Clause 30 - Prosecution

Railways and Transport Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:15 am on 13th February 2003.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

Good morning, Mr. Hood. I shall be extremely brief. You have generously selected several amendments in my name to clause 39

that relate to vandalism. For the sake of clarity, will the Minister confirm that under clause 30, the police force that investigates

''an offence in the course of the exercise of its functions''

will also consider vandalism and trespass? If the answer is yes, what are the Minister's feelings about the discretion that the clause gives to the chief constable to institute criminal proceedings in respect of the offences?

Although I shall talk about the issue at greater length later, I should point out that there were 15,075 reported vandalism offences in 2001–02, but only 2,200 prosecutions. There were 15,395 reported trespass offences, but only 903 prosecutions. Does the Minister agree that those figures show that trespass and vandalism are not taken seriously by the BTP, or is there a different explanation?

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

My understanding is that the law of trespass does not apply in Scotland, and I wonder whether that will pose an interesting conundrum under the Bill.

The clause is clear that the chief constable may institute criminal proceedings in respect of a criminal offence. Clause 32 creates a new civil offence for which the penalty will be a fine. Which body will prosecute such a civil offence?

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

At present, British Transport police frequently prosecute those who infringe railway byelaws. The clause will allow the BTP to continue to do so. It will be fairly apparent that the BTP does not and will not have the resources to mount large-scale prosecutions for serious cases. I hope that I help the hon. Member for Vale of York by telling her that such serious cases are dealt with by the Crown Prosecution Service, and I would expect that to continue.

The hon. Member for Bath asked about vandalism. The BTP would and could investigate vandalism. It keeps an eye on the railways in case of trespass but I understand that trespass is a civil offence. No other piece of legislation clearly states the role of the British Transport police in investigating criminal actions. It uses the Crown Prosecution Service, under the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985, to prosecute offences on the railways. The clause would allow the British Transport police to prosecute a number of minor offences that the CPS does not currently deal with and, as I understand it, there is no need for a similar provision in Scots law. In answer to the hon. Member for Vale of York, who asked who would prosecute, the CPS would bring the case to court.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 30 ordered to stand part of the Bill.