Clause 1: Offence of shining or directing a laser beam towards a vehicle
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 3, leave out “beam” and insert “device”
My Lords, I will speak to the first group of amendments, Amendments 1, 4, 5 and 7, which are in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh. I fully support the purposes of this short Bill and I thank the Minister for her thoughtful letter of 15 January, copied in the Library, commenting on points that I made at Second Reading. These amendments, and others in my name which come later, have been drafted in an attempt purely to highlight, and as necessary close, any possible legal loopholes in the intended coverage of the Bill.
As I mentioned at Second Reading, I felt that the use of “beam” as a generic description of all lasers was inadequate. There are other lasers that fire bursts or pulses of light. A laser exists that uses infrared bursts, down which a lightning-type bolt will travel to hit a target, rather like an extended Taser shot. On YouTube, you can see demonstrations of so-called laser guns and laser rifles. There are a number of hand-held laser-type devices at prototype stage for use in conflict or riot control. If developed into production, such devices could be acquired and misused in ways featured in this Bill. Laser technology is still developing. A beam is defined in this context by the Oxford English Dictionary as a ray or shaft of light. This does not seem to be sufficiently comprehensive, even when combined with the descriptor “laser”, as in “laser beam”. The Minister’s letter defines “laser” by coherence and as comprising a single frequency of light, and equates that to “beam” in the Bill.
My simple amendment, replacing the word “beam” with “device”, in no way detracts from the beam connotation but seeks to cover all types of laser, existing or in future development, more comprehensively than just using the word “beam”. As I am no expert in electronic engineering, I am grateful for the support of my noble friend Lord Oxburgh, a most respected fellow of the Royal Society and former chief scientific adviser to the Ministry of Defence. His support, and some legally informed support, gave me confidence to pursue this point in Committee and to explore the Minister’s brief dismissal at Second Reading and her subsequent, rather superficial justification for relying on the word “beam” in the Bill. The combination of the words “laser device” and,
“shines or directs a laser device towards a vehicle”,
as would appear in the Bill if this amendment were accepted, seem to deal with a beam and with any other or future type of laser that might be misused.
Finally, I have a query. Should a low-power, clinically safe laser be used, would its low power be an acceptable defence because it could do no more than possibly dazzle or distract the person with control of the vehicle, at worst? A laser’s power is not mentioned in the Bill. Is the Minister satisfied? Perhaps she will let me know at a later date that power is not relevant to the Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, I rise to support my noble and gallant friend Lord Craig. We should be grateful to him for drawing attention to this aspect of the Bill. I apologise to the Committee for not having been free to participate at Second Reading. Fundamentally, what my noble and gallant friend is trying to do is to future-proof and, dare I say, lawyer-proof the Bill. It would not be useful to have counsels who did not really understand what they were about arguing over this in court.
I notice that the last five or six subsections of Clause 1 relate to definitions of words which are in general, commonplace use. I suggest that the Minister adds a subsection to that group defining what the Government mean by laser. In doing so, dare I suggest that she consult the holder of my former office in the MoD, who could give up-to-date advice on appropriate wording for the definition of a laser here? The fact is that there are lasers of different kinds, different definitions of laser and some devices which would be called a laser under one definition but not another. It would be quite useful to add a subsection, duly considered, from an authoritative source that dealt with that.
My Lords, it is plain that anyone trying to dazzle or distract someone in control of a vehicle by using any laser device ought to be guilty of a criminal offence. The critical question raised by this group of amendments is whether the dazzling or distracting light produced by every sort of laser device can properly be described as a beam. If it can, there is no need for this amendment. But if, as I understand is being suggested by my noble and gallant friend Lord Craig of Radley, supported by no less distinguished a scientist than my noble friend Lord Oxburgh, other laser devices such as a laser gun or rifle can reasonably be said to produce light not by beam, but in some other way—by pulse, burst or whatever—the Bill as drafted may well not catch these other sorts of laser misuse.
As a lawyer, I thought to remind myself of the cardinal legal principles that apply to the construction of statutes. To this end, I consulted Bennion on Statutory Interpretation, the sixth edition of which runs to no fewer than 1,200-odd pages. The only relevant principles perhaps worth mentioning here are what is called the principle against doubtful penalisation and the principle that ordinary words in the English language should be given their ordinary meaning, understood as they are in common language.
As to the principle against doubtful penalisation, the court’s approach will be that a person should not be penalised except under clear law, so that penal enactments require a strict construction. As to the principle that words should bear their ordinary meaning, it could perhaps be argued that a pulse or a burst of light is not, in the ordinary use of the English language, properly to be described as a beam.
I am certainly not saying that if this issue were to reach the courts, it is likely that the Bill as drafted would be found wanting. Indeed, I strongly suspect that it would be held to encompass all laser misuse, as so plainly it is intended and right that it should. But if there is any scintilla of doubt about that, and if that doubt can be quite simply removed by adopting this amendment, then why on earth not do that? That surely is the sensible question the Minister should ask herself today.
I add only that if the Bill team is wedded to the word “beam”, then why not simply add to that, “or device”? Alternatively, we could go down the road suggested by my noble friend Lord Oxburgh and in the definition provisions at the end explicitly put the matter as he has suggested, which would take it beyond the reach of any lawyer, however imaginative.
My Lords, I have to announce that Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition do not have a firm position on this amendment, but I hope the Minister is listening to this debate and will come forward with pretty concrete assurances that the law is clear, or with an appropriate amendment.
My Lords, I understand noble Lords’ intentions in tabling these amendments, as they quite rightly want to ensure that the wording in this legislation is as strong as possible and does not include any loopholes. The amendments aim to capture all the different type of laser products that could be used to dazzle or distract the person in control of a vehicle, and indeed even some products which may not exist yet.
The Bill does use the term “laser beam”, but I can assure noble Lords that the Bill is not limited to any particular type of laser and that all variants of laser should be captured by this. Following the helpful contributions of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, at Second Reading, I sought further expert clarification on the definition of a laser, including from the Department for Transport’s chief scientific adviser. All types of lasers emit focused beams. Therefore, despite the varying properties that different types of lasers will have, all will still produce a beam, and it is this beam that will dazzle or distract the person in control of the vehicle.
The term “laser” would cover the pulse and burst laser products that the noble and gallant Lord referred to. These products still emit a laser beam, just of a shorter duration. Short-duration laser beams can be very intense and transmit as much power in the pulse as a lower-power continuous laser, so I agree it is important that these are included in the Bill. We expect the courts to interpret “laser” with this wide definition.
The term “laser” is generally used to refer to the machine or equipment used to produce a particular form of light—in other words, to the device itself. This is how the term has previously been used in legislation, including the Merchant Shipping and Fishing Vessels (Health and Safety at Work) (Work at Height) Regulations 2010 and the Control of Artificial Optical Radiation at Work Regulations 2010. It is also how the Oxford English Dictionary defines it. Therefore, we do not believe that adding a reference to “device” is necessary. Our legal advice is that the term “beam” is better than “device” as it refers to the light emitted by the equipment and it is this which can dazzle or distract. It is for these reasons that the clause uses the term “laser beam”. On the noble and gallant Lord’s question about power, this is not included in the Bill because it will be the beam dazzling or distracting, or being likely to do so, that will be an offence, regardless of the power.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, made some well-informed and detailed points and I will certainly study them carefully. The noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, made a helpful suggestion about adding a definition to the end of the Bill. I will take that away and look at the possibility. We are keen to avoid doubt on this issue.
I hope the noble and gallant Lord will be content with these assurances and withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I thank those who have spoken in this debate, and the Minister for her full explanation of the position taken by her department. I have no intention of pushing this beyond the discussion that we have had, but I look forward to any further suggestions coming from the Government on Report, such as a definition of “beam”, which I would welcome. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
2: Clause 1, page 1, line 4, leave out from “journey,” to end of line 6 and insert “or
(b) the person shines or directs a laser beam at a building used to control vehicle traffic.”
My Lords, the amendments in this group all tackle the need to include aircraft control towers within the ambit of the Bill. This is something that I raised at Second Reading. Control towers obviously play a vital part in ensuring the safety of planes, and I am glad that when I and other noble Lords raised this at Second Reading the Minister appeared to take our concerns to heart.
This issue is of serious concern to BALPA, and with good reason: since May 2013, 13 laser attacks on control towers in Britain have been recorded under the mandatory occurrence reporting scheme. In the year 2013 alone there were eight incidents. These attacks are widespread: two in Liverpool, one in Coventry, two in Manchester, two in Luton, one in Jersey, one at Heathrow, one in Bristol, one in Cardiff, one in Edinburgh and one in Birmingham. It is worth noting that one case, at East Midlands Airport, was so severe that it led to the air traffic controller concerned having to take an unplanned break. Noble Lords familiar with rostering in control towers will realise that that is disruptive and could undermine safety, as controllers have carefully timed breaks to ensure that they are always fully attentive and alert. Someone having to cover an extra unexpected shift might already be tired.
Your Lordships will note from the list that I read out that, unlike drone incidents, laser incidents are not concentrated largely in London. Smaller airports are equally affected, maybe because control towers are more easily visible and accessible than that, for example, at Heathrow.
Amendments 2, 6 and 8 widen the Bill to include a building to control vehicle traffic, and Amendment 2 removes from the Bill the stipulation that the laser must dazzle or distract, or be likely to dazzle or distract. This may still be difficult to prove. I have taken on board information from the police, who have found it difficult to enforce the current legislation, and sought to widen the provision as much as possible. I notice that the amendments tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Tunnicliffe and Lord Monks, cover much the same issues.
I very much hope that the Minister will be able to give us a positive response on both these issues: the inclusion of control towers and simplifying and broadening the offence so that shining the beam at a control tower is sufficient to be considered an offence. I beg to move.
I need at this stage to mention that I cannot call Amendments 3 or 4 because of pre-emption if this amendment is agreed.
My Lords, this group of amendments falls under two issues: one is control towers and control buildings, the other is what I call “to dazzle or not to dazzle”. Amendments 2, 6, 8, 10, 12 and 14 refer to the former—I accept that they also refer in part to dazzling or not dazzling—and I tabled Amendment 3, which is directly on the dazzle issue.
I think everybody involved with the Bill supports the central idea that we should prohibit the shining of lasers at aircraft because of the associated risk. Beyond that, there has been a degree of mission creep. The Government’s piece of mission creep has been to want to apply this to all vehicles—fair enough. The aviation lobby’s mission creep has been to want to apply it to control towers—fair enough. When you have had those pieces of mission creep, it is reasonable to apply it to control buildings, although I would be more supportive if there were concrete examples.
We in general support the thrust of the amendments, but I am slightly uncomfortable, because they start to nudge up against the concept of lasers as weapons. The Government must take on board the concept of the use of lasers as weapons in society in general and study this worrying development. That relates to matters such as importation, the crime of carrying such a weapon, and so on. But we do not want to confuse the Bill by going into that territory. I hope that the Minister will take that concern back to her colleagues. I believe that there is already work in BEIS taking place.
To dazzle or not to dazzle is all about gaining a successful prosecution. Our amendment increases the probability of successful prosecution, because it does not require the court to have, completely misquoting Elizabeth I, a window into men’s minds. In other words, the court does not have to prove what people were thinking when they did it. I know that there is general discomfort about strict liability offences, but the issue here is about balance. It boils down to: for what other purpose, having regard to the defence in Clause 1(2), would anyone shine a laser at a vehicle other than to dazzle and distract? That simplicity pushes one towards taking away the dazzle and distract requirement for successful prosecution. I shall deal with my amendment at the appropriate time.
My Lords, first, I declare my interest as president of the British Airline Pilots Association. I want to speak briefly to Amendment 14 which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, said, overlaps with others in the group. On all sides of the House, we are trying to protect not just pilots and the drivers of vehicles but those who control traffic, especially those in control towers at airports. Laser pointers can be a very offensive weapon and their dangerous use should be regarded as rather similar to waving around a gun or other offensive weapon. None of us is under any illusion; the Bill will not be easy to enforce, but it needs to send a strong message about what is acceptable and what is not. I think that it does that but I hope that we can tweak it a bit so that it strengthens that message. The amendments are all designed to add weight to the Bill’s central message on that score.
The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, spoke about air traffic control, and I will not repeat what I hope were her persuasive points for the Minister to consider. I would just add that such is the range of modern laser pointers that they can reach control towers in controlled areas remote from perimeter fences. Controllers at some distance could be affected by dazzle and distraction in the same way as pilots. As we know, and as has been said, their role is crucial in scanning the airport. Those of us who have had the privilege of joining them in their control rooms have seen that they look physically as well as at the screens; they look at the ground as well as up in the air. They check for obstructions and any hazards that might impede landings, in particular, but check other movements as well.
As such, it is incumbent on us to try to ensure that they are protected as much as possible from thoughtless or malicious laser use. We are coming close to zero tolerance when it comes to laser users flashing them about when people are moving vehicles and aeroplanes.
My Lords, I will first speak on the amendments which propose removing the need to dazzle or distract from the offence. The principal focus of the Bill is to protect transport operators and the general public. While this amendment seeks to help to address the problem, the Government believe that it goes further than is appropriate. The Government aim to be proportionate when we create new criminal offences and we do not want to penalise behaviour that does not present a risk to transport safety. The offence we are creating would specifically address the risk of harm as a result of shining a laser which dazzles or distracts, or is likely to dazzle or distract, a person physically operating a vehicle.
These amendments would go further than that by criminalising activity where there is no risk of harm. The proposed offence would cover shining or directing a laser when it is,
“likely to dazzle or distract”.
This will mean that prosecutors will not necessarily need to prove that the shining of a laser actually dazzled or distracted the person in control of the vehicle, only that it was likely to and therefore potentially risked public safety.
The question was raised about how difficult it would be for the prosecution to show that the person in control of the vehicle was dazzled or distracted. In most cases, we would expect evidence to be available from the person who had control of the vehicle that they were dazzled or distracted. A statement directly from the victim would be strong evidence on this point. On that basis, the Government are not convinced that removing the need to demonstrate that a person has been dazzled or distracted would be proportionate to capture the type of activity we want to deter.
Moving on to the amendments seeking to make it an offence to shine a laser at traffic control installations, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken on this amendment, which clearly has a lot of support on all sides of the House. The Bill has been drafted to deal with the safety risks faced when a laser distracts or dazzles the person in control of a vehicle and therefore does not currently include non-vehicles such as traffic control installations. When we look at laser attacks in aviation, the vast majority of incidents reported are targeting aircraft—1,200 in the last year alone—whereas the number of reported attacks on air traffic control towers averages out at around three per year. That said, air traffic control personnel have an important responsibility in controlling and monitoring the movement of aircraft taking off, landing and manoeuvring on the ground, so I recognise that a laser attack on a person carrying out those duties clearly presents safety concerns and could endanger aircraft.
Those shining lasers at air traffic control personnel could already face possible prosecution under the endangering an aircraft offence in the Air Navigation Order, which carries a maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment. This has been used before, including in 2014, when three men were given prison terms for shining a laser at aircraft and the air traffic control tower at East Midlands Airport. As the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, highlighted, that attack distracted and blinded the air traffic controllers, putting the lives of passengers and crew of aircraft flying in and out of the airport at risk. However, as was made clear at Second Reading and again today, the requirements for successfully prosecuting offenders under the endangering aircraft offence can sometimes cause difficulties for the Crown Prosecution Service.
I sympathise with these amendments, tabled by a number of noble Lords, and I have already instructed my officials to consider options on this issue. We are having discussions with a number of stakeholders, including the CAA, NATS, BALPA, the UK Flight Safety Committee, as well as the relevant bodies with responsibility for aviation in the Armed Forces, such as the Military Aviation Authority. As has been highlighted by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, in her amendment, the Bill is cross modal and not limited to aviation. Therefore, we are also considering similar safety concerns that need to be addressed for the control of traffic in the road, rail and maritime sectors. For that reason, we are also consulting relevant bodies such as the Office of Rail and Road and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.
I hope noble Lords will be assured that we are listening to the important points that they have raised and that we are actively looking to find the most sensible solution to deal with this issue, but it is important that this is considered carefully and that we get it right. I hope noble Lords will be reassured and will not press their amendments at this stage.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for what is overall a very positive response. However, I make one further point about removing a reference to “dazzle or distract”. I understand the viewpoint, but the reality is that lasers are so frequently mislabelled that those using them to shine them at control towers cannot have any real idea about how strong the beam is and, therefore, how dangerous it is. I say that because, in pursuit of more information for this Bill, I trolled through online records for various countries and there is a shockingly high level of mislabelling. Some studies in Australia showed that well over 50% of lasers are wrongly labelled. That is an issue that I shall come back to later. The point is that someone standing near a control tower and shining a beam at it has to my mind at the least an intention of some sort of mischief, and really has no sure knowledge how dangerous the laser that they are holding is likely to be. I urge the Minister to think on that.
Having said that, I welcome the wide consultation that she is undertaking in relation to these amendments. In view of that, I shall certainly not press them. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 2.
Amendment 2 withdrawn.
Amendments 3 to 8 not moved.
9: Clause 1, page 2, line 9, after second “vehicle,” insert “horse drawn vehicle,”
My Lords, I suggested at Second Reading that a horse-drawn vehicle or carriage should be included for completeness. In her reply to that debate, the noble Baroness merely stated that horse-drawn carriages would not be covered by this Bill as,
“We have not seen any evidence of a problem”.—[Official Report, 9/1/18; col. 176.]
In her letter of 15 January, the noble Baroness did not further refer to my raising this omission at Second Reading, but I feel the list of vehicles is incomplete without it. While no such attack may have yet taken place, that alone is no reason not to include it. I gave the example of the coachman driving the state coach with Her Majesty on board. There are many more uses of horse-drawn carriages or vehicles which also deserve consideration so that we give the driver protection.
I hope that, on reflection, the Minister will agree that a horse-drawn vehicle has as much of a place in the Bill as all the other road vehicles listed, including even pedal cycles, and they should also be added to Clause 1(7) at line 11 on page 2. I am not proposing that horse riders should also be included, though I do wonder about the risk of an attack on huntsmen by hunt saboteurs. Such an offence may already be covered by other legislation. I beg to move.
My Lords, I do not have much to say, but I thought I had to say something. I was quite surprised that the Government had decided to define “vehicle” in the Bill. I believe there is a good working definition of the word in law, which would have included horse-drawn vehicles. I had a little chuckle when I came to submarines, because I have some problem envisaging how you could dazzle one, but I suppose it could be possible. I say put the horses in as well.
My Lords, I greatly appreciate the noble and gallant Lord’s intention to ensure that the Bill is as strong and all-encompassing as possible. The reason horse-drawn vehicles are not covered in the Bill is that it is designed to legislate in areas where we have already seen a real danger to public safety, and to date we have not seen evidence that laser incidents are a problem for that particular mode of transport.
The department works closely with organisations such as the British Horse Society to improve road safety, and I am not aware of this issue being raised as a concern or any reported laser incidents involving horse-drawn vehicles. Of course, anyone who did cause injury by shining a laser at the person in control of a horse-drawn vehicle could be prosecuted for offences against the person such as actual or grievous bodily harm.
The noble and gallant Lord raised an interesting point about someone attempting to dazzle or distract the driver of the state coach with the monarch on board. This is, of course, a matter that we take very seriously and as a result have discussed it with the head of the Metropolitan Police’s royalty and specialist protection command, who has also consulted with Her Majesty’s Household, specifically those individuals with responsibility for Her Majesty’s horses. The police have assessed that the likelihood of such an attack is low and, in terms of the impact of such an attack, Her Majesty’s horses are trained to be comfortable with a number of surprising events. These would include sudden loud noises, smoke and light flashes and they are often blinkered when drawing a carriage. The relative speeds are very low and the carriage drivers are, of course, highly trained. Having reviewed this issue the police have advised me that, as both the likelihood and impact of such an incident are considered low, this is not an area that requires legislation.
As I have said previously, when creating criminal offences it is important that this is done proportionately. Based on the evidence of risk to transport safety seen to date, particularly the advice from the police, the Government do not believe that including horse-drawn vehicles in this offence would be proportionate. However, I have listened to the points made by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, and the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, and will take them away and consider this further.
The noble Lord makes a valid point. I do not believe there are any such instances, but if there are I will certainly write to him with that information. That is a very good point. As I say, I will take it back and consider it. We should return to this at a later stage. With that, I ask the noble and gallant Lord to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I thank those who have spoken in this very short debate. I listened, obviously, to what the Minister had to say. I am still a little uneasy about the argument that, because this has not happened, therefore we do not need to worry about it. Pedal cyclists are already covered by the Bill. I wonder how many attacks on pedal cyclists have taken place to justify including them in the Bill. Having said that, I again thank everybody who has spoken and the Minister, and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 9 withdrawn.
Amendment 10 not moved.
11: Clause 1, page 2, line 14, leave out “pilot” and insert “individual”
The restriction in the case of aircraft to just “any pilot” at page 2, line 14 of the Bill is not comprehensive enough. It does not specifically include other members on an aircraft’s flight deck, in a rear cockpit, or in the cabin of a helicopter, who may not be pilots but have key roles in monitoring the control of the aircraft. Take the example of a two-seater fighter fast jet aircraft with a pilot in the front seat and a navigator in the rear, the latter also monitoring height and speed. A laser attack on the latter reported to the pilot could prove to be very distracting at a critical point—say on final approach to a landing. Or consider a search and rescue helicopter having to manoeuvre in a very constricted space surrounded by trees or buildings. The pilot is totally reliant on the winchman in the rear cabin of the helicopter for moment-to-moment guidance on to a tight landing spot or in holding a safe hover close to obstructions or even a cliff face.
More generally, the likelihood is that whoever was actually lasered in the crew, all, including the pilot in charge, would be concerned and distracted, maybe at a demanding moment in their flight. However, the defence might argue that the culprit with the laser did not shine it at the front cockpit, or where the pilot was sitting in a larger aircraft. Surely, the Minister does not think that the person misusing a laser against an aircraft should not be charged if it were not directed directly at the actual pilot in command but only at non-pilot crew members who are of critical importance to the safe operation of the aircraft.
The Bill includes captain, navigator and pilot in the case of vessels, but the vessel’s velocity or speed will be a matter of a few knots compared with that, say, of aircraft flying at speeds of 150 or 200 knots and perhaps more. It seems incongruous for the Bill to identify for protection a number of specified individuals in charge of a relatively slow-moving vessel compared with just the pilot alone for an aircraft on final approach to landing, which may be flying at, 10, 20, even 30 times the speed of such a vessel. The risks of a calamity occurring rapidly in the latter case are obviously very much greater. Crew teamwork is essential for both aircraft and helicopter operations.
My amendment seeks to overcome any possible defence that the attack had not been directed specifically at the pilot in charge. If the noble Baroness is intent on retaining the reference to pilot rather than my suggested word “individual”, she might like to consider for Report the alternative of adding “or other flight crew member” after “pilot” in line 14 of page 2. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am again very grateful for the experience and expertise of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, in this area. Once again, he has raised a salient point through this amendment.
In the Bill we have sought to capture those persons who are in control of the vehicle, and, in the case of aircraft, we have said that this will be pilots. The Bill specifically refers to pilots “monitoring the controlling” of aircraft to capture co-pilots, who defence lawyers could argue are not controlling the aircraft but who none the less should be covered by the offence because of the important role they play in the safe flying of aircraft. In some cases, members of the flight crew may have a safety-critical role and control of the aircraft but would not be classified as pilots. As I have said, the intention of the Bill is to cover all persons who have control of the vehicle.
I understand there are a number of instances where the non-pilot members of the flight crew could have some control of the vehicle, such as flight engineers or, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, highlighted, winch operators on search and rescue helicopters. If these members of the flight crew were dazzled or distracted by a laser beam, it is highly likely that the pilot would be too. I understand that the current wording in the Bill could cause some ambiguity and a possible loophole, so I will ask the Bill team to look carefully at ways in which this can be clarified.
I thank the noble and gallant Lord for raising this issue. I hope that he is assured that it is something we will look at carefully and that he will agree to withdraw his amendment at this stage.
Amendment 11 withdrawn.
Amendment 12 not moved.
13: Clause 1, page 2, line 20, at end insert—
““journey” includes all stages of a journey, whether the vehicle is stationary or in motion, beginning when the person with control of the vehicle occupies it and ending when the person with control of the vehicle no longer occupies it;”
My Lords, it is me again with Amendment 13, in my name and in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Monks, to whom I am most grateful. Like several other noble Lords at Second Reading I felt that there was a need to clarify the meaning of the word “journey” in the Bill. In her letter of 15 January, the Minister set out her interpretation of “journey” but wrote that she had asked her officials to,
“look at ways in which we can ensure that it is interpreted as intended”.
I await her contribution when replying. Meanwhile, this amendment is one attempt. I am grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Monks.
At Second Reading, the Minister said that this point had come up in earlier legislation, so I feel that, for the avoidance of doubt and any possible loophole in the coverage of the Bill, some definition should be included in it. Even this definition does not fully deal with the point made at Second Reading by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley of Knighton, who said that the dictionary definition of “journey” means a move from one place to another, from A to B. However, were it to be defined for the purposes of the Bill to cover the time from occupation of the vehicle until leaving it, the fact it departed from A and returned to A at the end of the journey might be sufficiently well covered. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have some sympathy with the noble and gallant Lord on this matter. For example, it is very likely that training flights, which are of course an important part of aviation, most often begin and end at the same aerodrome. I am slightly unpersuaded, as is the noble and gallant Lord, that they are covered by the Bill, and I hope that the Minister can reassure me.
My Lords, I also hope that the Minister will take this away. One worrying point is somewhere deep in various bits of aviation law: a flight is defined as when the wheels of an aircraft first turn. We are envisaging a possible situation where a laser is used immediately before the wheels turn, and the aircraft could then end up in a dangerous situation. The Government therefore have to look at this concern in some depth, and I hope that they will bring something back to us on Report.
My Lords, the Government’s intention in the Bill is to cover both when a vehicle is in motion and when it is stationary if the vehicle is about to travel. There would be a safety risk in both cases if the person in control were to be dazzled or distracted.
A journey is intended to start when the vehicle is ready to commence travel. It includes taxiing in the case of aircraft, and for all vehicles will cover any temporary stops along the way, such as stops at a train station, bus stop or traffic lights, or when waiting to take off. It is also intended to capture journeys of any length and to include a journey that returns to the same place at which it began.
I appreciate the points that have been made and what the amendment is aiming to clarify. It is our intention that if the aircraft is about to travel or has not finished shutting down after coming to a stop, this should be covered, as there could still be a risk to transport safety. The Government believe that saying that all periods should be covered, including when a person occupies the vehicle, potentially goes too wide, as that person could be in the vehicle for a long time before the journey commenced or after it finished, when there would not be a risk to transport safety.
At Second Reading the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley of Knighton, highlighted the definition of “journey”, which can be found in the international aviation treaty—the Tokyo Convention. It states that an aircraft is in flight from the moment when all its external doors are closed following embarkation until the moment when any such door is opened for disembarkation. We intend the Bill to cover that definition, but I accept the questions raised in relation to the current wording and will ask the drafters to look at this matter carefully.
A point was made about journeys—including training flights, which were mentioned by my noble friend Lord Trefgarne—which start in one place and return to that same place. It is absolutely our intention that these types of journeys will be covered by the Bill but, again, I will look at the options for making sure that that is clearer.
I hope that I have been able to clarify our intention when the word “journey” is used but, as I said, we will look at this further to ensure that there is no ambiguity in the interpretation. On that basis, I hope that the noble and gallant Lord will withdraw his amendment at this stage.
Amendment 13 withdrawn.
Clause 1 agreed.
Amendment 14 not moved.
15: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
A person commits an offence if—(a) the person knowingly or recklessly permits a child or young person in the person’s care to shine or direct a laser beam towards a vehicle which is on a journey, and(b) the laser beam dazzles or distracts, or is likely to dazzle or distract, a person with control of the vehicle.”
My Lords, I tabled this amendment because we know from the evidence that we have been able to discern in this area that many of the perpetrators of the misuse of laser pointers are children and young people. They have seen “Star Wars” and lots of other sci-fi blockbusters; they have played computer games where lasers of one form or another are the weapons of choice of many of the protagonists; and they are fascinated by the power of the new technology. Items such as these, although still quite pricey, come to hand relatively easily and are getting cheaper and are more readily available.
Picking on vehicle drivers, especially pilots, seems to be the fashion at the moment. With this amendment, I seek to stress the responsibility of parents and other adults who buy laser pointers as presents for their children, and to send a message that it is not acceptable to then allow them to proceed unsupervised around the neighbourhood. Lasers are very dangerous for children to have and very dangerous to pilots and other vehicle drivers, such as train drivers.
I raise this issue in the context of the Bill to send a firm message to adults that they have responsibilities. I know that the question of the extent to which children or their parents are responsible for things is a tangled area, but it seems to me that I have the balance about right. The amendment proposes to set out that parents have responsibilities in this area and that they cannot wash their hands of incidents involving children for whom they are responsible.
My Lords, I was pleased to add my name in support of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Monks. As he said, the age profile of offenders tends to be quite young and the amendment reflects the fact that young people are often unaware of the danger and gravity of what they are doing. I made the point earlier today that the fact that lasers are often mislabelled emphasises that it is difficult for people to know the strength of the laser they are using.
The Minister wrote to me in response to points I raised at Second Reading and pointed out that lasers are often bought by young people and children on holiday abroad, and that this is frequently the way in which they come into the country. This emphasises the importance of the underlying points the amendment seeks to make—the issue of parental responsibility and the importance of educating parents in the dangers of lasers. In that way we will educate generations of young children.
While I have some sympathy with the general direction of the amendment, it touches on a massive subject—the extent to which parents are responsible for the criminal activities of their children. I worry about such a difficult concept being part of this Bill. If there is a problem here, I hope the Government will take this issue away, look at the generality of the relationship between parents and the criminal behaviour of their children and solve it in a wider context than this Bill. I await further discussion on Report before we take a final view.
My Lords, parents are not held directly responsible for the criminal acts of their children and I am not aware of any circumstances in our criminal law in which an adult who knowingly or recklessly permits a child or young person to commit an offence is itself an offence.
Punishments such as the local child curfew or a child safety order can be given to children under the age of criminal responsibility who break the law. The order means that a child can be placed under the supervision of a social worker or a youth offending team worker to ensure that the child receives protection and support and is prevented from repeating the offence. Children between 10 and 17 can be arrested and taken to court if they commit a crime, although they are treated differently from adults.
Parents and guardians can be held responsible if their child repeatedly gets into trouble or if the parent does not take reasonable steps to control their behaviour. They could be asked to attend a parenting programme, sign a parenting contract or be given a parenting order by a court. A breach of a parenting order is a criminal offence and can result in a fine of up to £1,000 or community service.
On education, the Government are working on a programme of education which will include a specific programme for schools to target young people and to educate them on the dangers of lasers.
The Government’s view is that the current youth justice system is sufficient to deal with this issue and it would not be appropriate to make an exception to the usual practice. I hope the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I draw attention to the term,
“the person knowingly or recklessly permits a child or young person”.
That is a high hurdle. It is not visiting the sins of the child on the parents but specifying the faults committed by the person who provides the laser. However, in the circumstances, I am certainly prepared to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 15 withdrawn.
16: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
“Report on laser misuse following the passing of this Act
(1) The Secretary of State must carry out an assessment of the misuse of lasers with regard to vehicles in the year following this Act coming into force.(2) This assessment must make reference to the following—(a) whether the number of instances of a person shining or directing a laser beam at a vehicle has significantly decreased in the year following this Act coming into force; and(b) what steps could be taken to further reduce the danger that the misuse of lasers poses to vehicles.(3) The Secretary of State must lay a report of the assessment under this section before both Houses of Parliament one year after this Act comes into force.”
My Lords, this Bill is remarkably narrow in its scope—very much more so than its predecessor, the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill, which fell at the time of the general election. I regard this as a great pity as the Government are missing an opportunity to take a comprehensive look at this issue. Instead, they are making two discrete stabs in the right direction, here in this Bill and in their proposals in the Trade Bill, to limit the sale of the most powerful lasers. This amendment is designed to highlight the opportunity that the Government have missed to take a number of additional steps to reduce the danger that lasers pose not only to vehicle users but to the wider safety of the general public.
At Second Reading a number of possible measures were suggested by noble Lords, including restricting the sale of lasers, introducing a licensing system, classing lasers as offensive weapons in certain circumstances as we do with knives, and imposing penalties for mislabelling. All of these would make it harder for individuals to acquire, knowingly or unknowingly, potentially dangerous lasers. I thank the Minister for her letter explaining why she believes that licensing, for example, would not work. She states specifically:
“When licensing systems were established in New Zealand and Australia the evidence gathered showed that licensing regime has not reduced laser attacks”.
I find that rather surprising because the statistics for Australia show that the number of laser incidents between 2013 and 2015 actually fell from 667 to 502. That is not an amazing reduction, but the Minister herself said in her speech at Second Reading that in the UK in 2008 there were only 200 incidents while in 2017 there were 1,200. That is a vast increase in the number of incidents in Britain while they are being contained and even trimmed a little in Australia. At a time when lasers are becoming increasingly available and increasingly powerful, I would argue that controlling the growth in the number of incidents is in itself a sign of success.
Australia has the most stringent control system in the world and it illustrates how complex the problem is and how multifaceted the Government’s response needs to be. Disappointingly, if I may use a rather inappropriate metaphor, there seems to be only one arrow in the Government’s quiver in this Bill. The Australian experience shows that labelling requirements are flouted very frequently. I have already mentioned one study which showed that more than 50% of the lasers labelled as 1 milliwatt or less were in fact more powerful. In one case, the laser was 127 times more powerful. Increasing the likelihood of examination and detection as these lasers are imported into the country is therefore very important indeed.
At Second Reading I questioned the Minister about the support being planned for local authority ports and border teams as well as trading standards officers, to enable them to detect mislabelled lasers. The Minister responded to this in her letter to me and referred to government co-ordination but made absolutely no reference to the extra money or resources which are so badly needed by these hard-pressed teams. We also discussed advertising. The Minister pointed out in her letter that in the UK there is little in the way of actual advertising for lasers, but I would urge her to consider another sort of advertising; that is, the need for the Government themselves to issue public information advertisements, probably aimed primarily at parents, to raise awareness of the danger of lasers. I am disappointed that the Government yet again seem to be relying on the market to rule and ignoring the need for a comprehensive package of measures.
I tried to draft several amendments to tackle the issues I have raised. They were all ruled to be out of scope because the Bill is very narrow. I have fallen back, unashamedly, on the need for the Government to report on the effectiveness of the measures in the Bill within a year of it passing to force the Government to take a more comprehensive look if the measures in the Bill do not prove effective in creating a considerable reduction in the incidence of laser attacks. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am slightly surprised that the noble Baroness got this one past the clerks. Be that as it may, the advice of the clerks is the advice of the clerks and that is that. She did get it past them, but this sort of thing seems outside the scope of the Bill and the Long Title as I read it. I hope that she will not press it.
My Lords, we broadly support the amendment. We will congratulate ourselves after Report and Third Reading, having used very little parliamentary time, on having a narrow Bill that addresses a particular problem, but the real issue is enforcement. Will this law be effectively enforced? We have a crisis in policing in this country. There are some 20,000 fewer officers than in 2010. One has no idea where in the police’s priorities this particular piece of law will fall.
The beauty of having a report after a year is that it will have to include information about how enforcement has gone. That can do nothing but good. There is a general rule of management that what gets measured gets done. The fact that police forces would know that Parliament will be looking at the result of this law and the extent to which it has been enforced would be an important incentive to make it work.
My Lords, the Government keep safety across all modes of transport under constant review and, along with industry, are always looking at ways in which we can mitigate risks to safety. The risk posed by the misuse of lasers is no exception. I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, that we will continue to work with the police, regulators and other stakeholders, including the UK Laser Working Group, to monitor the number of instances of a person shining or directing a laser beam at a vehicle and look at what other steps can be taken, including raising public awareness and using evolving technology, to mitigate the impact that a laser attack has on a person in control of vehicles.
In addition to what we are proposing in the Bill, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has announced new measures to tackle the sale of unsafe laser pointers, which I hope will reduce the number of instances of laser misuse on transport. Much of this will be a matter for the newly created Office for Product Safety and Standards to consider. Announced on Sunday, it will be a national body to further enhance the UK’s product safety system and provide support at a local level. I have already mentioned the education programme. We believe that the very introduction of the Bill will raise awareness of the dangers that lasers pose. The noble Baroness points out that the Bill’s scope is very narrow. That is indeed the case. As I said, BEIS has recently published its response to its call for evidence. The new Office for Product Safety and Standards should help.
We will follow the usual post-legislative scrutiny guidance and submit a memorandum, published as a Command Paper, to the House of Commons Transport Select Committee within five years after Royal Assent. The memorandum will include a preliminary assessment of how the Act has worked in practice. The one year that the noble Baroness proposes in her amendment may not be enough time to properly assess the full impact of a new criminal offence and the other measures I have mentioned. As I said, we will of course be keeping this under constant review. I hope that my reassurances will satisfy the noble Baroness and that she will withdraw her amendment.
I thank the Minister for that. For the sake of clarity for the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, I thought I had indicated—possibly it is because I am trying to use as few words as possible today—that I understand entirely why my proposed amendments were ruled out of order. It is because the Bill is very narrowly drafted. However, I did discuss the issue in order to see whether it is possible to have this discussion in some other way. I was reassured to hear that the Minister is consulting widely on the issues associated with the Bill, as well as by the creation of the Office for Product Safety and Standards and the five-year review. I am satisfied that she has taken on board and will continue to take on board the issues I have raised and with that I am content to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 16 withdrawn.
Clause 2 agreed.
Bill reported without amendment.