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Lord Falconer of Thoroton: That is not a crime.

Viscount Astor: There we are, my Lords. That shows the benefit of having the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, here to put me right on points of law. As always, I am grateful to him.

The British Transport Police also deal with crimes of violence, sexual offences, robberies, theft and fraud. As the noble Lord, Lord Condon, said, they have been particularly involved in anti-terrorism strategies. They also deal with sporting events and major incident handling, down to the lowest levels of offence such as graffiti.

The Minister said that the Government's policy was to give the BTP wider jurisdiction so that they could help with emergencies and the policing of special occasions such as New Year. We welcome that. However, I am concerned about the budget of the British Transport Police, because it is funded fully by the industry, primarily the train operating companies, who contribute 50 per cent, with Railtrack contributing 30 per cent and London Underground 20 per cent. That is perfectly reasonable if the British Transport Police deal only with the railways, but they now seem to be dealing with many other areas outside. We have heard how they helped the Yorkshire Constabulary when it was in trouble. That is thoroughly laudable and we must praise the BTP for it, but is it fair that the train operating companies should pay the price for that? Is there a mechanism for the BTP to receive funding from the relevant police authority if they act outside their immediate jurisdiction? We cannot expect the railway industry to fund such new responsibilities.

The consultation document contains a rare reference to immigration. We know that the Channel tunnel suffers a good deal from people attempting to use it to enter this country. What role do the BTP have in immigration? If they are to have a role in combating terrorism, who should pay the bill? The BTP's jurisdiction will inevitably extend beyond railway property, which is probably a good thing.

Half of all terrorist attacks on the mainland take place on the railways, which shows the importance of the BTP's role, but where is Home Office involvement and liaison with other police forces? Should not that role be funded and supported by the Home Office?

I note that it is intended to allow officers to carry CS gas by amending the Firearms Act 1968. Will that amendment also allow British Transport Police officers to carry firearms?

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It is to be welcomed that an equivalent to the Police Complaints Authority will be established, so that the BTP are fully included in the complaints mechanism.

In Scotland, railway security is a reserved matter under the Scotland Act 1998 but the prevention and detection of crime are devolved from the Scottish Parliament. The Government ought to consider whether or not a separate force should exist in Scotland or be accountable in Scotland. The same goes for Wales. The British Transport Police do not operate in Northern Ireland. Who is responsible—just the ordinary police? I shall be interested to hear the Minister's answer.

There is a proposal to extend BTP jurisdiction beyond rail freight terminals. Anything that allows police officers to carry out their duties where they have been thwarted in the past by having to stop at an imaginary line is good—provided that the extent of their powers and operations is made clear.

I hope that the Minister will take account of all the representations made during the consultation period. Meanwhile, I return to my central question. In extending the role of the British Transport Police, will the funding mechanism be reviewed?

8.14 p.m.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking my noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester for raising the subject of the British Transport Police on a timely day. This interesting debate has served to highlight the value of the BTP to all who use or work on the railways. The Government are fully committed to the BTP continuing to play a crucial role in tackling crime on the railways and contributing to a pleasant environment in which to travel—encouraging more people to use the railways.

The proposals in the consultation paper reinforce that commitment to the BTP and will enhance their future status as a dedicated, specialist railway police force. The benefits will be an improvement in the force's public accountability and in its effectiveness and efficiency by providing the BTP with statutory jurisdiction and the range of policing powers it needs. Our overall aim is strengthening the public standing of the force and putting it on a proper footing to deal with the challenges ahead.

The BTP have an excellent record of tackling crime, minimising fear of crime and increasing passenger confidence in travelling on the railways. Latest crime statistics show a 7.5 per cent reduction in total crimes reported to the BTP compared with last year. On London Underground—which is also policed by the BTP—there was an overall fall in crime of 21 per cent. That was largely due to BTP's success in combating pickpockets. It is worth recording that improvement and paying tribute to the work of the BTP.

The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, asked—in the manner of an inquiry, rather than implicit criticism—why the BTP should continue. Railways are a prime target for terrorist activity and the BTP have developed a successful, nationally co-ordinated system

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for dealing with terrorist attacks and threats that recognises their network implications and have successfully minimised their impact.

The Government consider that the railways are best protected by a unified police force providing seamless security to the whole network. BTP operations are fully integrated with Home Office police forces and provide policing services to exactly the same high professional standard. The BTP cover virtually the full range of matters handled by any police force. Also, BTP officers are professionally trained to understand operating procedures and legislation affecting the railways. They have developed valuable specialist expertise for dealing with the particular needs of the railways—including the management of large travelling groups such as football supporters and the control of antisocial behaviour in enclosed areas such as railway stations and on trains. The BTP are central to the Government's crime and transport objectives and it is vitally important that the BTP continue and have the full support of the law in carrying out their duties and are fully accountable to the public for what they do.

The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, asked whether the BTP are thinly spread. He referred to Cornwall having only one BTP constable and to other areas of the country that have none. The BTP co-operate closely with local forces, giving and receiving assistance wherever possible. Policing a large rural area with limited resources is a challenge for any force—not least a national force such as the BTP. So they are increasingly targeting resources at specific hot-spot crime areas while working closely with county police forces and the rail industry to identify problems and address them.

For all the reasons I have given, it is well worth preserving the BTP as a specialist force. I emphasise that the BTP's efficiency is not in question. Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary, which undertakes regular inspections of the force, stated in its most recent report:

    "The BTP continue to be an effective and efficient force when judged alongside the criteria applied to Home Department forces".

Merging the BTP with local forces would risk the loss of expertise and possibly lower the priority given to policing the railways. For all those reasons, the BTP should stay separate.

The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, and the nobles Lord, Lord Condon, Lord Faulkner and Lord Wallace of Saltaire, referred to our intention to provide the BTP with jurisdiction off the railways in limited circumstances. The lack of any jurisdiction outside the railways on non-railway matters has caused problems for many years. BTP officers frequently find themselves called on to assist the public or local police forces with non-railway matters. That most often occurs with emergencies, such as a break-in or traffic accident—but also in joint police operations such as those to counter the anti-capitalist riots and the Notting Hill carnival. BTP officers do not benefit from the protection of acting as

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a constable at such events because the officers' jurisdiction is limited to rail premises and business. That exposes officers to risks, so we intend to provide them with jurisdiction off the railways in limited circumstances and to establish on a statutory basis the BTP's existing jurisdiction over the railways.

Today is particularly significant because those proposals will be taken in the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill that was published today. Therefore, the proposals are going forward today.

The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, asked whether any other police forces are in similar categories. There are two of which I am aware—the Ministry of Defence Police, to which the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, referred, and the UK Atomic Energy Authority Police, who have certain similar powers in relation to atomic energy premises. In relation to jurisdiction, similar powers have been given to the MoD Police under today's Bill. The UK Atomic Energy Authority Police have been given different, more limited powers under the Bill.

While on that subject, it may be worth my dealing with the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. He asked about the position of the MoD Police in relation to a police authority. The BTP police public areas, albeit on private railway land. The MoD Police do not. They already have a police committee. The BTP authority, which was referred to in the consultation document, needs to reflect the conflicting needs of a railway industry trying to keep costs down and the interests of the public in adequate policing. There is no similar requirement with regard to the MoD Police.

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