Mr. Hurst, I welcome you back to the Chair. It is a pleasure to be in Committee under your chairmanship. I am sad that this is the last day that we are in Committee, but I am sure that my disappointment will be short lived and that I shall fill my days with something else.
It gives me great pleasure to ask a brief question about the clause. It will ensure that section 76(2) of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 makes sense. The subsection states:
''No proceedings shall be brought against any person for the offence to which the conditional offer relates until the procurator fiscal receives notification in accordance with subsection (5)''.
It is orderly that the Bill is repairing an error, but it begs the question why it has been allowed to be in place for 15 years, which is a considerable time, given that other amendments have been made to the Act. It relates to fixed penalties. I wonder what damage has been done to those who have been caught under that subsection. Why has it taken the Government so long to rectify the error?
I am delighted to see you in the Chair, Mr. Hurst. We will approach the home straight of the Bill with sadness this afternoon. However, I am sure that that position will be assuaged by listening to the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) and possibly some of her hon. Friends for the next few hours.
I am delighted that the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) has joined the Committee.
Will the Minister accept that the record must be held by the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), who spoke for two and a half hours without imparting anything of any substance on Friday morning?
I am sure that there was something of substance in that speech.
The Road Traffic Offenders Act includes provisions that allow police forces in England, Scotland and Wales to issue fixed penalty notices and conditional offers for certain road traffic offences, such as failure to obey traffic signs and not wearing a seat belt. Fixed penalty notices and conditional offers allow the offender to discharge his liability for the offence provided that he pays the financial penalty stated.
The Police Reform Act 2002 amended the provisions to allow the British Transport police to
issue fixed penalty notices and conditional offers. The British Transport police particularly require the ability to issue conditional offers for traffic offences committed at level crossings, a matter that we dealt with earlier. In 2001–02, the police dealt with 3,792 offences under the Road Traffic Acts. In the previous year, they dealt with 2,760 offences. As we discussed under clause 66, offences at level crossings can be serious, and it is important that the British Transport police have all the powers of a local police force to detect and deter those offences.
A further amendment is needed to clarify section 76(2)(a) of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 so that it is clear when proceedings in England and Wales can be commenced after a conditional offer has been issued to an offender. Clause 103 therefore deletes the words ''of police'' from that section.
The hon. Lady was under the impression that that error had been in place for 15 years, but I assure her that it has been there for only one year, since the Police Reform Act 2002; that is why I emphasised 2002. Clearly, this is a good time to put it right.