|Previous Section||Home Page|
The new clause is couched in exactly the terms of the Bill and has a simple but important purpose--to extend the terms of the Bill to receiverships and the terms of the Law of Property Act 1925. I would not describe this as a probing amendment and I hope that the Minister will accept it, or at least accept that it deals with an omission which can and should be readily dealt with.
As I understand it, the Government's current thinking is that property receiverships of this kind do not require the legislation. However, I have been told in the past few days that they do require it, and that if they are excluded the problems applying to general receiverships and administrations will also apply to them. That will leave not just a gap, but a gap to which attention has been specifically drawn.
We are talking of receiverships in which the issue in question is a single piece of property. I suppose that it might be argued that a single piece of property is not a business, but it does not take much reflection for hon. Members to recognise that if that single piece of property is a hotel, a block of flats or an office block, its subsequent valuation in any sale will depend on its continuing to function as such a building. That continued function will require the retention of staff. Selling a hotel that is closed,
Column 49vacant and empty of staff will clearly lower its valuation ; the same applies to an office block which requires servicing and management, a block of flats, or similar properties.
This morning, I trawled around a number of receiverships dealing in property. I was told that all respondents claimed to have at least two cases currently on their books which would fall foul of the law if the new clause was not accepted. The Paramount ruling would apply and the net effect would be that what is currently operated as a receivership to rescue not just a building, but a building to which a business is attached, could fail. That would lead to an accelerated liquidation, and the loss of jobs, assets and a continuing business. On Second Reading, I told the Minister that I appreciated the speed with which the Government had acted and we accept that, as a consequence, it has not been possible to consult as widely as might otherwise have been possible. I am assured that the new clause is sought by specialist practitioners--including the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, which is extremely concerned about the omission of such a measure, which it assumed was simply a technical oversight caused by the pressure to get the Bill through.
The new clause has been carefully drafted to accord with the Bill's current form, and I hope that it is therefore technically acceptable. Its acceptance would resolve the current problem. If the Minister does not wish to accept it, however, I hope that he will not slam the door, but will recognise the genuine lacuna which exists and could widen. I am led to believe that the matter will be raised in another place ; I hope that that is so.
I ask the Minister to recognise that the new clause has been tabled in good faith--not by me as an expert, but on behalf of people who know more about the matter, and who have explained clearly to me that the consequences of its omission could be serious for a significant number of active current receiverships. If the Minister cannot accept the new clause, I hope that he will at least indicate his willingness to examine it again. Perhaps the Government will consider retabling it in their own terms.
I do not wish to detain the Committee any longer. This is a simple, direct matter : the Bill contains an omission that can be readily remedied and the new clause will achieve that.
Mr. Bell : I support what has been said by the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce). The Minister likes flexibility. Here we are dealing with property--hotels, for instance--lumps of bricks and mortar, but nevertheless important. Work forces may be involved, or may be required to be involved ; they may find themselves in the same situation as others, with contracts of employment that may or may not be adopted.
I shall listen with interest to what the Minister has to say.
Mr. Neil Hamilton : As the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) recognised, the Bill was introduced quickly to remove any impediment to the rescue of businesses by administrative receivers and administrators. There is a difference between the capacities of such people and those of receivers or managers, to whom section 37 of the 1986 Act applies.
An administrative receiver is a receiver or manager of the whole, or substantially the whole, of a company's
Column 50property, appointed by the holder of a charge which, as created, was a floating charge. A receiver or manager includes receiverships over part of the assets : that can include those appointed under the Law of Property Act 1925, to which the hon. Member for Gordon referred. But it is not simply a question of Law of Property Act receiverships ; it goes much wider. Law of Property Act receiverships can involve the giving of a power to manage in the mortgage document, but will not necessarily control all the assets of a company. That situation is substantially different from that which is the subject of the Bill.
The Committee ought to be aware of a number of important distinctions. In particular, a receiver or manager does not have to be a licensed insolvency practitioner or to have any qualifications, so receivers and managers do not have the same powers and duties as administrative receivers. Extending the wide range of circumstances in which receivers or managers can be appointed needs careful consideration. Before opening a Pandora's box, we ought to be fully aware of the consequences of such a significant change.
I shall be happy to consider the arguments for the provision that the hon. Member for Gordon advocates, but that would be better done in a wider review of the law relating to company rescues. The Bill is not the appropriate place to consider the wider change that the hon. Gentleman proposes. His proposal goes far beyond the Bill's narrow purpose. It would be better to consider the arguments for such a change in a more reflective mood than the time available today makes possible. If the hon. Members for Gordon and for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell), and any other hon. Member who feels that such a change would improve the Bill, would like to pursue the matter with me, I shall be happy to discuss the issues. However, in the context of the Bill, I am not disposed to accept a change of which the ramifications may be far greater than hon. Members suspect.
Mr. Malcolm Bruce : I thank the Minister for his constructive reply. When legislation of a specialised nature is rushed through the House, hon. Members are somewhat dependent on outside advice. I appreciate the Minister's concern that the new clause could have wider ramifications, but his reply indicated that he acknowledges the genuine worry among surveyors that they have in effect been left exposed by the Bill. The Minister's perhaps justifiable non-acceptance of the new clause may create for surveyors a problem that requires urgent if not immediate attention.
I did not expect the Minister to accept the new clause. In fact, it was indicated that the Government would resist it. I am glad, however, that the Minister will consider the matter further. We are dealing with legislation that is moving fast and counter arguments may be presented to the Government, if not to the Minister, within 24 hours. It may be possible to consider the point further in another place. I am not qualified to take issue with the Minister's explanation--he probably hoped that I would say that--but I am concerned that the exclusion from this legislation of a significant group of people could leave them severely exposed.
I am grateful for the Minister's assurance that he will consider the matter further, if not in the context of the Bill
Column 51then as part of a wider review. I hope that the Government will keep an open mind so long as the Bill is on the Table in either House. To that extent, I will not press the matter.
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.
Schedules 1 and 2 agreed to .
Bill reported, without amendment.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time-- [ Mr. Neil Hamilton.]
Mr. Bell : It is of the utmost importance that there be certainty in the law in relation to employers, employees, receivers and administrative receivers. In the public interest, we co-operated fully with the Government, with a view to rectifying what may have been a doubtful and uncertain position. I am grateful to the Minister for his co-operation and for the full explanations of matters raised on Second Reading and in Committee. We have no reason to detain the House further.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.
Order for Second Reading read.
The Bill is required to ensure that the jurisdiction of British Transport police constables appointed under section 53 of the British Transport Commission Act 1949 is not inadvertently reduced in England and Wales from 1 April by virtue of the Railways Act 1993. I am grateful to a number of individuals and organisations--among them, Lord Harris of Greenwich, my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter), the chief constable of the British Transport police and the British Transport Police Federation-- for drawing the issue to the Government's attention. I am also grateful to the police committee for providing helpful advice in recent weeks, and to the Opposition for facilitating thus far the passage of the Bill, which I hope will reach the statute book as quickly as possible.
The Government are committed to the British Transport police. We fully acknowledge their vital work in policing the rail network and ensuring the safety of the travelling public. The House will be particularly aware of the BTP's major role in anti-terrorist activities.
In the restructured railway regime, the BTP will continue, as a unified public force, to police Britain's rail network, performing the same range of duties as now--including providing services to the London underground and the docklands light railway. The core police services that the BTP provides will be laid down by the police committee. Those are the services undertaken by BTP so as to maintain law and order. They include services relating to safety ; anti-terrorism ; the prevention and detection of crime ; keeping the peace ; bringing offenders to justice ; and rendering support to victims of crime. Railtrack and all licensed train, station and light maintenance depot operators will be obliged by the terms of their licences to use and to pay for core police services provided by the BTP.
The Bill is an indication of our commitment. We are concerned that there should be no reduction in British Transport police jurisdiction. The BTP's current powers in policing the railway should not be circumscribed, preventing it from continuing to be an effective public police force.
The Government are introducing the Bill because we recognise that the effect of the Railways Act 1993 on statutory provisions establishing the jurisdiction of BTP constables is inadvertently to reduce that jurisdiction from 1 April. Under section 53 of the British Transport Commission Act 1949 and the Railways Act 1993--in so far as they apply to England and Wales-- the BTP will have jurisdiction in, on and in the vicinity of the premises of British Rail, Railtrack and certain other railway operators, but will have jurisdiction to act elsewhere only in matters connected with or affecting the board and not in matters connected with or affecting Railtrack and other operators.
The defect does not arise in Scotland, which, since 1980, has had different provisions that are apposite to Scotland, where there is a different legal system. The Bill remedies the defect for England and Wales. It will enable
Column 53the British Transport police to act elsewhere than in the vicinity of railway premises in matters connected with or affecting Railtrack and other operators that are police service users to the full extent of the agreements made between them and the board. In addition, it enables the British Transport police to act in, on and in the vicinity of premises of any subsidiary of the board, and elsewhere in matters connected with or affecting any of the subsidiaries.
Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North) : Just for clarity and perhaps to truncate this part of the discussion, will the Minister spell out the principal rail operators that will not be under a statutory requirement to be licensed users of British Transport police services ?
Mr. Freeman : The principal and indeed only example that I can give- -if there are others, I shall write to the hon. Gentleman--will be the preserved railways. I refer to those running steam trains wholly outwith the provision of a public service to passengers--in other words, running only on their own tracks and run by their own members for the benefit of those members. If a preserved railway wishes to offer a public service, it must be licensed. I hope that that example gives the hon. Gentleman the flavour.
Mr. Wilson : I am grateful for the flavour, but now let us get to the taste. By way of clarification, will the Minister assure me that there will be a statutory obligation on, for example, the Heathrow Express and European passenger services to enter into agreements and licensing that will involve the use of the British Transport police ?
Mr. Freeman : The Heathrow Express will require a licence to run--I am fairly certain, but will check during the course of the debate--on existing track between Paddington and the point where there is a departure from the main railway lines. The hon. Gentleman asked about European services. I can give the hon. Gentleman the categorical assurance that the writ of the British Transport police will run for services from Waterloo and, in due course, other railway stations, down to the channel tunnel. There is no question of any ambiguity about the powers of the British Transport police in that regard. The Bill thus ensures that the existing jurisdiction of the British Transport police will extend to all police services users--to all those who are party to a transport police services agreement with the British Railways Board. I have already made it clear that all licence holders in the restructured railway will be required by their licences at all times to be a party to an agreement to use and pay for the services of the British Transport police. The general authority to the regulator will ensure that the regulator may not issue a licence without such a condition. A licence will provide that the police services agreement must be approved by the Secretary of State, and the services to be provided under the agreement are those specified as "core police services" by the police committee. I can assure the House that a crucial factor in the Secretary of State's decision to approve an agreement for the provision of police services will be to ensure consistency in agreements. In particular, he will seek to ensure that provisions in the agreement that might affect the jurisdiction of constables are consistent so that British Transport police constables can have a clear and unambiguous understanding of their jurisdiction.
Column 54Moreover, the police committee will ensure that the core police services are such as to ensure law and order on the railway. The employer of the British Transport police, which is and will continue to be the British Railways Board until there is a change in the law, will be fully responsible for funding the British Transport police and will be responsible for collecting charges from operators. Operators will therefore pay policing charges to the employer of the British Transport police, not to the BTP itself. I can assure the House that there is no question that any failure of an operator to pay the employer would affect the ability of the British Transport police to police the railway.
Hon. Members will realise that, despite the simplicity of what the Bill sets out to achieve, it is a detailed measure that reflects the complicated and much-amended status of the legislation.
Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) : I have listened carefully to what the Minister has said, including his remark that the Bill is a complicated and detailed measure. Will he tell us why, if that is the case, it is necessary and appropriate for the Government to get the measure through the House in 24 hours--later today ? Why could not the proceedings at least have been split up to allow the Committee stage to be taken another day ? I recognise the urgency of the matter, but it is a sham and a disgrace to Parliament that the Bill is being railroaded through in one afternoon. That is totally unacceptable.
Mr. Freeman : The handling of parliamentary business is not a matter for me. The only comment that I would make is that there is universal agreement that we should seek to amend the law by the end of the month. The timetabling of the Bill and its various stages must be a matter for the business managers and representatives of the various parties involved.
Clause 1, in its application to England and Wales, amends section 53 of the British Transport Commission Act 1949 with respect to the jurisdiction of the British Transport police. It extends their jurisdiction to enable them to act elsewhere than in, on and in the vicinity of premises of the board or a police services user in matters connected with or affecting a police services user. In addition, it enables them to act in, on and in the vicinity of premises of any subsidiary--whether wholly owned or not--of the board, and in matters connected with or affecting such subsidiaries. Clause 2 and the schedule specify the citation and commencement of the Act, the enactments that it repeals and its extent. It is intended that, when passed, the Bill will come into force on 1 April 1994 to ensure that the jurisdiction is maintained when Railtrack takes over from British Rail the ownership and management of the network.
I have written on the above lines today to the police committee. Following a meeting with it this morning, Sir Bob Reid has replied in the following terms on its behalf :
"Thank you for your letter of 21 March to David Rayner" the chairman of the police committee
"about the Transport Police Jurisdiction' Bill, which is most helpful and welcomed by the Police Committee.
We shall now be putting in place work, in the light of your letter, to define model agreements for police services which are acceptable to the Chief Constable and the Police Committee. Any
Column 55substantial modification which may arise to such model agreements will need to be evaluated and endorsed by the Police Committee as they arise."
The Bill restores the powers of jurisdiction of the BTP inadvertently affected by the Railways Act 1993. I commend it to the House.
Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras) : I welcome the Bill ; as we suggested it to the Government, it would be rather churlish of me not to welcome it. As the Minister has explained, as a result of slovenly errors on the part of the Government, the jurisdiction of the British Transport police was reduced by the Railways Act 1993. Apparently, the Government have become so committed to deregulation that they now even do it by accident.
Nothing could better illustrate the importance that the Government attach to the need to tackle crime than their error in reducing the jurisdiction of the British Transport police and their apparent unwillingness subsequently to do anything urgently to put the matter right. There was a possibility therefore that, from 1 April, the staff of the British Transport police would not be able to investigate crimes or arrest people elsewhere than on, or immediately adjacent to, the property of Railtrack or any privatised railway company. That was clearly bad from the point of view of combating crime, and particularly bad from the point of view of continuing the fight against terrorism.
British Transport police is currently responsible for policing the whole railway system. It is vital that it stays that way, particularly because of terrorist threats. We either have a fully comprehensive system--as we have now--or it is broken up, loses its effectiveness and makes passengers and staff vulnerable. Last year, British Transport police received more than 1,130 bomb threats on British Rail and London Underground. It vetted them carefully and advised the closure of stations on just 33 occasions. Of those 33, only nine turned out to be bombs ; all were dealt with successfully. No one was killed and no one was injured. There were no bombs involved in the 1,100 instances where the BTP exercised their judgment and advised that stations did not need to be closed. I am sure that all would agree that that was a remarkable achievement--a credit to the BTP, to the effectiveness of their communications and assessment system and to the judgment exercised daily by their senior officers. That judgment is based on confidence that they run a watertight system and that there are no gaps in their information. That is a major reason why there must be no railway organisation not covered by the BTP and no curtailment of their jurisdiction. If anything goes wrong with the present arrangements, two things could happen. First, some bomb threats might not be dealt with properly or promptly. As a result, people might be killed or injured. In that event, the terrorists would have succeeded. Alternatively, because those who had to exercise their judgment on the bomb threats no longer had confidence in their system, BTP could order far more station closures. Again, the terrorists would have succeeded. The public will be protected only if there are proper and comprehensive arrangements that are properly regulated.
Given the Opposition's concern for the safety of passengers and their property, I did not believe it right to
Column 56leave the BTP for months after 1 April bereft of their proper powers, which they continued to operate. I suggested to the Government that they should introduce a one-clause Bill to put things right, and that they agreed to do. It almost goes without saying that the Bill that they introduced has not one clause but two and that it does not put things right. The Bill covers only England and Wales, presumably because the Government are satisfied that the law in Scotland is adequate. If that is so, surely it would be logical to apply that law in England and Wales. That would be simple and sensible--so the Government have done something else.
The Government propose wording that introduces new uncertainties that do not apply in Scotland and should not apply in England and Wales in future. Another fine mess the Government have got themselves into. The Bill provides that a constable will be able to investigate or arrest on the premises or
"on and in the vicinity"
of privatised railway premises, or "elsewhere", providing that the agreement between the owner of the premises and the BTP permits the constable to do so.
If privatisation proceeds as the Government claim, there could be more than 100 private owners of parts of the railway system. Each owner could have a different contract with the BTP. If that happens, BTP constables will need to carry a backpack of contract documents with them to ensure that what they are doing is covered by the appropriate agreement. If all the details are checked against the documents that the constable has with him, he will then presumably shout to the suspect, "You are nicked." Apparently the Government think that the suspect will be standing by waiting for the constable to finish his adjudication. That is preposterous.
In their letter to the police committee of the BTP--this has now been made clear in the Chamber--the Government have said that they will assuage the BTP's concern. Obviously there was concern, which is why the Minister had to write. There was also concern in British Rail. The Government have said that they will check on all the agreements to ensure that they all say the same thing. If that is to happen, why have they put such a ludicrous requirement into the Bill ? If all the agreements are the same, there is no need to confine the authority or the jurisdiction of the police to the terms of each individual agreement. At present, however, the Bill sets out that requirement. The Government could grant a general power or dispensation. That is what they have done in Scotland. Apparently that approach works properly in Scotland, and we believe that it should apply here.
In the Minister's letter to the police committee, he seeks to quote three precedents. The only trouble is that they are not proper precedents. None of them refers to agreements that might be reached between the police and a private owner, with the private owner in the position of being able to decide what should be set out in the ageement.
Two of the agreements to which the Minister refers in his letter are with publicly owned bodies, so they would be reasonably under control. The other example is subject to agreement by the police in the first place regarding the terms of the contract. In other words, these examples should carry no weight in our discussions. We are not impressed by the Government's effort to cover up yet another fumble in the process of privatising the railways. There are some who claim effortless superiority ; the Government seem to go in for effortless incompetence.
Column 57We would like the Government to accept in Committee this evening that the law in England and Wales should be brought in line with the law in Scotland. The detail of the relevant amendment that we have tabled may not be satisfactory. I am only too aware of that because I drafted it myself. I know that my drafting is usually just about as inadequate as that prepared for the Minister. It is quite possible that the drafting is wrong in detail, but I am sure that it is right in principle. It cannot be right to have a different law in Scotland--a wider and more effective law--that is not constrained by private agreements.
I remind the Minister of what the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris), the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, said in Committee when we were considering what became the Railways Act 1993. He said :
"Transport Police travel all over the country and that is why there is no territorial arrangement".-- [ Official Report , Standing Committee B , 18 March 1993 ; c. 878.]
We know, of course, that other forces have those arrangements. We do not want a territorial arrangement for the BTP. We want all parts of the BTP to have the same powers throughout the country as they have at present in Scotland. The Minister must accept that in Scotland the BTP are not constrained by the contents of any agreement that they may have to reach with any private owners. If that is good enough for Scotland, it should be good enough for England and Wales. The Bill is before us because we suggested that change should be made as there was a danger that the powers of the BTP would not be sufficient from 1 April. In the spirit in which we have proposed that the law should be changed--we have not obstructed the Bill's passage, and we do not intend to do so this evening--the Minister owes it to us to ensure that our arguments are accepted. If he cannot accept them and agree to changes this evening, he should give an undertaking that the appropriate amendment will be made in another place.
Mr. Nick Harvey (North Devon) : I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for not being in my place at the start of the debate. I had not anticipated as accurately as some hon. Members that the preceding debate would end rather quickly.
Like the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), I welcome the Bill in principle but regret that it is necessary. Throughout the passage of what is now the Railways Act 1993, several of us objected repeatedly to the indecent haste with which some important measures were being put together.
I well recall one morning in Committee when the Government turned up with a raft of amendments that had been tabled at the last possible moment. After the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) had advanced his arguments against them, they had to be withdrawn. The proceedings for the day were then scratched. I referred to that during the final stages of our consideration of the Bill. I meant to say that we were proceeding with the Government's amendments while the ink upon them was scarcely dry. Unfortunately, I said that the ink was scarcely wet. It was said by someone on the Bench behind mine that I had accidentally coined a new phrase but that in all the circumstances it was probably more accurate than the old one.
Column 58I am glad that the Government have recognised the deficiency of the legislation as we left it at the end of last year. Whatever arguments might be put to the contrary, the jurisdiction of the British Transport police was distinctly undermined in that they would be exceeding their jurisdiction if they attempted to stray beyond British Rail property when conducting their inquiries or trying to apprehend a suspect. One can imagine the public outcry if, after a mugging, theft or attempted rape, the British Transport police, in hot pursuit of a suspect, had to give up when the suspect leapt over a perimeter fence. The sorts of incidents that might arise during mass travel to football matches leave one very worried indeed. I welcome the fact that the Government have attempted to address the problem, but, like Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen, I voice some concerns about the Bill. I, too, am unable to understand why England and Wales are to have a regime that is different from that in Scotland. If the situation in Scotland is deemed to be adequate, that would seem an ideal model for England and Wales.
I am slightly concerned that commercial interests might be involved. After the railway network has been broken up and privatisation has smashed it into many different pieces, if different elements of the railway negotiate their own different agreements, there could be a real mess. It is essential that one form of jurisdiction should apply across the whole railway network. That is the crucial aim of the Bill, regardless of how it is attained. I regret that I missed an earlier exchange between the Minister and the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson), when I think the question of exemptions from the licensing requirements of the Railways Act 1993 were dealt with. It is essential that the question of exemptions be dealt with. If the elements of the railways that are exempt from holding a licence were also to be exempt from a police services agreement, different regulations would apply to different parts of the railways. I also seek clarification about railway maintenance depots, leasing depots and freight depots.
Nowhere does the Bill mention people who are approaching the vicinity of the railways. We have conducted the argument only in terms of people leaving the vicinity. What about people who are approaching the railways with crime in mind ? This matter must be addressed. On an everyday level, a train driver may come on duty having drunk excessive amounts of alcohol. If that were known about, the transport police must be able to enter the depot from which the driver is to start his work and deal with the situation in a preventative way rather than waiting until he reached the main network.
There are problems with this legislation, but I will not pursue the specifics any further tonight. The objective should be a universal system of jurisdiction throughout the railways by whatever means that that can be brought about. There should be no question of different commercial operations having different regulations with no one being clearly accountable for the whole.
Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) : In case I omit to make my position clear, I state first that I fully support the passing of the Bill. It is desperately needed by the British Transport police if they are to continue their much-valued
Column 59and brave work in promoting and protecting the best interests of the travelling public. I recognise that this legislation needs to reach the statute book before 1 April.
I am extremely angry about the way in which this matter has been conducted by the Government and the way in which other people have acquiesced in procedures which I believe make a sham of parliamentary democracy. I am disappointed to have to speak in such terms, but I think that it needs to be said. Even though not many Members of Parliament are present, it needs to be made clear that the manner in which this important--I think the Minister referred to it as detailed--and complicated legislation is being dealt with is a total negation of proper scrutiny and parliamentary democracy.
Of course, this is not the most important Bill ever to pass through the House but it is a measure which requires proper scrutiny. Because of their incompetence, the Government are trying to get through all stages of the Bill in one parliamentary day. That is almost unprecedented ; it happens when people invade our shores and when the integrity of the United Kingdom is put at risk. Normally, one would expect that parliamentarians and other interested parties would have a reasonable opportunity to examine legislation and to prepare appropriate amendments in a considered manner, but I and other Members have been denied that opportunity in this case.
I will explain why I think that the proceedings today are a charade. Since the last general election, the Minister for Public Transport and others on the Treasury Bench have been cautioned and counselled repeatedly about the need to safeguard the interests of the British Transport police. I can bear witness to that. On the British Coal and British Rail (Transfer Proposals) Act, I bored my colleagues almost silly going on about the need for the Minister to recognise their interests.
The Minister then issued a document entitled "The Future Status of the British Transport Police" which was referred to on the Floor of the House on a number of occasions and in various Committees of the House. Hon. Members have raised a plethora of questions and early-day motions urging the Government to be mindful of the need for precision in legislation which will avoid putting in jeopardy the powers and interests of the British Transport police. But we have seen a combination of arrogance and incompetence from Ministers who, on every occasion, have said to hon. Members, "Don't worry, it is all on board". They have not said that just to hon. Members ; they have said it also to the chief constable and the British Transport Police Federation.
I hope that when the Minister replies he will at least concede that as long ago as September 1993 in correspondence with the British Transport Police Federation he acknowledged that there was a flaw in the legislation. So why is this legislation being railroaded through Parliament at the eleventh hour ? There have been plenty of opportunities for the matter to come before Parliament. As recently as last week in another place it was conceded by the right hon. Earl Ferrers, Minister of State, Home Office, that legislation was needed in this area, but even then the Government did not come to the House of Commons and publish the Bill. An extra day would have given hon. Members the opportunity for greater scrutiny, consideration and understanding of the legislation, as well
Column 60as the opportunity to consult interested parties. It would also have allowed other parties, such as the chief constable and the British Transport Police Federation, to make representations. I am pleased that the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) has joined us. Unfortunately, he was unable to be here for the Minister's opening speech. That is a pity.
Mr. Neville Trotter (Tynemouth) : I spoke to my hon. Friend the Minister before the debate and explained that I had to take the receivers of Swan Hunter to see a Minister most urgently about the future of that company. I am sure that the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) will appreciate the extremely important nature of that constituency problem.
Mr. Mackinlay : That is why I said that I was pleased to see the hon. Member for Tynemouth. It is good that he has arrived. No doubt he will give us the benefit of his views and information. I understand that he is the advisor to the British Transport Police Federation which is anxious that its views should be heard in this debate.
I am a friend of the British Transport Police Federation. It should be stated on the Floor of the House that yesterday, on my own initiative, I faxed a copy of the Bill to the chairman of the federation who, prior to that, had not seen it. I blame the Government for that. How can it be right that the representative body in the police has not been allowed to see the Bill officially until today if, indeed, it has received a copy now ? As of yesterday afternoon, that body had not received a copy of the Bill. It received a copy only when I sent one, on my own initiative, via my fax at home. That is an outrage and an insult to that representative body. The Minister had the audacity to thank various parties, including the hon. Member for Tynemouth, for drawing attention to the matter. The Minister also mentioned Lord Harris of Greenwich. I took the opportunity to examine Hansard from the other place and it is clear that Lord Harris of Greenwich believes that the Government have shown unprecedented incompetence in this matterm, so it was interesting that the Minister referred to Lord Harris. I understand that the Minister will be going to the British Transport Police Federation conference later this week. The federation should feel the Minister's collar and I hope that he receives a thoroughly good earbashing for his incompetence and that of his colleagues.
We are considering this Bill because there has been an error. The matter goes to the heart of our proceedings in this place. No one can pretend that we give adequate scrutiny to legislation in this House, as has been demonstrated by the error which gave rise to the Bill. To some extent, all 651 Members of this place are to blame. In particular, the Government are to blame for pushing through the Railways Act 1993 in a very arrogant manner, regardless of the views of hon. Members. The Government guillotined the proceedings on that legislation, but when it reached the statute book they found that it contained an error. In other circumstances, people would be dismissed for such a costly and fundamental error, but that does not happen in the Government. There are two standards in this country, as has been shown yet again by the present scenario.
The Government now want to rush this Bill through in one day and at the eleventh hour. If any hon. Member is confident that the Bill contains no errors, perhaps he will show his hand. It would be absurd and would make
Column 61nonsense of our proceedings if we found that the Bill contained an error after it had completed its passage, but there is a real danger of that as hon. Members have not had an opportunity to study the Bill or to seek advice or counsel about what it means.
The hon. Member for North Devon (Mr. Harvey) raised some interesting points to which he did not know the answers, while my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) asked some rhetorical questions. No doubt we shall receive answers from the Minister. Members should have an opportunity to explore what the Bill means before debating it in the Chamber. Apart from the Minister--and I am not too confident about him--not one hon. Member fully understands the contents of the Bill. Yet we are expected to give it a Second Reading, allow it a Committee stage and then give it a Third Reading all in one day. That is wrong.
Later on, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you will take the Chair as First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means.
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : My hon. Friend has said that hon. Members do not understand the Bill. Does he agree that that is because the Railways Act 1993 is of such labyrinthine absurdity in relation to the consequences of breaking up a national system into various parts, the number of which we do not know, and under agreements of which we do not have sight ? It is not possible for us to know what kind of agreements are referred to in this Bill as they have yet to be drawn up among organisations which do not yet exist, in a degree and in numbers of which we are unaware.
Mr. Mackinlay : I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. That is the danger of this Bill, particularly with regard to the speed of its passage. My hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras made a serious point. There will be a plethora of agreements, but there cannot be consistency in all of them. They will follow the same theme, but there will be variations on that theme. It will be most unsatisfactory for police officers or chief constables to have to operate in that way.
If we had more time to deal with the Bill, we might understand the points, but it is an inescapable fact that none of us has had an opportunity to explore what the Bill involves or its implications. I assume that the motion will be passed and that the Bill will be considered in Committee, although I shall resist that and I shall be pleased to welcome any hon. Members who would support me in the Lobby to resist the Bill being considered by a Committee of the whole House today. This is a fundamental principle and one that I will not shirk. I am opposed to the way in which the Bill is proceeding because it is bad legislation and bad for Parliament.
Assuming that the Bill passes to a Committee of the whole House, I shall wish to raise points of order with the Chairman or Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means. I believe that amendments should be explored and examined. The hon. Member for North Devon made a valid point about people who are heading towards committing a crime or contemplating a crime. What powers exist in respect of such people ? The Bill is entitled the Transport Police (Jurisdiction) Bill. You will recall, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the graphic scenes on television a few months ago when there was a riot against the poll tax in Trafalgar square and a rioter threw a piece of scaffolding through the window of a police