British Transport Police/ Police Scotland Merger — [Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:32 am on 6th March 2018.

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Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative, Moray 9:32 am, 6th March 2018

As an example, the Scottish Government say that they would take the 280 or so full-time equivalent BTP officers in Scotland and merge them into Police Scotland with its 17,234 officers. That would not protect them, because if the officers within Police Scotland who wish to have a specialism in railway policing were first on the scene at a non-railway incident, they would be stuck with that incident right the way through. Currently, if Police Scotland are the first on scene at the railways, they can transfer that to a BTP officer when they arrive and vice versa. They could not do that. That is not protecting the current situation and the good work done by BTP officers in Scotland and across the country.

My opposition and the strong opposition from Scottish Conservatives in Westminster and Holyrood must not be considered as disrespecting the Smith commission and devolution settlement that followed. I agree that the functions of the British Transport police in Scotland should be a devolved matter—I just strongly disagree with the approach taken by the SNP Government.

There were and are other options to devolve the powers, but we know that they were never considered by the Scottish Government. Right from the start, the SNP had a blinkered view on its approach—unwilling to listen to expert advice, which opposed its plans, and unwilling to listen to the views of BTP officers, the British Transport Police Federation, rail unions and rail operators. Basically, everyone with considerable knowledge of railway policing warned the SNP against the plans, but they were ignored and the SNP marched on regardless. It only consulted on its preferred option: full integration with Police Scotland.

That was the first of many failures by the Scottish Government, who were unwilling even to consider alternatives put forward by the British Transport police authority as far back as 2015, which suggested giving increased accountability to the Scottish Parliament and giving the Scottish Government greater power over setting policing priorities. That was put forward by the BTPA, and ignored by the SNP Government, who only consulted on their preferred option.