Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Earl Russell: My Lords, I declare an interest as a trustee of the National Portrait Gallery. The

1 May 2003 : Column 828

arrangement recommended by my noble friend Lord Bradshaw is well understood and accepted in the museum and galleries world.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I do not doubt that.

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, I have been a member of a police authority for a long time. I think that we have changed chairmen four times. It emerged from the membership that they wanted a change of leadership and that in a closely knit body some people are better than others.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Indeed, my Lords. That could happen. I have no doubt that if it did, the members of the authority would make their views known to the Secretary of State. We are talking about a new authority. I hope that we would wish the chairman of the new authority to have some say in the appointment of the other members.

My noble friend Lord Faulkner asked whether the British Transport Police could appoint community support officers. The chief constable has not raised that matter with us in the past. Clearly, any such request will be considered seriously.

A number of points were raised—notably by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, and my noble friend Lord Berkeley—about the funding of the British Transport Police. It has been funded by the railway industry ever since its creation in the 19th century. It is not really equivalent to the funding of the police on the roads because we do not have a roads police. We have police who cover roads and other matters. They are funded by general taxation, which includes vehicle excise duty and fuel duty from motorists and the road transport industry. So the comparison and the demand for equivalence is not really appropriate. In any event, we are talking about a budget of 136 million, which is less than 2 per cent of the rail industry's turnover and excludes London Underground.

My noble friend Lord Berkeley made a specific point regarding the rail freight industry. Freight operators will pay about 1 million in 2003–04, which is less than 1 per cent of the British Transport Police's total budget and far less than 0.1 per cent of the freight companies' turnover.

The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, the noble Lords, Lord Bradshaw and Lord Luke, my noble friend Lord Faulkner, and no doubt other noble Lords, referred to jurisdiction outside the railways. The position is that the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act gave the British Transport Police jurisdiction outside the railways in urgent situations on non-railway matters. The Act, following serious debate—perhaps I may put it that way—in Parliament included a sunset clause. It provides that the Secretary of State should appoint a committee of Privy Counsellors who must report within two years—that is, by December this year. The Secretary of State will lay a copy of the report before Parliament as soon as possible; and the report can operate so that all or part of the Act can cease to have effect six months after the report is laid

1 May 2003 : Column 829

before Parliament. But if both Houses of Parliament pass a Motion within that period, then the provisions in question will remain on the statute book.

We do not want to pre-empt what the committee of Privy Counsellors will say on this or on any other matter on the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act. Having made that provision, it would be wrong for us to pre-empt its decision in response to strong pressure within Parliament. However, first, we believe that it is highly unlikely that the committee of Privy Counsellors will think that the jurisdiction outside the railways should not continue; and, secondly, if by any chance the committee of Privy Counsellors do so decide, we shall take action in the six-month period which is allowed to ensure that it does continue. Therefore, there will be continuity. I do not believe any amendment is necessary on that matter.

We have had little discussion of the amendments to the Greater London Authority Act. Because of its complexity, I am grateful for that. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, asked me when the transfer will take place. We are keen for it to take place as soon as possible. But, for the reasons that I have given, we need the Bill in order to ensure that the PPP contracts will continue as intended, and as intended originally in the Greater London Authority Act. The transfer cannot take place until the Bill is passed. Transport for London is involved in all these negotiations. It will give any assurances that are required.

There was generally—but not universally—a current of feeling that the Health and Safety Executive functions for the rail industry should not be charged to the rail industry. My noble friend Lord Berkeley made the comparison with roads. We are now talking about a figure only of 9 million cost, of which 55 per cent is for operational work that is being charged hourly. These are very small sums in relation to the costs of the rail industry. The Bill simplifies and improves the ways in which those sums are calculated.

On marine alcohol, I was shocked to hear the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, suggest that anyone who takes part in the Lords and Commons dinghy race might be under the influence of drink. I look to him for an "absolute assurance"—because that is how governments are always asked for assurances—that that is not the case. Of course the issue of who should be included or excluded is difficult. That is why we are consulting on the details rather than laying it down in the Bill. The noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, would wish for no exclusions; the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, poured scorn on that suggestion: I shall leave it to them to fight it out.

As to the question of harbour masters, they will be subject to the legislation when they are acting in a professional capacity on board a boat, but not otherwise. There are no equivalents to harbour masters and air traffic controllers. The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, raised the question of costs. They are set out in the regulatory impact assessment. However, I can give him a general assurance that they are not very significant.

1 May 2003 : Column 830

The noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, made specific points about the medical defence for fishermen. Those provisions are unchanged from Section 117 of the Merchant Shipping Act. As to the point raised about standbys, who are people who must hold themselves ready to take over in a case of an emergency, clearly, that is not possible for lifeboats and fishing vessels.

I shall not comment about the demand, in particular from the Liberal Democrat Benches, for a decrease in the alcohol limit from 80 milligrams to 50 milligrams. We shall respond to any amendments that are tabled.

The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, asked me about our response to the Wheeler report. I shall write to him on that point.

Viscount Astor: My Lords, before the Minister leaves the subject of alcohol limits, what is the justification for different limits rather than one limit for all those involved in safety?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I had intended to turn to that matter. We propose that the alcohol limit should be set at 20 milligrams for air crew and air traffic controllers. The reason is that a combination of concentration, unremitting attention and exceedingly swift reaction is required for air crew and air traffic controllers. That is why we have set a tougher limit. That does not apply—this is in response to the point raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Simon—to aircraft maintenance engineers. They of course have to be sober to do their work, but speed of reaction is not critical in aircraft maintenance work any more than it is in any other vehicle maintenance work.

My noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis suggested that we should adopt a process of peer intervention, as happens in the United States. I was glad to hear him suggest that it should be complementary to statutory limits rather than instead of them. In so far as it is complementary, it should be a matter for the Civil Aviation Authority rather than for legislation. But testing and the exercise of breathalyser powers should be and will be the responsibility of the police under the Act.

This is not a road safety Bill. We have a legislative programme and we shall have in due course, when parliamentary time allows, a road safety Bill. Out of the goodness of our hearts, and because we were already convinced of the merits of the case, we allowed two road safety measures—on seat belts for van drivers and on snow and ice—into the Bill in another place, but I do not want to encourage a Christmas tree. I do not want to encourage a whole range of other measures.

I listened carefully to what was said about mobile phones. We are consulting on that and will report on our conclusions as soon as possible. I listened to what was said about the 80 milligram limit. We said no to that, giving our reasons, last March—on the basis that with a slightly higher limit, we also have significantly higher penalties than countries with lower limits.

On the specific points made by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, the Heritage Rail Association is of course covered for accidents, as I am sure that he

1 May 2003 : Column 831

would want it to be, but for many other aspects of regulation, it is not covered by public service agreements. However, it is represented on the Health and Safety Commission. On the issue of snow and ice, the phrase "reasonably practicable" follows that used in Scotland, where it seems to work all right. I gave my answer to the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, about driving under impairment from drugs when I responded to his Private Member's Bill. I have nothing to add to that.

As I said, because I have exceeded any reasonable time, I shall resist the temptation to respond to those other matters that are not contained in the Bill, but of course they will be given due and careful consideration if and when they arise in Committee. I am grateful to noble Lords for their welcome for the Bill and I commend it to the House.

On Question, Bill read a second time.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page