Clause 43 - Regulation of procedure and practice

Railways and Transport Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 13th February 2003.

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Amendment made: No. 38, in

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

'(including in relation to Scotland)'.—[Mr. Jamieson.]

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

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I draw attention to the co-operation of the British Transport police with other police forces. I think that the London underground is policed by the Metropolitan police or is that the preserve of the British Transport police?

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

The London underground is policed by the British Transport police. It is a major part of its operation.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

Is the Minister aware that the British Transport police might want to link up with the Metropolitan police? If he and his colleagues were to learn that that was the case, what would be their view?

If the Secretary of State were to be minded to make regulations under the clause, can the Minister confirm that they would simply transfer the legal basis established by the Police Act 1996 and the responsibilities of the Strategic Rail Authority to the British Transport police authority?

Earlier, we tabled an amendment to make it clear that references in the Bill to the police force refer to the

British Transport police force. I assume that that is the case in clause 43(2)(c).

I did not make it up when I said that the British Transport police and the Metropolitan police might be interested in collaborating across certain geographic boundaries. With regard to jurisdiction, the geographic boundaries are becoming blurred. The Bill could clarify that matter, or if it already makes things clear, the Minister may wish to explain how it does so.

Most people use railway links to access an airport: there is no longer a regular bus service to Heathrow. It would be possible to clarify further the relationship between the respective police forces to allay current concerns. Does the Minister see no cause for concern in the blurring of their distinct jurisdictions and responsibilities? Under clause 43, would the Government consider introducing a regulation that specifically sets out the relationship between the respective forces?

This is the most graphic description of the problem that I can think of: I witnessed a theft at Brussels airport after which the thief exited the airport by rail and returned to the centre of Brussels. I think that the Minister can see what I am driving at. If a similar incident were to occur at a London airport—or a worse offence, such as a terrorist attack or a sexual assault—would the airport police be allowed to pursue the perpetrators on to the rail link that takes them back into the centre of London under the current legislation, or would regulations be required?

Photo of Mr Alan Hurst Mr Alan Hurst Labour, Braintree

Order. The hon. Lady must turn her mind away from airports as much as she possibly can.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

Thank you, Mr. Hurst, for that stricture.

I hope that the point that I am trying to make is sufficiently clear: police forces will cross each other's jurisdictions and clarity is required. Does the Minister think that there is sufficient clarity in the present proposals?

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

It has been alleged that an alliance has been developing between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats during the Committee stage. I regret that I created a small schism among us by voting in opposition to the hon. Lady a few moments ago. I fear that that schism will grow slightly in view of the hon. Lady's recent remarks.

We debated in some detail this morning the possible takeover of the work of the British Transport police in policing the London Underground. That matter is directly relevant to the clause, which relates to the question of inter-force co-operation. Perhaps it would have been easier to have left the matter alone. I thought that we had had a clear assurance from the Under-Secretary that the issue had been considered, that a decision had been made that no takeover would take place and that there was to be growing co-operation between the two police forces. It might be helpful if that were repeated and put firmly on the record.

During lunch, it was drawn to my attention that a transport scrutiny committee of the Greater London

Authority has, in the last few days, proposed that the Mayor should consider making a proposal on such a takeover. It will consult the Government in due course. It would be helpful, and it might save the Mayor a lot of time, if the Minister could put it on the record that were the Mayor to bring that forward, the Government would rebuff him firmly. However, the issue of inter-police co-operation is important in transport matters.

The hon. Member for Vale of York raised some interesting points about co-operation between the Metropolitan police authority and the British Transport police, between the Metropolitan police authority and the airport police and between all three forces. We could go further. I have been impressed by what I have learned about the work that the Metropolitan police are doing to try to reduce crime on 25 selected bus routes in London. That stems from work to which the Government committed themselves after their attention was drawn to the increasing problems and dangers faced by bus drivers. The issue of co-operation draws into stark relief the rather peculiar situation of all the modes of transport—air, bus, tube and railway—being dealt with by the different police forces that are assigned to them. The clause is important because it enables those bodies to co-operate. I was pleased on behalf of British Transport police to hear from one of the officers who worked on the London buses project. His firm view was that the British Transport police are better equipped, better qualified and better trained to carry out that work. Praise should go to the BTP for that.

We support the clause, and we hope that the Minister will say clearly that any talk of a takeover of the British Transport police's work on the London Underground can be got rid of, dispatched and forgotten because it is not going to happen.

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

In answer the hon. Lady's question about the rights of police to act in various circumstances, protocols issued under Home Office circular 25 of 2002 make explicit how and when BTP and local police constables should act.

I understand that my colleague the Under-Secretary dealt with the matter of British Transport police and the Metropolitan police this morning. I reiterate that the Government have been looking at ways to improve the already close co-operation between the British Transport police and the Metropolitan police.

The merger of London Underground with the Metropolitan police was one of several options explored in conjunction with the British Transport Police, the Metropolitan Police and Transport for London. The Government have certainly been pleased with progress towards operational integration made this year and with the closer co-operation achieved between police forces. We are considering the situation and neither ruling out nor pursuing any particular option. Of course, in the event that any changes were proposed, such as in the way suggested by the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), by the GLA or by Transport for London, they would be subject to wide consultation with all interested parties. Those would include not only the bodies that I mentioned but rail industry passenger groups, policing agencies and

groups outside London that have a considerable interest in policing in London, as well as in the British Transport Police nationally.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport) 3:30 pm, 13th February 2003

Clearly, this is a matter for debate because we have stimulated the hon. Member for Bath into pursuing it.

The Home Secretary briefly referred to the Wheeler report in his statement in the House in response to the urgent question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin). This is an area for continuing debate. The hon. Member for Bath disclosed his understanding that the GLA had already gone some way down the road, so the Government should have a view. I am unsure whether the Minister answered the hon. Gentleman's question about what would happen if the Mayor, whose office is coming up for election in the not-too-distant future, were to propose such a change in jurisdiction, requiring a different police force to take over.

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

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. The Minister did not give us the clear ruling out that I hoped for. Perhaps it would help the Committee if the hon. Lady joined me in supporting the argument that such a move would not be sensible. Were she to do so, she could be confident in the knowledge that the net effect of a similar move in New York was that fewer police patrolled the New York underground than had done before the merger. For the sake of the travelling public, I am sure that she would want to support me in arguing that the move should not take place.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

Had the hon. Gentleman been so moved to join me and my hon. Friends in rejecting the dreadful amendment that we considered earlier, we might have had a more open mind towards his attractive proposal. I understand that the issue exercises the various police forces. It is obviously also of interest to the GLA and to the present and future Mayors of London.

I have tried to raise the issue that has been put to me—I am sure that it must also have been put to the Minister and his colleagues—that difficulties arise where there is potential for different responses in geographically proximate areas from which railways access airports. I hoped for some reassurance from the Minister. If he is saying that the regulations will provide clarification, that is helpful. This has been a useful debate, to which we may wish to return in the context of the Wheeler report and any recommendations made by the GLA.

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

It is rare for the Government to rule out the possibility of future organisational change. I am unsure what position the Liberal Democrats on the GLA take on the issue—[Interruption.] I should be grateful if the hon. Member for Bath would enlighten me.

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

I shall help the right hon. Gentleman with pleasure. When I made my comments about the GLA, I should have pointed that the committee that made the recommendation is chaired by a Liberal Democrat, Lynne Featherstone. However, the Liberal Democrats do not have a majority on that committee,

and I understand—if I am incorrect in this, I will inform the Minister as soon as I know it—that the Liberal Democrats on the committee did not support the recommendation, even though the chair is Liberal Democrat.

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

She obviously did not see fit to resign over it. [Laughter.]

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 43, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.