HL Deb 22 July 1980 vol 412 cc292-6

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now considered on Report.

Moved, That the Bill be now considered on Report—(The Earl of Mansfield.)


My Lords, I was very enthusiastic in relation to the last Bill. I cannot say the same about this one, for the simple reason that, as far as I can see, this Bill is occasioned by local government reorganisation in Scotland which took place in, I think, 1973.


My Lords, 1975.


My Lords, I think that the legislation was passed before then, and effectively from the point of view of its operation. Then, of course, things like boroughs were wiped out; sheriff substitutes have also gone. Reference to the Police Act 1946 is, of course, long outdated. Let us compare what is here with what was in Section 53 of the British Transport Commission Act 1949, which was a local Act. If you are looking for it, remember to ask for the local Act. These are the only changes that are made, plus, so far as I can see, one other change.

There is introduced in subsection (4) the privilege, the powers and protection of constables: in, on and in the vicinity of the railways, harbours, docks, inland waterways, stations, wharves, garages, hotels"— that was always there by the way but I shall return to it— works, depots and other premises, and in vessels and hovercraft". Vessels and hovercraft were not in the 1949 Act, but they are here, so we are bringing them up to date. Full marks, one might say, to the British transport authorities.

But although they are pretty late in bringing forward this Bill, they are too early as well; for if they had waited just a little longer they might have got it right in modern terms. It says "hotels", but the British Transport Commission is to get rid of its hotels. So in a couple of months the word "hotel" may be quite otiose. But I have not finished yet. The provisions says: …and in vessels and hovercraft, belonging or leased to or worked by any of the Boards or their wholly-owned subsidiaries". But in future these subsidiaries are not to be wholly owned. The result is that this will be wrong in a few months. Would it not have been better for the Scottish Office to advise British Rail to hold off?—bearing in mind that the changes that are to be made should have been made long before this. Now that they are being made, it looks as though the situation will be very different. Indeed, parts of this legislation will be quite wrong and quite unnecessary.

There is only one other suggestion that I want to make. Is it not a little unfair that the cost, charge and expenses of and incidental to the preparing of, obtaining and confirming of this order shall be paid by the Board—that is, the Railways Board? It is not really responsible for the necessitating of this order. It was the Government that reorganised local government and so threw the thing out of joint as regards Section 53 of the 1949 Act. Indeed, it is the Government again who are enforcing changes and once again making it doubtful as to whether it will be accurate for very long. I wonder whether any thought has been given to these matters by the Scottish Office, and whether I am entirely wrong in my suggestion that this was occasioned by local government reorganisation as long as seven years ago.


My Lords, my understanding of this Bill, which is a private Bill, is that it has nothing to do with local government at all. The purpose of it is simply and solely to amend Section 53 of the British Transport Commission Act 1949 in its application to Scotland. But by the provisions of Section 53 of that Act, which in general applied throughout Great Britain, the British Transport police constable was able to act as a constable only when he was in, on, or in the vicinity of the railways, harbours, and premises of the British Transport Commission, or, since 1962, its successor undertakings, and British Transport Hotels, except when he—that is the officer—was in pursuit of persons who had committed an arrestable offence in the vicinity of those premises.

It is paragraph 3 of the schedule with which we are really concerned. The purpose of that is two-fold. It enables a British Transport police constable to continue to act as a constable when off the premises of the board or its subsidiaries, and furthermore to act as a constable on such conveyances as ships and hovercraft, which the noble Lord, Lord Ross, has related to the House, operated by the board or their subsidiaries and on premises of the board's subsidiaries.

I have not looked this up, but we can see from the Bill that "wholly-owned subsidiary" has the same meaning as in Section 92 of the Transport Act 1962. I imagine that when the legislation which is proposed to allow what is nowadays called the privatisation of British Rail to take place, there will have to be an amendment to the Transport Act 1962 or it will make a nonsense. This is perfectly well in point, and I would remind the noble Lord that when it was contemplated I do not suppose that we had got too far along the road towards the privatisation of British Railways.

I should just add that a British Transport police constable appointed under Clause 3 shall not act as a constable unless he is in uniform. If he is acting as a constable out of uniform he must hold authority from the sheriff or the chief police officer of the transport police to do so, and shall show such authority when requested to do so. So far as the cost is concerned, I think it is perfectly normal in a private Bill, such as this, that costs fall on the person or organisation that desires the Bill. I do not think I can help the House further.


My Lords, in order to cover the changes that will be necessary in this particular Bill the Government could have done it within their own public Act, which would save money to the board. If he goes back and has a look at Section 53 of the British Transport Commission Act, I think subsection (4), that is the only change that is being made. Subsection (4) is one of these sort of omnibus subsections in application to Scotland. For "boroughs" you will read "burgh"; for "justices" you will read "sheriff" or "sheriff substitute", and points like that. The Police Act 1946 and 1947.

What they have done, instead of making the changes there, is to take the opportunity of rewriting Section 53 in much more lucid language and making the changes that I have suggested that are here about vessels, and hovercraft, et cetera. If the noble Earl looks back he will probably find that there has been no change in the English and Welsh situation because there was none needed. Indeed, we could have carried on but for the desire to make the necessary changes. Even what the noble Earl read out about them being in uniform or acting without uniform, is all in Section 53, and this is merely a sensible rewriting of Section 53. I do not think there is very much difference in relation to the carrying out of investigations and arresting any person "whom he has followed from." That is all there too, or most of it. I think myself that they would have been well advised, in view of the changes that are proposed and were announced last week, to just hold this back for another length of time. It was not going to cause any trouble at all to British Transport.

However, as the noble Earl says, it will be all right for a week or two, or a month or two, and depending upon when we get the change of legislation, then we are going to have to deal with another confirmation Bill, which means that the noble Earl will have to listen to another speech of mine. I know that is bad news for him, but there you are. I do not think it is a very good piece of legislation in the circumstances.


My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8 o'clock.

[The Sitting was suspended at 7.24 p.m. and resumed at 8 p.m.]