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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:27 am on 6th March 2018.

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Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Infrastructure and Energy) 10:27 am, 6th March 2018

He obviously feeds into the joint programme board that will be developed; but it depends what he means by “options”. It could be timescales and how the integration goes ahead.

The Smith commission recommended the devolution of the transport police. The SNP Government submission at that point made it clear that their planned governance mechanism would be to incorporate the British Transport police division into Police Scotland. No opposition party responded to the consultation on British Transport police integration, so I have to ask what their concerns were previously. In reality, following the devolution of the British Transport police, the Scottish Parliament approved the integration proposals in June 2017. The majority of the Justice Committee endorsed the proposals; as I said, it was the Scottish Parliament that agreed to them, not simply the SNP Government. The SNP does not have a majority at Holyrood.

Page 44 of the Conservative manifesto for the UK general election in June stated:

“We will create a national infrastructure police force, bringing together the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, the Ministry of Defence Police and the British Transport Police to improve the protection of critical infrastructure”.

It is clear that the UK Government propose to merge those specialist areas into one body. There may be a justification for that, but it still means that the Scottish division of the British Transport police would be left as an isolated railway division, separating the forces anyway. The UK Government still want their own single force.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East mentioned, the staff are highly motivated people who clearly enjoy their roles. They have clearly developed a loyalty to the British Transport police. That is a good thing, and it helps us to understanding some of their concerns, too. If they have worked for a long time in a division that they know to be high-performing, clearly there will be natural resistance to change. It is not directly comparable, but in my career I worked through the mergers of Strathclyde Sewerage, with the incorporation of the water division and the West of Scotland Water and Scottish Water mergers. At no point, as an employee, was I in favour of any of the mergers or changes, but once they went ahead there was never a desire to look back. I am confident that the same will happen once the merger we are debating goes ahead and there is a high-performing integrated police unit.

As to concerns about terms and conditions, I said earlier that there was a triple-lock guarantee to secure the jobs, pay and pensions of railway policing officers and staff in Scotland. There has been ongoing consultation with representatives of the British Transport Police Federation and the Transport Salaried Staffs Association. Admittedly, some staff members clearly felt that there had not been enough communication, but that has now been addressed, and hopefully their concerns will be allayed, especially by the guarantees on terms and conditions. Again, the delay should help allay those concerns and allow the communication process to clarify things.

Some of the respondents to the staff survey were concerned about the loss of the specialism. However, there are plans to retain a specialist railway department and I hope that in due course that will prove to be the correct working arrangement and will maintain the specialism. Ultimately, the integration will provide a single command structure, with seamless access to wider support facilities and specialist resources. It will also ensure that railway policing in Scotland is accountable to the people of Scotland through the SPA and the Scottish Parliament. The integration can be used further to enhance the safety of passengers and railway staff. Some British Transport police staff have also recognised that there could be enhanced promotion and learning prospects within a wider Police Scotland. Concerns have been expressed about the integration of the IT systems, and clearly it must be done properly, but an integrated IT system must be an operational advantage in the bigger picture.

There is an argument that seamless cross-border working happens at present. Leaving aside the fact that the UK Government want to create their own national infrastructure force, it is clear that cross-border working happens with Police Scotland and other police forces now—particularly with counter-terrorism. If police from different police forces work on areas of that kind on a cross-border basis now, surely that can continue in the new set-up.

Police Scotland was mentioned in passing, and I should point out that it is being protected, budget-wise, in real terms. It has 1,000 more officers than in 2007. The fantastic work that its officers do needs greater political support, not to be drowned out by high-level politicking. Police Scotland performs well in its day-to-day fight against crime, which is at an all-time low in Scotland but is rising in England and Wales. The current D division employees of the British Transport police do a fantastic job, and I am confident that integration can be made to work well, and will prove the correct model in the future.