MSP Rona Mackay has voted in favour of merging railway policing in Scotland with Police Scotland.
It follows the general principles of Stage One of the Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill being voted through by MSPs in the Scottish Parliament.
The SNP, Greens and Liberal Democrats passed the bill with 66 votes to Labour and the Tories’ 44.
As Deputy Convener of the Justice Committee, Ms Mackay has been involved in scrutinising the bill.
If passed, the Bill will see the British Transport Police’s 285 officers and responsibilities integrated with Police Scotland, to enhance safety and security for the rail travelling public.
The Bill will now be looked at and amended by MSPs before being voted on again.
The Strathkelvin and Bearsden MSP said: “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.
“All of the 17,000 police officers in Scotland will undertake the three-week railway policing training and a bespoke specialist unit will be set up. This will only improve the service to the rail network in Scotland and, of course, contribute to the safety of the general public.
“It is depressing, yet not unexpected, to see the Labour Party and the Tories join forces to oppose this common sense proposal.”
Video of speech.
Rona Mackay (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP): 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.