Railways and Transport Safety Bill

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The Chairman: Order. I am being generous to the hon. Lady, but must remind her to return to the clause stand part debate.

Miss McIntosh: That brings me right back to saying that if the TREVI group was the forerunner and if Europol now exists, I need to know where its office is, when it was set up, what is the existing relationship of the British Transport police to Europol and what it is intended to be under clause 67. I am aware that there are vice squads in other national police forces elsewhere in the European Union. The Opposition side of the Committee would also be interested to know whether Europol co-operates with the equivalent of the British Transport police. How many other European countries have special police forces?

I understand that member states are under a duty to co-ordinate action by collaborating through relevant Departments—presumably the Home Office and the Department for Transport. Will the Minister confirm that, for the purposes of clause 67, the Secretary of State for Transport is responsible for co-ordination? Will the co-operation envisaged in the clause take the form of emergency scenarios, such as the resilience policy developed by the civil contingencies secretariat in the Cabinet Office? It would be useful to have annually or every second year some such incident—and perhaps you, Mr. Hood, could be the VIP to volunteer. Is that the sort of co-operation envisaged?

9.30 am

Will the Minister confirm that member states agreed to examine measures designed to enhance co-operation and, if so, what specific measures? I understand that providing support for national criminal investigations, the creation of databases, the development of central analysis, the assessment of information, the furthering of training and research, forensic matters and criminal records are all envisaged. To what extent is it already happening and to what extent will the clause develop it further?

Will the Minister explain the position regarding hot pursuit? If the British Transport police are chasing a person accused of a serious crime and that person boards a Eurostar train or a car travelling through the Channel tunnel to another EU country, does the clause grant the police the right to hot pursuit under the Maastricht treaty, or would they have to cease

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their jurisdiction and rely on other forces? I had hoped that Europol's provisions and those of the Maastricht treaty would allow hot pursuit. Equally, what is the corollary responsibility of the British Transport police's equivalent? Will French police come in hot pursuit of their accused in the other direction or the Belgian police board a ferry to come over here? Will the Minister clarify how far the co-operation already in force under the Maastricht treaty will be furthered by clause 67?

The most alarming development for policing with the greatest potential negative impact is the European convention on human rights. That convention was written into the Human Rights Act 1998, so it would be interesting to know how often evidence has been prevented from coming before the courts or the privacy of an individual prevented from being invaded. Do the Government envisage pooling their collective knowledge and experience under the European convention on human rights? Could it have a negative impact on policing with their European counterparts? I understand that the arrest or detention of individuals is regulated by article 5 of the convention, although that does not affect short periods of detention in order to permit the questioning of suspects, which do not fall within the scope of the guarantee in that article.

The Minister might like to comment on the fact that for deprivation of liberty to be lawful, it must be prescribed by domestic law, which it now is, and to fall in one of the six categories listed. We have serious reservations about the impact of the Human Rights Act on policing in this country. Has the Minister had any opportunity to discuss with his ministerial counterparts the impact that that Act will have on the British Transport police? That knowledge would be most useful if, for example, other police forces or an inspector of an equivalent investigative branch are prevented from entering a private dwelling of an individual to take evidence. It would be interesting to know how often article 5 has been used in this country and in others.

We broadly welcome the opportunities to provide international assistance, but want to know how the clause can facilitate that and to hear how wedded the Government are to that concept, given that it is 13 years since the Maastricht treaty came into effect. We also want to record our concern that the implications of article 5 could have a negative impact on policing. Has the police's mind been put at rest by talking to their opposite numbers in other European countries?

Mr. Spellar: I wondered when the Conservative Opposition would get around to discussing Europe. One can take a Member out of Europe, but one cannot take Europe out of the Member. The hon. Lady's remarks were all very interesting, but have nothing to do with the clause, which relates to the ability of the British Transport police to provide advice and assistance to a body that has responsibilities for the policing of the railway outside the United Kingdom. It provides the mechanism by which that can happen, and deals with the funding that relates to that. The Police Act 1996, to which we continually refer, also

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allows Home Office police forces to provide assistance to overseas police forces. As hon. Members will know, that advice and assistance is usually co-ordinated by the Foreign Office when nations are in urgent need of them. In a previous incarnation as the Minister for the Armed Forces, I worked with the Ministry of Defence police and several other police forces to help to stabilise the situation in Kosovo. Central Government funding is often available in certain circumstances.

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge): The Minister referred to a railway outside the UK. I notice that the clause says ''Great Britain''. Is there a legal difference, or is it just a nicety?

Mr. Spellar: It is a nicety. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the provisions do not apply in Northern Ireland.

The funding of seconded BTP officers will be a matter for the BTP authority and receiving police force. Subsection (2)(b) allows for payment arrangements as agreed. The hon. Lady made a sensible point about whether an immediate incident in the channel tunnel would involve secondment. It would not, but it might well be sensible to have a secondment for a longer term investigation after the appropriate bodies that govern the channel tunnel had decided on jurisdiction.

On the other matters raised about extradition, hot pursuit and so on, the general provisions that apply to all police forces will apply. Nothing in the clause changes that; it deals only with administrative arrangements to provide welcome assistance to other police forces when required.

Miss McIntosh: That is all very interesting, but the Minister's dismissal of my points is not a proper reflection of his ability. If he and his Department do not know where Europol is based, why does he not admit that? That question clearly relates to international assistance. An international co-operation agreement was signed under the 1992 Maastricht treaty, and it is proper for us to question the Minister about that. If he were humble and honest enough to say that he does not know but that he will drop me a line for my interest, that would be fine. However, it is wrong to dismiss the point as irrelevant when it is clearly relevant. The legal base for the co-operation has moved on. As I explained, the United Kingdom will be under a duty, and the Minister may be the lead Minister. We want to know how many other European countries have transport police forces with which it would be in our interests to liaise. Is Europol up and running and if not, why not? Is that because the British Government will not co-operate or provide the resources to do its job? We demand an answer.

The Minister referred to the application of the clause. It seems to involve the railway police outside Great Britain, so does that include Northern Ireland? What is the relationship of clause 67 with Northern Ireland? I omitted to ask that earlier in my excitement about the theme. Furthermore, will the discretionary power have to be approved by an affirmative consent of the Secretary of State? That is how I read clause

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67(3); I should be grateful if the Minister would confirm that.

If the Minister does not know the answers to my questions on Europol, we would accept a little letter from him. However, the Opposition would take a serious view if he just dismissed the questions as irrelevant. I repeat for the record that we shall monitor carefully how article 5 of the European convention on human rights, provided for in the Human Rights Act 1998, will be applied, particularly with regard to earlier clauses.

Mr. Spellar: Apart from the question about Northern Ireland, to which the answer is that clause 67 will allow the British Transport police to assist in Northern Ireland subject to the Secretary of State's consent, none of that was relevant either to the Bill or the clause.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 67 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 68

Exercise of functions by Secretary of State

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

Miss McIntosh: I wish to pull together several strands that relate to part 3 on the British Transport police. Many representations have been made to us—I cannot believe that they have not been made to the Government—and we share the concerns expressed in them. We would deplore any centralisation of control to Government in the exercise of the Secretary of State's powers in clause 68. The British Transport police should operate with full autonomy as far as possible. Clauses 55, 48, 40 and 33 offer the Secretary of State a whole raft of opportunities to be a little heavier handed than his predecessors.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) pointed out that this is the first time that the Department for Transport will assume responsibilities in this regard. We now have a more concentrated Department focusing exclusively on transport issues. That is welcome. We just want to put down a marker that it should be for the British Transport police primarily to determine the most efficient and effective way for them to operate. They obviously work under the auspices of the British Transport police authority. They will be paid by the industry and as we have seen there will be extensive consultation between members of the authority, the police and other interested parties. The British Transport police feel very strongly, as do the Royal National Institute of the Blind and a number of other organisations that have made forceful representations, about the exercise of the functions of the Secretary of State. I hope that the Under-Secretary can reassure us that the Secretary of State and the Department do not intend to micromanage the British Transport police.

We record again, for the sake of clarity, our deep appreciation of the work of the British Transport

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police as a whole and its individual officers, constables, specials and cadets. We cannot pay them enough tribute. They work in very difficult circumstances for a lot of the time and see some horrendous incidents and crimes. I hope that the Under-Secretary will take the opportunity yet again to confirm that the Department and the Secretary of State will take a light touch in this regard.

I am still a little concerned how the Department will assume that role when the Bill comes into force, bearing in mind that it does not intend to appoint any new members of staff but will simply redistribute the responsibilities around its excellent officials. It would help to know how it will be structured and how it will organise itself in this regard. Unlike some Departments, it is still not the most transparent of bodies. It is significant that we will have an annual railways policing plan, a three-year strategy plan and annual reports by the chief constable and the British Transport police authority. We stress our concern that the Secretary of State's ability to set performance targets might contradict the efficiency and effectiveness of the authority in exercising its duty. We wait with great interest to hear whether the Under-Secretary can put our minds at rest.

 
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Prepared 27 February 2003