Clause 66 - Part III of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 (c. 53)

Railways and Transport Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:15 am on 27th 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)

How do the responsibilities of the British Transport police relate to the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988? I would have thought that the main responsibilities of the British Transport police related to railways and the underground.

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

The provision is primarily to enable the British Transport police to deal more effectively with routine motoring offences, and particularly those committed at level crossings.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

That is helpful. That raises the question of what proportion of their time the British

Transport police spend on traffic duties and what proportion on general duties. Obviously the imposition of fines on people at level crossings falls rightfully within their purview. I could imagine a situation in which they might be asked, if they were close to the scene of an incident, to assist the regular traffic police. What proportion of their time does that involve?

Incidentally, I was delighted to find in the Library that Wilkinson is still the authority on road traffic offences. It has been the leading authority for some considerable time. I simply want to use this little debate to ask not only about the interrelationship with level crossings, but about the role of the British Transport police in wider traffic duties and the proportion of its time that it spends on such duties.

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

That does not take a great part of the British Transport police's time, but the BTP is concerned about level crossings and, in particular, deterring motorists from committing offences. In 2001–02, there were 27 recorded train incidents at level crossings and three fatalities when trains struck road vehicles. There are some 8,100 level crossings on the national rail network, and 725 of them are in Scotland.

In early 2000, Network Rail in Scotland, together with the BTP, introduced red light enforcement cameras at eight level crossings. One crossing camera alone was activated 1,191 times in the 15 months after it was installed. Some 83 per cent. of camera activations have resulted in prosecutions. The good news is that there has been a rapid decrease in the initially high figure for the number of activations at that site. Other areas in the vicinity of stations are also covered by cameras.

The prime purpose of the clause is to enable the BTP and to regularise its position with regard to the level crossings that provide the interface between the road network and the rail network, for which the BTP is responsible.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

That was a staggeringly high number. The Minister used the expression ''in the vicinity of ''. My understanding was that that was used generally, so we tried to write it into the Bill, but the Government were not minded to allow that. Is the Minister saying that by implication there is a common law acceptance that ''in the vicinity of'' will remain?

The Selby rail crash involved a huge amount of police resources from the North Yorkshire force. In that incident, a Land Rover came off the road at a bridge and crashed on to the line in the path of an oncoming train, causing devastation. I understand that for the most part it was the regular North Yorkshire police who were involved in the investigation, but I should have thought that there was a specific call to involve the British Transport police as well.

What is the relationship between two forces in such circumstances? Am I correct in assuming that the local force would take the lead in bringing a prosecution? That is slightly bizarre, because although the Selby incident involved a road vehicle, the devastation was caused on the rail track. Obviously, it was a train on

the track that caused all the fatalities and the huge number of injuries. I imagine that that would have been an opportunity for the British Transport police to take the lead. In normal circumstances, what would be the relationship between the British Transport police and the local police?

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

The British Transport police co-operated fully with the North Yorkshire police in the investigation of the Selby accident. That shows the very good general relationship between county forces and the BTP, and particularly the relationship in regard to road accidents.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 66 ordered to stand part of the Bill.