British Transport Police (HC 1070-i)
Transport Committee 26 Apr 2006
Evidence given by Chief Constable Ian Johnson CBE QPM, British Transport Police, Assistant Commissioner Alan Brown, Metropolitan Police, Mr Alec Robertson, Chairman, British Transport Police Federation, Sir Alistair Graham, Chairman and Mr Richard Hemming, Chief Executive and Clerk, British Transport Police Authority, Derek Twigg, a Member of the House, Under Secretary of State, Department for Transport, and Hazel Blears, a Member of the House, Minister of State, Home Office.
Q26 Mr. Eric Martlew: You have spent all your time here answering our questions very well about the railways. Why is the name of your organisation the British Transport Police when you do not have any responsibility for anything else?
Chief Constable Johnson: It is a bit of an historical anomaly. To be honest with you, I guess it would be intelligent to think carefully about that. A lot of people hang on to that for the heritage. We used to police the docks and the waterways and so the transport police at that stage was a much more intelligent decision. We only do railways and trams now. That is not to say that there are not options for us to take our national infrastructure and our understanding of the transport system into other bits of transport, but railway police is a more accurate title.
Chairman: It might be a good idea to suggest going back to the docks. Sorry!
Q27 Mr. Eric Martlew: Do you think there are other parts of the transport system where you could use your expertise?
Chief Constable Johnson: Yes, I do. This is not something that you do at the drop of a hat. You need to think your way through all these things. The airports are a very similar operating environment to the railways. It is a commercial operating environment. There are massive knock-on consequences of policing interventions at airports which can have long-term economic effects and impacts on passengers throughout the world. I think you could bring to bear a body of useful experience in that. We already have in place a national infrastructure to manage those situations. At present there is a review of borders policing being undertaken by Government and I think again with our national infrastructure and with ports being part of the transport arrangements that would make sense. You talk about the integration of bus transport and railway transport. There are transport hubs at Heathrow and Dover where I think the British Transport Police could add value. I think we have got quite a lot on our plates at the moment. I would like to provide a really high-class service on the railways in a sense before I set my sights on looking anywhere else.
Q28 Mr. Eric Martlew: On the Met, I suspect that none of us is surprised that you put a bid in for it. Is there anything in reality that stops the Met Police from going onto railway land or going on the Underground?
Chief Constable Johnson: Not a bit. They are absolutely brilliant. They do. They are all over Victoria and we are absolutely delighted they are. Our PCSOs walk round the outside of Victoria and if something happens we go and help them. On the ground there is a really mature working relationship and at senior level. There is nothing personal in any of this debate. I think it is a perfectly legitimate debate. I think we have very good working relationships at ground floor level. We are delighted if the Met come on to railway stations, it is fantastic. We are delighted to see them on trains. They get travel concessions to encourage them to come on trains. They are absolutely welcome, there are absolutely no barriers and we think it is a great idea.
Q29 Mr. Eric Martlew: All the train companies get subsidies from the Government. Would it not be sensible to top-slice that and fund the police directly to avoid having this argument about which train companies should pay how much and when they are going to pay it? I understand some of them are not very good at paying.
Chief Constable Johnson: I think that is one of the good ideas because the £1 I get off the train operator, is it a government pound or is it a fare box pound? Whose pound is it? I think there is an administrative money-go-round which is probably a more expensive way of managing affairs and in my opinion it could take a big sting out of the conflict we have over the railways to do with funding. It has been our police authority who I think have made a massive difference to the British Transport Police recently because they have had the ability to make decisions about levels of funding and I think it is that that has turned the force around and that might not have occurred if there had been other arrangements in place. This is a complex issue. I do not think there is a single easy solution otherwise it would have happened already.
Q30 Chairman: Are your payments usually on time?
Chief Constable Johnson: Some people are very good and some people owe us money for a long, long period of time.
Q31 Chairman: Could I guess that was a no, Chief Constable?
Chief Constable Johnson: Yes.
Q32 Chairman: You are always very helpful and enormously diplomatic. I think we could all take lessons from you. Thank you very much for coming.
Chief Constable Johnson: Thank you.
Assistant Commissioner Brown: ... I have come with a strategic position based upon an understanding of how policing within London is currently conducted. There are some significant economies and efficiencies that would come out of this as well. The backroom amalgamations would release significant funding that would undoubtedly be able to be ploughed back into front-line policing. The creation of additional bureaucracy and line management and command structures would all be significantly reduced if there was one command structure for London and that additional money could be ploughed back into London.
Q59 Mr. Eric Martlew: The reality is that would apply to a national police force, is it not?
Assistant Commissioner Brown: It is possible that could apply to a national police force if indeed there was a case to argue for that.
Q76 Mr. Eric Martlew: We have just heard from the Chief Constable of the British Transport Police that he is very happy for the Met to go on what you would call his beat any time you like. The idea that the neighbourhood police cannot go onto the local suburban station I do not think is correct, is it?
Assistant Commissioner Brown: I did not say it was.
Q77 Mr. Eric Martlew: But you gave that implication, that there was a problem, did you not?
Assistant Commissioner Brown: No, but there is also an issue that we are not funded and we are not staffed to police the Underground system. What I am saying is that in terms of having one police service for London it is actually about bringing together the British Transport policing area and their resources - and I think that is a critical part, to bring their resources, their expertise, together - and aligning them through one command, one intelligence, one tasking and co-ordinating process, connecting them together and realising economies and efficiencies of scale in relation to the back-up and the management on-costs and delivering that to front-line policing services.
Q78 Mr. Eric Martlew: You have mentioned the boundaries but you realise, of course, that there are police forces on the boundaries of your area.
Assistant Commissioner Brown: Indeed.
Q79 Mr. Eric Martlew: And therefore there are the same problems with them that you have with the British Transport Police.
Assistant Commissioner Brown: No, there are not.
Q80 Mr. Eric Martlew: Why is that?
Assistant Commissioner Brown: The boundaries of the British Transport Police are like veins that run through our own area. In relation to those forces that are the other side of those boundaries, that is where they stay, whereas the British Transport Police is within the London area. It serves and deals with the communities of London. Hertfordshire, Essex, Kent, the Thames Valley, Surrey do not.
Q81 Mr. Eric Martlew: I am bemused by the way that you can come forward to the select committee but, more importantly, come forward to Parliament, with a plan to break up the British Transport Police and yet you are saying, "We have not given any thought to what happens to the rest. We do not really care what happens to the rest".
Assistant Commissioner Brown: It is not true. We do care.
Q82 Mr. Eric Martlew: I am sorry: that was my interpretation of what you have said today.
Assistant Commissioner Brown: Our care is about providing the best policing response to the people of London. I do acknowledge that that would create difficulties for policing arrangements outside of London. I am not sufficiently knowledgeable about the British Transport Police to know whether that would enable them to be able to continue as a separate force or whether there would be compelling grounds to amalgamate and have territorial policing and responsibility for policing the railways where the railways touch their territory, but I certainly do believe that it is the right way of providing the best policing response to London.
Q83 Mr. Eric Martlew: But do you accept that that might be a problem for government and for the rest of the country?
Assistant Commissioner Brown: Indeed, and I have no doubt that it will be one of those areas that you will have consideration of in any recommendations that you may make.
Q84 Mr. Eric Martlew: Looking at what you have said, the only evidence that you have brought forward today is that there were three murders under the auspices of the British Transport Police and they had to call the Met in to solve one of them. Is that correct?
Assistant Commissioner Brown: That is not the only evidence that I bring forward today. What I bring forward today is the evidence that has been provided by the HMIC. What I bring forward today is the evidence and the undoubted demand for the people of London to have one service to deal with policing for the area of London.
Q85 Mr. Eric Martlew: We have just had that evidence.
Assistant Commissioner Brown: I have just given it to you.
Q86 Mr. Eric Martlew: No: where is the evidence that that is what the people of London want?
Assistant Commissioner Brown: Where does the evidence for that come from? That comes from polls, that comes from reports.
Q87 Chairman: Could I point out to you that when we are talking about evidence in polls, Members of Parliament do not always have this blind faith in opinion polls that you seem to have. In February a MORI poll said 53 per cent of Londoners thought Sir Ian Blair should resign, over half of Londoners are not confident that the Metropolitan Police could investigate such crimes as vehicle theft, burglary, mugging or vandalism, and on anti-social behaviour 65 per cent of them thought you were not going to. I think there is a difference between evidence and opinion polls but perhaps that is because I have been here quite a long time.
Assistant Commissioner Brown: I have said what I have said. It is the position of the Metropolitan Police. Whether you regard that as being evidence or whether you do not, it is there as the position of the Metropolitan Police. It is based on a professional understanding of what policing in London actually needs to enable it to move forward.
Q112 Mr. Eric Martlew: What are your views on the privatisation of the British Transport Police?
Mr Robertson: Again it goes back to the fact that there has been that much said about British Transport Police over the last six years and, as for any option, we would have to look at it closely. I certainly think that if it was in the best interest of my members I would support it. If it was not in the best interests of my members I certainly would not support it.
Q113 Mr. Eric Martlew: It is a politician's answer, is it not?
Mr Robertson: Absolutely.
Q114 Mr. Eric Martlew: What are the views of your members on the idea of private security on the stations?
Mr Robertson: Obviously, 7 July was a turning point. If the public feel safe in seeing security or CSOs, or whatever the case may be, I do not have a strong view on it. As long as British Transport Police have fully trained, full time officers to deal with crime on the railways, if other people are doing other jobs within that and it makes people feel secure and safe, I would fully welcome it.
Q115 Mr. Eric Martlew: So you would see them as a helpful addition, not as a replacement?
Mr Robertson: It is not a replacement. It is part of the police family.
Q132 Mr Leech: Just on the level of training, is there a big discrepancy between the cost of training a British Transport Police officer and a normal police officer?
Mr Robertson: I would imagine it would be slightly higher because of that two weeks where they pick up railway legislation and we do the safety training, but that would be the only difference. Everything else is the exact same, whether that be Scotland or England and Wales. It would be the exact same training.
Q133 Mr. Eric Martlew: On the issuing of a certificate, who actually does that? Is it yourselves?
Mr Robertson: It is actually now a software package.
Q134 Mr. Eric Martlew: But who is it? Is it the Transport Police?
Mr Robertson: We have our own trainers who take our officers through it.
Q166 Mr Leech: Do you have an opinion on what would happen to the remaining part of the British Transport Police?
Sir Alistair Graham: I think the only realistic option would be to separate them out into whatever arrangement of police forces we have once this current restructuring has taken place.
Q167 Mr. Eric Martlew: Just on that point, the extra training would not just be for the Met Police, it would be for all the police in the United Kingdom?
Sir Alistair Graham: Yes. If you are going to deal with the health and safety and commercial aspects, you heard the Chief Constable stress the high performance standard, which was very strongly appreciated, all train operating companies mention it. For example, if there is a fatality on the line the ability to get the rail system up and running again I think the most recent target is below 90 minutes. The British Transport Police have a very long record of achieving that performance target. I think it would be very difficult if you break up the national specialist police force for the railway system to keep achieving that target.
Q168 Mr. Eric Martlew: Can I go to the finances now. Do you think the train operating companies pay enough money to support your force?
Sir Alistair Graham: No, they do not, but I would want to qualify that. Since the Authority was created and came into operation in July 2004, they have had to face very substantial increases in the charges that they pay for the British Transport Police, something like 40 per cent increase over a short period of time when inflation has been between two and three per cent. The first emergency increase in charges, which was introduced in the September after the July in 2004, the rail representatives on the Authority voted in favour of that. The following year we had some difficult conversations but in the end we were able to reach agreement that they would abstain on the particular vote, though on the understanding that we would make representations to the Secretary of State for Transport about the future funding arrangements for the British Transport Police, which we did. Then the budget that has just recently been agreed for 2006-07, we managed, once again, some tough conversations, to get unanimity on the Authority for that budget. I do not think we can say that the train operating companies have not positively responded to the agenda that we have set for a proper programme of investment to ensure that the British Transport Police is up to and fit for purpose in the 21st century. They are very unhappy about what they see as the high level of costs for the British Transport police. I have some sympathy with them in that we have obviously had to take on extra responsibilities as far as counter-terrorism is concerned because it is a very big focus for the police. They can understandably say, "Well, given this is a benefit to the whole country, because if there was a serious terrorist attack on the railway system of this country that would damage the whole British economy not just the commercial interests of the train operating companies, should not those counter-terrorism costs be met out of state funding?"
Q169 Mr. Eric Martlew: You are saying, yes, sometimes you reluctantly agree but there have been indications given to this Committee that some are even more reluctant to pay up. Is that correct and, if it is, which companies are they?
Sir Alistair Graham: I do not want to go into the bad debt side of it because we have very few bad debts as far as the train operating companies are concerned. There is no doubt about it, some of the train operating companies whose capacity to make profits is very restricted by the nature of the franchise that they have, do find the charges we have to levy straight off their bottom line and, therefore, regularly make representations to people like myself and members of the Authority about the recent increases.
Q170 Mr. Eric Martlew: Do you believe that the structure for getting payments is the right one to take the service forward?
Sir Alistair Graham: I do not think it is sustainable in the longer term. It may well be once we have got through this investment period, and as a result of reaching agreement with them we have had to defer some particular projects that we would have liked to have proceeded with. I think, in fact, if we had the user pays for a substantial chunk of the responsibilities of the British Transport Police, if we had state funding for the counter-terrorism responsibilities, then I think that would make a very substantial difference to the tensions we currently experience with the train operating companies about the funding of the British Transport Police. Where I fundamentally disagree with the train operating companies, they believe, as part of the review that is taking place that there should be a refocused British Transport Police and that that could come out at a very cheaper level. I think that is a bit of a fantasy which would mean we would not have a serious police force, it would be something of a toy town police force rather than a police force meeting national standards.
Q171 Mr. Eric Martlew: You are saying the train operating companies are talking about reducing the level of your police force on the network?
Sir Alistair Graham: They have put the argument to me that they believe that their needs, as railway companies, could be met much more cheaply with reduced responsibilities. My response to that is can you spell out for me what you want the British Transport Police not to do that they are currently doing, and I never get a very clear answer to that.
Q217 Mr. Eric Martlew: I am quite fascinated by this conversation. The Department for Transport seems to be saying that we are looking at two options, one of keeping the British Transport Police and not making any changes and the other to disband it and give it across to the Home Office. Have both ministries looked at the possibility of transferring responsibility for the British Transport Police to the Home Office? You have talked about getting rid of it and therefore transferring it to the new police authorities but have you ever thought about just transferring responsibility to the Home Office? Have the Home Office ever thought of taking it over?
Derek Twigg: Clearly if you disbanded it the policing for the railways would go to the Home Office on a strategic force level. It is the British Transport Police railway police and we think the responsibility should lie with the Secretary of State.
Q218 Mr. Eric Martlew: You are saying if you decide to keep it ----
Derek Twigg: It will still remain.
Q219 Mr. Eric Martlew: But if you get rid of it then it will go to the Home Office?
Derek Twigg: That is because it will become part of the strategic forces' responsibilities. They would have to determine this force by force with the Home Office. That is my understanding of it.
Hazel Blears: Certainly we have not made any bid to take over the British Transport Police. Clearly it remains very much accountable to the Secretary of State for Transport.
Chairman: You ought to take some lessons from the Metropolitan Police, Minister.
Q220 Mr Goodwill: I think they have got enough on their plate at the moment.
Hazel Blears: Not necessarily as ambitious as them perhaps. Clearly it would not be a matter of simply handing it over to the Home Office. Because of the tripartite nature of policing in this country it would be a matter for the strategic forces and their police authorities as well.
Q221 Mr. Eric Martlew: Ultimately reporting to you?
Hazel Blears: Indeed.
Q222 Mr. Eric Martlew: At present the train operating companies pay but if it goes to the police forces what happens to that payment?
Derek Twigg: If the train operator wants to buy in a certain amount of policing that is what they do by the normal funding arrangements that exist in terms of their local strategic forces. It would not be different from that.
Hazel Blears: There has been some analysis done that looks at the general provision of policing because quite a lot of the operators pay their business rates and they are entitled to general levels of service, but if they want to have specific levels of service above that they would need to enter into an agreement for those specific operations to be funded with each of the strategic forces. That is my understanding of that analysis.
Q223 Mr. Eric Martlew: We have heard today they are trying to reduce the amount they pay and the likelihood is they are not going to take that option. Does that mean we could end up with the local police forces looking after the stations and the rest of the rail transport structure without any more money?
Derek Twigg: Part of the work we have done, and you have hit upon an important point, Mr Martlew, is one of the disbenefits that may be perceived of not having British Transport Police as a strategic separate force set up in the way it is, is whether the railway would get the same amount of attention and funding from strategic forces if it went out to strategic forces. That is one of the issues that some people argue would be a disbenefit but clearly we are talking hypothetically.
Q224 Chairman: It would be a fairly great disbenefit if you are telling us that the railway system has operational and political effects way before simply being a transport system, would it not?
Derek Twigg: I am not really saying that.
Q225 Chairman: You cannot have it both ways. If the railway system is something that is fundamental and is at risk because it is an obvious target because it has implications way beyond the business of running trains up and down it, you cannot seriously say if for any reason the train operating companies did not want to pay for it or to have a professional and specialised police force it would not really matter because we would leave that to the Gods presumably.
Derek Twigg: I am not saying that, Chairman.
Q226 Chairman: Which is almost the equivalent of the Cheshire Police Force!
Derek Twigg: That is why we are having the ongoing discussions and work is continuing on the refocusing although we have not come to a conclusion at this point. I tried to explain some of the issues that need to be considered to Mr Martlew.
Chairman: Obviously, that is what you are here for.
Q227 Mr. Eric Martlew: Would the Home Office and the police forces be happy with a situation where there was not dedicated money coming across?
Hazel Blears: Clearly at the moment the British Transport Police is largely funded by the train operating companies and it is really important that they make that contribution. That is why I was saying I do not want to prejudge the outcome of the review that we are going to get in May because these issues are very important to us about looking at the long-term future, making sure that people are safe on our railway system, both staff and passengers, which is the main mission of the British Transport Police. Clearly we would have significant concerns. We want to make sure that whatever organisation we get in the future is able to provide that degree of security for passengers, staff and users of the railway service.
This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.
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