Clause 67 - International assistance

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)

Under the clause, the authority is given a discretionary power to provide advice or assistance or to arrange for the British Transport police to provide advice or assistance to a body that has responsibilities in relation to the policing of a railway outside Great Britain. We discussed the policing of Eurotunnel. I wondered in the event of a major incident whether they would be seconded as provided for under clause 67(2) or whether they would be invited to assist for a short time.

My understanding is that secondment would be for a matter of months; three months, six months or more. But if there were a major incident—God forbid—in Eurotunnel—[Interruption.] I keep saying Eurotunnel, but I mean the channel tunnel. Having shares in Eurotunnel, one grows blinkered and hopes that it will do better, although it has done quite well recently.

I refer to the British Transport police being called to help with an incident in the channel tunnel. Would that be for a short period of time or for a longer period, such as a secondment? If it were a secondment, would British Transport police officers continue to be paid out of their funds or would they be paid by those to whom they were seconded?

Since the treaty on European Union was signed at Maastricht in February 1992, with the close co-operation of European member states on justice and home affairs, there is now much greater provision for police to co-operate with each other. That is done formally through the EU-wide system of exchanging information within the European Police Office, known as Europol. I am not completely up to date on this point; will the Minister say where Europol's office is based? I thought it was going to have an office in Strasbourg, but I am not sure whether that came about and whether we have reached the right stage in the Bill for me to ask.

As it is now 11 years since that co-operation agreement was signed in the treaty of European Union, it would be of great assistance to us to know

the extent to which we are formally co-operating. The TREVI group was the forerunner of Europol.

When I was a Member of the European Parliament I invited a group of Essex police officers to Brussels for a briefing from the internal officers of the Commission. I am playing for time to help the Minister find the information I asked for. Among the officers was a very nice gentleman, the head of the Criminal Investigation Department in the Essex force, whose name was Mr. Crook—obviously, it was easy to remember. To my chagrin—it was the first time it had ever happened—he had his rather nice Italian raincoat stolen while we were in the restaurant of the European Parliament building. They went on a tour to see the red light district of Brussels, on which I accompanied them out of my own interest. They then went on to the red light district of Holland to see how the different—

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

Order. I am being generous to the hon. Lady, but must remind her to return to the clause stand part debate.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

That brings me right back to saying that if the TREVI group was the forerunner and if Europol now exists, I need to know where its office is, when it was set up, what is the existing relationship of the British Transport police to Europol and what it is intended to be under clause 67. I am aware that there are vice squads in other national police forces elsewhere in the European Union. The Opposition side of the Committee would also be interested to know whether Europol co-operates with the equivalent of the British Transport police. How many other European countries have special police forces?

I understand that member states are under a duty to co-ordinate action by collaborating through relevant Departments—presumably the Home Office and the Department for Transport. Will the Minister confirm that, for the purposes of clause 67, the Secretary of State for Transport is responsible for co-ordination? Will the co-operation envisaged in the clause take the form of emergency scenarios, such as the resilience policy developed by the civil contingencies secretariat in the Cabinet Office? It would be useful to have annually or every second year some such incident—and perhaps you, Mr. Hood, could be the VIP to volunteer. Is that the sort of co-operation envisaged?

Will the Minister confirm that member states agreed to examine measures designed to enhance co-operation and, if so, what specific measures? I understand that providing support for national criminal investigations, the creation of databases, the development of central analysis, the assessment of information, the furthering of training and research, forensic matters and criminal records are all envisaged. To what extent is it already happening and to what extent will the clause develop it further?

Will the Minister explain the position regarding hot pursuit? If the British Transport police are chasing a person accused of a serious crime and that person boards a Eurostar train or a car travelling through the Channel tunnel to another EU country, does the clause grant the police the right to hot pursuit under the Maastricht treaty, or would they have to cease

their jurisdiction and rely on other forces? I had hoped that Europol's provisions and those of the Maastricht treaty would allow hot pursuit. Equally, what is the corollary responsibility of the British Transport police's equivalent? Will French police come in hot pursuit of their accused in the other direction or the Belgian police board a ferry to come over here? Will the Minister clarify how far the co-operation already in force under the Maastricht treaty will be furthered by clause 67?

The most alarming development for policing with the greatest potential negative impact is the European convention on human rights. That convention was written into the Human Rights Act 1998, so it would be interesting to know how often evidence has been prevented from coming before the courts or the privacy of an individual prevented from being invaded. Do the Government envisage pooling their collective knowledge and experience under the European convention on human rights? Could it have a negative impact on policing with their European counterparts? I understand that the arrest or detention of individuals is regulated by article 5 of the convention, although that does not affect short periods of detention in order to permit the questioning of suspects, which do not fall within the scope of the guarantee in that article.

The Minister might like to comment on the fact that for deprivation of liberty to be lawful, it must be prescribed by domestic law, which it now is, and to fall in one of the six categories listed. We have serious reservations about the impact of the Human Rights Act on policing in this country. Has the Minister had any opportunity to discuss with his ministerial counterparts the impact that that Act will have on the British Transport police? That knowledge would be most useful if, for example, other police forces or an inspector of an equivalent investigative branch are prevented from entering a private dwelling of an individual to take evidence. It would be interesting to know how often article 5 has been used in this country and in others.

We broadly welcome the opportunities to provide international assistance, but want to know how the clause can facilitate that and to hear how wedded the Government are to that concept, given that it is 13 years since the Maastricht treaty came into effect. We also want to record our concern that the implications of article 5 could have a negative impact on policing. Has the police's mind been put at rest by talking to their opposite numbers in other European countries?

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Minister of State (Department for Transport) 9:30 am, 27th February 2003

I wondered when the Conservative Opposition would get around to discussing Europe. One can take a Member out of Europe, but one cannot take Europe out of the Member. The hon. Lady's remarks were all very interesting, but have nothing to do with the clause, which relates to the ability of the British Transport police to provide advice and assistance to a body that has responsibilities for the policing of the railway outside the United Kingdom. It provides the mechanism by which that can happen, and deals with the funding that relates to that. The Police Act 1996, to which we continually refer, also

allows Home Office police forces to provide assistance to overseas police forces. As hon. Members will know, that advice and assistance is usually co-ordinated by the Foreign Office when nations are in urgent need of them. In a previous incarnation as the Minister for the Armed Forces, I worked with the Ministry of Defence police and several other police forces to help to stabilise the situation in Kosovo. Central Government funding is often available in certain circumstances.

Photo of John Randall John Randall Opposition Whip (Commons)

The Minister referred to a railway outside the UK. I notice that the clause says ''Great Britain''. Is there a legal difference, or is it just a nicety?

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

It is a nicety. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the provisions do not apply in Northern Ireland.

The funding of seconded BTP officers will be a matter for the BTP authority and receiving police force. Subsection (2)(b) allows for payment arrangements as agreed. The hon. Lady made a sensible point about whether an immediate incident in the channel tunnel would involve secondment. It would not, but it might well be sensible to have a secondment for a longer term investigation after the appropriate bodies that govern the channel tunnel had decided on jurisdiction.

On the other matters raised about extradition, hot pursuit and so on, the general provisions that apply to all police forces will apply. Nothing in the clause changes that; it deals only with administrative arrangements to provide welcome assistance to other police forces when required.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

That is all very interesting, but the Minister's dismissal of my points is not a proper reflection of his ability. If he and his Department do not know where Europol is based, why does he not admit that? That question clearly relates to international assistance. An international co-operation agreement was signed under the 1992 Maastricht treaty, and it is proper for us to question the Minister about that. If he were humble and honest enough to say that he does not know but that he will drop me a line for my interest, that would be fine. However, it is wrong to dismiss the point as irrelevant when it is clearly relevant. The legal base for the co-operation has moved on. As I explained, the United Kingdom will be under a duty, and the Minister may be the lead Minister. We want to know how many other European countries have transport police forces with which it would be in our interests to liaise. Is Europol up and running and if not, why not? Is that because the British Government will not co-operate or provide the resources to do its job? We demand an answer.

The Minister referred to the application of the clause. It seems to involve the railway police outside Great Britain, so does that include Northern Ireland? What is the relationship of clause 67 with Northern Ireland? I omitted to ask that earlier in my excitement about the theme. Furthermore, will the discretionary power have to be approved by an affirmative consent of the Secretary of State? That is how I read clause

67(3); I should be grateful if the Minister would confirm that.

If the Minister does not know the answers to my questions on Europol, we would accept a little letter from him. However, the Opposition would take a serious view if he just dismissed the questions as irrelevant. I repeat for the record that we shall monitor carefully how article 5 of the European convention on human rights, provided for in the Human Rights Act 1998, will be applied, particularly with regard to earlier clauses.

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

Apart from the question about Northern Ireland, to which the answer is that clause 67 will allow the British Transport police to assist in Northern Ireland subject to the Secretary of State's consent, none of that was relevant either to the Bill or the clause.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 67 ordered to stand part of the Bill.