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Mersey Tunnels

Volume 405: debated on Tuesday 13 May 2003

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If he will make a statement on the policing of Mersey Tunnels. [112570]

Responsibility—including the funding—for the policing of the Mersey tunnels rests with the Merseyside Passenger Transport Authority, Merseytravel, under provisions in the County of Merseyside Act 1980.

As Merseytravel is primarily responsible for the safe operation of the Mersey tunnels, it falls on it to ensure that the law enforcement officers it appoints are trained to a standard that protects both the officers involved and users of the tunnels and to provide such facilities necessary for the officers to carry out their duties in a safe and proper manner.

My hon. Friend reflects the situation as it is, not as it should be. Does he recall that the Liverpool coroner recently said that Mersey Tunnels police were not operating in a way that the general public would recognise as the behaviour of a normal police force? While I welcome the review that the Department and the Home Office are undertaking in relation to the role of the Mersey Tunnels police, a review of the separate police fiefdoms more generally is long overdue. Many of them are in the transport sector and all of them are of dubious accountability. Will he consider the situation with a view to bringing those forces into mainstream policing arrangements, with all that that implies for accountability, funding, standards, benchmarks and practices?

Addressing the issue of the capability of the Mersey Tunnels police is, in the first instance, the responsibility of the Merseyside passenger transport authority and the democratically elected bodies that make up its constituent parts. My hon. Friend referred to the dreadful and tragic accident in March last year, and we all regret the circumstances in which two young teenagers lost their lives. I cannot comment on what the coroner said, because it is open to legal challenge. At the moment, the Police Complaints Authority has no remit for the Mersey Tunnels police, but under section 78 of the Police Act 1996 the Home Secretary can direct that such a relationship be affirmed. Perhaps my hon. Friend should take that point up with the Home Secretary. I appreciate the concerns that have arisen from that particular incident and we and the Home Office will consider carefully the reports of the investigations and decide what further action needs to be taken.