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Lord Bradshaw: I support what the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, said in both cases. The British Transport Police performs a service for the railway. Very largely, it does so for the passengers of the railway, not for the railway companies. It is Joe Public who is being served, just as civilian police authorities serve the same public. We must bear in mind that most money for the railway comes in one way or another from the taxpayer or the fare box, so a great deal comes from the taxpayer. When people bid for franchises, they no doubt factor in the costs that arise from employing the British Transport Police. Therefore the taxpayer pays for it either with a lower premium or a higher subsidy than there would be otherwise.
The case for funding the British Transport Police out of general taxation is quite strong and really needs serious consideration. The present collection costs are somewhat arbitrary. Some operators complain that they pay far too much, while others probably pay too little. There is a fairly strong case for regarding at least a large part of the money as exigible under general taxation. I am not sure that it would mean that a lot of money would actually change sides, because the subsidies to the railway would be lower, and therefore the taxpayer would benefit on one hand although he may have disbenefits on the other.
So far as the Health and Safety Executive is concerned, I am very worried about any public body being allowed to levy the people whom it serves. Every public body has a duty to make a budget and stick to it. It should not post facto be able to levy its emerging costs from anyone. People should know exactly what they are being called on to pay before they pay it.
I have personal experience of that because I amthe noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, alluded to itchairman of GTE for Oxfordshire. It is not a pecuniary interest; I am really just the victim. However, we got into an enormous quarrel with the Health and Safety Executive, because it gave us what it called some advice, but that advice was not worth having. I could have written better advice myself. It sent bills for about £430, which kept coming through my door like confetti and got nastier and nastier. Eventually, I was summoned to appear before a meeting. The meeting, and the lunch that the HSE provided, must have cost all of £430. The adjudicator, whom I knew very well, found in my favour, so we did not pay the bill.
That is the sort of nonsense that goes on, and it does not benefit anyone. Whatever the Minister replies to the debate, we would like an assurance that the Health and Safety Executive will be required to produce a budget, and that it will stop the practice of charging for trainees, who are carted round, do not add anything and cost people a lot of money. The employment of such people is not voluntary; they must be used. Giving them a blank cheque is not on.
Viscount Astor: I shall deal first with the Health and Safety Executive. Can the Minister say what other industries are in a similar position to the railways? What will be the basis of future charging? How will it be determined? The Health and Safety Executive deals with many industries. On what other bases does it charge or the Government intend it to charge? Before making up our minds we need to put matters into context.
I am sympathetic to the amendments with regard to the British Transport Police, which is there to support the public in the same way as any other police force. Ultimately, national police forces are funded by central government, so we all pay and we all benefit. In effect, passengers pay through the charges.
Before one can take a considered view, it would be helpful to know whether the Government expect costs to rise when the new British Transport Police authority is established and whether there will be any change in the basis of charging the industry. If we can set the issue in context, the Committee may be able to form a clearer view.
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My noble friend Lord Berkeley has raised two quite separate debates. I agree with him absolutely that some means should be found of exempting the heritage railways from the charging provisions. My understanding is that British Transport Police officers do not patrol the lines and look after tourists. Indeed, I gather that the nearest a British Transport Police officer gets to a heritage railway is an occasional visit to the Wensleydale line, which is not fully open yet anyway. I hope that a means will be found to exempt the heritage railways from a charging regime.
On the wider question of who pays for the BTP generally, I have a great deal of sympathy for the argument that the money should come out of general taxation. I am reminded that council tax payers find a precept on their council tax bills stating that a proportion of the money collected will go to their local force, whether it is the Metropolitan force, the Thames Valley force or whichever. In that way there is a link between the citizen and the police, and people are conscious that they are making a direct contribution to policing costs.
The principle that the railways pay for the transport police, which has applied since 1845, cannot be thrown away lightly. However, in extending the role of the transport police, both through the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 and the widening of the jurisdiction we have heard about today, we are asking the transport police to take on a number of duties away from railway premises in the furtherance of wider law and order issues. It strikes me that if the transport police are asked by a civil force to assist with a riot situation, as they were in Bradford some while agowhich was clearly away from railway premisesit would be a little hard on the railway companies in Yorkshire if they had to pay for the cost of that policing operation.
The reality, of course, is that the money goes into a large pot and no one knows how the sums are divided up. An acceptable way forward might be for there to be an element of general taxation funding the wider policing activities of the transport police together with a continuation of the railways contribution. I shall be interested to hear what my noble friend has to say about this.
Lord Dixon-Smith: The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, cannot be allowed to get away with the fact that no one knows what happens when the police operate mutual aid. They jolly well do know who pays which costs when police forces work together. The bills eventually go out and they catch up with the local authorities. I am also sure that the Home Office knows, because it pays a large part of police costs.
I raised the question of heritage railways at Second Reading. The case for exempting them from the charges of the British Transport Police should not need arguing. They are not an "operation" in the commercial sense. They are a specific tourist attraction, if anything, run by enthusiasts. Anything that adds to their financial burden makes their life more difficult.
The issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, about the British Transport Police is significant. Whatever the historical arguments, the British Transport Police is part of the general police service. It may be specialised, but it is part of general policing. If that is so, and if this is the opportunity to consider whether its funding arrangements are appropriate, we should do so.
The Earl of Mar and Kellie: I understand that heritage railways are experiencing considerable rises in insurance premiums because they are classed as a hazardous operation. That makes them even less able to pay.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: There are general points on funding and some specific points to which I must reply. The first relates to the funding of the British Transport Police. The BTP has been funded by the rail industry since its creation in the 19th century. There is no equivalent on policing the roads. The roads are policed by the general police force, which is rightlyand no one has questioned itfunded by general taxation.
However, we must look at the amounts of money involved. I do not know the budgets for police forces around the country, but the British Transport Police budget for 2003-04 is £136 million, which is less than 2 per cent of the rail industry's turnover. That excludes the turnover of London Transport. Therefore, it is considerably less than 2 per cent. As regards who pays, London Underground and Network Rail pay 25 per cent each and the remaining 50 per cent is met by the passenger train operating companies.
The freight operators will pay about £1 million in 2003-04, which is less than 1 per cent of the total budget of the British Transport Police and far less than 0.1 per cent of the freight companies' turnover.
As to the funding of the Health and Safety Executive, that is a more recent funding provision. It is a decision the Government took deliberately in 1999 because they took the view that it was right for those whose activities cause safety risks to bear part of the cost of regulation. It is in line with the "polluter pays" principle, which I hope is generally accepted as proper in environmental matters. It should be here, too. On that basis, I see no reason for a change in the principle of the funding of the HSE.
Baroness Scott of Needham Market: On the basis of "polluter pays", in both arguments the polluters are the general public. That is certainly so in the case of the British Transport Police. I am not trying to be facetious, but I do not see that the argument that this is the application of "polluter pays" works. It is not the fault of the rail company if it is subject to vandalism, trespass and so forth. I do not understand the analogy.
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