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31 Mar 2003 : Column 710—continued

Mr. Heath: I do not disagree with the Minister's reasoning except to say that the Bill sets out the powers of British Transport police constables. It therefore seems the obvious place to set down the powers that he is saying are conferred by other legislation and that he hopes would be conferred by new legislation should the other legislation cease to have effect. With all due respect, that seems to be a silly position.

Andrew Mackinlay: I have all due respect too.

Mr. Spellar: We are such a respectable body. Despite all these theological convolutions, it seems to me that we end up at the same point. We believe that the powers are of value. It is worth pointing out that British Transport police officers have already assisted in more than 1,600 incidents outside their railways jurisdiction. As I have said, the new clauses pre-empt the review. We believe that it would be imprudent to circumvent it in that way.

My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock highlighted another aspect of amendment No. 40. It seeks to provide the BTP with jurisdiction anywhere in the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland. The BTP have only ever operated in Great Britain and not in Northern Ireland. We have no plans to extend their jurisdiction or operations to Northern Ireland, and we have never, in any of the stages of these proposals, advocated such a change. The BTP have no experience of working in Northern Ireland, and we think that it would be inappropriate to advocate such a change now in this Bill.

New clause 18 and amendments Nos. 3 and 39 would extend the BTP's area of authority to other forms of transport, particularly by air and sea. Although my hon.

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Friend was right to say that they used to have jurisdictions in ports, they have not policed them for 15 years and have no current expertise in ports or airport policing. Furthermore, they do not have the facilities and manpower to do that. We have considered the issue, as have the Wheeler report and the ports review.

Although it is true that seven ports have specialist police forces, it is worth pointing out that there are 500 ports in Great Britain. It might be more appropriate for those ports to be covered by local forces given the manpower implications, if nothing else. It is also worthwhile pointing out that many operations at ports are not particularly directed by static policing but by intelligence-led policing. Therefore, the location of staff could be a difficult issue. It is also true that at all ports, including those with their own forces, responsibility for tackling serious crime still rests with the Home Office and—it is the appropriate phrase in this case—Home Office police forces.

Andrew Mackinlay: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for providing me with a figure of which I was not fully aware. Five hundred ports around the United Kingdom do not have a dedicated police force. I invite him to visit some of them with me. He will find that not only are there no policemen, but no immigration officers and no Customs and Excise officers. The bandits know that. If we had a proper ports police or involved the BTP, the force would have critical mass, mobility, technology and its own dedicated criminal investigation department. We could stop crime rather than allowing it to happen. We are acquiescing in it by our inaction.

6.15 pm

Mr. Spellar: We are not acquiescing in that. Given the number of ports, the issue needs to be addressed appropriately by the relevant county forces.

We dealt in debate with what happens about funding at airports. It is right to say that the BTP does not police transport undertakings other than the railways. When we went out to consultation on these issues, we emphasised that the focus on the railways should be maintained. We made no mention of extending the primary policing duties beyond the railways. Given that point, it would not be appropriate for the Bill to extend the jurisdiction of the BTP to other transport modes and interchanges. However, I take my hon. Friend's point that circumstances have evolved and that it is a matter that we need to keep under review.

On new clause 1, hon. Members may be interested to know that, following the extension last year of the BTP's jurisdiction outside the railways, the Government issued a co-ordinating policing protocol between the BTP and Home Office forces. A similar code was issued soon after regarding the BTP and Scottish police forces. The protocols were issued after full consultation between the Government, the BTP, the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Scottish Executive. A whole range of policing issues is covered in the protocols. They confirm the areas of responsibility and accountability between the BTP and other police forces. They provide a full framework for the relationships between the forces.

A further code concerning airports and seaports would be an unnecessary duplication of the existing protocols and provide little additional benefit. Indeed, it

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could even be confusing. When enhanced policing co-ordination is needed, the protocols and statutory provisions of the Police Act 1997 provide the necessary framework for enhanced local arrangements. I hope that that has convinced hon. Members that it would be inappropriate to extend the BTP's policing role at this stage to transport undertakings other than the railways. I also hope that it reassures them that further amendments on the BTP's jurisdictions outside the railways are not necessary.

New clause 16 is related to the amendments on jurisdiction. It seeks to require the Secretary of State to authorise the reimbursement of the BTP's costs when acting outside its railways jurisdiction. I recognise that there may be concern that the BTP, which is funded by the industry, may end up subsidising the local force. However, the problem needs to be put in perspective. The BTP's actions outside its railways jurisdiction account for around 1 per cent. of its activity. That is not worth creating a complex billing system for.

Other non-Government amendments concern the make-up of the British Transport police authority. The aim of the authority is to

policing of the railways. When appointing members to the authority, the Secretary of State shall have regard to appointing persons who have

The British Transport police authority must effectively represent and balance the interests of all those involved in the railways. That includes the travelling public, the railway industry in all its forms and the rail community at large. The authority must be able to understand and meet the various needs of those whom the BTP serve. The Secretary of State will appoint people with experience relevant to the policing of the railways, and they will not be representatives or lobbyists of their own interest group or employer. Their collective wisdom will enable the authority to reach balanced, well-informed, decisions about the policing of the railways.

Amendment No. 1 raises the issue of industry representation. Hon. Members have proposed increasing the number of industry representatives so that they could have a dominant role on the authority. There is a case for the industry to be represented, not only because of its skills but because of its financial contribution. The force also has a wide public policing role, which impacts directly on rail passengers and the wider community, not just the industry. The Bill will rightly close the accountability gap. Interestingly, the BTP, and its committee, supported our membership proposals during the consultation period.

In amendment No. 8, the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) suggests that the Bill should be amended so that it specifies that Transport for London has a member on the authority. However, schedule 4 already requires that the Secretary of State appoints at least four members who have knowledge and experience of providing railway services. They will, in effect, be the representatives from the railways industry.

At the moment London Underground provides around 25 per cent. of the police force's budget. While the BTP remains responsible for policing the underground it is inconceivable that the organisation

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running the tube will not have a member on the BTP authority. The authority itself might otherwise lack the knowledge, experience and expertise that that member could bring to the provision of police services to the underground. However, if we begin to specify individual organisations in the Bill, we would remove the flexibility for appointing individual members, and we would create a demand for other, similar amendments.

Mr. Don Foster: The Minister says that it is inconceivable that Transport for London would not be represented, so how he can go on to say that specifying that fact would remove flexibility? That implies that there might be circumstances in which Transport for London is not represented.

Mr. Spellar: As I said, such an amendment would lead to demands for other areas to be covered. It would also imply that individuals were on the board to represent a narrow sectional view, rather than as part of their broad role as representatives of those providing railway services.

Amendment No. 6 would add to the authority members representing non-railway forms of transport. As I have explained, the Government do not support the idea of extending the BTP's jurisdiction, so there is no need to add to the authority's membership in the way suggested by the amendment. Similar considerations apply to amendment No. 5.

Turning to amendment No. 35, I am afraid that on this occasion I shall have to disappoint my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell). I accept that railways employees should be represented on the authority, and as he knows, the Government have tabled an amendment to that effect. However, we do not believe that there should be four such members. The fact that the industry will have four members on the authority reflects the responsibility for funding the BTP. We do not want to keep expanding the authority.

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