§ 7.33 p.m.
§ Lord Faulkner of Worcester rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what future they envisage for the British Transport Police in the light of the recent publication of their consultation paper.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, my purpose in asking this Question today is to draw attention to the consultation paper published last month by the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, entitled "Modernising the British Transport Police", and to commend to the House the proposals contained within it.
§ I am most grateful to noble Lords who have put their names down to speak in the debate. I look forward very much to their contributions.
§ The British Transport Police (BTP) are the national police force for the railways throughout England, Scotland and Wales. They are also responsible for policing the London Underground, the Docklands Light Railway, the Croydon Tramlink and the Midland Metro. Their duties include law and order policing, maintaining the Queen's peace and protecting the staff and public on the railways. They are used to dealing with all crimes, including murder, violence, sexual offences, robberies, thefts and fraud. The have to cope with accidents, fatalities and suicides.
§ The history of the force can be traced right back to 1825, to the start of the railways in Britain and the beginning of modern policing. As the railway network spread across the country in 19th century Britain, and criminals discovered that offences could be committed on the move with rapid means of escape—in the same way that the modern motorway network has created similar opportunities—the need for a dedicated mobile police force, able to cross county boundaries, became evident.
§ The network nature of the railway system also means that incidents affecting its operation in one location can reverberate down the system, creating knock-on effects for thousands of people many miles away. That is why the railway has special policing needs and why a national police force for the railways has always been a cost-effective solution.
§ There are now 2,101 officers and 83 special constables serving in the BTP and 624 civilian employees working for the force. In terms of size, that puts the force about middle ranking when compared with the 43 Home Office forces in England and Wales. The BTP dealt with almost 70,000 crimes in 2000–01 and 43,000 minor offences. They had an annual budget of £123 million last year and a capital budget of £5 million.
§ The force is fully integrated into the British police service. It adopts Home Office police standards and procedures and it maintains close contact with local police forces. The selection process for BTP officers 529 mirrors the requirements for all other police forces with some higher standards imposed in terms of eyesight due to the working environment. Chief officers are members of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ALPO).
§ Training at all levels of the force, from recruits through specialist policing and the highest levels of management, is conducted alongside all other police forces. Because of the specialist environment, additional training has to be undertaken. That includes officer protection, track safety and management of major railway incidents.
As the Minister for Transport, John Spellar, says in his foreword to the departmental consultation paper:
They have a key role in tackling crime, minimising the fear of crime and increasing the confidence of passengers in a railway environment that is a safe and pleasant alternative to the private motor car".
He goes on to say:
The BTP are central to the Government's transport policies. They have a crucial role to play in achieving targets for increasing rail use by both passengers and freight".
§ I had the good fortune to work with the BTP in two different contexts during my professional career before I joined this House. The first was during my time as an adviser to the British Railways Board, which, before privatisation, was the BTP's police authority. I was struck then by the great professionalism of the officers whom I met and their dedication to the concept of public service—qualities which I believe are still very evident in today's BTP.
§ The second area was during the anti-hooliganism work that I was involved in with the Football Trust, the body charged with helping the game tackle its social problems. The BTP pioneered much of the early work of gathering evidence on the travelling intentions of potential hooligans, and developed sophisticated techniques for tracking their movements and preparing for the outbreaks of violence which all too frequently occurred in the 1980s and 1990s in towns and cities in this country and abroad when English teams were playing. In my view, much of the subsequent success that NCIS has had in this area was due to the foundations laid by the BTP.
§ Policing football followers is still a major commitment. Some 3 million football fans are conveyed by rail each season. Where necessary, the BTP provide police officers on trains that may pass through seven or eight different police force areas.
§ An important priority for the force is keeping the railway infrastructure free from disruption. A great deal of resources go towards combating vandalism and trespass on the railways. That is a problem which costs the railways many millions of pounds per annum in delays, damage and injuries to passengers and members of staff.
§ A particular effort is being made in London. One result has been a 50 per cent reduction in the number of reported pickpocketing offences compared with last year. Students of the novels of Charles Dickens will not be surprised to hear that the most prolific offenders use young children to carry out their crimes.530
§ Elsewhere within London there has been a great increase in the development of joint working arrangements with other police forces. The policing of major public order-type events, such as the anti-capitalism protests and May Day riots, and counter terrorism activity, are conducted in a seamless command and control structure involving all the London police forces and the BTP.
§ Their expertise has been needed elsewhere as well. In early July BTP officers were called upon to assist West Yorkshire police forces which had come under sustained attack during disturbances in Bradford. The BTP officers rescued a policeman who had been felled from his horse and took him to safety. They then came under attack and 20 were injured. The actions of the BTP officers were described by senior West Yorkshire police as "magnificent".
§ Given that track record of success, why is it necessary to consider changing the current arrangements for the BTP? One answer is that the legality of some of the policing activities away from the railway, which I have described, is doubtful to say the least. At present BTP's jurisdiction is confined to railway property, and anywhere in the pursuit of a crime committed on the railways, or to the prejudice of the railways.
§ It is therefore difficult to carry out a joint operation with the Metropolitan Police to tackle robbery, which may involve theft by the same people on the Underground—where the BTP have jurisdiction—and on the streets, where they do not. In those circumstances BTP officers are placed at risk as legally, away from the railway, they have no more power than an ordinary citizen.
§ The Government propose to address this by extending BTP jurisdiction outside the railways on non-railway matters when a BTP officer is called on for assistance by a member of a Home Office police force, or by a member of the public, or in an emergency, provided that he or she is in uniform or carrying their warrant card. That is a very important proposal and one that I support wholeheartedly.
§ Also welcome are the proposals in the consultation paper to extend BTP powers in connection with a range of recent pieces of legislation, the purpose of which has been to increase public safety, particularly in countering terrorism, and to mount joint police operations with Home Office forces across the country.
§ The Government are proposing to make no change in the principle on which the force is funded, which is that it is paid for entirely by the railway industry. According to the director general of the Railway Forum, the cost involved is some 2 per cent of the turnover of the railway business in the UK. Given that the force's needs for funds are likely to grow, particularly if more officers are recruited to combat vandalism and increase security, as well as provide an increased visible presence to reassure passengers—all of which, I am sure, noble Lords will support—the railway community will need to be convinced that it continues to get value for money from the subvention of the BTP.531
§ Those concerns may be exacerbated by the proposal in the consultation paper to take control of the BTP away from the Strategic Rail Authority, to which it passed with the demise of the British Railways Board, and to establish an independent British Transport Police authority. I am sure that the formidable diplomatic skills of my noble and learned friend will be more than equal to the task of winning support for the proposals in the consultation paper. I shall certainly give him and the BTP my full backing for these important and worthwhile changes.
§ 7.44 p.m.
§ Earl Attlee
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, for tabling this Unstarred Question—not least because usually on these occasions we have to berate the Minister for a failing on the part of the Government or some other subordinate organisation. On this occasion, we are discussing an organisation which has for some time quietly gone about its business without causing many problems, as the noble Lord so ably pointed out.
However, the consultation paper identifies a number of weaknesses in the current arrangements. From my personal viewpoint, I am disappointed that I was not aware of them during the passage of the Transport Act 2000 as they would have formed the basis of some interesting and useful amendments.
Not being an expert on the constitution of a police force, the discussion in the paper on the composition of the authority seems to make sense, but it will be interesting to hear the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Condon, who will speak after me.
A minor problem identified in the paper is that it takes one JP to swear in a Home Office police constable but two for a BTP constable. A small point, but it illustrates some of the anomalies that have crept in over the years.
However, the general public will be affected by the matters covered in Chapter 5 which relate to BTP jurisdiction outside railway premises. The public must find it incomprehensible that a BTP officer, in uniform and travelling in a marked police car, cannot act in the same way as a Home Office police officer. Indeed, the subtle difference between the two would be lost on the general public.
However, the difference may not be lost on an experienced criminal, or even a hooligan, who may be aware that he cannot be prosecuted for an offence of obstructing a police officer in the exercise of his duty when a BTP officer is acting outside his jurisdiction as he then has only civilian powers. Not only does this result in severe dissatisfaction for members of the public; it can also put BTP officers in unnecessary danger.
Noble Lords will be aware that similar issues arise in respect of the MoD Police and that some provisions were made in the Armed Forces Bill. Regrettably, there was an attempt to steamroll through those 532 provisions without paving the way as this consultation paper does. In the end, those provisions had to be withdrawn from the Armed Forces Bill.
I understand that the Government intend to represent legislation for the MoD Police at some convenient opportunity. Does the Minister agree that it would make sense to legislate for the BTP and the MoD Police at the same time? Can he say whether there are any other non-Home Office police forces in a similar position to the BTP?
Chapter 6 covers the proposed legislative changes and the rationale behind them refers to the Coroners Rules 1984. Noble Lords will be aware that, sadly, a large number of people choose to commit suicide on railway property. No untimely death is easy to deal with, but the circumstances of the railway make it particularly distressing for the train driver, for those who have to deal with the aftermath and in particular for the BTP. I am sure that the whole House will join with me in expressing our gratitude for the way in which those involved discharge their duties in these most unpleasant circumstances.
In conclusion, once the consultation period is over and the responses have been considered, I hope that the Government will present the necessary legislation as soon as possible. It must be right to correct the anomalies identified.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ Lord Condon
My Lords, I declare an interest as a life member of the Association of Chief Police Officers and as a former police commissioner. I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, for giving me the opportunity to comment on this issue.
I have first-hand experience of the British Transport Police. I believe that it is an efficient and very effective police force which plays a valuable role in a number of areas of public safety. I should like to mention three areas in particular.
The first is its role in combating terrorism. It is not fully understood sometimes that the British Transport Police are second only to the Metropolitan Police in the number of terrorist incidents with which they have dealt in recent years. Consequently, the force has developed considerable expertise in dealing with terrorist incidents and helping to prevent them. I pay tribute to the role that the British Transport Police have played in recent years in combating terrorism.
Secondly, there is the professionalism and expertise the force has developed in dealing with tragic accidents and incidents on the railways. Again I have first-hand experience of seeing its officers on the ground, on the railways, dealing with the tragic incidents at Paddington and Southall, and, indeed, with other incidents in the years before that. Again, it has built up a quiet professionalism in dealing with these issues which is valuable to the public.
The third area is the general support that the force gives to police forces around the country. It is in the nature of its operation that, although they are railway police, they are mobile: they move between railway premises in vehicles and sometimes on foot. As the 533 noble Earl, Lord Attlee, said, they are often indistinguishable from Home Office police officers. I could recount numerous examples of situations in which they have given brave and selfless support to Home Office police forces around the country.
However, all these roles, and the morale generally, of the BTP are often undermined by either the absence of necessary powers or jurisdiction or the confused patchwork of powers and regulations under which the force operates. To be frank, there are times when it operates right at the edges of its legality and, I suspect, beyond it, in its endeavour to provide safety for the public. That cannot be satisfactory. Therefore, like the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, I welcome the contents and proposals of the consultation paper. I welcome in particular the sections on jurisdiction and the section on extending the powers available to the British Transport Police.
On the question of jurisdiction, the consultative paper proposes extending the powers of the British Transport Police beyond railway property in the three circumstances mentioned earlier: first, in helping if called to help and assist Home Office police officers and police forces; secondly, if called upon to help and assist members of the public; and, thirdly, if called upon to deal with an emergency.
I have experience of the British Transport Police seeking to offer support in all three circumstances. The proposals in the consultation paper would bring welcome certainty, not merely to British Transport Police officers, but to the members of the public with whom they deal in such situations. I am aware of the support that the British Transport Police gave to police colleagues in Bradford, where almost 20 BTP officers were injured. Having spoken recently to the Chief Constable of the British Transport Police, I know that there remains confusion over liability as regards the injuries sustained by those officers, arising from the lack of clarity as regards the underpinning legality of their actions. Therefore, I support the proposals for extending the jurisdiction of the British Transport Police, not in a blanket way or a cavalier way, but in the very precise way set out in the consultation paper.
On the question of powers, I was pleased to see that the paper sets out to modernise and rationalise the powers available to members of the British Transport Police. I particularly welcome the proposal to include them within Sections 33 to 36 and Sections 44 and 47 of the Terrorism Act 2000. This would enable British Transport Police officers in certain circumstances to erect cordons and to stop and search vehicles and pedestrians in seeking to prevent terrorism. Those are welcome proposals.
Turning to the other proposals in the consultation paper, I look forward to the consultation process. There are some finely balanced arguments. On the question of a new strategic authority, I can understand the rationale of the proposals. Equally, I should like to think that the key stakeholders involved in the management of the railways will remain to have a clear say in the future of the British Transport Police. Again, 534 the fourth set of proposals, on the ability of the new authority to make regulations, contain some sensible ideas.
In conclusion, I hope that the consultation process will be conducted satisfactorily. I hope that these long overdue proposed reforms will enable the British Transport Police to feel that their efforts are underpinned and encouraged by reform, as opposed to the current position, which tends to undermine the effectiveness and damages the morale of this very efficient force.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Lord Wallace of Saltaire
My Lords, I rise to speak in the gap merely to reinforce a point made by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee; namely, that the consultation paper raises parallel questions to those raised in our discussion on the Ministry of Defence Police. Like the noble Earl, I urge the Government to deal with these two national forces in parallel.
As defence spokesman for my party, I tabled an amendment to the Armed Forces Discipline Bill which precisely asked the Government to accept that the MoD Police should be subject to a civilian police authority and that they should be integrated with the Home Office police service. The Government refused. Had they accepted the proposal, it would have been much more likely that the section of the Armed Forces Discipline Bill dealing with the MoD Police would have gone through.
I welcome the statement in the ministerial foreword to the consultation paper that the operations of the transport police should be fully integrated with those of Home Office police forces, and that they should provide policing services to exactly the same high professional standard. I welcome also the statement:We propose to set up a Police Authority for the BTP based on the Home Office model … linking it, through the democratic process, to proper accountability to the public that it serves".All of those things should apply also to the other major national police force, the Ministry of Defence Police. The same issues are at stake as regards the extension of powers and of geographical reach as were discussed—and not treated very well—during the passage of the Armed Forces Discipline Bill.
Perhaps I may flag one other issue that is not referred to in the consultation paper. There is the question that relates to all police forces, particularly national police forces, of the new requirement to contribute to a police reserve which is available for overseas operations. The British Government are committed to contributing to the European Union's 5,000-strong police reserve, already operating in Kosovo and Bosnia. This raises some large and difficult questions as regards the geographical basis of our civilian police. The Government ought to include such considerations in any future consultation paper and certainly in any legislation.
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ Lord Bradshaw
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, for introducing the debate. I declare 535 an interest as a member of the Thames Valley Police Authority. I have great knowledge of police authorities, and I am a former railwayman and was a member of the Strategic Rail Authority.
In the foreword to the consultation paper the British Transport Police are described as a "national police force"—which in some ways they are. But in relation to many parts of the country that is a gross overstatement. The BTP have one constable, I believe, in Cornwall, and there are large parts of the country where they are not available to deal with incidents that occur on the railways. The "thin blue line", which is very thin in the ordinary national police force, is even thinner or non-existent in the British Transport Police.
The British Transport Police are represented in most of our major conurbations, but there are county police areas where there are no British Transport Police at all. I ask the Minister to consider in his reply what might be done about that. There could be a railway police division of the Met and a specialist division in two or three other places; but the railway is extensive. Trespassing, graffiti and vandalism, as well as terrorism, go on elsewhere and have to be countered. From my own recent experience in the Thames Valley area, I can tell the House that the BT police in Reading were quite unable to deal with an incident. It had to be dealt with by nine Thames Valley officers. But the general attitude of the ordinary national police force is that the railways have a police force and they do not go near it if they can possibly get away with it.
Secondly, I am concerned that the British Transport Police have directed much of their energy to prosecuting senior managers in the national rail system and ignoring the mundane trespass, vandalism and other problems that merit attention. I can think of a number of cases in which many British Transport Police officers have spent a great deal of time in largely fruitless attempts to prosecute.
The national railway system needs special constables, because the demands on it are very peaky. The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, and others have referred to policing football violence. That occurs mostly on Saturdays and is ideally suited to a part-time force. The Minister should give urgent consideration to that. The financial problems that the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, referred to would be dealt with more efficiently by a special force than by a full-time force.
The major objection to the consultation paper centres on some of the powers that the Home Secretary seeks to abrogate to himself. The new authority will be the only one whose chairman is appointed by the Home Secretary. He will also appoint the vice-chairman. I see no reason why the Home Secretary should have that power. In all other cases, police authorities elect a chairman from among themselves. I also see no purpose in the Secretary of State setting the objectives or performance indicators for the force. The National Audit Office, through the district auditor, has set multifarious objectives. We know what they are—to stop crime. However, there are aeons of performance objectives and lots of civilians collecting evidence to feed those performance objectives.
536 I was not in favour of independent members being appointed to police authorities, but I must say that they have been highly successful in Thames Valley. The independent members of that non-political authority, which covers three counties, have distinguished themselves, but they are chosen by the members of the authority. The Home Secretary is sent a long list, which he shortens, but the final choice of members is made by the authority. When the proposals come forward as a Bill, we shall look for some amendments on that.
I share the view expressed by many noble Lords that we owe a debt of gratitude to many members of the force for what they do, but we should not be blind to the fact that there is room for many amendments during the consultation period. I should be surprised if some proposals were not made. I urge the Minister to pay heed to what I have said.
§ 8.4 p.m.
§ Viscount Astor
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to debate the subject. However, when I started reading the Government's consultation document I was immediately disappointed because it fails to tackle one issue that should have been raised and on which the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, briefly touched. The Government should set out the reasons for their belief that a separate force will still be needed in the future. There is clearly an argument for that, but many would argue that with modern policing and communications, the railways have changed. We no longer live in the Victorian age, when a constable got on a train and was responsible for it for the entire journey. The Government should have explained why the responsibility should not be devolved to regional police authorities. I am not saying that it should be; I am simply disappointed that the Government did not address that argument, because it is fundamental for the future.
The only comment on that subject came in the ministerial foreword by Mr John Spellar, who said:The Government believes that the current arrangements for the BTP can be improved".I am sure that there is no current arrangement anywhere that cannot be improved if one tries hard enough.
We need to look behind this and remember the role of the Treasury. I cannot imagine any Home Office Minister getting very far expecting the Treasury to pick up the Bill for handing over the British Transport Police to the Home Office. Perhaps that is a reason.
I hope that the Minister will tell us this evening how well he thinks that the BTP integrate with other police forces. We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Condon, who had a distinguished career in the police force. He told us how efficient the British Transport Police are. I am sure that he is right and his expertise are welcome in the debate.
I shall deal with various issues, but I am afraid that they all come back to funding. The British Transport Police look after the national railways, the London Underground system, the Docklands Light Railway 537 and various tram systems and tram links. They have a huge remit. We have heard that they have more than 2,000 police officers and more than 500 civilian staff. More than 400 of their officers are assigned to the London Underground and they have a budget of £123 million.
I was interested to see that the force deals with all crimes except bigamy. I did not realise that the British Transport Police must therefore deal with adultery.
§ Viscount Astor
There we are, my Lords. That shows the benefit of having the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, here to put me right on points of law. As always, I am grateful to him.
The British Transport Police also deal with crimes of violence, sexual offences, robberies, theft and fraud. As the noble Lord, Lord Condon, said, they have been particularly involved in anti-terrorism strategies. They also deal with sporting events and major incident handling, down to the lowest levels of offence such as graffiti.
The Minister said that the Government's policy was to give the BTP wider jurisdiction so that they could help with emergencies and the policing of special occasions such as New Year. We welcome that. However, I am concerned about the budget of the British Transport Police, because it is funded fully by the industry, primarily the train operating companies, who contribute 50 per cent, with Railtrack contributing 30 per cent and London Underground 20 per cent. That is perfectly reasonable if the British Transport Police deal only with the railways, but they now seem to be dealing with many other areas outside. We have heard how they helped the Yorkshire Constabulary when it was in trouble. That is thoroughly laudable and we must praise the BTP for it, but is it fair that the train operating companies should pay the price for that? Is there a mechanism for the BTP to receive funding from the relevant police authority if they act outside their immediate jurisdiction? We cannot expect the railway industry to fund such new responsibilities.
The consultation document contains a rare reference to immigration. We know that the Channel tunnel suffers a good deal from people attempting to use it to enter this country. What role do the BTP have in immigration? If they are to have a role in combating terrorism, who should pay the bill? The BTP's jurisdiction will inevitably extend beyond railway property, which is probably a good thing.
Half of all terrorist attacks on the mainland take place on the railways, which shows the importance of the BTP's role, but where is Home Office involvement and liaison with other police forces? Should not that role be funded and supported by the Home Office?
I note that it is intended to allow officers to carry CS gas by amending the Firearms Act 1968. Will that amendment also allow British Transport Police officers to carry firearms?
538 It is to be welcomed that an equivalent to the Police Complaints Authority will be established, so that the BTP are fully included in the complaints mechanism.
In Scotland, railway security is a reserved matter under the Scotland Act 1998 but the prevention and detection of crime are devolved from the Scottish Parliament. The Government ought to consider whether or not a separate force should exist in Scotland or be accountable in Scotland. The same goes for Wales. The British Transport Police do not operate in Northern Ireland. Who is responsible—just the ordinary police? I shall be interested to hear the Minister's answer.
There is a proposal to extend BTP jurisdiction beyond rail freight terminals. Anything that allows police officers to carry out their duties where they have been thwarted in the past by having to stop at an imaginary line is good—provided that the extent of their powers and operations is made clear.
I hope that the Minister will take account of all the representations made during the consultation period. Meanwhile, I return to my central question. In extending the role of the British Transport Police, will the funding mechanism be reviewed?
§ 8.14 p.m.
§ Lord Falconer of Thoroton
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking my noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester for raising the subject of the British Transport Police on a timely day. This interesting debate has served to highlight the value of the BTP to all who use or work on the railways. The Government are fully committed to the BTP continuing to play a crucial role in tackling crime on the railways and contributing to a pleasant environment in which to travel—encouraging more people to use the railways.
The proposals in the consultation paper reinforce that commitment to the BTP and will enhance their future status as a dedicated, specialist railway police force. The benefits will be an improvement in the force's public accountability and in its effectiveness and efficiency by providing the BTP with statutory jurisdiction and the range of policing powers it needs. Our overall aim is strengthening the public standing of the force and putting it on a proper footing to deal with the challenges ahead.
The BTP have an excellent record of tackling crime, minimising fear of crime and increasing passenger confidence in travelling on the railways. Latest crime statistics show a 7.5 per cent reduction in total crimes reported to the BTP compared with last year. On London Underground—which is also policed by the BTP—there was an overall fall in crime of 21 per cent. That was largely due to BTP's success in combating pickpockets. It is worth recording that improvement and paying tribute to the work of the BTP.
The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, asked— in the manner of an inquiry, rather than implicit criticism—why the BTP should continue. Railways are a prime target for terrorist activity and the BTP have developed a successful, nationally co-ordinated system 539 for dealing with terrorist attacks and threats that recognises their network implications and have successfully minimised their impact.
The Government consider that the railways are best protected by a unified police force providing seamless security to the whole network. BTP operations are fully integrated with Home Office police forces and provide policing services to exactly the same high professional standard. The BTP cover virtually the full range of matters handled by any police force. Also, BTP officers are professionally trained to understand operating procedures and legislation affecting the railways. They have developed valuable specialist expertise for dealing with the particular needs of the railways—including the management of large travelling groups such as football supporters and the control of antisocial behaviour in enclosed areas such as railway stations and on trains. The BTP are central to the Government's crime and transport objectives and it is vitally important that the BTP continue and have the full support of the law in carrying out their duties and are fully accountable to the public for what they do.
The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, asked whether the BTP are thinly spread. He referred to Cornwall having only one BTP constable and to other areas of the country that have none. The BTP co-operate closely with local forces, giving and receiving assistance wherever possible. Policing a large rural area with limited resources is a challenge for any force—not least a national force such as the BTP. So they are increasingly targeting resources at specific hot-spot crime areas while working closely with county police forces and the rail industry to identify problems and address them.
For all the reasons I have given, it is well worth preserving the BTP as a specialist force. I emphasise that the BTP's efficiency is not in question. Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary, which undertakes regular inspections of the force, stated in its most recent report:The BTP continue to be an effective and efficient force when judged alongside the criteria applied to Home Department forces".Merging the BTP with local forces would risk the loss of expertise and possibly lower the priority given to policing the railways. For all those reasons, the BTP should stay separate.
The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, and the nobles Lord, Lord Condon, Lord Faulkner and Lord Wallace of Saltaire, referred to our intention to provide the BTP with jurisdiction off the railways in limited circumstances. The lack of any jurisdiction outside the railways on non-railway matters has caused problems for many years. BTP officers frequently find themselves called on to assist the public or local police forces with non-railway matters. That most often occurs with emergencies, such as a break-in or traffic accident—but also in joint police operations such as those to counter the anti-capitalist riots and the Notting Hill carnival. BTP officers do not benefit from the protection of acting as 540 a constable at such events because the officers' jurisdiction is limited to rail premises and business. That exposes officers to risks, so we intend to provide them with jurisdiction off the railways in limited circumstances and to establish on a statutory basis the BTP's existing jurisdiction over the railways.
Today is particularly significant because those proposals will be taken in the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill that was published today. Therefore, the proposals are going forward today.
The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, asked whether any other police forces are in similar categories. There are two of which I am aware—the Ministry of Defence Police, to which the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, referred, and the UK Atomic Energy Authority Police, who have certain similar powers in relation to atomic energy premises. In relation to jurisdiction, similar powers have been given to the MoD Police under today's Bill. The UK Atomic Energy Authority Police have been given different, more limited powers under the Bill.
While on that subject, it may be worth my dealing with the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. He asked about the position of the MoD Police in relation to a police authority. The BTP police public areas, albeit on private railway land. The MoD Police do not. They already have a police committee. The BTP authority, which was referred to in the consultation document, needs to reflect the conflicting needs of a railway industry trying to keep costs down and the interests of the public in adequate policing. There is no similar requirement with regard to the MoD Police.
§ Lord Wallace of Saltaire
My Lords, I want to take up the issue of the MoD police authority. As I recall, it has a majority of MoD officials on it. But, with demonstrations outside bases over the years, the MoD Police have now had some considerable and long-term contact with the public. That is partly why there has been so much controversy.
§ Lord Falconer of Thoroton
My Lords, the point that I was making was: what are the similarities and dissimilarities between, on the one hand, the British Transport Police and, on the other, the MoD Police? The reason that it is thought appropriate to have a BTP authority is because of the interests of the railway industry and the public in adequate policing. I am sure that the noble Lord is right. More interface takes place between MoD Police and the public than was previously the case. However, the conflict does not exist between the railway industry and the public as it does in relation to the BTP. Therefore, they are in a different position. With regard to the consultation paper on the BTP, it would be quite wrong to seek to build a similar argument in relation to the MoD Police.
I move on to the issue of powers. We propose to extend to the BTP certain powers already available to the Home Office police forces. These range from the routine, such as powers to remove from the railway young people playing truant, which will improve the effectiveness of the BTP, to powers to erect cordons 541 and to stop and search people and vehicles under the Terrorism Act. Since 1997, more than half of the terrorists attacks on the mainland have taken place on the railway network. The BTP are second only to the Metropolitan Police in dealing with the number of terrorist threats that are made within their jurisdiction.
In the current climate of heightened security alert and the continuing terrorist threat, particularly to our transport systems, it is vital that the BTP have access to those powers in order to ensure public safety. Again, certain of those powers will be taken forward in the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill.
Finally, as I have already mentioned, we propose to set up an independent police authority, which will be based on the model of Home Office police authorities. It will oversee the management of the force and link it through the democratic process to proper accountability to the public that it serves.
During the preparation of their proposals, the Government considered alternative options for funding the BTP, including full and partial public funding. However, we concluded that the force should continue to be funded by the industry. The railway industry has played an important role in scrutinising and exercising downward pressure on costs while endeavouring to reach a balance between the overall policing level and the overall policing cost. The Government want the industry to continue that role. The move to an independent authority for the BTP will reinforce the existing arrangements for ensuring an appropriate balance between the needs of the industry and passengers who, along with the industry, benefit directly from BTP services.
The Government have provided funds for national initiatives where wider public benefits are available. They have provided £2.3 million to allow the BTP to participate fully in the new national police radio system. We have also provided funds to enable the BTP to contribute fully to the expansion of the national DNA database. Operators have also been given funds to provide greater CCTV coverage.
I turn to the issues raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, concerning joint operations. The consultation document also contains proposals for situations where a joint operation takes place between the BTP and a Home Office police force. Arrangements can be made for funding to be sorted out between the two police forces. In default of agreement being reached as to who is to pay for what, arrangements for agreement to be reached in relation to funding disputes are also set out. Therefore, provision exists in the consultation paper in relation to how other police forces will contribute to BTP costs where the BTP contribute to the activities of another police force. I believe that I have covered all —the points raised by the noble Lord.
There are two other issues with which I shall deal. First, I turn to the matter of firearms. The British Transport Police will be able to carry only CS sprays and ammunition and no other type of firearm, such as guns, which were referred to earlier. Secondly, the issue of immigration and the Channel Tunnel was also 542 raised. The Channel Tunnel is policed by Kent police, who operate fully with the British Transport Police and Channel Tunnel operators regarding immigration. Therefore, those bodies operate together.
Primary legislation will be required in order to implement many of the changes. The Government will seek to include them in suitable legislative opportunities. As I have mentioned, some of the measures include an extension of BTP jurisdiction outside the railways. The extension of powers related to anti-terrorism activities are to be taken forward in the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill published today.
The BTP have a strong reputation as an efficient national police force, dedicated to the protection of our railways and rail travellers. Our proposals for modernising the BTP will help the force to build on that reputation, improve its ability to protect the public by increasing its powers in certain areas to match those of Home Office constables, and will also ensure proper public accountability.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to pay tribute to the BTP in this debate, and I am grateful for all the comments that have been made. We shall, of course, take them all into account during the process of consultation on the consultation paper.
§ [The Sitting was suspended from 8.27 until 8.33 p.m.]