Clause 44 - Code of practice: authority

Railways and Transport Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 pm 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)

The Under-Secretary may be able to help us. What is the situation regarding the Strategic Rail Authority? Does a code of practice exist? [Interruption] During the extensive consultation period—the results of which I have not had the opportunity to analyse in great detail—were extensive comments made on the code of practice? Is having a code of practice for the authority a new idea, or is it standard practice?

Were the majority of comments favourable to the idea of a code of practice, or were concerns expressed? I note that there are only two codes of practice, and we will consider the second one shortly. What opportunities has the Secretary of State had to review how extensive any present code of practice would be? Is it envisaged that there will be any limits to the Secretary of State's power in developing such a code? Who will monitor it? Will it be the Secretary of State?

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

The Home Secretary may issue a code of practice concerning local police authorities in the discharge of their functions. For example, a code of practice currently exists regarding financial management in Home Office police authorities. The clause applies that code to the British Transport Police authority.

The British Transport Police authority is slightly different from other police authorities, reflecting its responsibility for a specialist railways police force funded by the railways industry. The financial base of local police authorities is rooted in local government, so it may be necessary for the Secretary of State to modify any code of practice issued by the Home Secretary under subsection (3) before it is applied to the British Transport Police authority.

The clause allows the Secretary of State to issue his own code of practice to the authority. That may be necessary because of differences between the British Transport Police authority and local police authorities, particularly the links that local police authorities have with local government structures.

Under subsection (1), a specific code would be issued to the British Transport police authority only if it were necessary in unusual circumstances. It would

normally be the case that the code as set out in part 3, which would be the modified code of the Home Office, would be that which would apply. Therefore, the code would come to the House only if the Secretary of State took the power to issue it.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am grateful to the Under-Secretary for that clarification. He used the expression ''unusual circumstances''. It would be helpful to have clarification, because it is much easier to deal with specifics, rather than vague descriptions of what may be usual or unusual. What may seem unusual to the hon. Gentleman may seem perfectly normal to me. Words such as reasonable, normal, and usual take on different concepts and meanings. We are now reaching the core of the code of practice.

The four representatives of the industry out of the nine who sit on the current authority reflect its funding. Will the hon. Gentleman tell us which parts of the industry are represented and which parts are not? For example, does Network Rail have a representative? Do the train operating companies have one, or more than one representative, and does London Underground have a representative?

I hear what the hon. Gentleman said about how the Home Office rules on financial management apply to local authority arrangements for funding local police forces. The code of practice will be different only in so far as it relates to a transport police force. I should be interested to hear how the code of practice will apply to the authority. Who are the current representatives from the industry? Does the Under-Secretary envisage any change to the authority's composition, bearing in mind that it will have only four representatives of the industry.

I think that I understand the point that the Under-Secretary made about the code of practice, in that it will differ only in so far as it relates to a different police force, but can he be more specific about how that difference will be reflected in the code of practice? Which parts of the code of practice relating to a local police force would not apply to the transport police?

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

As I said, the different financial arrangements with local authorities that would relate to the transport police would be one example. The hon. Lady asked for specific examples when the Secretary of State may issue his code of practice under part 1. It is difficult to be specific in the Bill. It would happen when it was thought that the code of practice that was issued under part 3 was inappropriate. We do not anticipate that that method would be used readily. When the code of practice was inappropriate, the Secretary of State would have that fall-back position.

I did not respond to two points that the hon. Lady made in her previous contribution. She asked whether there was a code under the SRA. No code operates under the present arrangement. She asked about consultation. No concerns have been expressed about it. I hope that I have cleared up the matter.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 44 ordered to stand part of the Bill.