Clause 47 - Policing objectives: Authority

Railways and Transport Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:00 pm on 13th February 2003.

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Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Secretary of State for Transport 4:00 pm, 13th February 2003

This is my moment of glory: I shall not move Amendment No. 12.

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

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

Why did the hon. Member for Bath choose not to move that amendment? I am sure that I did not hear him say that he thought that it was a mistake.

I am delighted that we have moved on to the part of part 3 that deals with police planning. Presumably, given its title, clause 47 should be seen in conjunction with the policing objectives set out by the Secretary of State in clause 48, the railways policing plan of clause 49 and the performance targets set in clause 50.

I understand that the Home Secretary currently has powers under the Police Act 1996 to set policing priorities for England and Wales. Those powers direct authorities and police forces on where they should concentrate their efforts. Police authorities are required to publish an annual policing plan and a best value performance plan to set out how those priorities are being tackled in each police area. Will the Minister confirm that clause 47 is intended to make those arrangements appropriate to the priorities set for the policing objectives of the British Transport police force? I understand that the present arrangements as proposed in the consultation document take the provisions relating to the authority in respect of policing objectives out of the Police Act 1996 and apply them in clause 47. It would be helpful if the Minister were to clarify that.

I understand that the Local Government Act 1999 allows the Home Secretary to set best value performance indicators for police authorities. Short of popping down to the Library to find out how that is defined in the Library standard note, I wonder if the Minister could spare a moment to explain how best value in the British Transport police force, which is effectively a service industry, can be monitored. That is a challenging concept. How has that operated since 1999?

For regular police forces, I understand that the Home Secretary sets the performance indicators after consultation with police authorities and police forces and that those indicators currently cover the whole range of issues that authorities face, from their organisational efficiency to the make-up of their force with regard to gender and ethnicity—what the Americans call diversity—to the levels of crime reported and detected in general and specific terms.

The majority of those indicators will be deemed appropriate for the British Transport police authority and the British Transport police. If some are deemed not relevant or significant to the specialist railway police force, can the Minister tell us which they are?

I understand that the original provisions of the Local Government Act 1999 did not cover railway matters, and that under the current arrangements the Secretary of State does not set performance indicators for the British Transport police. I assume that clause 47 and the following provisions are intended to transfer the powers to the Secretary of State.

If the British Transport police committee voluntarily adopts relevant performance indicators currently set by the Home Secretary, will the Minister confirm that there will be an alteration and that the British Transport police authority will take over the committee's role? I imagine that the policing objectives that we want the authority to set will broadly reflect those set by the Home Secretary for local police forces. Will the Minister indicate whether there will be specific policing objectives for the British Transport police? Will targets be set for reducing the incidence of crime in the same way as the Home Secretary sets targets for

reducing gun crime, violent crime, street crime, burglaries, rape, assaults and general crime? What specific crimes would be included in the policing objectives under the clause? With regard to the national policing plan, will there be great disparities between the BTP's policing objectives and those for the regular police forces?

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport 4:15 pm, 13th February 2003

The clause closely follows the provisions of the Police Act 1996 that govern the setting of objectives and related performance targets for local police forces. The clause will apply similar requirements to the British Transport police.

To respond to one of the hon. Lady's initial questions, the clause replicates section 7 of the Police Act 1996 and requires the authority to set objectives for the BTP each year. The objectives must be consistent with any objectives set by the Secretary of State for the policing of the railways. Police authorities for local police forces have similar requirements. The authority must consult the chief constable before setting objectives and must consider views obtained from public consultation with the railways industry, the travelling public and the wider community. That is consistent with the position of local police force authorities.

When setting objectives, the British Transport police authority must have regard to the national policing plan and any objectives set by the Home Secretary under the Police Act 1996. That is designed to ensure consistency with wider policing objectives. I hope that that responds to several of the hon. Lady's points about how the BTP's objectives would fit in the national picture. Clearly, specific objectives would be inappropriate. For example, a target on reducing burglary would be less appropriate for the BTP because few domestic properties come within its purview.

The hon. Lady also asked about the BTP and best value. The BTP would comply with the Home Secretary's best value indicators when that was relevant; that would be monitored by Her Majesty's inspectorate. Best value reviews will be carefully monitored and any indicators appropriate to the BTP would also be monitored.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

The Minister's response was satisfactory as far as it went, but I am slightly disappointed that he did not respond to concerns about diversity. We talk about gender and ethnicity in relation to the police, and some forces make records of features of specific victims.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman—and most members of the Committee—have been contacted by the Royal National Institute of the Blind. Clauses 47 to 52, especially clause 47, which deals with policing objectives, mention the police authority and the Secretary of State setting policing objectives, and the construction of a three-year strategy plan. The Minister must be mindful that for blind and partially-sighted people—and, I am sure, others who are less able, including those who are hard of hearing and those who are not so mobile—one of the biggest concerns about travelling by train is fear of attack. The

presence of a white cane draws attention to their disability, and, in the words of the RNIB, is like

''waving the white flag of surrender to a mugger.''

Visually impaired people have been subject to some horrendous attacks when travelling on trains. Some of the reports are graphic and very disturbing. One person travelling with a guide dog was on a train; some youths set next to him and started to harass him, making loud barking noises at the dog and using abusive language when asked to stop; then, they proceeded to throw things at the dog. While another passenger went to look for a guard, the youths started lighting matches and waving them in the person's face. When the guard arrived, the youths denied doing anything wrong and insisted that the gentleman was making up the allegations. They said,

''What did you see me do, you can't 'cos you're blind so you don't know what we're doing''.

That sort of behaviour is particularly regrettable and unacceptable.

I make the plea to the Minister and his Department to add some objectives to the list of objected. Women are probably already mentioned, but there could be a specific reference to women travelling. There have recently been some awful attacks on women in all parts of the country. Such attacks do not happen solely in the south-east—there have been some horrendous and well-publicised attacks in the north. If we want more people to travel by train, it is important that they feel safe doing so. I wonder whether the Minister is minded to set specific guidelines in respect of people who are disabled, less mobile, partially sighted or hard of hearing. That would be welcome.

In the view of the RNIB, progress in dealing with crimes committed against disabled people is hampered by the fact that when details of a victim or perpetrator are recorded on the police computer, disability is not recorded in the same way as race. Policing objectives under the clause will probably refer to gender and ethnicity, but they could also include disability and gender—women are not in the same category as disabled people, but, obviously, they would like to feel safer on trains. We should have regard to the plea of the RNIB.

The Minister might not be able to confirm this, but I am sure that he would wish to discuss with his colleagues the fact that the Metropolitan police are introducing the practice of recording on their computer details of any victim's or perpetrator's disability. Has the Minister received any representations from the RNIB and others that would persuade his Department to do the same? I plead for the policing objectives in clause 47 to embrace the less able, too.

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

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving me an opportunity to air some of these matters. It is the primary duty of the authority to ensure the efficient and effective policing of the railways by the British Transport police, and the authority has the responsibility to set objectives for doing so. When carrying out those functions, the authority will need to balance the policing needs of the rail industry with

those of people who use the railways, including vulnerable people, especially those who are disabled or blind.

The hon. Lady asked about best value. It might be helpful to consider the best value performance indicators and objectives set out for the British Transport police in 2002–03. I quote from the best value performance and policing plan for 2002–03, in which objectives are set in respect of violence against the person. The plan states:

''This objective includes violent sexual offences.''

I hope that that would include the ambition to reduce violence against all people, including those who are vulnerable. The objectives also include targets for the British Transport police in respect of robbery, vehicle crime, railway destruction, vandalism offences, policing football and managing fatalities. The section headed ''Best value 4-year Corporate Plan'' states the objectives of each of the reviews under the subheading ''Progress on Best Value Reviews 2001–02''. The section headed ''Community and Race Relations'' states as an objective to

''Evaluate the retention, development and progression of minority ethnic staff within the Force.''

That will be good news to the hon. Lady. The British Transport police will comply with targets or Home Office statements on diversity.

Question put and agreed to.