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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:17 am on 6th March 2018.

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Photo of Martin Whitfield Martin Whitfield Labour, East Lothian 10:17 am, 6th March 2018

I will not, because the hon. Gentleman has made a lot of interventions and had his chance to make a speech.

I hold no objections to the devolution of functions from the British Transport police to Police Scotland. In fact, the Scotland Act provides good scope for the transferral of such policing powers; yet, contrary to popular belief, a full merger under the devolution powers was not the only option.

The Smith commission preceded the publication of the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee’s report on the matter. The Committee produced a number of options, which offered a range of answers. Options 1 and 2 looked first to provide an administrative and legislative settlement that would provide political accountability to Holyrood and Police Scotland. Those options, which were ignored by the Scottish Government, would as a preliminary settlement still have carried the recommendations brought forward by the Smith commission. We would still be able to devolve the service without putting passenger safety at risk and casting the uncertainty over pensions and jobs that we have heard about today.

Option 3 was full-blown integration: the most complex route to answer the devolution statement. By opting for a full merger, the Scottish Government put dogma before the people and services that they should serve. We have heard—this is an example of an alternative administrative legislative settlement—that Transport for London funds more than 2,500 police officers across the Metropolitan police, British Transport police, and the City of London police. Those police tackle crime and antisocial behaviour, and they make people feel safer when travelling in London. British Transport police have responsibility for the tube, the DLR and other areas, and through their neighbourhood policy they cater for the particular needs of communities near the stations they serve.

We have considered the financial demands that the Police Scotland merger has created, the stress faced by officers who serve on the street, and the managerial integration that is proving so very challenging. We have heard discussions about terrorism: the British Transport police have a terrorist specialism based in London, as does the unit that specialises in murder on the transport network. That is because, unfortunately, that is the geographical area where such things occur the most, so the specialist teams are where they need to be.

Hopefully, this debate will highlight the financial impact of the merger and the genuine questions that Police Scotland and BTP employees have about pay and conditions. It is better late than never, and I am relieved that those concerns have put any merger on hold. However, the past refusal of the Scottish Government to consider alternative forms to devolution fails to rectify the issues under discussion.

The Scottish Government have questions to answer, but I also wish to pose three questions to the Minister. When does the Secretary of State plan to lay orders to transfer power under the Scotland Act? Has the Minister received any acknowledgement of discussions between Police Scotland and train operators to establish a railway policy agreement? What discussions have the Government held with their counterparts north of the border about the review of British Transport police integration by Audit Scotland? There are proposals, including the commissioning model, that are supported by BTP, rail users and other interested parties. Such solutions will deliver an transparent and accountable BTP for Scotland, and a fair, consensual devolution settlement that I hope all parties will get behind.