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Public Transport: Alcohol


3.01 pm

Asked By Lord Roberts of Llandudno

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The Secretary of State for Transport (Lord Adonis): My Lords, the Government are committed to reducing crime, anti-social behaviour and the fear of crime wherever it occurs in the transport system and whatever the cause. Each transport mode already has robust provisions allowing operators to control the sale and consumption of alcohol. As such, there are no plans to regulate this further.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply and congratulate him on his new responsibilities. At the same time, I say a word of appreciation to the many thousands of devoted public employees who work on the transport networks. We particularly congratulate the chief constable of the British Transport Police on his knighthood. Is the Minister aware that at certain times and on certain routes, usually later in the day, many passengers have a very uncomfortable time as a result of a tiny minority who cause disturbances because of alcohol intake? Can he tell us how many alcohol-related incidents are recorded annually by the British Transport Police and what steps he is taking to make our trains less stressful and threatening?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord for his kind opening remarks. When I was introduced into the House four years ago, somebody was heard to mutter, “My God, it’s child labour”. I hope that I have grown up a little since then, although I note that I am among only 18 per cent of the House not eligible for a free bus pass. I echo the congratulations that the noble Lord offered to Ian Johnston, the chief constable of the British Transport Police, who is retiring shortly from that office, having done a superb job. I think that he takes particular pride in the fact that he retires at a time when recorded crime on the rail network is falling sharply; the most recent statistics show that, overall, notifiable crime on Britain’s railways has fallen by 4.5 per cent in 2008-09 over the year before. We cannot break that down into particular categories, but that reflects an improved situation on the railways, including, I hope, in respect of crime related to alcohol.

Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord on his promotion to Secretary of State. I do not know how long it is since we had a Secretary of State for Transport in the House of Lords—I have not done that research—but it is a most unusual situation. We all share his enthusiasm for high-speed trains; I hope now that as Secretary of State he will be able to find the money to deliver some. We shall look at that with interest. I also hope that, now that he has been elevated to Secretary of State, he will still make himself available to the House and usually be here, so that we can question him about what he is doing. I also congratulate the chief constable of the British Transport Police on his knighthood. The Government have said that they were looking at investment in the transport police. The Olympics are coming up, but we have not heard any more about that. Perhaps the Secretary of State could tell us more about how he sees the increase in support for the transport police.

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Lord Adonis: My Lords, in answer to the noble Lord’s first question, I know that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has suggested that those Peers who head departments might be subjected to dedicated Question Times in this House. I should be delighted to do so; I wish to be as accountable as the House wishes to make me. I know that I also speak on behalf of my noble friend the First Secretary of State, Lord President of the Council and Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, who is anxious to answer questions on all aspects of his responsibilities. As regards the Olympics, intensive consultations are taking place with the BTP and other police forces on how we will ensure that they are properly policed.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, I was most relieved to hear the Answer of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, to the first Question of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno. Is he aware that any Government who try to prevent us Scots from having a dram in the train or in the aeroplane on the way to or from Scotland are likely to have a rebellion on their hands?

Lord Adonis: I am indeed aware of that, my Lords.

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, last week a new franchise was let for South Central trains and we were very pleased to see that it included provision for the manning of stations. However, what is the person manning a station to do in the event of drunken or rowdy behaviour? Is he isolated by himself? Will he have access to surveillance devices? Will he have contact with the British Transport Police?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I very much expect that the additional staffing of stations will reduce crime. It goes hand in hand with another important aspect of the South Central franchise, to which the noble Lord referred: all trains and all stations on the South Central franchise will be equipped with CCTV, which has a big impact in reducing crime levels. At present, 50 per cent of stations and more than 3,000 trains are equipped with CCTV. This will mark a further advance and a benchmark to which I hope all franchises can be brought up in due course.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, the Question refers to public transport. Is the noble Lord prepared to discuss with the airlines their practice of serving free alcohol on aircraft, which is both dangerous and bad for the health of travelling passengers?

Lord Adonis: No, my Lords.

Arrangement of Business


3.07 pm

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, with the leave of the House, my noble friend Lady Royall of Blaisdon will repeat the Statement on Iraq at a convenient point after 3.30 pm.

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Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies and Credit Unions Bill

First Reading

3.08 pm

The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

Political Parties and Elections Bill

Main Bill Page
Copy of the Bill
Explanatory Notes

Report (1st Day)

3.08 pm

Schedule 1 : Investigatory powers of Commission: Schedule to be inserted into the 2000 Act

Amendment 1

Moved by Lord Marlesford

1: Schedule 1, page 39, line 24, at end insert “provided that prior approval to enter any premises and to inspect documents found on those premises has been obtained from a magistrate”

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, I feel that I should apologise to the House for intruding on a Bill in which I have not taken part, although I have followed the proceedings on it. My point is wide and could affect all government departments in due course. Perhaps the only slight reflection I have is that—with the greatest respect to the noble Lord, Lord Bach, who I think will answer my amendment—it varies so widely that I almost wish that the First Secretary of State, Lord Pooh-Bah himself, were here to answer this brief debate.

My amendment is concerned with an important constitutional point, which is on the powers of entry to premises. Many will be fully aware of the Bill that my noble friend Lord Selsdon, who unfortunately is not able to be here today, introduced in your Lordships’ House in 2007 as a Private Member’s Bill that received its Third Reading on 17 July 2008. It was indicated to us that No. 10 itself—the citadel of everything, of course—was sympathetic to that Bill. The intention of the Bill was to reduce the number of provisions in legislation that included powers of entry. At least, when one says “to reduce the number of provisions”, it is not so much about the reduction of them; it is to reduce the number of occasions on which people are able to enter premises without any sort of consent from the person or occupier concerned and without any sort of outside authority.

We all recognise that, in the very complicated life which we all lead, with Governments inevitably involved in and having to legislate for rules and regulations covering many different aspects of our lives, it is necessary for the Executive and their agencies to be able to check and enforce the legislation. What I do not think is so axiomatic is that there should be powers of entry to premises without consent or, if consent is not forthcoming, without at the very least

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the same sort of consent that the police have always had to have, which is a warrant. My amendment is to Schedule 1, where it says on page 39 of the Bill:

“A person authorised by the Commission may, for the purposes of the carrying out by the Commission of their functions—

(a) at any reasonable time enter premises occupied by an organisation to which, or an individual to whom, this paragraph applies”,

I propose merely to add the very necessary words—they would of course only apply where agreement has not been reached—

It is a very simple amendment. I am doing it on this Bill because it was very disappointing that the Government, having indicated that they had sympathy with the desirability of reducing the occasions on which officials have powers of entry without warrant, did not take the opportunity in this Bill of circumscribing the powers of entry in this case, in this schedule, in the manner that I am advocating.

Unless we actually make a start on at least not extending the number of powers of entry without warrant, we will never get anywhere. I hope that the time will come when the thousands of powers of entry that exist, scattered through the legislation on the statute book, will gradually be reduced. I recognise that it is a peripheral matter to this Bill, but I hope very much that the Government recognise that it would at least show an indication that the concept of unlimited powers of entry without consent was no longer acceptable in this country. We have been talking much recently about the alienation of the people from Parliament and from Governments. If political parties of whatever side were to explain to people that they sought greatly to reduce the number of occasions on which powers of entry could be used without a warrant, it is the sort of thing that they would very much find strikes a chord. Therefore, my amendment, which in no sense damages the purpose of the basic provisions of the Bill, is modest. I hope very much—but not with enormous optimism—that the Minister may find it in his heart, if not in his brief, to give some warmth in his reply to my amendment. If, by chance, some drafting improvement could be made, then I would be perfectly happy for the Government to give an undertaking to come back at Third Reading.

In the mean time, however, I press the Government firmly to take account in the Bill of the need to take this step, in the direction that I have described. I beg to move.

3.15 pm

Lord Bates: My Lords, I support the amendment moved so ably by my noble friend. His intrusion, as he put it, into the debate is welcome. It highlights an issue which has in many ways been dealt with in some detail by the Government, in the way that they have responded to issues arising from how the Bill was originally presented in the other place. When it was, the powers proposed were certainly far more draconian than those being considered now. In the intervening period, we had the disgraceful situation concerning my honourable

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friend Damian Green in the other place, with the access that was granted to his offices without his consent and the searches that were conducted.

This is not in any way to suggest that the important work of the Electoral Commission—or, indeed, of the police, in the case of Damian Green—should be impeded, but simply that due process should be followed and that consent should be obtained. If consent cannot be obtained for some good reason, or there is a suspicion that, by giving notice, a further misdemeanour or crime may occur, it is open under my noble friend’s amendment for the Electoral Commission to approach a magistrate and secure a warrant for that purpose.

While what we recognised in Schedule 1 was brought back after that incident, when it was taken on Report and at Third Reading in the other place there was a significant reduction in the powers of entry in that clause. That was welcomed and we appreciated the steps that the Government had taken to listen to our concerns at that point over Damian Green.

The amendment just offers a further tightening of the wording in a way that does not diminish in the slightest the powers of the commission to undertake its tasks. Therefore, we on these Benches are pleased to support my noble friend in his amendment. Obviously, we await the Minister’s response with interest.

Lord Neill of Bladen: My Lords, I, too, support the amendment. There seems no good reason why we do not have the normal formula, such as “by order of” or “with the authority of” a court.

A further point is that the interrelationship between these powers of entry in paragraph 2 does not really tie in with paragraphs 3 and 4. I can see nothing in paragraph 2 about the commission having “reasonable grounds to suspect” something or other. In certain circumstances it can come to a conclusion and serve a notice that it suspects something such as the withholding of documents. If you look on at paragraph 4, you find on page 40 that, when the commission has served such a notice, the High Court can make an order if it is satisfied that,

One of those requirements would obviously be one following from a paragraph 3 decision.

What troubles me is that this appears to be, in paragraph 2, a free-standing power of entry that is not linked with any conclusion by the commission that there are reasonable grounds to suspect that somebody is withholding something or has committed some other offence at all. This needs to be rethought, in my submission, and made harmonious with what one would normally expect. The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, has moved an amendment with which I agree. The interrelationship between these clauses needs to be looked at.

Lord Cobbold: My Lords, I think it is one of the principal duties of this House to look after the interests of the individual, and this amendment goes a little bit in that direction. Therefore I very much support it.

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Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I too would like to add my strong support to this amendment. In my naivety I did not realise that the normal conditions of applying for warrants did not apply in this case. It is rather sad in a way that things should have to be tightened but, if tightened they must be, this amendment is extremely sensible.

Lord Waddington: My Lords, I have difficulty in understanding why it is necessary to confer this power.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, for introducing this short debate on an important point. There may be some misunderstanding about it, but I understand the context in which the noble Lord is raising this issue. What he seeks to do in his Amendment 1 is to amend paragraph 2(2) of the new Schedule 19B to the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, which sets out the commission’s powers of entry and inspection in relation to regulated organisations only. They are listed in paragraph 2(1). They are:

“(a) a registered party or in the case of a registered party with accounting units—

(i) the central organisation of the party;

(ii) an accounting unit of the party;

2(1)(b) a recognised third party (within the meaning of Part 6);

(c) a permitted participant (within the meaning of Part 7)

(d) is a members’ association (within the meaning of Schedule 7)”.

They are the only people who are subject to this power.

This is a supervisory power which allows the commission to enter premises at reasonable times to inspect documents relating to the income and expenditure of regulated organisations to which the power applies. The important point is that this is not a power for use in connection with investigations, or suspicions of wrongdoing. Rather, it is for use where the commission needs access to the financial and related documents, documentation of political parties and other related entities in connection with its regulatory role. That is why there is no relationship between this power in paragraph 2(b) and paragraphs 3 and 4 that the noble Lord, Lord Neill, stressed.

Lord Neill of Bladen: My Lords, will the Minister deal with this point? All the documents that he has referred to would be documents which they had an obligation to produce voluntarily, and they failed to do it.

Lord Bach: My Lords, that is probably true, but this is solely to do with the regulatory role as opposed to the investigatory role. This power actually replicates the commission’s existing power. This is not something new. This was a power of entry in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. Although I have not had a chance to research the matter completely, my understanding is that there was no opposition to this power when it was passed through Parliament in 2000. The only difference is that now it will apply to members’ associations as well.

In practice, the power generally underpins the commission’s ability to visit parties co-operatively, to verify claims for policy development grants and conduct

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risk-based assessments. The effect of the amendment would be to place a requirement on the Electoral Commission to obtain prior approval from a magistrate before it can enter the premises of a supervised individual or organisation to inspect documents relating to their income and expenditure.

I appreciate the intention behind the amendment, which is to help us to ensure that powers of entry are used appropriately. We fully support the view that the powers of entry in the Bill should be proportionate and justified, and feature appropriate safeguards to prevent their misuse. That is why the Government took steps in another place to restrict the application of this power to regulated organisations and not to individuals, and to prevent the use of this power of entry in connection with an investigation into a suspected breach or contravention of the 2000 Act. As I understand it, in so far as any investigation or suspected breach is concerned, even getting a warrant would not be sufficient to allow entry after the changes the Government made in another place.

These steps are in addition to retaining the safeguards which the power has featured since the 2000 Act. For example, the power must be exercised at reasonable times and is confined to financial documents. Additionally, authorisation of a person acting on behalf of the commission to enter premises must be in writing and must be produced by that person if required to do so by the owner or occupier of the premises.

We therefore think that the power of entry already features sufficient safeguards to prevent its misuse. A step such as that proposed in this amendment would, we think, place an unnecessary obstacle in the use of this power. As such, it risks undermining the Electoral Commission’s effectiveness. Now more than ever, it is vital that Parliament empowers the regulator so that he or she is fully equipped to regulate the political system effectively. We therefore share the commission's view that the amendment would result in additional bureaucracy without any additional benefit. An application to a magistrate may lead to a negative and false inference being drawn; a court granting such a warrant may be seen to imply that the commission suspects breaches of the rules. That is not the case: the commission’s use of this power is not concerned with the investigation of, or any suggestion as to the commission of, an offence.

Furthermore, it is not clear what factors a magistrate would be taking into account when deciding whether to give approval. Given that the power allows the commission to enter premises at reasonable times for the purposes of carrying out its supervisory functions, it is difficult to envisage a situation where approval could reasonably be withheld.

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