09 May 2017

S5M-05423 Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill - Stage 1

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-05423, in the name of Humza Yousaf, on the Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill at stage 1.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

Before I start the main part of my speech, I want to pick up on a couple of things that have been said. It is strange that, in talking about nuclear trains, Liam Kerr seems to have been unaware of the role of the Civil Nuclear Constabulary—as opposed to the BTP—in that regard. Oliver Mundell—this is a more important and substantial point—said that there is one rail network in the UK, but he is wrong: there are two. The GB network is the one that is policed by the BTP, but it is one of the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s responsibilities to police the railways in Northern Ireland. It polices the railways in the island of Ireland jointly with the Garda Síochána, which is a perfectly satisfactory arrangement. The safety arrangements and achievements in Ireland appear to be quite similar to those in the UK.

I want to say a word or two about what the BTP is. Its origins are very ancient. The first railway police were formed in 1826, three years before the Metropolitan Police. There have been many reforms in the nearly 200 years since the first railway police were established. The set of reforms that we are considering today is one in a long line of reforms and changes.

What is the BTP about? It is about providing a physical presence that is seen by passengers and staff on the rail network. That is probably the most important thing, but a key thing to remember is that hardly any of the public know that the officers concerned are not from Police Scotland—to members of the public, they are just police.

I can give an example from some years ago when, on my way to the station, I found some money lying in the street. I took it to the BTP at Waverley station and I was told that I had to go to a different police station to hand it in. That is just a little example from about 10 years ago so it is not necessarily current.

Like all police, the BTP also has to deal with offending. I heard from Douglas Ross that the amount of offending would overwhelm Police Scotland. However, the number of offences is less than—

Douglas Ross: On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I am sure that Mr Stevenson does not want to mislead Parliament. He said that I told Parliament that the increases would overwhelm Police Scotland—

Stewart Stevenson: I am happy to acknowledge the substantive point that Douglas Ross made, if that is correct, as I am sure that he would not mislead me. However, the number of offences that are dealt with by the BTP is less than 10 per day and I am not sure that that will overwhelm the resources of Police Scotland. The number of recorded crimes is 5.5 per day—is that going to overwhelm the Police Scotland systems?

Besides dealing with offending, the BTP is there to deal with—[Interruption.]

The Deputy Presiding Officer: Minister and Mr Ross, you are both being very impolite to the speaker.

Stewart Stevenson: The other vital role of the BTP is the strategic role that is related to terrorism. In a UK Parliament committee session, DCC Hanstock said:

“In the hierarchy of risk, the biggest threat is terrorism. The challenge of protecting a network that is so wide and open, and the risk being so unpredictable, causes us the greatest level of concern”.

Let us think about interfaces. There are 45 territorial forces in the United Kingdom and there are three national forces—the BTP, the Ministry of Defence Police and the Civil Nuclear Constabulary. After the reform, what will the number be? Exactly the same. It is just that some of one will go to another. There will still be 45 plus three. The number of interfaces is 990—arithmetic—and there will still be 990 interfaces after the reform.

Does any of that matter? Ninety-five per cent of rail passenger journeys that are made in Scotland are wholly in Scotland so, at the moment, those passengers interface with a police force that is separate from the force that deals with all the other crime. With the reform, they will interface with the police force that deals with all crime and offences throughout Scotland, so we will dramatically reduce the number of interfaces that the public has to deal with.

Even if every police officer had a track access certificate, it would be unwise to rely on that. I have a motorcycle licence, but I have not been on a bike since 1969. It is legal for me to get on one tomorrow, but it would be very unwise to do so because I am out of practice. Police officers should only go on the railway line in the most extreme of circumstances, certificate or not. If a mother pushed her pram over a platform, I hope that I would shout to somebody to tell me whether a train was coming and jump to rescue them. I think that a police officer would do the same. However, it is important that the core role be in the hands of people who have a track access certificate.

Of 300-plus railway stations in Scotland, only a dozen have BTP officers present. The majority of railway stations in Scotland are covered by Police Scotland and that will continue.

Finally, I hear everything that my Labour colleagues have said, but they had better tell that to the Labour Mayor of London who wants to integrate the BTP into the Metropolitan Police. They are saying one thing in Scotland and we are hearing another thing in London.

I strongly support the bill and, Presiding Officer, I thank you for the six minutes.


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