Clause 24 - Special constables

Railways and Transport Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:45 pm on 11th February 2003.

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Amendments made: No. 66, in

clause 24, page 11, line 32, after 'Force', insert

'appointed in England or Wales'.

No. 67, in

clause 24, page 11, line 35, after 'Force', insert 'appointed in Scotland'.—[Mr. Spellar.]

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

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I rise to ask the Minister to confirm what the role of the special constables will be. Will the role of special constables in the British Transport police be much the same as the role of those in the regular force? They will surely have to travel in the course of their duties, sometimes for considerable distances. Can he confirm that the conditions of the special constables, and the way in which they are appointed and dismissed, will be the same as the conditions of existing transport police and local police officers?

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

I should like to make two brief points. First, I place on record my praise for special constables who work in normal county police forces and for the British Transport police. Some county police forces have recently carried out extensive advertising campaigns in order to attract additional people to do that valuable work. Has the Minister thought about further advertising for BTP special constable posts, which, as the hon. Member for Vale of York has pointed out, cover a much wider area? Secondly, has the Minister given any thought to the working relationships between special constables, ordinary constables and a new category of person whom we may be seeing on our railways in the near future? I understand that various train-operating companies, which are responsible for running a number of our railway stations, are intending to appoint station wardens and there could be a problem if the working relationships have not been sorted out. I would be grateful for his comments on the issue.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Conservative, Westbury

The hon. Member for Bath was right to pay tribute to the special constabulary. I shall, in a few weeks' time, be taking part in the Wiltshire weekend that is put on by the chief constable responsible for the recruitment of special constables in Wiltshire. It would be nice to know that the British Transport police are doing something similar, because it has only 68 special constables. It would be nice to know that the Minister is doing what he can to ensure that the numbers increase.

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

Hon. Members should be pleased with the proactive role that the British Transport police, under its chief constable, Ian Johnston, are taking on police and transport safety officer numbers on parts of the network. It is also looking at different roles that are designed to enhance the safety not just of those who travel on the network and the staff, but of those who live in the vicinity of the network. For example, on South West Trains, considerable work is being undertaken with the Metropolitan police, community safety officers and representatives of the local community. Often, railway stations attract certain criminal elements that make a nuisance of themselves in the station and in the vicinity of neighbouring shopkeepers and residents.

British Transport police have sworn in a number of Connex employees as special constables and Connex provides the necessary time off for training and operations. That arrangement enhances the police presence in the railway system, both on the stations and on the trains. In both cases special constables provide a considerable enhancement to the service and that should be more widely publicised. If hon. Members are interested, we could make information available and, if necessary, we could provide briefing outside the Committee.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Conservative, Westbury

In connection with violence at railway stations, does the Minister agree that some 8 per cent. of the British Transport police's total budget and one third of overtime payments go towards football policing? The special constabulary has a particular role in the policing of football matches, which makes the BTP's 68 special constables look like a very low number. It is imperative that the number of special constables in the British Transport police be increased.

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

The hon. Gentleman should be aware that policing special events is not exclusively the remit of the British Transport police and that there is considerable engagement with county forces in dealing with any exceptional events.

Community support officers work for the county forces. Although the British Transport police are currently excluded from the relevant legislation, there is considerable interchange and co-operation between the BTP and the community support officers in particular locations. However, the chief constable of the British Transport police is able to set up schemes to accredit suitably skilled and trained non-police employees with powers to support the BTP in combating crime and disorder, public nuisance and antisocial behaviour on the railways. That is where the station wardens come into the picture. Powers may be made available to an accredited person. Those powers would include the power to issue fixed penalty notices, which were much derided by Opposition Members when they were proposed, but are now an extremely successful weapon for police forces in dealing with antisocial behaviour. They may be issued in relation to trespassing, antisocial behaviour, the confiscation of alcohol or the removal of abandoned vehicles.

In addition, BTP and South West Trains have launched a scheme to introduce travel safe officers, whose main role will be to enforce railway byelaws, provide support and assistance to the BTP and ensure that travelling with South West Trains is as safe as possible. That shows the range of options that are available as a result of train operators co-operating with BTP to provide the necessary training for personnel. Those personnel will have a range of powers, from issuing fixed penalty notices and enforcing byelaws to the powers of special constables. That will allow forces to react to the range of difficulties that they experience, from nuisance and antisocial behaviour to criminal offences.

All those factors indicate that the issue is being taken seriously by the British Transport police and that effective measures are being taken. The powers of those various groups are defined in the Police Reform Act 2002. I hope that I have clarified the legislation for the hon. Member for Vale of York and shown that the BTP and the train operators are very much on the case.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 24, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee 4:00 pm, 11th February 2003

With the consent of the Committee, I will put clause stand part on clauses 25 to 28 together.