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Session 2002 - 03
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Standing Committee Debates
Railways and Transport Safety Bill

Railways and Transport Safety Bill

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Standing Committee D

Tuesday 25 February 2003


[Mr. Jimmy Hood in the Chair]

Railways and Transport Safety Bill

Clause 56


Question proposed [this day], That the clause stand part of the Bill.

2.30 pm

Question again proposed.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): I welcome you back to the Committee, Mr. Hood. I hope that you had the benefit of a good week. It is good to see you back in the Chair. I am sure that the Committee appreciates the fact that you have had to drag yourself away from another pressing Committee meeting, part of which I also had the honour to attend.

Before the break for questions, lunch and the prime ministerial statement, I was questioning the Minister, but obviously he has not had the opportunity to reply. With reference to clause 56(4), will the Minister tell me the legal basis for the current crime statistics produced by the British Transport police? I hope that the Government will do better on the provisions in this Bill than the way in which the current provisions operate.

Subsection (4) states:

    ''Where the Secretary of State receives information under this section he shall lay it or a summary of it before Parliament.''

Under normal circumstances I would understand that to mean that any hon. Member who wished to have access to the statistical information under the existing provisions or the proposed new provisions would present him or herself to the Vote Office or to the Library and expect to have easy access to a copy. I was therefore concerned—I am sure that the Minister will be alarmed to hear this—on presenting myself to the Vote Office at 11.33 this morning, to be told that the statistics were not available there, and that the Department could not get them to me by 2.30 pm today. That was three hours' notice, which I would have thought was adequate, if the document was as widely available as we are told.

I then went to the Library at 11.40 am—obviously I moved quite quickly between the Vote Office and the Library—and was told that copies were available in the statistical section of the Library. As hon. Members will know, the statistical section of the Library is not part of the Members' Library, but is situated some three or four blocks away in Derby gate, very close to the Norman Shaw North building in which my office is located.

I therefore record my immense gratitude to the House of Commons Library for, in the short time available, furnishing me with the relevant information. I am not allowed to take the document out of the Library, but I considered the Committee Room to be

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an extension of the Library. Moreover, the Library knows where the document is and who has it, and I have promised to return it by 5 pm.

My point, however, is serious—it relates to my question on the current legal basis of the statistical evidence to which the Minister referred this morning. The document I have is the ''British Transport Police Statistical Bulletin 2001/02''—the most recent edition available—and I would like to know why it is not made more widely available. Will the Minister confirm that the statistics referred to in subsection (4) will be made more widely available than at present?

This may strike a chord with you, Mr. Hood, because the statistics come with a health warning. On page 3 of the bulletin it states:

    ''Crime statistics should be treated with caution. Dramatic fluctuations''—

it is a bit like the stock market—

    ''up or down can be misleading, and, if misused, statistics can contribute to the fear of crime. Hundreds of millions of passenger journeys are made safely each year, and the statistics should be viewed in that context.''

That is the health warning with which the statistics come.

We had a debate this morning about whether the statistics and reports furnish the statistics take in the whole area covered by the British Transport police or are broken down into regions. The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) was helpful in trying to elicit further guidance from the Minister on that. It may help the Committee to point out that page 4 of the most recent edition of the helpful and illuminating statistics, which we must consider in the context of the health warning to which I referred, breaks down the network into area maps. Will the Minister explain at what stage the statistics will be extrapolated from the reports in clauses 53 and 54? Will he answer the question I asked this morning? At what stage will they be translated in that reporting period into the statistics I have mentioned?

In our debates on clauses 53 and 54, I tried to tease out issues of morale and training. I am delighted to say that personnel statistics are also given on pages 5 and 6, notably on the numbers of constables and different rankings. I hope that the Minister will confirm that future reports will include such statistics. Regrettably, there are no female chief constables in the British Transport police, but I am sure that that will be rectified in the fullness of time. I am delighted to note that we in North Yorkshire now have the services of a female chief constable, and I am sure that the Committee would want to see that emulated in other police forces and the British Transport police. That reference to the statistics is important.

When we touched on the best value indicators, we were told that the British Transport police would have to have regard to best value but could not be treated as a best value authority. As I mentioned at the time, that will leave the British Transport police and its authority in a quandary. Page 9 includes statistics from Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary of best value performance indicators for the reporting period for 2001–02 for England and Wales, and I am delighted to

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see that the most recent figures show that 98.1 per cent. of police constables are in operational posts. I hope that the Minister will confirm that such statistics will continue to be monitored for the reason that I gave earlier. One purpose of such statistics should be to check that the vast majority of the resources allocated to the British Transport police goes on operational policing. It should not go to other matters, as a rather large proportion of a force's operational budget often goes on paying for retirement costs, which is regrettable. North Yorkshire is particularly vulnerable to that as we have two waves to come of senior police officers approaching retirement age, so we will have two peaks and troughs in the percentage figure before 2012.

Clause 56 is vague, and I hope that the Minister will confirm that the statistics will continue to give an idea of the number of complaints per 1,000 officers and the percentage of complaints that are substantiated. The document gives greater detail later, and I am glad to say that less than 5 per cent. of complaints were substantiated.

This morning—I repeat this is for your benefit, Mr. Hood, as you were not here—I said that there was a serious omission that I hoped the Minister would explain. The serious omission is a paragraph (d) in subsection (2) relating to victims of crime. I note with interest and satisfaction that the table on page 9, compiled by Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary, says that the percentage of victims satisfied with the police's initial response to the report of violent crime is as high as 80 per cent. That is a great credit to the British Transport police. I do not know how it compares with local police forces. I did not think to bring the performance document issued to us last week, which is among my other papers.

The document also mentions figures that I have requested but which the Minister was reluctant—[Interruption.] I am sure that he is not reluctant at all. I will not again fall prey to the charge of putting words into the Minister's mouth. I am not sure whether I asked specifically about the ethnicity of offenders—[Interruption.]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson): The hon. Lady did not ask that.

Miss McIntosh: No, but I do now. Will future statistics give us the ethnicity of victims? I have also asked whether the gender of offenders and victims might be profiled in the statistics. I find the document immensely helpful and I wonder whether it is available on the web. That could be some night-time reading on my laptop at the weekend. [Interruption.] Does it already happen, or is the Department minded to correlate the statistics garnered by the Home Office for the national police force and those garnered by the British Transport police? [Interruption.]

The Chairman: Order.

Miss McIntosh: I am most grateful, Mr. Hood.

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It would be helpful to know whether the 10 per cent.—I am not sure what PACE is—

The Minister of State, Department of Transport (Mr. John Spellar): The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.

Miss McIntosh: I am grateful to the Minister. The percentages of stop and searches under PACE leading to arrest are broadly similar for white and ethnic minority persons: 10.7 per cent. for whites and 11.7 per cent. for non-whites. Will those statistics be compared with those for other national police forces? We owe a great debt of gratitude to the British Transport police officers. I would like to see more transparency of their work in this regard and I should have thought that the statistics, even read with a health warning, could be powerful.

Interestingly, when we had the discussion about the report and clauses 53 and 54 the Under-Secretary rattled through the top policing plan priorities. He did not dwell at any length on sexual offences, to which I referred in my remarks about the statistics, and the Bill does not include them. Interestingly, however, the latest statistical bulletin from the reporting period 2001–02 examines how many sexual offences were reported and investigated. Will there be another opportunity to re-examine each planning priority to determine whether there is a correlation between the number of offences committed and reported and the creation of the Crown Prosecution Service, whether national police forces' statistics reflect that and whether there are any conclusions to be drawn?

2.45 pm

Why does not the clause state that the statistics will also relate to complaints against the police? I accept that the report does, but I want to know why the Bill does not. I would like some guidance to enable us to monitor that.

There are other crimes to which we have not alluded. I do not know if the Minister purposely left them out when we discussed clauses 53 and 54, but general public disorder offences on the London underground, on trains and in railway stations are of particular interest, as are offences relating to drugs. Will the Minister confirm that vandalism, as the hon. Member for Bath would call it, hooliganism and damage to cars parked at railway stations would fall within the remit of the British Transport police, as we see from the statistics for this reporting period?

Interestingly, the statistics go into great detail according to area, whereas the hon. Member for Bath suggested that the statistics would be collated nationally. I am delighted to see that they are broken down into England, Wales, Scotland and London Underground, and then broken down further, but Yorkshire and North Yorkshire are not mentioned in the summary of notifiable offences and crimes. Clearly, the levels are crime are lower because the Government, in their wisdom, have decided to give North Yorkshire police a standstill budget. We will be left £8.2 million short, so the Government may know something that we do not. I know where the north-east of England, the north-west of England and the midlands are, but I do not see where North

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Yorkshire fits in. We do not want to be considered as part of the north-east for these purposes.

I briefly mentioned burglary, and I see that robbery and burglary account for a large number of offences. Will the Minister tell us whether the number of reported crimes of sexual assault, rape, robbery and burglary and the number of successful prosecutions for those crimes have increased or decreased not only in this reporting period, but over, for example, the past five years?

Fraud, in the form of ticket fraud and other fraud, is mentioned. Other fraud accounts for substantially larger amounts than ticket fraud. Forgery is very alarming. I hope that the Minister will assure us that that is on a downward trend.

The Minister said that one priority for the railways policing plan, which will also be covered in the chief constable's report and the authority's report, is fatalities. I welcome the fact that the number of homicides in the relevant period was quite low. Nevertheless, there were five reported fatalities in the jurisdiction of the British Transport police in that reporting period, which is clearly five fatalities too many.

Many of us have experience of people trying to leap between railway carriages and from one train to another. We have experienced that in North Yorkshire with some senior public figures. One comes to mind, but I shall not go into that. I hope that that is not a common occurrence and that the Minister will assure me that that crime is not rising. Just to refresh his memory—


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Prepared 25 February 2003