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Scotland: Transport Policing

Volume 794: debated on Tuesday 18 December 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with the Scottish Government about the future of transport policing in Scotland.

My Lords, the Scotland Act 2016, following the Smith agreement, devolves responsibility for railway policing in Scotland. Noble Lords will be aware that the Scottish Government have announced that, although full integration of British Transport Police into Police Scotland remains a long-term ambition, other options are now being explored. We continue to work with the Scottish Government as they develop their plans, and we remain committed to ensuring the continuing effectiveness of railway policing across the network.

My Lords, I suspect that the Minister agrees with me that merging Police Scotland with British Transport Police was not the greatest proposal in the Smith commission report, and it is a pity that we did not stop it when we had a chance in 2014. Since then, an enormous amount of time, effort and money has been spent, particularly on things like consultancy fees—Police Scotland paid £700,000 to Ernst & Young—to pursue something which not only makes no sense in policing terms but which would have reduced the safety of the travelling public on trains between Scotland and England. Can the Minister confirm that the joint programme board is now focusing on retaining the role of the BTP in Scotland and enhancing statutory accountability to the Scottish Government through the British Transport Police Authority, and does he also agree that that is exactly what many of us in the House have been asking for over the last four years?

In response to the noble Lord’s first question, he may very well say that; unfortunately, the Government could not possibly comment. On the second point he raised, we have taken a long journey and have passed through many deep and dark tunnels—

I am sorry—it has been a long day. We are now moving toward a solution which I believe will work for all concerned. It will work within the established legal framework and will ensure that the network itself remains fully integrated, that security remains the primary focus, and that there will now be an accountability, through various structures, to ensure that there is a Scottish dimension to that without undermining the vital focus of the force itself.

My Lords, for obvious reasons, such as terrorism and all the other factors, security on public transport is of the utmost importance in the present state of the country. It is therefore extremely important that police officers are able to act when necessary, and clearly it would be wrong for people to get on the train at King’s Cross and for security to cease once they got beyond Newcastle. I think that is very obvious to everybody. I can remember the days when police officers were allowed to travel on the train free simply to encourage them to travel on public transport. Does this practice still exist? It is a great help to the guard, who knows that when he checks tickets he has officers on the train he can call for assistance.

On the wider change, it is a cliché but now is not the time for such change—there are too many security considerations. The points the noble Lord raises are valid today and will continue to be valid tomorrow.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that British Transport Police does a magnificent job in maintaining security on our trains, in particular between Scotland and England, and that for the Scottish Government the root of this problem has been the name? Had it not been called British Transport Police, we would not have seen so much objection and such a waste of resources as the result of nothing less than political prejudice on the part of the Scottish Government.

My noble friend makes a very valid contribution. The success rate of British Transport Police is considerably higher than that of the other police forces. On the reasoning behind the Scottish Government’s move, it is not for me to seek to define the indescribable workings of the Scottish Government. None the less, I suspect there might be something in what he says.

My Lords, the Scottish Government have been struggling for years with the consequences of the flawed creation of Police Scotland. It is abundantly clear that integrating British Transport Police into Police Scotland is beyond the capacity of the Scottish Government to manage. Do the Government take the view in these circumstances that they should either postpone this until it can be done without disruption or recognise, if that is not possible, that they should abandon the plan altogether?

The Scottish Government will not progress with their initial plans; that is the first thing to emphasise. The important thing, which I stressed the last time I commented on this matter, is: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

I thank the Minister for his positive action on this issue since I first raised it in the Grand Committee on the statutory instrument. I am most grateful to him. Does he not agree, however, that out of this debacle something positive could come if it is seen as a model for devolution? British Transport Police and other UK organisations could remain intact operationally but report for all their operations in Scotland to the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament. That would be a model for many UK institutions and organisations.

The noble Lord has been dogged in his pursuit of this matter and I am obliged to him for continuing to be so. He is absolutely correct in emphasising again that this could well be a model that could work across a whole range of devolved areas.

My Lords, even under devolution there has been increasing centralisation in Scotland, including of Police Scotland, which has resulted in failures to respond to incidents in which there has been loss of life. The idea of that body incorporating British Transport Police as well is very worrying. Does the Minister agree that significant expertise exists within British Transport Police that needs to be kept separate?

The noble Baroness is absolutely right. The expertise within British Transport Police is specific to transport issues and related concerns. It cannot easily be accommodated into general policing.

My Lords, I congratulate the Minister and other speakers on the progress that has been made, but will the noble Lord tell the House whether the pensions rights and obligations of the existing BTP staff will be protected in whatever shape or form the end result occurs?