Railways and Transport Safety Bill

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson): I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving me this opportunity to explain briefly one or two matters relevant to the clause. The Bill provides the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions with a number of functions and duties regarding the British Transport police, the proposed authority and the policing of the railways.

The clause places a statutory duty on the Secretary of State to exercise these functions,

    ''for the purpose of promoting the efficiency and effectiveness of the Police Force''.

As we found in our previous deliberations, it is equivalent to section 36 of the Police Act 1996, which places the same requirement on the Home Secretary regarding local police forces. I assure the hon. Lady that this is not about centralisation or micromanagement of the British Transport police. I do not know whether she has noticed, but the Department has one or two other matters to attend to from time to time. There is no ambition to be involved in more detail than necessary with the British Transport police.

The clause merely provides that where the Secretary of State has a function in part 3, he must use it to promote the efficiency and effectiveness of the British Transport police. That could be done in a number of ways: by the appointment of members; supporting the authority outside and so on. All the Secretary of State's powers regarding the British Transport police either exist already—for example, the arbitration under clause 33—or are modelled on the powers that the Home Secretary has for local police forces—for example, clause 48 is modelled on section 37 of the Police Act 1996.

For the avoidance of doubt, the Department has been responsible for the British Transport police for

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many years, so this will not be an entirely new function for the Department. The hon. Lady also alluded to the annual plans and reports and the three-year strategy; all those already happen. I hope with that explanation we can move to the vote on the clause.

Miss McIntosh: That is all very interesting. The Under-Secretary will be aware that under section 36 of the 1996 Act there is no residual power for the Secretary of State to take over the running of a police force that is failing in its duties. However, it establishes a general duty on the Secretary of State to exercise his powers in a manner to promote efficiency and effectiveness. I do not envisage it being the case, but if the British Transport police ever reached a stage where they were deemed to be failing in their duties, what would the Department's reaction be? What are its powers under existing legislation and is it envisaged that it would ever take on an increased role?

I am slightly disappointed by the Under-Secretary's reaction to the serious representations made throughout the responses to the consultation paper on this part of the Bill, which related to the policing aspect alone. The theme in those responses was that while those duties have already been exercised hitherto, as the Under-Secretary explained, the Bill goes much further. We have analysed individual clauses where that is the case, given the Secretary of State's new potential powers for centralising. The representations that we have read and have some sympathy with arise from alarm bells ringing among organisations, but they appear to have fallen on deaf ears. How does the Under-Secretary respond to those concerns?

Mr. Jamieson: I have nothing more to add to the debate. The procedures are well set out and we have clearly explained the purpose of the clause. Clauses 62 and 63 allow the Secretary of State to require remedial action and to make action plans, if required. Our debates in earlier sittings comprehensively covered the necessary procedure should there be any failure of the British Transport police.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 68 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 69

Crown application

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

Miss McIntosh: Will the Minister state the philosophy behind the clause and say how it would apply to the transport of nuclear fuels, for example?

Mr. Jamieson: The clause is fairly clear. The national railway network crosses Crown land, and to ensure that British Transport police have full jurisdiction over matters relating to the railways, the Bill must confirm that they can cross that land. The clause extends the provision, for which Crown consent has been obtained, to railways crossing Crown land.

Whatever the substance, materials, people or goods involved, they are not affected by the clause.

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Mr. Randall: If a railway crosses Crown land, is it owned by the Crown or by the company?

Mr. Jamieson: The clause gives jurisdiction over the land, whoever owns it, to the British Transport police and gives its officers the ability to pursue a person who has committed an offence on to Crown land.

Mr. Randall: For clarification, does the Crown own any railways?

Mr. Jamieson: I understand that the Crown does not own any railways.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 69 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 70

Consequential, transitional and incidental provision

Amendment made: No. 41, in

    clause 70, page 28, leave out lines 45 to 47.—[Mr. Jamieson.]

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

10 am

Miss McIntosh: How long will the transitional period be for provisions to be made under the clause? Subsection (3) states:

    ''Transitional provision . . . may, in particular, make provision in connection with the abolition of the police force comprising constables appointed under section 53 of the British Transport Commission Act 1949''.

Presumably, those provisions are no longer applicable. I thank the Under-Secretary for his note setting out the definitions of the bodies concerned for the purposes of the Bill, which was very helpful in preparing for the Committee stage. Before the Bill goes to the other place, I urge the hon. Gentleman to make a declaration of the relationship between the Strategic Rail Authority and the other bodies.

Subsection (3) states that

    ''provision may include, in particular, provision—

    (b) for the transfer to the Authority of property held (whether by the Strategic Rail Authority or by another person)''.

Could that be Network Rail? Does that apply purely to the old transport police or is it intended to apply in respect of the new framework that the Bill sets up for the British Transport police?

Paragraph 25 of schedule 7 to the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, which itself amends section 90 of the Police Act 1996, will cease to have effect, although it has been in force for less than two years. Will the Minister explain the impact of the proposal?

We have expressed concern in debates on this part and throughout the proceedings on parts 1 and 2 about the inter-relationship between the various bodies. It would have been opportune to have a schedule, rather than relying on protocols and framework agreements, which are made outside the confines of the Bill. It would have been helpful for all concerned—members of the Committee, the industry and partners and parties involved—if the relationship

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between the bodies and the framework agreements had been set out in the Bill.

Mr. Randall: I have a couple of questions, but first I want to say that as there has been much legal talk in the debate I am pleased that the simple phrase ''the old transport police'' will be understood by lay people.

Subsection (3) states that the provision ''may'' include certain worthy things—employment to be treated as continuous and so on—and provision for dealing with

    ''(i) the termination of agreements made in respect of the old transport police;

    (ii) the treatment of rights and liabilities''.

I am slightly worried about the word ''may'' in that respect, which might allow some of the rights and liabilities, which include important matters such as employment being treated as continuous and so on, to be negated at a later stage. Presumably, the Minister will assure the Committee that all rights and liabilities under the old transport police shall be transferred to the new body.

Mr. Jamieson: The Bill will place the British Transport police on a proper statutory footing by establishing a police authority to maintain the force. As part of the process, the role of employer of the force will transfer to the authority, which will also undertake the statutory functions currently undertaken by the British Transport police committee and the Strategic Rail Authority in respect of the force.

In reply to the hon. Member for Vale of York, as part of the process it will be necessary to transport the British Transport Police constables, civilian staff and property liabilities to the authority, and clause 70 will allow that process to be undertaken by statutory instrument. It also makes provision for other references on the statute book to the Strategic Rail Authority and the British Transport police committee to be amended by order as a consequence of the Bill, so that in future the reference is to the British Transport police authority.

The consequential powers are to make provision by order to deal with the changes needed to legislation as a consequence of the Bill. Those are set out. The hon. Lady asked how long the transition process would take. It could take up to two years; no definite period has been fixed. It depends on how long the changes take.

The hon. Member for Uxbridge asked about the phrase ''may include''. I anticipate that most of the matters listed would almost certainly be included. For example, clause 70(3)(k) refers to

    ''the continuity of legal proceedings''.

However, if there were no legal proceedings, such continuity would not be needed. Those matters may be included if that is appropriate.

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Prepared 27 February 2003