Railways and Transport Safety Bill

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Mr. Foster: I can see that the Minister is fed up with my pressing the point, and I apologise if I am offending him because I have no desire to do that. I merely seek clarification. It is clear that clause 32 may impose on a railway industry body the requirement to enter into a PSA. The

    ''terms, construction or operation of the agreement''

are subject to discussion between the various parties.

At the end of the day, however, the railway industry body has no choice and must accept whatever is put before it. Clauses 31 and 32 include no opportunity for arbitration if there is disagreement at the stage of trying to agree the details of the PSA. Am I right in thinking that, in those circumstances, people have a gun pointed at their heads and have no choice but to sign? They have met the requirement of having entered into the agreement and must then go through the arbitration procedure. Is there no mechanism for arbitration in reaching the agreement in the first place?

Mr. Jamieson: No. There is no choice about entering into the agreement, but it must be approved by the Secretary of State under clause 31(2), which ensures that the agreement is not one-sided. If the parties have still not made an agreement, it is up to the Secretary of State to arbitrate formally, which is exactly what happens now.

Miss McIntosh: The clause goes much further than we might think. Subsection (6) states:

    ''The Secretary of State or his nominated person''

may vary the terms of the police services agreement. That seems expensive. I listened carefully to the Minister and did not hear him say that we parliamentarians would be involved in the process at all. I do not seek to usurp the role of the Secretary of State—that would be beyond me. However, this is no small cheese that we are talking about. We are told that the policing costs will be split between Network Rail, train operating companies, independent train operators, open-access operators and London Underground. The British Transport police's annual budget was £125.8 million in 2001–02, which was the last full financial year for which we have figures. The train operating companies funded the lion's share,

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paying £61.1 million. Railtrack provided £35 million and London Underground £30.9 million.

The clause is powerful and it has to be included for the reasons that the Minister set out, but I seek clarification on subsection (6)(b), which would vary the terms of the police services agreement. The worst-case scenario is that a train operating company would be put into a difficult position. It could be committing a civil offence under clause 32. It might enter into an agreement and find that under the clause the terms of the agreement are varied through the arbitration process. I seek further clarification from the Minister.

Mr. Jamieson: There is not much more that I can add, although I say to the hon. Member for Bath that I am certainly not annoyed or even mildly offended by anything that he said. He was quite properly asking questions as he always does, and I am sure that he will continue to do so during our debates. In the event—albeit an unlikely event—of an agreement not being struck, there must be a final arbiter, which is the Secretary of State or a person whom he appoints to do that job.

On the point raised by the hon. Member for Vale of York, the Secretary of State is accountable for all his actions through Parliament and he must account for them through all the means and methods that we have of bringing a Secretary of State to account. The clause provides the ability for any decision made by the Secretary of State to be judicially reviewed if it were thought to be unreasonable. If a party felt aggrieved, that further avenue is open for them to take the matter forward, should that be necessary.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 33 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 34

Police regulations: general

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

Miss McIntosh: I would hate to disappoint you by not rising to speak to the clause, Mr. Hood.

This is an expansive measure, which covers various substantive clauses that relate to the regulations of police forces. I understand that the Home Secretary has powers under the Police Act 1996 to make regulations by order regarding the Government's administration and the conditions of service of police forces. Those regulations relate to and make provision for rank, qualifications for appointment and promotion, probation and voluntary retirement, conduct and efficiency, including the maintenance of dismissal, suspension, maintenance of personal records, duties that are to be performed by members of the force and duties that they should not do, hours of duty, leave, pay and allowances, design and performance requirements of equipment provided or used for these purposes, and the issue, use and return of equipment.

I understand that the Home Secretary will also have powers to make regulations for the government, administration and conditions of service of special constables and cadets. I am sure that the Minister will

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explain that the reason for the provision is that the regulations that the Home Secretary may make on regular police officers, the constitutional proceedings of the Police Federation of England and Wales and attendance at federation meetings, do not currently apply to the British Transport police. Presumably, therefore, the regulations are part and parcel of putting the British Transport police on a statutory footing—a codification and revision of legislation, which we welcome.

I understand, too, that the Strategic Rail Authority is regarded as an employer of the force. Again, it is unfortunate that the hon. Member for Bath is not present because I know how close an interest he takes in the subject. He is lucky that he can slip out of the room.

Mr. Jamieson: The hon. Lady can go too.

Miss McIntosh: I am sure that the Minister would like that.

The clause demonstrates why the protocols are so important. We have heard from the Minister, even during this morning's proceedings, that the protocols are under discussion—no doubt as we speak. I would find it very helpful to see and consider the protocols. That would help us understand this complicated and technical part of the Bill. The SRA is the force's employer, yet as we have learned it is paid by the industry. The SRA as employer has in the past applied legislation to the British Transport police through devices such as conditions of employment and force general orders. Will the Minister confirm that those orders will lapse once the Bill becomes law, and be replaced by regulations drafted under the clause?

The first option outlined in the consultation paper was to amend the Police Act 1996, setting the British Transport police alongside Home Office forces for the purposes of the legislation. That option may have been attractive to the hon. Member Bath, although since he is still not with us, we do not have to worry too much about what he thinks. The second option was that the Department for Transport adopted a parallel role to that of the Home Office and by order made regulations on the British Transport police that were based on previous Home Office regulations.

The third option was to improve BTP regulations within the present process, amending them when required. The fourth and final option was to enable the British Transport police authority to make regulations reflecting Home Office regulations. It would be helpful to know why the fourth option has been chosen. Will the Minister confirm that the fourth option has been chosen because it will broadly duplicate the present position, substituting in legislation the British Transport police authority for the SRA as the employer? The clause therefore reflects quite a substantial change.

I assume that the Government will say that the switch of employer from the SRA, which applies regulations to the British Transport police, to the police authority, which will make regulations for its police force, represents a significant improvement in public accountability. The authority would become the BTP's employer and legislation could include a

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requirement for the authority to make regulations for the BTP that are consistent with Home Office regulations, unless no regulations exist. How do the regulation provisions in the clause relate to Home Office regulations? Are they identical and, if they differ, will the Minister tell us in what ways?

10.15 am

I understand that an attraction of option four is that it would leave the British Transport police authority free to adapt Home Office regulations for the BTP as they are issued. It could be a requirement for the Secretary of State to confirm any regulations made by the authority before they come into effect, which would be a safeguard against the possibility that the authority's adaptation of Home Office regulations could lead to distortion. It is not immediately clear in the clause that the Secretary of State will be given the power of confirmation. Will the Minister explain whether the Secretary of State has the power to confirm regulations?

I am delighted that the hon. Member for Bath has resumed his place, and I could go through the whole thing again for him—[Interruption.]

The Chairman: Order. I hope that the hon. Lady is not checking her pager while she is addressing the Committee.

Miss McIntosh: I am trying to ensure that my pager is off, Mr. Hood, so that it does not distract the Committee.

The Chairman: I am glad that the hon. Lady is keeping in order.

Miss McIntosh: The hon. Member for Bath will also be interested to know that the clause transfers the employer formally. I hope that the Minister will confirm that my understanding is correct that the SRA will cease to be the employer and the British Transport police authority will become the employer. Will he clarify the implications of that change because I am sure that they will be extensive? It would be helpful to know whether the Secretary of State has the power to confirm the regulations in the same way that the Home Secretary has the power to confirm regulations for the regular police force? If the Secretary of State will not have the power, why did the Government decide not to allow him to confirm the regulations?

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Prepared 13 February 2003