I hope that the Under-Secretary and his Department will notice how sweetly I am smiling at him, so that I might be allowed to take home one of the reports for reading after I have partied later tonight.
I want to make one or two probing remarks about the clause. The Minister will probably tell me again that the clause confers the same statutory duty on the British Transport police as was in the earlier Police Acts. Clearly, it again gives a discretionary power of direction to the Secretary of State. Again, I think that we are talking about questions B and C. Copies of the direction and a report about it will be laid before Parliament, which is helpful.
I shall go away and do my homework overnight to ensure that I have read previous reports in relation to other remedial directions. Will the Under-Secretary share with us what time frame is envisaged for the remedial direction and for the action plan under clause 63? In the event of an adverse inspection report showing that the police force at the time is inefficient or ineffective, what time scale will the police authority be given to take the required remedial action? Presumably, it will be the Secretary of State himself—taking it from the Department—who monitors whether the remedial direction is followed to the letter. It would help the Committee to know what time frame is involved and how long the
authority will be given to make itself more effective and efficient, in the worst-case scenario.
Presumably, this will be the first occasion on which the Secretary of State for Transport deals with the police force and directs the authority to take specified measures. We are of course blessed in the Secretary of State, his Ministers and his Department, but that may not always be the case. What expertise do they have in dealing with the police force? Would they take advice from, say, the Home Office?
It might help the Committee if the Under-Secretary, in addition to giving answer B to the questions that seem to be so frequently asked, reminded us of the wording at the front of the Bill. Under the heading ''Explanatory Notes'', we see:
He might from time to time, instead of saying, ''Answer B,'' refer us to the information that is provided. The excellent explanatory notes prepared by his Department answer all the questions that the hon. Member for Vale of York has asked. Like her, I have a high regard for its officials, Ministers and Secretary of State.
The hon. Gentleman has given the game away. Those explanatory notes provide many of my answers to the hon. Lady. I am worried that she will start reading them before I give the answers and will be mouthing them across the Committee as I give them to her.
Clauses 62 and 63 provide the Secretary of State with powers of direction following an adverse HMIC report and are modelled on similar provisions in the Police Act 1996. Clause 62 enables the Secretary of State to direct the authority to take specified actions to remedy any force deficiencies. Before making such a direction, the Secretary of State must give the authority and the chief constable the opportunity to make representations. He must also give the authority the opportunity to propose actions that would make his direction unnecessary. If the Secretary of State should issue such a direction, he shall lay a copy before Parliament, together with a report about it.
The hon. Member for Vale of York asked about the time scale of such action. That would largely depend on the type of action being required of the authority. I think that she will understand the term ''reasonable''. The authority would be expected to act in reasonable time in these circumstances.
The hon. Member for Uxbridge asked whether the Department had sufficient expertise. I assure him that it has a wealth of expertise, but we are talking about the expertise to consider the report. It is not necessary to have knowledge of inspecting the police force, because that is done not by the Department but by the inspectorate. However, the Department will have the knowledge and experience of people who will be able to consider the reports and then suggest the action to be taken. The report itself may contain recommendations and suggestions for remedial
action. It would then be for the Secretary of State to put together the relevant documentation to ensure that they appear in the plan.
That is almost inevitable. Departments share a great deal of knowledge and expertise with one another. We have joint appointments over certain matters, such as road traffic safety. Therefore, yes, that would be perfectly possible.
To flesh out the question of the time required for the action plan, the time frame would generally be four to 12 weeks, depending on the type of action required. We shall come to that on the next clause.
As the hon. Member for Bath would expect, I am an avid reader of the explanatory notes. They are extensive on the early clauses. The Ministers are in great difficulty this afternoon because the Opposition have noticed that the explanatory notes are very brief. The Library notes do not offer any greater assistance. Bearing in mind that the Government have structured the context of the debate and the amount of time that we spend on each clause—the hon. Member for Bath has also focused on this—they have not been quite as prepared over the past day and a half as they were for the earlier part of our proceedings. I simply pass that on in good humour. It is good to see that we are all smiling.
It is not adequate for the Under-Secretary to tell me that the British Transport police authority will be given a reasonable length of time to comply with the direction and the report about it. As he and I both know, what is reasonable to one man or woman can be deeply unreasonable to another. I should have thought that in the Bill or in slightly more extensive explanatory notes than the Minister's Department was prepared to provide we could have been given an indication of what a reasonable time would be. I fear that the onus will come back to the British Transport police authority if ever it is found to be in breach of clauses 61 and 62, and that some bright spark will find evidence that it has not taken remedial action within a reasonable time.
I should have thought that three months would be a reasonable time. The Department may feel that it does not give the British Transport police authority sufficient time. Not only are the explanatory notes defective, the Bill is defective in not setting out what a specific time period would be. The consequences of an adverse inspection report and a remedial direction from the Secretary of State could be serious. The Government should have explained what a reasonable time would be. Perhaps three months is something that we could work towards.
Briefly, I would not wish to accuse the hon. Lady of being ill prepared, but if she looks at clause 63(3) she will see that an action plan would be required within four to 12 weeks. We would expect to
see the timing for any remedial direction in that plan and we would expect it to be within a reasonable time. That again would depend on the seriousness of the action that needed to be taken. In some cases, it might be judged reasonable that something should be dealt with within a week. Other matters might need to be dealt with over a much longer period. For example, recruitment issues could take perhaps a year or so to materialise but on other issues immediate action might be more appropriate. The period for the action would be appropriate to its seriousness.
The remedial direction would cover, and ask for, the action plan, which is the authority's indication of how it will deal with any criticisms made of it.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 62 ordered to stand part of the Bill.