HAYES IN THE HOUSE: By MP John Hayes
Shortly before Christmas, the Department for Transport published a Bill which aims to strengthen the law against criminals who shine lasers at aircraft, and make shining lasers at cars, trains and ships a criminal offence for the first time.
Emergency and security service personnel who work round the clock to prevent passengers coming to harm, guarding against the risks of accidents and collisions or the threats from would-be terrorists, deserve and will get laws which keep pace with new technological developments.
The threat posed by the misuse of handheld lasers — often sold for less than £1 as toys or presentation tools —has increased in recent years. In 2004, there were six reported cases, but by 2008 there were 200. Last year, there were over a thousand. We have, thus far, been fortunate that no aircraft, train or lorry has had an accident because of a laser. But it is all too easy to imagine the potential consequences of a pilot being blinded by a laser while trying to land a passenger jet, or a train driver dazzled from a bridge. Appallingly, police helicopters and air ambulances responding to emergencies have also been targeted.
Shining a laser at an aircraft pilot is already illegal, and the police have had some success in identifying suspects through the use of thermal cameras. Nevertheless, the existing laws are not strong enough. Police lack powers to search the homes of suspects and, even when a conviction is secured, the maximum penalty is a fine of only £2,500. What’s more, there is no specific law against shining a laser at a ship or at motorists at the wheel.
The misuse of lasers demands a much tougher response, which is why the new Laser Misuse (Vehicles) Bill, which I helped to shape, will make shining a laser at any kind of transport a criminal offence, and see culprits face an unlimited fine or a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
With support from across the Parliamentary divide, this new law should come into force very soon indeed. It will make those flirting with such reckless activities think again. Individuals who are determined to use laser pointers to risk the lives of others will get exactly what they deserve: tough action backed by full force of the law.
Our resolve in the face of evil must be unwavering