Railways and Transport Safety Bill

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Mr. Jamieson: The hon. Lady asked about the legal basis of the statistics. The current statistics are not required by legislation; the British Transport police produce them voluntarily. However, the British Transport police committee has powers to ask the chief constable for information. Should the Bill receive Royal Assent, the new statistics will, under clause 56, be in the annual report. I hope that the hon. Lady will not press me on what the acronym ''PINS'' stands for. It is the British Transport police's internal crime recording system and database, which will not be affected by the new provisions.

Let me make one other point for clarity. The hon. Member for Bath talked about the practice of jumping between trains and what was and was not a crime. I can tell him that railway byelaws do create criminal

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offences. The maximum penalty is at level 3; there is a fine of £1,000. Jumping or moving between carriages when a train is moving is an offence under the byelaw, so that could be subsumed into the statistics.

The hon. Member for Vale of York asked whether we could have a debate on the statistics. The House is open to debate at any time. The Opposition are free to call a debate on the statistics on an Opposition day if they wish to do so. I would be delighted to respond to it.

Miss McIntosh: The hon. Member for Bath and I have spoken about this matter on a number of occasions. The Minister, in summing up originally, explained for our benefit what it meant for a document to be laid before Parliament. I give the excuse, which will be written into the official record, that we have before us precisely the provision under which it could have been introduced by way of a formal amendment, just as the Government have sought to do with many other amendments. It is very disappointing that they did not take it upon themselves to table such an amendment, which could have been debated in the proper way. The document falls neatly within the scope of clauses 53 to 55 and particularly clause 56.

Mr. Jamieson: If the hon. Lady thought that this matter was so important, why did Opposition not table an amendment? It is not only the Government who can table amendments.

Miss McIntosh: That is an interesting concept. How am I supposed to table an amendment on information to which I am not privy and which was not placed in the Library until 9.30 this morning? I find that point fairly infantile.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 56 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 57


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

Miss McIntosh: Will the Minister explain the present legal basis of an inquiry into the British Transport police and whether existing legislation applies to the national police force? What is the nature of an inquiry? We have already debated circumstances surrounding the statistical bulletin. Is a complaint against an individual police constable or an action by the British Transport police covered? Is a fatal accident inquiry relevant? Under what circumstances would the Secretary of State appoint a person to conduct such an inquiry, and who might be appointed?

Under subsection (3), a person appointed

    ''may summon a person to attend at a specified time and place—

    (a) to give evidence

    (b) to produce a document.''

I am sure that the Minister would want to put our minds at rest on that. The issues overlap with debates on part 1, under which the rail accident investigation branch was established. I hope that, in the event of an accident, no potential conflict of interest in the taking

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and supplying of evidence will arise. That raises the question of what sort of inquiry would be set up. If existing legislation already provides for that, what circumstances apply? Will the Minister assure us that no conflict of interest will arise in investigations undertaken by the railway accident investigation branch?

Curiously, the Secretary of State is allowed to receive a report of an inquiry insofar as he believes that it is in the public interest to publish a summary. Does that cover an inquiry into terrorist activity or a perceived public threat? Under what circumstances would such an inquiry take place in public and in private?

I understand that separate provisions apply to Scotland. Will the Minister confirm that in Scotland the Secretary of State is allowed to cite a person to attend—a legal nicety that you, Mr. Hood, and I understand, as the legal language is slightly different north of the border?

One response to the original Government consultation referred to the appointment of a treasurer and an independent financial adviser. Could an inquiry authorised under clause 57 cover financial investigations? Have the Government thought about appointing a treasurer or independent financial adviser, or can the clause be used in that regard?

Mr. Spellar: Clauses 57 and 58 replicate section 34 of the Police Act 1997. They allow the Secretary of State to order an inquiry into a matter connected with the British Transport police. It is for the Secretary of State to determine in the circumstances of the time whether the inquiry should be held in public or in private. No statutory provisions currently exist for an inquiry into the British Transport police, and clauses 57 and 58 will remedy that. Inquiries would be on policing matters, including serious crime or crowd control at stations or other matters that the Secretary of State considers appropriate.

3.30 pm

The rail accident investigation branch would conduct railway accident investigations. It is clear that the person appointed by the Secretary of State to conduct the inquiry should be able to summon witnesses to give evidence in person, and clause 58 will detail how that will be effected. The clause also requires the Secretary of State to publish a summary of the report of an inquiry if he thinks that it is in the public interest to do so.

Those comments cover the broader areas covered by the hon. Lady, save that there are provisions for a treasurer, which is foreseen by paragraph 11(a) of schedule 4.

Mr. Randall: Would the inquiries include internal inquiries into police activities and complaints?

Mr. Spellar: That would depend on the nature of the complaint and whether there were other provisions in the procedure. The Bill leaves it open to both the authority and the chief constable to deal with their own matters, but if there are questions, the clause provides that the Secretary of State can satisfy his,

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public or parliamentary opinion that one is necessary. It will facilitate an inquiry and provide a mechanism that does not currently exist for the British Transport police. As I have had to reiterate many times, the clause brings British Transport police in line with the Home Office police forces. With that, I commend the clause to the Committee.

Miss McIntosh: I am grateful to the Minister for drawing the Committee's attention to paragraph 11(a) of schedule 4, which refer to a treasurer. We should have time to consider that part of the Bill.

I understood the Minister's points, but I have some remaining questions. I understand that such an inquiry would not cover any financial irregularity. Am I right in thinking that if financial irregularity were alleged on the part of the British Transport police authority, the Government would not use the mechanism in clause 57 to investigate it? On crowd control, when London gets back to normal next week after the two half-term weeks, we might need an inquiry into crowd control at underground stations following the introduction of the congestion charge.

I thank the Minister for referring to the existing provision about inquiries in section 34 of the Police Act 1997. How many times has that provision been used in the past six years, and what were the circumstances of those inquiries?

Mr. Spellar: I shall have to write to the hon. Lady on her last question.

To avoid doubt, I should clarify the position of individual officers as opposed to that of a more general inquiry. The British Transport police currently have a voluntary agreement with the Police Complaints Authority for complaints to be handled in the same way as they are for Home Office police officers. Under the Police Reform Act 2002, the British Transport police will be subject to the new Independent Police Complaints Commission that was established by that Act. Therefore the BTP are required to enter an agreement with the new commission about the handling of complaints against BTP officers. As I pointed out earlier the case for an inquiry covers more general issues that would rightly be determined by the Secretary of State.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 57 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 58

Inquiry: supplemental

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

Miss McIntosh: The Minister linked clauses 57 and 58. I note with interest that the clause transfers corresponding provisions from section 34 of the Police Act 1997. A fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale presumably reflects the fact of a civil offence, whereas imprisonment for a term not exceeding 51 weeks will be deemed to be for a criminal offence. In fact, however, the offence could be considered to be both at the same time. Could the

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Minister explain the thinking behind that? Subsection (7) states that a direction under subsection (6) could include provision for taxation of costs. To whom would such an application be made given that cases could be dealt with by either a civil or a criminal court? If the offence were both a civil and a criminal offence, would an application have to be made to both courts?

The Secretary of State is given discretionary power to direct the authority to pay all or part of the costs incurred by a person in connection with an inquiry under clause 57. That is rather curious. Does that accept that the inquiry should not have been brought in the first place and that the person who is being inquired into could have those legitimate costs falling on to them? Subsection (2) reads:

    ''A person appointed under section 57 may not require the production of a document relating to the title of land which is not the property of the Authority.''

How, if the document relating to the title of land is not produced, do the Government intend to prove to whom it belongs? Obviously this will have occurred under the provisions of the 1997 Act? These provisions could have serious consequences in terms of both civil and criminal offences.

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