Clause 29 - Jurisdiction

Railways and Transport Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:15 pm on 11th February 2003.

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Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Liberal Democrat Whip 4:15 pm, 11th February 2003

I beg to move amendment No. 11, in

clause 29, page 13, line 8, at end insert—

'(h) where assistance is requested by a local police force.'.

This is a probing amendment. We welcome the measures that give the British Transport police statutory jurisdiction over the railways. Those were originally set out in the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 and the Police Reform Act 2002.

Our amendment has two purposes. First, it seeks to establish that there are clear limits to the powers that a constable would be able to exercise. I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm that a vision of British Transport police constables roaming far and wide, getting involved in things that may not directly be in their remit—although they may relate in some way to railway matters—is fanciful and not possible. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us on that. Secondly, the amendment seeks to make it clear that there will be cases in which it will be important to involve the British Transport police and to make use of their expertise.

The purposes of our amendment are clear. Amendment No. 11 touches on the issues of boundaries and where the BTP can and cannot operate. Therefore, I wonder whether the Minister could make it clear in his response that the Government do not support proposals, which have been mooted in the past, to transfer a number of BTP staff—those involved in the policing of the London underground—to the Metropolitan police. We could not support that.

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

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, which permits the British Transport police to act when another police force requests assistance, is subject to sunset provisions—a review of the Act. That review is in progress. The subsequent report may recommend that certain provisions of the 2001 Act cease to have effect six months after the report is laid before Parliament. Even if the Privy Council report specifies that, Parliament can still vote to retain the provision.

Amendment No. 11 may have some merit. However, it is only right that we allow the Privy Council review to run its course. I am confident that the provisions will remain on the statute book. However, that is for the Privy Council to decide. The provisions have already benefited the fight against crime considerably. British Transport police have already assisted in 1,500 incidents outside their railway jurisdiction. The amendment would pre-empt the review, and it would be wrong to circumvent it in that way. The proposed jurisdiction in force together with the retained jurisdiction under the 2001 Act allows British Transport police officers to act as constables outside the railways in all circumstances in which the public would expect such an officer to act. With that assurance, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Liberal Democrat Whip 4:30 pm, 11th February 2003

I shall happy to withdraw my amendment, although I was seeking a specific assurance from the Minister that the possible transfer of British Transport police staff involved in policing London underground would not be supported. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I beg to move amendment No. 58, in

clause 29, page 13, line 8, at end insert—

'(h) and in the vicinity of the sites specified above.'.

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment

Amendment No. 59, in

clause 29, page 13, line 9, after 'forms part of', insert

'or is in the vicinity of.'.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

By way of background, it may be helpful if I set out our thinking.

Like Home Office police force, the British Transport police's main duties consist of public policing, but unlike the Home Office force, almost all the British Transport police's duties, in particular its patrols, occur on private property, albeit private property to which the public has access—railway stations or trains, for example. The British Transport police's existing jurisdiction on the private property flows from a combination of section 53 of the British Transport Commission Act 1949 and numerous private agreements between the Strategic Rail Authority and the railway companies.

Most operators of railway vehicles and certain railway assets are required by the licensing regime in the Railways Act 1993 to have a licence. [Interruption.] The Minister may find it useful to listen, as I will ask him a tricky question. I am sure that his response will be, as ever, most helpful.

It is a condition of those licences that the operator must enter into an agreement with the SRA to engage the service of the British Transport police on its property. Those agreements combine with the 1949 Act that gives the British Transport police the right to police most railway property. That is important because under a later clause—possibly clause 32—a civil offence will be committed if the agreement is breached. That is the first time that such a civil offence has been introduced, and it will be punishable by a fine. We will return to that point when we debate the relevant clause.

The amendments, particularly amendment No. 58, are important because there is a serious omission in the Government's drafting. The vital omission is a phrase that the Minister used earlier, which is ''in the vicinity of''. It tripped off the tongue then, and those are four words to which the Minister has become accustomed. As he is so comfortable with the concept of that phrase and its relationship with the jurisdiction of the British Transport police, why have the Government chosen to omit it from the Bill?

It has been put to me that the four words ''in the vicinity of'' are important because they enable the force to undertake operations with other forces in and around railway property. The British Transport police have had the power had under previous legislation, and the jurisdiction granted by Parliament to the British Transport police is extended by the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. That Act is renewable, and the jurisdiction could be withdrawn. I am told that the force could not function without the ability to mount joint operations in the vicinity of stations or specified sites. I am sure that the Minister would want to address that.

Clause 29 gives the British Transport police a wholly statutory railway jurisdiction throughout England, Scotland and Wales. Within that jurisdiction, a British Transport police constable has the powers and privileges of a Home Office constable. We are told that the jurisdiction extends over all railway property. It also extends outside railway property—for example, to a town high street—throughout Great Britain in relation to railway matters. I understand that that jurisdiction will allow such a constable to pursue a person who commits an offence on the railway and then absconds from the railway property.

The two amendments are crucial to give the British Transport police the power to police railway property day to day. It is important to empower them in that way, and there has been an oversight on the part of the Government. The amendments would give the British Transport police the power to police railway property and property in the vicinity on the specified sites. Clause 29(2) and (3) would then give the proper power to the police. Given that the 2001 Act powers can be rescinded at any time, the BTP believes it important to have that power.

On property not listed in clause 29(3), I understand that a British Transport police constable is subject to the same restrictions that apply to a Home Office constable. In particular, a British Transport police officer could not enter private property unless invited, or he held a warrant, or he was exercising another right of entry—under another Act of Parliament, for example.

That relates to our specific request under an earlier amendment that, for the purposes of an inspection or investigation relating to an accident or incident under the Bill, the inspector or investigating officer of the rail accident investigation branch be accompanied at all times by a British Transport police officer. I hope that the Minister will confirm that the Government have that in mind.

As regards the right of entry into not only railway property, but property in the vicinity, British Transport police officers carry out many of their duties in public areas of railways, such as station concourses and trains. Those duties involve activities such as routine public patrols that do not fall into the categories—entry by the invitation of the lawful occupier of the property, for example; the execution of a warrant; entering and searching premises under a statutory power for which no warrant is required; or arresting a person for any of the offences for which an officer may arrest a person without a warrant. The example in that regard is the Football Spectators Act 1989.

To allow the British Transport police to continue with their public policing duties, it is proposed that there will be certain places where a British Transport police officer will have all the powers and privileges of a constable of the regular police force. He will also be able to patrol such places and be on that property without needing any special permission or incident to have occurred before he may enter the property. I seek clarification on that from the Minister. [Interruption.] Just for the purposes of clarity, and since notes and agreements are flying around, I wish to record that no one from the usual channels has consulted me, and my usual channel is absent, so I do not know what is going on. Will someone inform me what it is?

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Secretary of State for Transport 4:39 pm, 11th February 2003

On a point of order, Mr. Hood. I passed the hon. Lady a note asking whether she thought it was worth coming back after the Division in the House.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming—

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport) 4:54 pm, 11th February 2003

The purpose of the amendments is to round off what is in the Bill. However, they fall short of giving total enabling powers to the BTP. Our amendments aim to enable constables to patrol those parts on and in the vicinity of the railway to which the public normally have access, including stations, trains, track and public access area—anywhere where unlawful incursions might pose a threat to railway safety. Such places are understood to be on any railway track, any land or property comprising the permanent way of the railway, whether or not it is used for other purposes; on any railway system or transport using parallel rails that support and guide a vehicle on flanged wheels and/or track; on any form of guided transport; on any vehicles guided by means external to the vehicles on any railway network, line and installation associated with the lines on and in any railway station; on any land or other property used for or in connection with the purposes of a railway passenger station or terminal whether or not it is used for other purposes; on property on and in any railway vehicle, locomotive or train on a network, whether or not it is being used for the purpose of carrying goods or passengers by rail or for any purpose whatsoever; and on property on or in any place owned or managed by the British Transport police or the British Transport police authority in connection with the provisions of the services of the British Transport police. That is the proposed basis of the jurisdiction of the British Transport police over the railway.

To recap, the purpose of amendments Nos. 58 and 59, without which the British Transport police will have difficulty in operating, is to correct the omission of the words ''in the vicinity of''. It is vital; without it, the force would be unable to undertake operations with other forces in and around railway property, even by virtue of its powers under other legislation. I ask the Minister to consider that it might have been an omission. He used the very words himself, and they will be relevant when we come to consider clause 32 and the new civil offence. The amendments are simple and helpful and I hope that the Government will adopt them as their own. Without them, the British Transport police will be unable to exercise their rightful powers.

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

I hope to reassure the hon. Lady and the Committee that the proposals do not reduce and restrict the jurisdiction of the BTP. Rather, they provide the force with a clear statutory basis. It is no longer necessary, therefore, to include the words ''in the vicinity'' and ''the force's jurisdiction''. I hope to explain why. Through their jurisdiction under the Bill, the BTP can act anywhere in Great Britain on any matter connected with the railway. For example, somebody standing outside railway property throwing stones at trains would still be within the remit of the BTP, and it could detain or arrest that person. In addition, through its jurisdiction under section 100 of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, the BTP can act throughout Great Britain in the circumstances described in that Act.

Even if someone were outside a railway's property and committing a crime or in need of assistance unrelated to the railways, the BTP could still act. For example, if somebody were stealing a car in a public street next to a railway station, a BTP officer witnessing the crime could act immediately and arrest the offender. Similarly, a BTP officer could assist in a car accident outside a station. The provisions of the anti-terrorism legislation are subject to Privy Council review, which it would be inappropriate to pre-empt.

Amendment No. 59 would give BTP constables greater powers than those they have at present and than those their Home Office counterparts have. Accordingly I ask the hon. Lady to reconsider her position and not to press the amendments.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am most grateful for the Minister's comments. I may have missed it inadvertently because of the intermission, but is he in a position to say when the Privy Council will conclude its review; and why he has reached one conclusion over the words ''in the vicinity of'' when the British Transport Police have reached another?

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

I understand that the Privy Council review should be concluded by the end of the year. We believe that the provisions under the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 cover the powers sought by the hon. Lady and that it would not be right to pre-empt the outcome of that review. Obviously, following the review the Government would have to consider the consequences of any recommendations.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am mindful of the timetable that the Minister has set out. I want to record our disappointment that he does not see fit to support the amendments. The timing is unfortunate; it poses a practical problem for the British Transport Police, but I hope it will be resolved before the Bill enters the statute book. We may have the opportunity to return to the matter at a later stage. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Further consideration adjourned.—[Joan Ryan.]

Adjourned accordingly at one minute past Five o'clock till Thursday 13 February at five minutes to Nine o'clock.