Clause 68 - Exercise of functions by Secretary of State

Part of Railways and Transport Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:45 am on 27th February 2003.

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Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport) 9:45 am, 27th February 2003

I wish to pull together several strands that relate to part 3 on the British Transport police. Many representations have been made to us—I cannot believe that they have not been made to the Government—and we share the concerns expressed in them. We would deplore any centralisation of control to Government in the exercise of the Secretary of State's powers in clause 68. The British Transport police should operate with full autonomy as far as possible. Clauses 55, 48, 40 and 33 offer the Secretary of State a whole raft of opportunities to be a little heavier handed than his predecessors.

My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) pointed out that this is the first time that the Department for Transport will assume responsibilities in this regard. We now have a more concentrated Department focusing exclusively on transport issues. That is welcome. We just want to put down a marker that it should be for the British Transport police primarily to determine the most efficient and effective way for them to operate. They obviously work under the auspices of the British Transport police authority. They will be paid by the industry and as we have seen there will be extensive consultation between members of the authority, the police and other interested parties. The British Transport police feel very strongly, as do the Royal National Institute of the Blind and a number of other organisations that have made forceful representations, about the exercise of the functions of the Secretary of State. I hope that the Under-Secretary can reassure us that the Secretary of State and the Department do not intend to micromanage the British Transport police.

We record again, for the sake of clarity, our deep appreciation of the work of the British Transport

police as a whole and its individual officers, constables, specials and cadets. We cannot pay them enough tribute. They work in very difficult circumstances for a lot of the time and see some horrendous incidents and crimes. I hope that the Under-Secretary will take the opportunity yet again to confirm that the Department and the Secretary of State will take a light touch in this regard.

I am still a little concerned how the Department will assume that role when the Bill comes into force, bearing in mind that it does not intend to appoint any new members of staff but will simply redistribute the responsibilities around its excellent officials. It would help to know how it will be structured and how it will organise itself in this regard. Unlike some Departments, it is still not the most transparent of bodies. It is significant that we will have an annual railways policing plan, a three-year strategy plan and annual reports by the chief constable and the British Transport police authority. We stress our concern that the Secretary of State's ability to set performance targets might contradict the efficiency and effectiveness of the authority in exercising its duty. We wait with great interest to hear whether the Under-Secretary can put our minds at rest.