Railways etc. Byelaws: Increase in Penalties

Orders of the Day — Transport Bill – in the House of Commons at 9:45 pm on 28th July 1981.

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Lords amendment: No. 18, after clause 33 insert— E. In section 67 of the Transport Act 1962 (Byelaws for railways and railway shipping services) for subsection (3) there is substituted the following subsection—'(3) Any byelaws made under this section may provide—

  1. (a) in the case of byelaws made by virtue of subsection (1) above, that any person contravening them shall be liable on summary conviction to a penalty not exceeding £200 for each offence; and
  2. (b) in the case of byelaws made by virtue of subsection (2) above, that any person contravening them shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £50 for each offence and, in the case of such a contravention which continues after conviction, to a fine not exceeding £10 for each day on which the offence so continues.'."

Read a Second time.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

With this it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendments Nos. 19, 21, 22, 23, 69, 70 and 73.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport

This broad range of amendments affect the railway industry. They contain two distinct subject matters. Lords amendment No. 18, with the related Lords amendment No. 70 to the long title, deals with the penalties that can be imposed for breaches of railway byelaws. The new clause enables the maximum penalty for the contravention of a byelaw to be raised from £50 to £200.

My hon. Friends the Members for Meriden (Mr. Mills) and Faversham (Mr. Moate) tabled a similar amendment in Committee. It was ruled to be outside the Bill's scope. However, their Lordships are less inhibited in their rules of order and it was possible for an amendment to be moved and accepted. The Government are glad to accept it. I am sure that it will win widespread support in the House. It will be welcomed by railway management and unions and the travelling public, who are anxious to see good order kept on trains and hooliganism and vandalism kept to a minimum.

It will be for the railway operators to decide, subject to the approval of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who will consult the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland, to which byelaws the new maximum penalty will apply. The penalties for hooliganism and vandalism should be brought up to date since £50 has been the maximum since 1977.

An obvious candidate is the new byelaw confirmed by my right hon. Friend last August, which enables British Rail to ban alcohol on designated trains. That was one of the first measures that we took following my right hon. Friend's interest in the problem of violence and alcoholism on trains and the inconvenience that it causes to the railway staff and the public. It has already proved its worth. Penalties must be brought up to date to be effective.

The second broad subject is covered by amendments Nos. 19, 21, 22, 23, 69 and 73. It deals with fires caused by railway engines—that is, steam engines. The purpose is to raise the limit of compensation which railway companies are liable to pay without proof of negligence for damage to agricultural land or crops by fires caused by sparks from railway engines. The clause also provides that the Secretary of State can adjust the figure by statutory instrument. That is ancient legislation. It was last revised in 1923. The limit of liability is fixed at £200. That is inadequate. The clause raises the limit to £3,000, roughly the present-day equivalent of £200 in 1923.

My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) unfortunately cannot be with us this evening. He has discussed the matter with me since it appeared on the Lords Order Paper. Since he knew that he could not be here tonight, he delivered by hand a letter emphasising the points that concern him and the independent preserved railway operators who are likely to be the most directly affected.

Photo of John Prescott John Prescott , Kingston upon Hull East

The hon. Gentleman must have gone to Hyde Park.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport

I am not sure what the rules of compensation are in Hyde Park. I am not sure where my hon. Friend is, but his duties have taken him elsewhere.

In 1923 the railway companies most affected were the giant public companies. Nowadays the provision is more likely to apply to the more private trusts and independent operators, whose resources are limited. There are about three steam engines still running on British Rail tracks. We have consulted the National Farmers Union, the Country Landowners Association, and the Forestry Commission, which are anxious to see the limit raised to keep it up to date. We have also consulted the Association of Minor Railway Companies and the Associaton of Railway Preservation Societies as well as the British Railways Board.

This is a matter that the railway companies will meet by insurance. There should be no difficulty for them in making a modest adjustment to their insurance. The figure of £3,000 is easily covered by public liability insurance of all kinds. I trust that it will not cause the companies excessive difficulties. It may avoid the need for tedious litigation in small claims if the limit can be raised to a figure that establishes clearly the compensation that can be recovered without proof of negligence.

Another matter that concerned my hon. Friend, through his close contact with the preserved railways' interest, is that £3,000 should be expressed as the limit in the Bill. However, the Bill provides that the Secretary of State can adjust the figure by statutory instrument. It is the intention to begin at £3,000. The only reason for including the provision that it can be adjusted in future by statutory instrument is to avoid the trouble of having to come back to the House with primary legislation every time one wants to adjust the figure. There is no intention to go to some new level of compensation without proof of liability, but it will be necessary, from time to time, to adjust the figure for inflation.

This is what is meant by the provision—no more and no less. No doubt a year or two will elapse before it is adjusted again. However, some Secretary of State will eventually want to adjust it and a regulation, subject to control by the House, is a more appropriate means of doing so than waiting for a new Bill to come along to be used as a legislative vehicle. No doubt lack of parliamentary time has stopped the limit being raised since 1923. There must be a more sensible way of arranging these things.

Amendment No. 21 is a technical amendment needed to enable repeals in schedule 2 relating to the Railway Fires Act (1905) Amendment Act 1923 and to the Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981 to come into force on the passing of the Bill without the need for a statutory instrument.

Photo of Mr Albert Booth Mr Albert Booth , Barrow-in-Furness

On the simple principle that prevention is better than cure and, in some cases, better than compensation, I suggest to the Minister that a possibly better way of tackling the question of fires caused by sparks from railway engines is to go ahead with a major electrification programme.

Question put and agreed to.

Lords amendment No. 19 agreed to.