Clause 17

Railways and Transport Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:00 am on 11th February 2003.

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The British Transport Police Authority

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

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am grateful to have the opportunity to move on to part 3 of the Bill. I want to share with the Committee my first unfortunate experience of assistance from the British Transport police. I was travelling back from work in Brussels, and I had booked for the first time on the hovercraft, which was then a new vessel. The hovercraft could not travel because the sea was too rough, so I had to come on the overnight ferry. I ended up at Victoria station at 1 or 2 o'clock in the morning. The first train north from King's Cross station to my family home did not leave until 5 or 6 o'clock in the morning.

A cause of great distress to me was that I was done by a taxi tout. I was not familiar with London—I do not know whether I am much more familiar with it now—and I did not want to take public transport, although I doubt that I could have anyway. I was in a long queue for taxis at 2 o'clock in the morning to get to King's Cross when a gentleman offered to take me out of the queue into his private car. I did not realise that he was neither insured nor licensed, and I was even more disgusted to be ripped off, as I paid enough to travel much further in a proper taxi.

I presented myself to the British Transport police, who were immensely helpful. Rather alarmingly, they told me about other individuals with whom I should not have any dealings at King's Cross in the early hours of the morning.

I pay tribute the British Transport police and add to the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale on Second Reading. He commended the work of the British Transport police. He spoke about them in the highest possible terms, and said that

''it is important for the British Transport police to know that they have the full support of people throughout the country and on both sides of the House for their work. I hope that the Secretary of State's prioritisation of their work in the Bill will also be reflected in the negotiations that he and others hold with the Treasury on the provision of resources for that police service. Conservative Members continue to hold the view that our police, in general, need more backing and that certainly holds as true for the British Transport police as for any other organisation.''—[Official Report, 28 January 2003; Vol. 398, c. 780.]

I welcome clause 17 and the thinking that lies behind it, in particular the fact that the British Transport police authority will be placed on a statutory footing in much the same way as other British police forces.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Conservative, Westbury

I join my hon. Friend in endorsing the good work of the British Transport police, but will she reflect on the need for separate police forces to deal with the railways and various other parts of our national life, particularly defence? It is important to provide the justification for having separate police forces, and therefore authorities, before we go much further.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

My hon. Friend makes a pertinent and well-made point, and we will have the opportunity during discussions on part 3 to examine that request. I hope that the Minister will have heard that and will respond to it.

The jurisdiction of the British Transport police authority has already been extended beyond the railways in certain circumstances through the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, and some changes to the powers of the British Transport police were included in the Police Reform Act 2002. My understanding is that the Bill completes the package of changes and the Government's 2001 consultation exercise.

We have an opportunity to commend the work of the British Transport police. Its morale is reasonably high, in spite of the fact that railways may be a terrorist target—I hesitate to say that, given that I travel by rail to my constituency most weekends. It is welcome that the legislation, tidies up the ways in which the transport police are operated and empowered, as well as putting the extension of the powers of the transport police on a statutory footing.

The British Transport police are the national police force for the railways in Great Britain. I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Dr. Murrison) was arguing that it should have responsibility only for the railways. It is already responsible for the London underground, the Docklands light railway, the Croydon tramlink and the Midland metro. Its activities include law and order policing, maintaining the Queen's peace and protecting railway staff and the public on the railways. It is regrettable that, in an age in which everybody is under pressure and stress on their way to and from work—not just on the railways but at airports and ports—transport staff are subjected to aggressive and often abusive behaviour. That makes their work difficult and is creating additional work for the British Transport police. The force is commendable; it deals with all crimes, including the most serious crimes, which are not necessarily on the railways but are those that affect women as they leave railway stations, who are very vulnerable. The British Transport police have to investigate murder, violent sexual offences, robberies, theft, fraud and a host of other incidents including accidents, fatalities and suicides. It is another sign of the times that there is an increased tendency for people to throw themselves in front of trains, notably on the London tube.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Conservative, Westbury 11:15 am, 11th February 2003

On a slightly lighter note, among my briefing notes I see a list of exceptions—crimes that the British Transport police cannot investigate. They are few, but the one that struck me was bigamy. Connecting with my earlier remarks, perhaps that will provide the cue for the Minister to explain any differences between the British Transport police and county police authorities and the reasons for them.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

My hon. Friend's briefing notes seem more extensive than mine. I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity offered. Bearing in mind the plea of my hon. Friend the Member for

Westmorland and Lonsdale on Second Reading, it is important to recognise the increasing role and expertise of the British Transport police in anti-terrorist strategy, the handling of major incidents and the policing of travelling sports fans. In the interests of morale, I hope that the Minister will confirm that he is not just putting the powers on a statutory basis, which is welcome, but is seeking to provide the force with further resources. That would be welcome in the case of the regular police who do magnificent work with limited resources.

I fear for the morale of the British Transport police and the regular police. We ask more of them every year, yet they will be affected by the 1 per cent. additional national insurance contribution that will come into effect in April. I imagine that the Budget will lead to a standstill budget for the British Transport police next year, although I presume that they will benefit from the pay review and agreements reached with the regular police. Perhaps the Minister will confirm that. The morale of the police, not least the British Transport police, is obviously important.

The industry has a rather larger representation on the British Transport police authority than envisaged. We shall go on to consider how the authority will be revised, but the Minister made it clear this morning that a levy will clearly be imposed on the industry to pay for certain aspects of the Bill. It is curious the industry is being asked to pay more but will end up with proportionately less representation on the authority. If the industry is being asked to pay more, I urge the Minister in the strongest possible terms to ensure that its representation is increased, not reduced.

Photo of Ms Linda Perham Ms Linda Perham Labour, Ilford North

The hon. Lady mentioned a matter spoken of by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mr. Lazarowicz) on Second Reading, which was the extension of the jurisdiction of the British Transport police under the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. I spoke last week with the chief constable of the British Transport police, who is extremely supportive of the Bill, but that was his main worry. That Act contains a sunset clause, but it must be reviewed by the end of this year. I seek an assurance from the Minister, as did the hon. Lady, about the extension of jurisdiction, because the British Transport police wants to keep those powers.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

I have no intention of holding the baton at the end of our proceedings, so I shall be brief. I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Linda Perham). I hope that we get a clear answer to that question. I support the clause, because it establishes something that the Government said that they would do back in 1998.

During our debate on schedule 4, I shall raise a number of questions, not least about the notion that the Secretary of State should be responsible for the appointment of the chairman of the authority when all other chairmen are appointed by the authorities themselves.

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Minister of State (Department for Transport)

The hon. Member for Bath slightly anticipates a later debate. It is not the case that all police authorities elect their own chairmen, but we will

come to that detail in due course. It seems that I may be left holding the baton; perhaps the hon. Gentleman is going to another of his lunches and is not sure whether he will be here in time for this afternoon's sitting.

I join the hon. Member for Vale of York in paying tribute to the management and the officers of the British Transport police for the extremely effective job

that they do. I say that not only because of the way in which they deal with the public, but because statistics show where they stand in the league of county police forces.

It being twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at half-past Two o'clock.