Clause 52 - Three-year strategy plan

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)

The significance of the clause and the principle of having a three-year strategy plan relate closely to clauses 47 to 51. Will the Minister tell us whom the Government expect the authority to consult when setting out its three-year strategy plan? I hope that they will take the opportunity to build up good relationships with local communities—the Government would probably use their jargon about local partnerships. It is interesting to note that medium and long-term strategies for policing the railways should be set out in each consecutive period of three financial years.

Considering the new powers that are given to the British Transport police under the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, how will short-term contingency planning fit in, particularly in the event of a terrorist attack? We have established that all parts of the transport infrastructure, not least the railways, are threatened and that at the height of the Northern Irish atrocities paramilitary groups made several attempts to blow up a line of track or a railway bridge. How does the short-term contingency plan fit in with the three-year strategy plan, as well as provisions in other clauses?

The relevant sections of the Police Act 1996 will affect the policing of the railways. Will the Minister confirm that the authority, acting with the chief constable, will determine the priorities that are deemed to be less relevant to the work of the British Transport police under the appropriate sections of the 1996 Act? Will he confirm that the authority and chief constable will be empowered to do that? That will go some way to meeting the forceful requests for them to be enabled to set railway specific priorities in the short and medium-to-long term, and particularly under the three-year strategy plan. How will the three-year strategy plan enable the British Transport police authority and the chief constable to achieve that? I

hope that the Secretary of State will not try to invoke the power of authority under previous clauses or say that the British Transport police authority should not have dropped the provisions of the Police Act 1996.

It is interesting that no specific mention is made of the new powers, which were welcomed by the British Transport police. I have mentioned the short-term threat of terrorism, but we all realise that the nature and threat of terrorism has changed from the Northern Irish context to a more global threat. How will that be reflected in the three-year strategy plan? Will the Minister explain, with reference to the national policing plan and in the context of the whole of part 3, how the relevant clauses will sit comfortably with the development of a three-year strategy plan? It is clearly an important tool, and the Government have said that they are keen on setting performance targets, so how will the three-year strategy plan be measured against the annual policing properties? Will there be opportunities for the authority to amend the plan during its life?

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

I think that it was Eisenhower who said that all plans break down on first contact with the enemy, but that it is still necessary to plan. Inevitably, plans produced for either the medium or long term must be amended in the light of emergencies, as happened with the necessary updating of terrorism legislation.

Like other clauses, clause 52 merely replicates the requirements made on Home Office police authorities, which are required to produce a plan outlining their medium and long-term strategies every three years. The hon. Lady rightly said that the priorities would be decided by the authority and chief constable, subject to the overriding authorities that we have previously discussed.

Again, the clause is designed to bring the British Transport police in line, as far as possible, with legislation that covers Home Office police forces, precisely because that has been a long-standing desire not only within the British Transport police, but elsewhere. The provision facilitates that process with regard to good practice for the police and, indeed, the users of the railway service.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

The Minister did not deal with my questions about which parts of the Police Act 1996 would be deemed appropriate to be dropped to allow the British Transport police to concentrate on those functions. That is their specific request. Presumably it was made on a number of occasions, face to face and during the formal consultation. I am disappointed that the Minister has not dealt with my comments on that. I am happy to allow him to respond if he wishes to do so.

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

I would be grateful if the hon. Lady could amplify, although not at too great a length, the point that she is pursuing.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I apologise if I have not made myself clear. Clause 52(2) says that the relevant sections of the 1996 Act in relation to the three-year strategy plans

''shall have effect (with any necessary modification)''.

I presume that to mean that the legislation will be modified to the extent that the British Transport police will apply it in so far as it relates to railway policing, which is their specific responsibility. I just wondered whether, for the benefit of the Committee, the Minister could say which parts of the Act would require modification.

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

Yes, I shall certainly provide the hon. Lady with the necessary text.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

It would have been nice to have a more formal response today. I shall simply echo what the British Transport police said to the Government in response to the consultation paper. Obviously, they were pleased by the action that the Government had taken on the British Transport police's jurisdiction and powers in the context of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. I have expressed my curiosity as to why the relevant sections of that legislation have not been reflected in the clause, which deals specifically with the three-year strategy plan. The clause relates quite properly to the 1996 Act. I wonder why it does not also refer to the new powers granted under the 2001 Act. Was that a deliberate omission?

I leave the Government with this thought on the clause. I cannot express it any better than the British Transport police did in paragraph 33 of their response:

''For too long the British Transport Police have been considered as an afterthought, or not at all, in policing legislation. We urge Government to ensure in future that as new police powers are legislated, proper and careful consideration is given to the question of applying those powers to BTP with a presumption that they will be so applied unless manifestly inappropriate to the specialist role of BTP. Without such a presumption, the powers available to BTP may become out of date and inadequate to deal with prevailing criminality and disorder affecting the railway.''

I end on a note of surprise, shock and disappointment that, having had that heartfelt plea from the British Transport police, the Government did not feel moved to respond. I should have thought that it was entirely appropriate, in the context of clause 52 and the development of a three-year strategy plan, to refer to the new powers under the 2001 Act.

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

I think that I now understand where the hon. Lady is coming from, although she is fundamentally mistaken. She rightly says that the British Transport police want to be as analogous as possible to the Home Office police forces, subject to any intrinsic differences that result from running a national railway police force. That is precisely why, through a number of clauses, which she has chosen to debate, we are bringing the practice of the British Transport police and authority in line with the prevailing legislation that governs the management of the other forces. That is why we are replicating the appropriate sections. In this Bill we are talking about a strategy plan. By definition, the exercise of powers outside the railways provided by the anti-terrorism legislation is reactive to incidents. It is difficult to plan for that. The British Transport police have the mechanisms to respond to that and, as she rightly says, are included in the legislation. It is precisely to satisfy that demand that we have introduced these clauses.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 52 ordered to stand part of the Bill.