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31 Mar 2003 : Column 696—continued

5.15 pm

Mr. Hopkins: Does my hon. Friend appreciate that she is making a powerful case against the fragmentation arising from privatisation?

Mrs. Dunwoody: There is no doubt about that, and I can use this incident to make the point. A train load of football supporters came from London. They were very noisy and had been drinking, although it was early in the afternoon. To be fair to them, they were not offensive in any way and were simply chanting and singing. There were so many of them, however, that their simple bulk constituted a frightening movement.

I am not easily dismayed, but I was concerned that a number of people were already filling a sprinter train, and because of incompetence, the train operating company got the whole football crowd off one train and endeavoured to shove it on to a much smaller train that was already half full. The company then realised that it was in trouble and got everybody off that train and moved them to yet another platform. In the meantime, it tried to round the crowd up to the front of the station to get on buses. Not only the consequent chaos, but the distress of people on the platforms was very evident to me. Young girls were crying not because they had been physically challenged, but because of the feeling of oppression caused by being surrounded by large and very energetic crowds.

Such situations have to be dealt with by the British Transport police, but the numbers and comparisons involved make one wonder whether we have got the formulae right. Four police officers—three men and one woman—were trying to deal with the situation without any proper information from the train operating companies. The signalmen and women were giving one set of information and the train operating companies were giving totally contradictory advice. That nearly resulted in a very bad situation, as the number of people pushing forward to the front of the platform could easily have resulted in a fatal accident. The police dealt with the incident as best they could, but it arose out of the sheer inability of the train operating companies to know what they were doing and to transmit that information to the officers on the platform who were trying to deal with it.

I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will think seriously about the role of the British Transport police. In parenthesis, I may say that I was accused of

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having organised one response by the operating companies, which turned around a train that I then boarded in order to go back to London. The accusation was that the train operating companies were so terrified of having me standing on Crewe station that they would do anything to get me away, but I do not think that that was true.

When we frame terms of reference, we should remember that the British Transport police do not merely walk up and down trains dealing with drunks; their role is much more complex and far-reaching. When we give them those terms and operational instructions, we should remember that they need not only proper and clear leadership, which they are getting from their chief constable, but co-operation from the companies. The hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) said that those companies pay for them. They may pay for them, but they do not understand how to operate them. We should also insist that their role as full police officers be recognised in the community as a whole.

Tom Brake: There are many helpful and pertinent amendments and new clauses in the group that we are now considering. Indeed, there is evidence that the Government have incorporated a number of amendments tabled by Opposition parties in Committee, which is welcome. I should like briefly to comment on a small number of those amendments and new clauses, and I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) will seek to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, to speak to new clause 16.

We tabled amendment No. 8 to provide that a person nominated by Transport for London should be appointed to the British Transport police authority. TFL plays an important strategic and statutory role on transport and it would be appropriate for it to have a designated member of the authority, especially because it provides 30 to 40 per cent. of the total funding of the British Transport police in support of policing London transport, including the London underground and other services on its system. I shall listen with interest to whether the Minister will consider that suggestion or whether we will return to it at a later date.

We wholeheartedly support and welcome Government new clause 7 on conditions of service. New clause 1, which was tabled by Conservative Members and relates to the British Transport police's code of practice, is equally essential. We, and no doubt the Minister, are aware of at least one inquiry in which there is, to put it kindly, confusion about who has overall responsibility and access to evidence. A clear code of practice to show which body has overall control, access to evidence and the ability to dictate the order in which an inquiry progresses would be helpful.

Amendment No. 36, which was tabled by Conservative Members and would provide that the British Transport police should have regard to the Mayor's transport strategy, is a sensible proposal. The hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) has tabled several amendments, and although they relate to matters that could be considered, given the attention that has been paid to the proposals so far, it would be better to return to them later. Several other amendments in the group are fairly minor or drafting amendments.

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We support Government amendment No. 17, which relates to the employment of special constables by the British Transport police authority or other organisations. We welcome Connex's initiative to put special constables on its trains and hope that other train companies are actively considering doing that. We hope that more special constables will help to patrol the large network, because it is difficult for the BTP alone to cover it to any great extent. Conservative Members tabled amendment No. 47 to provide that the policing objectives of the British Transport police authority would have regard to the Mayor's transport strategy, and that is a sensible proposal.

We wholeheartedly support Government amendment No. 19, which relates to consultation on policing and makes specific reference to employees of train companies and unions within the industry. My hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) pushed for such a measure in Committee. The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) tabled similar amendments, although they would provide for the representation to be of a different order of magnitude. It would be appropriate to have one representative of the unions on the authority.

John McDonnell: Why?

Tom Brake: We should consider the membership of the authority as a whole. Conservative amendment No. 1 suggests that the authority should include six representatives of the industry, but that would skew its membership in one direction. The hon. Gentleman's proposal would skew the membership in another direction.

John McDonnell: Why?

Tom Brake: If the hon. Gentleman has the opportunity to speak to the group, he may set out why he thinks it appropriate to have four representatives of the unions on the authority.

John McDonnell: I would like to ask the hon. Gentleman why my proposal would skew the membership in that way. What rationale lies behind his assessment?

Tom Brake: We have to look at the membership of the authority as a whole. There will be representatives from different parts of the industry and from passenger groups. My preference would be that the consumer—the customer—should be the person or group with the largest representation on the body. That would be the appropriate balance, although the hon. Gentleman obviously thinks differently and will no doubt make his case to hon. Members as to why he thinks that his amendment is more appropriate.

We support Government amendment No. 24. Government amendment No. 25—which we believe is sensible—states that it would not be possible to appoint someone to the authority who represented the industry as well as the employees, as that would clearly present a number of conflicts of interest that would be hard to explain away. There are some useful amendments in this group. We shall listen to the Minister's response and reserve judgment until he has spoken.

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Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate and to put forward two propositions. The first is covered by amendments Nos. 3, 5 and 39. I welcome the creation of the British Transport police authority by the Bill, but I regret that the title of the Bill does not refer to the British Transport police. It would have been better to have primary legislation on this important matter, rather than incorporating it in this wider Bill because it deserves its own exclusive consideration by the House. A single British transport police Act would have made a better statute. I regret that that has not happened.

In tabling amendments Nos. 3, 5 and 39, I want to draw the attention of the House to the parlous state of our homeland security in relation to seaports and ports, and to the absence of policing in them. If my amendments were accepted by the Government—I certainly hope that they will be picked up by the House of Lords and thought worthy of consideration—they would ensure adequate policing in those areas and that it would be provided by the British Transport police. There are obvious reasons for that, including the interface of means of transport that was mentioned by the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh). The British Transport police are experienced in all transport matters and, historically, used to operate in our seaports. They have been there before, so it makes sense that they should be there again.

The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) kindly said—I paraphrase—that my amendments warranted some consideration but had not been adequately aired. I have to say to the House that I have tried to draw attention to the absence of policing in our ports—and, to some extent, airports; I shall illustrate that point in a moment—for some time. Short of streaking across Parliament square, I am not sure what more I can do to draw attention to this issue. I have certainly raised the matter in the House before. It is a very serious issue and should be addressed by the Government. In fairness to the Minister, I do not blame him for not doing so, but I blame the Government collectively because, if there was ever an example of a lack of joined-up government, it is to be found in the policing of our seaports and airports, particularly, although not exclusively, seen against the backdrop of the terrorist threat.

Mention has been made of the Wheeler report on airport policing. I do not think that it has come out as a Command Paper; it seems that we have to know about its existence to have any knowledge of its contents. The Under-Secretary of State for Transport has left the Chamber, but I remember him telling me two years ago in a parliamentary reply that a working party on ports policing had been set up, yet still nothing has emerged. These issues ought to be dealt with all together and with some urgency.

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