Railways and Transport Safety Bill

[back to previous text]

Mr. Jamieson: As always, I would be delighted to deal with a trickle or a flood of parliamentary questions from the hon. Lady. We should clarify one point. For an inspector always to be accompanied by a British Transport police constable would be unduly restrictive and unnecessary in many circumstances. The powers have been well set out in the early clauses of the Bill and we would not want to place too many restrictions. In certain circumstances, it may be totally unnecessary for a constable to be present. To clarify a point that was also made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North, the London underground does not need specific mention. It is a railway, so it is therefore covered by the powers of the rail accident investigation branch.

Miss McIntosh: I have one remaining question about the position of technical evidence under the jurisdiction of clause 29. What is the position of technical evidence held by the police, the investigation branch and the Health and Safety Executive? I understand that the joint protocols proposed in the consultation process to deal with how technical evidence would be treated by the various authorities are thought to be essential.

The British Transport police produced a draft protocol to part 2 of the Ladbroke Grove inquiry on the proposed relationship between the rail accident investigation branch, the Health and Safety Executive and the British Transport police; this harks back to the concerns of the hon. Member for Bath. That is very constructive, subject to a number of points on which the train-operating companies would differ. In particular, it identified three categories of information obtained. In the case of all three, there was a presumption that the information should be disclosed for safety purposes. With regard to information with significant safety implications, that presumption could be displaced only by exceptional public interest. In the case of all three categories of information, the British Transport police proposal was for the final decision on disclosure to rest with the RAIB.

9.15 am

This is my question to the Minister: at what stage would the Government be minded to consider through protocols and memorandums of understanding to take on board the viewpoints of the industry, the British Transport police and the Health and Safety Executive, and to address what the relationship between them would be? That would fall neatly in clause 29. Jurisdiction and how the evidence in an inspection might be dealt with are still outstanding issues.

I do not wish to labour the point, but there are circumstances in which it might be helpful for a police constable to be present—for example, if a branch investigator or inspector hopes to visit a private property or dwelling house where there is an aggressive person. The worst-case scenario would be if a police constable were to accompany an inspector on every occasion: that would take up a lot of British

Column Number: 196

Transport police time, and I would not recommend it as it might be going too far. However, the Bill does not describe the circumstances in which it might be advisable for a police constable to accompany an inspector. It would be helpful if those issues were addressed.

I turn to the monitoring process. When consultation was taking place, it was thought that the head of the RAIB would report periodically to the Secretary of State to assess the effectiveness in practice of the protocols that I referred to earlier. In its submission to Lord Cullen, the British Transport police stated that it thought that it had no technical expertise in this field and that therefore other bodies should take the technical lead. The Bill is silent on that, and the Government would be well advised to say more about it.

Mr. Jamieson: The hon. Lady gave circumstances in which it would be appropriate for a British Transport police constable to accompany an inspector, but decisions about such matters will be made by those who produce the RAIB protocol. That is being worked on by the industry group, but it wants to hear the chief inspector's views. Someone is on the verge of being appointed to that post, and when that happens, the protocols will be worked up. I do not want to pre-empt what they will contain.

On the sunset clauses, it is important to re-affirm that the British Transport police will continue to have anti-terrorism powers, and that they will remain on the statute book unless the Privy Council review states that they should be removed. Even if that were to happen, the decision could be overturned by Parliament.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 29 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

The Chairman: For good order, I make the following suggestion to hon. Members. When I use my discretion to allow a stand part debate, hon. Members' contributions should relate to the clause, and not be a line-by-line speech. I do not want to hear 20 speeches about 20 individual lines in the clause. If the clause has not been amended, a stand part speech should relate to the clause as a whole. Hon. Members should not make five or six speeches on clause stand part. If something needs to be clarified from the Minister's responses, that is a different matter. I make that point to be helpful.

We now reach clauses 31 to 41. Would I be ambitious in putting the Questions on them together?

Miss McIntosh: Yes.

The Chairman: I shall not be ambitious then; I shall call the clauses separately.

Clause 30


Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Don Foster (Bath): Good morning, Mr. Hood. I shall be extremely brief. You have generously selected several amendments in my name to clause 39

Column Number: 197

that relate to vandalism. For the sake of clarity, will the Minister confirm that under clause 30, the police force that investigates

    ''an offence in the course of the exercise of its functions''

will also consider vandalism and trespass? If the answer is yes, what are the Minister's feelings about the discretion that the clause gives to the chief constable to institute criminal proceedings in respect of the offences?

Although I shall talk about the issue at greater length later, I should point out that there were 15,075 reported vandalism offences in 2001–02, but only 2,200 prosecutions. There were 15,395 reported trespass offences, but only 903 prosecutions. Does the Minister agree that those figures show that trespass and vandalism are not taken seriously by the BTP, or is there a different explanation?

Miss McIntosh: My understanding is that the law of trespass does not apply in Scotland, and I wonder whether that will pose an interesting conundrum under the Bill.

The clause is clear that the chief constable may institute criminal proceedings in respect of a criminal offence. Clause 32 creates a new civil offence for which the penalty will be a fine. Which body will prosecute such a civil offence?

Mr. Jamieson: At present, British Transport police frequently prosecute those who infringe railway byelaws. The clause will allow the BTP to continue to do so. It will be fairly apparent that the BTP does not and will not have the resources to mount large-scale prosecutions for serious cases. I hope that I help the hon. Member for Vale of York by telling her that such serious cases are dealt with by the Crown Prosecution Service, and I would expect that to continue.

The hon. Member for Bath asked about vandalism. The BTP would and could investigate vandalism. It keeps an eye on the railways in case of trespass but I understand that trespass is a civil offence. No other piece of legislation clearly states the role of the British Transport police in investigating criminal actions. It uses the Crown Prosecution Service, under the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985, to prosecute offences on the railways. The clause would allow the British Transport police to prosecute a number of minor offences that the CPS does not currently deal with and, as I understand it, there is no need for a similar provision in Scots law. In answer to the hon. Member for Vale of York, who asked who would prosecute, the CPS would bring the case to court.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 30 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 31

Police services agreement

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Column Number: 198

Miss McIntosh: I rise just for clarification. The annual report of the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions refers to a number of service agreements. Will the Minister tell us whether the clause sets out a new police services agreement or whether provisions are being made for the existing police services agreement to be enshrined in the Bill? Does the police services agreement, as set out in the clause, provide a means of setting a target and will such a target be set against the benchmark of a specific sum of public money? The customer is presumably the railway industry, and I understand that it is most likely that the train operating company will specify the sums provided for. I wonder what the relationship will be. It will be apparent why that is relevant when we consider clause 32.

I have already made the point that the industry is being asked to fund the provisions. What will be the relationship between the police and the train operating companies? Should there be some disagreement about which objective plans and targets they would prefer, would they appeal to the Secretary of State? The Department must have some responsibility for the matter. The clause is not perhaps as clear as on that point as it might be. It would be helpful to know what expense was envisaged in respect of the police services agreement and whether that was substantially increased under the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act, 2001.

Mr. Jamieson: I shall say a few words on the clause, because it leads us into some later clauses.

The clause provides for a system of police services agreements, which will act as the means by which the financial arrangements between the Authority and railway operators are calculated and set out. Police services agreements are contracts between the body that is responsible for a police force and an individual company that allows a police force to provide its services to the company.

The British Transport police undertakes the policing of the railways through a series of police service agreements. Those agreements are made between the Strategic Rail Authority and individual railway companies. The existing police service agreements have two functions. First, they serve as a financial agreement between the SRA and the railway company to allow the company to pay for the British Transport police services that it receives. Secondly, they enable the British Transport police to provide police services to the company. Most importantly, the agreements allow the British Transport police to police a company's property. That in effect provides part of the British Transport police's jurisdiction over railway property.

The system of police services agreements will be retained under our proposals, but they will be only financial agreements between the authority and the railway company. Providing statutory jurisdiction for the force under clause 29 will mean no longer having to rely on police services agreements to police publicly a railway property.

I think that there was some confusion about public service targets, which will be agreed between the

Column Number: 199

Department and the Treasury. The police services agreements are simply financial agreements between the companies and the British Transport police.

9.30 am

Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2003
Prepared 13 February 2003