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Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill passes stage 1 vote
The Scottish Government's bill to merge the British Transport Police in Scotland into Police Scotland survived its first vote in the Holyrood Chamber yesterday.
MSPs voted by 66 to 44 to agree the general principles of the Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill after a stage 1 debate in which both Labour and the Conservatives opposed the bill.
A similar split had taken place on the Justice Committee, which produced a majority report supporting the bill.
Conservative MSP Douglas Ross accused the Government of failing to consult on other options put forward by the British Transport Police Authority, and of being motivated by "political ideology" in wanting to cut ties with anything including the word "British". He pointed to concerns in evidence to the Justice Committee of prejudice to passenger safety, and loss of expertise. Police Scotland itself was still in a state of "crisis" and already had a huge financial deficit.
Labour's Claire Baker said all three unions concerned opposed the bill, over reductions in the effectiveness of cross-border policing and the possible impact on jobs and conditions of service. The bill had been introduced "to fix something that does not need to be repaired".
John Finnie of the Greens, who voted in favour of the bill, said there was an opportunity for Police Scotland to learn from the British Transport Police and it wanted to retain the latter's specialist skills. Liberal Democrat Liam McArthur also criticised the failure to look at alternatives, and voiced concerns over training, costs of the transfer and its timing, which if not addressed meant his party would not support the bill at stage 3.
Winding up for the Government, Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said the proposal had been put forward for the past six years. Other forms of devolution would not provide the same accountabiity and scrutiny. The bill would provide a single, more effective command structure and a national resource: the BTP in Scotland did not have the capability to deal with a major incident.
The bill now goes back to the Justice Committee for detailed scrutiny.
Click here to view the debate.