Railway policing merger bill passed

Written by Tom Freeman on 28 June 2017 in News

Railway police set to join Police Scotland in 2019 under new legislation

Plans to bring the control of transport police under the auspices of Police Scotland took a step closer after the Scottish Parliament passed legislation to merge railway policing north of the border.

Votes from the SNP and the Scottish Greens meant the Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill was passed by 68 votes to 53.

The Liberal Democrats, who had voted for the legislation in general principle, voted against the bill in the final stage alongside Labour and Conservative members.

The plan to integrate British Transport Police into Police Scotland has been a long-held ambition by the Scottish Government but senior officers have warned the process will be “massively complicated”.

The proposal will see British Transport Police’s 224 officers and staff in Scotland joining Police Scotland in 2019, with a statutory guarantee that they can stay within railway policing.

The Scottish Government said the pensions, terms and conditions would be maintained for officers who transfer over.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said: “With this move we are ensuring that policing on Scotland’s 93 million annual rail journeys is fully accountable to the people of Scotland and our Parliament.

“We know that preserving railway expertise is vital and Police Scotland have already confirmed their plans to maintain a specialist railway policing function within the wider service.

“Making this change gives our railway officers access to the specialist resources of the UK’s second largest police force including, crucially, counter-terrorism capabilities.”

Explaining why his party had shifted position, Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Liam McArthur said the plan was “flawed”.

Questions remained about whether specialist expertise could be maintained, he said.

“This bill has been criticised by officers, unions and railway staff and indeed a majority of respondents to the government’s consultation ranged from sceptical to hostile. 

“Scottish Liberal Democrats were prepared to see if those criticisms could be addressed during the course of the progression of this bill through Parliament but it has become increasingly obvious that ministers made up their minds long ago to dismantle British Transport Police and merge its functions with Police Scotland irrespective of the evidence.”

Scottish Labour’s justice spokesperson Claire Baker said: “There are clear financial and operational questions that still remain unanswered.

“This is an expensive plan to fix a problem that isn’t broken, and we will continue to hold the Scottish Government to account over this merger in the coming months.”

Deputy Chief Constable Johnny Gwynne said: “Police Scotland acknowledges the decision of the Scottish Parliament and will look to build on the good work of BTP to sustain and improve the delivery of policing services and meet the needs of the travelling public and rail industry across Scotland."

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