Keeping our railways safe during a time of political change

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Rail Minister praises the work of the British Transport Police as preparations are made for devolving policing of the Scottish rail network.


Thank you for your welcome.

It is an honour to be invited to speak at the British Transport Police Federation Annual Conference for a second time.

Just as it was an honour to attend the Annual BTP Bravery Awards dinner last night.

It’s right that officers are recognised and rewarded for showing exceptional bravery.

After all, bravery is surely the first character requirement of any officer serving in the uniform of the British Transport Police.

And it’s the routine, day-and-night bravery shown by officers of the BTP that makes the exceptional bravery recognised last night even more remarkable.

So on behalf of the government, and all rail passengers, I’d like to start by thanking every BTP officer for the work you do.

For fighting crime, for keeping us safe, and for being there when things go wrong.

First, I want to talk about the complex challenge of ensuring our railways and our stations are safe.

Safety on the railways

Vulnerable young people

Surely the most rewarding of your responsibilities is bringing help to such a variety of people in a variety of circumstances.

I’d like to talk about one such group of people in particular: the vulnerable children and young people who take refuge in our railway stations.

In September, the House of Commons Transport Select Committee published a report on security on the railways.

In that report, the Select Committee was right to identify a need for both the government and the BTP to do more to help these vulnerable children and young people.

In London alone we believe that hundreds of runaway children are picked up at railway stations every year.

This could be because stations are the first place young people reach after leaving home, or it could be because they perceive stations to be warmer and safer than the streets.

Whatever the reason, these young people are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

So in January I was pleased to host a meeting between the BTP, the BTP Authority, the Railway Children, the NSPCC and a number of others.

I was proud to see in that meeting the shared resolve to change things.

And I was impressed that the BTP are already making progress since the publication of the Select Committee’s report.

Among a number of other important initiatives, I particularly welcome the BTP’s plan to launch, from April, a new central child safeguarding command with a dedicated superintendent and a half-million pound budget, the appointment to the force of recognised experts in the field, and fresh training for 3,000 BTP officers and staff on the safeguarding of children.

Of course, often the biggest difference can be made by officers on the beat in our stations.

Just knowing what signs to look for, being able to say and do the right thing.

Your actions can be the intervention that turns a vulnerable life around.

Violence against women

But children and young people are not the only people who can be at risk on and around our transport network.

According to TfL, in a 12-month period 1 in 7 female passengers aged over 16 experienced sexual harassment on London’s public transport, but only a tiny proportion then went on to report the experience to the police.

If offenders think they can get away with it, the problem will keep getting worse.

In recent weeks, the DfT and the Government Equalities Office have held a seminar on women’s safety on transport at BTP headquarters, and we’ve funded academic research to look at measures employed in other countries to protect women’s safety as they travel about.

But I have been particularly impressed with the ground-breaking work the BTP has done with Project Guardian in London.

Project Guardian focuses on encouraging victims to report crimes, alongside proactive police enforcement.

Since its launch in 2013, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in both confidence to report sexual crime and in the number of perpetrators being brought to justice.

I would like the BTP to seriously consider extending Project Guardian to everywhere it’s needed in the country.

Terrorist threat

But I can’t talk about safety without mentioning the ever-present threat of terrorism.

We don’t know if, or when, we will suffer another terrorist attack against our transport network.

But we do know this: if it happens, the British Transport Police will be among the first at the scene.

This summer marks ten years since the terrible attacks of 7 July 2005.

It was an occasion that showed the British Transport Police at its most professional and – frankly – heroic.

Since I spoke to you last year, the terrorist threat level in this country has been raised from substantial to severe.

There are people – here and abroad – who given the chance would attack us again.

So I am grateful we have the BTP to protect our transport networks.

I agree with the Transport Select Committee, who said:

The BTP has a proven record of successful risk-based, counter-terrorist policing, which depends on accurate and up-to-date intelligence.

This record has been won through your experience of all the terrorist threats against this country over the last 30 years.

And it’s a record I am confident you will continue to hone and uphold.

Devolution to Scotland

I’d now like to talk about something that I know is a concern for the BTP Federation and for many serving officers.

That’s the plan to devolve policing of the rail network in Scotland to the Scottish government.

In my speech to this conference last year, I made the case for Scotland to remain in the union.

So I welcomed the fact that in September more than 2 million people voted to keep the country together.

But the Scottish people voted for the union in the expectation that in future, more decisions will be taken in Scotland.

And you’ll know that when Lord Smith convened Scotland’s 5 main political parties, there was an agreement that the functions of the British Transport Police in Scotland should be devolved.

We must now prepare for this devolution to happen, and for the necessary legislation to be put before Parliament after the general election.

In the meantime, there is work to be done on how the railway in Scotland should be policed.

So while I am not yet able to answer all your questions, what I can say now is this.

The Scottish government has made clear that safe and secure railways are as important in Scotland as they are in the rest of the UK.

The UK government, the BTP Federation, the BTP Authority and the Scottish government must now work together to achieve that safety and security.

And although the decision on how the railway is policed in Scotland will be up to the Scottish government, we will continue to press the Scottish government to ensure that support for your vital policing work is maintained.

Throughout this period of uncertainty, I know that the public will continue to receive the same professional, effective service from the British Transport Police.

And for that, I thank you.

Thank you for your bravery.

Thank you for your work to keep our railways safe.

And thank you for your commitment to the job through this time of political change.