Clause 38 - Regulations: approval in draft

Railways and Transport Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:00 am on 13th February 2003.

Alert me about debates like this

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

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I have a small, probing question. The authority can make regulations under clauses 34, 35, 36, and 37 only if a draft has been approved by three parties:

''(a) the Chief Constable,

(b) the staff associations, and

(c) the Secretary of State.''

I shall play devil's advocate for a moment. We have established that the British Transport police's funding comes from three sources; the cost is substantial. Primarily, the transport police are paid for by the train-operating companies. The rest of the funding comes from Railtrack and London Underground, which give broadly similar amounts. Would it be appropriate for those paying for the service to be consulted, or has that never been considered a good thing? Are there specific reasons why the Minister did not consider that? Does he feel that it would be inappropriate?

The hon. Member for Luton, North referred to the federation as a trade union. I have always considered it to be more than a trade union. I have enormous regard for the British Transport police federation.

Many of us had contacts with our own branches of the Police Federation during the recent pay review. I do not want to stimulate a great debate on the issue, but the federation plays an important role and it often faces rebuffs.

On clause 38(5), what is meant by staff associations, and how do staff associations—one hates to use the term ''trade unions'' in this regard—fit in with the federation? Being simple-minded, I would like to know the difference, for the purposes of the clause, between the police federation and a staff association. To get answers to those two questions would be helpful.

Have the Government ever considered that it might be appropriate to pass the regulation by those who provide the funding? In most circumstances, the body that provides the funding cannot technically be considered as the employer. I accept that the British Transport police authority will be the employer, but if the employer were the Strategic Rail Authority, I imagine that the industry might be consulted on the regulations. Will the Minister clarify whether it is a change, or whether it has always been the case? Will he also confirm what constitutes a staff association?

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

The previous clauses would provide the authority with the powers to make regulations for the administration of the British Transport police. Those regulations must be modelled on the equivalent regulations that have been made by the Secretary of State in respect of the Home Office police forces. The regulations will govern how the British Transport police operate internally. It is, therefore, essential that the chief constable, the British Transport police's staff associations, the British Transport police federation, the Police Superintendents Association and the Association of Chief Police Officers be consulted during the drafting process. The difference is that the setting up and role of the federation have been defined in the Bill. However, members can still join other associations if they are of the appropriate rank.

The regulations will require the Secretary of State's prior approval. In most cases we would expect the authority, the chief constable and the staff associations to reach agreement on the regulations. However, if there is a dispute between them, the Secretary of State will be able to allow the authority to dispense with the need to obtain the agreement of the chief constable and of the staff associations. Before he does that the

Secretary of State would consult the chief constable and the staff associations to ensure that they were both aware of the proposals. He would allow them to present their cases. We do not expect that facility to be used frequently, but it would be needed to unblock the process if a dispute arose.

The hon. Member for Vale of York asked why the regulations in clause 38(2) should not be approved by someone from the industry. The industry is a member of the authority—it will have four members—and that body will bring forward the regulations. It would be curious if we went round in a circle and consulted the same people again. It would be inappropriate for the train-operating companies to be able to give any consent to the regulations, because those relate only to the police constables, to their rank, promotion, retirement and other arrangements. As they already have members on the authority, no purpose would be served by their having to give approval under this part.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am most grateful to the Under-Secretary of State. He has been extremely helpful. [Interruption.] I welcome the Minister of State to our proceedings.

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

I am sure that I did not miss anything.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

The Minister will be able to read the report of our proceedings.

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

I am sure that the Minister does not intend to disrupt the Committee.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

Thank you, Mr. Hood, for your guidance.

I asked a question earlier to which I did not receive a reply. If the Under-Secretary of State would find it helpful, I can remind him of it. He said that four members of the train-operating companies—the employers of the industry—will sit on the authority. The point that I am about to make means a great deal to those companies. Am I right that that number will decrease from four out of 11 to four out of 13, 15 or 17? That will be a significant reduction in their representation. The hon. Gentleman must be aware that that is worrying the companies, given that they are picking up the bill for such matters.

In the financial year ending in 2002, the figure was £126 million. The companies are not complaining about having to pick up the bill; they understand that they are beneficiaries of the service provided by the police. However, they are worried that their level of representation will decrease. That is a genuine cause of concern, and we have great sympathy with it. Will the Under-Secretary of State review the matter and ensure that the level of representation of the industry on the authority increases? The industry is funding the authority; it will run to a large amount of money out of its budget. I am sure that the hon. Member for Bath is about to intervene and say that the companies are being subsidised by the taxpayer.

Mr. Foster indicated assent.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I did not want to put words into the hon. Gentleman's mouth. Now is a wonderful opportunity for the Under-Secretary of State to confirm that he will reconsider whether the Government got it wrong, and that the level of representation of the industry on the police authority should increase to five or six members out of 13 and more again if the authority membership increases to 17.

The Under-Secretary of State's remarks raised a further question. We have discussed the definition of the British Transport police federation and how that is set out under clause 37. Why are the staff association and the superintendents association not defined in the Bill? Is it because they are a movable feast? Are they not defined because they have not been so previously, or did the Government not think to define them? It would be helpful for everyone, not least for reasons of clarity, if the staff associations were defined, as the British Transport police federation is. I hope that he will give the Committee an assurance that the federation and the staff associations to which he referred will carry equal weight in the approval of the regulations.

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

The final subsection of the clause allows the Secretary of State to specify by order which staff associations representing the British Transport police should be consulted on the regulations. The British Transport police federation is formally established under clause 37, which we have just agreed. However, there is also the British Transport Police Superintendents Association, which mirrors its Home Office equivalent in functions and duties. That is not a statutory body, but the main superintendents association is recognised by the Home Secretary under the Police Act 1996, so the Secretary of State is likely to recognise the British Transport Police Superintendents Association.

The British Transport police federation represents the majority of constables and that is why that is in the Bill. Others represent a minority, and they are generally described as staff associations.

The hon. Lady asked about the number of representatives on the authority. The current figure is four out of nine. That will become approximately four out of 13 under the new arrangements. The hon. Lady asked if there could be any change to that—if we would review the balance. If we were to do that, there would also be a review of the balance of the others who are represented on the body.

The authority must balance the interests of those whom the British Transport police serve. They have a wider public policing role that impacts directly on rail passengers and the wider community. Passengers, freight customers and the taxpayer ultimately pay the cost of policing on the railways through fares and subsidy. Therefore, non-industry members will have as keen an interest as industry members in obtaining value for money.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 38 ordered to stand part of the Bill.