|Previous Section||Home Page|
Robinson, Mark (Somerton)
Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)
Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Skeet, Sir Trevor
Spencer, Sir Derek
Spink, Dr Robert
Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Column 90Stern, Michael
Taylor, John M. (Solihull)
Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Thornton, Sir Malcolm
Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)
Twinn, Dr Ian
Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Tellers for the Noes :
Mr. Timothy Wood and
Mr. Robert G. Hughes.
Question accordingly negatived.
but only for the purposes of
(i) carrying out investigations ; and
(ii) arresting any person
(aa) whom he has followed from, or from the vicinity of, any such premises, in circumstances where that person could have been arrested in, on, or in the vicinity of, such premises ; or
(bb) who is in possession of goods or money which the constable reasonably believes to have been stolen from or from the vicinity of, any such premises or from the custody of the transport police.'.
Mr. Dobson : When I originally suggested that the Government should bring forward a one-clause Bill to correct their own grotesque error which had left the British Transport police without proper jurisdiction from 1 April, I had hoped that, on the basis of once bitten twice shy, the Government would put forward a one-clause Bill which would do the job that the British Transport police, British Rail and the British Transport Police Federation all want it to do. The trouble is that the Government do not seem to have done that. We are told--but we have no objective evidence to this effect--that the chief constable is satisfied with the proposition that is before us, but we think it is quite unsatisfactory. During the Second Reading debate we raised the question of the need for the four lines at the bottom of page 1 of the Bill which would restrict the powers of a constable as being lawful only when he was acting in accordance with the terms of the agreement with one of the privatised operators.
The Minister has put forward a number of what can only be described as quite preposterous justifications for this proposition. For instance, he said that one of the reasons for the clause was that, although some of the provisions of the agreements would be universal, they might cover different periods for different companies. We will try to deal with that one. If there is an agreement in force, whether it lasts for a week or a decade, either it is in operation or it is not. If the agreement is in operation, it might be identical ; if it is not in operation, it would not be valid and it would have no bearing on the powers of a constable employed by, or working for, British Transport police.
Another of the Minister's suggestions for his preposterous proposition was that different sums of money
Column 91might be involved. The sums of money involved must surely be completely irrelevant to the actions of an individual constable. Either he is doing his job, or he is not. If, as will probably be the case, the Government have managed to drag in a fly-by-night outfit which has not paid its contribution, that will surely be of no consequence. Provided that that outfit is a railway operator for the time being, the constable will have certain duties in relation to its property and its operations. The state of that outfit's accounts and what it is paying are utterly irrelevant to the constable's jurisdiction. Money cannot affect the constable's jurisdiction. 8.30 pm
The Minister came closest to providing a sensible explanation for the provision when he said that some operators might also operate other activities and the constable should not be obliged to act in a policing role in relation to the other activities. I do not understand why a constable should expect to do that. I do not see why the agreement should have to exclude non-railway premises and non-railway functions. Unless they were imported into the agreement in the first place, there would be no reason why a British Transport police constable should have anything to do with such premises or functions.
The Minister may say that there may be circumstances in which part of a depot is devoted to non-railway activities and therefore the constable needs to have jurisdiction there. That may be the case. However, if he needs that jurisdiction, he should have it. It should not be limited by considerations of who owns the premises or what they are used for.
The Minister has come up with no sensible arguments in favour of the four lines at the bottom of page 1 of this two-clause Bill. He has given us no justification for the provisions. The continued presence of those four lines in the Bill could possibly limit the jurisdiction of British Transport police constables. It is clear from the letter that the Minister was forced to send to the chair of the British Transport police committee that the committee believed that there were problems. If that was not the case, the Minister would not have had to write his letter.
I am not convinced that that committee is convinced that what the Minister is saying is what the committee wants to hear or that it is entirely satisfied with the Minister's current propositions. We have tabled the amendments to delete the four lines which we believe are objectionable, ridiculous and troublesome and which will cause bother for constables who are trying to go about their duties and for the management of BTP when it tries to carry out its proper management tasks.
As I admitted earlier, my detailed formulation of the wording of the amendment may be unsatisfactory. I am quite prepared to accept that. We have suggested that the best way to deal with the matter would be to import into the law for England and Wales the provisions that presently apply in Scotland where everyone accepts that the system currently works well. The Minister will have to accept that the restrictions on the powers of the constable set out in the last four lines of the Bill will not apply in Scotland. Constables in Scotland will not have to check whether they are acting in accordance with the terms of each individual agreement.
Column 92There will be general powers in Scotland, but there will not be untrammelled general powers in England and Wales. That is absurd, particularly as British Transport police officers are not necessarily confined to England and Wales, or to Scotland. British Transport police officers do not recognise any difference at the boundaries. They sometimes travel by car and sometimes by train backwards and forwards across the border. However, their jurisdictions could differ depending on which side of the border they are. That is preposterous and is likely to cause difficulty for constables.
The Minister has presented no sound or solid explanation of why he wants the provision in the Bill. The provision is totally unnecessary. It complicates things and makes life difficult for those who must try to operate the provisions of the Bill when it becomes an Act. It will make life difficult for those who try to protect passengers and goods on the railways and, as we said earlier, it will make life difficult for those who have the very difficult task of trying to ensure that terrorists do not kill or maim people on the railways or manage to close the system down by threatening bomb incidents.
The Minister has failed in his undertaking. When I approached him and told him that I thought that he should present a one-clause Bill, he said that that was what the Government were contemplating. They committed themselves to that in the Lords. However, it should be understood that if the Government say that they are going to introduce a one-clause Bill which will clear up a mess that they created in the first place, it is reasonable for the House to expect them to introduce a one-clause Bill which will not create another mess similar to the one they have created already and which this Bill is supposed to correct.
We are giving the Minister an opportunity to accept our amendments or the spirit of the amendments. It would be no criticism of the Minister if he were to say that he was prepared to consider them and come back with amendments in the other place to deal with the very reasonable points that we have raised. My hon. Friends and I, and the representative of the Liberal Democrat party, the hon. Member for North Devon (Mr. Harvey), have acted throughout with the intention of trying to get the law back on the rails, to correct the Government's errors and to ensure that, from 1 April, the law is effective. We have behaved throughout with utter responsibility and a concern for the safety of passengers and British Transport police officers. We do not believe that the Government have responded in kind to our propositions. They have not introduced a Bill that does the trick. Either amendment or both amendments would massively improve the Bill. The principle behind them would result in a great improvement. In particular, amendment No. 1 would bring the law in England and Wales into line with the law in Scotland which everyone accepts is satisfactory and which is in no way restricted by a clause or provision like the last four lines of page 1 of the Bill.
Mr. Hugh Bayley (York) : I spent a great deal of time last Session on the Floor of the House and also in Committee in the debates on the Railways Bill. We had 35 sittings in Committee which included many hours of debate on the future role of the British Transport police. The Minister has been asked tonight--and we have not had a satisfactory answer from him-- why, throughout those lengthy debates, the Government did not manage to get it right. They bungled not just the clause on the BTP,
Column 93but their definition of the BTP's remit, role and powers. They are in danger of doing the same again with the Bill. My hon. Friends have tabled an amendment that would clarify the powers of the British Transport police. Those powers were ably set out by my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson).
The Committee on the Railways Bill debated the provisions relating to the British Transport police in the light of a consultative document which the Department of Transport issued on the future of the British Transport police. That document was issued in November 1992. There was very little time for people to comment because the closing date for consultation was 16 December 1992. I hope that the Minister can tell us how many responses the Department of Transport received to that consultation paper. Does he believe that adequate time was given to enable those who wished to make a response to do so ? If there was adequate time for those with an interest in the affairs of the British Transport police to consult and respond to the Government's proposals, why was the problem that we are discussing in Committee tonight missed ?
After the debates last year, which followed a consultation period on a Government document, and which took place over a longer period in Committee on the Railways Bill than we have in this rushed Committee of the whole House on this Bill, can the Minister assure us that what he is now proposing is foolproof and that the Government will not have to come back with further changes ?
The amendment in the name of my hon. Friends seeks to define the powers of the police as that of investigation--the seeking of evidence and interviewing suspects or witnesses--and/or that of arrest in certain specified circumstances. It is suggested that the BTP should have those powers away from the premises of British Rail, its subsidiaries, and the rail operators who engage the services of the BTP. The Minister's definition in the Bill as drafted is wider. It says that British Transport police officers would have powers with regard to
"matters connected with or affecting the British Railways Board" and the other bodies concerned.
Can the Minister tell the Committee what precisely is meant by the words "matters connected with or affecting" ? If the scope of the powers in the Bill is wider than the scope proposed in the amendment--that is, the power of investigation, the collecting of evidence, and the power of arrest--we should know what those powers are. If the powers in the Bill are not wider than those proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, we should have the simple and clear definition proposed by my hon. Friend. I hope that the Committee will support his amendment.
I trust that the Minister will respond also to the issue of the supervision of the British Transport police. That supervision will be in the hands of the police committee. Can the Minister tell us who the members of the committee will be and how they will define the words "connected with or affecting" ? Unless we know how the committee will define the policy of the British Transport police, we will not know the remit and range of their powers away from railway premises.
Column 948.45 pm
All hon. Members want to ensure that the British Transport police have the powers that they need to do their job of protecting law and order, protecting passengers, and protecting the property of railway operators. Those powers should be defined in the Bill. However, I do not believe that they are clearly defined at present. My hon. Friend makes a better job of that definition in his amendment.
During the long Committee sittings on the Railways Bill, it became clear on several occasions that the Government were simply making up railway privatisation as they went along. They were unclear on how to put into practice their objective of privatising the railways. Clause after clause was brought to the Committee and included in the Railways Bill. Clauses were then withdrawn and we were told that different clauses would be introduced. That Committee was an arena for debate in which there were days, weeks and months to reflect, go back to the draftsmen and re-examine the provisions of the Bill in the light of debate and questions raised, but still a serious error was made.
Tonight, a new Bill is presented to us as something that we must debate and finish in a single evening. It is not as though the faults in the original Bill suddenly came to light on Wednesday or Thursday last week. There is absolutely no reason why the Minister could not have published his Bill weeks ago--I do not want to repeat the Second Reading debate--so that hon. Members who wished to examine and probe whether the Government had got it right this time could table amendments or seek to see the Minister to express reservations. I should like the Minister to explain why those opportunities have not been provided. I suspect that the reason why they have not been provided is that the Government are deeply embarrassed at having botched the Railways Bill and that they want to hide their embarrassment with the shortest possible debate.
Filling the holes in the Railways Bill is rather like trying to refloat the Titanic. The Government introduced today's Bill to block some of the holes and mistakes in the original Bill. As the consequences of rail privatisation go ahead, I am absolutely convinced that this will be the first of many Bills that the Government will have to introduce desperately to make the unworkable work and make rail privatisation happen in a way that will improve services to the travelling public. Frankly, the Government will not be successful because rail privatisation will not improve services for the public. The whole endeavour is fatally flawed.
Mr. Trotter : It may be helpful to remind the Committee of the scope of activity of the British Transport police when considering their powers. The British Transport police deal not only with matters that obviously relate to the police ; they deal with a very wide range of matters, similar to any Home Office force. They deal with murder, manslaughter, grievous bodily harm, firearms and explosives--reference has already been made to that--rape, robbery, booking office frauds, thefts, thefts of motor vehicles, thousands of cases of fraud relating mostly to tickets, arson, damage to motor vehicles, numerous incidents involving endangering the safety of the public on the railways and public order offences. They deal with a total of some 78,000 or 80,000 offences a year, which is some 200 plus a day. Obviously, the scope of the force is very wide.
Column 95Can my right hon. Friend give the Committee the assurance that he has given to me privately, which is that the force will continue to have all the powers that it needs to deal with that wide ramification of crime from murder at the top to graffiti at the bottom, if I may put it that way ? Can he give an assurance that the force will retain the adequate powers that it has at present to deal with such incidents?
Mr. Harvey : Earlier, the Minister said that the responsibility of the British Transport police will differ in various parts of the railways network. That is why there would be a variety of agreements. Everybody accepts that, however, we are discussing not the responsibilities of the British Transport police, but its jurisdiction.
Any curb on that jurisdiction is a risk or a gamble. A number of hon. Members have given today various hypothetical examples of where the limits to the transport police's jurisdiction might have unforeseen and calamitous consequences, in that a villain could get away in various situations.
The only argument which the Minister has made which appears to have any logic as to why jurisdiction should be limited in this way is that some of the private railway companies might have other interests which are not related to railways over which they would not want the transport police to have jurisdiction. That being so, surely the way to address that is to amend line 25 in another place to specify that it is simply the railway interests of the companies which would be covered.
In my view, any limit to jurisdiction is a gamble. The burden of proof is therefore on the side of whoever wishes to curtail that jurisdiction. If it is curtailed in an unfortunate way and there are disastrous consequences, it will be on the Minister's shoulders. The burden of proof is with him, and I have yet to hear any reason as to why the limit to jurisdiction in those four lines should be imposed.
Mr. Cryer : It would be helpful if the Minister were to give a good reason why the amendment should be rejected. It is a serious attempt to clarify the position and to place it--as lawyers say--beyond peradventure that the British Transport police, or the British Railways Board police as it will be under the combined Acts, are not placed in jeopardy because they are not sure of their jurisdiction. That is the essence of the argument.
The hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) asked for an assurance that a wide range of powers which the transport police currently undertake are not to be affected in any way by the legislation. I ask the Minister whether they would be affected in any way by amendment No. 1. which we are considering together with amendment No. 6. The range of powers given there to allow the railway police to act elsewhere other than on railway premises would cover the range of offences which the hon. Gentleman has outlined.
I cannot see that the phrases put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) would in any way inhibit that, so it would improve the Bill. There is no question but that there is a limitation placed in line 30 of the Bill that the constable can act only
Column 96"in accordance with the terms of that agreement."
That refers to the service agreement between the British Railways Board and police, and it implies that there is a potential limitation.
The Minister said that the agreements would vary by duration. Obviously, once an agreement has expired, a constable will no longer have jurisdiction. If an organisation were no longer employing the British Transport police, there would be no jurisdiction. That is only one example.
The Minister, for instance, mentioned the amount of money involved. I cannot understand how that would affect the component which the Minister emphasised--the jurisdiction of the railway police which is to be built into every licence to every franchisee. However, if money is to affect the matter, that would surely mean that the range of services which the police will offer will be more costly the wider the range. Inevitably, that means the jurisdiction of the police, because the services it offers for sale are police services. If money is to be greater for a given range of services, inevitably more services will be involved and therefore the jurisdiction of the agreement will be wider. One set of policemen will operate under one agreement, and they will have wider jurisdiction on particular premises subject to that agreement than policemen who are operating on other premises and subject to a different agreement.
Ministers have claimed that the chief constables' "code of conduct" will be imposed on every licence which, the Minister claims, is a safeguard. We need to ask questions about that. There will be lots of agreements, and operators will be changing. As one operator goes into liquidation, another comes in and takes over the franchise. There will be many changes.
The Department of Transport, as I recall, claimed at the time the Bill was being debated that as many as 14,000 contracts--not all covering the police --would be involved in setting up this crazy pack of cards which the demented right-wingers are seeking to impose on an unwilling nation. That is all right in the sense that it will hasten their electoral doom at the next general election. However, we must suffer the crazy and demented ravings of the reich which is currently operating in the Government offices in Whitehall. The right-wing loonies have control.
The Opposition oppose the Bill in Parliament and in principle, and we have now to try to make it work as effectively as we can in the short term. Hopefully, there will not be many aspects of the Railways Act 1993 which will be put into operation because of the shortage of time between April and the next general election.
Nonetheless, we all enunciated an important point at Second Reading about the protection of the public from entry on to the railways and the protection of people on the railways from vandalism and, alas, from the terrorist potential which is there daily. Indeed, there was a bomb threat at Orpington station early today. It caused disruption.
All the factors that I have mentioned are ever present. We do not want the British Transport police, as part of the thin blue line against the rising tide of crime that is engulfing the nation under the Conservative Government, to be handicapped. That is why we are raising these points. We want to make sure beyond peradventure that the law is clear.
If legislation has to be tested in the courts, it is poor legislation. We want to make it clear. I should have thought
Column 97that the amendment clarified the position. It seeks to leave out the mumbo jumbo about the terms of the agreement. It does not depend on the terms of the agreement. The Minister has told Parliament that as a condition of every licence the chief constable will lay down universal terms and conditions for the operation of the police in relation to the conduct of law and order. Terms and conditions relating to time and money will also be laid down, but they will not affect law and order or the duties of the British Transport police. We would not need to worry about the terms of the agreement if a standard set of terms and conditions were laid out in the Bill. It is more satisfactory for Parliament to write terms and conditions into the Bill than for it to leave them to some shadowy committee. If the chief constable tells the people who administer the licences that they must incorporate certain terms in the licence, and if there is a plethora of agreements, someone somewhere might just leave out the section that would be so relevant in a subsequent court case and open to challenge. We want to make the law on criminal activities which inhibits the operation of the railway and the safety of passengers and users as clear as we possibly can. I should have thought that the amendment did just that.
Mr. Freeman : I shall first deal with the points made by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson). I guess that more points will be made by the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) in due course.
The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras asked why there should be a police services agreement. I have already explained that the Government believe that it is important to formalise the relationship between the British Transport police and the various constituent parts of the railway industry in terms of the precise functions and responsibilities of the police for a certain user. That is not to say that the core police responsibilities will not be the same for each user. Provisions in the agreement will relate to the specifics of a case.
I have already explained that one of the main purposes of the agreement might well be to limit the responsibilities of the police to the railway undertakings involved and not to the other activities of the company. Such an agreement is well precedented, for example, in the London Regional Transport Act 1984 and the Leeds Supertram Act 1993. So I do not understand hon. Members' fears about the use of the agreement. It seems sensible and practical. We seek to deal with a problem that has arisen in England and Wales, but not in Scotland. In Scotland, jurisdiction and limits of jurisdiction are not an issue. 9 pm