Schedule 4 - British Transport Police Authority

Railways and Transport Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 11th February 2003.

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Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Secretary of State for Transport 2:45 pm, 11th February 2003

I beg to move amendment No. 6, in

schedule 4, page 57, line 7, at end insert—

'(g) at least one person each who has knowledge of and experience in relation to the interests of—

(i) employees in railway services, and

(ii) trade unions related railways services.'.

Mr. Hood we are all delighted to see you back in the Chair. I thoroughly enjoyed your put-down of the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Bacon) a

moment ago; you reminded me of the character Dirty Harry, played by Clint Eastwood, who used the immortal words, ''People don't cross me twice.'' You made it clear that the hon. Gentleman should not cross you a second time.

Not only are we delighted to see you, Mr. Hood; we are also delighted to see the Under-Secretary of State for Transport and my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake). I am advised that they have been doing sterling work in Westminster Hall, where my hon. Friend was able to give a clear statement of the Liberal Democrat position on congestion charging. I understand that the Under-Secretary failed yet again to state the Government's position.

The Under-Secretary suggested earlier that it would be inappropriate to list the type of people who should be members of the Office of Rail Regulation. He argued that it would be inappropriate, although when challenged he was prepared to indicate the skills and experience that he thought it would be appropriate for the Secretary of State to bear in mind when selecting people for appointment.

When it comes to the new board for the British Transport police, however, the Government are far less coy about listing the types of people who are to serve on the new police authority, and their backgrounds. Paragraph 2(1) lists the various people from whom it is believed right and proper to select members of the new body. You were not here earlier, Mr. Hood, to hear me say that I was delighted that the Government were belatedly introducing such a body, having promised to do so in a press release back in 1998. Now, in 2003, they have eventually agreed to do it.

I am genuinely delighted that schedule 4 should list the possible backgrounds of those who should be selected to serve on the new body. The amendment would not add a string of categories of people but one category—those who have knowledge of and experience in the interests of railway employees and of the trade unions related to railway services.

Given the long history of the Labour party, my amendment should receive a great deal of support from the Government Benches. After all, the lists of the organisations from which members of the new authority will be drawn rightly include representatives of passenger groups. However, passenger groups do not cover the Strategic Rail Authority. The Government thought it appropriate that there should be a representative from the Strategic Rail Authority, so they threw one in. The Government say, ''Things are different in Scotland; that is not necessarily covered by passenger interest groups.'' Therefore they add a Scottish representative. They also say, ''Wales will not necessarily be represented by the passenger interest groups, so let us have a representative from Wales as well.'' That is all good and proper, and I applaud the Government for it. However, it is odd that the Government include the employers of the bodies that operate the organisations that run our railways but omit any reference to employees as representatives on the body. That is a major omission for a Labour Government to make.

Normally, the Minister would be able to use the traditional argument that he does not like lists of who should be represented on bodies. However, that does not apply here because the Government have already provided us with a list of the bodies that they think should be included. It is strange that a Labour Government should omit employees from the list, although I believe that they are willing to consider additions to it—employees is the addition that the amendment proposes.

The Minister may say that the Government do not normally include employees or employee organisations such as trade unions on such lists. That is often true. However, it is not true about the railways because when Network Rail was established—a body that Liberal Democrats suggested long before the Government acceded to its introduction—the Government accepted the need to have trade unions represent railway employees on the board. The Government have already established a precedent, and the Minister will be aware that Transport for London refers specifically to the entitlement of trade unions to represent those who work on the London underground under Transport for London.

I have pointed out what I am sure is merely a lacuna in the Government's thinking, a small omission. A Labour Government will always want to ensure that the rights of employees and trade unionists are taken into account. There are several examples of when they did not make the same mistake—when they got it right—and I hope that they will get it right this time.

It is vital that there are representatives of rail users on the authority because they are, sadly, from time to time, the victims of the very crimes that will be investigated by the British Transport police. I hope that the Minister will accept that railway employees are also sadly far too often the victims of crime. The figures are frightening: in 2001–02 there were no fewer than 1,738 physical assaults on railway employees, and 352 of those were serious enough to be reported to the Health and Safety Executive. Given that employees make the same vital contribution as employers, representatives from Scotland, Wales, the Strategic Rail Authority and passenger groups, they should be included on the list. They are as likely as anyone to be victims of crime on the railways, so a powerful case can be made for their inclusion. I am sure that the Government have made a small mistake, which they will want to rectify in a brief response saying, ''We got it wrong: the hon. Member for Bath has got it right and we are prepared to accept his amendment.''

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport) 3:00 pm, 11th February 2003

It is intriguing that the Liberal Democrats believe that it is more appropriate to have people from employees in railway services and associated trade unions than a member of the British Transport Police Federation. The hon. Gentleman may like to reflect further on that.

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

Were the hon. Lady to table an amendment to that effect—she has not yet done so—we might be minded to support it. I hope that she will

not misinterpret my interest in employees and trade unionists as a lack of interest in the body to which she refers.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

The hon. Member for Bath will not be surprised to hear that an amendment along those lines might well be tabled. We now have witnesses to the promise of support from a certain quarter. We are hopeful that that support will be forthcoming at the appropriate time.

Railway employees and their dedicated unions recognise a requirement for public consultation. The list of consultees mentioned by the hon. Gentleman expressly referred to passengers and passenger representative groups as the equivalent of employees and their representatives. The unions are likely to argue that an employer cannot articulate the full diversity and candour of opinion and that the union side is best placed to express the employee perspective. It will be interesting to find out from the Minister for Transport whether the reference was merely an oversight or left out by design.

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

The hon. Lady asked some pertinent questions of the Minister, but she has not clarified whether she supports the amendment. I gave my support to her proposals, so it would be helpful to know her position.

Miss McIntosh rose—

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am mindful of the hon. Gentleman's request and I hope to hear whether the Government will introduce a similar amendment further down the line. If so, it would save members of the Committee the trouble of tabling and voting on another amendment.

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

I support the amendment because I favour including employee and trade union representatives. As the hon. Member for Bath suggested, our party has a proud history of defending, promoting and improving workers' rights. The exchanges going on between the two Members leading for the Opposition parties pose the issue of whether the trade unions can be viewed as representing employees. Paragraph 1(1)(b) states:

''shall ensure that the number of members is an odd number neither lower than 11 nor higher than 17.''

If one adds up—and I am married to a maths teacher—the four persons in paragraphs 2(1)(a) and (b) and then the four individuals mentioned in paragraphs 2(1)(c), (d), (e) and (f), the total comes to 12. If one person were to represent both employees and trade unions, that would mean a total of 13. That would not be a problem, unless one was a triskaidekaphobic, which for those who have not had the benefit of a classical education—like what I have—is fear of the number 13. I think that there are 13 members in things such as covens. One person to represent the two groups mentioned in the amendment would take the number up to 13, but there is nothing to prevent us having up to 17 people.

However, I merely draw the Committee's attention to the matter: at the moment there would be 12 members, and if we added in the two proposed representatives, that would be 14, so the matter would need to be resolved if the intention was to have an odd number.

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

Let me bring some clarity to the matter. The arguments put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Linda Perham) on clarifying the schedule were persuasive.

Paragraph 2(1)(b) does not preclude employees or representatives of employees from serving on the authority, because it rightly says

''at least four persons who have knowledge of and experience in . . . providing railway services.''

That could certainly include, and I am sure that the hon. Member for Bath would not wish to imply that it did not include, those who are employees in the railway system. If, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North said, there are good arguments for clarifying the situation and for ensuring that that category includes someone who has such experience, we shall be happy to examine the matter.

We recognise that railway staff are often threatened and face physical abuse when going about their daily duties, and given the knowledge and experience of railway employees, they could make a useful contribution to the role of the authority. Although I can give no guarantees, we will consider the points raised in the debate, with a view to returning to the issue later in the Bill's passage.

There seemed to be some confusion with regard to the role of trade unions. I understand that the Conservative party has difficulty in understanding trade union roles, and particularly of the necessary separation of the roles of management and trade union representation.

We are discussing the role of those who work for the railway, not those who work for the British Transport police. The Bill replicates procedures for the county forces so as to set up an analogous procedure, as far as possible. In county forces, local authorities are represented because they collect the police precept. Those who collect funding for the British Transport police are primarily train operators, who therefore have a relevant interest, as well as having an interest in ensuring the effective policing of their networks.

I must say to the hon. Member for Vale of York that, as far as I am aware, there is no provision for representation of the Police Federation on the police committees in the county forces. The police committees are composed of representatives of local authorities and magistrates courts, and the federation does not have members on authorities for local forces. A police officer cannot serve on a police authority for his area, because he would be in the invidious position of being both employee and employer.

There is, therefore, some confusion in the hon. Lady's position, and the Liberal Democrats may have some difficulty in supporting her contention if she tables a subsequent amendment, unless they believe that we should reconsider and make changes to

provision for all police forces to introduce a different mechanism for constructing police authorities.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

That is all very interesting—

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I was not suggesting for a minute that the Minister was trying to mislead the Committee. Nothing could be further from my mind.

In this and the preceding debate, the Minister has failed to answer the point that section 71 of the Transport Act 1962 clearly sets out the rules governing labour relations in the British Transport Police Federation. He has not given me or any other member of the Committee a satisfactory reply about why the Bill is silent about that.

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

The hon. Lady is confusing two areas. As I said, we will table an amendment on labour relations in due course. At this stage, we are dealing with an amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Bath relating to the British Transport police authority and its composition, and we have undertaken to reconsider that amendment sympathetically. That is quite different from the question whether there should be direct representation of the trade union or the association of workers that represents the work force governed by the authority. A different principle underlies that point from the point made by the hon. Member for Bath and my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North that those who are, in effect, the customers of the service—the employees on the railway and the companies that operate the rail system—should be represented in the governing authority for the police force. Labour relations and governance are two quite separate issues with much wider application. They rarely find favour with any of the parties or with the trade unions concerned.

I ask the hon. Member for Bath to withdraw his amendment.

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

I thank the Minister for his helpful reply. He has made a powerful case for representation of the Police Federation on the authority. While I am minded to accept his advice, I assure him that that would create only a small fissure in the alliance that is gradually building among Opposition Members on various aspects of the Bill. I was grateful for his clear explanation of the difficulties that might arise if another sort of amendment were accepted. However, since there is no such amendment, it would be inappropriate to discuss it further.

I thank the hon. Member for Ilford, North for supporting the principle of my amendment if not its precise words—although the hon. Lady did not say explicitly that she did not support the wording. I am aware that her remarks goaded the Minister, who praised her for helping to clarify my amendment. I hoped that I had made its meaning clear to the Minister, but if it gives him pleasure to give credit to one of his hon. Friends and if the end result is that we achieve what we were trying to achieve, so be it. I am sure that the hon. Lady can now write her own ''Focus'' and claim the credit for it.

The Minister touched on whether paragraph 2(1)(b) would be sufficient to cover the issue. He is right that it

could be interpreted as including categories of people such as employees and trade union representatives. However, he has probably got the message by now that it would be preferable to avoid any doubt by referring directly to them in the Bill. I welcome the fact that he initially said that he would be more than happy to look at that. Although he could not make any guarantees, in subsequent comments he said that he would look at it sympathetically. There is a clear commitment to consider the issue, about which many members of the Committee feel strongly. I hope that there will be an opportunity later to test the Minister's mettle in sticking up for underlying principles that I always thought were part of the Labour party's philosophy. With those remarks, I beg to ask to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: No. 44, in

schedule 4, page 58, line 20, at end insert—

'(3A) A person shall not be eligible for appointment as a member of the Authority if his estate has been sequestrated in Scotland or if, under Scots law, he has made a composition or arrangement with, or granted a trust deed for, his creditors.'.—[Mr. Spellar.]

Question proposed, That this schedule, as amended, be the Fourth schedule to the Bill.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport) 3:15 pm, 11th February 2003

I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss some of the wider issues that pertain to the schedule. We missed you this morning, Mr. Hood, although you were extremely well represented by your co-chairman, Mr. Hurst. Also this morning I alerted the Committee to the fact that although the industry, especially the train operators, is at the moment well represented in the British Transport police authority, there is concern that it will be less well represented, even though it will pay more for the privilege of running the authority.

Chapter 2 of the consultation paper described clearly the role and constitution of the British Transport police authority, and proposed that the authority

''should normally have thirteen members, all appointed by the Secretary of State in accordance with standard appointment procedures. To avoid problems in the case of the Authority having a shortfall in membership for any reason, we propose to include in the Bill a range of 11–15. The Secretary of State would have the power, by Order, to increase or lower the range.

All members would be under a statutory duty to act in the interests of the efficient policing of the railways. They would not be appointed in order to act in the interests of any particular lobby. However, members would typically be appointed because of their ability to represent the interests of: passengers; the railways industry; Scotland, Wales and the English regions; and judicial, policing and social issues.''

The Conservative party has attempted to introduce a degree of regional representation elsewhere in the Bill, so it is source of some satisfaction for us to see that paragraph 2(1)(d) of the schedule refers to

''a person who has knowledge of the interests of persons in Scotland . . . who is appointed following consultation with the Scottish Ministers'',

and paragraph 2(1)(e) to

''a person who has knowledge of the interests of persons in Wales . . . who is appointed following consultation with the National Assembly for Wales''.

The question arises of why the Government are being a little inconsistent. We flagged up powerful arguments for regional representation elsewhere in the Bill, but we were told that that was not appropriate. Now, we are suddenly told that it is particularly appropriate here. Therefore, I seek guidance from the Minister, before he is called away on other business. We need to know why it is appropriate to have regional representation here, which we welcome, but inappropriate to have regional representation in the Office of Rail Regulation and other aspects of the Bill.

I understand that there are only four out of 11 such people on the present British Transport police authority. Yet we are told that an enlarged BTPA will be comprised of 13 people, only four of whom have experience of railway services. Does that mean that, of all the funding operators, there will be only four representatives out of 13 or more?

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

The schedule does not say ''only'' with regard to either passengers or rail services. It says ''at least four persons''. It is not as exclusive as the hon. Lady is suggesting.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

We are getting somewhere. Can the right hon. Gentleman—

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

This is not just me speaking. I have had discussions with the industry, and it has put it to me that its influence will be weakened. However, it is being asked to cough up for the whole process. This is the opportunity for the Minister to say—

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

The schedule—the Minister's schedule, the Government's schedule—says at least four. This is his opportunity to say how many there will be. That is what scrutiny is all about. For my benefit, and for that of the train operating companies and those who are being asked to fund the exercise, perhaps he can help us by telling us what the total number will be and what the proportion of those operating the railway, who are paying for this, will be.

I notice that one person will be nominated by the Strategic Rail Authority. That is very interesting. I am not sure—perhaps the Minister will direct us—that we know which provision to look at in that regard. For how long will people be appointed?

Elsewhere, the Bill, with regard to the setting up of the Office of Rail Regulation, specifies for membership a period of five years, which could be renewed. I am still waiting to hear from the Minister whether that could be renewed once, twice or any number of times. This is the Minister's opportunity to correct the impression that we were left with this morning. I am a country girl and am not used to this line by line scrutiny, so I would like guidance from the Minister as to the term of office of each individual, and some assurance that the terms will be of similar lengths—I should imagine a minimum of four or five years. It would be helpful to know that.

Next, we find the provisions for the chairman and deputy chairman, and then the disqualifications, which I presume that the Minister will tell us already exist in other legislation. I wait to hear about that. Can the Minister tell us how often the British Transport police authority meets at present? Will it continue to meet with the same regularity or, in view of the new responsibilities conferred on the British Transport police might it be minded to meet more frequently? I am delighted to see that it will conduct its proceedings in public.

Part 3 of the schedule has the heading ''Money and Property''. I am curious to know whether the Minister will say that this part does not relate to money, because we heard this morning that the savings provisions did not relate to savings at all. Paragraph 16 states:

''The Authority shall establish a fund to be known as the British Transport Police Fund.''

Can the Minister confirm whether such a fund already exists? Will it simply be transferred to the new authority? Will Parliament be informed and will the relevant Select Committee have the opportunity to discuss it?

Can the Minister give us an idea what the annual budgets will be? That reverts to my earlier questions, which are more appropriately addressed here. I found the figures staggering. I realise that North Yorkshire, like many forces, has the problem that a large proportion of its operational budget goes on non-operational officers, namely those who are retired. It is particularly alarming to hear the number of deferred pensioners. Presumably that means that they are earning money elsewhere but could imminently become pensioners. I was even more surprised to learn the number of retired pensioners under three separate heads.

Can the Minister tell us the proportion of the overall operational budget that goes on such retirement funds? He gave us the figures, but my police force can tell me that proportion straight off. It would be helpful to know how the statistics for long-term sick leave for the British Transport police compare with the national average for local police forces. That would give us some idea of morale. We need more than a standstill budget. One cannot underestimate the pressure of work on the British Transport police, particularly in view of the extra anti-terrorism and security duties that they are being asked to carry out.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale drew attention to the fact that, at 10.30 pm on 28 January, BBC1 showed the first part of a documentary series on the British Transport police. I have not had the opportunity to watch that yet. I am sure that the video will be imminently available. Can the Minister tell us what the budget in paragraph 19 will be in view of those extra duties and the large number of pensioners?

I assume that it would be a little premature to ask what the arrangements for making payments under paragraph 21 will be. We will wait to see what form the

Government amendment will take to ensure that negotiations take place with the British Transport Police Federation on remuneration, allowances, expenses, compensation and gratuity, particularly in relation to members of the police force. He should take the opportunity to say why that provision has not been included in the Bill yet. Has there been a problem? The federation picked it up as a source of concern, which could have been avoided if the amendment had been tabled.

On paragraph 22, it would be helpful to know the staffing levels of the British Transport police authority and whether, with its new statutory responsibilities, it intends to keep the same level of staff or to increase it. On paragraph 23, I again urge the Minister to introduce at the earliest possible opportunity the amendment to which he referred. Paragraph 24 deals with pensions. We are acutely aware—this is an apolitical point—that police pension funds are unfunded. I was not aware until the Minister told us this afternoon that the employees of the British Transport police pay a sizeably greater contribution out of their salary each month to the pension fund. I hope that I understood him correctly. Will he confirm that the contribution is 40 per cent., compared with 11 per cent. for employees of other British police forces?

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Minister of State (Department for Transport) 3:30 pm, 11th February 2003

The hon. Lady is getting a little confused, so I shall clarify the matter for her. She seems to be going through the script that she set out before I said that the British Transport police pension funds are not like Home Office police pension funds, which she rightly said are regulated directly by central Government Departments and are not funded schemes. As I said, the schemes for the British Transport police are traditional trust-based schemes, managed by independent trustees within the legal and tax frameworks of private sector pension schemes. I described the split between employer and employee contributions in the scheme, not the percentage of salary paid to the scheme. For the reassurance of members of the scheme and the satisfaction of Committee members, I also indicated that the last actuarial assessment showed that the scheme was in surplus.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am grateful for that clarification, but it re-emphasises the point that the British Transport police federation should be consulted on such matters. I am delighted that the Minister has agreed to introduce an amendment for that purpose.

Paragraph 27 says:

''The Secretary of State may make a payment to the Authority . . . by way of a grant''.

If it is a grant, will it be an annual, continuing or time-limited grant? If it is a loan, will the Government guarantee it and what will the terms of repayment be? I was interested to see the provision in paragraph 31:

''The Authority may acquire, develop or dispose of property.''

It would be interesting to know about the property that the existing British Transport police authority currently owns and that will be transferred under the Bill.

Those are our main questions. There are several issues, which I will not rehearse, and we look forward to hearing the Minister's response.

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

Again, the hon. Lady shows some confusion as well as an alarming tendency to centralise: she wants us not merely to set up the authority but to do all its work for it before it even comes into existence. She asks about the frequency of authority meetings. That will be a matter for the authority when it is set up. It is not for the Minister to direct, and it is certainly not appropriate to include such a provision in the Bill. She asked how many staff the authority intends to employ. That will be for the authority to decide when it considers how to provide appropriate policing that is consistent with its broader objectives and obligations.

The hon. Lady asked a pertinent question about the tenure of a position on the authority. Members of the present authority have a tenure of four years, and schedule 4(3)(1) states that:

''A member of the Authority shall hold and vacate office in accordance with the terms of his appointment''.

I shall return to the Committee to explain our thinking on ensuring consistency on that.

The hon. Lady asked about the annual budget for the British Transport police. At present, it is £130 million a year. I will come back to the hon. Lady to tell her how much of that budget is employers' contribution to the pension scheme. As I say, it will be managed within the legal and tax framework of a private sector pension scheme. The British Transport police authority will be independent of Government, as will its budget.

The hon. Lady raised the matter of grants. As she is aware, there is not an annual grant, or a commitment to make one. However, there is provision to make a grant, if it is justified. Earlier I spoke about funds that were provided for the British Transport police to participate in the police initiative on radios. I hope that I have allayed some of the hon. Lady's concerns, and explained how the authority will operate and how its financial regime will work.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

When will the Minister introduce the amendment that he referred to earlier? He did not respond to a question about long-term sick leave in the British Transport police, and he did not say whether his Department would seek more money from the Treasury for the additional responsibilities and costs that the British Transport police will incur under the Bill.

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

Again, there seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding about the funding of the British Transport police. The hon. Lady would have to ask county forces how they intend to operate their precepts. The funding for the British Transport police comes from the industry, but there are provisions for the Government to make additional grants to the force, so that it can undertake various initiatives. I hope that that has clarified the matter. She also asked when we intend to introduce the necessary

amendment. I am sure that she will understand that we will, as always, introduce it when appropriate.

Question put and agreed to.

Schedule 4, as amended, agreed to.