Clause 42 - Equipment regulations

Railways and Transport Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 13th February 2003.

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Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Minister of State (Department for Transport) 2:45 pm, 13th February 2003

I beg to move amendment No. 37, in

clause 43, page 18, line 15, at end insert

'(including in relation to Scotland)'.

Photo of Mr Alan Hurst Mr Alan Hurst Labour, Braintree

With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments No. 38 to 40 and 45 to 47.

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Minister of State (Department for Transport)

The amendments ensure that the provisions in the Bill are clear regarding their application to the British Transport police in Scotland. Clauses 42 and 43 allow the Secretary of State to make regulations regarding the equipment used by the BTP and procedures and practices of the force. The regulations will ensure that the BTP conforms in those areas to other local police forces and can play a full role in the British police service. In particular, the clauses aim to facilitate co-operation between the police forces and joint operations.

Amendment Nos. 37 and 38 confirm that the regulations made under powers in the Police Act 1996 will have effect with regard to the British Transport police force throughout Great Britain. The 1996 Act also requires Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary to inspect and report to the Secretary of State on the efficiency and effectiveness of all Home Office police forces. Clause 60 now provides for the BTP to be inspected as a statutory duty by her Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary.

Previously, the British Transport police have not fallen under the statutory remit of the inspectorate, but every three years the BTP committee has invited the inspectorate to undertake detailed assessments of the operational performance and organisation of the transport police. The same standards used for Home Office police forces have been, and will continue to be, applied.

The inspectorate in England and Wales will continue to be responsible for inspections of the BTP as a whole. However, Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary for Scotland will be given a statutory duty to inspect the BTP and report to the Secretary of State in so far as the BTP operates in Scotland. The main difference between the BTP and the Home Office police forces will be that the authority will meet the full costs of the inspections. That is in line with other non-Home Office police forces, such as the Ministry of Defence police force, the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority constabulary and the Isle of Man police force. Inspections of Home Office police forces are centrally funded by the Government.

Amendment Nos. 39 and 40 ensure that, for inspections of the BTP in Scotland undertaken by Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary for Scotland, the authority pays Scottish Ministers, not the Secretary of State. That is because the constabulary is funded by Scottish Ministers.

I come now to amendments Nos. 45 to 47. There are numerous references to the British Transport police in current legislation, such as the Police

Reform Act 2002. They are listed under schedule 5. The references often refer to the BTP as a body that was established under the British Transport Commission Act 1949. The Bill gives a new statutory basis to the BTP and repeals the provisions creating the BTP in the 1949 Act. The schedule ensures that the references in current legislation to the BTP and the 1949 Act will be treated as references to the British Transport police force as established under part 3. It provides continuity.

Amendments Nos. 45 and 46 repeal changes made by the Anti-terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001 to the Police (Scotland) Act 1967, so that its impersonation offence applies to British Transport police constables. Similar and indeed wider provision for that offence is made under clause 65(2). The offence will now therefore apply to special constables, too, and to British Transport police constables in Scotland.

Amendment No. 47 ensures that references in the Police (Scotland) Act 1967 to the British Transport police are treated as references to the police force established under the Bill.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

The Minister said that the amendments would repeal provisions of earlier Acts and consequential amendments to those Acts. Amendment No. 40 covers the position in which an inspection is carried out by inspectors. Can the Minister confirm that the Scottish Executive will appoint the inspectors? What will be the relationship between the Bill and the orders that can be made under clause 42? Will they be the preserve of the Government as opposed to that of the Scottish Executive? Why were the amendments tabled? Were such proposals an oversight on the part of the Government when the Bill was drafted? During the consultation period, why did no one bring such matters to their attention? Labour Members touched on such issues in earlier proceedings.

The Library contains a useful book entitled ''Devolution'' in the series ''Modern Legal Studies'', which was written by someone who was a good friend when I was at university. However, as our political differences have grown over the years, we are not in such close contact now. The book elucidates some areas in which there is a distinct lack of clarity. It states:

''Both the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly have the power to make laws termed, in both cases, Acts. Neither the Scotland Act nor the Northern Ireland Act provides a definition of this term. Nor does the legislation define the term 'laws'.

Apparently that is unsurprising as there is no definition of either term in United Kingdom constitutional law. I should have remembered that from when I studied constitutional law at Edinburgh university. It goes on:

''However, a generally acknowledged distinction is drawn between primary legislation adopted as Acts of the United Kingdom Parliament following 'a series of stages prescribed by Parliamentary Standing Orders' and subordinate legislation (also termed secondary or delegated legislation). Subordinate legislation is defined in the Interpretation Act, 1978 as meaning 'Orders in Council, orders, rules, regulations, schemes, warrants, bye-laws and other instruments made under any Act'. A more general definition

can be given as legislation 'drafted by government departments under rule making powers conferred on a Minister by an Act of Parliament'.''

There is a lack of clarity about what constitutes an Act of Parliament and what constitutes a regulation under that Act of Parliament. Would an Act of Parliament passed by the Scottish Parliament be subordinate to any Act of Parliament or regulation passed by the Westminster Parliament? It would be useful if that were clarified before we go on to discuss the content of the clause. Given that the Government took considerable time over the drafting of the Bill, why have they come forward at such a late stage with these amendments?

Photo of Mark Lazarowicz Mark Lazarowicz Labour/Co-operative, Edinburgh North and Leith

I had intended to intervene on the hon. Lady to ask her to explain succinctly what she was getting at, as I failed to follow her point during her lengthy speech. Can she briefly tell the Committee what is her point?

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I thought that my point was clear.

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Minister of State (Department for Transport)

Perhaps the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Bacon) could explain it to us all.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

This is the point: in the context of the Bill, concern has been expressed about the status of certain regulations, orders and Acts proposed by the Scottish Executive and passed by the Scottish Parliament, compared with Acts and regulations or orders made under Westminster legislation—such as that before us, once it becomes enacted. I seek concise and succinct clarification on that.

Photo of Mark Lazarowicz Mark Lazarowicz Labour/Co-operative, Edinburgh North and Leith

My earlier queries were not designed to question the authority of the Scottish Parliament to make laws. It is clear that it can make laws: that is stated in the Scotland Act 1998. My queries were about the relationship between that and this legislation. Why is the hon. Lady concerned that the Scottish Parliament could override this legislation? I cannot see how it could do that.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

We come back to the point that has been made by hon. Members of different parties on several occasions. There is a lack of clarity in the Bill. That is demonstrated by the Minister of State's amendments to the clause, which address what is devolved and what is reserved.

As the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mr. Lazarowicz) understands the situation clearly enough, I put it to him that as learned a lady as Professor Burrows has elucidated and made a thesis of this lack of clarity, which is why I read that passage from her book to the Committee.

If the House of Commons passes the Bill, I am worried that the powers provided by the amendments will lead to less clarity. The relationship between the Scottish Executive and the House is not entirely clear. It would be helpful if the Minister could give us some clarification.

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Minister of State (Department for Transport) 3:00 pm, 13th February 2003

That was mildly interesting, although I am not sure whether it was helpful in the context of the amendments, which address important but relatively mundane matters. The hon. Lady will be aware that the Scotland Act 1998 makes it clear that the Scottish Parliament cannot make legislation in reserved areas—those are for the Westminster Parliament. For the sake of clarity, we are talking about matters with which the Secretary of State is able to deal. I should make it clear that the inspection in Scotland will be carried out by Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary for Scotland, which is appointed by Scottish Ministers. A debate on the constitutional niceties is interesting, but it is not especially germane to the amendments and their effect on the operations of the British Transport police.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

For the sake of clarity, I will return to the point that I made earlier, to which the Minister has blatantly not responded.

It seems that although the powers are reserved, they will be exercised by HMIC for Scotland. The inspectorate will be appointed by the Scottish Executive, yet if I have understood the Minister correctly—it is quite possible that I have not—the powers are reserved. Surely, under reserved powers the body that should review the work of HMIC is the House of Commons.

I put it to the Minister that we are in a curious position. The Government tell us that the powers are reserved, that they are not devolved from the point of view of being inspected and that those who are inspected will—presumably—be appointed, disciplined or removed from office by HMIC for Scotland. I do not see where the opportunities are for the House of Commons. We are told that Parliament has reserved powers, so it should, therefore, be uniquely responsible for hiring and firing these people. I do not see what powers we have to scrutinise that process, so I do not see how the Minister can argue that the powers remain reserved.

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Minister of State (Department for Transport)

Let me make it clear for the hon. Lady that the security of the railways, including the BTP, is a reserved matter for the UK Parliament. The role of the inspectorate is to report on the efficiency and effectiveness of police forces in England and Wales. In Scotland, that would be done by the Scottish inspectorate. As I said in a previous intervention, HMIC in Scotland will be given a statutory duty—as opposed to the current procedure—to inspect the BTP and to report to the Secretary of State about how the BTP operates in Scotland.

The inspectorate in Scotland will report to the Secretary of State and the financing of the organisation will be dealt with by Scottish Ministers. We are letting HMIC in Scotland inspect the BTP in Scotland. That already happens, so there will be continuity.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 11, Noes 3.

Division number 5 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 42 - Equipment regulations

Aye: 11 MPs

No: 3 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly agreed to.

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

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

The clause relates to the power to make statutory regulations regarding equipment. Does it relate solely to the issuing of equipment, or does it include the duty of care to maintain it?

The Secretary of State has the power to consult both the authority and the chief constable. The Minister may not have heard our concern. Currently, four out of nine members of the authority come from operating companies and others from the industry. This representation will be grossly weakened when the total number of members rises to 13 or more, but the number of representatives from industry remains at four. They regret that while they are being asked to pay for all of this, their level of representation decreases. Opposition Members share that concern.

Does the clause relate to the standard of equipment; the issue of equipment; the procurement of equipment; or the regulations by which equipment will be maintained?

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

Common sense dictates that there will be occasions when the British Transport police will work in conjunction with county police forces. We have discussed that on a number of occasions. Can the Minister assure us that the Home Secretary will be included in the consultations about making the regulations? Clearly it makes a great deal of sense to ensure that there is commonality on standards and types of equipment between the BTP and other police forces operated by the Home Office.

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Minister of State (Department for Transport)

Let me deal first with the issue of representation. I disagree with the hon. Member for Vale of York. She seems to be saying that there will be a confrontational committee with voting blocks, rather than a group of people who have the best interests of policing the railways at heart. As we pointed out, the minimum number of representatives by no means prescribes the maximum number. Some of those covered under other categories could, of course, be representatives from the railway industry. As the hon. Lady knows, we have also undertaken to consider provisions relating to those working in the industry.

On the equipment issue, the clause allows the Secretary of State to make regulations to ensure that the forces use equipment that has been approved. That can include vehicles, information technology systems, batons, incapacitant sprays, head gear and protective

clothing. That power allows for much more interoperability between forces, an exchange of equipment, when necessary, and common training when that might be of mutual advantage. All forces would want to adopt—and spread—best practice for the maintenance of that equipment. The clause enables the British Transport police and the Home Office police forces to use more standardised equipment, with all the advantages that will flow from that.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

That is helpful, and I am grateful for the clarification. I am sure that the Minister's list was not meant to be exhaustive; I notice that it did not refer to radios. Certainly, in my police force area of North Yorkshire, radio is extremely important, particularly when an officer sets off on his own. I would have thought that the use of radios, when policing moving objects such as trains or people on railway concourse areas, would be extremely important.

The Minister missed our debate this morning, which I found interesting and helpful. I confess that I do not have in-depth knowledge of the subject—that is a grave reflection on me—and this is a useful opportunity for us to become fully cognisant of what equipment the Government have in mind. This morning, the Under-Secretary told us that the British Transport police are equipped with CS gas, but the Minister did not mention it just now. I am sure that that was a minor omission.

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Minister of State (Department for Transport)

I referred to incapacitant sprays, which I assume includes CS gas, although not all incapacitant sprays are CS gas.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

Some might say that nasal sprays were also incapacitants, because one has to stop to use them. [Interruption.] Indeed, that is correct, as one athlete found to his and his country's disadvantage this week. In any case, I hear what the Minister says, and I am grateful to him.

Would the Government keep an open mind if the British Transport police asked to equip themselves with firearms? I refer to a branch that is trained in that area. I am not necessarily calling for such powers, but we heard today how security has been increased at airports, and the Home Secretary has stated that the Government are mindful of the fact that all transport modes and facilities—transport infrastructure is, I think, the expression that he used—are particularly vulnerable. I commend the Government for increasing security at airports. If, in the near future, the Government are minded to increase the level of security as I urged the Under-Secretary to consider, they must bear in mind that the three London airports are accessed primarily by train.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am coming to the killer point, Mr. Hurst.

The Heathrow express, the Gatwick express and the Stansted express take the majority of passengers to the three London airports. If we increase security at airports, we will leave the security aspects on the trains

and the railway stations more vulnerable. Airport policing is paid for by the airports, and transport policing is paid for by the railway industry. This morning, we discussed which three categories paid for that. If a review were made of the standard of equipment, and a request for firearms were made, would the Minister envisage any difficulties for the transport industry in paying for the equipment? After all, it is operating in a tough climate at present.

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Minister of State (Department for Transport)

The hon. Lady will be aware from previous debates that the British Transport police will participate in the new national radio system. The Government have provided BTP with about £2.3 million for its part of the project. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary dealt with the potential arming of British Transport police and said that we have no plans to do that at present. However, we have not ruled out making such a decision in future.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

If the level of equipment issued was increased radically and the British Transport police had to be issued with flak jackets and guns, would the Minister envisage the industry having difficulty paying for it?

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Minister of State (Department for Transport)

As for the funding of any police force in respect of new requirements under national security, the Government will review the matter when decisions have to be made.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 42, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.