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31 Mar 2003 : Column 699—continued

5.30 pm

Why do I say that the British Transport police should be involved with the policing of ports? I represent the port of Tilbury, which has a small, dedicated and professional force of sworn constables that is owned and controlled by the port itself. That is a bit perverse, although I have to say that that has never interfered with

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its professional jurisdiction and the port of Tilbury can be proud of that. Similar port police are peppered around the United Kingdom in, for example, Felixstowe, Tees and Hartlepool, Bristol, Merseyside and, of course, Dover, but I invite the House to consider this: if it is right for all those places to have a police force, what about all the other ports around the UK that do not have one?

There are no port police in any of the Scottish ports, and the port of Tilbury is just one area in my constituency, which contains 14 miles of river frontage, where there are ships and wharves. Other areas have a port, but no police. It is crazy—breathtaking in the extreme—that we tolerate that at a time of high terrorist activity, growing international mafia-type crime, which is working through our seaports, and widespread human trafficking.

At some other ports that I have alluded to, not only are there no police forces, but it would be a lucky man or woman who found Customs and Excise or a Home Office immigration officer. It is unbelievable that the UK is allowing its doors to be open in such a way. This is a question of joined-up government: the Home Secretary says that he has sorted out Sangatte and all that business over there, but there are open ports all round the UK, which is breathtaking.

Of course, criminals and human traffickers know that, and although I hesitate to say it, I suppose that some people who wish us ill also know it in terms of terrorism. The Government are not doing anything about that. Some of the small police forces that I mentioned do a good job, but they are at their limits because they do not have critical mass. If we had a national police force, which should be provided by British Transport police, or a national ports police, which is the alternative, we would have sufficient numbers for proper training, mobility, recruitment, a career structure and so on, but that is just not happening. It is time that we spelled it out that the Government have to address the issue in a matter of weeks, not months.

People might say, "What about airports?" I want to deal with that. In fact, new clause 1, which has been tabled by the Conservatives, refers to airport police. I do not criticise them for that, but the only airport police in the UK are at Belfast International airport. There are no airport police anywhere else, although the situation is equally crazy in terms of jurisdiction and funding.

Officers at the three principal London airports—Heathrow, Stansted and Gatwick—are provided by the Metropolitan, Essex and Sussex forces respectively for which the airport operators, whose airports are described as designated and which I usually knock in this place as I do not hold a high brief for BAA, pay a substantial bill to the police. However, I am told that Luton and Cardiff airports do not.

I am open to correction and I am sure that I will get some stiff letters from the directors of those airports tomorrow if I am wrong, but I know that operators at some substantial UK airports make no contribution to such costs. That is reflected in the policing. There is no coherent plan or funding.

I am pleased that the House is interested in the matter. The situation is wrong in terms of competition policy, but it also means that policing is patchy rather than consistent throughout UK airports. That needs to be

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addressed, and the best way to do it is to put British Transport police in place at non-designated airports. I am not arguing this afternoon that we should remove the Metropolitan, Essex and Sussex forces from those designated airports, although that needs to be looked at.

Miss McIntosh: The term used in the Wheeler report is "police officers at airports", but the hon. Gentleman made an important point about the need to co-operate with the police in the case of all modes of transport.

Andrew Mackinlay: I thank the hon. Lady for that.

Mr. Don Foster: Luton airport, for instance, is not designated in this way, so the Bedfordshire force must carry out policing. That force is only 1,000 strong, and cannot possibly have the necessary range of expertise. Do we not desperately need a review of designation, as the Wheeler report suggests? Should not designation be based on a multi-agency assessment of the risks encountered by each airport?

Andrew Mackinlay: Absolutely. The House should certainly consider what was suggested by Wheeler as one of the options. I hope that in any such debate we will also explore the whole question of the integrity of our borders. We need either a national borders police force—which I think should be provided by the British Transport police—or a national airports police force. So far the Government do not seem to have thought about this, but they should do so with some dispatch.

The hon. Gentleman's intervention underlines my point. He says that Luton is policed by the Bedfordshire force, which is small. The lack of designation may lead to a fear that, because of all the other pressures on the chief constable, there is inadequate policing of an airport which, given such factors as expanding industries, is critical to our economy. There are, indeed, airports of comparable size in the same position. I want the Minister to know that I am no longer prepared to acquiesce through my silence.

Mr. Foster: The hon. Gentleman may gain some comfort from the knowledge that, in the last few days, I have tabled a parliamentary question to both the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Transport asking for a clear public indication of their intentions in respect of meeting the Wheeler report's recommendations. I hope that we shall receive a positive response. The Minister is smiling benignly, so let us be optimistic.

Andrew Mackinlay: Let us indeed be optimistic, but I do not want the Wheeler report to be accepted like tablets of stone. I want a debate, because I do not think that Wheeler deals with the idea of a national border police. I note that the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) seems interested in that.

Wheeler refers exclusively to airports. We should take account of all our borders, which are indivisible and interrelated. I include Northern Ireland in that. Belfast International airport has a dedicated airport police force, and very good they are too, but the city

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airport—which is now almost as large, and is a major traffic centre—has no policing apart from that of the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Parliamentary questions tabled by me have revealed a very low level of policing in what could be described as a major airport and a growing enterprise.

I may not have persuaded the House sufficiently on that point, but let me now remind Members—especially those who sat on the Committee, and are walking encyclopaedias where the Bill is concerned—that clause 75, in part 4, addresses the important issue of drug and alcohol abuse by staff ranging from masters of ships to ordinary seamen. It deals with the offences, and also with the remedies. Clause 82 deals with arrests, and the breathalysing of those in charge of ships. It is bonkers to include such measures without being sure that police officers will be available to do the breathalysing and arresting. I know what will happen: when there is a tragedy people will be breathalysed and brought in and so on, but there will be none of the normal policing that takes place on our highways.

I invite Members to go to any seaport, including the big seaport at Tilbury in my constituency. All of them, including the smaller ones, are like the Mary Celeste. One cannot see anyone around—certainly not any policemen, because they are not in our ports. That is another reason for policemen doing the ordinary traditional job of ensuring compliance with law and safety: the Bill relates to safety in respect of drug and alcohol abuse. If the Minister feels unable to look into the problem again with some dispatch, it might well be picked up in the other place. I believe that concern will be expressed there about some of the problems that I have had to share with the House this afternoon.

My second point relates to amendment No. 40, which deals with the jurisdiction of the British Transport police constable. I have been a Member of Parliament for 11 years, and this is the third or fourth time that I have raised the point that good police officers—sworn in, and often given training comparable to or the same as that of police constables from a Home Office force—in many instances have no more powers than any other member of the public out in the street if they see something requiring the attendance or assistance of a police officer. An amendment in recent legislation slightly altered the position, but I contend that a British Transport police officer, who is out in the street and not in the vicinity of a railway, should have two powers made available to him, whether on or off duty.

First, if an officer from the Home Office police force—the Metropolitan police or a county constabulary—is absent, the British Transport police officer should have the full powers of a constable. Secondly, when acting in support of a Home Office or Metropolitan police officer—one who falls under the terms of the Police Act 1996—the British Transport police officer should also have the full powers of a police constable.

What is wrong with that proposition? It is blindingly obvious and sensible that that should happen, particularly when the explanatory notes say that the provisions on the British Transport police should mirror the Police Act 1996, which is the cornerstone legislation for the Home Office police. It is amazing that neither the Conservative Government nor the Labour Government have taken any notice of that point. I recall mentioning

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it when the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) was Home Secretary.

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