HL Deb 24 March 1994 vol 553 cc809-25

8 p.m

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

I should like to start by saying how grateful I am to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, to the Chief Constable of the British Transport Police and to the British Railways Board for having drawn the matter to your Lordships' attention, and for the courteous consideration of the Opposition and the Liberal Democratic party in your Lordships' House in allowing this unusual, but not entirely unique, parliamentary procedure to be used whereby the Bill can pass all its stages in one day.

I think I can say that the Bill is not controversial. It is merely necessary to ensure that the jurisdiction of the British Transport Police is not, inadvertently, reduced in England and Wales from 1st April by the Railways Act 1993. The British Transport Police is a national force employed by the British Railways Board. It operates under its own Chief Constable and the auspices of a police committee. From 1st April, that committee will be chaired by the Chairman of British Rail, Sir Bob Reid.

The Government want the British Transport Police to continue as a unified police force, policing Britain's rail network, just as it does now. But, without the Bill, the; powers of the British Transport Police would be reduced on 1st April and its effectiveness in policing the railway would therefore also be reduced.

Quite simply, the problem is as follows. The effect of the Railways Act 1993 will be, inadvertently, to limit the British Transport Police's powers in relation to crimes connected with or affecting Railtrack—the new Government-owned company which will manage all track, signalling and stations from 1st April. Broadly speaking, the British Transport Police would have powers to investigate or to make arrests only when on or in the vicinity of Railtrack property.

The problem, which has made the Bill necessary, is caused by the words "in the vicinity of'. As the British Transport Police will, under the Railways Act 1993, only be able to use its powers "in the vicinity of" Railtrack property, it would mean that it would lose its powers to investigate, to pursue and to arrest offenders away from Railtrack property. There would also be some uncertainty about what the words, in the vicinity of Railtrack property", actually mean. For example, how far could a British Transport Police constable pursue an offender who is running from a station before he ceases to be in the vicinity of that station?

At present, a British Transport Police constable can arrest a person in his home for an offence which he has committed on British Rail property. In other words, a British Transport Police constable can see a person commit an offence at King's Cross can pursue him to his home in Pimlico; or, indeed, he can call at his home in Pimlico the next day to interview him in order to arrest him. In that example, even the most broad-minded legal advocate might find difficulty in persuading a court that Pimlico was "in the vicinity of" King's Cross.

The Railways Act 1993 has no effect on the jurisdiction of the British Transport Police in relation to matters concerning the British Railways Board, London Underground Limited or Docklands Light Railway. In due course, though, as the private sector takes over existing British Rail services, the problem which I described in relation to Railtrack would then also apply to those privatised services.

The Railways Act 1993 only affects the jurisdiction of the British Transport Police in England and Wales. It does not affect the jurisdiction in Scotland, which remains unchanged as it is intended to be. The defect in the Railways Act was only discovered recently and a great deal of effort—and also some anxiety !—has been expended in trying to resolve how best to rectify it. It was considered that the Bill would be the best way. The Bill will enable the British Transport Police to have exactly the same jurisdiction which it has now in policing railway lines and stations. Its members will be able to investigate and make arrests on Railtrack property or away from it when dealing with any crimes which are connected with or which affect Railtrack, just as they do now in relation to British Rail property.

The Bill also provides for the British Transport Police to have the same jurisdiction in relation to matters connected with or affecting any subsidiaries of British Rail and any future private sector operators. Such operators would be "police services" users under the terms of the Bill. They will not be able to operate without a licence which will be issued by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport or the rail regulator, unless they are licence exempt which, in practice, will apply only to a tiny proportion of railway activities. The licence will require them to enter into an agreement with the British Transport Police for the provision of police services.

The police committee will ensure that the police services which are to be provided are clearly set down, will be common to all agreements and will cover all which is necessary for the British Transport Police to maintain law and order on the railway. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport must approve all police services agreements and he will therefore be able to ensure that there is a consistent approach to any provisions in the agreement which might affect the jurisdiction of the British Transport Police.

Railtrack and, in due course, all licensed private sector operators will pay British Rail for the police services which they receive. But, as the employers, British Rail will be responsible for funding the British Transport Police. So there will be no question of there being any effect on the British Transport Police should any operator fail to pay up.

The Bill will therefore ensure that the British Transport Police will retain, after 1st April, the jurisdiction which it has at present to police and to maintain law and order on the railway. The British Transport Police, British Railways Board and Railtrack have all been consulted and have been given assurances by my right honourable friend, the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, about how the Bill would provide the jurisdiction which they require. They have welcomed those assurances. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, wishes to intervene. I give way.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, the noble Earl mentioned consultation. However, can he explain why the British Transport Police Federation was not consulted before the Bill was published?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I thought that the noble Lord was about to make a speech, as I was in fact in the process of concluding mine. No doubt the noble Lord will be able to make a speech in his own time.

In conclusion, I should like to express my gratitude to your Lordships for the understanding as regards the urgency of the Bill. I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time. —(Earl Ferrers.)

8.7 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, I must say, first, that the noble Earl's speech was a nice one. As he now distinguishes between nice and nasty speeches, I hope that he will not regard mine as a nasty one. Nevertheless, it will be a probing speech. What I tried to elicit from the noble Earl a few moments ago was information that I thought he would have been able to provide. It is a matter which goes to the very heart of the issues that we are now considering.

Had it not been for the intervention of my honourable friend, Mr. MacKinlay, in another place, the federation in question would not even have been told about the publication of the Bill. On the face of it, that seems to be a rather serious omission and one which requires an explanation from the noble Earl. However, in mitigation, I must say that it is not really the noble Earl's Bill; indeed, it is the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, who is unavoidably absent tonight. I do not seek to cast great aspersions on the noble Earl for not being able to respond immediately to that point, but I hope that he will be able to do so later in the debate.

Again, while not seeking to cast blame on the noble Earl, I believe it was the Government's duty—and one which they have significantly failed to discharge—to explain to Parliament how that serious omission occurred. For example, who was responsible? I believe that an apology is due, especially from Mr. Freeman, who dealt with the matter in another place—but who, significantly, was also missing—for something that could (if the matter had not been put right) easily have led to the peril of the British Transport Police exceeding its competence and jurisdiction and no doubt suffering the possibility of being landed in damages for such an excess of jurisdiction. Whatever the situation in that regard, its cure has been left until virtually the eleventh hour. That is certainly not a satisfactory state of affairs.

The situation has to be viewed against the backcloth of a Bill which, on any showing, was pretty shabbily drafted from the word go. It was the subject of hundreds and hundreds of amendments—the overwhelming majority being government amendments—and yet this Government of under-thought and after-thought missed out this critical matter.

I claim that they were put on notice of this because on 19th July I specifically adverted to the issue of the agreements that were to be made between the operators and the British Transport Police. One would have thought that, whatever the Minister thought about the particular amendment I moved when we discussed this issue previously, he would have felt constrained to mention the matter to his colleagues in the Home Office and they would have taken the matter seriously at that time. But somehow or other it has all gone wrong. The Government have missed out this critical matter and they still owe us an explanation for that but have failed to provide it.

I suppose they were distracted by the nature of the Bill itself which was engaged in fragmenting the railways in the most complex way. The Government got into a terrible mess and they kept returning to the House with amendments. Perhaps their mind was distracted from what was nevertheless an important matter. I still fail to understand, having read with some care the debates that took place in another place, why the Government could not have said that this is a matter which is perfectly well dealt with in Scotland and therefore the same rules could have prevailed in England and Wales. Very complex reasons—if one can dignify the Minister's speech by referring to it as displaying cogent reasoning—were put forward as to why that was not possible, but I still think it is necessary for the Government to elaborate on why that situation could not have prevailed.

Another matter which I think is unsatisfactory is the following. We all pay tribute, quite rightly, to the British Transport Police and to its role in seeking to deal with and deter terrorism and to deal with all kinds of bogus alarms which cause so much damage to the working of the railway system, but it also does a great deal to ensure that alarms which are clearly bogus do not disrupt the system. However, we are not told why the Government have not addressed, even to this day, a number of the points which were raised in another place and which will be dealt with--therefore I shall not address those points now—in the amendments which will be discussed later but which were also introduced in another place and dealt with rather unsatisfactorily.

1 have a feeling that whatever strength the amendments may have, the Government will not entertain them at all simply because of the question of time. Why are we put in this position? Why have the Government not acted earlier when, as I said earlier, they had been put on notice about this matter a long time ago? I repeat the question that I posed earlier. Why was the federation not consulted about this Bill? Once the Government recognised that there was a problem here, it surely would have been appropriate for that federation to be asked what its opinion was about the issues. As I have said before, my honourable friend sent the Bill to the chairman of the federation and that was the first time that the chairman had even heard of it.

I wish to address another matter that was dealt with in another place which concerns so-called core activities which were to be undertaken by the British Transport Police and the non-core activities which could be delegated else where. Perhaps when the noble Earl replies to this debate he could be rather more informative as regards explaining what constitutes core and non-core activities. We understand that it will be for the Commissioner of Police to determine these matters, but what answerability will the police committee and the senior officer concerned have to this place and to another place? Is there to be any parliamentary control as regards determining those matters?

As I indicated earlier, there are other issues which we shall address in the amendments which will be discussed later. I do not wish to detain the House for longer than I have, but we look to the noble Earl to provide rather less complex argumentation than was presented by his honourable friend in another place. Frankly some of the arguments used in another place not only eluded me but certainly eluded a number of Members of that place.

Finally, I wish to deal with a matter which struck me as outrageous. This matter does not redound on a government Minister. Mr. Trotter MP, who represents the British Transport Police Federation, has said, It would have been much better if the whole issue"—[Official Report, Commons; 21/3/94; col. 630.]

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me if I point out that he should not quote directly the comments of someone in another place who did not speak from the Dispatch Box. He can certainly refer to those comments indirectly but not directly.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, the allegation was made that it would have been much better if the whole issue had been decided when the Bill went through the House of Lords. That is a pretty outrageous allegation. It is as if someone is saying that it is the noble Earl's fault and my fault that we are in this position today. That is a most extraordinary allegation. The mind boggles at its maladroitness. Startlingly irrelevant though that observation may have been, I hope the Minster will recognise—I am sure he will —that a 11 of us in this House did our best to improve what was a bad Bill.1 do not think we succeeded entirely but we did our best. Certainly I do not think we should carry responsibility for it in the way that has been alleged in another place.

8.18 p.m.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, the huge House which is assembled here tonight to hear this Second Reading will be grateful to the noble Earl and will have noted the difference in tone between the Home Office brief, in its remarks about my noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich, and the Transport Department's remarks about my noble friend. However, that is not surprising because the relationship between those people who deal with transport affairs in this House is on the whole amicable. We welcome the noble Earl to our ranks, although I am sure that he would rather have left the House after his difficulties with the previous Bill. However, we are grateful to the noble Earl for the way he presented this Bill to the House.

Perhaps I should declare an interest straight away by saying that three weeks ago today my car was stolen from a British Rail car park and the matter is still in the hands of the British Transport Police. I hope that that will not in any way affect my judgment on this Bill because I think the British Transport Police are an excellent body of people who need everyone's support.

The Bill has been generally welcomed. I too should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich on having persisted in this matter. Had he not done so, from 1st April the British Transport Police would have been in a very difficult position. The possibility that police officers who stepped outside the terms of the Railways Act and arrested somebody and found themselves being sued in court for a vast sum of money for improper arrest had not penetrated either the Department of Transport or the Home Office. When they realised that possibility, prompted by my noble friend, matters moved rather more quickly.

I turn to the question of the Bill passing through all its stages in another place in one day and through all its stages in this House in one day. Although we have agreed to that procedure on this occasion, we would not encourage such a procedure given the past history of Bills dealt with in that way. In these circumstances I can always beat my breast as a good former Member of the Liberal Party and now a Liberal Democrat and point to the Official Secrets Act, which was put through Parliament in 1911 in one day; we have spent the rest of of our lives trying to get rid of it. Therefore, we need to approach these Bills with a considerable degree of caution and be quite sure that when it is suggested that everyone is in agreement with the Bill that is the case.

I do not want to dwell further on the inadequacies of the Railways Act. The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, has rightly drawn attention to the problems that we raised when that Bill passed through your Lordships' House, some of which are now becoming apparent. It was interesting to see that yesterday the Secretary of State for Transport told the world at large that the Gatwick Express is not the jewel in the crown that we were all led to believe it was when the Bill passed through our House. Indeed, far from it being taken over by an entrepreneur from 1st April it will not be dealt with until next year. Much of what we said about the Railways Bill at the time was true.

I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, because when the question of the British Transport Police was before your Lordships' House during consideration of the Railways Bill he asked appropriate questions. If the Government had listened to him they would not find themselves in the mess in which they find themselves today and we would not be having to push through a Bill in all its stages in one day.

The danger was that the public were left exposed by the Act and criminals would have been given a free rein. It would be interesting to know whose head has rolled as a result. However, heads no longer roll as a result of incompetence. We are having to paper over the cracks left in the legislation by the Government.

The Bill does what is required, but I fear only partially. I have been in discussion with the British Transport Police, who are far from satisfied with the provisions of the Bill. That is not to say that it will not do what it is intended to do. But there was an opportunity to take matters further. The British Transport Police are not remotely satisfied with the Bill as it stands.

The basic problem is the question of jurisdiction. The noble Earl rightly said that the Bill will allow hot pursuit —or even cold pursuit—of someone seen committing an offence on railway property. The police will be able to continue that pursuit into the outside world, which would not have been possible under the Railways Act as it stood.

As someone who has a flat in Pimlico, I have to say to the noble Earl that, having suggested that thieves and vagabonds would go from King's Cross to Pimlico, he ought to offer an apology to the citizens of that fair part of London lest the value of their property descends too far.

I do not know whether the noble Earl is aware that the British Transport Police have recently conducted a survey of incidents which fall clearly outside the present jurisdiction of the Act and also outside the jurisdiction of this proposed Bill. The survey shows that over a two-week period officers responded to more than 200 incidents that were clearly outside the jurisdiction of both the Act as it was and. as it will be as a result of this Bill. I believe that that was recognised by the Minister, Mr. Freeman, at the British Transport Police Federation conference at Torquay yesterday. The incidents arose as a result of requests from Home Office police forces or from the public, or as a result of incidents discovered by officers on patrol.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, I intend to return to that aspect in connection with the amendments which have been tabled in my name. I apologise to the House that it was not possible for them to be circulated earlier. That is one of the problems which arise from seeing a Bill in print only a day or so before it is to be debated in your Lordships' House. I hope that the fact that they are manuscript amendments (although they are in fact printed) will be accepted by the House.

The second area which I wish to raise at this stage is the question of British Transport Police service agreements. There was a great deal of discussion of such service agreements in another place. It is clear that there will be a series of different agreements but that there will be a core agreement which is common to them all. The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, rightly drew attention to the fact that those core activities have not yet been defined. One would have thought that by the time we had reached this stage of the proceedings the Government should be in a position to indicate what those core activities are. One would like to scrutinise them, and even challenge them, to see whether they are adequate.

There are some services which, because they do not pay policing costs, are exempt from licensing. One wonders about the position of the British Transport Police in relation to those areas. I refer, for instance, to BR maintenance, the rolling stock leasing companies, BR telecommunications, the freight companies and the Heathrow Express. In another place when the Heathrow Express was mentioned the Minister, Mr. Freeman, said that the Heathrow Express would be covered because of a licensing agreement relating to the British Rail track which the Heathrow service would use. It is my understanding that all of that track is not BR track and that a section of track between the British Rail track and Heathrow itself will not be covered by such a licence. One wonders what the position would be if the British Transport Police observed offences taking place on that part of the track, such as a terrorist laying a bomb, for example. Will they have the jurisdiction to cope with such an incident? As I read the Bill as it stands, they will not. They will have the right of citizen's arrest and no more. I shall return to that point later.

What worries me is that in relation to the services which will not be licensed the Government are trying to bring in privatised police forces of one kind or another to cover that kind of situation and the British Transport Police will be excluded.

That is why it is essential that we go a little further tonight into this whole business of the jurisdiction of the British Transport Police. Of course we shall make sure that this Bill gets on its way with due dispatch because it is essential. But I do not believe that the opportunity has been taken to repair situations which could have been repaired. I am not sure that even now the Department of Transport and the Home Office have thought through the consequences of the Bill. I hope that this is not another occasion when a Bill is rushed through both Houses of Parliament and within six months, a year or five years we find it inadequate to deal with the problems found by the British Transport Police.

8.30 p.m.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, first, perhaps I may commiserate with the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, for the fact that he had his vehicle stolen from British Rail premises. Whenever a vehicle is stolen, and when it is one's own vehicle, it is enormously distressing and my sympathies go to the noble Lord for that experience. He castigated me for referring to what might happen if someone pinched some item from King's Cross and went to Pimlico, as if such things did not happen. I merely sought to give an example which some noble Lords might readily understand. If I imputed any motives to the residents of Pimlico, of whom I am one, I of course withdraw that. I ask the noble Lord not to use his imagination, which is prolific, to quite the extent that he has.

The noble Lord referred to remarks that I made about his noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich. The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff. said that it was interesting that the Department of Transport brief with regard to his noble friend was different from the Home Office brief. I can tell the noble Lord that in neither case did I have a brief about the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich. My remarks were entirely my own. The reason why they were so courteous in relation to this Bill was because the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, did a great service of which we were appreciative. The reason why the remarks were so horrible in relation to the earlier Bill was because the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, had produced some horrible amendments and deserved every bit of castigation that he received!

The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, could not resist having a go at the Government for the fact that the Bill was produced in a hurry. I do not blame him for that. It is his privilege and his prerogative. I dare say that, had I found myself in his position—I am bound to say that I am unlikely to do so for a very long while—I might have used the same argument. The noble Lord asked: "How has this mistake occurred and why have we not received an apology ?" The fact is that, periodically, errors arise and lacunae in legislation are found. No one intends a lacuna to appear. However, one appeared on this occasion. Therefore we considered it appropriate to produce a remedy as quickly as possible.

The noble Lord asked why on earth we did not consult with the British Transport Police Federation. I can understand the desire to consult. We normally consult as much as possible on all matters. However, as noble Lords will appreciate, in this case the legislation had to be produced quickly. There was little time between the decision to bring forward a Bill and the Bill being introduced in another place. There was not time to consult on the details. However, my right honourable friend the Minister of State in another place consulted with the chief constable and the deputy chairman and chairman of British Rail. L hope that the noble Lord will realise that no offence was intended. It was simply lack of time.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for allowing me to intervene. I do not suggest that the Government acted in bad faith. The noble Earl would not know about this, but I can assure him that throughout the debates on the Railways Bill we urged that even in situations of emergency it was necessary to consult. With respect, I cannot accept the suggestion that it would have been impossible in these circumstances to do so. It would have been quite possible for the Department of Transport to have got in touch with the federation and to have said, "Please come in. We have this urgent problem. We should like to discuss it with you". I am sure that the federation would have responded. That was not done. Yet discussions took place elsewhere, as the noble Earl said.

I do not wish to press the matter further. The noble Earl has no responsibility in this regard. However, I wish to put clearly on the record that the lack of consultation was a serious omission.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, for saying that he will not press the matter further. I accept that, where one can consult, one should do so. If one had consulted nobody, the castigation from the noble Lord would have been even greater. The fact that one has consulted with some persons and not others makes the noble Lord ask, "Why did we not consult all of them?" I accept the castigation. I am grateful to the noble Lord for his understanding of the situation.

The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, was also worried about the jurisdiction problem. Until earlier this year, the Government, the board and the British Police Federation were not aware of the specific problem which gives rise to the loss of jurisdiction which the Bill corrects. Noble Lords will recall that the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, raised the issue not long afterwards in your Lordships' House. The Government are aware of a wider concern about the powers of the British Transport Police to act other than in connection with railway matters, for example, in assisting other forces. But that is not a matter for this Bill, which is aimed simply at maintaining the current jurisdiction.

The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, was worried about whether there will be any reporting to Parliament. The committee is set up under a statutory scheme by the Secretary of State for Transport. The employer is British Rail. That is a role which British Rail exercises under the auspices of the police committee. It is not a role which requires reporting to Parliament.

Both noble Lords were concerned about core police activities. The police committee will set down core policing activities. Those will include services relating, for example, to such items as safety, anti-terrorism, prevention and detection of crime, the keeping of the peace, the bringing of offenders to justice and the rendering of support to victims of crime. All that reflects the current situation. With regard to non-core policing activities, the operators will have freedom not to use British Transport Police, for example, for static guarding of premises or goods, the supervision of car parks, the escort of high value loads, and so forth. That, too, reflects the current position.

The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, was also concerned about the Heathrow Express. On that I believe that he is wrong. Although the Heathrow Express route will be partly licence exempt in respect of its own private track which links Heathrow to Railtrack's main line, it will need a passenger licence. That licence will contain a condition for the British Transport Police to cover passenger services over the whole route.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for that explanation. However, perhaps I may return to the core situation. A problem faced in another place was not that core activities could not be defined but where a different licence had been put into effect for different places. At present British Transport Police know exactly where they stand. They are dealing with railway property wherever it is. The core activities are the same. Some of the peripheral activities will remain the same. However, if one has different licences dealing with different factors at the margin, the danger—I am sure that it was felt by Members of another place—relates to how the British Transport constable knows when he is stepping outside his jurisdiction. That is why it is not so much the core problem but the responsibilities outside the core that could lead to confusion in the future. That is why we question the matter.

Earl Ferrers

Yes, my Lords, I believe that I understand the noble Lord's anxiety. But all the licences will, when issued, require the same kind of service. Therefore, when a licence is issued, the people who obtain it will know the service they will receive. The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, was concerned about the constable and how he will know where he is when he is patrolling. That is a matter for the operational instructions given by the chief constable. The constable has to know where he is entitled to carry out his work and where his responsibility ends. That information will have to be given to the constable by his superiors.

The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, referred to one other point: the wider jurisdiction of the British Transport Police. It is a separate issue from the present Bill. We are aware of the wider concern about the powers of the British Transport Police to act other than in connection with railway matters; for example, assisting other forces. That is often referred to as "the Bishopsgate problem" when British Transport Police officers were first on the scene after the Bishopsgate bomb. It is not a matter for the Bill, which is aimed simply at maintaining the current jurisdiction. I know that the British Transport Police have provided the Department of Transport with detailed and quantified information about the matter. The Department of Transport will in turn take it up with my department to see how and whether it can be addressed. Clearly, it is a matter relating to wider police powers in general and is being addressed but it does not strictly come under the Bill.

I hope that I have answered the majority of questions posed by the two noble Lords. I see that I have not.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down, I apologise for the omission, I should have raised this point earlier to give him more time to consider the matter, but it is important that I raise it now. The point was raised by my honourable friend Mr. Brian Wilson in another place referring to the transport police services agreement. He argued that the word "agreement" implies that the two parties concerned have to agree about something. He went on to argue that there could be some inconsistency between an agreement with one operator and another agreement affecting other operators. The Minister wrote to David Rayner, the chairman of British Transport Police, saying: Since all licence holders referred to … must have an agreement approved by the Secretary of State for the provision of core police services determined by the Police Committee, you have my assurance that the Secretary of State will ensure consistency of agreements".—[Official Report, Commons, 21/3/94; col. 73.] It suggests that consistency is not the same as similarity in all respects. I should have thought that it was extremely important to have that degree of similarity.

Who will undertake the task? It seems to me, having regard to the large number of operators concerned, it will be quite an onerous task to scan each agreement to ensure that there is a measure of consistency. Could not a form of words be introduced to ensure that consistency equates with being exactly similar?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I shall have to take note of what the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, said. It seems to me that it is somewhat a matter of semantics. Obviously there is consistency of agreements; indeed there must be. But the agreements have to be tailored to the requirements of the individuals. The agreements will be approved by the Secretary of State, and he will only approve them where they are for the same core services. Obviously, they have to contain sufficient consistency that allows them to be applicable across the board, but they would need to be tailored to the individual case. However, I shall certainly look at the point which the noble Lord has raised. I commend the Bill to your Lordships.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Then, Standing Order No. 44 having been dispensed with (pursuant to Resolution of 21st March):

Lord Annaly

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure—

8.45 p.m.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Earl Ferrers.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD SKELMERSDALE in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Amendment of the British Transport Commission Act 1949]:

Lord Tordoff moved Amendment No. 1: Page 1, line 21, leave out from ("elsewhere") to 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, arty 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 noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 1 and to speak to Amendment No. 2. I thought for a second that we were moving directly to Royal Assent and I am glad that we have avoided it. In welcoming the noble Lord, Lord Annaly, to the Dispatch Box, I am glad that it is not the position that the Bill is moving straight to Royal Assent. I am sure that the noble Lord's friends will assist him in the matter.

The amendments are intended to tease out further some of the matters we have been talking about on jurisdiction. As I understand it, the situation in Scotland is different from that in England. In Scotland, a member of the British Transport Police has jurisdiction by virtue of being a constable in precisely the same way as a constable in any other police force is entitled to carry out his duties.

I suggest to the noble Earl that the reason we have the argument about core activities and secondary activities is that the rights of the British Transport policeman as a constable are restricted in England and Wales as they are not in Scotland. The simple way out of the problem that we face on the core and other activities is to say that we should have the same arrangements south and west of the Border as in Scotland. That is what the amendments seek to achieve.

One accepts that the Bill as it now stands gives the constable the right, when he sees persons doing some deed on railway property, to pursue them and to go some distance or as far as he needs to interview and arrest them if necessary. As I understand it, it is possible for a constable who may believe that an offence is about to be committed—for example, that a terrorist is about to plant a bomb on a railway line—to follow that person back to police property. However, if the felon plants the bomb on a petrol station instead of a police station the constable does not have the right of a constable to arrest. He has the right only of an ordinary citizen.

In that situation a person is going round in police uniform; to the general public he looks exactly the same as any other policeman. Someone may, for example, rush up to him and say, "Constable, constable, come and do something. An affray is going on". The constable has to say, "No, I'm sony. I'm not allowed to do that. I am only a constable when crimes have been committed on railway property or are related to railway property". That cannot be right. Apart from anything else it is something of an offence to the ability of that excellent police force, which, as my noble friend Lord Harris has said several times, is one of the larger police forces in the country. That is the basis of the amendments that I have put down tonight. It seems to me that the way the Government can gel off the hook in relation to those core arid non-core activities, and the way in which the British Transport Police can be given the ability to carry out their duty as normal constables across the length and breadth of Great Britain, is through one or other of these amendments.

I accept that that goes further than the position of the British Transport Police at the moment. There is nothing new in the position as it stands if this Bill goes through as it is currently presented. But here is an opportunity to tidy up a very important anomaly which faces the British Transport Police. I hope that the Government will at least respond, not necessarily to accept these amendments tonight —I know that there are all sorts of pressures upon them to get this Bill through as fast as they can so that it receives Royal Assent before the Commons rises at half-past 10—but to give at least an indication that they recognise that there is a serious problem here and that they will find some way of correcting it in the future. I beg to move.

Lord Clinton-Davis

I rise to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, which was not simply consistent with, but precisely similar to, the amendment moved by my honourable friend Mr. Frank Dobson in another place.

We shall now no doubt hear from the Government an explanation as to what causes the noble Earl to resist this amendment. What the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, arid I are looking for, knowing that the Government are implacably opposed to entertaining any amendment to the Bill, is at least an assurance that these issues will be looked at and will be capable of being dealt with in another Bill. Indeed, there is a vehicle that is available to the noble Earl in the shape of a Bill which is to come to this House very shortly, namely, the Criminal Justice Bill. It is therefore wholly appropriate if we look to the noble Earl to give us an assurance that the Government will at the very least examine the proposition that this amendment, and indeed the one that follows, will be considered very carefully in the light of that legislation.

The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, made out a case of some substance for that to happen, even if this may not be considered by the Government to be the right vehicle for it. I am always suspicious about the vehicular argument which Ministers introduce and which I myself used from time to time in the past, in the halcyon days. To recognise the reality of the matter, the Government will not accept any amendment now. We hope for some positive views from the noble Earl as to how the Government might be able to consider accommodating this proposal in some further legislation.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

This is a matter of some importance, as I am sure the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, will recognise. It is not a new issue, as has been made clear. It seems to me to be something of an absurdity that a force as large as the British Transport Police should have this limitation on its powers in the sort of situation that was outlined by my noble friend Lord Tordoff.

To take up a point that was made by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, it seemed to me on the basis of the discussions that I had with Mr. Freeman and his colleagues at the Department of Transport that if this Bill had not been introduced in its present form, the other option would have been to incorporate its proposals in the Criminal Justice Bill. The Government rightly decided not to do that because of the delay that would be involved. I welcome that decision. Indeed, I urged the Government not to travel down that particular path. They did not do so, and I am glad that they did not do so. But it is quite clear that an amendment along these lines (I recognise that the Government will not accept this amendment tonight) could be introduced to the Criminal Justice Bill when it arrives in this House. I urge the noble Earl to be in a position at that time to respond, I hope positively, to an amendment on these lines.

Earl Ferrers

I am grateful to Members of the Committee for explaining the amendment and the concerns which they have. One always gets difficulties when one starts trying to define what are the responsibilities of police officers who do not form what might be described as part of the national policing system. The British Transport Police are a peculiar force in so far as they are peculiar to British Rail and all that goes with it. In that respect, their powers and responsibilities relate to British Rail property, tracks, stations and so forth.

I can understand the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, saying that if a British Transport police constable finds a person putting a bomb, not on a station but in somebody's garage or in a petrol station, he ought to be able to do something about it. That is understandable. But it sets that constable's remit very much wider than the remit that he has, namely to look after British Rail property.

The noble Lord asks why we cannot do in England and Wales what is done in Scotland. The fact is that Scottish law is different to English law. We often get that problem when comparing the jurisdiction and the jurisprudence of the different countries north of the Border and south of the Border. The Scottish provisions have stood since 1980. They reflect the fact that the law and jurisprudence in Scotland are different to England. We cannot simply insert Scottish wording into English law because it may be interpreted entirely differently and have an unintended effect.

The Bill gives jurisdiction in England and Wales for constables in all matters concerned with or affecting licensed railway operators for whom the services of the transport police would be provided to maintain law and order on the railway. That is the function of the British Transport Police. The jurisdiction in Scotland is not affected by the Railways Act. It will continue after 1st April as it does now. It does not therefore need to be addressed in the Bill.

I am aware, however, of a wider concern about the powers of the British Transport Police to act other than in connection with railway matters. I say only that this Bill would not be an appropriate vehicle for it. I know that Members of the Committee do not intend that the amendments should be put into the Bill. I know that the British Transport Police provided the Department of Transport with detailed and indeed quantified information about the matter. The Department of Transport is, in turn, taking it up with my department to see if and how the issue can be addressed. Clearly this is a matter which relates to wider police powers in general. I shall certainly see that the matter is looked at. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, will be satisfied with that.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, asked whether we could incorporate an amendment in the Criminal Justice Bill. Perhaps the noble Lord will be content for me to say: well, we must see. The noble Lord will also know that the Criminal Justice Bill has increased enormously in size while it has been in another place. In view of the strictures voiced when the previous Bill was going through this House about the length of Bills and the amount of legislation, the noble Lord will understand that there is a certain reaction not to make the Criminal Justice Bill even longer than it already is. I will see that the point is taken into account. I will also see that I am adequately and suitably briefed to answer the noble Lord's amendment if he intends to put it down, which perhaps he may not.

Lord Tordoff

I am grateful to the noble Earl for those remarks. I hope that he will not hide behind the size of the Bill as an excuse for not doing what is sensible. The size of Bills has not inhibited the Government in the past and no doubt it will not do so in the future. Similarly, I hope that the Government will not hide behind the suggestion that Scottish legislation is different. Indeed, it is different and sometimes it is better. If this system has been operating successfully in Scotland since 1980, that seems to me a good reason to say that it has been a very useful test patch for introducing the legislation into the rest of Great Britain.

The noble Earl said that the British Transport Police were not part of the national policing network—I think those were his words. I am sure that he did not intend that to be in any way derogatory to the British Transport Police. Admittedly, they have a separate function, but they are very much a part of the total police network in this country and, as my noble friend said, they comprise 20 per cent. of the total police force.

Earl Ferrers

Perhaps I may interrupt the noble Lord. He is quite right to pull me up on that point. I was searching for a form of words which would avoid saying "part of the national police force". In view of our last debate, that would have been an unfortunate choice of words. If I did not choose the correct form of words, the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, at least understood what I meant.

Lord Tordoff

I am grateful to the noble Earl. I am sure that the British Transport Police will understand. They are people who are trained to the same standards as the rest of the police force and, indeed, in the same establishments.

As has been said, we did not expect the Government to accept this amendment tonight. I am grateful for the fact that the noble Earl indicated that the Government are listening to the problem. I believe that it is a problem that could be put right quite simply. I hope that, by the time we come to discussions in this Chamber of the Criminal Justice Bill, both the Department of Transport and the Home Office will have seen the sense not of what I, the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis or my noble friend Lord Harris say but of what the British Transport Police themselves say; namely, that they could do a better job with a fairly simple change in their jurisdiction. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 2 not moved.]

Clause 1 agreed to.

Remaining clause and schedule agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported without amendment; Report received; Bill read a third time, and passed.

Lord Annaly

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 13 minutes past nine—in other words, in 10 minutes time.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 9.3 to 9.13 p.m.]

Forward to