Railways and Transport Safety Bill

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Mr. Foster: On a point of order, Mr. Hood. Is it appropriate for the Minister to infer my thoughts on certain matters and even to suggest that my head was moving in any way?

The Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that that is not a point of order. Trying to get inside his head is rather challenging.

Mr. Jamieson: Nor do I wish to get inside or outside the hon. Gentleman's head.

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The hon. Member for Vale of York is suggesting an enormous bureaucratic system that endlessly pares down statistics into smaller and smaller areas. As I said earlier, if statistics were needed because a small station was creating a problem, I am sure that they could be made available. However, to break them down station by station, town by town, or parish by parish would make the document meaningless, filled with information that was beyond comprehension.

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge): Has any consideration been given to giving statistics by rail lines, rather than regions? Would that be simpler?

Mr. Jamieson: The statistics reflect the operations of the British Transport police and to some extent the operations of the railways. That is how they have been divided up. We have split them into geographical regions but if information is needed on a more detailed basis, it can be provided.

The hon. Member for Vale of York asked for year-on-year statistics this morning. She probably has the document now and can analyse it. She mentioned sexual offences and rape. The number of rapes recorded in 2001–02 and the comparison with the previous year are shown on page 51. A trend can be seen. By comparing the various documents, trends can be analysed over different periods.

The statistics compiled by the British Transport police in England, Scotland and Wales reflect crimes reported to them by the victims or witnesses of crime. The British Transport police can also conduct their own survey of the perception of crime. That is compatible with the Home Office crime survey. Year-on-year statistical comparisons can be seen throughout the document. The sentencing offender profiles and detailed statistics are not necessarily matters for the British Transport police alone. However, along with other police forces, they can provide information for the Central Statistical Office as required.

The hon. Member for Bath asked whether offences would be reported in full under subsection (4). Generally, that would be the case. That is the format in which that information would come. If the Secretary of State requires statistics under the clause, they would generally be provided in full. However, if they were very detailed, a summary could be made. If required, they could be reported to Parliament in full.

Mr. Foster: I would like to clarify the matter for the record. Subsection (4) states:

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

I recognise the value of summaries in certain circumstances, but I sought an assurance that the chief constable should agree with that summary, so that there was no question of doubt about the selection of information put into it.

Mr. Jamieson: I am sure that discussions would take place on the summary before it was drawn up. The chief constable might already have summarised the statistics, and that summary might be placed before Parliament. If parliamentarians then wished to drill down into further detail, I am sure that more detailed information could be made available.

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However, I imagine that in general—so that we do not receive a great number of parliamentary questions on the matter—we would provide the statistics to the House in the fullest form possible commensurate with popular reporting.

The British Transport police produce annual figures after the end of the financial year, normally in the summer. Those figures are, as we know, national and regional, the regional figures being a subset of the national figures.

The hon. Lady asked how effective the CPS has been in its prosecutions since it was established. Although that is not relevant to the Bill, and I do not have the information to hand, details could no doubt be found on that if the hon. Lady wishes to press the issue.

There were a number of questions about laying information before Parliament and how that will be done. The hon. Lady also raised a number of points about accessing information, but the question of how quickly information can be retrieved from the Library is a matter not for my Department, but for the House authorities. If the hon. Lady was not satisfied, she should make representations through the appropriate channels.

I will, however, clear up the matter of laying information before Parliament, as that issue has been raised in several debates. A document can be laid before Parliament only when Parliament is sitting. Two copies of the document are taken by my Department to the Clerk in charge of the Vote Office in the Commons. The document is then made available to Members via the Journal Office in the Commons. The hon. Lady asked how we know what information is available. In the debate the week before last, the hon. Member for Bath said that MPs find out that a document has been made available to them through a notice that appears in the daily Votes and Proceedings. MPs must therefore keep an eye on that rather substantial list of items as it is published in order to know what has been laid before the House.

I hope that that has been a helpful response to the points made in the debate.

Miss McIntosh: I am grateful for the Minister's summing up. However, I asked at the outset, and again this afternoon, what the legal basis was for the statistics in the current Bulletin to which he referred. I query whether it is a similar proceeding to a preceding Act of Parliament because the Bulletin states:

    ''The crime/offence figures are collated from the British Transport Police's computerised crime reporting system, 'PINS'.''

That is not to be confused with pins and needles. It continues:

    ''The recording of crime is not static and the figures represent a snapshot in time, i.e. the state of the system at 31 March 2001 and 2002.''

Is the current legal basis for the PINS the Police Act 1996 or a previous Act of Parliament? Would the provisions transfer to the new statutory framework for the British Transport police? I hope that I did not mislead the Committee when I mentioned for clarification that, in 2000–01, there were five reported homicides out of the total number of offences for the

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whole of England, including London. The Committee may be interested to know that British Transport police officers were required to investigate and submit reports to coroners on 279 fatalities in England and Wales during the 2001–02 reporting period, and a further 15 cases were notified to the procurator fiscal in Scotland. The report continues:

    ''Of all Force cases, 4 involved the deaths of members of rail staff. A total of 77 verdicts of suicide were recorded in England and Wales.''

I listened to what the hon. Member for Bath said but, as the British Transport police statistics suggest, the railways have become suicide traps, which is deeply alarming.

3.15 pm

I do not expect the Under-Secretary to treat my request as a priority, but I would be interested to see the figures for the Crown Prosecution Service so that I may compare it with the Procurator Fiscal service in Scotland. The Under-Secretary—an avid reader—helpfully told us in his winding-up remarks that reading the Order Paper was the best way to find out which documents had been laid before the House. Here we are this afternoon discussing the British Transport police, and his right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport was pleased to announce today in a written statement that the Government have published their report on the management of accidental obstruction of the railway by road vehicles. That will interest those of us whose constituencies have congested railway lines and several road bridges. The Minister stated:

    ''British Transport Police have agreed to collect the data about such incidents on a common basis.''—[Official Report, 25 February 2003; Vol. 400, c. 15WS.]

Colleagues may like to read tomorrow's Official Report for the website reference so that we can read about it at our leisure.

We are discussing statistics that relate to the clause, which might have provided an ideal opportunity for the Government to table an amendment. They are not too shy to do so, as most of the amendments on the amendment paper are Government amendments. I must ask why they used the vehicle of a ministerial statement, which is laid before Parliament but cannot be discussed. The Committee would have had the chance to discuss the contents of this ministerial statement if it had been placed before the Committee as a Government amendment.

Mr. Foster: The hon. Lady is making a valuable point about how the procedures of the House could be modernised. Has she reflected on the fact that the Committee is considering the Railways and Transport Safety Bill not only on the day of the ministerial statement—about which we have had no discussion—but on a day on which the new railway safety body, which has been much talked about in this Committee, has gone live without a murmur from the Government Front Bench?

Miss McIntosh: It may be harsh of me to say so, but the second point, although legitimate, may not be

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relevant to the clause. I pay tribute to a north-east of England newspaper, The Northern Echo, which covers county Durham but is also published in north Yorkshire. It ran a campaign on the road vehicle safety after a car collided off a railway bridge and into the path of a train. Hon. and right hon. Members will recall that that was the cause of the Selby crash. I note with dismay that the Government have prepared the timetable and set the agenda, and we have no opportunity to disagree with it. They have rightly devoted five or six sittings to part 3, which relates to the British Transport police and is very important. We have a quite substantial document, which we are told people can pay £5 for through HSE Books, or download from the Government's railways website. It would have been appropriate for the Minister to table an amendment to allow us to discuss the contents of that document. I would have welcomed that opportunity. The document fits in with the collating of statistics, and we could have discussed it this morning. I imagine that it was laid at 9 or 10 o'clock this morning. We could have discussed it in the context of clauses 53 or 54 by way of a Government amendment.

We are told that copies of the report will be sent to all local highway authorities and railway infrastructure authorities. The hon. Member for Bath and I specifically asked which parties would receive those reports. Despite the fact that it is a substantial report, produced in response to 19 separate recommendations made by the Health and Safety Commission and the Highways Agency reports published last year, we are not given an opportunity to debate it.

The report sets out the work of representatives of the highway authorities, railway infrastructure authorities and other organisations to identify steps that the Government consider should be taken jointly by railway infrastructure authorities and highway authorities to manage the risk of accidental incursion of road vehicles on to the railways. That raises the question of precisely how many road bridges cross railway lines. This would have been a good opportunity for us to consider the matter in a relevant context, precisely because the British Transport police have agreed to collect the data about such incidents on a common basis. Perhaps the Minister will now confirm that that will be added to PINS.

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Prepared 25 February 2003