Scottish Parliament Justice Committee back integration of transport police into Police Scotland
Labour and Conservative committee members disagreed with the proposals to integrate railway policing
Scottish Parliament windows - image credit: Holyrood
A majority of the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee has backed the Scottish Government’s plan to integrate the British Transport Police in Scotland into Police Scotland.
Four MSPs on the eleven-person committee – Labour MSP Mary Fee and Conservatives Margaret Mitchell, Oliver Mundell and Douglas Ross – did not agree with the proposed integration, while the remaining SNP, Green and Lib Dem members supported the principles of the bill.
However, the committee acknowledged that a majority of those who have commented on the bill oppose the full integration of railway policing into Police Scotland.
As well as agreeing to the principle of the bill, the committee also made a number of recommendations for implementation if integration goes ahead.
Specific requests to the Scottish Government and Police Scotland include a call to maintain a visible police presence on the rail network, to ensure that cross-border information sharing in the event of a major incident such as a terrorist attack and a guarantee that there will be no detriment to the British Transport Police staff and officers’ conditions of employment.
They have called for a seamless transfer of responsibility to ensure the safety of the public, transport police officers and staff and rail employees and operators.
Other report recommendations focus on the training that Police Scotland is to provide for officers and who will be liable for any extra costs which result from the integration of transport policing into Police Scotland.
Justice Committee convener, Margaret Mitchell MSP, said: “The committee heard a variety of opinions about the best approach for railway policing in Scotland now that has been devolved to the Scottish Parliament.
“Much of the evidence raised concerns about integration.
“The committee did not arrive at a unanimous position on the bill’s general principles with some members backing an alternative approach.
“The committee report made a number of clear recommendations to ensure that the same level of service that the travelling public currently enjoys is maintained.
“These include the recommendations that strong procedures should be in place to manage cross-border issues, such as the powers of officers to carry out their duties as they travel between Scotland and England.
“Also that officers must be clear on operational issues such as the use of Tasers and the powers of arrest.
“All members agree that protecting the travelling public is of the utmost importance.”
The bill was introduced following a recommendation by the Smith Commission that the function of the British Transport Police be a devolved matter, which was then set out in the Scotland Act 2016.
Concerns have been raised about cross-border working between Police Scotland and British Transport in the event of devolution, about potential changes to staff terms and conditions and about the maintenance of specialist knowledge if transport police officers are integrated into a larger geographical force.
The stage 1 debate on this bill is expected to take place in the Scottish Parliament in the week beginning 8 May.
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