Clause 31 - Police services agreement

Railways and Transport Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:15 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 rise just for clarification. The annual report of the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions refers to a number of service agreements. Will the Minister tell us whether the clause sets out a new police services agreement or whether provisions are being made for the existing police services agreement to be enshrined in the Bill? Does the police services agreement, as set out in the clause, provide a means of setting a target and will such a target be set against the benchmark of a specific sum of public money? The customer is presumably the railway industry, and I understand that it is most likely that the train operating company will specify the sums provided for. I wonder what the relationship will be. It will be apparent why that is relevant when we consider clause 32.

I have already made the point that the industry is being asked to fund the provisions. What will be the relationship between the police and the train operating companies? Should there be some disagreement about which objective plans and targets they would prefer, would they appeal to the Secretary of State? The Department must have some responsibility for the matter. The clause is not perhaps as clear as on that point as it might be. It would be helpful to know what expense was envisaged in respect of the police services agreement and whether that was substantially increased under the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act, 2001.

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

I shall say a few words on the clause, because it leads us into some later clauses.

The clause provides for a system of police services agreements, which will act as the means by which the financial arrangements between the Authority and railway operators are calculated and set out. Police services agreements are contracts between the body that is responsible for a police force and an individual company that allows a police force to provide its services to the company.

The British Transport police undertakes the policing of the railways through a series of police service agreements. Those agreements are made between the Strategic Rail Authority and individual railway companies. The existing police service agreements have two functions. First, they serve as a financial agreement between the SRA and the railway company to allow the company to pay for the British Transport police services that it receives. Secondly, they enable the British Transport police to provide police services to the company. Most importantly, the agreements allow the British Transport police to police a company's property. That in effect provides part of the British Transport police's jurisdiction over railway property.

The system of police services agreements will be retained under our proposals, but they will be only financial agreements between the authority and the railway company. Providing statutory jurisdiction for the force under clause 29 will mean no longer having to rely on police services agreements to police publicly a railway property.

I think that there was some confusion about public service targets, which will be agreed between the

Department and the Treasury. The police services agreements are simply financial agreements between the companies and the British Transport police.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport) 9:30 am, 13th February 2003

May I seek clarification? The Minister said that under clause 31, the police services agreements mean that the force has the jurisdiction under clause 29? Does that change the way in which the BTP goes about its business? That question arises from one of the notes that the Minister helpfully clarified a moment ago. Will he repeat the relationship between the police services agreement in clause 31 and provisions in clause 29?

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

Nothing will change substantially. The hon. Lady asked what would happen if the relationship broke down, and we will cover that when we move on to clause 33.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

The debate has been immensely helpful and shows why we should have the opportunity to hear about the clause from the Minister. I want to put down a marker to show why I am worried about the clause and why I shall return to the matter. We have established that the clause is necessary in order to develop and agree police services agreements. I do not want to pre-empt what I shall say about clause 48, but that clause will give great power to the Secretary of State to set the police authority a set of objectives for policing the railways during the financial year. The clause says that before giving such directions

''the Secretary of State shall consult . . . the Authority, and . . . the Chief Constable.''

It is curious that the clause omits a provision for any form of consultation with the railway industry, although the industry will be asked to pay.

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

I congratulate the hon. Lady on teasing some information from the Minister. Does she share my anxiety that we have not yet heard from the Minister a clear statement of why it is necessary to have such a complex and bizarre form of funding for one police service when all the Home Office police forces are funded directly through taxation? The businesses and members of the public that are served and protected by those forces are not expected to enter into such agreements. Why is there a different arrangement for the railways?

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

One hates to put words in the Minister's mouth, but I am sure that the industry would say that the reason is that it is being asked to pay. That is the key difference between the BTP and the regular police force—the Home Office bobbies.

I would not want to admit to being over-anxious because that might make the Committee overly apprehensive and I do not want to take it down that path. However, I agree with the hon. Member for Bath. Part 3 of the Bill is deeply confusing. I am not an expert in this field, but if I find it confusing, the industry—and the parties to it—must find it equally so. Perhaps there could be an easier and clearer way of doing this?

The industry is a poor third party here. The Government are party to the agreement, as it has

been approved in writing by the Secretary of State, and the police forces are party to it, but the poor relation is the industry, the very companies which are being asked to pay for it. An alarm bell starting ringing for me when the Minister mentioned the sunset clauses of the 2001 Act. Those will be repealed only if there is a review, but how will Parliament be informed of that? I assume that we will not be informed of the detail of the police services agreements after the Bill has left Committee and become statute. I agree with the hon. Member for Bath that there must be a clearer and easier way of acting. At the end of the day, the buck stops with the train companies, and they are shabbily treated by the agreements.

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

I apologise for detaining the Committee. A sedentary comment from the Minister caused me to rise: he asked whether I was suggesting that the taxpayer should pay for the police? I am prepared to be convinced that police service agreements are the way forward in funding the British Transport police, but there is an onus on the Minister to make that case.

All other police forces are funded directly by taxpayers, and they provide the service of protection in their areas. The British Transport police protect members of the public that travel on our railways, and the employees of the railway companies. They are of benefit to the various train companies—train operating companies, rolling stock operating companies, Network Rail and so forth. The situation is unique. We expect those companies to employ their own police force, even though it serves the public at large.

The Minister asked if I wanted the taxpayer to pay instead? He may smile, but he knows that the taxpayer pays anyway, through the funding we provide to the train operating companies. We have recently seen the Government give an extra £58 million to one train operating company—Connex—in order to keep it going, and in addition to all the other sums that it has already received.

The taxpayer is paying already, and now has to pay through the complex mechanism of the Bill. Despite the Minister's claim to the hon. Member for Vale of York that matters are not changing significantly, they are changing dramatically. The railway companies' side of the deal has been removed. They cannot specify how policing takes place, nor the premises on which it will occur. The jurisdiction now given to the British Transport police is covered by earlier clauses.

What we now have is merely a funding mechanism. That is a significant change from the previous arrangements, and it is a complex arrangement. Why is it necessary to act in that way, rather than employing the arrangements used for all other police forces.

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

The Government's policy is that the British Transport police should continue to be funded by the railways industry. I accept the point made by the hon. Member for Bath that the Government supports the British transport police indirectly through subsidy and funding for the industry. Obviously, the industry likes that method of funding, and is not keen

for change. That method has worked well for the last 10 years, and we understand the value of continuity. I would be interested to know whether the hon. Gentleman thinks that a separate, discrete force, directly paid for by the taxpayer, would be more appropriate, although I know that he did not say as much. We think that the new arrangements are the most appropriate.

The services agreements will be drafted with reference to the objectives, plans and targets for policing. The train operating companies—which are, after all, private companies—will then learn what they get for their money. On the issue of whether there are similar arrangements for other forms of transport, other transport industries pay for policing. Airports do so, for example.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 31 ordered to stand part of the Bill.