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Column 76In particular, it is a part of the fragmentation of the railways, which almost literally nobody, except the 300 Tory Members of Parliament who voted for it, wants.
The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), opening the debate for the Opposition, raised two points for response. He referred to the possibility that members of the British Transport police would have to carry in their backpack an index to all the various agreements being entered into on the new railway system. That is not the case. The core policing responsibilities that will be laid upon all those who are licensed --Railtrack, the train operators, those who operate light maintenance depots and those who operate stations--are covered. It is the intention of the police committee to draw up a standard specification of responsibilities of the British Transport police for what are called core services. I read into the record at the beginning of the debate the definition of core police responsibilities. It is clearly sensible that the chief constable be able to refer to a standard, almost boilerplate, set of responsibilities of the police in relation to any part of the railways.
I accept, and have always accepted, the argument that one cannot have different core policing responsibilities for different sections of the railways. That would cause confusion. No doubt the chief constable will ensure that there is a clear standard set of instructions and guidance for all transport police constables in the exercise of their duty.
With regard to non-core activities--and here we are talking at the margin-- there may well be certain guarding responsibilities that neither the British Transport police wish to discharge nor rail operators wish to place upon the shoulders of the British Transport police. Core policing activities constitute the vast majority of the responsibilities of the police. Law and order issues throughout the railway system--whether passenger or freight--will be clearly specified and will be standard and consistent as between different licensees.
"in accordance with the terms of that agreement" ?
Unless the agreements are going to be different, there is no need to include that line in the Bill. If the agreements are to be identical, the Minister can scrap those four lines, and then we shall be rather more satisfied with the Bill.
Mr. Freeman : There are two reasons why the agreements might vary. The first is the duration of an agreement. If a franchise is to run for seven, 10 or 15 years, that needs to be written into the agreement. Secondly, the charge paid by the user of the British Transport police will vary according to the size of the rail operation. Those two conditions, which have nothing to do with what I call the boilerplate core policing arrangements, will have to be included in an agreement.
The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras looks incredulous at this explanation, but he should allow me to complete it. I think it important that everyone involved in the running of the new railways should have, set out clearly in an agreement, precise obligations. That is well precedented, and the hon. Member for Crewe and
Column 77Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody)--who also looks incredulous, but who has long experience of the operation of the railways and who will know full well that all the legislation of the past 10 years has included the idea of specific agreements between undertakings and the BTP--will recall that this has been true of light rapid transit and of parts of London Regional Transport. It is certainly important to specify obligations and rights.
Mr. Dobson : The right hon. Gentleman has given us two reasons why he wants separate agreements to be brought to bear on a constable going about his duties. The first is that such agreements will be for different lengths of time. Surely at any given moment an agreement will be in place covering a premises or a company : either it will exist, or it will have run out, and the owners will no longer be the owners.
As for the different charges, is the Minister suggesting that the charges might affect the amount of effort put in by a constable or the extent of his jurisdiction ? That is blithering nonsense. There is no good reason to keep this part of the Bill.
Mr. Freeman : There is always a first time. It stands to reason that a police services agreement will specify for a franchised train operator or station operator precisely what the obligations in addition to the standard core policing obligations are.
Mr. Cryer : The Minister keeps referring to a standard core obligation on the police. Can he confirm that there is no statutory obligation on any party involved to impose such a core service ? If any party to an agreement dissents, then the chief constable will be in no position to override that party. That provides the necessary condition for a wide variety of agreements--it is what the Bill will entail.
Mr. Freeman : Not so--the police committee appointed by the board of British Rail will be responsible for drawing up a precise definition of the core policing responsibility of the BTP, and it will be imposed. Indeed, it will be a condition of the licences issued to everyone--apart from those who are exempt--running the railway. A preserved railway would be a good example of such exemption. The rail operator does not have the option whether to accept the remit of the BTP : it will be imposed on him. As the hon. Gentleman knows, under the Railways Act every operator requires a licence. The police committee determines the core policing arrangements, and the chief constable sits on that committee.
Mrs. Dunwoody : I hope that the Minister understands that the real problem is that the House suspects that the implication of his reiteration of the phrase "core policing" is that he envisages two levels of policing. He may brush that aside by claiming that in some instances guarding can be done by security men, but the fact remains that, once the House suspects that he is introducing a two-tier system of policing, we will have grave doubts about whether the British Transport police will remain the same or whether they are to become an ever smaller part of a different system in which their duties will, perforce, be changed.
Mr. Freeman : The hon. Lady may not have heard my speech at the beginning of the debate in which I defined core policing responsibilities. Those responsibilities are very broad. I offer two examples of activities in which the British Transport Police themselves might not be interested in engaging. After all, the chief constable wants to use his constables in the most effective possible way. The first example is guarding cash or other items of great value when they move, say, from a ticket office to a bank. I should have thought that a private sector security firm would be better able to provide that service. If the hon. Lady doubts that, she should talk to the chief constable who, like any other sensible chief constable, needs to use his limited manpower to the best possible effect. A second example might be the guarding of a free-standing freight facility or yard--that is not a job for policemen, whose job is to ensure that law and order are preserved on the railway and that terrorists are defeated. I really do not think that the difference between core and non-core functions is relevant ; nor is the hon. Lady's concern shared by the chief constable.
Mr. Freeman : I did not say yard, I said facility, by which I meant a depot. It is not the job of a policeman on static guard to make sure that a facility is not broken into. If the chief constable and the police committee want to give an independent operator the flexibility to provide such a service, that is only sensible. The hon. Member for North Devon (Mr. Harvey) asked me two questions. I can assure him, first, that light maintenance depots will be covered because they must be licensed. He asked also whether pre-emptive responsibilities could be placed on the BTP for dealing with people coming from outwith the rail estate on to a railway. The answer is yes ; the Bill provides the appropriate jurisdiction for that.
Mr. Harvey : To return to the Minister's earlier point, how long an agreement may last or how much it will cost are points of no relevance to the jurisdiction of the police carrying out an investigation. Coming closer to the nub of the argument, however, about core services and services which might, in some circumstances, be carried out by a private contractor, I suggest that the idea advanced by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson)--that police officers would need a manual about their person to tell them whether private contracts with security firms were in place--will turn out to be true after all.
We are talking about the jurisdiction of the police, in which context those four lines of the Bill seem excessive. We do not want to insist on the BTP duplicating activities carried out by private security firms, but surely we need to give them the right, in the heat of a chase or of apprehending someone, to enter an area that may be patrolled by a private security firm.
Mr. Freeman : Of course the police have that jurisdiction--that is the whole purpose of the Bill. If a criminal leaves the vicinity of a railway station or freight yard, and absconds to some other facility that may be guarded by a private security firm, the British Transport police will have full jurisdiction to enter that property. That is the position and we want it to continue after 1 April.
Column 79The hon. Member for North Devon foresees the problem that a policeman will not know whether he has responsibility. That problem already exists for police forces. I assure him that the question of jurisdiction will not arise. If a policeman pursues a criminal or suspicious individual to property anywhere in England and Wales, he will have complete jurisdiction.
Mr. Dobson : In that case, why does the Minister need those four lines in the Bill ? That is the reason why we are puzzled. All that we need are the provisions in the earlier part of the proposed subsection. We do not need the exclusion proposals. Does the Minister accept that those four lines crib, cabin and confine constables' jurisdiction ? He must accept that they potentially reduce jurisdiction, which will cause confusion and a conflict may arise. The Minister says that there will be core policing and that non-core policing may be undertaken by others. That is of relevance to the terms of the agreement. How will constables know whether what they are doing is within those terms ? The Minister has accepted that they may differ.
Mr. Freeman : The chief constable is satisfied that he can issue instructions to his force which are consistent with the Bill's provisions. All constables will know precisely what their core policing responsibilities are and what their jurisdiction will be. The purpose of the Bill is to avoid any possible confusion. There are two reasons why we need the provisions in those four lines. A precedent has been set in the past 10 years--and perhaps in the years before--that it is important for the undertakings of London Regional Transport, the docklands light railway or companies operating a franchise to include a formal agreement. The companies involved have a responsibility to pay the employer of the British Transport police for their services. That is the position for non-railway services. It is also agreed that the British Transport police should have on file a formal understanding of their responsibilities.
Although the core policing responsibilities will not change, other factors will vary from one user to the next. I have already given two examples of where there might be change. A third example might be that the individual franchisee might be involved in other non-railway undertakings. The British Transport police do not have jurisdiction to deal with crimes committed outside the railway network, which having nothing to do with it.
Mr. Mackinlay : Does that not emphasise the fact that the Committee stage should be separate from today's proceedings so that those matters can be examined properly outside the House and in Committee ?
A British Transport police officer may be operating within the curtilage of the British Airports Authority and Heathrow airport, but just outside the curtilage of London Underground. Unless we take the opportunity to introduce a change today, that officer will not have the opportunity to exercise his powers as a constable. That is an absurdity. I have already given the examples of St. Stephen's entrance and the Trafalgar square riot. There is a void in police powers, which we should take this opportunity to remedy. Heathrow airport is another example of an interface in the region policed by London Underground and the Metropolitan police, where a British Transport police
Column 80officer could be on wrong side of the line and thus be unable to fulfil his or her duty as a constable, as expected by the public.
Mr. Freeman : The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the wider issue of the jurisdiction of British Transport police constables. If an officer happens, in uniform, to be travelling from his home to his police station and a crime is committed that has no connection with the railway, he does not have jurisdiction. The hon. Gentleman knows that. That is a sensible issue for debate, but it should not be discussed during the debate on this Bill and it was not an appropriate subject for discussion during the debates on the Railways Act 1993. I shall be happy to debate the subject in due course, but we need first to continue our discussions with the Home Office and with other home police forces, through the Home Office, to identify what reforms are needed. That subject is not connected with the Bill or with the Railways Act.
I acknowledge that it is a subject about which the British Transport Police Federation and British Transport police chief constable are concerned. The hon. Gentleman referred to a letter that I wrote to him in September 1993. It dealt with that wider jurisdictional matter and not with the lacuna, which was discovered much later, in the jurisdiction of British Transport police constables pursuing crimes committed on the railway.
The hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) asked me who the employer is. The employer now and after 1 April is the British Railways Board, not Railtrack. That situation will not change until there is fresh primary legislation, and the debate on that legislation will be the time and place to discuss the matter. Railtrack will be an important user of British Transport policemen, but not the employer.
I pay tribute to the achievements of my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter), who spoke earlier. I have been in my job for four years and he has badgered me consistently about British Transport police issues and has brought officers of the British Transport Police Federation to my office on a dozen occasions. Accompanied by my hon. Friend, I have visited the federation's annual general meetings on several occasions and I shall be attending its conference with him this Wednesday. He has been exceptionally diligent in pursuing the BTP's interests.
The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) raised a number of issues. The first dealt with the wider jurisdictional point. I hope that the hon. Gentleman understands the Government view that that is a separate issue, which needs to be addressed separately. He cited the example of an offence being committed on a bridge owned by the highway authority or by a private sector company above a railway line. In that situation, there is no question of the jurisdiction of the British Transport police being clouded or restricted. They have jurisdiction to arrest and pursue those who are affecting the safety of passengers using the railway.
In his winding-up speech, the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) asked a number of questions and I shall seek to answer them concisely. All those operators who have to have a licence are required to include a provision that there should be a police services
Column 81agreement. Every aspect of the operation of the railways--where they are open for public transportation of passengers and freight--must be licensed. I cited the only example that I could--the preserved railways. Some other public sector transport undertakings--for example, London Regional Transport and the docklands light railway--are covered separately. The practical effect of the legislation is universal.
I confirm what I said in opening the debate. European passenger services will be included in the proposals because they will have to be licensed. We shall deal with the new channel tunnel rail link separately in a Bill which I hope will be presented later this year. I confirm that what I said about the Heathrow express was correct. If it runs on Railtrack, it will have to be licensed.
Mr. Wilson : I am grateful to the Minister. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), I picked up the Minister's last phrase. I asked him whether the Bill's provisions on licensing cross- referred to the Railways Class and Miscellaneous Exemptions Order 1994. From what he said, it appears that they do. I think that the Minister is nodding. That raises many interesting questions on which the Minister should give us more information. I am conscious of the time, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I do not wish to make a lengthy intervention.
Under the heading "Licence exemptions", paragraphs 3 and 4 set out a list running from "a" to "u"--about 22, at the last count. Most, or at least many, are small items which could easily be passed by ; item "l", however, states that exemption will apply to
"any network, station or light maintenance depot comprised in the Channel Tunnel system".
We need a brief explanation of that from the Minister. Indeed, I think that we should have a brief explanation of everything in items "a" to "u".
Mr. Freeman : Anything involving the construction of the new channel tunnel rail link will be the subject of separate legislation. To the extent that passenger and freight services use the existing channel tunnel, they will be covered.
The words "system" and "link" are not synonymous, as the Minister well knows.
If the Opposition had not raised the list of exemptions, the Minister would not have told us about it. He did not intend to tell us about elements of the railway which will not require licensing and will therefore not be required to enter into agreements with the British Transport police. I find that pretty shocking.
[Interruption.] I have repeated what I said earlier, also very clearly.
The hon. Member for Cunninghame, North also asked about three other important issues. First, he asked about the police committee. The committee is appointed by the board ; that has not changed, and will not change. Secondly, he asked who determines the charges. They will be determined by the board, and collected by it ; if there is default, the operator is in default of licence conditions.
Mr. Dobson : My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) asked about the Heathrow link. The Minister said that it would be covered by the Bill in so far as it was running on Railtrack. I understand that the part nearest to the airport will not run on Railtrack, but will use a bit of track that it will own. Does that mean that that part of the link will be under a separate and distinct jurisdiction ? If so, that will be the vulnerable bit of the system that terrorists would use to obtain access to the whole system. As we all know, if the British Transport police do not have full confidence in the whole system, stations will be closed much more frequently--or there will be explosions, and people will be killed and injured.
Mr. Freeman : The link will doubtless fall into the same category as Heathrow airport itself, where the British Airports Authority ensures that there is adequate, full and comprehensive policing. The police committee, the chairman of the board and the chief constable are content with the arrangements that we have presented today. I commend the Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.
Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.--[ Mr. Michael Brown.]
Motion made and Question put, That this House will immediately resolve itself into a Committee of the whole House :
The House divided : Ayes 180, Noes 44.
Division No. 171] [7.43 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North)
Banks, Matthew (Southport)
Beresford, Sir Paul
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas
Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia
Browning, Mrs. Angela
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry)
Carlisle, John (Luton North)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)
Davies, Quentin (Stamford)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)
Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Evans, Roger (Monmouth)
Fenner, Dame Peggy
Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)
Freeman, Rt Hon Roger
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)
Grylls, Sir Michael
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Hannam, Sir John
Hill, James (Southampton Test)
Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk)
Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W)
Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)