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Standing Committee D
Tuesday 25 February 2003
[Mr. Alan Hurst in the Chair]
Railways policing plan
Amendment proposed [13 February]: No. 61, in
Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.
The Chairman: I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing the following amendments: No. 63, in
clause 56, page 22, line 28, after 'crime', insert ', including vandalism,'.
No. 62, in
I call Linda Perham.
Linda Perham (Ilford, North): Thank you, Mr. Hurst, but I had concluded my remarks.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): What a pleasure it is to be back in Committee after a brief interlude last week. I am grateful to the Liberal Democrats for this opportunity to debate their amendments. It is interesting that they wish just one new crime—vandalism—to be included. I wonder why they have chosen that crime, when we heard that the serious crime of bigamy would continue to be undetected and unprosecuted by the British Transport police. [Interruption.] The Under-Secretary appears not to have been paying attention during our earlier debates.
Mr. Don Foster (Bath): The hon. Lady is right that other crimes could be added to the list. Vandalism, or route crime as it now more often called, was included simply because of the large number of deaths and serious injuries it causes on our railways.
Miss McIntosh: The next question is obviously how the pursuit of vandalism as a crime by the national police force is set up under Home Office regulations. As I understand it, vandalism would be considered to be a crime to be pursued and investigated by the police, so the amendment is unnecessary. When we come to clause stand part we can debate the worrying increase in crime in and around railway stations, which the British Transport police should rightly investigate.
What is the implication of the location of the offences? We had an interesting debate earlier about the phrase ''in the vicinity of''.
Mr. Foster: Perhaps I can go into a little more detail in my winding-up speech. The crucial point is that the current reporting procedures mean, rather bizarrely,
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that we do not have information relating to the location of acts of vandalism on the railway. There is therefore no opportunity for the police, the Health and Safety Executive or the train-operating companies to take targeted measures in areas of high vandalism on the railways.
Miss McIntosh: It is still not entirely clear that the right words have been chosen in that regard. The phrase ''in the vicinity of'' was preferable and it is found in existing law. Obviously, we will be the wiser when the hon. Gentleman winds up the debate.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson): I welcome you back to the Chair, Mr. Hurst. It is a pleasure on such a sunny day to be sat in this Committee Room debating such important matters.
This has been one of those occasions when I was beguiled by the arguments of the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster). Indeed, the eloquent speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Linda Perham) stirred the Committee considerably. I want to say a few words first about the clause and then address the specific matters raised in the hon. Member for Bath's amendments.
Clause 49 requires the authority to prepare an annual railways policing plan setting out the arrangements for policing, a statement of the authority's priorities for the year, the financial resources available and their proposed allocation. Amendment No. 61 would require the authority to include measures to reduce vandalism in its priorities for the forthcoming year. I fully understand the hon. Member for Bath's concern about railway vandalism. He alluded to the high incidence of vandalism; he will be aware that 54 per cent. of all incidents on the railway are due either to trespass or to vandalism.
Vandalism is also a significant cause of delays and can cause more serious accidents or incidents. It endangers not only railway staff and passengers but the offenders themselves. I understand the reasoning behind the amendments, but I will none the less to explain why, in the Bill's context, they are misplaced. We all have serious concerns about trespass and vandalism on the railways, but other crimes are also of great concern. I do not want to get bogged down in arguments about whether vandalism or bigamy is more common on the railways, as the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) did. I shall stick to vandalism as it appears to be a more pressing issue.
It would be wrong to specify in the Bill that one crime should be placed above all crimes as a priority. The Bill provides both the Secretary of State and the authority with powers to set objectives for policing the railways. Those powers will be the appropriate mechanism to target any crime, such as vandalism, that the authority wishes to make a priority. Those objectives must be incorporated in the railways policing plan. The current policing plan for the railways identifies six priority crimes: violence against a person; robbery; vehicle crime; railway disruption and vandalism; policing football; and managing fatalities.
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For vandalism, the plan sets a target of fewer than 5,360 offences by the year-end, a 2 per cent. reduction on the previous year. The railways policing plan ties in with the authority's three-year strategy. The current strategy plan provides for the British Transport police
''to work in partnership with all their community by developing partnerships and plans with the railways industry to tackle trespass and vandalism''.
A senior officer has lead responsibility for the issue and his specific task is
''implementing a national force strategy to assist the railway industry in combating Trespass and Vandalism''
by 2002–03. I hope that that illustrates that it is unnecessary and impractical to specify vandalism in the Bill. It is for the authority to decide what the objectives for railways policing shall be within the structure provided in clause 47. With that assurance, I hope that the hon. Member for Bath will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
Amendment No. 63 refers to clause 56. I shall not address many of my remarks to clause 56, but it enables the Secretary of State to require the chief constable to provide statistical information about crime on the railways. There are no restrictions; the clause merely details matters on which he may request information. If the Secretary of State needs crime information from the force regarding a particular type or location of a crime, under the proposals, he already has the necessary powers to request it from the British Transport police, and it can be published in a summary form. The British Transport police play a full role in the fight against all railway crime, including trespass and vandalism, and comply with the national crime recording standard.
Mr. Foster: Can the Minister confirm that what he has just told the Committee is correct? I understand that the Reporting of Injuries, Disease and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations do not include a requirement to provide information and to record the location of, for example, arson on the railway. Will the Minister confirm which of us is correct?
Mr. Jamieson: That would certainly be the case: the location and the type of crime could be recorded by the authority.
Mr. Foster: The Minister says that those matters could be recorded. My question concerns whether they are currently recorded. The Minister might look back at parliamentary answers that he has given to me on that very question to help him with his answer.
Mr. Jamieson: I knew that those parliamentary answers would come back to haunt me. I will endeavour to find that information for the hon. Gentleman. However, the point that I tried to make was that what he seeks to do in his amendment will be achieved in the Bill. In particular, the annual crime figures produced by the British Transport police provide detailed figures on criminal damage, arson, graffiti, serious damage to railway property, damage that endangers safety, obstruction of the line, missiles thrown at trains, stone-throwing and trespass. I hope that that covers the points that he raised.
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Mr. Foster indicated dissent.
Mr. Jamieson: The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, so I am sure that he will return to the matter later. I believe that the provisions are more than adequate for measuring the impact of trespass and vandalism.
Amendment No. 62 concerns the location of offences committed. The British Transport police already publish annual figures for reported crimes on the railways in accordance with the Home Office guidelines. The total figure is broken down into the ''geographical'' areas of England, Scotland and Wales. The figures for England and Wales are further broken down into the following ''force areas'': the London underground, London north, London south, western, north-west and north-east.
Under the Bill, the British Transport police would continue to publish those figures on that basis for each year. The figures will also be laid before Parliament. I believe that that is sufficient for general information purposes, and that there is no need for any further statutory requirements on the location of crimes. I hope that the hon. Gentlemen will be persuaded by the strength and weight of my argument to withdraw his amendment.
Mr. Foster: It is delightful to be back, and to see the Minister back in good form, with his voice recovered. Unfortunately, I have to watch him with a halo round his head. I am not sure whether that is merely caused by the current location of the sun, or whether something has happened to him during the recess. The recess meant that for a whole week the Minister gave no performances in Westminster Hall. He has obviously been saving it all up for his response to these questions.
I am delighted that the Minister was willing to give a detailed response, and that he took the issue seriously. So-called route crime on the railways is a serious matter. As I said, such incidents lead, on average, to approximately 100 deaths per year on the railways. That is a significantly larger number of people than those killed as a result of collisions or other accidents on the railways.
The issue is serious and it is therefore worth putting some of the statistics on record. Some 50 per cent. of all damage to trains on the UK network is inflicted by vandals throwing rocks or bricks from the line side, firing airguns at passing trains, or leaving obstructions on the track for trains to run over. According to the British Transport police, 640,000 objects are placed on the line every year. That has many devastating consequences, affecting all passengers on the railway. It is estimated that, in some depots, about 60 per cent. of lost driver time is the direct result of attacks by vandals on trains. Every year, 4 million objects are thrown at trains.
The total cost of vandalism and, more generally, of route crime is currently estimated to be in excess of £280 million a year. Those crimes strike me as being very serious, especially when we consider the information that I gave about the number of lives lost as a result of them. We should be taking them even more seriously. I have already argued that they should
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be treated not only as civil crimes, but often as criminal cases and punished accordingly. It is important to recognise that Network Rail and the British Transport police are doing more and more work, which I recognise and welcome. However, unless we take the issue more seriously and give them the tools to do even more work, the figures from recent years that I quoted will be replicated in subsequent years.
I entirely accept the Minister's word that route crime, vandalism, trespass and arson are already covered by the more generic language of the Bill. I am sure that he will understand that the aim of the amendments is to provide an opportunity to focus the Committee's attention on the issue, even if they are not accepted. He said that he was prepared to reconsider the issue of the recording of information about where those incidents take place. Individual train-operating companies tend to have information about those sorts of incidents.
In response to my parliamentary question
''To ask the Secretary of State for Transport how many incidences of arson on the railways there were in each year since 1995, broken down by (a) train operating company and (b) line'',
the Minister said that
''The Health and Safety Executive's Annual Report on the safety record of the railways in Great Britain contains details of arson on the railways. Copies are available from the House Libraries. The 200102 report will be published on 18 December 2002.''—[Official Report, 17 December 2002; Vol. 396, c. 685W.]
I greatly looked forward to reading that report, and rushed down to the Library the minute that it was published to find the details that would answer my question. Sadly, I could not find them because, as I said a few moments ago, the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations do not cover arson, for example. It is important to have more information about where the incidents take place so that we can identify hotspots.
Four years ago, Mr. Colin Hamling of St. Paul International, an underwriting insurance company, gave an interesting speech in which he said:
''Not many people know this, but 71 per cent. of all arson takes place on Connex South East and the majority on the Abbey wood to Dartford stretch''.
That was four years ago, so it was incumbent on me during the recent brief recess to check that remark with him. He recalls having said that, but now believes that the information might not have been entirely correct and that that is the location only of Connex South East incidents. However, he went on to make the point that it is difficult to be precise because of difficulties with the recording system. It is important to have more information about where the incidents take place and I am delighted that the Minister agrees with me on the issue of route crime. In the light of his assurances and the seriousness with which the Committee is taking this matter, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
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