Railways and Transport Safety Bill

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Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith): I want to raise one issue, on which I am sure there is a simple answer. I should be grateful to find out what it is.

The clause and the preceding one make no specific mention of Scotland, even though the Police (Scotland) Act 1967 rather than the Police Act 1996 is applicable. I understand that the Government have tabled amendments to clauses 42 and 43 specifically mentioning regulations applying to Scotland. I wonder why there is no such mention in clauses 35 and 36.

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Mr. Jamieson: Clause 36 replicates the Home Secretary's powers under section 52 of the 1996 Act to regulate the conditions of service for police cadets. It enables the authority to make non-statutory regulations for the British Transport police's cadets. They must be consistent with Home Office regulations; they may differ only in order to meet the transport police's specific needs. As I said in the previous debate, if Home Office regulations change, it will be the authority's responsibility to ensure that the non-statutory BTP regulations also change to fit as appropriate.

The hon. Member for Vale of York asked a number of detailed questions about the present arrangements for cadets. I imagine that anyone who had been a cadet for 30 years would no longer consider themselves to be one. The job is mainly intended for younger people, so the idea of retiring after 30 years would not apply. One would have thought that they would before then have joined the main service or become a special. Perhaps I should have spared the hon. Lady the agony of asking all those questions, as the Committee will recall from the debate on clause 25 that there are currently no BTP cadets. We were therefore unable to make the comparisons that she sought.

Clauses 35 and 36 allow the Secretary of State to make regulations that will apply to clause 34. Clauses 42 and 43 allow us to make regulations under the 1996 Act. We will need to make it clear that they are UK-wide, which explains amendments later in the Bill.

Mr. Lazarowicz: I am grateful for the Minister's reply, but it does not answer my question. Why do clauses 42 and 43 specifically refer to their applying in Scotland when clauses 35 and 36, which also apply UK-wide, do not? The Minister will be aware that the Home Secretary does not have powers in Scotland to make regulations in relation to police matters.

Mr. Jamieson: I shall look at that matter in more detail and will take written advice. I would like to come back to my hon. Friend and give him a full and proper answer later.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 36 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 37

British Transport Police Federation

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

Miss McIntosh: The British Transport Police Federation has a key role in determining the morale of the police force. Police officers welcome the provisions relating to jurisdiction being placed on a statutory, rather than a contractual, footing. They believe that an independent authority will help to address perceptions of partiality, and of whether the force is too weak or too tough on the industry.

When we considered the previous clause on terms of employment, concern was expressed about the British Transport police becoming subject to increasingly demanding work, given the level of terrorist threat and security alert. We will be making more demands on them, and that will be important in our

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consideration of the British Transport Police Federation's role. I referred to concern expressed by officers currently employed by the British Transport police regarding pensions. We have already debated that and can look at it further under the relevant clause.

What regulations can the authority make under the clause? In setting up the British Transport Police Federation, are the Government doing anything other than putting matters on a statutory footing and recognising that the British Transport police authority becomes the employer?

The welfare and efficiency of the British Transport police is a matter of great concern. Low morale is often reflected by people taking sick leave. When I first represented the Vale of York in 1997, the force there had one of the worst records of sick leave and early retirement of any in the country. I am pleased that the situation has changed because of a succession of chief constables. I must be getting long in the tooth as I am on to my third chief constable in only five years. I am speaking only for myself, Mr. Hood, when I say that the police seem to get younger, while we get older. We cannot underestimate the role that the federation will play. I am sure that the Minister will keep a watching brief on sick leave and early retirement, which are a significant drain on resources. In my own police force there are fewer operational officers than there are on deferred or actual pensions.

Dr. Murrison: I am interested in what my hon. Friend has to say, especially in connection with sick leave. A comparative study could usefully be made between the British Transport police and other specialist forces, such as the Ministry of Defence police. The Minister may wish to know the reasons for any differences between the forces.

10.45 am

Miss McIntosh: I am told that that subject is risky territory because existing officers of the British Transport police believe that there is a likelihood of being linked to the Ministry of Defence police. My hon. Friend's comments are especially appropriate and perhaps the Minister will recall this more clearly, but I understand that the MOD police were rebuffed about two years ago when they sought wider jurisdiction in an appeal to the House of Lords.

Officers from the British Transport police would wish to record that they differ substantially from the MOD police, as we have already heard in our discussions on the Bill. Does the Minister agree that, especially following the passing of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, we are likely to make comparisons—wrongly, the Minister would probably say—with the work of the MOD now that British Transport police officers have been given extra jurisdiction?

The federation may wish to consider whether officers should be armed. They are not armed at present. As we know, they routinely inspect and police public areas, as opposed to MOD police who, by definition, inspect military bases. I understand that British Transport police train at Home Office rather than MOD establishments and are full members of the

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Association of Chief Police Officers. We must be careful not to draw too close a comparison and it is not a path that I would seek to go down.

We are obviously conscious of the increasing terrorist threat. Has the Minister been approached by a representative of the British Transport police? I understand that they are all unarmed. Has there been a request in the past two years, especially since 11 September 2001, for certain members of the British Transport police to be armed? Clearly, from the public's point of view, it would be an alarming development.

Although I do not understand the terrorist or criminal mind, if we put all our efforts into securing airports and planes, by definition, we make railway stations and property more vulnerable. They will be perceived to be weaker targets. Have the Minister or his ministerial colleagues been approached by the federation or any serving British Transport police officer requesting a higher security presence?

Like the twin towers, Big Ben is our national symbol, and it is meant to put us at ease to see large numbers of police walking around in flak jackets and carrying semi-automatic rifles. I am not sure that seeing them when I come to my place of work has the desired effect. Obviously, if a missile is launched at us, I do not think policemen with flak jackets and machine guns will be of much assistance in defending either themselves or us. However, I can envisage circumstances imminently when it may be in our interest to consider such a request from the British Transport police. Their officers may wish to remain unarmed for the same reasons that the general police force wishes largely to be unarmed. I understand that the federation welcomes the statutory basis that lies behind the Bill, and its recruitment and employer changing. It welcomes that the legislation places the pay and conditions of the British Transport police within the regulatory framework that is governed by the Secretary of State as a helpful move to support the force to modernise and to achieve comparability with the Home Office police forces. I also welcome that because it must be good for the force's morale.

Circumstances can arise that dent the morale of the police force—for example, if someone is promoted who is deemed by their peers not to be eligible for such promotion, or if a member of the British Transport police is thought to have been disciplined incorrectly. Does the Minister have examples of such circumstances in mind? I can think of one example that we do not like to discuss in north Yorkshire. It led to a large pay-out—£1 million—to a lady constable in a town in the region. Therefore, I am aware of how greatly morale can be dented. It would be helpful to know that the regulations that we are told can be laid under clause 37 to set up the British Transport police federation are exactly the same as those that currently exist, or if there are any differences.

There is a concern in certain quarters of the British Transport police that the police authority might attract criticism in the future. The Metropolitan police authority made overtures that it would like to take over the policing of the London underground. I hope that the Minister will clarify today whether there

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is any chance of that happening. If the British Transport police achieve an authority of their own that sets up a federation under this clause, does the Minister share its concern that it may attract criticism as a result of the fact that it has become the employer?

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Prepared 13 February 2003