House of Commons Reception - Chairman's Speech
4 November 2004
Welcome- was given to our hosts - the Transport Minister , Tony McNulty and his parliamentary colleagues; Gary Knight and Paul Marsden.
The event is also supported by the Chief Constable, Mr Ian Johnston. I also have with me several of my Federation colleagues who will, no doubt, if they have not already spoken to you, take the opportunity to do so.
A major change for the British Transport Police has been the creation of the new Police Authority chaired by Sir Alistair Graham. Even after only its second meeting it is evident that there is a new dynamism to the governance of the Force - helped no doubt by the adjustment of the transport, policing and consumer interests into a more balanced representation on the Authority.
One thing that hasn't changed is that any survey of public concerns will also include at the top - transportation, in particular the railway network and, of course, policing. The British Transport Police span both the concerns and we are well aware of the public pressure to ensure that the five million people who use our railways everyday arrive on time and, more importantly, safely.
Earlier this year the Department of Transport commissioned a Review of the British Transport Police. The Review was comprehensive and thorough.
Its central conclusion was that Britain needs a specialist rail police force: that the arguments for dispersing the resources and expertise of the BTP to the county and metropolitan forces just do not stack up.
We are a cross-boundary force able to deal with mobile crime, the countering of terrorism targeting the railway network, the investigation of major railway accidents and the policing of travelling football supporters.
We perform all four of these roles in a way which also recognises the commercial needs of the railway system. The Review quite rightly concluded that there was no better organisation that the BTP for addressing railway crime and still keep the system rolling.
There is a threat to the BTP. It comes from two sources. First, the BTP is funded on the user pays principle. That is the railway companies use the police therefore they should pay for our services. The Review reaffirmed that principle. However, while the principle is fine, the experience is that persuading the Train Operating Companies to stump up their share of our budget is not without difficulty. Their priority is to make a profit and some of the Train Operating Companies see policing as a cost which should be minimised or even eliminated. We have been unable to persuade Government that the interpretation of the user pays principle should be that it is the travelling public who ultimately pays for us and that the Train Operating Companies should be levied by the Department of Transport on behalf of the BTP.
When it comes to dealing with the Train Operating Companies I suspect that the Department can wield more muscle than that of BTP in encouraging the Train Operating Companies to recognise their financial obligations.
The second threat is a politically conceived notion which keeps surfacing in the Home Office and City Hall. This is the belief that our London Underground Division should be merged into the Metropolitan Police Service.
Some of you will be aware that in New York the transit police and the New York Police Department were merged and there is a view in some political circles here that we should do the same. I cannot stress enough that we are not looking at similar circumstances when we compare New York to London. Such a merger of a quarter of the BTP into the Met would result in a dilution or even complete loss of railway policing expertise and the destruction of the BTP as a viable police service. This would fly completely in the face of the conclusions of the Department's review. Our Chief Constable, Mr Johnston, has made his opposition to the idea very plain and although we would have been very sorry to have lost him to the Met, we would surely have had someone there who would have thrown the merger idea into the dustbin.
Finally, we police a world of unpredictable terrorism: 9/11, Bali and Madrid also show that we are dealing with fanatics who believe that the more fantastic and bizarre the attack, the better they make their point. A key target is obviously our railway network and London in particular. A blow against the central London railway system is a blow against our economy, our political standing and against ordinary people going to their work.
The Federation is working with the Force and our other stakeholder partners to maximise our capability to deal with the terrorist threat. All of us must be vigilant. Members of Parliament can help by ensuring that this Force is properly funded, that we are supported through enshrining the extension of our jurisdiction into permanent rather than renewable legislation and by ending the circulation of ideas for our restructuring which have no merit in practice.