Clause 39 - Police regulations: direction to authority

Railways and Transport Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:15 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)

Why do we need clause 39? What purpose does it serve? It is extraordinary that the Secretary of State may direct the authority to make the regulations if they are approved. I would have thought that, by definition, the regulations would be made if they were approved.

Non-statutory regulations proposed by the authority will not differ unduly from regulations made under the Police Act 1996. If the authority is unable to reach agreement with the chief constable and the staff associations, the Secretary of State may direct the authority to prepare draft regulations. In those circumstances, clause 38(3), which we have just agreed, would enable the Secretary of State to permit the authority to dispense with obtaining the prior approval of the chief constable and the staff associations. If that is the case—I understand that it is—I have a difficulty with clause 39. I would have thought that it would be better for all concerned to get the approval of the chief constable. Perhaps this is why chief constables in our respective areas move on rather more rapidly than Members of Parliament in the constituencies that they serve.

I have difficulty with this clause, if it is correct that the Secretary of State will have the power to overrule any concerns of the chief constable, but also of the staff associations, including presumably the federation. I argue that the clause gives extensive powers to the Secretary of State. I hate to suggest that that could lead to a police state, but the chief constable and the staff associations may encounter tremendous problems if the Secretary of State is able to overrule them. Can the Minister envisage the circumstances under which the Secretary of State would be minded to overrule the concerns of the chief constable or the staff associations?

The morale and welfare of police officers could be severely dented if the Secretary of State had the power of direction. Can the Minister tell us what the circumstances leading to power of direction would be?

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

Clause 39 allows the Secretary of State to direct the authority to make regulations regarding the British Transport police. In exceptional circumstances it may be necessary for the Secretary of State to instruct the authority to draft regulations for the British Transport police. We do not envisage that that power will be used regularly. There may be rare occasions when the authority is unable or unwilling to make regulations but the Secretary of State believes it is important for them to do so.

Regulations have to be approved by the chief constable and the staff associations, as well as by the Secretary of State; that is set out in clause 38. The Secretary of State is ultimately accountable for the authority, and he must have the power to direct it under certain circumstances. Under clause 38, the Secretary of State can dispense with the need to reach approval with the chief constable and staff associations, but we do not anticipate that that would happen frequently and we would certainly need to consult on that issue first. I am unable to give a list of those circumstances. The clause is there in the rare event that that power should be required.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am surprised that the hon. Member for Bath is not getting more exercised by this clause, given he is from a liberal background. I am now more alarmed than I would have been had the Minister not clarified the point. It would have been helpful for the Committee—and the British Transport police—to hear precisely what the exceptional circumstances might be. I am disappointed that the Minister failed to grasp my point that potentially it could pose problems for the chief constable and the staff associations to be overruled in that way.

The fact that the clause is included in the Bill tells the chief constable and the staff associations where they stand. It is a regrettable clause, and we shall monitor closely how it might be applied as the Bill progresses.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 39 ordered to stand part of the Bill.