Clause 63 - Action plan

Railways and Transport Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:30 pm on 25th February 2003.

Alert me about debates like this

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

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

It is good to see that we have joined-up government, and that the Department rapidly latched on to the fact that there should be a four to 12-week period, as the Under-Secretary rightly said. My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge made the pertinent point that it would be better for the clause on the action plan to come between clauses 61 and 62. What is the connection between the action plan provision, the remedial direction under clause 62, the railways policing plan under clause 49, and the Secretary of State's own performance targets? As my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge rightly said, this will be the first time that the Secretary of State for Transport will be asked to set performance targets for a police force.

We are not given much assistance but one hates to be critical of such a hard-working Department. It is worth noting that it has rightly been made a Department for Transport in its own right, which we welcome. However, all we are told is that

''Clauses 61 . . . 62 . . . 63 . . . and 64 . . . provide the Secretary of State with powers of direction following an adverse HMIC report.''

The explanatory notes continue:

''The clauses, modelled on similar provisions in the Police Act 1996, enable the Secretary of State to direct the Authority to take specified actions or ask it to produce an action plan to remedy any Force deficiencies. The same procedures, including consulting with the Authority and Chief Constable, will apply to the Secretary of State regarding the BTP in the same way as they apply to Home Office police forces.''

As my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge said, this is the first time that the Secretary of State for Transport will be asked to set performance targets for a police force, and, regrettably, there may be teething problems. What are the staffing arrangements for the Department? Are there any staffing

implications, or will the same members of staff be used? Are there dedicated staff for this?

Where the clause applies as a result of a report under clause 61, the Secretary of State has the discretionary power to

''require the Authority to submit to him a plan of action to be taken''.

It is worth noting that the clause refers to the same performance targets that I presume are set out in clause 50. How do the Secretary of State's powers under the clause relate to clause 50?

I accept that most of us—we are all reasonable people—will deem a period of between four and 12 weeks, within which the plan must be submitted, to be reasonable. However, I am sure that the Under-Secretary can envisage situations in which particular leeway could be given so that the 12-week period could slip to four or six months, should circumstances permit. It is only guidance: it is not comprehensive. It is fair that the Secretary of State, in exercising the discretion before giving a direction, should notify the authority and the chief constable. Obviously, that would allow the chief constable and the authority to make representations. I hope that the direction would be given in a time frame of more than one or two weeks to allow the chief constable and the authority to make representations.

Clause 63(6) could be pre-empted. I draw attention to the relationship of the clause with the earlier clauses. I wonder how the reasonably practicable period after receiving the direction, during which the authority shall require the chief constable to submit a draft plan of action, fits in with the draft plan of action produced as part of the railways policing plan in conjunction with the authority. It is interesting that the Department does not seem to have given much thought to that. If the Minister is taking all his answers from the explanatory notes, he is going to be in some difficulty. They certainly are not of much assistance to us in what is a very important, far-reaching and extensive clause.

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

I assure the hon. Lady that when I said that I was taking all my information from the explanatory notes, I was actually joking. The information I had came from tapping the deep vein of knowledge that I have, thanks to the backing of my Department.

Clause 63 provides the Secretary of State with powers of direction following an adverse HMIC report, which are modelled on similar provisions in the Police Act 1996. The clause will enable the Secretary of State to require the authority to produce an action plan setting out what will be done to correct any deficiency identified in the inspection. The plan will need to provide a timetable for action including performance targets—I know that the hon. Lady does not like targets—proposals for assessing whether the actions identified have been completed, and a means for reporting progress on implementation to the Secretary of State.

In her opening remarks, the hon. Lady criticised the way that clauses 60 to 63 have been set out. Having looked at the Bill again, I cannot agree with her at all.

The order seems perfectly logical to me. Clause 60 sets out inspection; clause 61 details action; clause 62 is a logical progression to remedial action to be taken; and clause 63 is the actual action plan. One could juggle those in a few different directions and permutate the order, but I do not think that one would come up with anything more logical than what is in the Bill.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge made a constructive comment—relatively helpful for a reasonable man. When I said clause 63 could be placed between clauses 61 and 62 it was not a flippant remark. I think that it does fit in there.

In a similarly helpful way, I wonder if I could tease the Minister a little more and ask him to explain—with the marvellous army of helpers at his disposal—how the performance targets that he is referring to differ from the performance targets in clause 50. That is what I meant by asking what the relevance was of having performance targets in each phase. How does clause 63 fit in with clause 50 and earlier clauses?

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport 4:45 pm, 25th February 2003

I was about to move straight on to that point. The hon. Lady asked whether we had sufficient staff. The hon. Member for Uxbridge referred to the issue earlier. Any staff needed for the assessment of the action plan would be taken from existing resources in our railways division, which has an excellent team of people who are well equipped to be deal with such matters and report on them in an appropriate way to Ministers.

The hon. Lady asked about the relationship between clauses 63 and 50. It is fairly simple. She will be surprised to learn that the provisions correspond to provisions in the Police Act 1996. I am sure that that comes as a total surprise to the whole of the Committee. Surely, the action plan could refer to the performance targets and indicate of how they would be met. I thought that the relationship between the two clauses was clearly obvious to all of us. With that, I hope that we can now move on.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

It is so clearly obvious that I am missing it. I do not wish to detain the Committee unnecessarily, but the point that I made about subsection (6) is most appropriate. Perhaps the problem could be pre-empted by relying more on the earlier clauses than the Government seem minded to do. I believe that the Under-Secretary is trying to confirm, although he did not spell it out, that subsection (3) would not be read so literally as to exclude a longer period of, say, four to six months in extreme circumstances. I suggested that three months is a reasonable period. Would he be so good as to confirm that the measure is indicative only, and that in extreme circumstances there would be some flexibility in the interpretation of it?

I was not casting any aspersions on the Under-Secretary's excellent staff, with whom we hope to work for several years, perhaps from a different side of the Committee at some very near future date. I do not doubt the ability of his staff to read the reports. However, if I correctly understood his answer to my

hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge, it will be the first time that they will read the reports in that particular way. Rather than taking them away from duties, new staff should be allocated with responsibilities for specific railway police duties.

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

Just for clarity, I believe that the hon. Lady was leading me astray somewhat. For completeness, let me discuss the relationship between the performance targets in clause 50 and those in 63. The action plan will be for new targets, which do not relate to the targets in clause 50. The latter relate to the annual railways policing plan, not to any remedial action after a report. I may have suggested otherwise in my earlier remarks. I did not intend to do that, but the hon. Lady was leading me on. I got somewhat excited.

There is no flexibility on the time in which the plans must be produced—the four to 12 weeks. Earlier this afternoon, the hon. Lady asked how we would assess the matter. I return to the idea that the timing must be reasonable and appropriate to the action that needs to be taken.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 63 ordered to stand part of the Bill.