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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:10 am on 6th March 2018.

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Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control) 10:10 am, 6th March 2018

Of course there are differences between the various merger plans, but a variety of different institutions and Governments in the United Kingdom are having to make changes to how transport policing works. Indeed, the possibility flagged up in Lord Harris’s report is of integrating the specialist British Transport police on the underground into the more general Metropolitan Police Service.

In Scotland, the Scottish Government have decided that policing and public safety are best served by merging the recently devolved British Transport police into Police Scotland. That decision was debated in great detail in the Scottish Parliament, including by the hon. Member for Moray, but ultimately the Scottish Parliament backed that decision, passing the Railway Policing (Scotland) Act 2017, which is the first step in making that happen.

Without raking over old coals again, I do think that was the correct decision. Through the merger, the assets, resources and range of skills of the second-largest police force in the United Kingdom will be deployed routinely, rather than on request, on rail transport policing, just as for our roads, seaports, airports and border policing. That, together with clear assurances from both the Scottish Government and Police Scotland that specialist railway policing functions and the skill set of our transport police will be preserved after integration means that the merger’s objective is not just to maintain but enhance safety and security standards on railways in Scotland.

All those arguments are mirrored in Lord Harris’s report to Mayor Khan. Given the developments at the Home Office and the Conservative Government’s proposals, without the Scottish Government’s decision we might have ended up being the only part of the United Kingdom with a stand-alone transport police service, which would not have made much sense. It is not clear whether Conservative Members are arguing for that today.

Rather than reopen that argument, our task is to ensure that the considerable challenges of the merger are overcome, and that the inevitable and legitimate concerns and uncertainty for staff are addressed as thoroughly as possible. That is why a joint programme board was established. It was always the case that the timetable for the merger could change as progress was reviewed. While progress has been made in some areas, the board has recommended that the merger target date be extended beyond April 2019. That is regrettable, but it is right that the timescale is changed rather than the merger attempted at an impossible pace.

Meanwhile, Police Scotland has provided assurances that the right of any BTP member transferred to police the railway environment until they retire will be respected. There have been detailed discussions between the Scottish Government, the British Transport Police Federation and the Transport Salaried Staffs Association, and a guarantee has been pledged that secures jobs, pay and pensions through the course of integration.

Despite the picture that has been painted, there has been constructive engagement among railway operators, the Scottish Police Authority, Police Scotland and the Government. Unlike at present, a railway policing management forum is to be placed on a statutory footing to ensure rail operator engagement and accountability, and tasked with reaching agreement on the service, performance and costs of railway policing in Scotland. There has been positive engagement with the Transport Department at Westminster, where statutory instruments will be required.

I acknowledge that this has been and will be a challenging period for the British Transport police and current and retired staff. However, I believe this ultimately to be the best option for transport policing in Scotland—in fact, it is almost the only option. I trust that all parties involved will continue to work to make the transition as smooth as it can be.