Clause 45 - Code of practice: Chief Constable

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) 3:45 pm, 13th February 2003

I think that I heard the Under-Secretary say that the provisions of this clause are similar to those in clause 44, although this clause goes further in some respects. I wonder about the extent to which the code of practice already applies to the chief constable. The Minister did not help me much on that matter in his previous reply. Perhaps he would like to send me a letter, if that is in order, to say who the representatives on the authority are, as that would be helpful. However, I know that we have moved on, so I do not know whether that would be appropriate.

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

I am here to be helpful to the hon. Lady. The members of the BTP committee are a chairman, appointed by the Strategic Rail Authority, two people appointed by train operating companies, one person from Network Rail, one from London Underground Ltd., one from a rail passengers committee, one from Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary and two independent members.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am grateful for the clarification. It is disarming that the Under-Secretary is so charming and can so easily find the right piece of paper at the right moment. I shall perhaps in future quote him on what he said about being there to help.

I wonder whether the Under-Secretary can satisfy me as to whether the clause simply transfers a code of practice that existed under the SRA to the BTP committee, or whether it goes further. I fear that it may go further in some regards. As one might expect, I warmly welcome the fact that the Secretary of State will have to lay any code or revision made under the clause before Parliament. I sometimes suffer from short-term memory loss, and this may be one of those occasions, but I have not, in the short time that I have had the privilege to serve in the House, ever noticed a code of practice being laid before Parliament. I wondered what the procedure would be. Would it be introduced by statutory instrument, and if so, would a negative or affirmative resolution procedure be used? It would be of great interest to Opposition Members to have the opportunity to consider any such code. It is extremely important that chief constables, whether of our local police forces or—more relevantly, under the Bill—of the British Transport police, know the code or rules within which they are operating.

Given that we debated the matter this morning, and given the statement made by the Home Secretary this afternoon, it is particularly pertinent that the laying of such a code of practice before Parliament would especially apply when anything in the publication might be considered to be against the interests of national security. I wonder whether the Under-Secretary can be a little more specific. He will obviously have detected that the level of security for a form of transport infrastructure that you do not wish me to refer to by name, Mr. Hurst—the Under-Secretary will, I think, have grasped which type—was

a source of great concern to us. Conservatives, led by the shadow Home Secretary, were disappointed that the Government did not voluntarily field a Minister, preferably the Home Secretary, to come and inform us of that.

Being of a nervous disposition, I think that it always puts one's mind at rest if one knows before embarking on a flight—or, obviously, train journey for the purposes of this Bill, Mr. Hurst—whether there is a threat to national security. I wonder whether the Under-Secretary will put our mind at rest. The Secretary of State may be minded to make an oral or written statement on the matter, instead of making it the subject of a statutory instrument. I do not know whether members of the Committee have had experience of the way in which a code of practice works, but it is alarming to think that it could prejudice the prevention or detection of crime, or the prosecution of offenders. I am not sure how such a situation could arise, but I would feel somewhat alarmed if that were the case.

It would be highly preferable that a person's safety was not put in jeopardy. Will the measures envisaged in the clause relate to individuals going about their business on trains or in a railway station, or to the safety of a serving police officer? The Minister has been so helpful this afternoon and it would enable us to have a better understanding of the clause if he could provide such information. I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State will, as set out in clause 45, lay before Parliament the revision of such a code of practice. I should like to know what procedure will be used, for the benefit of my right hon. and hon. Friends, some of whom have been around for longer than I have in this place. We await the Under-Secretary's response with bated breath.

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

I have been beguiled by the hon. Lady's words this afternoon and I shall try to respond to her in kind. The Home Secretary may issue a code of practice concerning the discharge of functions by chief police officers. The hon. Lady asked about the provisions of the code for chief constables. They are brand new and have only just come into force.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am sorry to interrupt the Under-Secretary, but will he tell us which Act or order the new provisions were made under?

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

I shall certainly do that. I shall complete my point and then return to the matter.

The clause will apply the code to the chief constable of the British Transport police, but with modifications to suit its needs. If necessary, the Secretary of State may issue a code solely for the British Transport police chief constable. It will ensure that the specific circumstances of the British Transport police can be taken into account, but it would be used only when the existing code could not be applied, as modified, to the British Transport police chief constable or when it would be appropriate to do so.

The provision for the Home Office chief constables was introduced into the Police Act 1996 by the Police Reform Act 2002. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady is so busy writing that she did not hear me saying that.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am writing down what the Under-Secretary is saying.

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

I apologise to the hon. Lady. She is paying far more attention to matters than I thought.

No codes of practice are being issued, but it is expected that codes on health and safety and the use of force will be issued in draft later in the year. As for where they will end up, changes will not be made to primary or secondary legislation. The codes will be put in the House of Commons Library, as are many announcements made by Secretaries of State. Because no change will be made to legislation, it would not be appropriate for them to be dealt with by the statutory instrument procedure.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I was hanging on the Under-Secretary's every word. To use marketing speak, I am delighted that we heard it here first. The Government will be mindful of the fact that they might have to tweak the code of practice for the transport police.

I was very interested to hear about the mechanism that will be used. The Under-Secretary is right—we would expect that, because he is so well briefed and rehearsed—that Ministers and Secretaries of State frequently simply place things in the Library. Perhaps that is why I find myself fixed almost permanently in the Library, because if one is not there on a particular day one might miss something. Documents mysteriously appear and disappear from various desktops. The Library has four rooms, plus a fifth reference room.

I make a plea to the Under-Secretary. He said that the Government would not propose to change primary or secondary legislation. However, my hon. Friends and I urge the Government to go a little further and use the new mechanism of written statements, although the official Opposition did not welcome the mechanism as warmly as the Government would have liked. That would be helpful, and it was good enough when the latest Strategic Rail Authority progress report on the 10-year transport plan was published. That was a devastating announcement, because it overturned the press statement that the chairman of the SRA made in December about the projected increase of passenger numbers and freight transport. The statement was reversed by two documents that we were informed about on the Order Paper. I was surprised that the Secretary of State felt that the documents were so unimportant that they justified just two lines to say that they were available in the Library.

I took the opportunity to avail myself of the Secretary of State's invitation to purloin the documents from the Library. There was only one document, but being a canny lassie, I decided to make exploratory investigations at the Vote Office. The investigations bore fruit. I obtained two documents—an explanatory document and a main document—from only a cursory investigation of the Vote Office. It is curious that both documents were not available in the Library, as we were told in the written statement.

Although there are defects in the written statement procedure, it is preferable to procedures used previously. However, perhaps the Department would

be minded to make information available through written statements, rather than hon. Members having haphazardly to happen on extremely important documents in the Library.

I listened with great care to the Under-Secretary's reply, and I regret that he was not as helpful as he meant to be. May I give him a further opportunity to help me to understand how the safety of a person—a private person or a serving police officer—might be jeopardised? Under subsection (5), in what circumstances could publication be deemed to be against the interests of national security? In serious circumstances, will the Secretary of State or a Minister come to the Dispatch Box and inform the House about publications, rather than placing them in the Library or using a written statement to say that they are placed in the Library?

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport 4:00 pm, 13th February 2003

On that last point, in future the code of practice could set out courses of action for the British Transport police—how to react to certain terrorist activities, for example. I do not think that the hon. Lady is suggesting that that code of practice should be published, put on the Department website and flashed round the world for everyone to see, which would clearly be inappropriate in those circumstances.

Equally, in certain circumstances, releasing the code could put people in jeopardy and the clause catches situations in which that could happen. Such a thing would be unusual, but it could happen.

The hon. Lady said that she first heard about the chief constables' code of practice in the Committee. I heard about it first during proceedings on the Police Reform Act 2002, which came into force on 1 October 2002. However, the Home Secretary will place the code before Parliament in due course, and I dare say that he will also place it in the Library. I will certainly examine the procedures in the House, which are relatively new, to see whether we would issue a written statement. I am open to suggestions about how we can make procedures more open. I often hear about information being placed in the Library, and I have a vision of desks and cupboards groaning under the weight of the things placed there. If it helps, we will certainly consider the way in which we make announcements.

It may have been a slip of the tongue, but the hon. Lady said that the code would be a change to secondary legislation. However, we would use only powers under the primary legislation to introduce the code.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 45 ordered to stand part of the Bill.