol provisions can apply, there is some basis for the clause. However, what would be the implications of the clause in the case of a collision between a jet-ski or chain ferry and another vessel? I understand that there could be implications even if those craft were not used at sea—they could be used in inland waterways.

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That is set out in the explanatory notes to clause 104, although I have not had time to study them. What is the purpose of clause 104, and how will the Bill interrelate with other Acts relating to public health and the regulation of activities near the sea shore?

I am sure that you, Mr. Hurst, as a Member of Parliament for a constituency on the Essex coast, will agree that there will be many opportunities for people to enjoy jet-skiing off the Essex coast, although not necessarily out at sea. Clause 104 could have far-ranging repercussions. We wait to hear from the Minister about the implications.

Mr. Jamieson: The change would allow the Secretary of State to extend shipping provisions to other structures and craft that currently may not fall in the category of ships for the purposes of the Merchant Shipping Acts. As the hon. Lady said, that change could apply to jet-skis, which are small but can cause substantial danger and damage if they are mishandled. Jet-skis are already a popular craft and they are becoming more popular. Like you, Mr. Hurst, I represent a coastal area and I am aware that, with the growing prosperity under this Government, more people can enjoy such wonderful recreational activities.

We want the provisions on alcohol testing for mariners to extend to jet-skis, in particular, in recognition of the potential danger that drunken users of such craft may cause to other water users. The clause provides a kind of future proofing for any other kind of vessel that may come along. Jet-skis, for example, have become popular in the past 10 to 20 years. The clause would allow the orders made by the Secretary of State to be flexible and specific where they are needed. It would also allow such orders to avoid conflicts with other enactments, which the hon. Lady mentioned. There is a patchy set of byelaws throughout the country that apply to ports and harbours and those would generally take precedence in such circumstances. The clause would cover the circumstances in which no law was in place.

The hon. Lady asked about chain ferries. I invite her to visit my constituency. A chain ferry travels from Torpoint on the Cornish side to the delightful constituency of Plymouth, Devonport on the other. Thus Devonport is connected to Cornwall, although some people, for example, the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall (Mr. Breed), say that Cornwall is thereby connected to mainland England.

The ferry is a large vessel that is pulled along by chains—that may come as a complete surprise to the Committee. The vessel pulls itself along on two submerged chains, by means of a gearing mechanism. I regularly dine with the captain when I travel on the ferry. It takes eight minutes to get from one side to the other and we have a bag of crisps together and mull over times past. I would be pleased to invite the hon. Lady to come to enjoy the delights of crossing the Tamar from Devon to Cornwall—I offer my endless hospitality.

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Miss McIntosh: I am in grave danger of setting a precedent, but I formally welcome the hon. Gentleman's invitation. I look forward to my first excursion to his constituency and, indeed, to my first ride on a chain ferry. I am grateful for that generous offer. It goes to show that Committee members already know each other much better after such a relatively short time. Against that background, it is helpful.

The only other point on which I hope we could have some clarification before my summer outing—

The Minister of State, Department of Transport (Mr. John Spellar): She is a fair-weather friend.

Miss McIntosh: The comment by the Minister of State is not fair. I have traversed the Dogger Bank on a passenger ferry in the most adverse weather conditions, arriving on the back end of a hurricane. I think that I am a tried and tested seafarer. The journey on a chain ferry would be quiet in comparison with crossing the North sea in the circumstances that I mentioned.

The only point that the Minister inadvertently omitted to share with the Committee is what other exemptions might flow from the clause. A pilot of a sailing dinghy who has had one drink too many could be an obstacle and therefore a potential disaster to other shipping. Will the clause apply to ferries? For the purposes of applying the provisions relating to blood alcohol levels, where will the Government draw the line as to which craft—


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