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Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her response to the order. In answer to her first question, as she will recognise, it is necessary to introduce the order now because initially it was widely believed that the existing contracting out order covered work, which Capita carried out, on the position of teachers who were mis-sold a personal pension. As Capita administered the databases of teachers' records on behalf of the department, only it could provide the information needed to resolve cases of mis-selling.
It is now recognised that the re-tendering of the contract is an appropriate point at which to introduce the new functions in the contracting out order to guarantee that we have adequate, proper information on how the pension scheme works. It takes place against a background of widespread anxiety across all sectors about the mis-selling of pensions, which the noble Baroness will recognise. It behoves the public sector to take every possible measure to ensure that the problem is resolved. The measure represents a tightening-up of the position and a guarantee that the order makes clear the terms on which Capita applied and eventually obtained the new contract. It guarantees future security.
The order's practical effect allows Capita to administer to mis-selling provisions with proper statutory cover. There is no undue effect on the scheme's members. It ensures that we have proper statutory backing for the operations of Capita as an agent of the department.
I recognise the noble Baroness's final point. I thought that it would probably not be possible to discuss any aspect of the current education scene without the noble Baroness referring to the budget. She will also recognise that the base on which the full and accurate obligations on teachers' pensions are calculated cannot be given with the kind of precision required in a Written Answer, as my honourable friend in another place indicated clearly, but it can be given
The noble Baroness berates the Government for their very substantial increase in schools' provision on the grounds that it is inadequate, while all her friends in another place stress their intention to bring public spending down by 20 per cent. That will impact somehow on the education budget, otherwise it will be unachievable. So I will not take her diatribes about the Government's weaknesses in this area, given that it is generally recognised that the cost of the pensions increase was to be borne by schools. Due regard was paid to that.
I am all too aware of the difficulties of some schools. Nevertheless, the very significant, double-figure increase in allocations to schools took account of aspects of the pensions position. I cannot pretend that all issues relating to schools are resolved, as the noble Baroness knows only too well. But the Government's generosity towards schools cannot be matched on the other side, given its present disposition towards expenditure.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, clearly, I touched a nerve with the noble Lord. The 20 per cent cut that he talked about is simply not true. The Minister need not worry about my sensitivities, as I am not a teacher or a headteacher trying to run a school. Tell that to the lady headteacher who is going to do a parachute jump to raise money to save sacking a teacher this year. Tell it to the teacher who will work a four-day week to save money to pay for teachers in his school. Tell it to the school in Barnet that is likely to go bankrupt. They are the people to be concerned about, not my sensitivities.
I shall return to my questions on the order. Taking no advantage of previous orders that have been placed before the House since 1997, the noble Lord's explanation for the order was: "This will give it proper statutory backing". Does that mean that there has not been statutory backing for the advice and information required to cover the issue of mis-selling for six and a half years? If so, it is a desperate situation. Perhaps the noble Lord ought to have seen it when the party first came into office. They have been to the Dispatch Box and passed orders since 1997. The noble Lord and the Minister in another place have not satisfactorily explained why, almost seven years after the event, this order should be so necessary.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the order is necessary because the pensions situation has changed significantly. The noble Baroness will recognise the anxieties in recent years over the mis-selling of pensions. Substantial legislative changes to pensions have taken place across the board. We have taken this opportunity to ensure that the teachers' pension scheme is as secure as possible and that it guarantees that the necessary aspects are covered so that there is proper accountability for the pensions position, thus ensuring that the scheme operates at its best.
I hear what the noble Baroness says about the difficulties that schools face, but she might also be ablejust now and againto dredge up a little credit and acknowledge that part of the issue that confronts schools is a substantial increase in the pay of teachers, particularly those who increase their pay through improved performance. We introduced that measure in order to ensure that we rewarded good teachers better than in the past and could attract people to the profession in the way we needed to do, given the pressures on the system.
Those provisions cost considerable amounts of money. No one doubts that school budgets are stretched by additions to teachers' pay. All I can say is that we are proud that we have taken decisions in those terms. We wish that the Opposition would from time to time recognise that improvement in the position of teachers and also tell us how they would square their commitments to reduce public expenditure with meeting the need for the same kind of provision.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, my point is about pensions. The increase in pension contributionsthat is what the order is aboutwas responsible for leaving schools unable to cope. The noble Lord said that the remedy for the problem of statutory backing was to take part of an order that was passed in 1996 as part of the enactment. That could have been done much earlier in the previous Parliament.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, we could probably continue the debate for a considerable part of the afternoon. The order has been brought forward now because, as I said, there have been anxieties about pensions, which the noble Baroness will recognise. It is necessary to make the changes, not because there has not been statutory backing for the Secretary of State's position with regard to pensions but because we need to secure the position of the contractorCapitain order to make sure that the issues relating to the mis-selling of pensions and the financial dimensions thereof are covered, as far as concerns the contractor.
The noble Baroness may well argue that that might have been foreseen seven or eight years ago: a great deal of other work on pensions might have been foreseen several decades ago. Perhaps the previous administration also missed things. As a society, we have gone through a difficult time with pensions
Noble Lords will be aware that disruptive or anti-social behaviour by passengers on aircraft has hit the headlines in recent years. Incidents of air rage, as it is commonly called, tend to be widely reported to the extent that the public may fear that that sort of behaviour is more common than it really is. In fact, the chances of anyone encountering a serious incident of disruptive behaviour on an aircraft are very slim. Nevertheless, being confronted with drunken, loutish or aggressive behaviour is an unpleasant and frightening experience, particularly when it takes place in a confined space at 30,000 feet. In that environment, should incidents of unruly behaviour get out of control they could ultimately threaten the safety of the aircraft and the lives of all those on board. The problem must not be exaggerated, but neither should it be trivialised.
The Bill starts from the position that there are several offences in United Kingdom law that relate to disruptive passenger behaviour on aircraft. However, none carries statutory power of arrest. The police have identified that as a deficiency that can cause practical problems for them and may sometimes make prosecution of offences less effective. The Bill would address that deficiency, giving the police the power to search and arrest those suspected of committing criminal offences at airports or on aircraft. In addition, the Bill would allow for an increase in the penalty for the most serious offencesendangering the safety of the aircraft or any person on an aircraftfrom two to five years in prison.
I am grateful to the Department for Transport for telling me that 1,055 incidents were reported by domestic airlines in the year to 31st March 2002a drop from 1,250 incidents in the previous 12 months. They ranged from relatively minor incidents, such as arguing with other passengers or robustly criticising the service, to serious and disruptive misbehaviour. The Civil Aviation Authority classed 528 incidentsroughly halfas significant, and a further 52 as serious. That represents a slight increase in the percentage of incidents judged to be significant.
Happily, in the year to last March, no reported cases of disruptive behaviour contributed to an aviation accident, although there were some that involved actual violence against cabin crew. Some 77 in every 100 incidents involved male passengersa figure that has been constant over the past three years. Most offenders were in their 20s, 30s or 40s. About one-third
It is no surprise that passengers suspected of being under the influence of drugs or showing signs of excessive alcohol consumption were involved in most of the 52 serious incidents. Alcohol was involved in 45 per cent of all the reported incidents. Verbal warningsor yellow cardsworked in 44 per cent of the incidents but not in 35 per cent. In 16 incidents, a passenger had to be physically restrained by handcuffs and/or a strap, and in a further nine other forms of restraint were used such as having a cabin member sit next to the passenger for the rest of the flight. On six occasions, the aircraft had to divert when in the air, and on three, the aircraft had to discontinue taxi or take-off procedures and return to its stand.
There were 155 incidents in which passengers were either refused boarding, usually because of drunkenness, or entered the aircraft but were subsequently disembarked before take-offan increase on 141 incidents for the previous year.
Such figures make the point that all airlines have and use legal rights under their conditions of carriage to refuse carriage to any person or to off-load him or her at any airport en route if it is felt that the safety of the aircraft or the health or safety of any person on it might be endangered. I am grateful to British Airways for sending me a copy of its policy for dealing with disruptive passengers. I am pleased that its overall policy states:
Virgin Atlantic Airways has a similar policy, but sent it to me asking that I keep the details confidential. However, like British Airways and other airlines, it is "very supportive" of the Bill. However, Virgin Atlantic tells me that since last June there have been 37 incidents of disruptive behaviour in-flight involving men and 11 incidents involving women.
I should perhaps put all this in context. The chance of an individual passenger boarding a flight on which a serious incident may take place is about one in 22,000. Only one in every 2 million passengers has been the cause of a serious disruptive incident. But we need to remember that the risk to ground staff and crews is substantially greater than it is to passengers.
The origin of the Bill dates back to 1998 when the Association of Chief Police Officers commissioned a group of senior police officers working at UK airports to investigate the adequacy of powers to deal with aircraft and airport offences. The ensuing report,
Where an offence does not carry a statutory power of arrest, the police may only arrest suspects if they are likely to injure themselves or others or if their identities cannot be established, which is unlikely with airline passengers as they would be carrying passports. In most cases the police are therefore restricted to taking a name and address and reporting the offender for summons.
The lack of powers to detain suspects creates a number of practical problems. It means that the police are unable to search, fingerprint or question suspects or to take witness statements. For charges to be made, the police must travel to the suspect's address and call in witnesses who are likely to live in dispersed locations, thereby using valuable police time.
The Bill would put into law the recommendations made by the Airport Police Commanders in respect of in-flight offences. Clause 1 introduces police powers of arrest to deal with drunk or disruptive passengers on aircraft. In England and Wales, an arrest by a police constable without a warrant can be made only if the alleged offence committed is classified as being arrestable under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. To be arrestable, an offence must carry a maximum penalty of five years or more. The offences cited carry a maximum two-year penalty only. In order to make these offences arrestable, it is therefore necessary to include them in a list of specific arrestable offences.
Since the Police and Criminal Evidence Act does not apply to Northern Ireland and Scotland, equivalent provisions are made in order to make the offences arrestable there. As the primary purpose of the Bill is aviation security, I understand that the Scottish Executive has accepted that this is a reserved matter.
Clause 2 changes the Civil Aviation Act 1982 to allow the possibility of introducing a maximum penalty of five years for an offence relating to endangering an aircraft or a person in an aircraft. This is clearly a very serious offence in comparison to drunkenness or disruptive behaviour and a two-year penalty seems insufficient. Increasing the maximum penalty to five years would automatically make this offence arrestable in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In Scotland, policing legislation is different and it is necessary to add this offence to the list of offences in Clause 1(3) which are to be automatically arrestable without warrant in Scotland.
The Bill is short and modest in its scope. But the changes that it proposes would undoubtedly make enforcement of the law more effective in an area which potentially affects many people. It would implement recommendations made by the police and, as the Bill's
Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, it was sheer luck that I happened into the Chamber when this Bill came up. I support it very strongly and I hope that the Government do so. My reason for being particularly interested is that for at least six years I served as a member of the Air Transport Users' Committee, ending up as its chairman. I therefore have a certain amount of knowledge in this area. I do not think that the noble Lord asked the advice of that particular committee. It has infinite experience which would be worth taking on board. I wish the Bill very well. If there is anything I can do, please let me know.
Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, I am happy to welcome the Bill from these Benches. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Corbett, that although the offences dealt with in the Bill may not affect many passengers, they are nevertheless extremely serious in the context of aviation safety as a whole and that of the crew in particular.
The Bill comes to this House after a long debate in the House of Commons and with the support of the Government. The purposes of the Bill have been clearly explained todaynamely, to increase penalties for certain existing offences and to enable the police to arrest people who are implicated in such offences when they land at an airport. It also calls for witness statements from crew or passengers who are present when an alleged incident takes place. That would enormously strengthen the power of the police to deal with these offences.
My right honourable and honourable friends in another place support this Bill and its extension to Scotland. In the unavoidable absence of my noble friend Lord Bradshaw, from these Benches I am delighted to welcome the Bill to this House.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Astor has been delayed. That is why I am appearing in his place. The noble Lord, Lord Corbett of Castle Vale, has made a very strong case for the Bill. Obviously, it already has my party's support. The figures he quoted show that, generally speaking, airline passengers are as well behaved as almost any identifiable group one can imagineapart, of course, from Members of your Lordships' House who are invariably well-behaved. But, of course, it is also the case that when people misbehave on aircraft, the consequences can be very serious. It is therefore right that there should be proper measures to deal with those who misbehave. I support the Bill.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Government take very seriously the problem of disruptive passenger behaviour on aircraft. It became a matter of increased public concern when there was a serious incident in 1998: a stewardess was attacked and injured on board a UK aircraft. After that incidentwhich I am sure the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, will rememberthe Government took action in two ways. First, we set up a disruptive passengers working group, chaired by the Department for Transport and including representatives from the Civil Aviation Authority, the Home Office, the police, airlines and unions.
We keep regular contact with the Air Transport Users' Committee and it is aware of this Bill. I could not say positively that it has approved it, but it is aware of it. The group's remit is to advise Ministers on measures to minimise the frequency and potential impact of disruptive behaviour on board aircraft. Secondly, on the advice of the group, we introduced a standardised reporting scheme for incidents of disruptive behaviour on board UK aircraft. There was little hard evidence at that time and it was agreed that statistics were necessary to establish the nature and scale of the problem. My noble friend Lord Corbett has given, in considerable detail, the statistics on "air rage". Indeed, it is true that it is not as widespread as one might sometimes think from reading the newspapers. I suppose that that is because some disruptive passengers are what are called celebrities who often appear in the tabloids. I suspect that they are category B or C celebrities rather than category A. It is true that there were 52 serious incidents only in the last year for which figures are availablethat is, incidents threatening flight safety or personal safety or having the potential to do so.
Any incident of anti-social behaviour, however serious, can be an unpleasant and frightening experience for those affected. As my noble friend Lord Corbett remarked, cabin crew are more vulnerable because they fly so much more. We want to ensure that incidents become rarer in the future.
UK legislation to deal with offences committed on board aircraft is among the most comprehensive in the world. There are a number of specific offences relating to behaviour in aircraft, as set out in the Air Navigation Order 2000. These are: endangering the safety of an aircraft; being drunk in an aircraft; smoking when prohibited; disobeying a lawful command by the commander of an aircraft; and acting in a disruptive manner, which includes interfering with cabin crew in the course of their duty.
In addition to those offences, normal criminal law applies on board UK aircraft and powers exist to act against offenders on board non-UK aircraft whose next destination is the UK, provided that the act committed is an offence under both UK law and the law of the state of registry of the aircraft. We are
As my noble friend said, it is essential that offences can be adequately enforced and that the penalties are appropriate. There is a consensus that the maximum two-year penalty is not proportionate. In at least one case, a judge has commented that he would have imposed a longer sentence if one had been available. So it seems appropriate to raise the penalty to five years, which also has the effect of making the offence arrestable by statute. The police have had concerns that their powers are not always sufficient for some of these offences and I can confirm that this has sometimes prevented them from taking effective action. They have asked for their powers to be strengthened to allow certain other offences to become arrestable by statute, but without increasing the penalty.
I can confirm that all those working in the airline industry are supportive of these changes, which have also been welcomed by the Government's disruptive passengers working group. We wish to see effective prosecution of the offences and appropriate punishment. The fact that these serious incidents are rare does not undermine the rationale for the Bill. Even if only a handful occur, it is still important that each incident can be followed up effectively by the police. For cabin crew members or passengers who have been the victim of a disruptive behaviour offence, it would be unacceptable if the offender were not prosecuted because of difficulties in gathering evidence long after the incident had occurred.
Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for welcoming the Bill and, in more practical terms, for confirming the Government's support for it. I thank also those noble Lords who have been kind enough to support the Bill. I am flattered that the Opposition Chief Whip should have graced our proceedings for the reason he explained.
The noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, made the point beautifully. One of the first pieces of advice I was given when I came into your Lordships' House was to be very careful when speaking because it was an absolute certainty that there would be someone in the audience who would know more about what you were talking about than you did yourself. I am grateful to the noble Baroness. If the Bill is given a Second Reading, then between today and the remaining stages I shall have a word with the Air Transport Users' Committee.
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