Railways and Transport Safety Bill

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Mr. Foster: I am sure that the Minister knows that he is waffling. Under subsection (4)(a) and (b), the Secretary of State has the power to get involved in the way in which the review is carried out. There is no need to add anything to that provision, because the authority has no choice but to review from time to time. As I said earlier, that is already covered. The provision is tautological and totally unnecessary. I do not care two figs whether there is a backstop. I had hoped that the Minister might for once agree that it was unnecessary, but if he thinks otherwise, so be it.

Mr. Spellar: I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree that taking a belt and braces approach is not unprecedented in legislation.

Miss McIntosh: It is all very well to have belt and braces, but the hon. Member for Bath pressed the right button when he said that the Minister was slightly waffling.

Mr. Foster: I did not say he was ''slightly waffling'' but that he was waffling.

Miss McIntosh: I find it extraordinary that although we are having a full debate, the Government seem totally unprepared to answer the pertinent questions raised by me and the hon. Gentleman. I imagine that the Royal Institute of the Blind will take a disappointing view of the fact that the Minister has not responded or said whether victims will be included in the consultation. He certainly did not deal with my specific request about whether parish councils would be included.

As for the Minister blathering on about Scottish Ministers and Members of the National Assembly for Wales, I hope that the Secretary of State would want the authority to consult other bodies in Scotland and Wales. It would have been interesting to hear which bodies they might be. I specifically asked about the relevant provisions of the Act. Rather than accuse the Minister of waffling, I would say that he is a little under-prepared for today's debate.

Mr. Spellar: I made it clear to the hon. Lady that, under paragraph (g), the opinions would be sought of

    ''organisations representing local authorities in England''.

That therefore enables all local authorities to be engaged in discussions with regard to victims. The authority may well be looking at a post-incident response in order to evaluate the experience of victims and to find out what lessons could be learned that hade a more general application, rather than specific applications.

The clause allows authorities to review from time to time their arrangements for obtaining people's opinions about the policing of the railways. That is precisely why it lays that duty on the authorities. They can look at their mechanisms for obtaining such views from a range of specified organisations; but, in the hon. Lady's own words, it is by no means an exhaustive or comprehensive list. Paragraph (m) will enable those authorities to do that. If that mechanism

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is found not to be effective in obtaining the widest possible range of necessary and appropriate views, the clause provides for the Secretary of State to intervene. It seems right to put that level of responsibility on the authority, but as always when setting up such bodies, we also provide a fall-back position.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 59 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 60

Inspection

Amendments made: No. 39, in

    clause 60, page 25, line 1, after 'Scotland', insert—

    '(a)'.

No. 40, in

    clause 60, page 25, line 4, at end insert

    ', and

    (b) where an inspection under this section is carried out by inspectors so appointed the references to the Secretary of State in subsection (7) shall be treated as references to the Scottish Ministers.'.—[Mr. Jamieson.]

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

Miss McIntosh: We now move on to the clauses that deal with inspection. [Interruption.]

The Chairman: Order. To recap, the Committee has voted on amendments Nos. 39 and 40. We will now debate whether clause 60, as amended, should stand part of the Bill.

4 pm

Miss McIntosh: I am grateful for that clarification, Mr. Hood.

I want to turn the Committee's attention back to the original consultation on these clauses. My understanding is that there is wide support, from the British Transport police, the Association of Police Authorities and the Association of Chief Police Officers and its equivalent in Scotland, for regular statutory inspections by Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary of the British Transport police. The Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland commented that it would need to be involved in inspection arrangements for Scotland, because of the devolved nature of policing and the role of Scottish Ministers. It would be helpful if the Minister could tell us whether that has been agreed. I presume that that subsection (8) is relevant to that.

I think that the Minister will confirm that the Government are minded to establish regular inspections, perhaps no more often than every three years. The Bill states only that

    ''Her Majesty's Inspectors of Constabulary shall inspect the Police Force from time to time.''

My understanding, which the Minister may want to confirm, is that inspections tend to be at three-yearly intervals. The Transport Salaried Staffs Association, as the Minister will recall, requested annual, rather than three-yearly, inspections. I wonder how the Government responded to that. It is not clear from the Bill what intervals will be used. In their official

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response, the Government said that they were not minded to consider a different frequency for inspections from that considered appropriate for Home Office police forces.

I understand that the Government also intend that Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary for Scotland should have a duty, under the general umbrella of statutory provision, to inspect the British Transport police in Scotland. I presume that subsection (8) is the relevant provision, but would be grateful for clarification. Perhaps the Minister would be good enough to confirm that it is intended that only the Secretary of State would receive and publish the subsequent reports or have the power to instruct Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary for Scotland to inspect the British Transport police in Scotland in particular circumstances.

The Bill does not say so, but the Government, in their response to the original consultation, said that any directions to the British Transport police after an adverse report following an inspection would also be a matter for the Secretary of State. I presume that the Under-Secretary will confirm that.

I hope that the Under-Secretary will assure the Committee that inspections will take place at regular intervals. It is a good opportunity for Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary to see that everything is shipshape. Will the inspectors' report to the Secretary of State be a public or an internal document? Will any reports will be made to the House, or will it be possible for right hon. and hon. Members to track the results of the inspections?

What is the current situation under the Police Act 1996? Section 55 relates to any necessary modifications and reports of an inspection. It would be helpful to know not only that there are inspections, but that the inspections and reports undertaken by the inspectorate will be transparent and open, and that right hon. and hon. Members will have access to them. Perhaps the Under-Secretary will be good enough to respond to those points, and to concerns raised during the formal consultations about how the Government sought to address those issues when drafting the clause. Of particular concern is the frequency of inspections. Does ''from time to time'' mean every year or, as is currently the case, every three years? Will the Under-Secretary also say how the position in Scotland has been resolved?

Mr. Jamieson: I am delighted to respond to the hon. Lady's questions. Under the Police Act 1996, Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary inspects and reports to the Secretary of State on the efficiency and effectiveness of all Home Office police forces. The British Transport police have not fallen under the statutory remit of the inspectorate in the past. Nevertheless, at the invitation of the British Transport police committee, the inspectorate has undertaken detailed assessments of the operational performance and organisation of the British Transport police every three years, applying the same standards that it applies for the Home Office police forces.

It is time to regularise the arrangement. The clause places a statutory duty on the inspectorate to inspect

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the British Transport police. It will have to report to the Secretary of State on the efficiency and effectiveness of the British Transport police regularly and at the request of the Secretary of State, who will publish a report each time he receives one. I believe that the hon. Lady asked that question in her anxiety to get through her contribution. It is, of course, in subsection (5).

Unlike the inspectorate of the Home Office police forces, which is funded centrally, the British Transport police authority will meet the full costs of inspections of the British Transport police. That is in line with other non-Home Office police forces such as the Ministry of Defence police force, the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority constabulary and the Isle of Man police force. The inspectorate in England and Wales will continue to be responsible for inspections of the British Transport police as a whole.

The hon. Lady also asked about the position in Scotland. Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary for Scotland will be given the statutory duty to inspect the transport police and to report to the Secretary of State in so far as the British Transport police operate in Scotland. Her Majesty's inspectors of constabulary in Scotland are, of course, the responsibility of Scottish Ministers. The British Transport police, however, are a national police force under the control of the Secretary of State for Transport. Since Scottish Ministers do not have control over the British Transport police in Scotland, there is no action that they could take on receipt of a report from HMIC Scotland. In practice, the Secretary of State will send copies of all the HMIC Scotland reports on the British Transport police in Scotland to the relevant Scottish Minister for the purposes of information.

 
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