Meeting date: Tuesday, May 9, 2017
Meeting of the Parliament 09 May 2017
Agenda: Time for Reflection, Business Motion, Topical Question Time, Forensic Examination, Literacy, Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Point of Order, Business Motion, Decision Time, Food Banks
- Time for Reflection
- Business Motion
- Topical Question Time
- Forensic Examination
- Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1
- Point of Order
- Business Motion
- Decision Time
- Food Banks
Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1
The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-05423, in the name of Humza Yousaf, on the Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill at stage 1.
Because we ran over time on questions on both statements, there is no time to spare in the debate. Therefore, I ask members for discipline, please.15:31
I am pleased to have the opportunity to open today’s debate on the general principles of the Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill. The bill follows the transfer of legislative competence over railway policing to the Scottish Parliament under the Scotland Act 2016.
Members will be aware that the Scottish Government’s input to the Smith commission sought devolution of railway policing in order to bring the British Transport Police’s staff and powers within Police Scotland’s remit. The Smith commission’s recommendation, which was reached through cross-party agreement, was that the functions of the BTP in Scotland should be a devolved matter. The Scottish Government’s aim of the bill is to use the newly devolved powers to establish a framework to ensure that railway policing in Scotland is accountable, through the chief constable of Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority, to the people of Scotland.
I am grateful to Justice Committee members for their detailed scrutiny of the bill and the wider programme of work, and for the constructive recommendations in their report. The quality and extent of the committee’s scrutiny help to demonstrate the clear merits of devolving powers over railway policing to the Scottish Parliament.
The bill forms part of a wider on-going programme of work to integrate the BTP in Scotland into Police Scotland. That work is overseen by a joint programme board, through which the Scottish Government is working closely with the United Kingdom Government, the SPA, the British Transport Police Authority, Police Scotland and the BTP.
Scotland’s railways are a vital component of our national infrastructure and the BTP provides a specialist railway policing function that is highly valued by the Scottish Government, the rail industry, railway staff and passengers. We will maintain its skill set on our railways post integration. In taking forward the proposals, our primary objective will be, of course, to maintain and enhance the high standards of safety and security that railway users and staff in Scotland experience at present.
If the service is so highly valued, why was only one option consulted on?
I will make a couple of points on that. One is that this is a long-held ambition of the Scottish Government: the previous Cabinet Secretary for Justice made the case for BTP integration. The other is—and I make this point gently to Elaine Smith—that neither she nor her party provided options for alternative models.
If I can, I will make some more progress.
Before I move on to key points in the Justice Committee’s report, I thank all those who contributed to the committee’s evidence sessions. I welcome the Justice Committee’s support for the general principles of the bill and its conclusion that the integration of the BTP in Scotland into Police Scotland will provide a more integrated and effective approach to infrastructure policing in Scotland.
During the evidence sessions, the committee heard some concerns about what might happen following integration. It also heard from a number of our key partners about how those concerns are being addressed. The committee is, rightly, very interested in ensuring that the overall work programme delivers the seamless transition that is expected of it, and it recommended that six-monthly reports on the joint programme board’s progress be provided to this Parliament. We accept that recommendation and will ensure that the Scottish Government provides those reports on behalf of the board. As many of the committee’s recommendations concern delivery of the overall programme, the progress reports will give members the opportunity to consider evidence of how the recommendations are being acted on, illustrating that, right from the outset, we are fully committed to ensuring that railway policing in Scotland is accountable to the Scottish Parliament and, through it, to the people of Scotland.
Our proposals will deliver an integrated approach to transport infrastructure policing in Scotland, bringing railway policing alongside the policing of roads, seaports, airports and border policing. Integration will enhance railway policing in Scotland through direct access to Police Scotland’s specialist resources, in line with our primary objective of maintaining and enhancing the safety and the security of railway passengers and staff.
Let me be clear about our commitment to maintaining the specialist expertise that railway policing involves and requires. In the committee’s evidence sessions, Assistant Chief Constable Bernie Higgins confirmed that Police Scotland’s intention is to maintain a specialist railway policing function in the broader Police Scotland structure. He gave an absolute assurance that Police Scotland would respect the right of any member of the BTP who transfers to police the railway environment until they retire. I make it abundantly clear to all members in the chamber that any BTP officer in Scotland who wants to remain policing our railways post integration will continue to be able to do so. ACC Higgins also responded to concerns that railway police officers could be diverted to duties outwith the railway with a clear assurance that that simply would not occur, with the obvious exception of in a crisis.
Another benefit would be to make railway policing in Scotland more accountable. Crucial to that is the relationship between policing and the railway industry. As both the funder and the recipient of railway policing services, the railway industry’s interests are, of course, central. I fully agree with the committee’s conclusions that railway operators should be involved in setting railway policing priorities and objectives in collaboration with the SPA and Police Scotland. It is heartening to hear from most of the railway operators that their engagement with the Government, the SPA and Police Scotland has been constructive.
The bill will establish a formal mechanism for just that—to have that engagement—in the form of a railway policing management forum. It will place the forum on a statutory footing, going beyond arrangements under the existing United Kingdom legislation. The forum’s role will be to agree on the service, performance and costs of railway policing in Scotland.
Following a recent meeting between the railway industry, the SPA and Police Scotland, there was support for operating a shadow forum during the process of detailed implementation planning, to complement and contribute to the work of the joint programme board. I will write inviting it to begin that work should the bill complete its passage through Parliament.
The committee’s report makes several recommendations on cross-border railway policing following the integration of the BTP in Scotland into Police Scotland. About 91 per cent of rail travel—freight and passenger—in Scotland is within Scotland, but about 8 million passenger journeys a year use the cross-border routes and, clearly, it is crucial that policing on those routes remains seamless.
On 6 December 2016, I wrote to the UK transport minister, seeking his co-operation in ensuring seamless cross-border policing following integration, and I received a positive, constructive response.
As the committee heard from the UK Government Department for Transport, effective cross-border policing is a guiding principle of the joint programme board’s work and is in the shared interest of all parties. BTP Chief Constable Crowther and ACC Higgins of Police Scotland confirmed to the committee that they are fully engaged in discussions and will undertake careful scrutiny of the secondary legislation on cross-border jurisdiction in the UK Parliament.
Joint programme board partners are developing operational arrangements for cross-border services and co-operation to ensure that high standards of safety and security are maintained. Police Scotland recently hosted a workshop involving the BTP and Scottish and UK Government officials, with a further event planned in late June.
A particularly important recommendation in the committee’s report seeks an assurance that the terms, conditions, benefits and pensions of BTP officers and staff will not be adversely affected on transfer to Police Scotland. I am happy to give that assurance to Parliament today. The Scottish Government has listened closely to the issues raised by the BTP Federation and Transport Salaried Staffs Association, the staff union, and has offered a triple-lock guarantee that secures jobs, pay and pensions through the course of integration.
In the evidence sessions, John Finnie drew attention to areas where some of the wording could leave room for doubt. I am grateful to have the opportunity to be clear about our commitment. It is true that, over the period ahead, there is a great deal of work to be done on the detail of the terms and conditions, but I make it clear here and now that either the terms and conditions and pay and pensions of officers and staff who transfer will be the same as they are currently or an equivalent level of benefit will be provided, to ensure transfer on a no-detriment basis.
Passage of the bill will enable the steps to deliver that commitment to proceed, including secondary legislation in the United Kingdom Parliament. Officer and staff representatives will be fully engaged to ensure that we get the right approach for their members.
On engagement with staff organisations and trade unions, the minister will be aware of a great deal of opposition from the TSSA, the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers and the Scottish Trades Union Congress. Indeed, the RMT told the committee:
“We have not ruled out the option of taking industrial action to retain BTP officers on the railway”.—[Official Report, Justice Committee, 14 March 2017; c 41.]
Is the transport minister happy to proceed with a bill that he has been told might result in industrial action on our railways and severe disruption to passengers?
The first point to make is that engagement with the unions has been constructive. Clearly, there is disagreement, as the member said. I have given—and will continue to give—many reassurances on the triple lock on jobs, pay and pensions. We will continue to have constructive conversation and we will continue to offer reassurance where we can, to remove any doubt that might exist about the language that we use.
If we think—as we on the Government benches do, and our view is shared by some political parties here—that the bill proposes a sensible approach to railway policing post devolution of BTP, we should not be beholden to the threat of industrial action. We want to work with the unions to avoid industrial action on any issue to do with our railway, so I will continue to have constructive dialogue. We have given a triple-lock guarantee: on the number of officers; on pay; and on pensions.
On progress to date on terms and conditions, I can tell members that the Cabinet Secretary for Justice has met the TSSA and the BTPF. Officials met the BTPF as recently as 26 April, and my Transport Scotland officials and I have met the TSSA, the RMT and ASLEF to discuss a number of transport issues, including BTP integration.
Alongside those meetings, substantial data gathering has taken place on the range of existing terms and conditions as part of the work of the joint programme board. The data will be used to develop proposals for secondary legislation to give effect to the transfer on a no-detriment basis, as I said. I will continue to engage with the unions on the issues that they have raised.
On pensions, discussions are under way with the British Transport Police Authority on how we can deliver our commitment to no-detriment pension provision. Our starting point is that officers and staff should retain access to their current pension schemes; and officials are working on the financial and legal issues that are associated with delivering that.
I repeat my thanks to the Justice Committee for its support for the principles of the bill and for its helpful recommendations. I have sent the convener a written response, in which I addressed the detail of the recommendations. I look forward to hearing members’ speeches and to continuing to work in a constructive and, I hope, collaborative manner.
That the Parliament agrees to the general principles of the Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill.15:43
I welcome the opportunity to speak in the stage 1 debate on the Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill on behalf of the Justice Committee, and I thank everyone who took the time to provide evidence to the committee. I also thank the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee for its report, which we endorsed, and I thank the Justice Committee clerks for their hard work and my colleagues on the committee for their work in scrutinising the bill and producing our report.
The devolution of railway policing to the Scottish Parliament was agreed by all parties that were represented on the Smith commission, but the model for that devolution was not agreed. The British Transport Police Authority proposed a number of options for devolved railway policing in Scotland. Some respondents raised concerns about the Scottish Government’s decision to consult on only one of those options—full integration—and the majority of respondents to the Scottish Government’s consultation and the Justice Committee’s call for evidence opposed integrating the BTP in Scotland into Police Scotland.
The committee did not come to a unanimous view on the bill. A majority of members supported its general principles on the basis that the integration of the British Transport Police in Scotland into Police Scotland would provide a more integrated and effective approach to infrastructure policing in Scotland. A minority of members, including me, did not support the general principles of the bill but, instead, supported an alternative approach to devolved railway policing. The committee considers that, if the general principles of the bill are agreed to today, a number of issues will need to be addressed. In the limited time that I have, I can cover only some of the key issues.
The first issue is the need to retain BTP officers and staff who have the specialist skills, knowledge and experience that are necessary to ensure that there is no reduction in the standard of the railway policing that is provided. Should integration proceed, Police Scotland intends to maintain a specialist railway policing function within its broader structure. The policy memorandum states that the approach will
“retain the specialist skills, knowledge and experience that BTP officers and staff have built”.
However, the retention of BTP officers and staff will be largely dependent on whether their current terms, conditions, pension rights and benefits are guaranteed. Despite Scottish Government assurances, those who represent BTP officers and staff have not been assured of that, and the matter clearly needs to be resolved urgently. The committee therefore asked the Scottish Government to provide an update on progress during the debate and an assurance that the terms, benefits and pensions of BTP officers and staff will not be adversely affected should integration proceed. I thank the minister for his update but remain extremely concerned that the matter is still unresolved.
Section 3 provides Police Scotland constables with a new power of entry in relation to specified railway property. BTP officers receive personal track safety certificate training, which enables them to police all areas of the railway, and the committee heard that every Police Scotland officer who is to police the railways will be required to have the personal track safety certificate. Police Scotland told the committee that it intends to provide railway policing training for all police officers, but it was not able to confirm the position regarding personal track safety certificates as it is undertaking training needs analysis. Therefore, the issue of whether the officers are to have personal track safety certificates remains a “significant concern” raised by railway operators.
I am sorry, but some members of the committee do not recall receiving the evidence or information that all officers would require personal track safety certificates.
I refer Rona Mackay to the committee’s report—in particular, to the evidence that the training would have to be equivalent to that certificate. As I have just explained, the operators have said that the issue has not been resolved to date. I am happy to refer the member to the stage 1 report.
The committee has asked Police Scotland to provide details of its training needs analysis and the costs prior to stage 2. If there are to be additional training costs, the committee considers that railway operators should not be asked to pay them. The Scottish Government has been asked to provide clarity on that point.
Other potential costs that are not identified in the financial memorandum include the set-up costs of integration, Police Scotland’s additional payments for staff hours and salaries and its investment in information and communications technology to ensure compatibility. Clarification of those costs and confirmation of who is to pay is required.
A number of potential risks of integration associated with policing cross-border trains between Scotland and England were raised. It is imperative that police officers from both police forces are clear about their respective roles and legislative responsibilities and that jurisdictional arrangements are agreed prior to integration. The committee heard that Police Scotland and the British Transport Police might use different command and control systems to deal with incidents and might apply different policies—for example, on the use of Tasers or firearms. Maintaining the safety and security of those who travel by train is paramount, so protocols and procedures must be agreed prior to integration.
Although the Justice Committee did not unanimously agree to the general principles of the bill, it agreed that a number of issues must be resolved in the event that integration proceeds. Crucially, the current high level of public confidence in rail travel must be maintained. I invite the cabinet secretary to respond to the issues that are raised in the committee’s report when he sums up the debate.
I call Douglas Ross. You have up to six minutes, Mr Ross.15:51
Thank you, Presiding Officer. As you might know, I lodged an amendment to the minister’s motion, which would have given the Parliament a clear choice at decision time about whether to support the Scottish National Party’s plans to break up the British Transport Police or to support the Scottish Conservatives’ proposal to enable the BTP to continue in Scotland and across the UK, but with improved scrutiny and accountability to this Parliament. Although the Presiding Officer did not accept my amendment, he is aware that I will return to the matter at decision time.
I echo Margaret Mitchell’s thanks to the many stakeholders who responded to the Justice Committee’s call for evidence on the Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill. Their expertise, feedback and advice have been invaluable, and it is on the basis of their insights that I make my remarks.
I would also like to pay tribute to the British Transport Police officers in Scotland who operate in D division. The prospect of professional change and upheaval is never an easy one, especially when it has been so protracted. Those men and women serve Scotland with distinction, and I hope that my comments will adequately convey their concerns about the proposed merger with Police Scotland.
I make it clear that Scottish Conservatives support the Smith commission’s recommendation that the functions of the British Transport Police be devolved to Scotland but, unlike SNP members, we recognise that there is more than one way to achieve that outcome. For years, the SNP has single-mindedly focused on the integration of the British Transport Police into Police Scotland, to the extent that it did not even bother to include alternative approaches in the consultation that was launched last summer. Given that the British Transport Police Authority had already done the legwork on the available options a year before the consultation went live, that omission seems the height of legislative laziness.
The BTPA’s paper sets out three approaches for the devolution of the BTP north of the border, including the break-up of the BTP and the absorption of its Scottish operations into Police Scotland. However, in the BTPA’s experienced and professional opinion, that option could result in confusion over who would record and investigate crimes, it could risk compromising the joined-up method of policing our railways and it could jeopardise cross-border efforts to combat terrorism and extremism, all of which are serious issues with serious implications.
It is not unreasonable to suggest that those concerns were worthy of wider consultation by the Scottish Government. The Cabinet Secretary for Justice and the Minister for Transport and the Islands might not have thought so, but others certainly did. They included the train operator CrossCountry, which described as “unsatisfactory” the consultation approach of
“not asking ‘should we do this’ but ‘how shall we do this’”,
and the Rail Delivery Group, which pointed out that integration was the only option on the table and said that it was being done
“because it can be done as opposed to there being a well set out argument as to why it should be done”.
That pretty much hits the nail on the head, because the vast majority of the evidence that the Justice Committee heard provides no compelling argument in favour of full integration. In fact, the opposite is the case—the Scottish Government is trying to tear up a specialist railway police service for no good reason at all. That has been confirmed by a senior BTP officer, Deputy Chief Constable Hanstock, who said that he had not been able to identify
“any operational or economic benefits”
Instead, we are faced with a model that will, according to witnesses, increase delays for passengers and jeopardise their safety, result in an irrecoverable loss of expertise and dilute the unrivalled specialism of existing railway policing in Scotland. Why are we faced with such a model? The reason is to do with political ideology, the SNP’s single-mindedness and its obsession with cutting ties with anything that includes the word “British”. That is its modus operandi. It goes full steam ahead and deals with the consequences later. However, this time, even some SNP supporters have concerns about the proposed integration. One of them said that the integration
“of BTP Scotland into Police Scotland by the SNP, a party I have supported for a good number of years, is undoubtedly one of the most petty and ill-informed political moves I have witnessed.”
That is from an SNP member.
Integration is ill-informed, because Police Scotland is still going through a period of reform and transformation that is projected to continue until at least 2026. It is a force that has faced crisis after crisis since its creation in 2013, from problems with call handling to the cancellation of the i6 project. It is a force that, by Police Scotland’s own admission, has an “elephant-sized deficit” that it is
“going to eat ... one bite at a time.”
It is a force that is trying to get its own house in order but, under the proposals, it will have to deal with a greater volume of arrests and emergency calls each day. Why is the Scottish Government steaming ahead with proposals to fix railway policing when it is not broken?
Why is the Scottish Government getting support from other parties in this Parliament? The Greens and the Liberal Democrats supported the bill at committee stage and the committee report was agreed by a majority of SNP, Liberal Democrat and Green members. However, that report still highlights concerns about training, the costs of training and the wider transition costs.
The Scottish Conservatives support the devolution of the functions of the British Transport Police, but we cannot support the Scottish Government’s proposals to deliver that recommendation in their current form. I urge the Scottish Government in the strongest possible terms to reconsider the proposals. It is not too late for Government ministers to change their minds. To forge ahead regardless, ignoring the advice of so many experts and professionals, would be the wrong thing to do.15:56
I extend my thanks to Justice Committee members for the informative evidence sessions on the bill that they have held. As a substitute member, I took part in the session with the railway operators. Those evidence sessions highlighted the number of concerns about the bill that have helped Scottish Labour to reach its position: we will not support the general principles of the bill.
Although the majority of the committee recommended that the general principles should be supported, there is a division among members. During the course of the afternoon, I hope that the Government will listen to their concerns, agree to withdraw the bill and work with all interested parties and bodies in looking at the full range of options that are available for the future of railway policing in Scotland.
Scottish Labour is not against changes to policing in Scotland, but it is clear from the policing 2026 strategy that Police Scotland and the SPA have much to change in order to secure wider public confidence and to move on from the difficulties that have hindered them since their formation, and it is right to question whether now is the right time to attempt the complex integration of the transport police into the force. Parliament, relevant bodies and the public must be fully confident that any new changes are warranted, supported and proportionate. Today, MSPs have received correspondence from the RMT and the STUC opposing the bill and continuing to raise significant concerns about the erosion of specialised skills and expertise, and risk to safety and security.
It has been argued that we are here today as a result of the Smith commission. However, it is worth remembering what the commission agreed, which was:
“The functions of the British Transport Police in Scotland will be a devolved matter.”
There was no agreement on a specific model.
Earlier in this parliamentary session, in response to my colleague Richard Leonard, the transport minister, in attempting to justify the bill, said that the Government was
“elected on a manifesto promise to do what we are doing with BTP integration ... That is the rationale behind what we are doing.”—[Official Report, 9 November 2016; c 2.]
However, as was subsequently shown, there was no mention of such a model in the SNP manifesto. Today’s bill has never been put to the public via an election, so there is no electoral mandate for imposing this model.
When the bill was introduced to public scrutiny through the Government consultation, it was widely criticised and rejected, which might be the reason why the bill was published five days before the analysis of the consultation responses.
All three trade unions that have members who work in the railway sector oppose the bill, and staff, officers and rail operators all continue to raise serious concerns. Those concerns include the impact on cross-border services; the potential reduction in the effectiveness of tackling major UK-wide issues, such as terrorism; a reduction in the number of jobs and a loss of expertise; increased costs for rail operators; the impact on the terms and conditions of service for BTP officers and staff; and integration into a service that is already under huge financial pressure and that is still dealing with the impact of moving to a single police force.
As highlighted in the Justice Committee’s stage 1 report, there is concern that the costs of railway policing are likely to increase as a result of integration, although it is still unclear what those costs might be or who should pay them. It is difficult to proceed with a bill that lacks clarity in its financial memorandum. The British Transport Police model works for us in Scotland and I highlight the great work that is undertaken here by D division. Covering thousands of kilometres of track and hundreds of stations, the officers and staff deserve our commendation for the work that they do to ensure that our railways run safely and smoothly. However, rather than look at the models that would keep and reward such dedicated hard work, the Government has introduced a bill to fix something that does not need to be repaired. I am not convinced by the argument that integration would provide greater resources and flexibility, and believe that we should pay attention to fears of reduced specialism and expertise.
Will the member give way?
I only have six minutes and there are a couple of points that I would like to make.
The bill has been rushed. There is more than one option for the future of the British Transport Police that would meet the Smith commission objectives, but those options have not been given the scrutiny or consultation that they deserve. The option that has been chosen is the most expensive, has the highest level of risk and is the most complex way to achieve the Smith commission objectives.
There is the option, via the non-statutory devolved model, of governance and accountability through administrative rather than legislative means. There is also an option for a statutory devolved model. Those are two options that were not given consideration in the public consultation. We believe that all options should be properly explored; instead, the Government is attempting to railroad legislation through Parliament.
The rush to integrate D division within Police Scotland, with overview from the SPA—an organisation that itself faces significant financial and governance issues—introduces a risk to transport policing that is not in the best interests of passengers. The bill has no manifesto mandate, no public support and very little industry support. It is a bill with operational concerns and serious financial uncertainties and unknowns. Therefore, it is a bill that Scottish Labour cannot support and I urge the Government to reconsider its approach to the bill so far.16:02
The Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill is extremely important legislation that will strengthen and complement the work of Police Scotland. Today, the bill will be presented by some members, including a minority of members of the Justice Committee, in a negative light—unnecessarily so. The majority of committee members support the bill. I will focus on three main elements of the bill that I believe are fundamental and should be viewed positively. They are public safety, ethos and security.
During evidence taking, the committee heard from a variety of stakeholders, including railway operators, British Transport Police, Police Scotland, the Scottish Police Authority, trade unions and affiliated police organisations. There was a divergence of opinion in many areas, which is no bad thing. Integration must be successful and must achieve public confidence, and no stone should be left unturned regarding the detail of implementation.
The member suggested that some members would express an overly negative view about the proposals. Will she confirm that the majority of respondents to the Scottish Government’s consultation and indeed to the committee’s call for evidence were against the proposals? They do not want the bill to go forward.
I will not have the member put words in my mouth. I am talking about members. If the member lets me proceed, I will explain.
Proposals to integrate the BTP into the Scottish police service began in 2011, before the creation of Police Scotland. The Smith commission agreed that the functions of the BTP in Scotland should be devolved. The BTP is not accountable in Scotland. It is a UK force that is accountable to the British Transport Police Authority, the Department for Transport and the Secretary of State for Transport in England and Wales. Integrating the BTP with Police Scotland will make it fully accountable to the people of Scotland—entirely as it should be. With more than 93 million rail journeys made in Scotland each year and another 8 million cross-border rail journeys, it make sense for the BTP to be integrated to ensure full accountability to the people of Scotland and the Scottish Parliament.
There was concern among stakeholders and some members of the committee about the upskilling of existing police staff and whether the training would be adequate. However, should the bill proceed, after 2019 every police officer would be trained in policing the railways. They would get exactly the same three-week training that is currently received only by BTP officers. There are currently 285 full-time-equivalent BTP officers in Scotland and more than 17,000 regular police officers. In my view, integration can therefore only improve the service to the rail network in Scotland and, of course, contribute to the safety of the general public. How can that be a bad thing? Rural areas that are currently not served by the BTP will benefit by having specially trained officers on hand to deal with incidents.
Everyone agrees that the BTP has consistently done a superbly professional job in keeping the rail-travelling public safe. To recognise and keep that specialism, Police Scotland has confirmed to the Scottish Parliament that a bespoke railway policing unit will be established for railway policing in Scotland. That would sit alongside the specialist road policing unit that is already in place, and those officers would receive additional training over and above the training that all officers receive, so the ethos and specialism would be enhanced, not diminished.
The committee heard that there was concern that the cost of railway policing would increase as a result of integration. We have requested that, should that happen, the Scottish Government report to Parliament to clarify who would pay the additional costs.
There was also concern about the transfer of BTP staff—and their pay and conditions—into the integrated service, as the minister outlined. I hope that members are reassured by the minister’s commitment to the no-detriment and triple-lock assurances that have been given to them—although perhaps the Tories need to be reminded of what a “triple lock” means. The minister gave the Transport Salaried Staffs Association the same triple-lock guarantee. The Scottish Government will apply the principle of no detriment across the board to the terms and conditions of BTP officers, and I welcome that, as I understand the concern in that area.
Throughout the negotiations involving the joint programme board—the timescale of which Assistant Chief Constable Higgins described as “a luxury”—the engagement between the Scottish Government and the railway industry has been praised by both sides. Graham Meiklejohn of TransPennine Express said:
“The minister has been generous ... in giving us time to consider the issues”
“There is an opportunity for improved efficiency.”
David Lister of ScotRail Alliance talked about the
“opportunities for enhancing security at larger stations outwith the central belt”—[Official Report, Justice Committee, 21 March 2017; c 5, 26, 27.]
as specially trained staff from Police Scotland could respond to incidents more quickly.
The cross-border policing that already takes place between Scotland and the rest of the UK will be enhanced. Currently, Police Scotland’s intelligence cells in the Gartcosh crime campus have access to real-time information that has to be relayed to the BTP. With integration, there will be no need to do that, as the information would be put directly to the point at which it was required.
In conclusion, I thank committee member John Finnie for injecting a bit of reality into some of our discussions during the committee’s evidence-taking process by highlighting his experience as a former police officer. It was very useful to have the benefit of his experience.
The integration of railway policing into Police Scotland’s remit is simply common sense. It will make the service accountable to the people of Scotland, enhance the excellent specialist provision and increase security. I therefore have no hesitation in recommending to members the general principles of the Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill.16:08
The SNP continues to claim that the changes must be made, that there are no other viable options, and that everything was agreed at the Smith commission. As ever with the Scottish Government, that is only what it wants us to hear. Indeed, it is all framed as some kind of commonsense proposal and operational necessity, but the Government gave the game away when it decided to consult on only a single option.
Can Oliver Mundell tell members what his party put forward as an alternative?
We are putting forward our proposals in the chamber now. We would like the integration to be scrutinised here in the Scottish Parliament. We see absolutely no reason to tear up an organisation that is working successfully and merge it with Police Scotland, especially at a time when Police Scotland’s finances are unstable. The harsh reality is that this is just another ill-thought-out power grab—
Will the member take an intervention?
If Humza Yousaf listened, he might hear what I have to say.
It is another ill-thought-out power grab that is driven not by logic but by an ideological and constitutional obsession with control. It is change for change’s sake. Indeed, the cabinet secretary himself, when he appeared before the Justice Committee, stated:
“By and large, the British Transport Police provide a good service in Scotland and across the whole UK.”—[Official Report, Justice Committee, 28 March 2017; c 12.]
I am afraid that I am not in the least bit convinced by the arguments that have been made that if only the Scottish Government, with its great track record on policing, were in full control, the situation with the BTP would somehow be even better. Instead, I am of the view—[Interruption.]
I ask members not to chat across the chamber; I want to hear what Mr Mundell is saying. Please continue, Mr Mundell.
Thank you, Presiding Officer.
I am of the view that the merger will prove to be a repeat of the botched and unpopular Police Scotland integration.
As ever, the Scottish Government has full confidence in itself, but I am not so sure that current BTP officers share that optimism. The BTPF has already highlighted concerns about the plan, arguing that
“the current climate of policing within Scotland does not lend itself ... to integrating the BTP”.
As my colleague Douglas Ross highlighted, Deputy Chief Constable Adrian Hanstock from the BTP said that the organisation had not been able to identify
“any operational or economic benefits”
of the merger. How come those who deal with these issues day in, day out and have years of expertise are wrong, while those who have overseen the disastrous and lengthy transformation of Police Scotland know better?
There are limited benefits, but there are certainly risks. There is a real risk that the merger will result in a loss of specialist and institutional knowledge.
Does the member agree that having 17,000 officers who are skilled in railway policing is better, and offers more security, than having 285 officers?
I am pleased to hear Rona Mackay confirm that all 17,000 police officers across Scotland will be working full time on the railways rather than on all the other issues that they are being stretched to deal with at present. Police stations in my constituency will no longer be closing, and suddenly everything will be wonderful and great. We will get our call centre back in Dumfries, and we will suddenly have 17,000 new police officers just to police the railway. To be honest, I find that argument ludicrous.
There will be big costs involved. BTPF officers have said that they can “guarantee” that expertise will be “diluted”, and that a number of officers would rather leave the force than come to work for Police Scotland, and many of them would choose to retire.
I remain convinced that the Government is trying to rush the merger and is putting at risk the integrity of the BTP. I am also worried about the supposed benefits of a single command-and-control system. The arguments for that sound good until one realises that there will in fact not be such a system in place. Police Scotland will have to continue to work closely with the BTP, particularly on cross-border services, because we have one railway network across the UK.
As we have seen from a number of incidents, events that happen even away from the west coast main line can affect services as far away as London, Birmingham and elsewhere across the UK. Instead of the BTP managing the process seamlessly across the UK, incidents will have to be reported by Police Scotland to the BTP and vice versa, because there are two different command-and-control systems.
That will be the case especially in my Dumfriesshire constituency, where a significant number of cross-border services run between Carlisle and Lockerbie. It is very important that we know how these things will operate in practice, preferably before the bill proceeds through Parliament. My constituents and local officers need to know what the operational intentions are, instead of them being hidden behind some idea that we can find out about the nitty-gritty detail of that section of the line after the horse has bolted.
I am afraid that the Scottish Government does not seem to have those most basic of answers. Indeed, when I asked the cabinet secretary whether he would, in principle, be open to the British Transport Police officers who are based in Carlisle continuing to police that section of the railway and operating within Scotland, he said:
“I would have no problem with that at all in principle.”—[Official Report, Justice Committee, 28 March 2017; c 30.]
If the bill is not about where officers are based, we are left with the argument that the only benefit is scrutiny and accountability.
Will you conclude, please?
However, with a number of unpopular transformational changes still on-going in Police Scotland, including proposals to close police stations in my constituency, and a budget that seems to be out of control, people will wonder how accountable the Scottish Government will be on policing matters.16:15
It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate on the Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill. As a member of the Justice Committee, I pay tribute to the committee members for their scrutiny of the bill. Although there was not unanimous agreement on the general principles, I thank the convener, Margaret Mitchell, for the way in which she approached the matter, gaining much consensus across various areas.
I was not going to mention this, but I think that I will. I also give Margaret Mitchell credit for the way in which she dealt with members of her own party—well, I should be clear and say one member of her own party. Douglas Ross again today played the flag card shamefully in his speech and he does that more subtly and regularly in the committee. I have never met somebody in the chamber like Mr Ross, who would rather be somewhere else.
I caution the member about being too personal in his attacks. It is in the way you say it.
I was responding to something that was said during the debate.
It is worth remembering that the devolution of the BTP was agreed by all parties. I asked Oliver Mundell what his party had put into the Smith commission. It has also been Scottish Government policy for some time. It will come as no surprise to anyone in the chamber that I believe that our country, our Parliament and our services, such as Police Scotland, are more than capable of taking on the integration and running our own affairs like any other normal country. I therefore fully welcome the move.
I will try to be as pleasant as I can. You suggest that the Parliament and the country can take on the powers of scrutinising and ensuring the accountability of the BTP. Do you accept that that is exactly what the British Transport Police Authority proposed as one of its three potential models a year before your Government consulted on only one model, which was to totally disrupt the British Transport Police and merge it into Police Scotland?
I remind members not to use the word “you”. Please talk about “the member”.
I accept the proposals that are being put forward by the Government. That is what we should concentrate on. It is a shame that two of the parties in the chamber have not supported those proposals, but that is their right.
The integration will provide a more integrated and effective approach to infrastructure policing in Scotland and ensure that it is accountable to the people of Scotland. The bill seeks to enhance working practices and embed them into statute, and to ensure that the industry has a strong voice in the development of railways and what is important to them.
Integrating the BTP into Police Scotland is an opportunity to improve and enhance railway policing in Scotland. The committee heard a lot of evidence on that, including from Graham Meiklejohn of TransPennine Express, who said:
“There is an opportunity for things to improve in Scotland and for the force in England and Wales then to up its game and improve, as well.”—[Official Report, Justice Committee, 21 March 2017; c 21.]
There is an opportunity for improved efficiency.
As has been mentioned, legitimate concerns have been raised about training and I am glad that the committee scrutinised the issue so thoroughly. All police officers in Scotland will be trained in railway policing, increasing coverage across the whole of Scotland. ACC Higgins confirmed that, should the bill proceed, after 2019, every police officer in Scotland will be trained in policing the railways, improving the service that is provided to the railway network throughout Scotland. As my colleagues have said, officers currently complete an 11-week training course at the Scottish Police College at Tulliallan, after which the BTP officers have an additional three weeks of training. Police Scotland has confirmed that, should integration proceed, all officers will receive that training.
As has also already been said—some of the facts are getting repeated—there are currently 285 full-time equivalent BTP officers in Scotland and more than 17,000 regular police officers, which means that the number of officers with railway policing training in Scotland will be significantly enhanced. Surely we can all welcome that across the chamber?
I thank the member for taking an intervention. Would all those officers then have personal track safety certificates?
I thank the member for her intervention. No—I do not believe that they will. However, to have 17,000 officers with the training is, to my mind, a significant enhancement, which is why the bill has been supported by most parties.
When giving evidence to the Justice Committee, Police Scotland made it clear that specialist railway policing expertise and capacity will be maintained and protected within the broader structure of Police Scotland.
It is worth mentioning that members received a briefing today from the Samaritans in Scotland regarding suicide prevention skills. A lot of suicides can happen on the railways and I would encourage the maintenance of those specialised skills if and when integration occurs. It is fitting that we talk about that today, given that it is mental health awareness week.
Cross-border policing, as some have mentioned, will continue to be seamless in both directions, as it is between the UK and mainland Europe and across the border in Ireland at the moment. I do not believe that there will be any difference between Scotland and the rest of the UK when integration occurs, so I do not think that that is a concern either.
There is no doubt that the British Transport Police does a fantastic job; that has never been in any doubt. This, however, is about us developing a service that delivers uniquely for Scotland and is accountable to this Parliament. In some places, that is already happening. Indeed, I spoke to a ScotRail train driver just the other day who told me that when he and his colleagues are working late shifts at night and there is trouble on the train or at the stations that they arrive at, contacting Police Scotland is their first response—not because there is anything wrong with the BTP, but because the infrastructure for Police Scotland is already there and a quick response can be guaranteed.
The committee has carried out good scrutiny of the bill. I am pleased that there has been cross-party support, including from the Greens and the Liberals. Police Scotland has said that the transfer will be seamless and I have every faith that it will be. I am happy to support the motion that was lodged by the minister.16:23
There is no doubt that the Smith commission envisaged a much greater role for the Scottish Parliament in relation to railway policing. However, it would be profoundly wrong to suggest that the integration of the BTP into Police Scotland is somehow a requirement or a stipulation of the Smith agreement—it is not.
There is no reason why the devolution of the BTP in Scotland should mean the dissolution of the BTP in Scotland. It provides a good service to the travelling public. It is a highly effective organisation that has built up a specialism over many years. There is no reason for the Parliament to unpick that service, but it appears that the SNP has a problem with the BTP. Breaking up the BTP is a choice—a political choice; a nationalist choice—not a necessity.
In response to the Smith agreement, the British Transport Police Authority set out a range of options, including alternatives to integration, that would allow us to retain the BTP as a specialist police service but with enhanced accountability to the Parliament. It is telling that the SNP consulted on only one option—integration into Police Scotland. No wonder the British Transport Police Federation, the body that represents BTP officers in Scotland, believes that the bill is being driven by “political ideology”.
Neither in evidence to the Justice Committee nor in response to the Government’s own consultation is there majority support for the option that the Government has chosen.
The Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee—the committee of the Parliament that is responsible for transport matters—did not take any evidence on the bill at all. It is little wonder, then, that people out there question whether the Parliament properly scrutinises legislation. Perhaps if the transport committee had taken evidence on the future of transport police, it would have found, just as the Scottish Government and the Justice Committee did, that there are huge areas of concern in the sector about the proposed changes.
There are concerns that the case for integration has not been made and that the SNP Government is committing to one course of action against a weight of evidence and industry opinion. As Douglas Ross said, the rail operator CrossCountry said that the SNP
“was not asking ‘should we do this’ but ‘how shall we do this’.”
The Rail Delivery Group has said that the approach is being taken
“because it can be done as opposed to there being a well set out argument as to why it should be done.”
Is the member arguing for specialist police forces in all other sectors? For example, would he have a specialist police force for information technology or for forestry or other things?
I am arguing that we should listen to the rail operators, the trade unions and the police officers about the SNP Government’s proposal, which does not seem to have support among any of those organisations.
In addition to those concerns, we heard concerns from Nigel Goodband of the British Transport Police Federation, who said:
“there has been no acknowledgement of our views or those of the police officers whom we represent, because a simple decision has been taken that there is only one option—that of full integration.”—[Official Report, Justice Committee, 14 March 2017; c 36-7.]
That is a damning indictment of the SNP Government’s position. Our dedicated police officers put their lives on the line to protect our safety and the SNP Government is completely ignoring their views. We should listen to them, because we know from our experience of Police Scotland the pitfalls and the dangers in pushing through sweeping changes to policing without consensus.
It is no surprise that the Greens are supporting the SNP on the issue, but it is astonishing to see the Liberal Democrats, such ardent opponents of the creation of a single police force, doing nothing to defend a proven positive approach to railway policing. It looks as if the Liberal Democrats are making themselves accessories to the dismantling of the British Transport Police in Scotland. There may be support for the merger in the chamber, but the SNP Government has simply been unable to demonstrate any public support, demand or consent for the policy.
Will the member give way?
I will take an intervention if the minister wants to tell me who supports his policy.
I have listened to the member for four and half minutes. What proposal is he putting forward and how much would it cost? By the way, did Labour members demand that the transport committee look at the bill, and if not, why not?
Labour members asked that committee to look at the issue. In fact, I wrote to the committee’s convener.
We are saying that we need to come up with a model that has support from the rail unions, the operators, the industry and police officers. The minister’s proposals do not have the support of any of those organisations.
As Claire Baker said, the SNP never gave a manifesto commitment to break up the British Transport Police. The minister will remember that he had to apologise to Parliament for suggesting that there was a manifesto mandate. Perhaps he should listen to the views of the railway workers who, unlike him, are transport experts. Every one of the trade unions and staff organisations representing rail workers is opposed to the merger.
Will the member take an intervention?
I have taken two already.
The STUC, which contacted us today, is united in opposition to the bill. In a motion passed at its congress this year, the STUC said:
“the Government’s determination flies in the face of serious misgivings expressed by trade unions, BTP officers and staff”
The RMT has warned that effectively abolishing the BTP in Scotland will result in “an inferior service”. In evidence to the Justice Committee, the RMT’s Mick Hogg said:
“We have not ruled out the option of taking industrial action to retain BTP officers on the railway, because we are concerned about the safety of railway staff and passengers on trains in Scotland.”—[Official Report, Justice Committee, 14 March 2017; c 41.]
Rail workers are warning that the bill could lead to yet more industrial action on the railways. That would not be a strike over terms and conditions; it would be industrial action to protect the workforce and the travelling public. That is how central they believe the future of railway policing is to public safety.
The transport minister, Humza Yousaf, has been warned but appears happy to proceed with a bill that may result in industrial action and disruption for Scotland’s passengers. Passing the bill will have consequences, including for the transport minister, and he will be held responsible for them.
As Claire Baker said, the Government is trying to railroad the bill through Parliament. It is a bill that the workers do not want and passengers simply do not need. The Government cannot explain how it will make our railways any safer or specialist railway policing any better. There is no mandate for the bill, no rationale for the bill and no popular support for the bill, and Scottish Labour will vote against it today.
On a point of order, Presiding Officer. Could you give later speakers some guidance as to how much time they might expect to have?
The member should bear in mind that I am well aware of what the timings are. I am trying to allow a little bit of additional time for interventions because I do not want to kill debate, but I will give adequate warning to the summing-up speakers, as I usually do, if there is a slight curtailment of their time. I think that it is better to allow time for interventions across the chamber than to have no interventions at all. Thank you for your interest, Mr Stevenson.16:31
It is fair to record that there are very strong views on this subject on all sides. I have two dear friends and neighbours who are greatly concerned about a force amalgamation, although the one that they are concerned about is the amalgamation of Inverness burgh police with Inverness county police—in 1968. I absolutely get that people are concerned about change; it is important that all members recognise that.
As a member of the RMT Scottish parliamentary group, it is very rare that I am not on the same side as the RMT. The position of the RMT, the TSSA and ASLEF reflects a genuine concern about safety that has to be addressed. The concern of British Transport Police officers is summed up in a word that we have heard often: “ethos”. Those individuals have chosen to serve the public by joining a certain sphere of policing. They did not choose to join Northern Constabulary or the force in Grampian, Cumbria, Northumbria or wherever; they chose to join the British Transport Police, and that has to be recognised, too. A proud history and a singular focus are attached to that.
The training for officers is the same across Scotland. British Transport Police officers then go on to get subsequent training, and of course Police Scotland officers get alternative training. The health and safety of police officers, railway staff and the public is the paramount consideration for me.
We know that Police Scotland will embrace the proposal if Parliament passes it. Assistant Chief Constable Higgins gave us a lot of information about the specialist training. I am a keen supporter of what I hear from Mr Higgins, who I think is very good and who made a very ambitious statement about the level of training. It is right that the Justice Committee’s report talks about a training needs analysis and the scrutiny that we will have to do of that. We then have the question of who pays, which will be addressed by railway policing agreements. The report mentions the requirement for the Scottish Police Authority to set up a formal mechanism and to have meaningful engagement.
Members have talked about the difficulties with the Police Service of Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority. Those difficulties have absolutely existed, but we must move on and keep a single focus on service delivery to the public.
The railway policing agreements will pick up on various aspects, including the new powers of entry and the abolition of the British Transport Police Authority. We know that the rail operators will set priorities and objectives. That is absolutely right—their concerns about change are valid and have to be taken on board. However, we must remember that the arrangements will be different.
On the protection of the present quota of railway police staff, I take a great deal of comfort from the fact that there will be a commercial arrangement between the train operators and the Scottish Police Authority on behalf of Police Scotland. It is not the arrangement that I would want, because I want us to have a publicly owned railway, with the arrangements existing within the public sector. As things stand, however, there will be a commercial arrangement.
The ethos is one of efficiency, and we have heard in particular about the different approach that the British Transport Police takes to dealing with fatalities on the line, compared with Police Scotland’s approach. A particular example was given, which I will not repeat, where Police Scotland attended a scene and, overall, took longer to deal with it. However, that is precisely why the expertise will be retained. It was explained that, within a relatively short time, a delay on the lines in Scotland can result in trains backing up in the south-east of England.
I also think that there is an opportunity for Police Scotland to learn from the British Transport Police. Clearly, a balance has to be struck in relation to efficiency. We do not want scant investigations into fatalities just to get the trains running, and it is clear that the BTP has mastered the practical investigative skills needed to get things going. Why would that approach be altered? It would be in no one’s interests to do so. Indeed, I have heard no suggestions that it would be, and we know that Police Scotland wants to retain such specialist skills.
Given my background, I would not normally say how many police officers there are in an area, but the BTP chief constable told us that five officers are based in Inverness. People will know—they will be sick of hearing—that the Highlands is the size of Belgium. Adding Argyll and Moray to that gives us an enormous area to be covered by five police officers. I will not repeat all the statistics about officer numbers; it is simply a fact that, statistically—this has nothing to do with who does it best or where they come from—a requirement in the Highlands and Islands is likely to be attended by a Police Scotland officer.
Given the Christie commission’s principles of collaborative working, one of my concerns relates to some of the ill-informed comment on the terrorism threat level and the response to it. I assure the public that an entirely co-ordinated system applies at the moment, and that an entirely co-ordinated system would apply were the proposal before us to go ahead. People have concerns about different systems of working, but the systems of working that apply in the rest of Great Britain apply where there are 43 police forces, so clearly there are 44 systems. If the proposal goes ahead, there will be two systems in Scotland.
Will the member take an intervention?
The member is in his last 30 seconds.
There are long-standing arrangements about cross-border policing.
I just want to touch on a key issue. I heard the minister give an assurance on ensuring that there will be no detriment. With the greatest respect, I say to him that it is not me he has to persuade; clearly, there remain others who require to be persuaded.
We know that there is joint working at the UK level. From the public’s perspective, the polis are the polis and the public do not make any distinctions. I will leave it there.16:37
As other members have done, I thank all those who have contributed evidence to the Justice Committee. The committee has been helped by the willingness of stakeholders to share their views and insights, so any lack of clarity that remains around critical areas of the bill is not a result of any lack of candour on their part.
I also thank the Scottish Parliament information centre and our clerks for aiding us throughout the process. I thank, too, committee colleagues, who have ensured that the bill has been robustly tested. I think, from the tone of the debate so far, that that will continue. That is entirely right for any bill, but it is particularly right when the implications of the bill in question remain so unclear.
I will come shortly to questions that I feel remain to be answered, but I will first address the myth that has been repeatedly promoted by ministers, which is that the bill simply discharges the will of the Smith commission. That is disingenuous. The Smith commission did indeed state that the
“functions of the British Transport Police in Scotland will be a devolved matter”,
but subsuming the BTP within Police Scotland is only one option for delivering that outcome. I grant that that has long been the SNP’s preferred option, but it is just one of three options that were identified by the working group that was set up by the BTPA. As the Justice Committee heard in evidence at our round-table meeting, that option also happens to be the one that carries the highest degree of risk, and the one that was opposed by the majority of respondents both to the Government’s consultation and to the committee’s call for evidence.
An alternative would have been to give the Scottish Government statutory powers to direct the BTPA and ultimately to specify the direction of railways policing in Scotland, thereby ensuring that the chief constable of the BTP engaged with the Scottish Government and Parliament in much the same way as the chief constable of Police Scotland does. Responsibility for pensions, employment contracts and defraying the costs of policing to the rail industry would have remained with the BTPA, but the SPA would have had greater involvement at strategic and planning levels.
A third option that was identified by the BTPA would have achieved devolution through administrative means by considering practical ways to increase the BTP’s accountability to Scottish institutions and to be better aligned with Police Scotland.
Sadly, no attempt was made by ministers to seek views on either of those options, which would have minimised disruption to a service that we heard in committee time and again is operating smoothly, efficiently and in a highly professional manner across the UK.
Ultimately, that failure to consider and consult on those other options has weakened ministers’ case for their preferred approach. As for that approach, although I believe that the bill should be allowed to proceed to the next stage, ministers have their work cut out to address the serious concerns ahead of stage 3. The concerns are about how the specialist expertise of the BTP can be maintained and developed post-merger, and about how RPAs are likely to operate, how costs will be assigned and how potential disputes will be resolved. There are also concerns about Police Scotland’s ability to take on the additional functions and responsibilities while it still faces serious on-going challenges as a result of the botched centralisation that was driven through by the Government in the previous parliamentary session—all the time egged along by Douglas Ross’s and, indeed, by Neil Bibby’s colleagues.
Retention of expertise, which is absolutely vital to the safety of passengers and workers on Scotland’s railways, will, of course, require that agreement be reached on post-transfer terms and conditions. The minister and Police Scotland were bullish about that issue in evidence and again this afternoon, but the unions appear to be less convinced. Those who are currently employed by Police Scotland—who are facing difficult times ahead, based on the evidence of the policing 2026 strategy—will be watching closely to see how the negotiations develop. The more that is conceded to the BTP, the more difficult it might be to persuade people in Police Scotland that they are being treated fairly.
Police in Police Scotland will also now be expected to undergo two weeks of training in railway policing, according to Assistant Chief Constable Higgins. The costs of delivering such a force-wide training package are still unclear. It seems inconceivable, however, that the training will be enough for Police Scotland officers to gain the certificates that are necessary for them to access safely all parts of the railway environment.
Meantime, concerns were expressed that whatever the costs of the force-wide training turn out to be, they will inevitably find their way into the railway policing agreements—especially given the financial straits in which Police Scotland finds itself. Indeed, the committee expressed its
“disappointment at a lack of detail on costs set out in the Financial Memorandum”.
Far more clarity is needed about what the costs of integration are likely to be and how they will be met. That is all the more important given that concerns have also been raised about dispute resolution for RPAs—a point that was picked up by the Law Society of Scotland in its briefing for the debate.
Finally, let me address the issue of timing. Even were full integration of the BTP within Police Scotland felt to be the most sensible and logical route to take—most witnesses did not feel that—it can scarcely be claimed by anyone other than its most ardent supporters that this is an ideal time to be contemplating such a move.
With chronic levels of structural debt, a failed information technology project that has left efficiency targets tough—if not impossible—to achieve, and morale that could certainly be better, surely only Police Scotland’s worst enemy could see this as an opportune moment to be foisting a further merger upon the organisation. The Auditor General for Scotland recently highlighted continuing concerns around financial management: promised savings from centralisation have simply not materialised. Against that backdrop, the timing of the Government’s bill looks highly questionable.
Presiding Officer, as I said in committee, I remain open to being persuaded that the concerns that I have set out—and others—can be addressed. If they are not, Scottish Liberal Democrats will be unable to support the passage of the bill at stage 3.16:43
Throughout the evidence that was heard by the Justice Committee on the Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill, one thing that was made clear by all those who gave evidence—written and oral—was the professionalism of the British Transport Police. There was nothing but praise for the job that the BTP does in keeping our railways and the passengers who use them safe. I start by commending the BTP for that work, because it is important to remember that the proposed integration of the British Transport Police into Police Scotland is not about fixing a broken system—as has been suggested around the chamber today—but about making railway policing work better for all of Scotland, making it accountable to the people of Scotland and looking to the opportunities to build on the current system of railway policing across the country, based on the recommendations of the Smith commission.
Based on the evidence that the committee received, I believe that there are advantages to be achieved and opportunities to improve, should the integration process proceed. The first advantage is in terms of location, the geographical spread of officers and the resulting opportunities to enhance the police service across the whole rail network in Scotland. Currently, the BTP maintains a focus on the central belt and positions most of its officers there, while leaving many stations in the rest of Scotland, including three in my constituency, unstaffed. We received supplementary written evidence from Chief Constable Paul Crowther of the BTP that said that currently there are 262 BTP officers in Scotland, who are based predominantly in the central belt. Outwith that area, on average there are about six officers at some of the bigger stations, compared with 54 here in Edinburgh and upwards of 20 at each of the stations in Glasgow.
As it stands, if an incident occurs at one of the unmanned stations, such as those in my constituency and elsewhere in rural Scotland, Police Scotland officers, rather than the BTP, are more often than not the first to arrive on the scene. In evidence to the committee, Assistant Chief Constable Higgins of Police Scotland outlined that if the bill proceeds, all serving officers up to the level of inspector in the force will undergo an upskilling programme on railway policing—as we have heard today—which will include additional weeks of training in railway policing for all new officers. That would mean that post integration, if an incident occurred at a station that was untended—as many are, outwith the central belt—there would be greater confidence that those who respond are adequately trained in how to handle the situation. That general upskilling of all officers can only be a good thing.
I am genuinely interested in what that would mean in respect of personal track safety certificates. Is Mairi Evans saying that all officers would have them?
That point has already been answered today. It may be that not all officers will have those certificates. There is more information on that to come forward, which the committee did not receive.
Chief Superintendent Crossan of the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents said that should integration go ahead, Police Scotland’s ability consistently and easily to use its resources in railway policing—which the BTP currently has to request—could lead to “an enhancement of service”.
In supplementary evidence, the committee heard that in 2016, 1749 incidents were recorded on the Police Scotland Storm Unity command and control system as an external force request—the BTP is categorised as an external force. In addition, Police Scotland received 4,500 calls from the BTP. There is clearly much crossover between the two forces, which would be streamlined and more adequately dealt with should they be integrated under one command structure.
I understand that there are many fears and concerns associated with the proposed integration—we heard much about some of the issues in the committee’s evidence sessions. Foremost among them were concerns about something that must be ensured in the process, if it goes ahead: the BTP’s specialist knowledge, expertise and ethos, which John Finnie talked about, must be retained. That was directly addressed by Police Scotland in its evidence to the committee. It outlined its plans to create in its ranks a specialist railway policing division that will draw on the experience and expertise of current BTP Scotland officers and provide general railway policing training to all officers, which will create a better-trained base and will not lose the knowledge and ability of the specialist group.
We were also given assurances that those who wish to continue to police the railways will do exactly that, as we heard the minister outline.
Concern was expressed about funding for training, and both Police Scotland and the Minister for Transport and the Islands said in their evidence that training costs should be met from efficiency savings. As integration progresses and the full training needs are assessed by the joint programme board, the picture will become clearer. The committee has asked the Scottish Government to report to Parliament on that.
One of the main fears came from BTP employees and was about security of their salaries and employment. The Transport Salaried Staffs Association presented us with evidence of a survey that showed that 37.5 per cent of staff said that they intend to leave if integration goes ahead. However, the majority of those people based that view on the belief that they would be made redundant. We heard that that would not be the case, and we have heard about the triple-lock guarantee that the Government has given, but as John Finnie suggested, it is not really members who need to be persuaded. Clearly a lot of work needs to be done to persuade staff members and BTP officers that that will not be the case.
The Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill has raised questions, and clarity is still needed in some areas—that detail is currently being worked on by the joint programme board. There are questions that I trust will be answered as the bill progresses. I can completely understand some of the concerns that have been expressed and some of the fears that are held by the staff who will be affected. There will be such concerns and fears with any big change. However, I strongly support the general principles of the bill.16:49
The biggest concern with the Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill—specifically the proposed integration of the British Transport Police’s Scottish division into Police Scotland—is simply this: it does not make sense.
The Smith commission recommended bringing the staff and the powers of the BTP within the remit of the Scottish Parliament. In 2015, the Scottish Government said:
“we believe the functions of the British Transport Police should be integrated within”
Police Scotland, which
“will ensure the most efficient and effective delivery of all policing in Scotland”.
The committee heard that the BTPA set out three ways in which the devolution of functions could be achieved, but the Scottish Government only consulted on one option—merger. The BTP called that option
“the most complex route to devolution”,
but it is the only option that has been brought forward. That is, apparently, because merger is Mr Matheson’s long-term ambition. Notwithstanding that, let us take “efficient and effective delivery” as the required destination. Will the merger achieve that? It will not, according to the Rail Delivery Group, which says that integrating the service is not in passengers’ interests. Nor does the BTP think that the merger will achieve “efficient and effective delivery”. It warns that
“a deep and clear understanding of the unique requirements of the railway”
will be lost. The British Transport Police Federation does not think that it will achieve it and warns of “potentially life-threatening” consequences, and neither does the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, which says that specialist policing on the railways will be lost forever, which will adversely impact the safety and security of rail workers and passengers.
Will the member give way?
Please be very quick.
Police Scotland does a lot of specialist work. Is it not slightly insulting to it to say that it could not handle the railways?
ScotRail cited the Netherlands, where the railway police have been incorporated into a single national police corps, and noted that there have been great difficulties with that approach. It expressed concerns and has warned that there would be a “loss of specialism”. The proposals do not make sense.
Make no mistake—this is about specialists. According to The Railway Magazine, the BTP understands the industry’s safety culture and operations and is part of the “railway family”. Since 2001, it has been comprehensively reviewed by Government and independent bodies four times—more than any other police force in the country. Their unanimous conclusions are that the BTP is efficient and effective and should be kept as a specialist and separate force for the whole British railway network.
Chief Constable Crowther told the committee that railway policing is “substantially different”. We are talking about specialists with specialist skills. The committee heard evidence that fatalities that are responded to by officers who are inexperienced in railway policing take 50 per cent longer to deal with, that cable theft offences take 33 per cent longer to manage, and that train operators claim to have
“a level of confidence that BTP will hand the service back to the train operator within 70 minutes.”—[Official Report, Justice Committee, 1 November 2016; c 14.]
Will the member take an intervention?
There is no time.
It was noted that an incident at Carluke that was handled by Police Scotland took 107 minutes, with resultant delays that incurred costs of approximately £160,000. Furthermore, the Samaritans has highlighted the specialist skills the BTP has in dealing with suicides, as well as with traumatised staff in the wake of train-line deaths.
Will the resource remain available? CrossCountry is concerned that, post-merger, BTP officers will be deployed to non-railway duties in an attempt to fill funding and resource gaps, which will leave the network’s policing diluted and underresourced.
My next point is important: BTP officers themselves report that, due to the uncertainty over terms and conditions and pensions, staff might leave, which will impact on experience, operational capability and service delivery.
Earlier, the committee convener raised funding issues. At present, 95 per cent of the BTP’s funding comes jointly from the train operating companies, Network Rail and Transport for London. However, as the BTPA pointed out in its submission in January to the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee:
“There are centralised police support functions provided by BTP which would need to be replicated in Scotland in an eventual merger ... This will need to be reconciled with budget pressures”.
The proposals do not make sense.
The committee heard that confusion and delays in crime solving will arise from two forces operating across Britain—to say nothing of BTP officers not having legal jurisdiction to operate as constables in Scotland. BTP officers are trained and authorised to carry Tasers; in Scotland, only specialist firearms officers are so armed. Police Scotland Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Higgins suggested that BTP officers deal with
“25 or 30 bomb threats a month”
due to abandoned baggage, and with hundreds of incidents in which people are either
“restrained from jumping or ... removed from the tracks in close proximity to death.”—[Official Report, Justice Committee, 7 March 2017; c 25-26.]
That is specialist stuff indeed that requires specialist joined-up action.
The committee heard about the implications for specialist trains, including those that carry nuclear weapons, Ministry of Defence trains, and the royal train, and of having to switch officers at Carlisle to a “generalist”. What happens if there is an incident on the railway at Alnmouth that continues to Dunbar? In whose jurisdiction will that be? Which force would be in charge? Will that change? Will the BTP jump off and Police Scotland jump on at the border?
It does not make sense to pursue the merger, when the rail operators, the rail unions, the travelling public, the BTP Federation and the BTP itself do not want it. It does not make sense to pursue the merger, when Deputy Chief Constable Hanstock has remarked that
“We have not been able to identify any operational or economic benefits.”
It does not make sense to pursue the merger when the potential impacts on cross-border capabilities are so compromised.
Michael Matheson appears to be the first member of the Scottish Parliament in history to attempt to deploy the Chewbacca defence to justify proposals. I hope that he will be the last. The Parliament should ensure that sense and the interests of safer Scottish rail services prevail. Members should vote no at 5.30 this afternoon.16:55
I am proud to support the general principles of the Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill and to speak in support of the Government motion. As members have said, the bill’s general principles are supported by a majority of the Justice Committee, including John Finnie and Liam McArthur—I am grateful for their contributions throughout our evidence sessions.
I came to the issue objectively and, during those sessions, I was reassured on issues to do with capacity, ethos, specialism and abstraction. I will touch on all those issues. I have also been enthused by the opportunity that the bill presents. As Mairi Evans pointed out, legislation is not about fixing something that is broken; it is about how we use the law and Government policy to improve service.
The integration of the British Transport Police and Police Scotland as proposed in the bill has the potential to improve railway policing throughout Scotland and to provide a better service for all of Scotland. Integration can enhance policing by allowing direct access to the specialist and operational resources of Police Scotland, and a more integrated and effective service will complement and strengthen what is currently offered.
Operators have expressed support for the bill. As Fulton MacGregor said, TransPennine Express said that it is an “opportunity”. Darren Horley from Virgin Trains, which operates the east coast main line, said:
“From a Virgin Trains point of view, it is an opportunity.”—[Official Report, Justice Committee, 21 March 2017; c 9.]
From Police Scotland’s operational point of view, Assistant Chief Constable Higgins said:
“It is a sensible move ... Police Scotland currently looks after the entire transport network in Scotland ... so it is sensible for it to look after the rail network as well.”
That is contrary to what Liam Kerr said.
On capacity, ACC Higgins said:
“the reality is that Police Scotland is the second-largest force in the United Kingdom, with some 17,000 officers and assets that are simply not available to the British Transport Police D division. Although at present we will deploy those assets on request, they will be routinely deployed should integration take place. That will lead to greater effectiveness and efficiency and, in my view, a greater ability to deploy more resource to locations that currently do not receive them.”—[Official Report, Justice Committee, 7 March 2017; c 4, 6.]
That is the benefit for the whole of Scotland. Chief Constable Crowther from the BTP said:
“Police Scotland has the full range of specialist capabilities available to it ... In terms of operational capabilities, Police Scotland has everything that it needs.”—[Official Report, Justice Committee, 7 March 2017; c 6.]
The capacity to police the railway is there, and the opportunities that are presented by the economies of scale that integration offers have strong support from Police Scotland and operators.
There has been much talk in the debate about two important issues—specialism and abstraction. A third issue, which has not been mentioned, is ethos. The British Transport Police said in its written and oral evidence that the maintenance of a transport policing ethos will be important should integration take place. I was reassured when the cabinet secretary told the committee that
“the current ethos”
“recognised and maintained and taken forward in how railway policing is delivered.”—[Official Report, Justice Committee, 28 March 2017; c 20.]
ACC Higgins reassured the committee that
“there is a very strong ethos in the BTP, which we would want to retain ... One of Police Scotland’s strengths is not necessarily our single ethos or aim of keeping people safe, but the multiple cultures that we have within the organisation.”—[Official Report, Justice Committee, 7 March 2017; c 10-11.]
It is important to remember that there have been strong commitments that specialism will be maintained and to remember that the extra training of police officers that will take place is in addition to the specialist policing function that will remain in Police Scotland. It is important to clarify that that specialist function will remain should integration take place; the additional training will be over and above that and will add value.
At the beginning of the process, the committee had concerns about and took evidence on the possibility of abstraction. The position was articulated in the recommendation in paragraph 95 of the stage 1 report, and I was reassured by the Scottish Government’s response that
“Police Scotland has given the Committee clear assurances that railway police officers would not be abstracted to other duties, with the obvious exception of a crisis situation.”
I warmly welcome that response, as the point is incredibly important.
I am mindful of the time. I welcome the fact that the dialogue between the Scottish Government, operators and other parties involved has been constructive and I hope that that will continue. On terms and conditions, access to the current pension schemes is an important point and I welcome the minister’s positive statements on that.
I call Elaine Smith, to be followed by Stewart Stevenson. I give fair warning that Mr Stevenson will be the last speaker in the open debate and that he will probably get six minutes.17:01
Not only as a Labour MSP but as convener of the RMT’s parliamentary group, I speak in opposition to the Scottish Government’s plans to abolish the BTP in Scotland. It is not only Labour and the RMT that oppose the legislation; STUC policy is to oppose it, and that was confirmed at the STUC’s 2017 congress last month. BTP officers do not want it; the BTP Federation does not want it; all the rail unions certainly do not want it; even train operators do not want it; and, according to the responses to the Government’s consultation, very few of the public want it either.
Will the member give way?
I ask the member to please give me a moment to get started.
If the SNP simply batters on against the majority opinion and introduces unwanted legislation, what will the consequences be? Not only will it have a railway that is operated by companies from abroad, expensive to use and regularly disrupted, but we will have no dedicated police force to look after it, and the specialist skills of some transport officers will be at risk of being lost. That will lead to a less safe railway. We are already hearing about officers leaving the BTP in Scotland to transfer to units in England and Wales so that they do not have to be part of Police Scotland and so that they can keep their specialist status.
I will take an intervention from Fulton MacGregor, who took one from me.
I realise how opposed Elaine Smith is to the motion and the general principles of the bill. I wonder why her party did not lodge something for the chamber to vote on. Was it depending on the Tory amendment being accepted?
Our party is against the proposal, as are the unions and the other bodies that I mentioned. That is the side that we are on and that is how we will be voting—against the legislation.
In addition, only one option was consulted on and, to be frank, that is outrageous.
The minister and others mentioned Police Scotland’s Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Higgins, but even ACC Higgins acknowledged that there was a
“risk that ... that skills base will be diluted”.—[Official Report, Justice Committee, 7 March 2017; c 29.]
The Scottish Government seems to be saying that integration will provide the most efficient and effective way of policing our railways, but when Governments talk about efficiencies, that tends to mean one thing—cuts. The reality is that the change will cost more.
Today, the STUC expressed concern about the inadequate provision in the financial memorandum that accompanies the bill. The RMT has said that the proposed reforms
“will require rail service operators on both sides of the border, particularly where the service crosses the border, to have the same operational agreement with two separate police forces, where currently only one Railway Policing Agreement ... is required.”
That will mean unnecessary spending at a time of cuts to other public services.
On top of that, there are practical issues to do with policing the rail infrastructure. On 14 March, the RMT told the Justice Committee that
“Police Scotland would not have access to our railways if there was a derailment or a collision or any trespass on a railway. If Police Scotland officers do not have a PTS certificate, they cannot go on or near the running line.”—[Official Report, Justice Committee, 14 March 2017; c 59.]
Is the Government seriously proposing to have officers dealing with our railways who cannot attend the scene of a crime? If so, that is deeply worrying.
A further concern for the RMT and the other unions is that the bill does not contain a statutory requirement for the rail unions to be consulted when the reforms go ahead. That is the kind of approach to trade unions that we might expect from a Tory Administration; perhaps it shows that it is easy for the SNP to make promises about working in partnership with unions but then to ignore them when it comes to the reality of involving them. I hope that the Government will think again about that.
Will the member take an intervention?
I am afraid that I do not really have time.
Given that, overall, no criticism has been made of the work of the BTP’s D division, why does the Government want to make such a dramatic change? If the reason is simply because it can, that logic does not serve well the safety of those who travel on our railways. The Government’s policy memorandum states:
“BTP officers in Scotland and in England have a strong track record of joint working on cross-border routes, and in tackling crime affecting the railway network on both sides of the border.”
That sounds like a ringing endorsement.
I think that many people are confused about why the proposed move is even being considered. When the Smith commission recommended devolution of responsibility for the BTP, it did not suggest that the organisation should be dismantled. In my opinion, there were far more sensible and less costly options, and it is unacceptable that the Scottish Government did not at least consult on them.
In a press release today, the RMT has said that
“The safety and security of rail workers and passengers will be put at greater risk if MSPs do not oppose the Scottish Government’s legislative plans to abolish the British Transport Police”,
and it asks MSPs to
“put aside ideology and party loyalty and oppose the Scottish Government’s proposals”.
In a letter to members that was also issued today, the STUC has said:
“We call on MSPs to reject the Stage 1 Report and to refer the matter to Scottish Government, to allow for consideration of a far wider range of options”.
It is clear that the service could be provided by the British Transport Police with the oversight of the Scottish Government, and that is exactly what should happen. The majority of respondents, police, the trade unions and some operating companies oppose the bill, and Parliament should vote against it tonight.
I call Stewart Stevenson, after which we will move to the closing speeches.17:07
I am obliged, Presiding Officer.
Before I start the main part of my speech, I want to pick up on a couple of things that have been said. It is strange that, in talking about nuclear trains, Liam Kerr seems to have been unaware of the role of the Civil Nuclear Constabulary—as opposed to the BTP—in that regard. Oliver Mundell—this is a more important and substantial point—said that there is one rail network in the UK, but he is wrong: there are two. The GB network is the one that is policed by the BTP, but it is one of the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s responsibilities to police the railways in Northern Ireland. It polices the railways in the island of Ireland jointly with the Garda Síochána, which is a perfectly satisfactory arrangement. The safety arrangements and achievements in Ireland appear to be quite similar to those in the UK.
Will the member take an intervention?
I will not.
I want to say a word or two about what the BTP is. Its origins are very ancient. The first railway police were formed in 1826, three years before the Metropolitan Police. There have been many reforms in the nearly 200 years since the first railway police were established. The set of reforms that we are considering today is one in a long line of reforms and changes.
What is the BTP about? It is about providing a physical presence that is seen by passengers and staff on the rail network. That is probably the most important thing, but a key thing to remember is that hardly any of the public know that the officers concerned are not from Police Scotland—to members of the public, they are just police.
I can give an example from some years ago when, on my way to the station, I found some money lying in the street. I took it to the BTP at Waverley station and I was told that I had to go to a different police station to hand it in. That is just a little example from about 10 years ago so it is not necessarily current.
Like all police, the BTP also has to deal with offending. I heard from Douglas Ross that the amount of offending would overwhelm Police Scotland. However, the number of offences is less than—
On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I am sure that Mr Stevenson does not want to mislead Parliament. He said that I told Parliament that the increases would overwhelm Police Scotland—
Sorry, my card is not in.
Oh, come on. Presiding Officer—
That is not a point of order.
It is for clarity.
Please sit down just now and I will let Mr Stevenson make clear what he wants to say.
I am happy to acknowledge the substantive point that Douglas Ross made, if that is correct, as I am sure that he would not mislead me. However, the number of offences that are dealt with by the BTP is less than 10 per day and I am not sure that that will overwhelm the resources of Police Scotland. The number of recorded crimes is 5.5 per day—is that going to overwhelm the Police Scotland systems?
Besides dealing with offending, the BTP is there to deal with—[Interruption.]
Minister and Mr Ross, you are both being very impolite to the speaker.
The other vital role of the BTP is the strategic role that is related to terrorism. In a UK Parliament committee session, DCC Hanstock said:
“In the hierarchy of risk, the biggest threat is terrorism. The challenge of protecting a network that is so wide and open, and the risk being so unpredictable, causes us the greatest level of concern”.
Let us think about interfaces. There are 45 territorial forces in the United Kingdom and there are three national forces—the BTP, the Ministry of Defence Police and the Civil Nuclear Constabulary. After the reform, what will the number be? Exactly the same. It is just that some of one will go to another. There will still be 45 plus three. The number of interfaces is 990—arithmetic—and there will still be 990 interfaces after the reform.
Does any of that matter? Ninety-five per cent of rail passenger journeys that are made in Scotland are wholly in Scotland so, at the moment, those passengers interface with a police force that is separate from the force that deals with all the other crime. With the reform, they will interface with the police force that deals with all crime and offences throughout Scotland, so we will dramatically reduce the number of interfaces that the public has to deal with.
Even if every police officer had a track access certificate, it would be unwise to rely on that. I have a motorcycle licence, but I have not been on a bike since 1969. It is legal for me to get on one tomorrow, but it would be very unwise to do so because I am out of practice. Police officers should only go on the railway line in the most extreme of circumstances, certificate or not. If a mother pushed her pram over a platform, I hope that I would shout to somebody to tell me whether a train was coming and jump to rescue them. I think that a police officer would do the same. However, it is important that the core role be in the hands of people who have a track access certificate.
Of 300-plus railway stations in Scotland, only a dozen have BTP officers present. The majority of railway stations in Scotland are covered by Police Scotland and that will continue.
Finally, I hear everything that my Labour colleagues have said, but they had better tell that to the Labour Mayor of London who wants to integrate the BTP into the Metropolitan Police. They are saying one thing in Scotland and we are hearing another thing in London.
I strongly support the bill and, Presiding Officer, I thank you for the six minutes.
Do not bank on it, because it was not a point of order in the first place. I just felt kind.17:14
In closing for Scottish Labour, I repeat the stance taken by my colleagues that we do not support the general principles of the Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill.
As a member of the Justice Committee, I thank the witnesses for their input and evidence, and the clerks for their support during the stage 1 inquiry. However, I do not share the majority opinion of the committee in supporting the bill.
The TSSA, the RMT, ASLEF and the British Transport Police Federation all oppose the proposed merger, and for serious and justifiable reasons. Those are the people who know what is best for the security and safety of the staff and passengers of our railways. While we agreed to the devolution of the function of railway policing by the Smith commission, there was no agreement about what that devolution would look like. Further, no party has a manifesto commitment to integrate D division into Police Scotland.
The Smith commission recommended that:
“The functions of the British Transport Police in Scotland will be a devolved matter.”
As my colleague Neil Bibby rightly said,
“it would be profoundly wrong to suggest that the integration of the BTP into Police Scotland is somehow a requirement or a stipulation of the Smith agreement”.
Questions have therefore arisen over the SNP’s motive in going further than Smith’s proposals.
The Transport Salaried Staffs Association believes that
“the desire to integrate is the product first and foremost of a political agenda that overrides the implications for policing that ensures the safety and security of rail passengers and workers as well as the infrastructure of the railway system.”
Those are strong words, but they are words from those who know better than the transport minister and the justice minister about what is best when policing our transport system.
The risks of the merger have been warned of by unions representing rail and British Transport Police staff. Those identified risks cover the impact on cross-border services, a dilution of expertise and skills, retaining the skilled and experienced BTP staff, the potential impact on safety and security, and the unknown costs of training for rail operators and Police Scotland. As my colleague Elaine Smith pointed out, that is why the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers has warned:
“We have not ruled out the option of taking industrial action to retain BTP officers on the railway, because we are concerned about the safety of railway staff and passengers on trains in Scotland.”—[Official Report, Justice Committee, 14 March 2017; c 41.]
We need cast-iron guarantees from the Government that no existing terms or conditions of BTP officers and staff will be diluted and that any new officers will not be paid less if the integration succeeds. I accept that guarantees have been given about the triple lock, but that has not satisfied the staff associations, and much more needs to be done.
I share the Justice Committee’s apprehensions about the financial memorandum that accompanies the bill. In its desire unnecessarily to break up the BTP, the Government has not done its homework and its costing. For example, on training costs, Assistant Chief Constable Higgins said that Police Scotland would provide railway policing training for all officers. That led Nigel Goddard of the BTP Federation and Chief Superintendent McBride of the BTP superintendents branch to join the RMT and Virgin Trains in questioning the reality of the costs behind such a training scheme. The transport minister does not know the costs, the rail operators do not know the costs, the unions do not know the costs, and even Police Scotland does not know the costs.
The bill is no further forward on cost and has no support from the workforce. There is no confidence that the Government is prepared to deal with the risks arising from the proposed merger. There is no case for the bill and it should be scrapped. If the BTP isn’t broke, why fix it? Why risk making things worse?
The Scottish Government should listen to the officers on the ground, the railway staff and their unions, the passengers and the rail operators, and scrap the bill. That is why Scottish Labour will vote against it today.17:19
The debate has allowed us to reflect on the evidence that was given to the Justice Committee during stage 1 consideration of the bill. I echo the thanks given to those who provided evidence to the committee. Much of that evidence was opposed to the one option that was consulted on by the Scottish Government, and that despite the fact that three options were put forward by the British Transport Police Authority.
The evidence against the bill is best summed up in the quote from The Railway Magazine that my colleague Liam Kerr referred to earlier.
I know that legislative or operational changes to our railways can very often be a bone of contention between stakeholders. The UK has a proud history in rail transportation, and that may sometimes lead to entrenched views clashing. However, The Railway Magazine said of opposition to the Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill:
“it is rare to find a topic that the unions, rail industry and stakeholders all agree upon.”
That quote is very telling, as it suggests how ill thought out the process has been.
In opening for the Scottish Conservatives in this debate, my colleague Douglas Ross made it clear that our party supports the Smith commission recommendations. However, devolution offers the chance to keep the single British Transport Police force and all the experience that it provides while introducing a level of accountability in Scotland.
My colleague Mr Ross was also correct in identifying what appears to be the real reason why the Scottish Government has opted for the most difficult of three options: the SNP’s stubbornness and its obsession with cutting ties with anything that includes the word “British”. That is reflective of its general approach of ignoring at any cost the undoubted benefits that being part of the United Kingdom brings. That cost must not be the safety of rail passengers in Scotland.
The convener of the Justice Committee, my colleague Oliver Mundell and others have pointed to a number of questions about current terms, conditions, pension rights and benefits that must be answered. That is vital if Police Scotland is to retain the skills, knowledge and expertise that British Transport Police officers and staff have acquired.
Liam Kerr referred to what the Samaritans said:
“BTP have specialist knowledge of suicide and mental health issues in rail settings, which must be protected and encouraged.”
In my view, it is essential that work is done to guarantee that those specialisms are not lost.
Police Scotland has committed to providing railway training for all police officers—that has been referred to. However, questions about that have been asked in this debate. How much will that cost? Who will pay? Perhaps more important, what level of expertise will such training offer?
In effect, the SNP Government seeks to erect a border on the railways. Will British Transport Police officers who are heading north have to disembark from trains that are heading into Scotland, to be replaced by a Police Scotland officer?
Will the member take an intervention?
No, I will not at this stage. My time has been reduced.
I recall how cross-border policing in the general context caused the same difficulty years ago and how that had to be resolved. Instead of making progress there, it seems that the SNP wishes to step back yet again into the past.
As the British Transport Police Federation pointed out, confusion, delays and cost are just some of the effects that passengers will feel. What about cross-border train services that carry football supporters or other specialist operations? British Transport Police deals with all those things seamlessly on a day-to-day basis. The Government will have to think very carefully and very hard about what will be done at a practical level to ensure that the current level of protection continues for all rail services if the SNP’s plans are to be progressed.
The Scottish Government should now step back and fully consider all three options, including greater scrutiny and accountability in the Scottish Parliament, and greater alignment between the British Transport Police and Police Scotland.
I urge parties across the chamber to vote with the Scottish Conservatives against the general principles of the bill.17:24
I thank the Justice Committee for its work in scrutinising the bill at stage 1, and I thank those who submitted written and oral evidence to the committee.
Anyone who has an interest in the policing of our railways in Scotland can be in no doubt about the Government’s position on how that service should be delivered in the future. We set out in 2011, and restated in 2013 and again in 2014, the position that railway policing should be a devolved matter and should be integrated with policing in Scotland, with Police Scotland as the national force.
We put forward that proposal to the Smith commission, and it was agreed that responsibility for railway policing should be devolved, although I accept that there are differing views on which model should be taken forward. We are therefore responsible for putting in place a model to deliver railway policing and provide for accountability for and scrutiny of its delivery.
Some members, including Claire Baker and Oliver Mundell, have accused us of trying to railroad the bill through Parliament, if members will pardon the pun. It is difficult to believe that that is what we would be doing, given that we are a minority Government that requires the support of other parties in order to proceed with legislation.
We have been stating our position on railway policing for almost six years, so it beggars belief that members would think that we have only now come up with a plan and are choosing to rush it through Parliament. Having made the decision to make railway policing a devolved responsibility, we need to create a model to enable accountability for and scrutiny of its delivery in the future.
A number of members referred to the available models. Some said that there are three models, although, in my view, there are four. One option is administrative devolution, but that would not give us the accountability that we need around the delivery of railway policing.
Will the cabinet secretary take an intervention on that point?
I ask the member to please give me a moment first.
We could have statutory devolution of railway policing, but again that would not provide for accountability and scrutiny, which would still be the responsibility of the UK Government’s Secretary of State for Transport. We could have integration, which is the model that we propose to take forward, or we could have a separate standalone police force in Scotland to deliver railway policing, with all the structure that would go with that.
Will the cabinet secretary take an intervention now?
There are four models, but in reality only one of those—the integration of the BTP with Police Scotland—can effectively deliver accountability and scrutiny.
I give way to Oliver Mundell.
If the cabinet secretary wants to put accountability and scrutiny at the heart of the process, why does not he put all the options on the table and listen to what the organisations and stakeholders have to say?
Unlike Oliver Mundell’s party, which was not even able to respond to the consultation exercise with a proposal for an alternative model, we have been very clear for the past six years about which model we want to implement, and we are now taking it forward in legislation.
Another important issue—surprisingly, the Conservative Party has not touched on it in the debate—is the strategic defence and security review that the UK Government undertook in 2015. The review highlighted the need to look at how we can deliver more effective infrastructure policing and security in the UK and how we can integrate the policing of railways, roads, seaports, airports and borders to deliver policing much more effectively along with greater scrutiny and accountability, while delivering greater efficiency.
In Scotland, the policing of roads, seaports, airports and borders is all currently delivered by Police Scotland. The only area for which Police Scotland is not responsible is railway policing. Even the UK Government, in recognising the challenges that we face in policing major parts of our infrastructure, has highlighted the need for greater integration and co-ordination of how those are policed. That is exactly what the legislation will assist us to achieve. It will provide that single command structure for infrastructure policing in Scotland in a way that delivers greater security and more ways to respond to issues such as terrorism.
Some members have spoken about the risk that is posed by terrorism if we no longer have a specialist railway police force. The reality is that specialist railway policing will continue to be delivered by Police Scotland, just as it delivers specialist airport, port and border security and underwater policing. All those services are and will be delivered by specialist units in Police Scotland.
A single command structure will be much more effective and able to respond to issues such as terrorism. The reality is that should there be a significant terrorist event on our railways in Scotland—and God forbid that there should ever be one—Police Scotland would have to respond to it, using the national resource to deal with it effectively. The BTP simply does not have the specialism or the capacity in Scotland to be able to deal with such an incident.
I assure members that integrating the British Transport Police with Police Scotland will deliver greater accountability for and greater scrutiny of how policing is delivered in a major part of our infrastructure in Scotland. I also assure members that, over the coming weeks and months, as we progress the bill, the Minister for Transport and the Islands and I will engage constructively with all parties who have an interest in making sure that we deliver the intent of the bill effectively so that we provide proper and secure policing of our railways in Scotland.