Clause 58 - Inquiry: supplemental

Railways and Transport Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 pm on 25th February 2003.

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

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

The Minister linked clauses 57 and 58. I note with interest that the clause transfers corresponding provisions from section 34 of the Police Act 1997. A fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale presumably reflects the fact of a civil offence, whereas imprisonment for a term not exceeding 51 weeks will be deemed to be for a criminal offence. In fact, however, the offence could be considered to be both at the same time. Could the

Minister explain the thinking behind that? Subsection (7) states that a direction under subsection (6) could include provision for taxation of costs. To whom would such an application be made given that cases could be dealt with by either a civil or a criminal court? If the offence were both a civil and a criminal offence, would an application have to be made to both courts?

The Secretary of State is given discretionary power to direct the authority to pay all or part of the costs incurred by a person in connection with an inquiry under clause 57. That is rather curious. Does that accept that the inquiry should not have been brought in the first place and that the person who is being inquired into could have those legitimate costs falling on to them? Subsection (2) reads:

''A person appointed under section 57 may not require the production of a document relating to the title of land which is not the property of the Authority.''

How, if the document relating to the title of land is not produced, do the Government intend to prove to whom it belongs? Obviously this will have occurred under the provisions of the 1997 Act? These provisions could have serious consequences in terms of both civil and criminal offences.

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Minister of State (Department for Transport)

The hon. Lady rightly says that the level 3 fines and imprisonment imply fairly strong sanctions that are obviously aimed at getting people to attend in order to provide evidence. That does not necessarily apply only to the person being inquired into. The person could be a witness who is required to attend and therefore has to incur personal costs. It would not apply only to someone into whom there might be an inquiry because there might be a generic inquiry in which the person was an involved party. That mirrors section 34 of the Police Act 1997.

Subsection (3) states:

''A person commits an offence if without reasonable excuse he fails to comply with a summons . . . to co-operate with an inquiry''.

That entails quite a substantial fine, which I understand is a criminal fine and a term of imprisonment that is slightly longer than that in the 1996 Act. It has been altered to allow for changes in the Criminal Justice Bill.

The power of inquiry relates to how the force is run, so it is inappropriate for an inquiry to get hold of any title documents for land—in a private house, for example. Only land belonging to the authority is relevant, which I hope clarifies the issue.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

That was helpful. The Minister seems highly knowledgeable about acronyms relating to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, but when we try to hold him to account on the wording of an updated provision, he is rather less forthcoming. If I understood him correctly, the Minister views the provisions as dealing with serious offences and he said that imprisonment is for a longer term than under the 1997 Act. He also referred to parallels with the Criminal Justice Bill. I would have liked to hear why the offence is deemed to be more serious: what has happened between 1997 and today to make it more serious and why has the penalty been increased? Will the Minister satisfy me about taxation? Will the

auditor of the court be involved in the taxation of costs?

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Minister of State (Department for Transport)

The reason why the maximum was changed from six months to 51 weeks is that it was part of a detailed package of measures by which sentences for summary offences—currently set at the maximum penalty of six months—were automatically increased to 51 weeks. The change was made for the sake of consistency and harmonisation between different legislation. On taxation, I shall have to revert to the hon. Lady.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I cannot delay proceedings, but I do take an interest in taxation matters. As the Minister has graphically revealed this afternoon, someone, having been summoned and with no earthly reason not to attend, could be put to considerable expense. I hope that by tomorrow the Minister will be able to supply me the information in writing. It is regrettable that, in view of the generous time allotted by the Government to consider the provisions, they are not as well prepared as they should be.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 58 ordered to stand part of the Bill.