HC Deb 21 March 1994 vol 240 cc84-103
Mr. Mackinlay

I beg to move amendment No. 5, in clause 1, page 1, line 7, leave out ', in its application to England and Wales,'.

The Second Deputy Chairman

With this, it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 4, in page 2, line 36, leave out 'throughout England and Wales'.

No. 3, in clause 2, page 3, line 3, leave out subsection (5).

8 pm

Mr. Mackinlay

It would appear that the draftsmen have forgotten about the Kingdom of Scotland in this matter, and that there is a disparity in the treatment of powers being made available to British Transport police officers in England and Wales as distinct from those in Scotland. It seems to me, particularly as the Bill is remedying a profound mistake by the Government, that there should be clarity and precision, and that there should be uniformity of precision in one Act of Parliament relating to British Transport police officers, wherever they are in the United Kingdom.

In clause 1, and throughout the Bill, reference is made to England and Wales. From the extent that we have been able to examine the Bill, it would seem that that is an error. The problem, Sir Geoffrey—

Mr. Irvine Patnick (Sheffield, Hallam)

"Sir Geoffrey?"

Mr. Mackinlay

I do not know whether it is possible through the usual good offices to ask the Government Whip to contain himself, but we are trying to deal with a difficult matter. The Minister described it as complex and detailed legislation, and the Government Whip is treating it as a matter of levity. It is inappropriate, Mr. Lofthouse, that it should be dealt with in that way, particularly when the Government have yet to apologise, not just to the House but to the British Transport police, for their error. My amendments are necessary to clarify the position.

The problem that those of us who take an interest in the Bill have is that we have not had an opportunity of doing the necessary homework. I could find only one copy of the primary statute—the British Transport Commission Act 1949—in the Palace of Westminster and that took some discovery late at night on Thursday, before the Bill was published. To the extent that one has been able to do any homework, it looks as though my amendments are appropriate and necessary.

The people from whom I would have sought advice and counsel—those in the British Transport Police Federation—did not receive the Bill from the Government. That has not been explained by the Minister. As I said in the debate on Second Reading, the federation received a copy of the Bill from me yesterday. The Minister referred on Second Reading to the views and support of the chief constable but made no reference to the endorsement of the British Transport Police Federation of the details of the Bill—it wants the principle, as we all do, and we recognise the need for great urgency. He could not do that because he had not sent it a copy of the Bill and, as a further result, I and other hon. Members were not able to consult it. It was extraordinarily difficult to get the advice of the chief constable or his assistants in time.

My amendments would help to clarify the situation. I understand—perhaps the Minister will tell me—that a judgment exists either from a, sheriff in Scotland or the High Court that results in the British Transport police officers in Scotland having the wider jurisdiction powers that we discussed on Second Reading. For example, if a British Transport police officer outside Waverley station in Edinburgh saw an incident that required the attendance and stewardship of a police officer, that officer, operating not within the curtilage of a railway station but in a street close to the station, would be able to respond, but that is not the position in a comparable situation in London.

I understand that that power exists by virtue of a judge's decision, and very wise and prudent that judge was. It seems to me that it is necessary for the Bill, first, to put on the statute book the view and opinion of the learned Scottish judge and, secondly, to ensure that those powers that have been enjoyed by British Transport police officers in Scotland are enjoyed throughout the United Kingdom. I believe that that is what my amendments would do.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

I wish to raise one narrow point on which I would appreciate my right hon. Friend's advice. I am sure that we all appreciate very much the careful attention that the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) has given the Bill, but I raise one tiny point about the word "throughout". I wonder whether it applies to private as well as public premises and, if the British Transport police were to provide, for example, a service within private premises, whether the proposed legislation would apply.

My particular interest is the Port of London Police Federation, to which I have been an adviser for many years. As my right hon. Friend is aware, it is a small police force. Because of the privatisation of the ports, its position has changed rather dramatically. It has full chief constables but, following privatisation, their relative pay and conditions have been adversely affected. That has happened not because of privatisation but as one of the inevitable consequences. Their numbers are small indeed.

Mr. Wilson

What is an inevitable consequence of privatisation that is not caused by privatisation?

Sir Teddy Taylor

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that if, like me, he had paid careful attention to the whole issue, on which the my right hon. Friend the Minister has shown great sympathy and understanding, he would appreciate that those snap judgments are not correct.

My point is this. Because of the age of the Port of London police force, consideration is being given to its future. One of the possibilities would be for it to merge with the British Transport police, because that would provide a continuing career structure. Part of the port of London is located in the constituency of the hon. Member for Thurrock, and he takes a great interest in the British Transport police and in all activities of the ports.

If there were to be such a change, and if the Port of London police came under the jurisdiction of the British Transport police, would the new subsection (1A)(3) apply to the Port of London police? It would be sad from the point of view of administration if we passed this exciting new Bill in a hurry only to find that by so doing we prevented the Port of London police even being considered for a merger with the British Transport police.

My right hon. Friend the Minister has always shown great sympathy and understanding for the problems of south-east England and particularly for Essex. I know that the hon. Member for Thurrock, who also takes an interest in the Fenchurch Street line, appreciates very much, although I am sure that he deplores Government policies, the interest that my right hon. Friend always takes in our affairs. The Port of London police are a fine body of constables, who have served the port well and wisely. I hope that my right hon. Friend can give me the assurance that, in the event of the Port of London police merging with the British Transport police, they will be allowed to carry on with their duties under the Bill. That is a small and narrow point, but I am sure that the draftsmen who assist the Minister will have thought about it. If my right hon. Friend can say that all would be well, I would be more than grateful.

Mr. Freeman

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) for raising the issue of the Port of London Police Federation. I have not met any of those responsible for the discharge of those important functions, but would be glad to pursue the matter that my hon. Friend has raised. I am bound to say that administrative merger is one thing and difference in jurisdiction is another. I am sure that my hon. Friend will appreciate that it is important to have proper legal advice on the point. In any case, this is not the right Bill to deal with that particular point, important as it is. I accept what he has said and give him an undertaking that I will pursue it and will write to him initially. If it is appropriate to have meetings with the representatives of the Port of London Police Federation, that will be done.

The hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) raised a perfectly sensible point: why not simply extend the Scottish provisions to England and Wales? That is a different debate. As I have said, it is a sensible point to raise. First, however, the hon. Gentleman should appreciate that my references to what was complex and detailed referred not to the Bill but to the compendium of law since 1949, which for the layman is fiendishly complicated. The 1949 legislation has been amended by many Governments on many different occasions. It is important to trace through the changes in the powers of the police and their jurisdiction from one Act to an amending Act.

Mr. Mackinlay

The Minister has flagged up his excuse if the Bill is proved subsequently to be botched. The Bill could receive Royal Assent, only for us to find that it, too, is in error. It seems that the Minister is lining up his built-in excuse for getting things wrong again.

Mr. Freeman

That is not so. No Labour or Conservative Minister since the war has ever been able to give an assurance that complex legislation stemming from the 1945 to 1951 Parliament would be 100 per cent. right. Ministers make mistakes and Governments make mistakes. Sometimes there is an error of omission, sometimes one of commission. We try to get legislation right. Before the Bill receives Royal Assent I shall introduce the hon. Gentleman, if he would like, to the Parliamentary Counsel. He is a skilled lawyer who takes a great deal of pain and trouble when drafting any legislation. He is responsible not for policy but for translating the policy objectives of Ministers into legislation.

The hon. Member for Thurrock raised several important issues. Scottish law has been different from English and Welsh law in relation to the powers of the BTP for 14 years. The Scottish provisions became law in 1980 and the English provisions, which date back to the 1949 Act, as amended on many different occasions, have provided a different set of laws. I am not aware of any problems having been raised with me over the past few years about difficulties arising as a result of the two different sets of laws. As in many different sectors, there are two distinct sets of legal jurisdiction. That is something that goes beyond the BTP.

A problem has arisen specifically in relation to England and Wales, not Scotland. That has happened for reasons that I have described. Everyone who has participated in the debate understands that. The legal advice available to us, as I am sure to all others involved, was that the defect in England and Wales had to be put right. As I have said, there was no defect in the law relating to Scotland. It is the defect in English and Welsh legislation that we are seeking to correct.

The hon. Member for Thurrock raised the separate issue of why we should have different laws in Scotland than in England and Wales. That is a legitimate topic of debate. We were asked through the Bill to deal with a specific problem that had arisen in England and Wales as a result of the Railways Act 1993 in terms of its implications for the 1949 legislation, and we are doing so. We are not seeking to widen the jurisdiction of the BTP or to ensure that English and Scottish laws are the same in every aspect of life within our society. We are correcting an anomaly.

On that basis, I cannot commend the amendment to the Committee. I say that in no partisan spirit. I have explained that there is an urgent need for legislation to address a specific problem. I hope that the Bill commands the support of right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber and of those in another place. With that brief explanation, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept what I have said in good faith.

8.15 pm
Mr. Wilson

I do not want to prolong our debates. There is no point in covering the same ground again. The Opposition's position is as follows: if we are to have legislation that deals specifically with the British Transport police and if there is a consensus that the present legislation in Scotland is more effective than that which hitherto has pertained in England and Wales, why not use the opportunity to establish the same powers throughout the whole of the country? That would achieve the consistency that we are looking for and secure a more effective British Transport police.

That is no ideology. There is no rule in the book stating that, because the primary purpose of a Bill is to remedy a defect in other legislation, we cannot take the opportunity to improve upon the status quo ante. I do not understand the Government's difficulty unless they are reluctant to extend the powers of the BTP in a logical way that is in line with the Scottish system. They cannot say that the Scottish system is less efficient than the one that pertains in England and Wales because everyone agrees that it is not.

The BTP in England and Wales work within the same powers as their counterparts in Scotland. As the hon. Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) and I well know, we are all part of the same United Kingdom. Why should we not have the same BTP operating under the same rules? It is a simple question that the Minister has signally failed to answer except in the narrowest theological terms. He has said that the Bill is meant to do only A and that it would be some sort of crime against the constitution for it to do B and thus make it better.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 54, Noes 151.

Division No. 172] [8.16 pm
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)
Armstrong, Hilary Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Dewar, Donald
Barnes, Harry Dobson, Frank
Bayley, Hugh Eastham, Ken
Benton, Joe Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Fyfe, Maria
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) George, Bruce
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry) Gunnell, John
Chisholm, Malcolm Hall, Mike
Clapham, Michael Hanson, David
Corston, Ms Jean Harvey, Nick
Cummings, John Jamieson, David
Lewis, Terry Prescott, John
McCartney, Ian Raynsford, Nick
McFall, John Redmond, Martin
Maclennan, Robert Rendel, David
Maddock, Mrs Diana Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Miller, Andrew Skinner, Dennis
Morley, Elliot Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)
Mudie, George Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Mullin, Chris Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Olner, William Tyler, Paul
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Wicks, Malcolm
Patchett, Terry Wilson, Brian
Pickthall, Colin
Pike, Peter L. Tellers for the Ayes:
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lew'm E) Mr. Andrew Mackinlay and Mr. Bob Cryer.
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Heald, Oliver
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Hendry, Charles
Amess, David Hill, James (Southampton Test)
Arbuthnot, James Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North) Hunter, Andrew
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Bates, Michael Jenkin, Bernard
Batiste, Spencer Jessel, Toby
Bellingham, Henry Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Jones, Robert B. (W Hertfdshr)
Booth, Hartley Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Boswell, Tim Key, Robert
Bowden, Andrew Kilfedder, Sir James
Bowis, John Kirkhope, Timothy
Brandreth, Gyles Knapman, Roger
Brazier, Julian Knight, Greg (Derby N)
Bright, Graham Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes) Kynoch, George (Kincardine)
Browning, Mrs. Angela Lang, Rt Hon Ian
Burns, Simon Legg, Barry
Butler, Peter Lidington, David
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Lightbown, David
Carttiss, Michael Lloyd, Rt Hon Peter (Fareham)
Chapman, Sydney Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Clappison, James MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey MacKay, Andrew
Colvin, Michael McLoughlin, Patrick
Congdon, David Mans, Keith
Conway, Derek Marlow, Tony
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire) Merchant, Piers
Davies, Quentin (Stamford) Mills, Iain
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Dover, Den Moss, Malcolm
Duncan, Alan Neubert, Sir Michael
Elletson, Harold Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield) Nicholls, Patrick
Evans, Jonathan (Brecon) Norris, Steve
Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley) Oppenheim, Phillip
Evans, Roger (Monmouth) Ottaway, Richard
Faber, David Paice, James
Fabricant, Michael Patnick, Irvine
Fenner, Dame Peggy Pawsey, James
Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring) Porter, David (Waveney)
Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley) Richards, Rod
Freeman, Rt Hon Roger Riddick, Graham
French, Douglas Robathan, Andrew
Gallie, Phil Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)
Garnier, Edward Robinson, Mark (Somerton)
Gillan, Cheryl Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Sackville, Tom
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N) Shersby, Michael
Grylls, Sir Michael Sims, Roger
Hague, William Skeet, Sir Trevor
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Soames, Nicholas
Hannam, Sir John Spencer, Sir Derek
Harris, David Spink, Dr Robert
Haselhurst, Alan Spring, Richard
Hawkins, Nick Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Hawksley, Warren Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Stern, Michael Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Streeter, Gary Waterson, Nigel
Sweeney, Walter Watts, John
Sykes, John Wells, Bowen
Taylor, John M. (Solihull) Whittingdale, John
Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E) Widdecombe, Ann
Thomason, Roy Willetts, David
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N) Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Thornton, Sir Malcolm Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th) Yeo, Tim
Tracey, Richard Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Trotter, Neville
Twinn, Dr Ian Tellers for the Noes:
Vaughan, Sir Gerard Mr. Timothy Wood and Mr. Robert G. Hughes.
Viggers, Peter
Waller, Gary

Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. Dobson

I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 31, to leave out from 'elsewhere' in line 21 to the end of line 31 and insert— 'but only for the purposes of—

  1. (i) carrying out investigations; and
  2. (ii) arresting any person—
    1. (aa) whom he has followed from, or from the vicinity of, any such premises, in circumstances where that person could have been arrested in, on, or in the vicinity of, such premises; or
    2. (bb) who is in possession of goods or money which the constable reasonably believes to have been stolen from or from the vicinity of, any such premises or from the custody of the transport police.'.

The First Deputy Chairman

With this we will consider amendment No. 6, in page 1, line 28, leave out from beginning to end of line 2 on page 2.

Mr. Dobson

When I originally suggested that the Government should bring forward a one-clause Bill to correct their own grotesque error which had left the British Transport police without proper jurisdiction from 1 April, I had hoped that, on the basis of once bitten twice shy, the Government would put forward a one-clause Bill which would do the job that the British Transport police, British Rail and the British Transport Police Federation all want it to do. The trouble is that the Government do not seem to have done that.

We are told—but we have no objective evidence to this effect—that the chief constable is satisfied with the proposition that is before us, but we think it is quite unsatisfactory. During the Second Reading debate we raised the question of the need for the four lines at the bottom of page 1 of the Bill which would restrict the powers of a constable as being lawful only when he was acting in accordance with the terms of the agreement with one of the privatised operators.

The Minister has put forward a number of what can only be described as quite preposterous justifications for this proposition. For instance, he said that one of the reasons for the clause was that, although some of the provisions of the agreements would be universal, they might cover different periods for different companies. We will try to deal with that one. If there is an agreement in force, whether it lasts for a week or a decade, either it is in operation or it is not. If the agreement is in operation, it might be identical; if it is not in operation, it would not be valid and it would have no bearing on the powers of a constable employed by, or working for, British Transport police.

Another of the Minister's suggestions for his preposterous proposition was that different sums of money might be involved. The sums of money involved must surely be completely irrelevant to the actions of an individual constable. Either he is doing his job, or he is not. If, as will probably be the case, the Government have managed to drag in a fly-by-night outfit which has not paid its contribution, that will surely be of no consequence. Provided that that outfit is a railway operator for the time being, the constable will have certain duties in relation to its property and its operations. The state of that outfit's accounts and what it is paying are utterly irrelevant to the constable's jurisdiction. Money cannot affect the constable's jurisdiction.

8.30 pm

The Minister came closest to providing a sensible explanation for the provision when he said that some operators might also operate other activities and the constable should not be obliged to act in a policing role in relation to the other activities. I do not understand why a constable should expect to do that. I do not see why the agreement should have to exclude non-railway premises and non-railway functions. Unless they were imported into the agreement in the first place, there would be no reason why a British Transport police constable should have anything to do with such premises or functions.

The Minister may say that there may be circumstances in which part of a depot is devoted to non-railway activities and therefore the constable needs to have jurisdiction there. That may be the case. However, if he needs that jurisdiction, he should have it. It should not be limited by considerations of who owns the premises or what they are used for.

The Minister has come up with no sensible arguments in favour of the four lines at the bottom of page 1 of this two-clause Bill. He has given us no justification for the provisions. The continued presence of those four lines in the Bill could possibly limit the jurisdiction of British Transport police constables. It is clear from the letter that the Minister was forced to send to the chair of the British Transport police committee that the committee believed that there were problems. If that was not the case, the Minister would not have had to write his letter.

I am not convinced that that committee is convinced that what the Minister is saying is what the committee wants to hear or that it is entirely satisfied with the Minister's current propositions. We have tabled the amendments to delete the four lines which we believe are objectionable, ridiculous and troublesome and which will cause bother for constables who are trying to go about their duties and for the management of BTP when it tries to carry out its proper management tasks.

As I admitted earlier, my detailed formulation of the wording of the amendment may be unsatisfactory. I am quite prepared to accept that. We have suggested that the best way to deal with the matter would be to import into the law for England and Wales the provisions that presently apply in Scotland where everyone accepts that the system currently works well. The Minister will have to accept that the restrictions on the powers of the constable set out in the last four lines of the Bill will not apply in Scotland. Constables in Scotland will not have to check whether they are acting in accordance with the terms of each individual agreement.

There will be general powers in Scotland, but there will not be untrammelled general powers in England and Wales. That is absurd, particularly as British Transport police officers are not necessarily confined to England and Wales, or to Scotland. British Transport police officers do not recognise any difference at the boundaries. They sometimes travel by car and sometimes by train backwards and forwards across the border. However, their jurisdictions could differ depending on which side of the border they are. That is preposterous and is likely to cause difficulty for constables.

The Minister has presented no sound or solid explanation of why he wants the provision in the Bill. The provision is totally unnecessary. It complicates things and makes life difficult for those who must try to operate the provisions of the Bill when it becomes an Act. It will make life difficult for those who try to protect passengers and goods on the railways and, as we said earlier, it will make life difficult for those who have the very difficult task of trying to ensure that terrorists do not kill or maim people on the railways or manage to close the system down by threatening bomb incidents.

The Minister has failed in his undertaking. When I approached him and told him that I thought that he should present a one-clause Bill, he said that that was what the Government were contemplating. They committed themselves to that in the Lords. However, it should be understood that if the Government say that they are going to introduce a one-clause Bill which will clear up a mess that they created in the first place, it is reasonable for the House to expect them to introduce a one-clause Bill which will not create another mess similar to the one they have created already and which this Bill is supposed to correct.

We are giving the Minister an opportunity to accept our amendments or the spirit of the amendments. It would be no criticism of the Minister if he were to say that he was prepared to consider them and come back with amendments in the other place to deal with the very reasonable points that we have raised. My hon. Friends and I, and the representative of the Liberal Democrat party, the hon. Member for North Devon (Mr. Harvey), have acted throughout with the intention of trying to get the law back on the rails, to correct the Government's errors and to ensure that, from 1 April, the law is effective.

We have behaved throughout with utter responsibility and a concern for the safety of passengers and British Transport police officers. We do not believe that the Government have responded in kind to our propositions. They have not introduced a Bill that does the trick. Either amendment or both amendments would massively improve the Bill. The principle behind them would result in a great improvement. In particular, amendment No. 1 would bring the law in England and Wales into line with the law in Scotland which everyone accepts is satisfactory and which is in no way restricted by a clause or provision like the last four lines of page 1 of the Bill.

Mr. Hugh Bayley (York)

I spent a great deal of time last Session on the Floor of the House and also in Committee in the debates on the Railways Bill. We had 35 sittings in Committee which included many hours of debate on the future role of the British Transport police.

The Minister has been asked tonight—and we have not had a satisfactory answer from him—why, throughout those lengthy debates, the Government did not manage to get it right. They bungled not just the clause on the BTP, but their definition of the BTP's remit, role and powers. They are in danger of doing the same again with the Bill. My hon. Friends have tabled an amendment that would clarify the powers of the British Transport police. Those powers were ably set out by my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson).

The Committee on the Railways Bill debated the provisions relating to the British Transport police in the light of a consultative document which the Department of Transport issued on the future of the British Transport police. That document was issued in November 1992. There was very little time for people to comment because the closing date for consultation was 16 December 1992. I hope that the Minister can tell us how many responses the Department of Transport received to that consultation paper. Does he believe that adequate time was given to enable those who wished to make a response to do so? If there was adequate time for those with an interest in the affairs of the British Transport police to consult and respond to the Government's proposals, why was the problem that we are discussing in Committee tonight missed?

After the debates last year, which followed a consultation period on a Government document, and which took place over a longer period in Committee on the Railways Bill than we have in this rushed Committee of the whole House on this Bill, can the Minister assure us that what he is now proposing is foolproof and that the Government will not have to come back with further changes?

The amendment in the name of my hon. Friends seeks to define the powers of the police as that of investigation—the seeking of evidence and interviewing suspects or witnesses—and/or that of arrest in certain specified circumstances. It is suggested that the BTP should have those powers away from the premises of British Rail, its subsidiaries, and the rail operators who engage the services of the BTP. The Minister's definition in the Bill as drafted is wider. It says that British Transport police officers would have powers with regard to matters connected with or affecting the British Railways Board and the other bodies concerned.

Can the Minister tell the Committee what precisely is meant by the words "matters connected with or affecting"? If the scope of the powers in the Bill is wider than the scope proposed in the amendment—that is, the power of investigation, the collecting of evidence, and the power of arrest—we should know what those powers are. If the powers in the Bill are not wider than those proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, we should have the simple and clear definition proposed by my hon. Friend. I hope that the Committee will support his amendment.

I trust that the Minister will respond also to the issue of the supervision of the British Transport police. That supervision will be in the hands of the police committee. Can the Minister tell us who the members of the committee will be and how they will define the words "connected with or affecting"? Unless we know how the committee will define the policy of the British Transport police, we will not know the remit and range of their powers away from railway premises.

8.45 pm

All hon. Members want to ensure that the British Transport police have the powers that they need to do their job of protecting law and order, protecting passengers, and protecting the property of railway operators. Those powers should be defined in the Bill. However, I do not believe that they are clearly defined at present. My hon. Friend makes a better job of that definition in his amendment.

During the long Committee sittings on the Railways Bill, it became clear on several occasions that the Government were simply making up railway privatisation as they went along. They were unclear on how to put into practice their objective of privatising the railways. Clause after clause was brought to the Committee and included in the Railways Bill. Clauses were then withdrawn and we were told that different clauses would be introduced. That Committee was an arena for debate in which there were days, weeks and months to reflect, go back to the draftsmen and re-examine the provisions of the Bill in the light of debate and questions raised, but still a serious error was made.

Tonight, a new Bill is presented to us as something that we must debate and finish in a single evening. It is not as though the faults in the original Bill suddenly came to light on Wednesday or Thursday last week. There is absolutely no reason why the Minister could not have published his Bill weeks ago—I do not want to repeat the Second Reading debate—so that hon. Members who wished to examine and probe whether the Government had got it right this time could table amendments or seek to see the Minister to express reservations. I should like the Minister to explain why those opportunities have not been provided. I suspect that the reason why they have not been provided is that the Government are deeply embarrassed at having botched the Railways Bill and that they want to hide their embarrassment with the shortest possible debate.

Filling the holes in the Railways Bill is rather like trying to refloat the Titanic. The Government introduced today's Bill to block some of the holes and mistakes in the original Bill. As the consequences of rail privatisation go ahead, I am absolutely convinced that this will be the first of many Bills that the Government will have to introduce desperately to make the unworkable work and make rail privatisation happen in a way that will improve services to the travelling public. Frankly, the Government will not be successful because rail privatisation will not improve services for the public. The whole endeavour is fatally flawed.

Mr. Trotter

It may be helpful to remind the Committee of the scope of activity of the British Transport police when considering their powers. The British Transport police deal not only with matters that obviously relate to the police; they deal with a very wide range of matters, similar to any Home Office force. They deal with murder, manslaughter, grievous bodily harm, firearms and explosives—reference has already been made to that—rape, robbery, booking office frauds, thefts, thefts of motor vehicles, thousands of cases of fraud relating mostly to tickets, arson, damage to motor vehicles, numerous incidents involving endangering the safety of the public on the railways and public order offences. They deal with a total of some 78,000 or 80,000 offences a year, which is some 200 plus a day. Obviously, the scope of the force is very wide.

Can my right hon. Friend give the Committee the assurance that he has given to me privately, which is that the force will continue to have all the powers that it needs to deal with that wide ramification of crime from murder at the top to graffiti at the bottom, if I may put it that way? Can he give an assurance that the force will retain the adequate powers that it has at present to deal with such incidents?

Mr. Harvey

Earlier, the Minister said that the responsibility of the British Transport police will differ in various parts of the railways network. That is why there would be a variety of agreements. Everybody accepts that, however, we are discussing not the responsibilities of the British Transport police, but its jurisdiction.

Any curb on that jurisdiction is a risk or a gamble. A number of hon. Members have given today various hypothetical examples of where the limits to the transport police's jurisdiction might have unforeseen and calamitous consequences, in that a villain could get away in various situations.

The only argument which the Minister has made which appears to have any logic as to why jurisdiction should be limited in this way is that some of the private railway companies might have other interests which are not related to railways over which they would not want the transport police to have jurisdiction. That being so, surely the way to address that is to amend line 25 in another place to specify that it is simply the railway interests of the companies which would be covered.

In my view, any limit to jurisdiction is a gamble. The burden of proof is therefore on the side of whoever wishes to curtail that jurisdiction. If it is curtailed in an unfortunate way and there are disastrous consequences, it will be on the Minister's shoulders. The burden of proof is with him, and I have yet to hear any reason as to why the limit to jurisdiction in those four lines should be imposed.

Mr. Cryer

It would be helpful if the Minister were to give a good reason why the amendment should be rejected. It is a serious attempt to clarify the position and to place it—as lawyers say—beyond peradventure that the British Transport police, or the British Railways Board police as it will be under the combined Acts, are not placed in jeopardy because they are not sure of their jurisdiction. That is the essence of the argument.

The hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) asked for an assurance that a wide range of powers which the transport police currently undertake are not to be affected in any way by the legislation. I ask the Minister whether they would be affected in any way by amendment No. 1. which we are considering together with amendment No. 6. The range of powers given there to allow the railway police to act elsewhere other than on railway premises would cover the range of offences which the hon. Gentleman has outlined.

I cannot see that the phrases put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) would in any way inhibit that, so it would improve the Bill. There is no question but that there is a limitation placed in line 30 of the Bill that the constable can act only in accordance with the terms of that agreement. That refers to the service agreement between the British Railways Board and police, and it implies that there is a potential limitation.

The Minister said that the agreements would vary by duration. Obviously, once an agreement has expired, a constable will no longer have jurisdiction. If an organisation were no longer employing the British Transport police, there would be no jurisdiction. That is only one example.

The Minister, for instance, mentioned the amount of money involved. I cannot understand how that would affect the component which the Minister emphasised—the jurisdiction of the railway police which is to be built into every licence to every franchisee. However, if money is to affect the matter, that would surely mean that the range of services which the police will offer will be more costly the wider the range. Inevitably, that means the jurisdiction of the police, because the services it offers for sale are police services.

If money is to be greater for a given range of services, inevitably more services will be involved and therefore the jurisdiction of the agreement will be wider. One set of policemen will operate under one agreement, and they will have wider jurisdiction on particular premises subject to that agreement than policemen who are operating on other premises and subject to a different agreement.

Ministers have claimed that the chief constables' "code of conduct" will be imposed on every licence which, the Minister claims, is a safeguard. We need to ask questions about that. There will be lots of agreements, and operators will be changing. As one operator goes into liquidation, another comes in and takes over the franchise. There will be many changes.

The Department of Transport, as I recall, claimed at the time the Bill was being debated that as many as 14,000 contracts—not all covering the police—would be involved in setting up this crazy pack of cards which the demented right-wingers are seeking to impose on an unwilling nation. That is all right in the sense that it will hasten their electoral doom at the next general election. However, we must suffer the crazy and demented ravings of the reich which is currently operating in the Government offices in Whitehall. The right-wing loonies have control.

The Opposition oppose the Bill in Parliament and in principle, and we have now to try to make it work as effectively as we can in the short term. Hopefully, there will not be many aspects of the Railways Act 1993 which will be put into operation because of the shortage of time between April and the next general election.

Nonetheless, we all enunciated an important point at Second Reading about the protection of the public from entry on to the railways and the protection of people on the railways from vandalism and, alas, from the terrorist potential which is there daily. Indeed, there was a bomb threat at Orpington station early today. It caused disruption.

All the factors that I have mentioned are ever present. We do not want the British Transport police, as part of the thin blue line against the rising tide of crime that is engulfing the nation under the Conservative Government, to be handicapped. That is why we are raising these points. We want to make sure beyond peradventure that the law is clear.

If legislation has to be tested in the courts, it is poor legislation. We want to make it clear. I should have thought that the amendment clarified the position. It seeks to leave out the mumbo jumbo about the terms of the agreement. It does not depend on the terms of the agreement. The Minister has told Parliament that as a condition of every licence the chief constable will lay down universal terms and conditions for the operation of the police in relation to the conduct of law and order. Terms and conditions relating to time and money will also be laid down, but they will not affect law and order or the duties of the British Transport police. We would not need to worry about the terms of the agreement if a standard set of terms and conditions were laid out in the Bill.

It is more satisfactory for Parliament to write terms and conditions into the Bill than for it to leave them to some shadowy committee. If the chief constable tells the people who administer the licences that they must incorporate certain terms in the licence, and if there is a plethora of agreements, someone somewhere might just leave out the section that would be so relevant in a subsequent court case and open to challenge. We want to make the law on criminal activities which inhibits the operation of the railway and the safety of passengers and users as clear as we possibly can. I should have thought that the amendment did just that.

Mr. Freeman

I shall first deal with the points made by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson). I guess that more points will be made by the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) in due course.

The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras asked why there should be a police services agreement. I have already explained that the Government believe that it is important to formalise the relationship between the British Transport police and the various constituent parts of the railway industry in terms of the precise functions and responsibilities of the police for a certain user. That is not to say that the core police responsibilities will not be the same for each user. Provisions in the agreement will relate to the specifics of a case.

I have already explained that one of the main purposes of the agreement might well be to limit the responsibilities of the police to the railway undertakings involved and not to the other activities of the company. Such an agreement is well precedented, for example, in the London Regional Transport Act 1984 and the Leeds Supertram Act 1993. So I do not understand hon. Members' fears about the use of the agreement. It seems sensible and practical. We seek to deal with a problem that has arisen in England and Wales, but not in Scotland. In Scotland, jurisdiction and limits of jurisdiction are not an issue.

9 pm

Mr. Dobson

Where in any of the precedents that the Minister adduced today or in his letter to the chairman of the police committee does it say that the constable can act only in accordance with the terms of an agreement?

Mr. Freeman

I have already given two examples. If the hon. Gentleman consults the Leeds Supertram Act 1993, he will find that there must be a formal agreement to enshrine responsibility. The Leeds supertram has not opened yet, but there has to be an agreement between British Transport police and that undertaking. The same is true of the London Regional Transport Act 1984. There is nothing unusual about a formal agreement.

Mr. Dobson

I have the Leeds Supertram Act here. There is no suggestion anywhere in the Act or in the other two precedents that the Minister has given—[Interruption.] The Minister is getting a copy of the Act, which will prove that I am telling the truth—that a constable's duties will be trammelled or curtailed by the agreement that is reached. That is the point that we have sought to make to the Minister.

Mr. Freeman

Section 64 of the Leeds Supertram Act 1993 says: Where agreement under this section is made with the railways board, members of the British Transport Police Force may act in accordance with the terms of the agreement as constables in, on and in the vicinity of any premises of the Executive notwithstanding the provisions of subsection (1) of section 53 (As to appointment of constables) of the British Transport Commission Act 1949. A similar provision is replicated in schedule 4 of the London Regional Transport Act 1984. The existence of agreements is already precedented.

Mr. Dobson

We all know that there are agreements, but nowhere in any of the legislation that the Minister has quoted is there any suggestion that the specific terms of the agreement limit the powers of a constable.

Mr. Freeman

I shall deal with the limitation of the powers of a constable, which was raised by the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer), in a moment. The hon. Member for York (Mr. Bayley) asked me two questions. First, he asked me to comment on the phrase, matters connected with or affecting". That is drawn from the British Transport Commission Act 1949. The language has proved to be effective ever since. Those words are a broader definition than the practice in Scotland, but they are well proven and tried and tested.

The hon. Member for York asked me who was on the police committee. The police committee is, and will continue to be, appointed by the British Railways Board. It includes, obviously, appointees from the railways. There is an independent member. There is also the chairman of the Central Transport Users Consultative Committee. The order that has been laid before Parliament simply gives the British Railways Board the power to appoint representatives from Railtrack.

Mr. Mackinlay


Mr. Freeman

Because Railtrack comprises literally half the railway—the infrastructure. Also, as the name of the Central Transport Users Consultative Committee is changing—although its powers are, if anything, slightly enlarged—the order that is before Parliament now simply refers to the new Central Rail Users Consultative Committee.

Mr. Bayley

Are there proposals to allow private rail operators to appoint members of the police committee? I ask the question because of a statement in the consultation document that the Department of Transport distributed on the future of the British Transport police, which says in paragraph 28: "On the other hand, a national police force controlled by private companies and exercising all the powers of Constables might prove unacceptable to public opinion.

Mr. Freeman

There is no suggestion that private franchisees should appoint members of the police committee. [Interruption.] I am able to handle the point, thank you—so far.

Mr. Mackinlay

Another fine mess you have got into!

Mr. Freeman

When I need help, I will ask for it.

There is no question of private sector franchisees appointing themselves or others to the police committee. The police committee is appointed by the British Railways Board. Obviously it would be sensible for the chairman of that board, when in due course he makes new appointments to the police committee, to appoint representatives of franchisees, but there are no franchisees at the moment and there will be none this year. There will be some next year, and at that stage it may be sensible to include representatives, but they are representatives.

Mr. Bayley


Mr. Freeman

I should like to make progress, if I may.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) asked whether all the various crimes and offences that he described could be encompassed in the jurisdiction envisaged by the Bill. The answer, obviously, is yes. There will be no change to the powers of the British Transport police in relation to the pursuit of offenders, the arrest of offenders and the questioning and interrogation of offenders, if we pass the Bill.

The hon. Member for North Devon (Mr. Harvey) asked about the jurisdiction covered by a police services agreement. I have indicated—I repeat the point for the sake of clarity—that there may be a need to exclude non-railway businesses which will vary according to the police user. Each police user will have a different set of businesses and undertakings which will therefore have to be specifically described in the agreement if they are to be excluded from the jurisdiction of the police. That has long been the case. The jurisdiction of the British Transport police does not extend beyond the railways.

The hon. Member for Bradford, South asked about the limitations imposed on jurisdiction. There must be an agreement and that will be enforced as a condition of the licence. It will be in a form agreed by the police committee for core policing and any agreement must be approved by the Secretary of State. Those provisions are clear.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bradford, South because he has done me a favour. I note from the Order Paper that the hon. Gentleman has an Adjournment debate tabled for this Friday, dealing with Menwyth Hill station. I have to tell him that last week, on learning of that, my civil servants said, "You have to answer that Adjournment debate, Minister."

Mr. Cryer

It shows how much the right hon. Gentleman knows about railways.

Mr. Freeman

The reason why I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman is that my constituency diary was cleared of all engagements. Now they tell me that, having consulted British Rail, even British Rail cannot find Menwyth Hill station. A Defence Minister is to answer, so now I have a completely clear day.

Mr. Dobson

Other railway stations may disappear into the Menwyth triangle before privatisation proceeds far.

Mr. Cryer

The fact that Department of Transport officials believe that Menwyth Hill station is a railway station shows how long they have been dedicated to supporting the road industry.

Mr. Dobson

They are obviously running a ghost train through there.

I feel sorry for the Minister because he has been sent out to put right his and other people's mistakes and finds himself defending the indefensible in trying to put them right. The Opposition accept that a police services agreement is needed between each railway company or undertaking and British Transport police. Nobody disputes the fact that all those organisations other than British Rail have such an agreement now, but we do dispute whether an individual agreement could limit the powers of constables employed by British Transport police. Such limits should not exist.

At the risk of being accused of tedious repetition, I must point out yet again that, if the agreements vary—eventually there may be more than 100—neither the constables nor British Transport police will know whether they have the authority to act in individual circumstances. The Minister has still offered no explanation. The three precedents that he quoted are not relevant as they do not include the words to which we object in the Bill. It would have been better had he not quoted them.

We also asked the Minister to give examples of differences that might exist in those agreements. I shall not go into whether some agreements will run for a longer time than others. Either they exist or they do not. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) and others pointed out, the financial side of the contract is utterly irrelevant to the work of the constable.

As the hon. Member for North Devon (Mr. Harvey) and I have said, the nearest the Minister has come to giving a sensible justification was when he said that some railway companies might own premises that are not used for railway purposes, so the agreement would need to exclude such premises. It does not need to do that because the clause confines constables to acting in, on and in the vicinity of any police premises; and … elsewhere, in relation to matters connected with or affecting … a police services user". They would become a user as a police service. There is no question of the last four lines of page 1 qualifying the fact; it does not need qualifying as it is qualified right from the start.

The Minister has not come up with a sensible explanation or justification for those four lines, which is why we shall call for a Division on the amendment, which would delete those and other words and replace them with the words drawn from the Scottish legislation. Everyone must accept that that legislation works and would not be limited by the words to which we object in the Bill. I cannot understand why the Minister does not see that.

Opposition Members are becoming increasingly suspicious that, yet again, the Government are up to something. We are developing a suspicion that, one way or another, bits of the railway system and more and more policing activities will be excluded from the jurisdiction of the British Transport police. As we said at the beginning of debates on the Bill—which was not very long ago—it is crucial to the safety of passengers and of goods, and, above all, crucial in the fight against the terrorist, that there be no gaps, that we continue to have comprehensive jurisdiction. We do not believe that this one-clause Bill will do the job it was supposed to do and the job that we requested be done. That is why we shall press the amendment to a vote.

9.15 pm

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 49, Noes 167.

Division No. 173] [9.15 pm
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Lewis, Terry
Barnes, Harry McFall, John
Bayley, Hugh Maclennan, Robert
Benton, Joe Maddock, Mrs Diana
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Miller, Andrew
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry) Morley, Elliot
Clapham, Michael Mudie, George
Corston, Ms Jean Olner, William
Cryer, Bob Pickthall, Colin
Cummings, John Pike, Peter L.
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE) Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Davidson, Ian Redmond, Martin
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l) Rendel, David
Denham, John Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Dobson, Frank Skinner, Dennis
Faulds, Andrew Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Foster, Rt Hon Derek Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Fyfe, Maria Tyler, Paul
George, Bruce Vaz, Keith
Gordon, Mildred Walley, Joan
Gunnell, John Wilson, Brian
Hall, Mike
Hanson, David Tellers for the Ayes:
Harvey, Nick Mr. Andrew Mackinlay and Mr. Jim Dowd.
Home Robertson, John
Jamieson, David
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Amess, David Evans, Roger (Monmouth)
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Faber, David
Aspinwall, Jack Fabricant, Michael
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Fenner, Dame Peggy
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North) Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Bates, Michael Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)
Batiste, Spencer Freeman, Rt Hon Roger
Bellingham, Henry French, Douglas
Beresford, Sir Paul Gallie, Phil
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Garnier, Edward
Booth, Hartley Gillan, Cheryl
Boswell, Tim Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Bowden, Andrew Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Bowis, John Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)
Brandreth, Gyles Grylls, Sir Michael
Brazier, Julian Hague, William
Bright, Graham Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes) Hannam, Sir John
Browning, Mrs. Angela Harris, David
Burns, Simon Haselhurst, Alan
Butler, Peter Hawkins, Nick
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Hawksley, Warren
Carrington, Matthew Heald, Oliver
Carttiss, Michael Hendry, Charles
Cash, William Hill, James (Southampton Test)
Chapman, Sydney Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)
Clappison, James Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W)
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)
Colvin, Michael Hunter, Andrew
Congdon, David Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Jenkin, Bernard
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John Jessel, Toby
Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire) Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Davies, Quentin (Stamford) Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Dorrell, Stephen Key, Robert
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Kilfedder, Sir James
Dover, Den King, Rt Hon Tom
Duncan, Alan Kirkhope, Timothy
Eggar, Tim Knapman, Roger
Elletson, Harold Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield) Knight, Greg (Derby N)
Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n) Soames, Nicholas
Kynoch, George (Kincardine) Spencer, Sir Derek
Lang, Rt Hon Ian Spink, Dr Robert
Legg, Barry Spring, Richard
Lidington, David Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Lightbown, David Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Lloyd, Rt Hon Peter (Fareham) Steen, Anthony
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Stern, Michael
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Streeter, Gary
MacKay, Andrew Sweeney, Walter
McLoughlin, Patrick Sykes, John
Malone, Gerald Taylor, John M. (Solihull)
Mans, Keith Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Marlow, Tony Thomason, Roy
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Merchant, Piers Thornton, Sir Malcolm
Mills, Iain Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Tracey, Richard
Moss, Malcolm Trimble, David
Neubert, Sir Michael Trotter, Neville
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Twinn, Dr Ian
Nicholls, Patrick Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Norris, Steve Viggers, Peter
Oppenheim, Phillip Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Page, Richard Waller, Gary
Paice, James Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Patnick, Irvine Waterson, Nigel
Pawsey, James Watts, John
Pickles, Eric Wells, Bowen
Porter, David (Waveney) Whittingdale, John
Richards, Rod Widdecombe, Ann
Riddick, Graham Willetts, David
Robathan, Andrew Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S) Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Robinson, Mark (Somerton) Wood, Timothy
Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent) Yeo, Tim
Ryder, Rt Hon Richard Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Sackville, Tom
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Tellers for the Noes:
Shersby, Michael Mr. Derek Conway and Mr. James Arbuthnot.
Sims, Roger
Skeet, Sir Trevor

Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. Mackinlay: I beg to move amendment No. 7, in page 1, line 25, at end insert—"or (iv) London Underground Limited."

The amendment would improve the Bill by adding London Underground Ltd. to clause 1(3). It should be inserted for the sake of clarity. I anticipate that the Minister will say that London Underground is subject to the user agreements. I would welcome that clarification. This a probing amendment, as it seems that London Underground has been forgotten.

I am conscious of the fact that, unlike the other users which have been the subject of earlier discussion, London Underground is represented on the British Transport police committee. It would be appropriate, therefore, for its status to be reflected in the Bill. It is in that spirit that I have moved the amendment.

Mr. Freeman

I shall clarify the matter for the hon. Gentleman. The powers of the British Transport police in relation to London Underground are already covered by the London Regional Transport Act 1984, so there is no need for the amendment. I confirm that the British Railways Board appoints London Underground's managing director, who sits on the British Transport police committee. I am not aware of any proposals to change that. A sufficient number of British Transport policemen deal with the underground to warrant a representative of London Underground on that committee. The arrangements have worked well and I can therefore assure the hon. Gentleman that the amendment is not necessary.

Mr. Mackinlay

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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