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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 24 January 2018

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Justice, Railway Policing, Business Motions, Decision Time, Adverse Childhood Experiences


Contents


Railway Policing

The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-10039, in the name of Liam Kerr, on railway policing. Are you ready, Mr Kerr?

Yes.

I am impressed. I call Liam Kerr to speak to and move the motion.

15:50  

The British Transport Police polices railways, stations and trains throughout the United Kingdom. It is accountable to the BTP chief constable, the British Transport Police Authority and, ultimately, the United Kingdom Parliament. The BTP is funded by Network Rail, the train operating companies and the freight operating companies, which enter into a contract with the BTPA. The Smith commission recommended devolving the functions of the BTP, and the UK Parliament has since passed the Scotland Act 2016, which transfers legislative competence in relation to the policing of railways in Scotland to the Scottish Parliament. On 27 June 2017, the Scottish National Party-Green alliance voted through the Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill, to transfer responsibility for railway policing in Scotland from the BTP to Police Scotland. That means that the Scottish division of the BTP will be carved out from the UK BTP and will become part of Police Scotland. The date for the merger is April 2019.

We respect all those decisions. However, we believe that it would be prudent to pause the integration, and I will set out why.

It is imperative that the transfer happens smoothly and that nothing compromises the effectiveness and ability of the railway police. However, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary in Scotland has stated:

“the scope and scale of the challenges and complexity posed by the transfer should not be underestimated.”

That is not surprising. Deputy Chief Constable Livingstone was clear at the Justice Committee yesterday when he said that

“it is not a merger of like with like”—[Official Report, Justice Committee, 23 January 2018; c 36.]

and that the BTP is different with regard to pensions, entitlements and employee status. Those concerns remain.

HMICS has also described the lack of a plan to integrate control rooms as a “key risk” to the merger, saying that

“much work will need to be done around the interface of each organisation’s contact, command and control systems and processes, as well as the interface between Police Scotland and Network Rail’s control systems.”

That is true.

Yesterday, DCC Livingstone told the Justice Committee that information and communication technology provision, terms and conditions, pensions and pre-existing third party contracts will not be resolved by 1 April 2019, and he could not provide detail on when the work on those will be complete. I presume that that means that, post April 2019, there will be on-going dependency on the BTPA in relation to those areas, with only a partial integration.

There are also significant personnel concerns. In a response to a letter from the convener of the Justice Committee, the British Transport Police Federation revealed that it had not

“had sight of any written proposals on pensions, pay or Terms and Conditions”

and questioned how the Scottish Police Federation could represent BTP officers, who are not Crown servants. In that regard, it is notable that the SPF and the BTPF sent letters to the Justice Committee this month highlighting what they say is a lack of consultation with them by the Scottish Government.

Uncertainty abounds on pensions. Serving BTP officers are part of a healthy BTP fund, which sits in a further fund that is valued at around £24 billion. It is understood by officers that the Scottish Government plans to set up a segregated closed fund for transferring BTP officers, perhaps with retired colleagues. One estimate suggests that that has a £400,000 set-up cost, plus an ever-increasing administration cost to the taxpayer, to say nothing of the loss of security for those transferees.

Furthermore, given that the minister conceded to me in November that the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations do not apply, there remains ambiguity over which terms and conditions will apply, to the extent that the BTPF suggests that the complexities have been underestimated. The Labour amendment, which we shall support, seeks to address that point, so I will leave that for Labour members to develop.

What of the BTP personnel who are based outside Scotland but who support Scottish operations? It remains unclear, in the absence of TUPE, what impact there will be on them post merger.

It is perhaps not surprising, therefore, that an internal staff survey revealed that only around a third of BTP officers say that they will definitely transfer. The remainder are considering leaving, retiring or moving to other BTP divisions. Yesterday, DCC Livingstone agreed that some BTP officers might decide to retire before the merger, to ensure that their terms and conditions are not affected.

If BTP officers leave, presumably their positions must be backfilled from within Police Scotland. Can Police Scotland really spare 50 officers, say, and train them in time? What if legacy BTP officers are taken from their core rail policing duties to bolster the resilience of Police Scotland? How comfortable will the funding companies—or the public—be with that?

Talking of the taxpayer, it is notable that the HMICS report says:

“The full costs associated with the transfer of railway policing in Scotland have not yet been assessed and there is uncertainty among stakeholders as to who will pay these costs.”

On that point, it would appear that the police service agreements between the train operating companies, the freight operating companies and Network Rail that are currently in place will need to be addressed and concluded on by 18 March this year, as the BTPA is required to provide 12 months’ notice of termination.

During the negotiations, which will need to take place with Police Scotland, of course, the rail companies will need to know what is happening from April 2019. Who is going to be policing our railways, and how? As we discovered yesterday, that is currently not clear.

Then there is the other side. As we discussed earlier, Police Scotland is in the midst of a challenging period. The chief constable is on special leave, four other senior officers have been suspended in connection with a range of allegations and the justice secretary is in the chamber fairly constantly defending himself. The Scottish Police Authority is under its third leader in four years and is involved in a recruitment process for five new board members.

On that point, having railway experience on the SPA board was a key HMICS recommendation, which is not surprising given that the BTPA—the SPA’s counterpart—currently has 12 board members whose sole focus is railway policing. Yet the chair of the SPA confirmed yesterday that it is not looking to recruit specialist railway experience to the board.

The BTPF has made it clear that it does not feel that the current climate of policing in Scotland lends itself to integrating the BTP. We agree.

That is the context within which we bring this debate. The merger might be a good idea. It might deliver the kind of seamless police service and cost savings that ministers clearly believe that it will. However, the merger has to be done right. It is clear that the integration date is unachievable. The BTPF describes the merger date of April 2019 as a “cliff-edge scenario”.

The merger process has extremely difficult issues to address, such as pensions, terms and conditions, the estate, career progression, cross-border policing difficulties, BTP staff and budgets. It must be more sensible to take a step back, pause and set a realistic timeframe. Let us understand the significant value added by the BTP, review how that can best continue to be delivered and build a detailed, full and robust plan that involves a detailed cost analysis that asks whether the aims of integration can be secured through a different route with fewer risks. Many voices are offering those suggestions, and I suggest that we listen to them.

It is time to pause. It is time to listen.

I move,

That the Parliament respects the devolution of railway policing as agreed in the Scotland Act 2016, but notes concern regarding the leadership challenges facing Police Scotland; believes that railway policing is of critical importance to public safety, particularly in responses to terrorism, and further believes therefore that it would be prudent to pause the integration of the British Transport Police into Police Scotland.

Thank you very much, Mr Kerr. I call Humza Yousaf to speak to and move amendment S5M-10039.2. Minister, you have six minutes, please.

15:58  

I welcome the opportunity to participate in the debate.

First let me reflect on the fact that this Parliament passed the Railway Policing (Scotland) Act 2017 in June. That act is the basis on which the integration work is progressing, under the oversight of the joint programme board, which is chaired by the Scottish and United Kingdom Governments. My starting point, therefore, is that the will of the Parliament is that integration should happen. Liam Kerr mentioned what he flippantly called, I think, the SNP-Green alliance. He forgot to mention, of course, that the integration of the British Transport Police was in his own Conservative Party’s UK and Scottish manifestos in 2017.

I will now deal with the parts of the Conservative motion that refer to leadership in Police Scotland and the effectiveness of the police response to important issues such as terrorism. I am clear that the evidence does not support the concerns that are expressed in the motion. I go further and say that the motion undermines the enormous effort that our officers put into tackling and preventing acts of terror on the front line. In fact, it does a disservice to them and to BTP officers to suggest that they would be incapable of carrying out that function while integration takes place.

Will the member take an intervention?

I will finish this quote, then give way. Last March, the Prime Minister said:

“Police Scotland is the second biggest force in the UK, with huge capabilities and capacity, and working with other police forces across the UK to help to keep us safe.”

Given the minister’s remarks, what is his reaction to Nigel Goodband, chair of the British Transport Police Federation, who raised exactly those points as part of his concerns and calls for suspending the integration?

I simply do not agree. Police Scotland is directly connected to the UK-wide anti-terrorism network. We heard media reports of armed Police Scotland officers at railway stations across Scotland last May, when there was a critical state of alert. The reality is that the BTP in Scotland already relies on Police Scotland for key anti-terrorism capabilities. Those matters were well rehearsed during the passage of the Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill.

In the past few days, we have seen further evidence of Police Scotland’s effectiveness, with its bringing to justice nine members of a sophisticated organised crime gang, who were sentenced to a total of 87 years in prison. As ministers have made clear in this chamber previously, successes such as that are built on the outstanding commitment of officers and staff, who provide leadership at every level. That strength and depth ensures public safety from a wide range of threats, including terrorism, every day in our communities, cities, airports and ports right across Scotland. Police Scotland is therefore well placed to take on the additional responsibilities.

Let me turn to the progress of the integration programme, building on the update that I provided to the Justice Committee on 31 October. As members will recall, ministers have given a clear triple-lock guarantee to secure the jobs, pay and pensions of railway policing officers and staff in Scotland. Secondary legislation is now being drafted on the basis that officers and staff will retain the same terms and conditions of service, pension and employment status. In short, planning is proceeding on the basis of transferring officers and staff as is, in relation to terms and conditions.

I thank the minister for that update on terms and conditions. If he is so confident that the matter has been addressed, why did DCC Livingstone say to the Justice Committee that the April 2019 deadline is still proving to be challenging? He specifically mentioned terms and conditions. Why is the minister confident but the police themselves are not?

I read again and looked at the detail of what DCC Livingstone said. As Liam Kerr said in his opening remarks, he was talking primarily about information and communication technology functions. When it came to pensions, he was talking about harmonising them, but he said that he was confident about operational integration by the April 2019 date.

Liam Kerr also mentioned the BTPF and our engagement with it. The BTPF recently attended four days of detailed discussions on terms and conditions, for which three additional days are now scheduled in February. A further meeting with the federation and the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association is planned for 12 February. That detailed work is allowing us to map current terms and conditions to ensure that they are transferred intact. The joint programme board recently published an extensive questions and answers document to help officers and staff to understand what the transfer means for them. We recognise that there are still areas in which they are looking for greater detail.

Will the member take an intervention?

I need to make progress—I know that my time is short.

The Scottish Government is therefore committed to continuing to engage with BTP officers and staff representatives to further develop materials that explain that transfer. That will be carried forward alongside face-to-face engagement with officers and staff, led by Police Scotland and the BTP, with a number of sessions having already taken place.

Although the Greens’ amendment was not selected, the Government would have supported it, because we understand and acknowledge that, despite all that work and engagement, there is some level of discontent among some stakeholders and, indeed, officers. We will redouble our efforts with stakeholders and, of course, honour our commitment to no detriment.

You must conclude now. I know that you took interventions, but I have given you extra time.

I move amendment S5M-10039.2, to leave out from “, but notes concern” to end and insert:

“; notes the passage of the Railway Policing (Scotland) Act 2017; further notes that the Joint Programme Board is closely monitoring progress of the integration programme; asks the Scottish Government to keep the programme timetable under review with advice from the Joint Programme Board; recognises that the Scottish Government has given guarantees to protect the jobs, pay and pensions of British Transport Police officers and staff in Scotland; notes the publication of a series of workforce questions and answers to support this, and recognises the need for ongoing engagement with staff, officers and their representatives to ensure that the terms of transfer are fully understood.”

16:05  

When the Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill came before Parliament, Labour shared the universal concerns about it that were raised by stakeholders including the trade unions—the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers; the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen; and the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association—the British Transport Police, the British Transport Police Federation, the Rail Delivery Group, ScotRail, CrossCountry and Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services, whose report on the merger concluded:

“no detailed and authoritative business case”

for

“the transfer to Police Scotland was developed.”

Those concerns were universally ignored by the Scottish Government, which is obsessed with putting ideology ahead of addressing concerns about integration. The failure to even consult on the three options for railway policing in Scotland that were presented by the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee highlighted the arrogance at the heart of the Government on integration. The Government has not only failed to address genuine concerns; it has failed to engage in a meaningful way with the stakeholders who raised those concerns. During one Justice Committee session, the British Transport Police Federation stated that it felt that its concerns and the risk associated with the integration had simply been ignored.

Throughout the bill process, a key concern that was raised with the Justice Committee was the threat posed to the British Transport Police’s capacity and expertise. The British Transport Police’s submission to the committee posed the question:

“how in practice will the plans to merge the two forces in Scotland embed and sustain BTP’s specialist ‘transport policing ethos’”?

Michael Hogg from the RMT stated:

“From a staff and trade union perspective, we can see the BTP expertise and knowledge being lost if the merger of it and Police Scotland goes ahead.”—[Official Report, Justice Committee, 14 March 2017; c 49.]

Protecting the expertise and focus of the British Transport Police is vital if we are to maintain the current high standard of service. The need to provide firm proposals on the future of staff pay and conditions is key to that. Although the Government has confirmed that jobs, pay and pensions will be protected during the process of integration, too many questions about the long-term implications of integration for staff still remain unanswered.

The consequences of that uncertainty are there for all to see. The British Transport Police staff survey found that two thirds of officers were unsure about whether they will even transfer to Police Scotland following the proposed integration. At the end of last year, HMIC reported:

“As a result of the uncertainty about their future, officers described morale as being low”.

We urgently need firm proposals from the Government to protect staff pay and conditions in the long term. Moving forward with the integration before those details have been published and agreed would be utterly irresponsible.

In the time since the bill passed through Parliament, it is not just concerns surrounding staff terms and conditions that have remained unresolved and been compounded. I represent South Scotland, through which all 8 million of the cross-border services pass on the west and east coast main lines and the Nith valley line every year, and I know that it is a huge concern that it is still unclear exactly what arrangements will be put in place to properly police cross-border services.

This week, Deputy Chief Constable lain Livingstone of Police Scotland told the Justice Committee that it had become “absolutely clear” that merger issues such as integrating two information technology systems would not be tackled by the Government’s deadline for integration of April next year.

All that comes before we even take into account that Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority are currently in a state of uncertainty at best—and a state of chaos at worst. They are unable to get their own act together, never mind take on additional responsibilities.

To date, the Scottish Government’s approach to the integration of transport policing has been defined by its uncompromising and reckless pursuit of its own agenda and its burying its head in the sand.

Colin Smyth talks about uncertainty, and I understand his opposition, but can he say, after all these years, what Labour’s position would have been on what to do with the BTP post the Smith commission?

One of the cases that were put forward was for a separate Scottish transport police. However, the point is that three proposals were put forward, and we would have consulted on all three proposals. Maybe the cabinet secretary would like to get to his feet and explain why he refused to consult on the three proposals that were put forward and why he, simply for entirely ideological reasons, pursued one obsessive agenda.

Parliament now has an opportunity to tell the Government to at the very least pause and, for once, to start to listen, take stock, and work constructively with all stakeholders and Parliament to ensure that the changes that the Railway Policing (Scotland) Act 2017 will bring—unwanted as they may be—are brought in in a way that at least minimises the risk to public safety and properly protects staff.

Last year, the chairman of the British Transport Police Federation, Nigel Goodband, wrote to the transport minister, asking him not to put passengers and staff at risk. He said in his letter:

“Given the recent terrorist attacks in Manchester and London, and the ongoing and significant threat from terrorism, I am writing to you as a matter of urgency to implore you to suspend the Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill.”

The Government needs to listen to those warnings instead of simply brushing them aside, as the minister did in his comments earlier. The Government needs to pause the integration of the British Transport Police into Police Scotland. Crucially, the Government needs to provide firm proposals on long-term pay and conditions so that we can address the uncertainty that staff currently face and prevent a workforce crisis that will happen if the Government does not listen. The best way to do that is to support Labour’s amendment to a perfectly reasonable motion.

I move amendment S5M-10039.3, to insert after “facing Police Scotland;”:

“further notes concerns regarding the effects on terms and conditions of employment of officers and staff undergoing transfer, and the subsequent impact that this could have on morale and retention of experienced officers and staff;”.

Before we move to the open debate, I apologise to the minister, because he did not overrun his time. I did not have my glasses on, but they are on now. It is on the record that the minister was not at fault.

We now move to the open debate. I call Margaret Mitchell, who has four minutes, please.

16:10  

The security of the travelling public relies on effective policing of our railways. Following the recommendation of the Smith commission, the Scotland Act 2016 provided for the functions of the British Transport Police to be devolved. The British Transport Police Authority submitted three possible options to achieve that recommendation. The Scottish Government ignored two of the options and consulted only on the full integration of BTP officers into Police Scotland.

Thereafter, the Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill 2016 was referred to the Justice Committee, as lead committee. The committee’s members were divided on support for the bill’s general principles, but Parliament approved them by a majority at stage 1.

At stage 3, SNP MSPs, with the support of Green MSPs, voted to pass the bill, despite widespread criticism from stakeholders including the British Transport Police Federation, the British Transport Police Superintendents’ Association Branch, the rail unions—including RMT, the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen and the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association—the Rail Delivery Group, which represents Network Rail and the train operators, including ScotRail, CrossCountry, Virgin Trains East Coast and TransPennine Express, and Samaritans Scotland, which has first-hand knowledge of suicide and mental health issues in rail settings. Those stakeholders warned of the dangerous consequences of full integration, starting with loss of expertise through the exodus of BTP Scotland officers as a result of the Scottish Government’s failure to deliver on the guarantees that were sought by officers regarding jobs, pay and pensions.

Meanwhile, the rail operators that fund the BTP in Scotland, including ScotRail, Virgin Trains and CrossCountry, expressed concern about the loss of specialisms such as reducing cable theft and assessing bomb threats. Those skills not only keep our railways safe, but help to minimise the impact of incidents UK wide.

Perhaps most telling is the independent watchdog’s report on BTP in Scotland and the proposed transfer, in which HMICS stated that the Scottish Government had failed to set out a

“single, detailed and authoritative business case”,

that there was a total lack of thought regarding the fact that the proposals would lead to a dual command structure for railway policing across Great Britain and·that the

“specialist and distinct nature of BTP’s work has been underestimated”.

More specifically, the report highlights the interface between the different contact, command and control systems of the organisations as being a key risk of integration, which is critical to ensuring the safety of officers and the travelling public.

Will the member take an intervention?

I am in my last minute.

The BTP Scotland division has an exemplary record in ensuring that our railways are secure. Given all that I have said, and that we are in a time of heightened terrorism awareness, it is absolute folly to proceed with integration. That is particularly the case because, only yesterday, DCC Livingstone confirmed that IT issues, as well as pensions and terms and conditions, will not be resolved by the integration date of April 2019, and that he shares the concerns about how officers will be integrated. I therefore urge Parliament to support the motion calling on the cabinet secretary to, at the very least, pause and reconsider the Government’s ill-conceived plan.

16:15  

In my view, this debate should not be happening. The premise of the Conservative motion on the Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill, which was passed by Parliament last summer, is simply not valid. We have so far heard a rerun on the merits of the bill from the Opposition members, which does not actually reflect the motion.

Liam Kerr’s motion is framed around pausing the merger of the BTP and Police Scotland due to

“the leadership challenges facing Police Scotland”.

As he, I and the rest of the Justice Committee heard yesterday from Iain Livingstone, the deputy chief constable designate, that is utter nonsense. DCC Livingstone emphatically stated that policing on the ground is not affected in any way by internal wrangling at the top of the tree. Indeed, he forcefully outlined the strength of policing in Scotland today, which is in the main down to our having an effective single force, and he reiterated that crime is at its lowest level since 1974.

Just to get back on point, is Rona Mackay aware of whether the Government has made any contingency plans should two thirds of Scottish BTP officers decide not to transfer to Police Scotland?

I will come on to that later.

The motion highlights that railway policing

“is of critical importance to public safety, particularly in responses to terrorism”.

That is, of course, correct, but the fact is that merging the BTP with Police Scotland will, as we heard in evidence before the bill was passed, strengthen the force’s ability to respond quickly to cross-border terrorist threats. That has been happening and will continue to happen after the merger. With more than 93 million rail journeys being made within Scotland each year and 8 million cross-border rail journeys being made, it makes sense to upskill all police officers to ensure greater public safety and the security of our country.

Liam Kerr said that DCC Livingstone is worried about the pay and pensions and the terms and conditions of the officers who will be transferred. That is, of course, understandable, but what Mr Kerr did not say in his speech was that DCC Livingstone stated categorically that he personally has nothing to do with that side of the merger because his remit is purely on the police operational side, but that—of course—his officers’ pay and conditions are of concern to him.

As was said many times during the passage of the bill, the Scottish Government has given a triple-lock guarantee to protect the jobs, pay and pensions of British Transport Police officers and staff in Scotland, and it is working hard with officers and their representatives to ensure that the terms of the transfer are fully understood. A further meeting with the British Transport Police Federation and the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association is scheduled to take place next month. The BTP Federation has been briefed that the joint programme board is developing draft secondary legislation to transfer officers and staff in Scotland to Police Scotland, which will be done with no detriment to the pensions of serving, deferred or retired BTP officers and staff.

There are currently 285 full-time equivalent BTP officers in Scotland, and more than 17,000 regular police officers. In my view, integration can only improve the service to the rail network throughout Scotland. The specialisms in transport policing, which Margaret Mitchell mentioned, have been recognised emphatically, and Police Scotland has confirmed that a bespoke railway policing unit will be established for railway policing in Scotland. What more proof do the Conservatives need that the merger has been planned meticulously to ensure a smooth transition in 2019?

In addition, the integration of the BTP with Police Scotland will make it fully accountable to the people of Scotland and the Scottish Parliament, which is entirely as it should be.

It would be preposterous to pause the process while negotiations are on-going, so I urge the Conservatives to stop trying to derail the merger, which will make Scotland a safer and more secure place in which to live and travel.

16:19  

My position and the position of Scottish Labour on the Railway Policing (Scotland) Act 2017 and the Scottish Government’s intention regarding the British Transport Police has not changed since we last debated the issue: I do not support the merger. There is, as I see it, no reason why devolution of the British Transport Police should mean its dissolution.

However, I hope that members throughout the chamber can agree that, throughout the process and the Parliament’s on-going scrutiny of the merger, our absolute priority must always be the safety of the travelling public.

My views about the merger have always been informed by the views of British Transport Police officers and staff unions, who have been consistent in arguing that, on a practical level, integration could have an impact on their members and their capacity to keep people safe. They have described the merger as “imprudent” and they have warned that it could result in “an inferior service.” They remain deeply concerned about what the merger means for officers and staff, with the dilution of specialist railway policing skills and the on-going uncertainty over terms and conditions.

There were always questions about the path of full integration by 2019, which was chosen by the Scottish Government. I do not think that any of us can say that the merger was ever going to be easy and straightforward. That view is backed up by evidence that was given to the Justice Committee yesterday, which confirmed that issues around integration of information technology systems, pensions and terms and conditions remain unresolved. Indeed, as has already been said, acting chief constable lain Livingstone stated that those issues will not be resolved by 1 April 2019, which is the date of the proposed merger with Police Scotland.

As has also been mentioned, Nigel Goodband, who is the chair of the British Transport Police Federation, which represents front-line officers, issued a statement responding to yesterday’s committee evidence session in which he said:

“Now it is clear that full integration cannot be achieved by April 2019, it is our suggestion that the process is suspended until such time as there is a full and robust plan, detailed analysis of cost and a full and complete understanding of the terms and conditions of our members.”

Every member of Parliament should give the fullest consideration to that serious and genuine request by the federation on behalf of the front-line officers whom we trust with our safety week in, week out.

I remind members that those latest calls for suspension of the process follow an 11,000-signatures-strong petition by the TSSA calling for a halt to the merger. It is of the utmost importance that the workforce and passengers have confidence in the new railway policing arrangements, whatever they might be. I believe that putting the process on pause would send an important signal that the concerns of officers and staff are not being ignored, that they are being listened to and that there will be no rush to a merger. I also believe that it would send the important signal that lessons have been learned from the creation of Police Scotland.

At stage 3 of the Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill, the Government and Parliament agreed to a number of my amendments, which set out in the bill mechanisms for engagement with trade unions. That was not just a matter of process, but an important point of principle. We agreed that those who represent the workforce should have a voice in the merger. Given the steps that Parliament and the Scottish Government were prepared to take last year to ensure that the workforce has a voice, it seems to me to be only right that we should demonstrate today that the workforce’s concerns have been heard and will be listened to. I also believe that it is time to listen to what has been said regarding bringing a halt to the merger.

16:22  

The Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill was passed by the Parliament and it has to be respected. Throughout the passage of the bill various concerns were raised. I accept that there are those for whom the integration of the two services will never be acceptable. Those views are held for various reasons. I take no issue with the Conservative Party bringing forward this subject for debate, because it is entirely appropriate that we discuss it—I will come on to say why I think that.

I get that British Transport Police officers and the British Transport Police Federation have pride in their existing arrangements, because the British Transport Police is the force that they joined. As someone who served in two forces, I understand that. We know that the same mindset exists with regard to regimental amalgamations and the like.

Once again, language is important. We have been talking about safety, which I put at the forefront of everything. The six Green MSPs will make decisions on the basis of what we think is right, which will mean that there are some very odd shades of alliance on some occasions. It is not often that I would find myself on the opposite side from the police federations, the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents and the RMT. Views are held in good faith.

The history of policing is that, from the Zetland constabulary in the north to Dumfries burgh police in the south, there have been integrations. I think I said recently that I have two neighbours who were members of Inverness burgh police—I will never persuade them that there will ever be a police service to match it. It is important that we move on but that we do not forget.

As I said, assurances were given, but the concerns about terms and conditions are genuine and remain. It is important to address them if we are to ensure that integration is effective, as members said. I am reassured by what the minister said—indeed, I appreciate his comments about the amendment that the Greens lodged. However, we are still not supporting the Government amendment. This is a complex issue, but as someone said recently, it is as complicated as we want to make it. The pension is a complicated matter, as are terms and conditions.

Let me touch on some of the operational issues. I appreciate that some members here did not sit through the extensive evidence that was taken, but it is entirely wrong to say that the issue of control rooms has suddenly appeared. That issue has been addressed. There was no issue whatever to do with the collaborative working that takes place between Scottish forces, forces south of the border and the BTP. In Scotland, there will be one control room to deal with, not 43.

Will the member take an intervention?

No, I will not.

It is also important not to make an issue of cross-border arrangements, which were dealt with historically, reinforced in the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012 and covered extensively in the context of the Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill. Cross-border activity is a regular thing. The committee heard about officers who escort Newcastle United fans; the issues have been addressed.

Will the member take an intervention?

No I will not do so, in the short time that I have. If it was a longer debate, I most certainly would take interventions.

Acting chief constable Livingstone’s words have been much quoted in the debate and, I think, misrepresented. It will be interesting to see whether we can resolve the existing IT issues in the timeframe, never mind any other IT issues.

The Scottish Government regards itself as a host in the process. As a host, it should be welcoming. It can do that by smoothing the passage and sorting out terms and conditions. I welcome what the minister said about jobs, pay and pensions, but I am concerned that there is a measure of complacency about the timetable in that regard. There is a lot to be sorted out in a short time. We need to get it sorted out soon.

16:27  

I welcome John Finnie’s acknowledgement of the legitimacy of this debate; some members called that into question and suggested that the debate goes against the will of the Parliament. Given the concerns that have been raised with the Parliament and with individual members about the impact that the Railway Policing (Scotland) Act 2017 is likely to have and the timescale in that regard, it would be remiss of us not to hold the Government to account. I welcome the debate.

Since we passed the 2017 act, HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland has criticised the proposals for lacking a

“detailed and authoritative business case”.

In his draft report, Derek Penman even referred to the merger as politically motivated.

Many BTP officers and staff have expressed serious doubt about whether they see a future for themselves in the newly merged operation.

However, none of that is new. Most respondents to the Government’s initial consultation expressed views that ranged from the sceptical to the hostile. The response to the committee’s call for evidence was scarcely more supportive of the plans.

Ministers, of course, cling to the delusion that the merger merely implements the will of the Smith commission. In truth, it reflects only the SNP’s interpretation of Smith. Merger was just one of three options that were identified, and it was the option that carried the highest risk and was opposed by most stakeholders.

As Colin Smyth said, ministers made no attempt to seek views on the other options, which would have minimised disruption to a service that we know operates efficiently, effectively and with a high degree of professionalism, across the United Kingdom. Having made up their minds, ministers carried out no proper assessment of the risks or costs of abolishing the BTP.

The failure to do that basic work to identify and plan for the benefits, disbenefits, risks and costs associated with the merger leaves the joint board with the task of implementing the policy at any cost and irrespective of the problems that are identified. That is inexcusable. It is little wonder that current and former BTP officers and staff have been expressing concerns in the way that they have been doing. Should significant numbers choose not to transfer or decide to move on shortly after the merger, the loss of expertise and specialist policing knowledge will be highly damaging, yet the minister still cannot provide answers to the legitimate questions that officers and staff are asking.

At yesterday’s Justice Committee, DCC Livingstone made a valiant attempt to provide the reassurances that he could, but he acknowledged that it is ministers who need to come up with many of the answers. He also acknowledged that the merger could be postponed if the issues are not ironed out ahead of next year’s deadline.

I rather suspect that, with everything he has on his plate at the moment, this latest SNP centralisation is the last thing that DCC Livingstone and his colleagues in Police Scotland need right now. With no clarity over risks or the business case, the costs or who will be expected to pay and the future working arrangements and the retention of specialist knowledge, it seems as though the only thing over which there is clarity is the Government’s pig-headed determination to ignore all the concerns and carry on regardless.

For years, SNP ministers have had an agenda to disband the British Transport Police in Scotland. For months, they have tried to come up with a justification and a way of making it work. To date, they have failed. It is not too late for them to come to their senses. For the sake of policing, and in the public interest, I urge the Government to pause this ill-thought-through merger and to support the motion in Liam Kerr’s name.

16:30  

The next time I hear a Tory tell me that we should not have a referendum that was clearly outlined in our manifesto because we have had one already, I will remind them about this motion.

Parliament decided less than a year ago to go ahead with the plans, and work is well under way on making it so after the Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill went through the proper parliamentary process. I should know—I am a member of the Justice Committee that scrutinised the bill at all stages.

I take issue with the wording of Liam Kerr’s motion. He suggests that DCC Livingstone and his team of senior officers around him are incapable of carrying out their duties. That is unacceptable.

Let me also be clear that, whether the Tories like it or not, Parliament passed the bill. Is Liam Kerr suggesting that Parliament should intervene in a police operational matter? The Tory motions today are counter to each other; they lack consistency. I am thankful that Liam Kerr’s earlier assertion that his party will be the next Scottish Government is likely to remain a dream—

Will the member take an intervention?

No, I will not take an intervention, because of the time limits.

I am not sure what committee some members were referring to in their speeches. Yesterday, when I directly asked DCC Livingstone whether a pause would be prudent, he made it clear that if, at any time, he considers that a pause or delay is necessary, he will highlight that. At this time, however, plans are going as expected and there should be no issue with integration going ahead on 1 April next year.

As part of the wider debate, DCC Livingstone highlighted that policing is not in crisis. It is important that we continue to praise our officers and have faith in them, particularly when we are talking about operational matters.

When I spoke in last year’s stage 3 debate on the Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill, I highlighted various reasons why I support integration. I have not changed my position. Instead of a limited number of officers being trained in railway policing, all police officers in Scotland will be trained in railway policing, which will increase coverage across Scotland. As is the case in other areas of policing, such as roads and criminal investigation, there will be officers who are trained to an advanced level. I do not hear the Tories calling for a Scottish roads police force to be established.

When we consider the numbers—285 BTP officers compared with 17,000 Police Scotland officers—I cannot believe that we are even having the discussion. Instead, we should ensure that all our police officers are trained and able to police anywhere in Scotland.

There are on-going issues of governance within Police Scotland, but Liam Kerr’s suggestion that everyday policing should stop as a result is ridiculous. There is a reason why the chief constable has a deputy: there are deputies in every organisation. If Ruth Davidson were to take a leave of absence, would the Conservatives stop until she came back?

It will be interesting to see whether Labour will support its Tory friends yet again in kicking the police, just as they do our nurses and teachers. The two parties seem to be supporting each other more and more often. I wonder whether they can see that. It is time that both parties stopped playing politics and valued our public services.

Having heard DCC Livingstone yesterday, I have every faith that he will be the first to say so if the plans to integrate by April next year are not realistic and we need a pause. I know that the Scottish Government will continue to monitor the situation on that basis. It will be DCC Livingstone to whom we will listen about whether a pause is needed—not a Conservative motion.

16:34  

I am perhaps a little bit overeager to speak in the debate, but I must be honest enough to admit that I agree with Rona Mackay on this occasion: the debate should not be taking place, because we should never have got to this point in the first place.

It has been clear to me, as someone who, as a member of the Justice Committee, listened—along with Fulton MacGregor—to the evidence on the proposed merger from experts and from practically every stakeholder organisation, that it is not only the wrong plan but the wrong time, and that the consultation that the Scottish Government held right back at the start of the process was fundamentally flawed.

I want to read out a quotation.

“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 such as nuclear sites, railways and the strategic road network.”

That is from the UK and Scottish Conservative Party’s manifesto in 2017. If it is not the right plan for us, why on earth is it the right plan for the Conservatives?

The minister’s intervention is almost exactly the same as one that I took from his colleagues during the stage 3 debate on the Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill. The Conservatives set out a proposal that was completely different from the Scottish Government’s: we were interested in protecting specialised policing and retaining expertise. We have not proposed merging specialised policing with regular policing anywhere in the United Kingdom. We recognise the skills that British Transport Police officers have and the value that they add to public safety.

It is little wonder that the minister said that he recognises that some people are still discontented with the process. That is because he continues to ignore what experts are saying. No wonder they are discontented—they have been taken for an ideological ride. The SNP’s plan is politically driven and has absolutely nothing to do with the best interests of policing. The SNP is always asking whether people have a backbone. Fulton MacGregor told us that my colleagues should not have brought the issue back to the chamber for debate, but it was right that they did, because sometimes the Government needs to be big enough to accept and acknowledge that it has made a mistake.

Does Mr Mundell accept that it was the democratic will of the Parliament that the Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill be passed?

Of course I accept that, but that does not mean that decisions of Parliament and, in particular, decisions of the Government should not continue to be scrutinised, especially as new evidence comes to light. [Interruption.] Time has moved on. We are getting closer and closer to a deadline—

I ask members to stop the sedentary interventions.

Others have described the deadline as a “cliff edge”. We are still no closer to BTP officers being satisfied with the terms and conditions that they are being offered. What worries me from my discussions with rank and file officers in Police Scotland is that there is a growing resentment among them that BTP officers will join the force on a different set of terms and conditions, after they have been through an extremely difficult process.

Given what we heard in the previous debate, we know that Police Scotland is not in a position to prioritise what is a highly complex process. Compelling arguments for a pause in the process have been made by colleagues from across the political divide. The question now is whether the Scottish Government is finally willing to listen.

We come to the final speech in the open debate.

16:38  

Before I start my speech, I say for the record—you missed this earlier, Presiding Officer—that I have known Michael Matheson longer than anybody here. I have known him since he was five. He was a cheeky wee midden then and he has not improved at all. [Laughter.]

I have listened to the speeches that have been made and I have watched members’ performances. When I listened to Liam Kerr with his soft, gentle, persuasive, lawyery voice, I was almost persuaded, before I realised that behind it lay an ideological fervour to ensure that nothing that is “British” ever becomes “Scottish”, because that is not what the Conservatives are about.

Oliver Mundell rose—

Sit down. It was agreed by the Conservatives, as part of the Smith commission proposals, that railway policing would be devolved. [Interruption.]

Please sit down, Mr Mundell.

It appears to me, having listened to Oliver Mundell and Margaret Mitchell, that the Conservatives are quite happy to have agreed to that as long as they never have to do anything with it. As Fulton MacGregor rightly said, last year the Parliament passed the Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill. Now, some members want to kick it into the long grass.

We had honesty from Neil Bibby: he did not support the merger then and he does not support it now. Although he got what he wanted through amendments to the bill, he is still looking for more. He should support us and we should be moving forward with the merger.

If anybody here is seriously saying that having the British Transport Police within Police Scotland is a bad thing for safety and joint working, they are not paying appropriate attention. As the minister said, Police Scotland already goes to railway stations when there are major issues. When there have been terrorism incidents, they did not phone up the armed branch of the British Transport Police and ask them to get there. Police Scotland made sure that armed police got there. When they are all part of the same police force, such things can happen much more quickly and smoothly than they do now.

I have a constituent who is a full-grown man with severe mental health issues—[Interruption.] If Conservative members think that that is humorous, it says a lot about them. My constituent was involved in an incident on the railways and was arrested by British Transport Police. Not long after that I was contacted by his parents, who were distraught with confusion and concern because of how he was dealt with. Neither police force had dealt with him wrongly, but they dealt with things in different ways: he did not get exactly the same treatment from the British Transport Police as he would have expected from Police Scotland. That led to confusion for him and concern for his parents and, to be fair, for many people in the British Transport Police. As part of the same police service, they would have had a uniform way of working. My constituent would have known exactly what he was going into: that person with mental health issues would not have had those concerns.

The debate is not about bettering the police system. This is about you holding on. We have been given devolution of powers, but you do not really want us to use them. If you honestly think that Police Scotland taking in the British Transport Police is going to be bad for the safety of the people of Scotland, you are completely wrong.

The terms and conditions have been worked on regularly and I am pretty sure that, when they get to the merger, everybody will be happy. There has never been a merger in which every person who has moved has said, “This sounds like a great idea”. We will always get staff who want to stay where they are, who have been in one group for a long time and do not want to move to the other. That is human nature, and you should not be making so much of it. I support the amendment.

I remind members that they should always speak through the chair. We move to the closing speeches.

16:42  

As I stand, I am taking a deep breath, as that may be needed at this time. It is clear that some members are a bit upset that we have had two fraught debates on policing. At least that has given them the opportunity to hear from me not once, not twice but three times. There is an upside to everything.

However, in all seriousness, although the phrase “the will of the Parliament” has been used on many occasions, nothing in the motion or the debate has challenged the will of the Parliament. We are merely saying that, if integration will not be completed in time, and if the many things that were raised by DCC Livingstone at yesterday’s Justice Committee meeting will not be completed, maybe we should think again. He described a situation in which terms and conditions, IT, third-party contracts and pensions will not be integrated and ready to be completely converged in time for the deadline. What kind of merger is it when such substantial issues as the terms and conditions of employment, IT systems and third-party contracts will not be in place? How on earth will the merger operate? When such fundamental things are not completed, the Government has to pause, because otherwise we will have a mess.

Does Daniel Johnson not accept that the issue is for Police Scotland, as I said earlier? It is for DCC Livingstone to say to the minister and the Scottish Government that we need a pause; it is not for the Tory Party to bring the issue to the chamber after the bill has been passed. That is the point that I was making.

I can allow you a little extra time, Mr Johnson.

Thank you, Presiding Officer.

If it were just the Tories who were making that point, I might agree with Mr MacGregor. I have little time for or trust in them, although, every now and then, they happen—[Interruption.] Just wait for it. Every now and then, they happen to be right. It is not just the Tories who are saying it but trade unions and representative bodies. That is who we, on these benches, will listen to. Those bodies represent the staff who undertake the work—the officers who carry out the duties in the BTP—and they say that the process needs to be paused.

Liam McArthur put it very well, because it now appears that, given those issues and the various problems that have been outlined, the Government is simply pursuing integration at any cost. Likewise, he was absolutely right when he raised the conclusions of the Smith commission. The Smith commission did not propose just one model—that of devolution—but three different ones that could have been adopted, but the Government did not want to look at anything other than complete integration with Police Scotland. Of the other models that could have been examined, one was about loose administrative alignment and accountability. One went further in being about statutory alignment but with direction from the Government. Both of those models would not have encountered the problems that we are now seeing. Quite simply, the warnings and concerns of the many interest groups and bodies that Colin Smyth laid out have been proved to be right.

Nevertheless, we must also look at the key strength and distinctiveness of British transport policing. There is distinct law regarding the railways and a unique style, a specific skill set and one integrated railway network across the UK; therefore, the challenges are profound.

Neil Bibby is absolutely right to raise concerns around safety. If such fundamental issues as those that I raised at the beginning of my remarks cannot be integrated, we have to ask how effective integration will be across the range of duties.

Ultimately, we have to ask about the impact on staff. The different employment model and the challenges that it presents, such as for pensions, raises the question whether, if TUPE were to apply to the merger, it would be possible at all. My understanding of TUPE is that we need such things in place before a transfer can take place; therefore, if it were to apply, should we proceed with the merger at all?

We should heed the calls to pause the merger. Nigel Goodband is right and so is the TSSA. We cannot pursue the merger at any cost; we need to pause so that we can get it right.

16:47  

At the outset, I recognise and acknowledge the concerns that have been expressed by organisations such as the British Transport Police Federation and other trade unions with regard to the staff’s terms and conditions and the transfer of the BTP into a single command structure under Police Scotland. Such issues have never been ignored; we have always acknowledged and recognised them. I fully acknowledge the most recent manifestation of such concerns and the letters that have been written by those various representative bodies. We will continue to work with them as best we can to address the concerns that they have raised with us the issues that they believe we should make further progress on as quickly as possible.

The integration of British transport policing into a single command structure in Scotland is not a new idea; it is a position that we set out back in 2011, before Police Scotland was established, as we believed that railway policing would be better if it were integrated into local policing to create a single command structure and a higher level of accountability for its operation. The idea of such integration—for example, with a force such as Police Scotland, which is the second largest in the UK—is not peculiar to Scotland. When Boris Johnson, who is now the Foreign Secretary, was the mayor of London, he was in favour of the integration of the BTP in London into the Metropolitan Police because that would have created an integrated system with a single command structure. I know that there are still views in London that that should happen in order to give policing above the ground the same command structure as policing below the ground, on the extensive underground network in London.

Members will recognise—my colleague Humza Yousaf pointed this out—the commitment from the Conservative Party to abolish the BTP in order to integrate it with the Civil Nuclear Constabulary and the Ministry of Defence Police.

The reality is that BTP, along with those other constabularies, is on borrowed time because of the UK Government’s commitment to infrastructure policing, which brings together railway policing and major road policing, removing them from local constabularies. That was in the Conservatives’ manifesto in the past few months.

What discussions has the cabinet secretary had with the United Kingdom Government about the proposal to establish whether there is time to pause the process, as we have suggested?

I can allow you a little more time.

That is Oliver Mundell’s Government’s policy, not ours. Our policy is integration. We set that out in 2011. The UK Government’s decision is to go with integration to single-infrastructure policing, and that is its choice. It is not an approach that we think is appropriate in Scotland.

Terrorism is referred to in the Conservative motion. When it comes to tackling terrorism on the railway network in Scotland, Police Scotland does that. The BTP has no armed policing in Scotland. It does not even have a custody facility in Scotland; custody is provided by Police Scotland. I have four police stations in my constituency and, at a recent meeting with my local commander, I asked him about the level of BTP input into policing at the four train stations. There is none. The local police officers of Police Scotland deal with any issues on the railway network at the local level.

As the second biggest force in the UK, Police Scotland has a significant counter-terrorism capability—the second biggest in the UK. It is plugged into the UK network in a way that the BTP is not. That allows our single integrated command structure to ensure that, whether we are talking about railways or anything else, everything is fully integrated.

Colin Smyth raised the idea that we will lose specialisms . Police Scotland has a range of specialist areas of policing such as border policing, airport policing, air support policing, underwater policing, firearms policing, roads policing and mountain rescue policing. All those areas need a specialist capability and particular culture, and there is no reason why railway policing could not sit alongside them.

Is the cabinet secretary simply dismissing the concerns of the trade unions and the BTP about the uncertainty in its own staff survey, which shows that two thirds of staff might not transfer to Police Scotland because of the Government’s failure to provide long-term certainty around pay and conditions? Is the cabinet secretary prepared to dismiss that and risk the loss of experienced staff, who will not bring their skills to the new body in Scotland?

I said at the outset of my speech that I recognise the concerns that have been raised by the trade unions and the federation in representing their members. We will continue to work hard to address those issues.

The programme has been taken through by the joint programme board, which is jointly chaired by the Scottish Government and the UK Government, and we are managing it in an orderly fashion.

Will the cabinet secretary take an intervention?

I am not sure how much time I have left, Presiding Officer. Do I have time to take another intervention?

You can take a brief one.

In the spirit of transparency that we talked about earlier, will the Government publish its full risk register in relation to the merger?

The way in which all the risks are being managed is being taken forward by the joint programme board, and we provide details of that to the Justice Committee regularly.

We would have supported the proposed Green amendment, because we recognise and acknowledge that there is concern among members of staff and officers about their terms and conditions. We will redouble our efforts to address those issues as quickly as we can, and we continue to do everything possible to engage with representative bodies in doing so. We remain committed to the no-detriment policy and to a triple lock being in place when it comes to jobs, pay and pensions. In particular, when BTP officers transfer to Police Scotland they will be able to take their BTP pensions with them.

We are working as hard as we can to address the issues and concerns. There are complexities around the merger—no one ever underestimated them—but we are doing everything that we can to manage it. I have no doubt that a single command structure for railway policing alongside all the other aspects of policing in Scotland will provide a much more secure system. That will help us to deliver safety on our railways in the same way as we deliver safety on our roads and in communities right across Scotland on a daily basis through the dedication of our officers in Police Scotland.

16:55  

Today’s debate has been interesting, because Opposition chamber business rarely allows Parliament the opportunity to carry out one of its other functions: to shine a light into what happens in the real world after the political decisions that we take at decision time are put in place. In the chamber we should not just pass legislation; we should question how it is implemented and what happens when policy becomes a reality.

Today’s debate, which was brought forward by Liam Kerr, asks that question. There is not just a broad wealth of experience in the chamber on the subject; a wide range of important views and opinions have been expressed by external stakeholders, so the debate goes far beyond what one might expect of an Opposition motion. It is rare that in a single debate on a single issue—in this case, the merger of the BTP into Police Scotland—we hear a unanimous view from such a broad spectrum of stakeholders, who all share concerns on the progress of the merger.

It is very rare that I find myself in agreement with someone such as Manuel Cortes of the TSSA, who has said that the merger should be scrapped because it will endanger cross-border rail safety. It is rare that I find myself in agreement with the RMT and ASLEF, which have raised rightful concerns on staff conditions and passenger safety. Such is the nature of the widespread concern from many corners of the political and public sphere that we would fail in our duties were we not to highlight those concerns today.

The concerns are as varied as the sources. On one side, the Samaritans have acknowledged the specialist knowledge and training of BTP officers. The BTP Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers, has said that that expertise will be “diluted”—that is its word, not mine.

On the other side, ScotRail—and bear in mind that ScotRail operations are run by Abellio, which has experience in running the Dutch railways—has stated that its experience of the Dutch system was that the loss

“of a dedicated railway police service and integration with the national police force can lead to a loss of specialism”.

Even Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary in Scotland has said that no proper due diligence was done on the business case—and how evident that is today.

Rona Mackay and Oliver Mundell are both right on this occasion: this debate should not be taking place. However, the very suggestion that we should not be debating the matter at all is a disgraceful defence from SNP members. The question should not be why we, on the Conservative benches, have to justify why a pause is required. Those on the Government benches should be explaining why a pause is not required.

Neil Bibby said that we should be listening to the concerns of officers, and he is right. Liam McArthur said that the Government should swallow its pride and accept that there are issues with the progress of the merger, and he is right. My colleague Liam Kerr opened his remarks by pointing to a number of very live and on-going issues. Anyone who watched the footage from the Justice Committee yesterday will know that the April 2019 deadline is proving to be something of a challenge, and something of a cliff edge.

I was intrigued by the contribution of John Finnie, of the Greens. He said that, in his view, there are no issues with integrated control rooms or cross-border policing. I appreciate that Mr Finnie and I are probably on opposite sides on the principle of the merger, but he should accept that, like it or not, stakeholders are concerned, and it is the stakeholders’ views that matter.

Does the member acknowledge that there is on-going co-operation, as we have heard from various sources? That is not an issue. There are a range of different control systems across the United Kingdom. British Transport Police works collaboratively with Police Scotland at the moment and that will continue.

If there were no issues, we would not be receiving representations from such a wide group of stakeholders who are telling us that there are issues that need to be addressed. They have a number of concerns—it is not only the issue of control rooms that they are concerned about. What progress has been made on pensions, terms and conditions, dual command systems and IT systems? Further, if the internal BTP survey translates into reality, we could be facing a situation in which two thirds of BTP officers did not transfer to Police Scotland. What would we do in that situation? What if they took retirement, transferred south of the border or left the force altogether? Where would that leave Police Scotland? Where would it leave us?

Our motion is clear about the fact that we respect the devolution of control of transport policing, and we respect the decision of Parliament last July. However, following that decision, the Government had a choice. Devolution could have been achieved in other ways. It is no great secret that we oppose this merger in principle. However, if it is to go ahead, the sensible thing to do is to do it in a measured way that addresses the many concerns that people have. Let us respect the will of Parliament, but let us also respect the fact that Parliament has a duty to hold the Government to account.

I say to the cabinet secretary and to any member who is inclined not to support our motion today that they should not take our word for it—with the greatest of respect to Liam Kerr, they should not just take his word for it, either—but they should listen to rank-and-file officers, senior officers, the BTPF, HMICS, train operators, the unions and the acting chief constable himself. The target date of April 2019 is a challenge, so we ask the Scottish Government to take a sensible pause in proceedings and to take stock of some of the concerns and issues that have been raised not only by MSPs but by those who will be directly affected by the merger. If there are any benefits to be found in the merger, it is important that we get it right.

I encourage members to do the right thing and support our motion.