HL Deb 08 May 1975 vol 360 cc507-18

6.2 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. This is a small, but I think important measure, designed to help the police, bus workers and the travelling public. It gives the police the power to arrest a person who is in breach of the regulations governing the conduct of passengers on buses and coaches, if that person withholds his name and address, or if he fails to satisfy the police officer that he has given his name and address correctly. We are all aware of the increase in hooliganism and vandalism in recent years—at football matches, on trains, in dance halls and at pop concerts. Buses and coaches have been especially vulnerable to this development. In 1974, in the Metropolitan Police district alone, the police were summoned to no fewer than 849 incidents on London Transport buses. But this figure undoubtedly underestimates the extent of the problem. Many more incidents were undoubtedly dealt with by the bus crews without the police being informed.

The most serious form of this hooliganism has been the increasing number of attacks on drivers and conductors, particularly in London but also in some of the other conurbations. Some of these attacks have been exceedingly vicious. The House will recall that in one of them at the beginning of this year, a London bus conductor. Mr. Ronald Jones, died. The case is still sub judice, and therefore it would not be appropriate for me to say anything about it. But, following the one-day protest strike of London Transport staff which followed this tragic incident, Mr. Kenneth Robinson, the Chairman of London Transport, and Mr. Jack Jones, the General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, and other union leaders, came to see my right honourable friends the Home Secretary and the Minister for Transport to discuss the situation, and to make representations to them. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary made it clear that the Government were determined to support the staff of London Transport and other bus operators in this situation. This Bill is the direct outcome of that meeting.

I should now like to explain the present position. The police already have power to arrest those assaulting bus crews and passengers. They do not, however, have the power to arrest those committing offences against the regulations governing the conduct of passengers on public service vehicles. These regulations—which form Part III of the Public Service Vehicles (Conduct of Drivers, Conductors and Passengers) Regulations 1936, as amended—cover such matters as the use of obscene or offensive language, standing on the upper deck, damaging the vehicle, spitting, refusing to pay one's fare and causing injury or discomfort to any person. The maximum penalty on summary conviction for contravening, or failing to comply with, these regulations is a fine of £100.

My Lords, proceedings for a breach of these regulations is at present by way of summons. This means that when an incident occurs and the police are called to the scene they ask the offender for his name and address. If he refuses to give it, or on subsequent inquiry it proves that the name and address given are false, he may be able to escape prosecution. This Bill seeks to close that loophole.

My Lords, it is the Government's view that it is right in principle that offences of the kind dealt with in the regulations should continue to be prosecuted by summons, whenever possible. Your Lordships will note that this Bill gives a power of arrest only where there has been a failure on the part of the offender to give his correct name and address. The Government take the view that it is neither necessary nor desirable to confer a wider power. If a passenger is willing and able to give and prove his name and address to the police officer on the spot, there is no point in arresting him and taking him to a police station. The power of arrest granted by the Bill will be a power in reserve, to be used only where the offender's lack of co-operation excludes the possibility of bringing him to court by way of summons.

As the House will see, the application of the Bill is restricted to England and Wales, because under Scottish law the police already have a general power of arrest which is exercisable in the circumstances set out in the Bill. This Bill is not, of course, a complete remedy for the problem of misconduct and violence on buses. But it is evidence of the Government's determination to take all appropriate measures to deal with that problem. We believe that the Bill will add significantly to the powers of the police and will help to ensure that those who misbehave on public transport do not escape prosecution. We believe that it will have the effect of discouraging hooligans and vandals, and so diminish the number of assaults and other incidents in which bus crews and other innocent passengers suffer. Accordingly, I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, that the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Harris of Greenwich.)

6.7 p.m.


My Lords, this is a modest but, nevertheless, welcome measure which will assist the police in dealing with hooligans who commit offences on buses. As the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, said, the police already have powers to arrest any passenger who commits an assault, not only on the crew but, indeed, on other passengers. I understand that previously offences falling short of an assault—such as the use of offensive language, or some forms of vandalism—could be evaded, so far as detection and subsequent trial were concerned, by refusal on the part of the offender to give his or her name and address.

My Lords, the need for this Bill is perhaps an illustration of the attitude of some members of the public towards those whose job, after all, is to help fulfil their needs. I do not suppose that this Bill in itself will act as much of a deterrent, except that it will assist the police in the detection and clearing up of such offences. It seems to me that, as in so many areas of criminal behaviour; the real deterrent for these people is the certainty of detection and thereafter conviction. Therefore perhaps I could take this opportunity of welcoming some of the other measures recently taken in this field, such as the provision of two-way radios and klaxons. I understand that in some cases police officers in plain clothes are now encouraged—or even required—to travel on certain routes at certain times.

Another matter which is just as important as measures to apprehend these offenders is the attitude of the courts. I appreciate that the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, will say that questions of sentencing are nothing to do with him or, indeed, with the Home Office, and if anybody is concerned with this matter it is the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack—or perhaps I should say who normally sits on the Woolsack. But another complicating factor which I appreciate is that, as I understand the situation, the majority of these offences take place not when the public houses close, but when the schools close in the middle of the afternoon.

Although I am not aware of the figures, one can assume that the average age of offenders in this category must be fairly young, so that the courts are restricted in what they can do when they are eventually apprehended and brought before them. Nevertheless, I venture to hope that magistrates should be encouraged—to put it no higher—to use the powers of sentencing which they presently have in suitable cases where exemplary punishment may he called for. All too often one reads of these frightening and terrible scenes which take place on public transport, and at the end of the day the malefactors, as such they are, are either let off to find what one can only describe as a nominal or derisory sum.

My Lords, I intended to ask the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, what enactment applies to Scotland, since this Bill does not extend there, but I do not think it is very fair of me to do so and I shall not. I would merely say for the Record that these offences in Glasgow have been just as bad as in any other city in Great Britain and I am very pleased that the police in Scotland already have these powers. It is, perhaps, one more case where Scottish law is already in advance of that South of the Border. With these few words I welcome this Bill.

6.11 p.m.


My Lords, having spent six years as a PSV driver and conductor, I felt I could not let this little Bill go through without saying a few words and joining the last two speakers in giving it a welcome. Its provisions do not go very far but this Bill, which is long overdue, is at least a start. Like a great deal of legislation, no action is taken until a tragedy has taken place. I should like to outline a few situations where trouble occurs. The first and main one is with people who quibble about paying the proper fare and an argument ensues. For some reason or other, there has always been great resentment on the part of many people, especially when there has been a sharp increase. The person who suffers the brunt of their complaints is the conductor or driver, who has nothing whatever to do with the fares except that it is part of his or her job to collect them. I can well remember the vitriol and abuse that was bestowed on me on a certain occasion, especially when I found someone who overrode and was made to pay again. Happily, I did not suffer any physical violence, although there were times when I thought I was near to it.

When people refuse to pay or do not have the money, one is supposed to issue a ticket, take their name and address and then produce witnesses with their addresses—all of which is a rather cumbersome procedure. I do not suppose there is any other course and I suppose it is necessary. Schoolchildren, whom my noble friend has just mentioned, are indeed natural offenders and one might expect them to be so. One has of course to watch them like a hawk, especially those with passes which they try to pass around to other people who do not have them. It is very difficult to prove an offence, unless they transfer a pass to one of another sex. Then one can ask a boy, "Is your name Maisie?" and then you have got him, but it is rather difficult to prove.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris, mentioned people who have had a drink. Again, this is a rather unpleasant aspect. The conductor feels after a long and wearisome day that if a person can afford to go out and get drunk he can afford to pay his fare to get home. This can be particularly troublesome in tourist areas, where people are rightly described as the salt of the earth and are absolutely lovely, but only when they are sober. It would be a very sad thing indeed if the day ever came when all late-night buses had to be discontinued, as I believe they have been in some places. The majority of persons conduct themselves in an orderly fashion. Traditionally, people have felt that a lighted bus going down a dark street is a safe place, where they can travel unmolested. Unfortunately, this is becoming rather less so. This Bill will at least give the bus operative an assurance that, if he or she has trouble, the police will have powers to be more effective and thus arrest the offender on the spot if he fails to give an address.

There is one question which I should like to ask the Minister. I do not know whether it is possible, by amending this Bill, to make it mandatory for people to produce some identification when giving their address. I know this is difficult and might be unpleasant, but it is easy for a person to say that he is John Smith of somewhere, and you really cannot prove it unless he produces something. In this country we do not have identification cards, and we do not all have driving licences, but people usually have a letter or a photograph or something which they can produce. If that provision can be put into the Bill, it will be a very good thing.

I understand that, where possible, the police are assisting the busmen. I spoke on the telephone to Mr. Young, the bus secretary of the London Transport Section, of the Transport and General Workers' Union. He said there was great co-operation with the police, where possible. I would also ask the Minister whether he can impress upon bus operators all over the country the need for bus inspectors to be on late duty. I do not say very often, but on some occasions they are slightly early home birds and do not always cover the late duties. But their very presence on the bus, the figure in the uniform and the peaked cap, can help to allay trouble on some occasions.

There is also the other side of the coin; that is, the approach of the driver and the conductor towards the public. There are some situations beyond anyone's control where, however pleasant and tactful a conductor has been, he suffers assault. But there are others where trouble can be avoided. I well remember making an unfortunate remark that could well have been left unsaid and I had to retract very quickly, and that could possibly be said of all of us. This is most easily done. I understand that London Transport have instituted seminars on the human approach, and I hope this move can be extended all over the country. A documentary film could be made showing situations which could or could not have been avoided. I understand that both the Confederation of British Road Transport and the Transport and General Workers' Union—whose Secretary has rightly taken a personal interest in this matter—give this Bill their blessing. The only suggestion that was made was to allow for the use of hazard lights when pulling on to stops. Finally, I hope that when this Bill passes into law the maximum publicity will be given, which might at least deter some people from being an infernal nuisance.

6.16 p.m.


My Lords, I did not intend to intervene in this debate, but I should be grateful if the Minister would clear one point. I warmly welcome the Bill, having known some of my former constituents who were badly assaulted on late night buses. The Minister explained that this Bill refers to buses and coaches. Could he tell us whether the powers which we are seeking in this Bill for buses and coaches are already available in respect of tube trains and railway trains?


My Lords, I should like to follow up the point made by my noble friend. I particularly wel- come the Bill. I travel from here on the No. 11 bus at night and meet some very strange characters, though I have never personally seen anybody assaulted. I should like to know whether this, or some other legislation, will cover the other kind of public transport upon which assaults also occur—namely, taxis. There have been some unfortunate incidents of both robbery and assault and I gather they are on the increase.

6.19 p.m.

The Duke of ATHOLL

My Lords, before the noble Lord replies, I should very much like to support the final point made by my noble friend Lord Teviot, in relation to publicity. It is most important that the provisions of this small Bill when it becomes law, as I, like everyone else, hope it will, should be given the maximum publicity. What worries me, as this Bill does not apply to Scotland, is that those who misbehave themselves on buses in Scotland may think that they are safe in so doing. I hope at the same time as the Home Office organises the publicity for this Bill when it becomes an Act, the Scottish Office will make it perfectly clear that the provisions contained in this Bill already apply to Scotland, and that we will not have an increase in the amount of trouble that we have had in one or two Scottish cities in the past few years.

6.20 p.m.


My Lords, may I briefly say a word or two from the magistrates' side? We certainly welcome this Bill. As I am sure the noble Lord knows, we would welcome anything that would help the police apprehend offenders of any age. This particular Bill, as the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, indicated, will help the police apprehend and bring to justice—whatever one might think of that word in the present context of the Children and Young Persons Act—schoolchildren hooligans. These are the young people that we find in our area on the periphery of London are the main offenders not only in evading fares but in assaults on bus conductors. I have had—I will not say "many"—quite a number of children brought before my court when they have collectively assaulted a bus conductor.

I hope that this Bill will be brought into being quite soon. I should like to suggest to the Minister that the schools should be made aware of the new provisions in this Bill because, as other noble Lords have said, the more publicity we can give to it, the more we can tell the potential offenders of the amount of fines they might have to pay if they are brought to court, and perhaps the more we can protect the public and also make the young children aware of what they might face if they infringe the law.

6.22 p.m.


My Lords, I have a number of points to answer. I will do my best to cover all of them. I am grateful to the noble Earl and to everybody else who has, without exception, welcomed the Bill. I will now endeavour to deal with the points of detail. The noble Earl, and the noble Duke who has just resumed his seat, asked about the position in Scotland. The noble Earl was kind enough to say that he did not expect me to answer today. I have good news for him. I can give him the answer. At the moment offences of this sort committed in Scotland are covered by Scottish Common Law. That is the situation, I am advised, so far as Scotland is concerned.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hornsby-Smith, asked about the situation as far as tube trains and other trains are concerned. These are already covered by the Transport Act, and in London by other regulations. Therefore there is no need to take any action as far as they are concerned. My noble friend Lady Phillips asked about the situation of taxis. I fear they are not covered by any other Statute or by this Bill. They are not public service vehicles as defined by the 1960 Road Traffic Act. Assaults, which is the point she raised, are covered already as far as assaults on buses are concerned. We are dealing here with a situation affecting a breach of regulations falling short of assault. That is the mischief that we hope to deal with in this Bill.

The noble Earl raised a number of other points. He said first (and on this point I agree with him totally) that the best deterrent to offences of this sort, and crime generally, is the likelihood of detection and thereafter conviction. He raised the question as far as the position of the courts is concerned, and he pro- phesied that if he raised this point and asked what was the Government's attitude, I would reply that this was not a matter for Ministers, and certainly not Home Office Ministers. He made that prophecy, and once again he is wholly right. That is my answer. It is not a matter for the Home Secretary to make a series of pronouncements on what the penalties for particular offences should be. That is a matter for the Judiciary. From time to time I know that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, when speaking to gatherings of magistrates, gives his view about the pattern of crime at that time facing our society. I know that on previous occasions within the last year my noble and learned friend has spoken on this particular subject to magistrates. Therefore, replying on his behalf on this occasion, I can say that he is well aware of this, and has done what a number of noble Lords have asked for in this debate.


My Lords, I may say I am proposing to do this tomorrow in speaking to a gathering of magistrates.


My Lords, in that case noble Lords will be even more gratified. The noble Earl also asked about klaxons and whether these should not be used. In fact, London Transport are pressing ahead with the introduction of a system of the intermittent sounding of a horn and the flashing of lights to give warning of assault, or some other serious development, on a particular bus. That is going on at the moment. In addition to this situation in London, in a number of provincial cities there are already arrangements for the installation of two-way radios in buses. This exists in Glasgow, in Leicester, in Preston, in Merseyside and in West Yorkshire. Not all the buses have two-way radios; but in areas where there have been incidents the local bus companies decided to bring these types of vehicle into service on those routes. In Leicester, this has led to quite a substantial number of people appearing in court for committing offences in the general area covered in the debate today. This has been a useful development and has deterred others from committing similar offences.


My Lords, are the two-way radios between the conductor and the driver or between the police and the driver?


My understanding would be that the communication is from the bus to the depot. I assume that is the way in which a message would be passed to give warning of whether the conductor was being assaulted or something of that sort was taking place.

The noble Lord, Lord Teviot, who has substantial experience in this matter, spoke about people who argued about the fare. This was one of the problems confronting us last year. Many of these violent episodes began in London as a result of a person or a group of youths refusing to pay their fares. The problem which confronted the bus crews was that at that stage a policeman could demand an address, and he might not secure the co-operation of the perseon concerned. Under this Bill that problem will be dealt with. If a person refused to pay his fare (and this is often the preliminary to an act of violence) and the conductor then insisted on the man paying, the bus can be driven to a police station, or a policeman can step on to the bus and require the person declining to pay his fare to produce evidence of identity; and if the policeman is not satisfied, he can make an arrest. The noble Lord, Lord Teviot, asked on this question of identification whether something could not be written into the Bill specifying the sort of evidence required for the policeman to be satisfied that a person was who he said he was. This problem is not a particularly serious one. It is covered by a good deal of other legislation. The police will have to be satisfied, as in other matters, of the identity of a person. If they are not so satisfied, then they would have the power to arrest.

Viscount AMORY

My Lords, can the noble Lord tell us whether the practice of giving false addresses is very common; because if so it seems to leave an awful loop-hole. I cannot think of any way to get round it. Is it a serious practice?


My Lords, on a number of occasions I understand there have been serious problems with this type of offence in London, and that is why we are asking this House and another place to give the police these powers whereby they will require clear evidence of identification, and they will have to be so satisfied. The noble Lord, Lord Teviot, raised the question of the degree of co-operation between the police and bus authorities. Since October of last year there has been an arrangement in London whereby a police liaison officer has been with each bus garage in the London Transport area. He has been an officer of the rank of inspector. This has improved the degree of police/London Transport co-operation but, nevertheless, as a result of what has happened since October, it did not go far enough. That is why we are recommending that we proceed with this Bill today.

My Lords, I believe I have answered most, if not all, of the questions asked by noble Lords. I should like to conclude by thanking the House once again for giving this Bill, modest though it is, but nevertheless effective in my view, such a warm welcome, and I hope it will soon be on the Statute Book.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.