Column Number: 227
Standing Committee D
Thursday 13 February 2003
[Mr. Alan Hurst in the Chair]
Police regulations by Secretary of State
Question proposed this day, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Question again proposed.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): Welcome back to the Chair, Mr. Hurst. We shall have withdrawal symptoms from the rigours of scrutinising the Bill next week when we are in our constituencies.
Clauses 34 to 39 would provide the British Transport police authority with the power to make non-statutory regulations for the British Transport police. Those are similar to regulations under the Police Act 1996. We are told that any such non-statutory regulations would require the prior approval of the Secretary of State. I was saying before we adjourned that the concerns that I wish to raise in regard to clause 40 are not dissimilar to those I raised in relation to clause 39.
Clauses 40 to 43 would allow the Secretary of State to make statutory regulations in relation to the British Transport police that mirror regulations in the 1996 Act. However, the Secretary of State would be required to consult the authority, the chief constable and staff associations if such regulations were to be made. Again, we are told that the Government do not envisage that that power would be used widely; that was set out in the former Department's consultation paper, ''Modernising the British Transport Police''. The clause provides an enabling power to make statutory regulations. Perhaps the Minister will tell us in what circumstances the clause would be invoked.
We are told that the power would be used sparingly, perhaps in circumstances in which the authority would be unable to make regulations itself. I do not understand what those circumstances would be, because I am not terribly well versed in the workings of the British Transport police. It would be helpful to have some guidance in that regard. Would the Strategic Rail Authority make such regulations under present provisions? Is this provision similar to that which currently exists? It would be helpful to know what the relevant circumstances might be.
I understand that the regulations would override any incompatible non-statutory regulations that were made by the authority. Presumably, the clause is related to clause 39 and others; perhaps the Minister will explain what that relationship might be. There is clearly a requirement for the Secretary of State to consult the authority, the chief constables and the staff associations. Presumably, under clause 39, the Minister will be in a position to confirm that, the
Column Number: 228
staff associations should take it as read that that consultation will also include the British Transport police federation. We are not involved in the consultation process. Perhaps the Minister will tell us what feedback he has had on the consultation, especially on the clause, from the British Transport Police Federation, the superintendents associations and the other staff associations.
The other related clauses set out what the nature of the regulations will be. Those regulations relate to the disciplinary procedures, equipment, procedures and practice of the British Transport police. I understand that the provisions are intended to mirror similar ones in the 1996 Act. What is the present situation? Would it be for the Strategic Rail Authority to make those regulations, or is the provision new? Is it consequential on the fact that, unlike the part-statutory, part-contractual basis for the British Transport police, the authority is being set up on a purely statutory basis? Does the clause replicate that?
It would be helpful if the Minister explained the relationship between the regulations under clause 40, and statutory regulations. I should perhaps note a difference, as clauses 38 and 39 relate to non-statutory regulations, and clause 40 relates to statutory regulations. I hope that the Minister will specify what the relationship is, and explain what the views of the respective bodies—the staff associations and the British Transport Police Federation—were at the time of the consultation paper.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson): Welcome to the Chair, Mr. Hurst. We are pleased, as always, to sit under your watchful eye.
The previous clauses provide a system whereby the authority can make regulations for the governance and operations of the British Transport police. Those regulations must be based on the equivalent regulations made by the Home Secretary, and have effect in respect of the Home Office police forces. The British Transport police regulations can differ from the Home Office regulations only when it is necessary to reflect the unique structure and circumstances of the British Transport police as a national railways police force.
By and large, the authority can, with the agreement of the British Transport police, create a modified version of the Home Office regulations that will apply to the force. The Secretary of State has the power to intervene and resolve any disputes in the unlikely event that the process breaks down. The Police Act 1996 established a system whereby the Home Secretary can make regulations for police forces, and it is important that that ability is retained in respect of the British Transport police.
There may be occasions when it is necessary for the Secretary of State to make regulations for the British Transport police, and it would be inappropriate for the authority to make them. For example, the Home Secretary has used his equivalent powers to amend the Police Regulations 1995, SI 1995/215, which provide the primary regulations for Home Office police forces. It may not be appropriate for the authority to
Column Number: 229
duplicate all those regulations and apply them to the British Transport police. Instead, the Secretary of State would use his general powers under the clause, and specific powers under clauses 20 to 22 regarding British Transport police senior officers, to reproduce the existing Home Office regulations and apply them to the senior staff of the British Transport police.
The hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) asked about the staff associations mentioned in clause 40(4)(c). The meaning of the term is set out in section 38, which we discussed this morning. I hope that that clarifies matters for the hon. Lady. She asked about the Home Office regulations. Those regulations are applied to the British Transport police through a mixture of conditions of service—partly made by the SRA, as the BTP's employer—force general orders, and the chief constable. That will change once the Bill comes into force.
The hon. Lady asked about the feedback from staff associations on clause 40. I am aware that the British Transport police federation's response to the consultation was to welcome the proposals. I am informed that the superintendents associations also agreed with the proposals.
Miss McIntosh: The Minister may answer my question in our discussion of clauses immediately following this one, or perhaps it is so blindingly obvious that I cannot see it, but what is the difference between the statutory regulations and the non-statutory regulations under clause 38? The Minister clearly said that the BTP regulations can differ from the Home Office regulations only when it is appropriate to reflect the differences of the transport police. Bearing in mind the SRA regulations, can the Minister give us an example of the circumstances in which the regulations in clause 40 would apply?
Mr. Jamieson: We cannot predict the circumstances, but a good example would be when regulations are needed in relation to the disciplining of the chief or another senior officer in the BTP. It would be inappropriate for the authority, which is also the employer, to make regulations on a matter of such sensitivity. In those circumstances, it would be appropriate for the Secretary of State to make those regulations. The hon. Lady will be aware that the statutory procedures that the Secretary of State introduced would be subject to parliamentary procedures.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 40 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Regulations: further appeal
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Miss McIntosh: The Minister used a helpful example in his explanation of clause 40. For the purposes of clarification, can he confirm that clause 41 relates specifically to disciplinary procedures? He said that the Secretary of State is being given the power to
Column Number: 230
make regulations in relation to disciplinary procedure. That is not immediately clear from the Bill. The clause refers to regulations being able to
''confer jurisdiction on a court or tribunal.''
If jurisdiction is conferred on a court, that would presumably come under one legal basis—perhaps the Police Act 1996. However, if jurisdiction is conferred on a tribunal, I presume that it would be on a different legal basis. What legal basis would that be?
Which disciplinary tribunal would handle disciplinary action against a senior officer? Does the provision relate primarily or exclusively to disciplinary procedures? What legal basis would confer jurisdiction on a court or a tribunal, and what would be the implications of those two decisions? Presumably, if it were a serious disciplinary offence, the court could hand out a more severe penalty and possibly pass sentence. However, if the jurisdiction were conferred to a tribunal, would the penalty incurred be lower?
Mr. Jamieson: The previous clause provided a system whereby the authority could make regulations for the Government's operation of the British Transport police. Generally, the authority would be able to take the Home Office regulations and, with the agreement of the BTP, create a modified version for the force. If necessary, we have the powers for the Secretary of State to intervene if appropriate.
Clause 41 mirrors sections 50 and 84 of the Police Act 1996, which provide for the Home Secretary to make regulations for the process of disciplinary appeals. The Police (Conduct) Regulations 1999 establish procedures for cases in which a member of a Home Office police force may be dealt with by dismissal, requirement to resign, reduction in rank, fine, reprimand or caution. As with regulations for police equipment, it is more appropriate for the Secretary of State to make the regulations than the authority.
Clause 41(2) could cover a disciplinary offence, but not exclusively; a tribunal such as an employment tribunal might be involved and would handle the matter in a different way from a court.