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

I thank the hon. Gentleman for mentioning pensions, because that is exactly what I was about to come on to. In the Public Gallery, we have members from the National Association for Retired British Transport Police Officers. What consultation did they have with the Scottish Government or the joint programme board? Zero. Retired officers, who will be impacted, were not consulted, included or even recognised by the Scottish Government in the merger proposals. Those officers have serious concerns, which include that they understood that the proposal was for Scottish members to be moved from the main funds to a newly segregated Scottish fund. That is likely to amount to around 250 serving officers, and probably about 200 retired officers, affected, without the courtesy of being informed of how many members in Scotland would come under the proposal. That will create almost immediately a closed fund: at one end, the number of serving officers will reduce each year due to retirements; at the other, retired officers will stop taking their pensions. Very quickly, there will be no new money coming in.

I would be grateful if SNP Members responded to the many concerns from the National Association for Retired British Transport Police Officers on that point, because they have never been answered by the Scottish Government through the joint programme board or at any opportunity in the Scottish Parliament. Such uncertainty is unacceptable for men and women who have served this country with great dignity and service, but are being left in the lurch by the SNP.

There are some positive developments. I said at the beginning that I welcome the fact that the SNP Government have paused these plans. We called for that in January; the joint programme board agreed it in February, and the SNP Government have finally listened. The Deputy Chief Constable designate of Police Scotland, Iain Livingstone, welcomed the delay and made no commitment at the most recent Scottish police authority board. He said that

“we will be reassessing in the coming months what the challenges and options are, and will then report back to Government”.

I took that as a very welcome signal from the top of Police Scotland that it is not simply pausing, but looking at all other options.

It is also extremely welcome that the British Transport police integration will be reviewed by Audit Scotland as part of its annual review. Proper scrutiny of the plans has been missing throughout this process, to judge how things were progressing as we went along. That intervention by Audit Scotland is welcome, but we must ensure that any progress, or lack of it, is highlighted at the correct times.

I am grateful that we have the UK Minister here; I think the hon. Member for East Lothian will agree that much of the concern from the SNP at the Backbench Business Committee was, “This has nothing to do with Westminster; you devolved these powers in 2016.” The SNP Member on the Backbench Business Committee told us that we should not debate it here. When I raised the issue in business questions or with the Prime Minister, SNP Members in the House of Commons shouted me down because they did not want it discussed in Westminster. But it is right that this issue is discussed in Westminster, because, as was said in an intervention, the UK Government still have to lay the orders that are scheduled for this autumn. I hope the Minister confirms that those orders will be paused, because of the pause in Scotland.

We do not devolve and forget. It is right that elected Members from Scotland in this place continue to look at the merger of British Transport police into Police Scotland. It is also right that peers in the other place tabled a motion of regret on this very point. Indeed, as I have said a number of times, this issue has been debated as recently as January in the Scottish Parliament. Both Parliaments are right to raise it and to discuss and debate it.