The second Reading of the Laser Misuse (Vehicles) Bill was heard in Parliament today, and Reading East MP and Shadow Local Transport Minister Matt Rodda was present in the Commons Chamber to speak to the House alongside Shadow Secretary of State for Transport Andy McDonald MP.
Following the increased use of laser pens and pointers in an antisocial way in recent years; specifically with laser beams aimed at air traffic and road traffic, the Bill would provide for the introduction of a criminal offence; namely the direction or shining of a laser beam towards a vehicle in such a way as to dazzle or distract, or be likely to dazzle or distract, the person driving, piloting, navigating or otherwise in control of that vehicle when it is moving or is ready to move. It would also be an office to direct or shine a laser beam towards an air traffic facility, or to direct or shine a laser beam towards a person providing air traffic services, in both cases in such a way as to dazzle or distract, or be likely to dazzle or distract a person providing air traffic services.
During previous readings as part of the legislative process, the issues of transport safety, maximum fines, parental responsibility, and whether air traffic control towers should be included in the bill had been explored.
Having heard the opening contributions, the Shadow Secretary of State for Transport said:
“Labour fully supports the Bill. While Labour Members are happy to see these measures finally making their way into law, it is disappointing to note that 50% of the Government’s transport programme during the current Parliament has consisted of clauses taken from the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill, which should already have passed into law. Moreover, having introduced three separate Bills, the Government have yet to include a number of clauses from the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill that should be on the statute books by now.”
The Shadow Secretary also added that he was mindful of the Government's omission in this Bill on the matter of environmental and air pollution issues in relation to transportation, and which causes 50,000 premature deaths each year. He further explained to the House that the Bill being read a second time could have made provision to legislate on the use of drones in light of the 70 reported near-miss incidents with aircraft in 2016, and the number 'rising year on year', but failed to do so.
Additional comments from the Shadow Secretary were that the Government had 'dragged their feet' on important problems relating to the transport sector, but he was encouraged to see the Government listening to the Labour party and legislating on laser misuse.
There has been a sharp rise in the misuse of lasers in recent years. Civil Aviation Authority figures state a 70% increase in the number of incidents whereby a laser was shone at an aircraft in the UK between 2009 and 2016, and the British Transport Police have also reported a significant number of events – with 578 incidences on record between April 2011 and November 2017; an average of 96 events each year.
The Shadow Secretary gave comment on the current penalty for laser misuse; the present maximum penalty being a fine of 2,500. A suspect can also be imprisoned for up to five years under the Aviation Security Act 1982 if intent to damage or endanger the safety of the aircraft could be proven. He added:
“The Bill will extend the offence to other vehicles, remove the cap on the amount that offenders can be fined, and make it easier to prosecute offenders by removing the need to prove an intention to endanger a vehicle.”
In his summing up, Matt Rodda in his role as Shadow Minister for Local Transport said:
“I join colleagues in congratulating honourable Members from both sides of the House who have made knowledgeable contributions in this interesting debate. In particular, I thank the honourable Member for Mole Valley, Sir Paul Beresford, for his deeply personal, moving and thoughtful contribution.
“As my honourable Friend the Shadow Secretary of State alluded to earlier, Labour supports this uncontroversial Bill. We agree that the growing misuse of lasers is a problem that needs to be dealt with swiftly. Due to the sheer number of laser attacks on aircraft and other vehicles in recent years, along with the growing power of laser pointers, we support legislative steps to make it a strict liability offence to shine a laser into the eyes of pilots and drivers when in control of vehicles. It is important to place on record the fact that although attacks on aircraft are by far the most common form of laser attack, incidents on railways and on shipping vessels have been reported.
“I would also reaffirm our thanks to Labour colleagues in the other place who worked hard on this Bill by tightening up its language and definitions, as well as by gaining clarifications and important concessions from Ministers. Some of our learned Labour colleagues in the other place were more than qualified to speak about this topic, as one is a former airline pilot and another the president of the British Airline Pilots Association. I pay particular tribute to them for their work on this issue, and we thank the Government for the technical amendments that they tabled in response to the concessions that we won.”
“I reiterate the point that our colleagues in the other place made about enforcement. We have over 21,000 fewer police officers compared with in 2010. We will raise further questions in Committee about whether the law will be enforced effectively by what I must say are already stretched police forces.
“We support the Bill because of the concessions won by Labour peers in the House of Lords. We welcome steps to combat the growing problem of laser misuse and to protect the safety of pilots, drivers and passengers. We look forward to our deliberations in Committee.”
The Bill shall now be committed to a Committee of the whole House.