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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:22 am on 6th March 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Paul Sweeney Paul Sweeney Shadow Minister (Scotland) 10:22 am, 6th March 2018

Thank you, Mr Hollobone, for your efficient chairmanship of this debate. I commend Douglas Ross for securing it.

Last week we debated Scottish city deals, which examined one side of the devolution equation. This debate examines the other side of that equation, and looks at how effective the devolution process has been over the past 20 years. We are seeing the emergence of the Scottish Government as a Leviathan—an unwelcome Leviathan in many ways. The devolution process was never designed to be like this; it was designed to create institutions to facilitate collaboration and strong partnerships at all levels of government, including local government and with the UK Government. Devolution should never be considered an annexation of power; it should be about building strong partnerships that facilitate efficient collaboration. We need to rediscover that as part of the devolution settlement.

I wish to reflect on the process through which the Smith commission discussed the devolution of the British Transport police to the Scottish Government, and the spirit in which that was done. No one disagrees with the idea of devolution, but the manner in which the Scottish Government have subsequently managed it has been less than satisfactory. The Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee presented three options for railway policing following the publication of the Smith commission’s report and the passage of the Scotland Act. Instead of consulting on which of those three would be the most effective, the Scottish Government instead railroaded through one simple option, with little room for stakeholders to affect the outcome. What sort of democratic devolved discussion and collaborative process is that?

Option 1 looked at administrative measures, including ways to increase alignment with Police Scotland initiatives and BTP’s accountability to Scottish institutions. It examined a new role for the Scottish Police Authority in scrutiny and performance, but that was disregarded. Option 2 considered legislative and administrative measures, including clarifying in statute arrangements through which the Scottish Government may give direction to the British Transport police authority. Under that option, the BTPA would retain responsibilities for pensions, employment contracts, and defraying the costs of policing to the rail industry. Planning and strategy setting for railway policing in Scotland would be reviewed to enable greater involvement by the Scottish Police Authority. Both options considered new branding for the BTP in Scotland, but again that was disregarded without any consultation.

The only option presented as a meaningful way forward was full integration, which was also deemed the most complex route. There was, however, no justification for it on that basis, so why were the other options disregarded out of hand? It is no surprise that the process has been halted, because its basis was clearly unsound from the beginning. That is why the chief inspector of constabulary in Scotland stated:

“The scope and scale of the challenges and complexity of the transfer should not be underestimated. It is not a merger of one complete organisation with another, but the partial extraction of a function from one organisation and its integration into another organisation.”

There is also a problem with staffing, morale, and the skills that are vital to sustaining the British Transport police across the United Kingdom. The Scottish Government seek to merge the BTP with Police Scotland, but they opposed the first two options on the grounds that they would not deliver a single command structure for policing in Scotland.

However, a single command structure is not necessarily desirable, because staff of the British Transport police want to maintain their integrity and their skills and specialisms. If they are removed from that structure and the only way to advance in the organisation is to move out of the rail division and into another part of Police Scotland, the dilution of the skills base will be self-evident. Why is that desirable? It is not, which is why it is necessary and key to maintain the discrete structure of the British Transport police in Scotland through other measures. Such dilution of the skills base is not desirable for staff or for efficient devolution.

For devolution to be a true success, we must examine both sides of the equation and ensure that local government, structures and institutions in Scotland are protected from the encroachment of Edinburgh. We must ensure effective collaboration among the Scottish Government, the UK Government and UK institutions to enable the most efficient management of those services in Scotland.