Clause 50 - Performance targets

Railways and Transport Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:45 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)

This is a much shorter clause. I am sure that the Minister will confirm that the ''Secretary of State'' again refers to the Secretary of State for Transport. Subsection (1) immediately sets alarm bells ringing for Opposition Members. It states:

''The Secretary of State may by direction to the Authority require it to set a target in relation to the achievement of an objective set under section 48.''

I know that you are here in an independent and impartial capacity, Mr. Hurst, but you would have thought that the one thing that the Government would have learnt was that they have been setting too many targets—for the police, the health service, doctors, nurses and education. The country is exhausted by all these targets. The clause fails to respond to the genuine concern expressed by the British Transport police, which the Government referred to on page 6 in its summary of the consultations. They said:

''However, some concern was expressed that this''

power of direction

''might signal greater government involvement in BTP matters.''

Will the Minister say whether there is a similar clause of direction that relates to the Home Secretary? Given the powers under clauses 48 and 49, does this power really need to progress to be the Secretary of State's power of direction over the authority? That relates to the point that I made about clause 49. It is my clear understanding that the chief constable has ultimate authority for operational control of a police force. If the circumstances are difficult, the authority might argue that it does not have sufficient resources. I wonder how a particular local British Transport police authority and its chief constable will be able to discharge their responsibilities if a power of direction is granted under clause 50. Will the circumstances in which the power of direction may be used be limited? Will the Minister set out the specific circumstances that have been envisaged? He may be able to quote from a relevant passage in the 1996 Act or from the Home Secretary, but I imagine that it would dent the morale of a local British Transport police force if the Secretary of State for Transport intervened to set a power of direction, particularly considering the powers given to the chief constable and authority in clauses 48 and 49.

I thought that the point of the Bill was to allow the authority and chief constable to set their annual policing plan and three-year strategy plan without interference from either the Secretary of State for Transport or the Home Secretary. I want to know about the performance targets. Do they relate to personnel, the amount of sick leave or level of early retirement, or are they strictly policing targets that relate to how the British Transport police discharge their responsibilities? If the Secretary of State published a direction under the clause, would the House be able to debate it? What form would publication take—would it be printed as a statutory

order or published and left in the Library without any attention being sought? How would Members know that such a direction had been published?

I think that I am right in saying that, in Scotland, policing is reserved but transport is devolved. Why does the Secretary of State for Transport have any power to set policing targets for railways in Scotland? I am obviously getting confused, but I think that I am right in saying that transport is devolved. Will the Minister explain the situation?

It will not come as a bolt out of the blue to the Minister to be told that we are tired of targets. We are sceptical about a power of direction by the Secretary of State over the police authority. How does that square with the 1996 Act and the powers of the Home Secretary? How will it allow the chief constable and authority to fulfil their responsibilities under clauses 48 and 49? Will the Minister also tell us about the circumstances in which a power of direction will be introduced? Will it be given to just one local British Transport police force or to all of them across the board?

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

I was interested to hear that the Opposition do not require targets. We will record that for future exchanges during Transport questions and on other occasions.

We should be able to deal with the points briefly, because we seem to be making heavy weather of the clause. I am sure that the hon. Lady understands that this series of clauses, along with the whole of part 3 on the British Transport police, is designed wherever possible to follow the procedures that apply for other police forces in the country, which is exactly what clause 50 does. It replicates the Home Secretary's power.

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

Would it not benefit the Committee if the Minister referred us to the speech that he made in this Committee on 13 February at columns 252 to 254 of the Official Report, in which he made the remarks on clause 48 that I suspect he is about to make again.

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

The hon. Gentleman is right: repetition is catching in this Committee. However, it is necessary to reiterate briefly the key elements. The clause replicates the Home Secretary's power to set performance targets for local police forces under section 38 of the Police Act 1996 passed by the previous Conservative Government. Therefore, it would seem sensible to have a degree of conformity across the piece wherever possible and appropriate.

In general terms, the provision enables the Secretary of State to require the authority to set a performance target. I stress that the clause says ''may''. It provides an enabling power that will be subject to the views of Scottish Ministers about targets for policing the railways in Scotland. I think that gives a clear indication that this is a mundane clause designed to harmonise best practice.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport) 10:00 am, 25th February 2003

I heard what the Minister said but he has not given us an example of the circumstances. Clearly, the power is only discretionary and we welcome that, but he must have an example in mind. He also failed to address whether it would be a performance target relating to the operation of the British Transport police or whether it would cover personnel matters such as early retirement and sick leave.

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

May I give the hon. Lady a couple of examples from the Home Office police forces? The Home Secretary has required local police forces to set performance targets on domestic burglaries, vehicle crimes and robberies. The Secretary of State for Transport would consider appropriate targets for transport.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 50 ordered to stand part of the Bill.