MERGING British Transport Police with Police Scotland would be an “act of vandalism” and would “jeopardise an effective fight against terrorism,” the House of Lords has heard.

During a debate in the second chamber, Labour’s Lord Foulkes of Cumnock pointed to the “great and growing concern” to the proposed merger, which, he claimed, was the result of “party political dogma” by the SNP.

He highlighted how HM Inspector of Constabulary said there was no business case for it, how two-thirds of BTP officers were unsure if they would transfer to Police Scotland, and that opposition MSPs on Holyrood’s Justice Committee opposed it as did opposition MSPs in the chamber when it came to a vote but, the peer noted, “with their friends the Greens, the SNP Government pushed it through”.

The former Scotland Office Minister explained how there were only two specialist counterterrorist forces in the whole of the UK: the Metropolitan Police and the BTP.

“Both now provide support to Police Scotland and that works well. As we know only too well, sadly, terrorists know no boundaries, in the UK or elsewhere, so anti-terror forces need to work across the boundaries. The merger would jeopardise an effective fight against terrorism,” he declared.

The Labour peer said there was a “sensible alternative,” which would satisfy genuine devolution desires while retaining operational effectiveness.

“The BTP could remain intact but the Chief Constable would report to the Scottish Parliament and to Scottish Government Ministers on all operations in Scotland and all issues affecting Scotland. They would have a say in everything happening in Scotland without having to break up the BTP.”

He called on David Mundell, the Scottish Secretary, to approach the Scottish Government and ask it to “accept this sensible and reasonable option” and urged Chris Grayling, the Transport Secretary, to withhold the transfer of assets to the BTP “unless there is a sensible arrangement for devolution, along the lines that I have suggested”.

Tory peer Lord Forsyth expressed consternation at the merger, which he branded an “act of vandalism”.

“I just find it extraordinary,” he declared. “At a time when we are threatened by lone wolf terrorists, travelling around the country, when we have seen attacks in Glasgow, Manchester and Birmingham, what on earth could be driving this? Why would someone want to break up an organisation which has a proven track record of success, which has shown great expertise, and which is specialist in its nature?” asked the former Scottish Secretary.

He said he had come to the conclusion that the answer lay in the name: the British Transport Police.

“This is the sort of ideological battle that we thought we had put behind us in Scotland being translated into something that threatens the security of people in Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom,” argued Lord Forsyth.

Noting how Michael Matheson, the Scottish Justice Secretary, had “overruled” the Scottish Police Authority on the issue of Chief Constable Phil Gormley returning to work, he added: “The independence of the police from political action is a fundamental part of our constitution; so is the rest of the United Kingdom really happy for the BTP to be put in the hands of a government, who show little respect for the independence of police authorities or the constitutional principles involved?”

The SNP is not represented in the House of Lords.

Several other peers expressed concern at the merger, including Labour’s Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale, who branded it “absolute folly,” noting how the BTP was a “very professional, exceptionally efficient force…with its special expertise in anti-terrorism, which is of very great relevance right now”.

She added: “We really should not inflict this on the country. Apart from efficiencies and principles, there is also the question of the effect on the security of the country and it should be avoided at all costs.”

Lord Wallace of Tankerness, the former Liberal Democrat Deputy First Minister, argued the subject under discussion was “not even a merger but a dismemberment of the BTP with the Scottish part of it being put into Police Scotland”.

Noting the “considerable challenges[that] face Police Scotland as a result of what I and my party believe was a botched centralisation,” he insisted now was not the time for a merger.

However, Lord Wallace made clear that Westminster had agreed to devolve railway policing to Holyrood and, so to speak, “the train has left the station”.

Noting how his party wanted the merger to be delayed until 2027, he nonetheless stressed: “It is a matter for the Scottish Parliament.”

Lord Duncan, the Scotland Office Minister, recognising the concerns, said he would contact the Joint Programme Board, which is overseeing the merger, to produce a report, which would form the basis of a discussion between the two governments.

If the answers from the board “are not satisfactory, then opportunities will be provided for this House and others to move forward in a different way…I am basically saying that this is not the end of the story”.

The minister told peers: “We need to know that terrorism and security issues are addressed head on; there can be no diminution in these. We must recognise that this involves real police officers and that there can be no impact upon their well-being, their morale or their situation, and that they must be treated with respect throughout this process.”

Declaring how “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Lord Duncan emphasised the issue of devolution, saying: “I should stress that that conclusion must be determined by the Scottish Parliament as a matter of course. It is that Parliament’s responsibility to hold to account the Scottish Government, who have moved this matter forward.”