Clause 35 - Police regulations: special constables

Railways and Transport Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:15 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 shall try to grip the attention of all members of the Committee, so that no one is minded to break your strictures, Mr. Hood.

Clause 34 does not apply to special constables or cadets, which is obviously why clause 35 was drafted. Will the Under-Secretary of States confirm that special constables will be recruited under conditions similar to those of their equivalents? I understand that specials are retained under different conditions and that most are voluntary. Presumably, that will apply to British Transport police as it does for Home Office-recruited special constables.

As we do to regular officers of the British Transport police, we owe our thanks to special constables of whom great demands are made. It is not a full-time occupation for them, but they put themselves at risk, especially in the present circumstances. I pay tribute to them.

I gather that the existing police force regulations may be modified. Can the Under-Secretary elucidate on the proposed modifications, or will it be left to the authority to determine them? How will the terms and conditions of the special constables differ from those of regular constables? I understand that, for the most part, they are voluntary. Is there any difficulty in recruiting specials? Many of us will support our regular police forces in their recruitment drive for special constables this weekend. Has the alarming

trend in the recruitment figures been reflected in the regulations?

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Conservative, Westbury

My hon. Friend was correct to point out the shortage of special constables in the British Transport police. Apparently, there are only 68 of them. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State pays particular attention to their recruitment.

Clause 35(2) refers to the reflection of the structures and circumstances of the police force in the regulations. The guidance notes amplify that and refer to the special needs of the British Transport police in the making of regulations. Can the Under-Secretary explain a little about the structures, circumstances and special needs and about the regulations that he envisages making?

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport 10:30 am, 13th February 2003

The clause replicates the Home Secretary's powers to regulate the conditions of service for special constables under the Police Act 1996. I, too, pay tribute to the work of special constables. They are few in number, but they provide an excellent back-up to the work of the British Transport police. The regulations must be consistent with Home Office regulations, and they may differ from those only to meet the specific needs 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 them. Unlike the Home Office forces, the British Transport police is a national specialist police force; its officers are employees of both the British Transport police authority and holders of the statutory office of constable.

Home Office constables, however, are only holders of the law, as we indicated in our debate on the last clause. The British Transport police are also funded by the railway industry, whereas Home Office forces are funded by direct grants from home Departments and local taxation. The draft legislation cannot be identical in every way to the Police Act 1996, but on the whole that is because of variations for technical reasons, rather than because of their effects.

I am not aware of particular difficulties with recruitment. There are presently difficulties with recruitment in many areas, but the effort is being been made to recruit the people who provide such a valuable service. I assure the hon. Member for Westbury (Dr. Murrison) that that will be reflected in our thinking and in the thinking of the British Transport police authority.

The hon. Member for Vale of York asked whether the regulations would be the same for the specials—clause 35(1)(a) makes it clear that they would be the same.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 35 ordered to stand part of the Bill.