Clause 98 - Military application

Railways and Transport Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:15 am on 6th March 2003.

Alert me about debates like this

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

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

The Minister referred to clauses 97 and 98. Clearly, they should be read together. I understand that the new offences that are created in the Bill will apply to civilian contractors employed by

the Ministry of Defence working on or with military aircraft who are not subject to service law. Service personnel are subject to separate disciplinary procedures if found under the influence of alcohol or drugs while on duty. I have two RAF stations—Leeming and Linton-on-Ouse—and an Army helicopter station at Dishforth in my constituency, so the matter is of interest to my constituents. Under recent changes, civilian crews are covered, so will the Under-Secretary explain the relationship between the civilian laws, with which the Bill deals, and the military laws?

My basic concern is that we might have two tiers of staff working at a military base—those working under military laws and those working under civilian laws. Has the Under-Secretary given any thought to any conflicts that might arise? That is especially important for my constituency. It also prompts the question of what would happen in any conflict—I am not thinking of only the Iraq conflict. Many civilians will travel with the military from such bases, should their services be required in either conflict or training. In those circumstances, would any change to the law apply? I assume that civilians would continue to be covered by civilian law and the military by military law.

Clause 98 quotes definitions taken from the Civil Aviation Act 1982 and the Army Act 1955. According to the explanatory notes, ''military aircraft'' means

''an aircraft of the naval, military or air forces of any country; or . . . any other aircraft in respect of which there is in force a certificate issued in accordance with any Order in Council . . . that the aircraft is to be treated for the purposes of that Order in Council as a military aircraft.''

The 1982 Act also provides that

''a certificate of the Secretary of State that any aircraft is or is not a military aircraft for the purposes of this section shall be conclusive evidence of the fact certified''.

Those definitions are important, and I hope that the Under-Secretary will clarify them. They raise the question about which rule applies to visiting military aircraft. Would they be equally excluded from the provisions? I would imagine that that is the case.

The definition also mentions naval aircraft. While my constituency does not have a navy base, navy pilots are trained at RAF Linton-on-Ouse. Is there any difference to the law applicable where a Royal Navy aircraft is on an aircraft carrier?

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport 10:30 am, 6th March 2003

Military personnel and civilian contractors working on or with military aircraft overseas are subject to service law, which prohibits them from taking alcohol or drugs. It is therefore unnecessary to extend the provisions of the Bill to such personnel. However, in the United Kingdom, the armed forces employ many civilian contractors, such as flying instructors, to work on or with military aircraft. It is right that such personnel should be subject to the same prescribed limits working on or with civilian aircraft. Clause 98 will ensure that they are subject to such limits.

The hon. Lady referred to the Royal Navy. As I just explained, civilians working in connection with the Royal Navy will be covered by the clause. If a Royal

Navy helicopter was working solely with military personnel, those people would be covered by military law. She asked an important question about visiting military personnel. It has caught our attention and we are looking into it. We may need to amend the Bill further at a later stage.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

That is very helpful, but it raises a question: why were the Government insufficiently prepared? It is not a new point. Military personnel have been visiting our shores at every level from the headquarters at Northwood to local military bases such as those that I referred to in my constituency, and we have welcomed those visits. We have identified a considerable gap in the legislation, and I hope that the Minister will take steps to close it—otherwise we might feel minded to give some assistance in that regard.

There could be problems of interpretation, and the clarification that military and civilian aircraft overseas are subject to service law is helpful. I hope that consequential amendments will be made if there are any changes under our road traffic laws relating to the drink or drug provisions under this legislation.

The Bill does not state whether the military people and civilians employed on military bases will be consulted, unless that is covered under clause 96. It is unclear whether those will be deemed to be organisations that the Secretary of State shall think fit to consult under that clause. I hope that that is implicitly the case, because if it is not that would be regrettable, as they will be affected by this legislation. We want visiting military personnel to feel welcome, and I am sure that we will explain the position to them through the official or consular channels—or by whatever is the usual way of informing them about such things—at the earliest opportunity before the Bill leaves this House. That would be appropriate.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 98 ordered to stand part of the Bill.