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Conference 2003 - Minister's Speech
JOHN SPELLAR SPEECH:
THE BRITISH TRANSPORT POLICE FEDERATION, PETERBOROUGH, 26 March 2003.
Reading through the BTP's Strategic Plan, I noted that Ian Johnston wrote, 'Listening to our railway community and being responsive to their needs' was an important Guiding Value.
Well, I've been making a point of listening to the BTP and being suitably responsive to your needs.
Since I attended your conference in Plymouth, the Government has been pressing ahead with its proposals for modernising the Force.
We now have a package of measures, which include the creation of an independent Police Authority for the BTP and the establishment of your jurisdiction on the railways on a wholly statutory basis.
The package also extends your jurisdiction beyond the railways, and provides you with a number of additional powers. Two of these measures have already been implemented in legislation, which has been in place now for over a year.
It was the first of these - The Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act - that extended BTP's jurisdiction outside the railways in certain situations.
As you know, this removed the loophole whereby BTP constables were exposed to the risk of legal challenge to their actions if and when called upon to assist the public or local police officers on non-railway matters.
The anti-terrorism legislation and the subsequent Police Reform Act also extended the BTP's powers - and included some of the things that you've sought for some time now. This included the power to carry and use CS gas, and powers to erect cordons as well as stop and search powers for both people and vehicles.
We're now in the process of implementing the remaining parts of the package. And a major portion of The Railways and Transport Safety Bill, which was introduced into Parliament in January, is taken up with provisions relating to the Force. And I'm pleased to say that good progress is being made on the Bill. It's nearly finished its passage through the House of Commons, and will shortly move on to the House of Lords.
Subject to Parliamentary approval, as I've mentioned, the Bill will create an independent Police Authority for the BTP. It's purpose being to improve the public status and accountability of the Force.
The new Authority will closely follow the model set for Home Office police authorities and will effectively replace the existing BTP Committee. Its members, including the Chair and deputy Chair, will be appointed by the Secretary of State.
As to the role of the Authority, it will oversee the management of the Force and link it, through the democratic process, to the public that it serves.
Its creation will entail BTP constables and other staff being transferred to the new Authority from the SRA. But I assure you that the transfer will not adversely affect your terms and conditions of service, including pension benefits.
Importantly, the Railways and Transport Safety Bill also gives the Force a wholly statutory jurisdiction over the railways throughout Great Britain. BTP constables will have all the powers and privileges of a Home Office police constable when they are on the railways. The current and somewhat confusing position - whereby BTP's jurisdiction is determined by a mixture of statute and commercial contracts between the SRA and the railway industry - will now be swept away. This arrangement is clearly no longer appropriate for a modern police force.
This new statutory jurisdiction on the railways together with the jurisdiction already provided beyond the railways under the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act, will continue to allow a BTP officer to act in all circumstances that the public would expect a BTP officer to act.
However, I know that you've been very concerned that the extension of the Force's jurisdiction outside the railways now provided by the anti-terrorism legislation is at risk of being lost.
This is because, written into the legislation is a requirement that the provisions of the Act are to be reviewed by a committee of Privy Councillors. In theory, the Review could decide that any provision of that Act should cease to have effect. This includes the extension of BTP's jurisdiction outside the railways.
So I understand why the Federation would prefer to include provisions in the current Bill to replicate those in the anti-terrorism legislation. Or at the very least ensure that measures are taken so that if the anti-terrorism provisions are lost, the BTP's overall jurisdiction is not less than under the current arrangements.
But I believe your concerns are unfounded. Firstly, the review, which is due to be completed by the end of this year, merely provides the opportunity to look again at the anti-terrorism legislation.
As emergency legislation prepared in great haste, we need to ensure that the legislation doesn't contain measures which, in the cold light of day, may prove to have been inappropriate, unnecessary, or perhaps too draconian in their effect.
This said, the provisions in the Act, which extended jurisdiction outside of the railways, were certainly not prepared in haste. The Federation has campaigned for this change for many years.
What's more, the Government confirmed its intention to extend BTP's jurisdiction as long ago as 1998 and we included the proposal in our consultation exercise undertaken in 2001.
So clearly this was not a measure prepared in haste and with little thought on our part. And as you know, the proposal received widespread support from those consulted - and for good reason.
The arguments are well founded. BTP officers need to move between railway sites and often have a presence in city centres. Any one of you could be called upon to intervene in an incident outside the Force's jurisdiction on the railways. For example, you may come across an incident when driving to work. Or you may be called to the aid of a local constable dealing with a disturbance in a city centre.
Without the benefit of any formal jurisdiction in these circumstances, BTP officers would be exposed to unacceptable risks, open to challenge on their actions, and limited in their ability to contribute to protect the public.
But since the Act was passed, I see that BTP officers have assisted in over 1,600 incidents outside their railways jurisdiction. To my mind, this clearly demonstrates the need for BTP's jurisdiction beyond the confines of the railways to be retained. So whilst I can't pre-empt the decision of the committee of Privy Councillors, I am confident that the Review will see the obvious benefits and won't seek to remove the provisions from the statute book.And even if the committee were to decide that these provisions should cease to have effect, Parliament would still have the opportunity to debate and vote on whether to retain the provisions. As there's all-party support for the retention of BTP's jurisdiction outside the railways, it would seem highly likely that Parliament would vote to keep these provisions on the statute book.
Incidentally, one point I can confirm is that this is a one-off review. The BTP provisions in the anti-terrorism legislation are not subject to any further recurring review process
Against that background, I think it would be wrong to attempt to circumvent the Review process by including additional provisions in the Railways and Transport Safety Bill as has been suggested.
Moving on to pensions. I and my officials have sought on several occasions to explain about the future of the pooled funding arrangements with the Railways Pension Scheme.
This has nothing to do with Treasury colleagues ignoring legitimate concerns of the pension Fund members in favour of administrative tidiness. It is all about implementing in full the cornerstone provisions of the 1995 Pensions Act designed specifically to ensure that all pension scheme members across the UK are entitled to be represented on the pension trustee body which administers and invests their pension fund.
This is not the position at the moment for the British Transport Police Force Superannuation Fund. Its members only have one formal representative within the 16 corporate directors of the Railways Pension Trustee Company. Current pensions legislation dictates that by 6 April 2007 that representation must rise to one third, and arguably 50% because of the additional protection put in place for BR pensioners at privatisation. Quite clearly that cannot happen because of the huge numbers of Sections in the Railways Pension Scheme, whose members also have the same representation entitlements.
So the principle trustee body of the Police Fund will need to change. That is the issue which is driving the discussions about the current pooling arrangements - not any peripheral concerns of interested Government Departments.
It is only possible for the BTP Force Scheme to pool its funds with other railway pension funds provided all these schemes share the same trustee. That is an Inland Revenue condition attached to pension pooling arrangements which are not subject to oversight by the Financial Services Authority. Where there is no common trustee, tax rules appear to dictate that the relevant assets must be separated.
I share the Federation's concern about the possible financial implications for the police fund of a compulsory separation of investments. We are doing what we can, in conjunction with the existing trustee company, to investigate with the Inland Revenue and the Department of Work and Pensions whether there are any flexibilities which would allow the current arrangements to continue.
It is a complex issue which needs time to resolve. We have until March 2007 to do so.
The Chairman has put forward the view that the Government rather than the rail industry should fund the BTP. I can only re-iterate what I said at last year's conference, which is that the Government is clear 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 - an essential discipline in the interests of the efficiency of the Force - and there are strong arguments for continuing that role. But there must of course be a balance between the overall policing level and the overall policing cost. The BTP Committee strives to achieve that balance and the new Authority will take over that role.
However, I do accept that there is a case to justify ad hoc central funding for the BTP where the force contributes to national initiatives where wider public benefits are available. The Government is prepared to consider providing further funding for similar initiatives on a case by case basis. And we are in regular discussions with the Home Office about this issue.
Another issue raised by the Chairman is the prospect of merging BTP's London Underground Area with the Metropolitan Police. Again, I can appreciate the unease this suggestion has caused - not only in respect of the potential impact on the Force's central London operations - but also the potential knock-on effects which could threaten the viability of the whole Force.
So let me clarify the position.
First of all let me re-affirm the Government's commitment to the BTP. Without question, you remain a key element in the Government's drive to reduce crime and the fear of crime in your role as a dedicated, specialist, railway police Force. And again, let's not forget there is widespread support from all sides of the House for the continuing role of the BTP. That was no more evident than during the passage of the Railways and Transport Safety Bill through its Commons stages. Glowing praise for the policing service you provide is there for all to see in Hansard - the official public record of parliamentary proceedings.
But none of us can rest on our laurels. There is always room for improvement. And it is the case that the Government has been looking at policing arrangements in London - in particular, the scope for closer links and co-operation between the BTP and the Metropolitan Police.
This has been explored and the merger of BTP's London Underground Area with the Met was one of several options considered. In fact, what this exercise highlighted was the expertise and dedicated focus the BTP provides for policing the Underground. In particular, its anti-terrorism strategy, to say nothing of it's expertise in the management of large travelling groups such as football supporters.
The BTP's determined focus on specific crimes that affect the Tube, such as pick pocketing was also emphasised. This has resulted in a marked impact on the reduction in crime on the Underground. Our look at the role of the Force on the Tube also underlined the close co-operation that currently exists between BTP and the Met.
This includes the joint operational and tactical working, which occurs extensively between the forces. And I know for example, that intelligence is also shared between the forces to ensure common robbery hotspots can be identified and a joint approach taken. But the scope for further, even closer and mutually beneficial links for both police forces has been identified. Government would like to see these become a reality and I'm very pleased with the progress made towards operational integration this year. However, no organisation can assume it will never be subject to structural change. And I can't rule out the possibility of an organisational merger sometime in the future. But, for the time being, we're not pursuing the idea of merging BTP with the Met. And I'm please to put that on the record here today.
Indeed, I'd like to take this opportunity to put on the record my recognition and appreciation of the professional way in which the Force goes about its business.
I'm particularly impressed by the BTP's positive and flexible approach to its tasks. For example, the lead being taken in using Anti-social Behaviour Orders.
These are now proving to be particularly effective in deterring persistent offenders of anti-social behaviour. Ticket touts and beggars plague railway and tube stations and I know you've successfully obtained ASBOs against three persistent offenders. Indeed, in the first case of its kind, we've seen a man banned from several mainline stations following the granting of an ASBO. And I see that another 45 or so cases are in the pipeline.
Last year we pressed for new powers to be included in the Police Reform Act, allowing BTP to apply directly to the courts for an ASBO - rather than through a local authority or local police force. I know this is helping to reduce the bureaucracy involved and help speed up the process so that BTP can maximise the impact of ASBOs in dealing with anti-social behaviour. I've taken up with the Home Office how we might streamline the process to get round delays.
I've also noted the hard work that the Force, at all levels, has put in to developing partnerships, not just with the rail industry, but the wider community at local level.
A good example of course is the approach taken in tackling route crime. This continues to be a very serious problem for the railways with over half of all train accidents caused by vandalism.
The strategy of involving the rail industry, rail staff, the travelling public and the local community in the process of education, prevention, deterrence, and detection has been particularly successful.
You need to reinforce and build upon this multi-pronged attack on the extreme dangers caused by criminal vandalism. The Secure Stations scheme is another success story. Working with station operators to improve security and gain national accreditation is very important work. With over 160 stations now accredited, one of the principle benefits for you of course, is that your resources can be re-deployed to other problem areas.
These and other initiatives are helping to ensure that the performance of the Force - when compared against the other 43 forces in England and Wales - shows some excellent results.
For example, the latest Home Office figures show a reduction of 36% in robbery offences for BTP, which is the highest of all Forces. The same statistics show that for offences relating to vehicles, the BTP has achieved a 16% reduction, placing the Force - a very admirable 2nd best in England and Wales.
My congratulations to all concerned. And such successes clearly demonstrate that the Force is not simply content to rely on a reactive role dealing with the aftermath of crimes.
Dealing with the aftermath of crimes and attempting to detect offenders after they've committed an offence is obviously very important. But my view is that crime prevention and a reduction in the fear of crime amongst people who travel on the rail and tube system are equally important considerations.
And without question, the BTP has a key role to play in contributing to a safer environment and the perception of a safer environment. This goes a long way towards encouraging more people to use the railways - one of the key objectives of the Government. Outside of railway and police circles the work of the Force is probably not that well known or appreciated. But it is a brave Chief Constable who is willing to open the doors of his Force to television cameras.
But I think the recent TV documentary series on the work of the BTP really brought home to the general public the realities of policing the railways.
And, in particular, it showed the variety of the challenges facing officers and the professionalism of the BTP. And it brought home to the public the effective way in which BTP officers carry out this difficult, but essential job. However, none of us here needed a TV show to prove good work is being done!
The record clearly shows that the BTP is making a very substantial contribution to a reduction in crime and disorder on the railways. What's more, it's giving real value for money to the rail industry, rail users, and the wider community served by the Force.