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31 Mar 2003 : Column 707—continued

6 pm

We need to deal with a range of co-ordination issues, and the Government have acted on some of them and on a number of the recommendations in the Wheeler report. It would be helpful if we were to expose the progress that we have made, so that we can identify what to do next because, clearly, as a result of the invasion of Iraq, there will be a period in which we come under heightened threat, as has been reported in the papers over the weekend.

One of the key issues for most of us relates not just to policing the aviation sector and Heathrow, but security clearance policies, especially those in the power of the BAA, and vetting the private security industry. I would welcome a further debate that ranged across those responsibilities. If legislation is required, let us introduce it urgently, as this is a matter is of considerable national and local importance.

I would not like the powers of the Metropolitan police to be diminished in relation to Heathrow. I have considerable confidence in the work that they have done and their recommendations—some of which have not been acted on—are sound, sensible and readily implemented, especially with regard to their input into the Wheeler review. We therefore need to rush—not to legislate, but to hold an urgent debate on the way forward and what action needs to be taken, by investment, legislation or enhanced co-ordination.

I will not press my amendments to a vote, but I would welcome an explanation of why the balance on the police authority has been set as it is and what the definition is of the phrase


Mr. Spellar: I shall start by referring to the generous

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comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) regarding not only the work undertaken by the British Transport police, but the evolution of their role, particularly under their relatively new chief constable, whom I first got to know when he was working with the Metropolitan police. He did a good job then, and he is doing an excellent job with the British Transport police.

The British Transport police are regularly appearing right at the top of the figures for police forces in England in relation to a number of initiatives, particularly in tackling robbery. They are evolving their role, by undertaking a lot of work with schools to try to deal with the problems of crime, vandalism and, in particular, trespass right at the roots, and by getting across the message of how dangerous that is to individuals, let alone how disruptive of the transport system it is.

The problems with football crowds at Crewe that my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich outlined may have been due to lack of information or communication between various train companies and the police, but probably one of the roles that I should be undertaking as Minister is to ensure that the sporting calendar is conveyed to everyone working in the rail industry. I find the inability of a number of train operators to notice that sporting events are taking place, even when they are part of the scheduled programme, quite remarkable. Just take a simple example: they could run longer trains or, perhaps, not run shorter trains, when those events are about to take place. If my hon. Friend lets me have a note about which sporting event those problems related to, I should be more than happy to take them up as part of an ongoing campaign that I am running on such irritations.

The hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) asked about British Transport police pensions. The Bill will have no major effect on the current arrangements for providing retirement benefits to police officers and civilian support staff. When the proposed police authority is set up, the Strategic Rail Authority will cease to be the employer of BTP officers and support staff, so some changes to the existing pension arrangements are being proposed to recognise the altered relationship between the Department for Transport and the new police authority when the SRA is no longer the relevant employer.

As hon. Members will know, a working group was set up recently. It is made up of representatives of all the interested parties, and I understand that they are broadly content with the proposals as outlined. A few issues remain to be resolved, including the trustee structure and the investment of assets. Again, I emphasise that those issues are not a direct result of setting up the new police authority; they are a result of proposed changes to the current pensions legislation, as highlighted in the recent pensions Green Paper. Setting up the new BTP authority provides an ideal opportunity to consider those issues.

Miss McIntosh: Is the Minister aware that precisely that coalition of events has caused the British Transport police such consternation? Possibly, that could have

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been avoided if consultation had taken place earlier, but it would be most helpful if he would agree to monitor those points avidly.

Mr. Spellar: There is no way other than avidly. I stress that no action will be taken until the working group has discussed the relevant options, but it is useful to take the opportunity to convey to those involved in the schemes the fact that establishing the new authority will have no detrimental impact on the members of both pension schemes and will not cause the BTP's budget to be diverted into pension funds. There will be no undue interference by the Secretary of State in running the schemes, as his powers in relation to the schemes are limited. There are no proposals to change the structure of the existing BTP pension schemes along the lines of the Home Office pension scheme.

The hon. Member for Vale of York also asked why the BTP are not reimbursed when acting under the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. The BTP provisions on jurisdiction under the 2001 Act were given a statutory basis only in relation to situations in which the BTP were expected to act previously. They act under the 2001 legislation in cases involving non-rail jurisdiction in very much a minority of overall events.

I turn now to the non-Government amendments, a number of which would extend the BTP's jurisdiction, and I understand the concerns that have been expressed. Amendment No. 40, for example, would give the BTP powers to act anywhere in the United Kingdom, including off the railways, first, in the absence of another constable and, secondly, in support of another police officer. Anxiety was expressed in Committee about the BTP's continuing ability to act outside their railways jurisdiction.

As I explained in Committee—I am happy to reiterate it now—we believe that a proposal such as amendment No. 40 is unnecessary, as the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 already allows a BTP constable to act in all circumstances when it would be appropriate for a police constable to act and the public would expect a BTP officer to act.

Andrew Mackinlay rose—

Mr. Spellar: If my hon. Friend waits a moment, this may answer his question: the House will also be aware that the 2001 Act is subject to so-called sunset provisions—a review of the Act by the Privy Council. A review was felt necessary because the 2001 Act was introduced at some speed, and one is currently in progress. I stress that it is a one-off review.

The Privy Council's report could specify that certain provisions should cease to have effect six months after the report is laid before Parliament. In principle, that could include the sections of the 2001 Act that extend the BTP's jurisdiction. Of course, even if that were so, Parliament could reject the Privy Council's recommendations and vote to retain the provisions.

So far the House's deliberations on the Bill have indicated that there is much support for the BTP being able to act outside the railways in urgent situations and, no doubt, that would be reflected in any vote. However,

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the review and our reaction to any of those proposals will take place in the future, and it is right and proper to allow the Privy Council's review to run its course.

Andrew Mackinlay: My right hon. Friend misses the point. I did not raise the issue in the context of national security, but was referring to the availability of police officers. He will recall that, in the poll tax riots, a police car in Trafalgar square had a piece of metal thrown through it. It was a British Transport police car, but the officers in it had no more competence or jurisdiction in Trafalgar square than my right hon. Friend or I would. One might find a British Transport police officer in uniform outside St. Stephen's entrance, but he has no competence there. However, if there were an incident, Joe Public would rightly want him to respond. The public do not examine the badges on helmets to find out whether they have the right man or whether they need to find a Metropolitan police officer. That would be absurd. The public want officers available in extremis.

Mr. Spellar: That was a rousing contribution, but it did not take account of what I said about the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, which provides such extended jurisdiction. Given the fact that the Act is covered by sunset clauses, the real question is whether we should on this occasion seek to enshrine such principles in this Bill. I hope that I have outlined the way in which the review will be conducted and taken account of the mood of the House in showing how we would respond were such a review—we cannot presume that it would—to seek to remove such jurisdiction.


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