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Smith Commission Principles: Railway Policing

Volume 771: debated on Monday 18 April 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they will ensure that the fifth principle contained in the report of the Smith Commission that the package of powers agreed through the Smith Commission process “should not cause detriment to the UK as a whole nor any of its constituent parts” will be complied with when railway policing is devolved.

My Lords, the Scotland Act devolves responsibility to the Scottish Parliament for the policing of railways in Scotland, and we are working with the Scottish Government to understand their plans. Maintaining high levels of service across the UK is at the forefront of our planning for an efficient and effective transfer of functions. There is absolutely no reason to think that devolution will degrade the level and effectiveness of railway policing.

My Lords, that is all very well but this is a Question about the no-detriment principle in the Smith commission report. The British Transport Police Authority made it clear in its evidence to the Public Audit Committee of the Scottish Parliament that the safety and security of railway policing in England and Wales could be endangered and its costs increased if that force no longer had a role in Scotland. Surely there can be no greater example of a no-detriment principle applying than that one. Particularly bearing in mind what the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, said at the Report stage of the Scotland Bill when he shared with us the news that the Conservative Party, in its manifesto for the Scottish elections, had decided that the BTP should continue to police the railways in Scotland after those elections, surely he could be a little more forthright in standing up for the no-detriment principle.

My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely correct that the Scottish Conservative manifesto supports the devolution of BTP functions in Scotland, as do all the parties that signed up to the Smith agreement. The principle of devolution is that the Scottish Government should be held accountable by the people who elect them, and I assure the noble Lord that the Scottish Conservatives and their leader, Ruth Davidson, will be very vigorous indeed in holding the Scottish Government to account for their decisions on the BTP in Scotland. To take the other aspect of the noble Lord’s question, if the Scottish Government decide to proceed with plans to integrate BTP functions within Police Scotland, the UK Government will of course work very closely with the Scottish Government to put in place robust operational arrangements to ensure that there is no detriment to any part of the United Kingdom.

My Lords, at the Report stage of the Scotland Bill the Minister indicated that a senior-level joint programme board to lead and oversee the work to integrate the British Transport Police in Scotland into Police Scotland had been established by the two Governments and that it includes two representatives of the two police authorities. The Minister also indicated that it would report to the UK Parliament about progress and with its implementation proposals. Does the Minister agree that that will give this House the chance to monitor the principle of no detriment?

The noble Lord is absolutely correct. A joint programme board has been established and it includes representatives from the two Governments, the British Transport Police Authority and the Scottish Police Authority. As I said on Report, I am very happy to share with the House the terms of reference of that joint programme board and to do so soon after the Scottish elections have concluded on 5 May. I also renew the commitment to update the House in detail on the implementation plans once the Scottish Government have finalised their operational model, which, although it is in the gift of the Scottish Government, I anticipate will be in the late autumn. That will, I think, give the House the opportunity to monitor progress.

My Lords, will the Minister respond to the question from my noble friend Lord Faulkner about the BTP’s evidence to the Public Audit Committee that if this split happens, regardless of the safety and other implications which we have all spoken about previously, there will be extra costs for the British and Welsh Governments for the British Transport Police activities in those countries? If the Scottish Government implement this, will they compensate England and Wales for the extra costs that will be imposed?

I do not think we can be specific on the costs until we know what the structure will be. However, as I said, in the detailed discussions on the implementation plans the UK Government will work very closely with the Scottish Government to ensure that, whatever arrangements are put in place, they do not cause detriment to the other parts of the UK.

My Lords, it is of course conceivable in the future that there may be disagreements between the Government here in London and the Scottish Government. Can the Minister give us a guarantee—and, if he can, how can he make such a guarantee—that we are not going to see the spectre of trains pulling up at the border while operatives of the British Transport Police get off and operatives of Police Scotland get on?

There are already collaborative arrangements in place between the BTP and Police Scotland. I think that as we put in place the new arrangements we will be looking to ensure that we build on those collaborative arrangements to ensure that there is a seamless operation of what is a very important service for the whole of the UK.

But who, my Lords, is going to decide whether the no-detriment principle applies? Is it going to be the British Parliament or the Scottish Parliament?

As regards this issue, I go back to what my noble friend Lord Empey said. I am not sure whether he is in his place today, but he has great experience of these matters in Northern Ireland. He was absolutely confident that we could put in place effective working arrangements. However, he did caveat that by saying that it would take time to achieve that. It is certainly our view and expectation that it would take two to three years to ensure that there is a proper transfer of these functions.

My Lords, is the Minister sure that we should be making a direct comparison with Northern Ireland in this respect? I understand that trains run between England and Scotland but not between England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.