Clause 53 - Reports by Chief Constable

Railways and Transport Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:15 am on 25th 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)

Under this clause, after the end of the financial year the chief constable submits a report about the policing of the railways. Presumably that would be his opportunity to say whether they have met the Government's targets and the priorities of their annual railways policing plan or the three-year strategy plan. Presumably he will draft this report in conjunction with his assistant chief constable. It was pointed out to the Government during the consultation that service as an assistant chief constable in the British Transport police is not recognised for promotion to chief constable rank in Scotland. The Minister would presumably want to encourage free flow and the possibility of promotion through the ranks of the British Transport police anywhere within the United Kingdom. Apparently this matter arises from the express terms of legislation in Scotland. The position is different in England and Wales.

The British Transport police obviously believe that service in the British Transport police, at whatever rank, should count when an officer applies for promotion in another force, even if it is a move from England to Scotland. I simply leave that thought with the Minister. Someone who has the potential to become a chief constable in one British Transport police force in England should not be excluded from consideration for promotion to chief constable in Scotland. The Government were made aware of that—

Photo of Mr Alan Hurst Mr Alan Hurst Labour, Braintree

Order. Could the hon. Lady direct me to where these matters are referred to in the clause?

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

Yes. As I said Mr. Hurst, I should like to think that the chief constable in preparing the report would consult his assistant chief constable. There should be some mobility and some possibility—

Photo of Mr Alan Hurst Mr Alan Hurst Labour, Braintree

Order. The hon. Lady will need to direct her attention to the exact wording of the clause, rather than speculate on other matters.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am grateful to you, Mr. Hurst.

Can the Minister confirm that the chief constable, as with other national police forces, will be operationally responsible for delivering on the priorities? Will the report that he submits be debated? Under subsection (5) it is the chief constable's responsibility to publish the report. Would it not be in the interests of the British Transport police and the British Transport police authority for the report to be published? Surely the Government do not intend the annual report submitted by the chief constable to the authority to be a private, internal document, but want it to show the extent to which he has met his annual priorities, Government targets and the annual part of the three-year strategy plan to which it refers. Do the Government intend the plan to be published, so that the wider community, particularly the parts policed by

the British Transport police, will have an opportunity to consider it? Will the Minister confirm that the Government do not intend the report to be a private, internal document, but want it to be debatable by the authority and available to those interested?

I am more concerned about subsection (5)(b), which says:

''the report or part shall be published only if the Secretary of State directs that it should be published.''

I hope that the Minister will confirm that the chief constable will remain autonomous not just for operational responsibilities of the police, and that the annual report will, for example, be able to reflect recruitment procedures and morale in the police force and give an overview of personnel matters such as levels of early retirement and sick leave, which can be indicators of a force's morale. Will he also confirm that the Government do not intend to allow the Secretary of State to block publication of the report? What purpose would blocking its publication serve? I cannot believe that it is in the best interests of the British Transport police that the chief constable's report be blocked.

Subsection (3) states:

''The Authority may require the Chief Constable to submit a report on specified matters connected with the performance of his functions.''

Clause 53 is very vague. The Minister may say that the relevant section in the 1996 Act laying down similar procedures was equally vague, but surely if the report is to be worth anything, the Bill should say what its contents should be. Will the report deal with personnel matters, the morale of the British Transport police, the ease with which they are recruiting and any recruitment difficulties, and any potential terrorist threat? Will it cover performance indicators, which we heard about during the debate on clause 49, when I think the Minister listed violence to the person, robbery, vehicle crime, vandalism, managing football matches and fatalities? Will he confirm that those indicators will rightly be reviewed each year in the context of the report that the chief constable is asked to publish?

Presumably, the British Transport police will not be responsible for managing football matches, unless a particular event is taking place and there is a shortage in the national police force. I hope that the Minister will confirm that in the normal course of events it is not the British Transport police's primary responsibility to manage football matches and that they will be allowed to set their own priorities.

Photo of John Randall John Randall Opposition Whip (Commons) 10:30 am, 25th February 2003

Presumably the British Transport police have responsibility for fans coming out of railway stations and will probably be along the route towards the stadiums.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

That is a pertinent point. Perhaps the Minister will explain what percentage of British Transport police time is taken up with that matter annually. If the reports are not to be published, how

will local people served by that particular police authority know?

Will the reports drafted by the chief constable have regard to each of the categories? Presumably, the Minister will say that the Government's information is sourced from the annual reports prepared by the chief constables. They are an immensely useful source of information. Will he be able to confirm that they will be published in the usual way? If they are published, will that happen on the local British Transport police website, will they be circulated to the relevant partners, or will they just be debated within the police authority?

A number of potentially alarming issues are not addressed in clause 53, which raises the question of why it has been so loosely and vaguely drafted. Will the Minister confirm that the report will address each of the priorities that have been set as part of the railways policing plan, the performance targets set by the Secretary of State and the three-year strategy plan? Will it go further than that and comment on recruitment, those entering and leaving the British Transport police service in that year and issues of morale in the particular British Transport police force, especially with regard to sick leave and early retirement? It should be published as widely as possible.

Will the Minister explain the circumstances in which clause 53(a) and (b) would be applied? Have the Government just lifted the provisions from the 1996 Act? Is there going to be something damaging in the chief constable's report that they would not wish to see published?

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

We move to an interesting part of the Bill. Clauses 53 to 57 are rather different from some of the earlier clauses in so far as they replicate not just the 1996 Act, but two Acts of 1996 and 1997 with regard to the British Transport police. I am beginning to wonder whether there might not be great merit in adopting shorthand in Committee, by which the hon. Member for Vale of York simply stood up and said, ''Question A?'' and the Minister replied, ''Answer B''. Question A is, ''Why are we doing it?'' Answer B is, ''Because it is what we have already done in relation to the Police Acts of 1996 and 1997.''

To be fair to the hon. Lady, she always adds several additional questions. During our deliberations on clause 48, she raised an important point when she said that we have had the Police Acts of 1996 and 1997 for several years, and during that time, there has been opportunity to review practice by Home Office police forces with regard to the relevant provisions of the Acts.

Perhaps it is incumbent on the Minister to briefly tell us whether, in relation to the reports under clauses 53 and 54, there has been any consideration as to whether there might be a more streamlined way of doing things. I find it slightly odd that under clause 53 there is a possibility of two reports. One is the report in relation to policing on the railway during that year. The other relates to the performance of the chief constable's functions. Then we will see the authority's report, which we will debate under clause 54.

Can the Minister tell us how the Home Office police forces have dealt with that in practice? Clearly, the publication of three separate reports going over the same ground would be rather costly and not very beneficial. I do not ask such questions without having done a little homework. I know the answer—I know what the practice is. Bearing that practice in mind, does the Minister not consider, on reflection, that clauses 53 and 54 could have been amended to bring the legislation's wording into line with current practice, and with what I assume he imagines that British Transport police practice will be?

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

The clause requires the chief constable to submit to the British Transport police authority annual reports on the policing of the railways during the previous year. It is based on provisions in the Police Act 1996 and, as the hon. Member for Bath pointed out, the Police Act 1997. Only where it is necessary to meet the specific needs of the authority and the British Transport police have the corresponding provisions in those Acts not been followed.

The clause allows the authority to require the chief constable to produce reports on specific issues. He may choose not to publish all or parts of such reports where that would be unnecessary or not in the public interest, unless the Secretary of State directs him to do otherwise. That is in line with section 22 of the Police Act 1996, with which the hon. Gentleman is well acquainted.

The hon. Member for Vale of York asked, at the start of her remarks, about service matters relating to Scotland. I am sure that she has seen the Government's response in the summary of replies to the consultation paper ''Modernising the British Transport Police''. Our response is set out clearly in paragraph 8.5 of that document, which says:

''The Home Office announced on 1 August 2002 that the Police (Amendment) Regulations 2002 allow officers from the BTP to count their service with the BTP for pay and allowances purposes on joining a police force in England and Wales.''

The Department for Transport is pursuing a similar arrangement with the Scottish Executive, but the regulations for the Scottish police forces are of course a matter for the Scottish Executive.

Much play has been made of this clause and the report to be made by the authority under the following clause. The hon. Member for Bath asked the teacher's question—one to which he already knows the answer. He knows that because he has asked me about it previously, I have written it down for him and it has appeared in Hansard. He has an intimate record of all such things, and so have I. In practice, the authority's and the chief constable's reports will be together in one report. That is the practice.

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

The hon. Gentleman feigns surprise. It shows that we both read the answers to the questions that I give him. I think that that covers his points about streamlining reports. I agree with him. It would be unnecessarily bureaucratic to have too many such reports floating around. There are, however, two separate responsibilities, which must be identified in

the Bill, partly because the earlier part of the Bill specifies individual responsibilities for the authority and for the police. Generally, however, those reports will be published together.

The hon. Member for Vale of York asked questions on what is currently published by the British Transport police. The annual report is a general report on the year's policing, but the ''Statistical Bulletin'' has best value performance figures on recruitment and crime. The hon. Lady was concerned about how they are set out. Those are matters for the chief constable and the authority to set out in the way they see fit. People who do not like that will make their views known.

In practice, the report will be a joint report. If the chief constable's report is separate, it can be published by the authority. Clause 54(3) sets out a responsibility for the authority to publish the annual report.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Secretary of State for Transport 10:45 am, 25th February 2003

I think that I have an understanding of the situation in respect of the Home Office police forces. Publication could imply the production of one copy under clause 54, sending it to the Secretary of State and so on. I know it is intended for the report to be fairly widely distributed. Will the Minister give us an indication of the bodies to which copies of the report will automatically be sent?

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

These days with modern technology the reports would be placed on what I call the privacy of the web, so they will be widely available. They will also be sent to interested parties in the railways industry and will be widely available to people who want them. Those who have an interest in seeing what was in the report would have no difficulty in obtaining it, although I am not sure that it would be bedside reading for every one of the hon. Gentleman's constituents, but it would be available to those to whom it was relevant.

The hon. Member for Vale of York referred to clause 53(5) and the circumstances in which the report may not be published. Those would be where the interests of the state were at stake, or where there were reasons of great importance why it would not be in the public interest for it to be published. However, the final decision will lie with the Secretary of State. The hon. Lady asked about detailed figures on British Transport police recruitment, which will continue to be published. She also asked about current targets—as did the hon. Member for Uxbridge—when she talked about policing near football grounds. In relation to the authority's current targets, data is produced on more serious incidents relating to football disorder. National Criminal Intelligence Service data for the football season 2000–01 shows that 81 of the more serious football-related incidents occurred within the railway environment.

The British Transport police are responding to an increasing number of incidents connected to persons travelling by rail to sporting events and in particular to football matches. That is an important part of their role because the people involved generally travel on some form of public transport, particularly the railways. As we discussed earlier, there may be

specific circumstances where the Home Office police may call on the British Transport police for support and extra help if they feel it necessary. I hope that this brief debate has been useful.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am grateful to the Minister for the opportunity to debate those issues. One issue is outstanding, which I omitted to mention and which was not referred to in the Government's targets or by the Minister in summing up. Concern was expressed in the original consultation paper about the safety of British Transport police officers, in particular cadets and special constables, when patrolling potentially dangerous areas of railway property. The examples given were walking along track sides, walking under overhead cables and accessing maintenance depots. A general question was raised about adequate training of British Transport police officers in such circumstances. Will the Under-Secretary nod, wink or respond positively—

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

A nod is as good as a wink to a blind horse, as I think the expression goes. Will the Under-Secretary put my mind at rest and state that the chief constable's report will relate not just to recruitment, which he satisfied me on, but to annual training, particularly of cadets, but also of longer serving officers?

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

I am sure that the report will contain information about training. The hon. Lady raises an important point for all those who work on the railways, whether they are the police or those carrying out maintenance. There are considerable hazards and we would expect the training of officers to reflect that. I am sure that if the chief constable thought that it was necessary and formed a pertinent part of the work during the year, he would include it in his report.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 53 ordered to stand part of the Bill.