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Standing Committee D
Thursday 13 February 2003
[Mr. Jimmy Hood in the Chair]
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): We had a good discussion about the expression ''in the vicinity of'', a phrase that left me dissatisfied about the more general matter of jurisdiction. Under the present law, British Transport police officers have the powers and privileges of other constables to enter premises and to inspect various parts of rail property. The Under-Secretary of State and I had a jolly afternoon yesterday in another Committee. As he is aware, we are hoping to obtain a commitment from him today about the extent of the police powers, a point to which the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) has alluded, and, more particularly, how they relate to the powers of the rail accident investigation branch.
We want a commitment from the Government that, when carrying out investigations, the inspector and investigator will be accompanied by an officer of the British Transport police. Will the Under-Secretary explain the current powers of the aviation accident investigation branch when one of its inspectors seeks evidence? Are those inspectors always accompanied by a police officer? When undertaking a rail inspection under the current law, are representatives of the Health and Safety Executive always accompanied by a police officer? I can envisage many circumstances in which it would be helpful to the inspection process and assist the inspector or investigator if their powers under the Bill were exercised alongside those of a police constable.
We need guidance from the Under-Secretary about subsection (2), which sets out extensive powers that go further than the current law. It states:
''A constable of the Police Force may enter property which is or forms part of anything specified in subsection (3)—
(b) using reasonable force if necessary, and
(c) whether or not an offence has been committed.''
Presumably, under subsection (2)(c), there will have been cause to think that an offence might have been committed and the constable would be anxious to elucidate whether that was the case.
The purpose of the debate is to elicit from the Under-Secretary what the present law is and to receive some guidance about whether the clause extends greater powers and authority to the police. We want to know, in particular, whether the provisions relate to the new powers under the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. We now know that that includes
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provisions giving British Transport police constables jurisdiction outside the railways in limited circumstances, and providing additional police powers. It was put to me—we have debated the matter—that not including the words ''in the vicinity of'' would curtail the police's powers under the clause. We know for sure now that the Government are not minded to insert that expression. I would like to know that the police powers will be as extensive as they need to be.
We are clearly mindful of the level of the threat and, for understandable reasons, the Government might not be in a position to share all their information with the House. My concern is that we might put all our efforts into the worst-case scenario of an attack on an airport, or an aeroplane being hit on take-off or landing—those are probably the most graphic and vulnerable targets—when the terrorists are looking for a softer target.
Obviously, I have a vested interest, in that my constituents and I use the railways. York station is very busy, and so is King's Cross. Do the powers provided under the clause extend sufficiently for such circumstances, or would the transport police have to seek extra powers? Is the Minister convinced that the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act, taken in conjunction with clause 29, would be sufficient?
Subsection (3) mentions the following:
(d) a light maintenance depot, and
Is the Minister satisfied that that is a comprehensive and specific list? Also, might there be exceptions that the Government should have thought of? I am a little concerned that a light railway, tram, trolley bus or other rail vehicle be included in the provisions. It would be helpful to have some guidance from the Minister on the matter.
To sum up, we welcome the fact that powers of the British Transport police have been extended as far as they have been under the 2001 Act. I am particularly mindful of the threat that we face. We would like to know for sure whether the Government are satisfied that the transport police have all the powers that they need. Do the Government envisage that, in most circumstances, a British Transport police constable will accompany inspectors or investigators who are exercising their extensive powers under the Bill? I would also like to know whether, in the Minister's view, subsection (3) covers all the scenarios that we can envisage for the purposes of subsection (2).
Linda Perham (Ilford, North): The issue of jurisdiction is raised in the clause. Like the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh), I raised the subject under clause 17, and the Minister of State said that he would reply at the appropriate time. I shall reiterate the concerns that I raised on Second Reading, and that my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mr. Lazarowicz) raised, too. They refer to the extension of the powers of the British
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Transport police under the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. The major concern of the British Transport police is that those powers have to be reviewed within two years, and they are anxious to keep them. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will reply to those concerns now.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson): Good morning, Mr. Hood. I am pleased to be back in Committee. As you can probably tell, I have about 95 per cent. of my voice today, whereas last week I had about 40 per cent. of it. I shall make a few general points about the clause, and pick up the important points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Linda Perham) and the hon. Member for Vale of York regarding clause 29.
The British Transport police's main duties consist of public policing, exactly like a Home Office police force. However, unlike a Home Office force, the British Transport police have to police and patrol private property, albeit private property to which the public have access—for example, railway stations and trains. Clause 29 gives the British transport police a statutory jurisdiction over railway property throughout Great Britain. Within that jurisdiction the British Transport police constable would have all the powers and privileges of a Home Office constable. The jurisdiction extends outside railway property on matters relating to railways. For example, a British Transport police constable would have jurisdiction to chase someone who has committed an offence on the railway and subsequently tried to escape by running off into the local town.
The British Transport police need to police and patrol the railways on a day-to-day basis. Clause 29(2) and (3) gives the British Transport police constable a statutory right to enter and to police specifically defined areas of railway property. Those are places where the public may be legitimately present, for example at a railway station, or illegally present, for example trespassing on the track or posing a threat to rail safety. We have consulted widely on creating a statutory right for British Transport police constables to police such places. That proposal has received broad industry support.
In other areas of railway property, such as a train company's head office, the British Transport police constable is subject to the same restrictions that apply to a Home Office constable. A British Transport police officer would therefore be unable to enter a head office to investigate a rail ticket fraud, for example, unless invited to do so, holding a search warrant or exercising some other statutory right of entry.
The hon. Member for Vale of York asked about the rail accident investigation branch. Some of those points were dealt with during the debate on clause 7. The rail accident investigation branch's powers are modelled on those of the aviation accident investigation branch. A representative of Her Majesty's rail inspectorate would not always be accompanied by the police—nor would an air accident inspector—but a rail accident inspector
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would need to provide evidence of identity before entering railway property to carry out appropriate investigations.
Clause 29 dovetails with powers defined under the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act that allow British Transport police to operate outside these areas on non-railway matters.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North asked a question regarding that Act. The sunset facility within the Act would only take out matters that were no longer relevant. A strong case has been made in this Committee for keeping the power of the Home Office police to ask the British Transport police to be involved in an investigation outside their normal area of jurisdiction. That is a matter for the review, which I cannot pre-empt, but we have taken note of the comments that have been made during this debate.
The hon. Member for Vale of York asked about light railway, trams and trolley buses. That is a sub-group of railways and as such it has no defined separate legal meaning.
Miss McIntosh: I am grateful to hon. Gentleman for his reply. Both the hon. Member for Ilford, North and I have highlighted our concern about implications regarding the sunset provisions. We must ensure that the British Transport police have all the powers that they need during a heightened state of alert. As the Minister said, the clause ensures that the powers of British Transport police officers are as extensive as those currently enjoyed by constables appointed by the Home Office, which should satisfy the Committee.
The Minister does not seem to like me referring back to trolley buses and trams, but I was rather taken by our discussion. I referred to clause 7 because I cannot emphasise strongly enough our belief that inspections would be helped were a British Transport police constable to accompany an inspector when appropriate.
In the consultation, concern was expressed about the proposal that the branch be given the power to undertake an investigation on the network, track or rolling stock of a railway. A tramway is a transport system using another mode of transport that is not a trolley vehicle system. The specific concern was that the investigative procedure for the London underground and other metro systems be dealt with explicitly.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Ilford, North on voicing her concern on behalf of her constituents about the accident on the Central line. We should focus more strongly on what would happen in the event of a disaster, which may not necessarily be a terrorist attack. I am always mindful of the devastation that was caused by the King's Cross fire and in the Moorgate disaster. We must take on board the concerns expressed by the police force and the railway industry.
I note the extensive powers in the clause and it is good to know that the Bill sits comfortably with the additional powers in the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. Will the Government assure us that the House will be consulted about the sunset clauses prior to undertaking the review? Perhaps a note could
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be left in the Library. Otherwise, I anticipate a flood of parliamentary questions on the subject from all parties.