British Transport Police and Police Scotland (Merger)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 7th March 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Daniel Johnson Daniel Johnson Labour

6. To ask the First Minister whether the merger of Police Scotland and the British Transport Police has been permanently abandoned. (S5F-03140)

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

We remain committed to the devolution of railway policing, as agreed by all parties in the Parliament during the Smith commission. We have worked with stakeholders on options to improve the accountability of railway policing in Scotland. There is consensus that current legislation could be used to create an arrangement that facilitates a stronger role for the Scottish Police Authority. The SPA and the British Transport Police Authority are considering how that should be done, and they aim to present proposals to their respective boards in the coming months. It would be premature to rule out any option at this time, but any proposal must enhance the accountability of railway policing in Scotland, while ensuring the safety and security of the travelling public.

Photo of Daniel Johnson Daniel Johnson Labour

After almost two years and hundreds of thousands of taxpayers’ pounds having been spent on finding a way to achieve the integration of the BTP into Police Scotland, it is clear to everyone—if not the First Minister—that integration is simply not possible. The uncertainly that staff and officers have faced will not end until full integration is permanently ruled out. Will the First Minister take the opportunity to go further than the letter that was sent to staff and officers this week, which said that there will not be a transfer, and confirm that the plan for full integration has been permanently scrapped? Will she confirm when the fatally flawed Railway Policing (Scotland) Act 2017 will be repealed?

The First Minister:

As Daniel Johnson recognised, this work is challenging and complex. Considerable work has been done to assess all the risks and challenges and we have engaged with stakeholders throughout the process. A stakeholder engagement event was held in November to explore all the options.

The option that is currently being developed will involve the establishment of a new committee to oversee railway policing in Scotland, which will comprise members of the Scottish Police Authority and the British Transport Police Authority. Those authorities have been working closely on the proposed terms of reference for the new committee. They are making good progress and it is hoped that they will be in a position to present proposals to their respective boards in the coming months. I give an undertaking today that the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity will update Parliament once the negotiations are included. That is the right way to proceed to ensure that arrangements are in place to enhance the accountability of railway policing in Scotland—which, I hope, all members want—and to ensure the safety and security of the travelling public and those who work in our transport police.

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

I thank all the officers, staff, experts, academics and colleagues from across the chamber for forcing the Scottish National Party to concede that erecting a border on Britain’s railways is a dreadful idea. How much taxpayers’ money has been wasted in the pursuit of full integration thus far? Will the First Minister admit that control room infrastructure cannot be replaced on the cheap?

The First Minister:

At least we know that we have trains, whereas the United Kingdom Tory Government does not check that its ferry contractors have ferries.

This is a serious issue. I, too, pay tribute to those who work in our transport police. The Tories here do not exactly have a consistent position. In their 2016 Scottish election manifesto, they advocated for merger, saying:

“We will create a national infrastructure police force, bringing together the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, the Ministry of Defence Police and the British Transport Police to improve the protection of critical infrastructure”.

The idea that the Tories have always supported retaining the British Transport Police as a stand-alone entity is not supported by the evidence or the facts.

We will continue to progress the merger in a proper way. The work that is being done now is extremely solid. When it is concluded, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice will come back to Parliament to update members in the usual way.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

A recent academic paper by Dr Kath Murray and Dr Colin Atkinson concluded:

“While cutting losses at this stage will carry short-term political and reputational consequences, such a decision would stem the escalating financial, professional and personal costs”.

Years have been wasted on the full integration model. Why will the First Minister not take the opportunity now to rule out that option for good?

The First Minister:

I have already set out to the chamber, as the Cabinet Secretary for Justice has done previously, the work that is being done to get the right solution. It is important that that work continues.

In the interests of balance, I will quote the 2016 Liberal Democrat manifesto. The party said that it would

“Transfer control of the British Transport Police to Police Scotland but seek to retain the ring-fenced expertise of officers on transport related matters”.

Members:

Oh!

The First Minister:

I have read out the full extract. The fact of the matter is that parties are not necessarily taking the same position now as they did previously.

That, of course, is history. What is important now is that we get it right and we will continue to support the work that is being done to ensure that that happens.

Photo of John Mason John Mason Scottish National Party

Does the First Minister accept that ordinary constituents in my constituency do not understand why there should be one police force for the street outside the railway station and a separate police force for the railway station itself? My ordinary constituents want a much more joined-up approach than we have had in the past.

The First Minister:

John Mason makes an important point because, whatever our individual views on the best arrangements, most members of the public, I suspect, simply want politicians to sort out the structures and arrangements so that they can have confidence in their police, wherever they need their services. If there are, for example, terrorist incidents on our transport network, Police Scotland resources are often brought to bear to help with resilience in those cases.

It is important that we have greater accountability for the British Transport Police, that we have as much integration on the use of resources as possible and that we put in place the right structures to support that. That is what we are working towards, and we are determined to get it right in the interests of everybody—those who work in the service and those who use the service.

Photo of John Finnie John Finnie Green

Does the First Minister share my concern that there are hundreds of police officers here in Scotland who can exercise the power of arrest on our citizens and enter and search our premises but who have no political accountability in Scotland?

The First Minister:

I have made the point about accountability on several occasions already today. It is important to improve the accountability of the British Transport Police’s Scottish arrangements. That is one of the motivations behind the work that is under way and why it is important that we allow that work to reach a conclusion.

The Presiding Officer:

That concludes First Minister’s questions. Before moving on to members’ business, we will take a short suspension, to allow members, ministers and those in the gallery to change seats.

12:43 Meeting suspended.

12:46 On resuming—