Clause 34 - Police regulations: general

Railways and Transport Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:00 am on 13th February 2003.

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

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I would hate to disappoint you by not rising to speak to the clause, Mr. Hood.

This is an expansive measure, which covers various substantive clauses that relate to the regulations of police forces. I understand that the Home Secretary has powers under the Police Act 1996 to make regulations by order regarding the Government's administration and the conditions of service of police forces. Those regulations relate to and make provision for rank, qualifications for appointment and promotion, probation and voluntary retirement, conduct and efficiency, including the maintenance of dismissal, suspension, maintenance of personal records, duties that are to be performed by members of the force and duties that they should not do, hours of duty, leave, pay and allowances, design and performance requirements of equipment provided or used for these purposes, and the issue, use and return of equipment.

I understand that the Home Secretary will also have powers to make regulations for the government, administration and conditions of service of special constables and cadets. I am sure that the Minister will

explain that the reason for the provision is that the regulations that the Home Secretary may make on regular police officers, the constitutional proceedings of the Police Federation of England and Wales and attendance at federation meetings, do not currently apply to the British Transport police. Presumably, therefore, the regulations are part and parcel of putting the British Transport police on a statutory footing—a codification and revision of legislation, which we welcome.

I understand, too, that the Strategic Rail Authority is regarded as an employer of the force. Again, it is unfortunate that the hon. Member for Bath is not present because I know how close an interest he takes in the subject. He is lucky that he can slip out of the room.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am sure that the Minister would like that.

The clause demonstrates why the protocols are so important. We have heard from the Minister, even during this morning's proceedings, that the protocols are under discussion—no doubt as we speak. I would find it very helpful to see and consider the protocols. That would help us understand this complicated and technical part of the Bill. The SRA is the force's employer, yet as we have learned it is paid by the industry. The SRA as employer has in the past applied legislation to the British Transport police through devices such as conditions of employment and force general orders. Will the Minister confirm that those orders will lapse once the Bill becomes law, and be replaced by regulations drafted under the clause?

The first option outlined in the consultation paper was to amend the Police Act 1996, setting the British Transport police alongside Home Office forces for the purposes of the legislation. That option may have been attractive to the hon. Member Bath, although since he is still not with us, we do not have to worry too much about what he thinks. The second option was that the Department for Transport adopted a parallel role to that of the Home Office and by order made regulations on the British Transport police that were based on previous Home Office regulations.

The third option was to improve BTP regulations within the present process, amending them when required. The fourth and final option was to enable the British Transport police authority to make regulations reflecting Home Office regulations. It would be helpful to know why the fourth option has been chosen. Will the Minister confirm that the fourth option has been chosen because it will broadly duplicate the present position, substituting in legislation the British Transport police authority for the SRA as the employer? The clause therefore reflects quite a substantial change.

I assume that the Government will say that the switch of employer from the SRA, which applies regulations to the British Transport police, to the police authority, which will make regulations for its police force, represents a significant improvement in public accountability. The authority would become the BTP's employer and legislation could include a

requirement for the authority to make regulations for the BTP that are consistent with Home Office regulations, unless no regulations exist. How do the regulation provisions in the clause relate to Home Office regulations? Are they identical and, if they differ, will the Minister tell us in what ways?

I understand that an attraction of option four is that it would leave the British Transport police authority free to adapt Home Office regulations for the BTP as they are issued. It could be a requirement for the Secretary of State to confirm any regulations made by the authority before they come into effect, which would be a safeguard against the possibility that the authority's adaptation of Home Office regulations could lead to distortion. It is not immediately clear in the clause that the Secretary of State will be given the power of confirmation. Will the Minister explain whether the Secretary of State has the power to confirm regulations?

I am delighted that the hon. Member for Bath has resumed his place, and I could go through the whole thing again for him—[Interruption.]

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee 10:15 am, 13th February 2003

Order. I hope that the hon. Lady is not checking her pager while she is addressing the Committee.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am trying to ensure that my pager is off, Mr. Hood, so that it does not distract the Committee.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

The hon. Member for Bath will also be interested to know that the clause transfers the employer formally. I hope that the Minister will confirm that my understanding is correct that the SRA will cease to be the employer and the British Transport police authority will become the employer. Will he clarify the implications of that change because I am sure that they will be extensive? It would be helpful to know whether the Secretary of State has the power to confirm the regulations in the same way that the Home Secretary has the power to confirm regulations for the regular police force? If the Secretary of State will not have the power, why did the Government decide not to allow him to confirm the regulations?

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

The clause replicates the Home Secretary's powers to regulate other police forces that are contained in section 50 of the Police Act 1996. As the hon. Lady said, they cover the government, administration and conditions of service of police forces. They include consideration of ranks, promotion, retirement, discipline, suspension, hours of duty, leave, pay and allowances, special constables and cadets.

Regulations made by the Home Secretary do not apply to the British Transport police. At the moment, the Strategic Rail Authority, as the force's employer, applies similar provisions to the British Transport police through other devices, notably its conditions of

employment and force general orders. In that way, the Strategic Rail Authority and the British Transport police have replicated the internal governance of the Home Office police forces. However, it is important to note that, in most instances, the Home Office regulations have to be modified to suit the needs of the British Transport police, because British Transport police officers, unlike Home Office constables, are and remain employees. I hope that that answers one of the hon. Lady's questions.

The Bill provides an opportunity to improve and regularise the position, and any solution should be simple to operate, without unnecessary bureaucracy. It should also demonstrate clearly that the British Transport police is a bona fide police force, subject to the same or equivalent police regulations that apply to Home Office forces. I hope that that covers another of the hon. Lady's points.

Our proposal was endorsed in the consultation process, and in the response of the Association of Police Authorities and the British Transport police and its federation. The clause will enable the authority to make the non-statutory regulations, which must be consistent with the Home Office regulations. They may differ from those regulations only to meet the specific needs and circumstances of the British Transport police. If the Home Office regulations change, it will be the authority's responsibility to ensure that the non-statutory British Transport police regulations change to fit it.

There was slight confusion on the issue of protocols that the hon. Lady raised. The rail accident investigation branch's protocols have nothing to do with the regulations made by the British Transport police authority. The hon. Lady asked whether the SRA would be the employer. The answer is no; the new employer will be the British Transport police authority.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

I will, although the hon. Gentleman was not here for the discussion.

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

I apologise for that to the Minister and to you, too, Mr. Hood.

The Minister has rightly said that there will be a transfer of responsibility from the SRA to the new authority. Will he give some idea of the savings to the budget of the SRA as a result of the loss of that responsibility?

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

Funding essentially comes from the operators, so I do not think that there will be a change in the SRA's funding arrangement. The funding is just transferred through the customers. We shall refer to that later in the Bill.

The hon. Member for Vale of York also asked whether the Secretary of State would confirm the regulation. With that question, we are perhaps getting ahead of ourselves, because clause 38 in part 2 affirms that he will.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am grateful to the Minister for that clarification, and for giving us the background. That is very helpful. I am a little confused, but accept that that is entirely my fault; I do not attribute it to the

Minister. Can he tell me what the status of British Transport police constables will be under the new provisions? I think that the Minister said that Home Office-recruited constables are, and will continue to be, deemed employees. In the past, the British Transport police have been deemed to be employees of the SRA, but now they will be appointed by, and regulated under, regulations applied by the British Transport police authority. Are they therefore deemed to be employees of their authority, or self-employed? I might have misunderstood what the Minister said. Who will be their employers, and what will their status be?

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

We ought to clear this up, as the hon. Lady is talking about self-employment. Home Office constables are officers of the Crown; they are not employees in law. The British Transport police constables are officers of the Crown and, currently, employees of the SRA. Assuming that the Bill receives Royal Assent, they would then be employees of the British Transport police authority. That is how it has always been. There will be no change in the definition.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 34 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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

Order. It has been brought to my attention that the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (David Cairns) may be reading a magazine or a newspaper, and that is against Standing Orders. If he is, will he desist from doing so?Clause 35 Police regulations: special constables