Railways and Transport Safety Bill

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Mr. Jamieson: The clause replicates the Home Secretary's powers to regulate other police forces that are contained in section 50 of the Police Act 1996. As the hon. Lady said, they cover the government, administration and conditions of service of police forces. They include consideration of ranks, promotion, retirement, discipline, suspension, hours of duty, leave, pay and allowances, special constables and cadets.

Regulations made by the Home Secretary do not apply to the British Transport police. At the moment, the Strategic Rail Authority, as the force's employer, applies similar provisions to the British Transport police through other devices, notably its conditions of

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employment and force general orders. In that way, the Strategic Rail Authority and the British Transport police have replicated the internal governance of the Home Office police forces. However, it is important to note that, in most instances, the Home Office regulations have to be modified to suit the needs of the British Transport police, because British Transport police officers, unlike Home Office constables, are and remain employees. I hope that that answers one of the hon. Lady's questions.

The Bill provides an opportunity to improve and regularise the position, and any solution should be simple to operate, without unnecessary bureaucracy. It should also demonstrate clearly that the British Transport police is a bona fide police force, subject to the same or equivalent police regulations that apply to Home Office forces. I hope that that covers another of the hon. Lady's points.

Our proposal was endorsed in the consultation process, and in the response of the Association of Police Authorities and the British Transport police and its federation. The clause will enable the authority to make the non-statutory regulations, which must be consistent with the Home Office regulations. They may differ from those regulations only to meet the specific needs and circumstances of the British Transport police. If the Home Office regulations change, it will be the authority's responsibility to ensure that the non-statutory British Transport police regulations change to fit it.

There was slight confusion on the issue of protocols that the hon. Lady raised. The rail accident investigation branch's protocols have nothing to do with the regulations made by the British Transport police authority. The hon. Lady asked whether the SRA would be the employer. The answer is no; the new employer will be the British Transport police authority.

Mr. Don Foster: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Jamieson: I will, although the hon. Gentleman was not here for the discussion.

Mr. Foster: I apologise for that to the Minister and to you, too, Mr. Hood.

The Minister has rightly said that there will be a transfer of responsibility from the SRA to the new authority. Will he give some idea of the savings to the budget of the SRA as a result of the loss of that responsibility?

Mr. Jamieson: Funding essentially comes from the operators, so I do not think that there will be a change in the SRA's funding arrangement. The funding is just transferred through the customers. We shall refer to that later in the Bill.

The hon. Member for Vale of York also asked whether the Secretary of State would confirm the regulation. With that question, we are perhaps getting ahead of ourselves, because clause 38 in part 2 affirms that he will.

Miss McIntosh: I am grateful to the Minister for that clarification, and for giving us the background. That is very helpful. I am a little confused, but accept that that is entirely my fault; I do not attribute it to the

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Minister. Can he tell me what the status of British Transport police constables will be under the new provisions? I think that the Minister said that Home Office-recruited constables are, and will continue to be, deemed employees. In the past, the British Transport police have been deemed to be employees of the SRA, but now they will be appointed by, and regulated under, regulations applied by the British Transport police authority. Are they therefore deemed to be employees of their authority, or self-employed? I might have misunderstood what the Minister said. Who will be their employers, and what will their status be?

Mr. Jamieson: We ought to clear this up, as the hon. Lady is talking about self-employment. Home Office constables are officers of the Crown; they are not employees in law. The British Transport police constables are officers of the Crown and, currently, employees of the SRA. Assuming that the Bill receives Royal Assent, they would then be employees of the British Transport police authority. That is how it has always been. There will be no change in the definition.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 34 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

The Chairman: Order. It has been brought to my attention that the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (David Cairns) may be reading a magazine or a newspaper, and that is against Standing Orders. If he is, will he desist from doing so?

Clause 35

Police regulations: special constables

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

Miss McIntosh: I shall try to grip the attention of all members of the Committee, so that no one is minded to break your strictures, Mr. Hood.

Clause 34 does not apply to special constables or cadets, which is obviously why clause 35 was drafted. Will the Under-Secretary of States confirm that special constables will be recruited under conditions similar to those of their equivalents? I understand that specials are retained under different conditions and that most are voluntary. Presumably, that will apply to British Transport police as it does for Home Office-recruited special constables.

As we do to regular officers of the British Transport police, we owe our thanks to special constables of whom great demands are made. It is not a full-time occupation for them, but they put themselves at risk, especially in the present circumstances. I pay tribute to them.

I gather that the existing police force regulations may be modified. Can the Under-Secretary elucidate on the proposed modifications, or will it be left to the authority to determine them? How will the terms and conditions of the special constables differ from those of regular constables? I understand that, for the most part, they are voluntary. Is there any difficulty in recruiting specials? Many of us will support our regular police forces in their recruitment drive for special constables this weekend. Has the alarming

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trend in the recruitment figures been reflected in the regulations?

Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury): My hon. Friend was correct to point out the shortage of special constables in the British Transport police. Apparently, there are only 68 of them. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State pays particular attention to their recruitment.

Clause 35(2) refers to the reflection of the structures and circumstances of the police force in the regulations. The guidance notes amplify that and refer to the special needs of the British Transport police in the making of regulations. Can the Under-Secretary explain a little about the structures, circumstances and special needs and about the regulations that he envisages making?

Mr. Jamieson: The clause replicates the Home Secretary's powers to regulate the conditions of service for special constables under the Police Act 1996. I, too, pay tribute to the work of special constables. They are few in number, but they provide an excellent back-up to the work of the British Transport police. The regulations must be consistent with Home Office regulations, and they may differ from those only to meet the specific needs of the British Transport police. If the Home Office regulations change, it will be the authority's responsibility to ensure that the non-statutory British Transport police regulations change to fit them. Unlike the Home Office forces, the British Transport police is a national specialist police force; its officers are employees of both the British Transport police authority and holders of the statutory office of constable.

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Home Office constables, however, are only holders of the law, as we indicated in our debate on the last clause. The British Transport police are also funded by the railway industry, whereas Home Office forces are funded by direct grants from home Departments and local taxation. The draft legislation cannot be identical in every way to the Police Act 1996, but on the whole that is because of variations for technical reasons, rather than because of their effects.

I am not aware of particular difficulties with recruitment. There are presently difficulties with recruitment in many areas, but the effort is being been made to recruit the people who provide such a valuable service. I assure the hon. Member for Westbury (Dr. Murrison) that that will be reflected in our thinking and in the thinking of the British Transport police authority.

The hon. Member for Vale of York asked whether the regulations would be the same for the specials—clause 35(1)(a) makes it clear that they would be the same.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 35 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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Clause 36

Police regulations: cadets

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

Miss McIntosh: The subject of this clause is not covered by clause 34. Presumably, any difference in the regulations on the recruitment of cadets will relate purely to the fact that they have to be transported. I omitted to say that special constables are volunteers and that if they are travelling by train it may take them some time to get back. I do not know whether that poses a particular problem.

Is the Minister concerned about the recruitment of cadets and will the regulations reflect any potential difficulties? What has the trend been during the past five years? We welcome the way in which cadets are recruited by the police force. I mentioned that during the debate on clause 25, but it is equally significant in respect of this clause. It would be interesting to know the average length of service of those recruits. I assume that some may be as young as 16; perhaps the Minister could confirm that. What is the average number of cadets recruited every year, and what is the average length of service? I understand that regulations will limit maximum service to 30 years. That would mean that recruits could retire and look in comfort for opportunities elsewhere. Is that what generally happens, or do cadets tend to remain in post for only five or 10 years and then seek other employment?

I am mindful of the Minister's comment on a company operating a transport depot. Potters, based in my constituency, has two such facilities—one in Selby and one in Ely, near Cambridge. The Minister was clear that if such firms had private security for those sites, they would not be required to enter into a police service agreement. There is clearly a big and attractive market in private security firms for which people might leave the police service to earn higher salaries. Has there been a tendency to poach young cadets after five or 10 years?

In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury, the Minister said that there was difficulty in recruiting specials. Is there such difficulty in recruiting police cadets? If so, will that be reflected in any regulations that the authority would hope to make under the clause? How many cadets on average join the British Transport police, and what is their average length of service? I would imagine—I am guessing—that they would wish to stay in the force for the full 30 years.

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Prepared 13 February 2003