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Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight) : My right hon. Friend was not able to announce a subject for the Opposition day debate on Monday week. Given the comments of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Michie) on the dispute at Ever-Sure and given the unwarranted and unprovoked attacks on the integrity of my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Patnick), will my right hon. Friend confirm that, if the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) requests an Opposition day debate on the dispute, he will agree to it? Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the Opposition do not request that debate, it will mean that they are simply indulging in petty political point scoring?
Mr. Wakeham : It is for the Opposition to decide the subject for debate on that day. If they want to debate that issue, they are entitled to do so. I recognise the force of my hon. Friend's comments. We can draw our own conclusions from the Opposition's actions.
Mr. Martyn Jones (Clywd, South-West) : I refer the Leader of the House to the Official Report of 22 June, when he promised my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) that he would do his best to have a Welsh Grand Committee before the end of the Session. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we gave two weeks' and three weeks' notice respectively through the usual channels and neither date was acceptable to the Secretary of State for Wales? I suspect that if the Secretary of State were as keen to discuss the Health Service as he claims, he would have found time to debate that matter in the House. I suggest that that notice is sufficient. I ask the Leader of the House to do better than his best and to prevail on the Secretary of State for Wales to overcome his natural fear to discuss a subject such as the Health Service in Wales and have a debate before the end of the Session.
Mr. Wakeham : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for confirming that what I said in that debate was not as his hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) suggested. I said that I would do my best. I will have discussions though the usual channels and I never do less than my best in these matters.
Mr. Alan W. Williams (Carmarthen) : I add my comments to those of my hon. Friends the Members for Clwyd, South-West (Mr. Jones) and for Ogmore (Mr. Powell). There is serious concern all over Wales about the future of the Health Service and the Government's review proposals. The subject has produced a large mail bag for me and all other Welsh Members. I was heavily involved in the by-elections earlier this year in Pontypridd and Vale of Glamorgan and I know that the Health Service is the main issue in politics today for thousands of people. We should have an opportunity in the Welsh Grand Committee to discuss the effect of the proposals on Wales. We normally have four Committee sittings a year, but this year we have had only three. Why do the Secretary of State for Wales and the Government not allow us the opportunity to discuss the Health Service in the Welsh Grand Committee?
Mr. Wakeham : I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman has reminded the House of his activities in the by-elections. I thought that he would hope that we would forget all about them. I recognise that he has added his voice to those of his hon. Friends wanting a debate on the Health Service in Wales. The Government's record on Wales and the Health Service would make a suitable subject for debate, but such matters must be negotiated through the usual channels, as I have said that I will seek to do. I cannot make a firm promise.
Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield) : Will the Leader of the House do me a favour? Will he grab hold of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy, in between his flying in and out of Heathrow--which he does too often--and have a word with him on coming to the House and making a statement about a pit closure in my constituency? Everything has been agreed, so there is no problem about that. However, British Coal wants to use the land for housing development, whereas the people of the area want jobs. There is nothing else. I do not want the Leader of the House to tell me that he will have a word with his right hon. Friend because I have already done
Column 482that. Let us have the Secretary of State here and let me have the opportunity to question him to see what help he will give my constituents on this problem.
Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sorry to raise this point of order, but the matter is most important. You called during business questions the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field) who, for reasons best known to himself, referred to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Patnick) and to the comments made earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Michie). I am sure that you will recollect that my hon. Friend the Member for Heeley made no comment about the hon. Member for Hallam. I am sure that you will also confirm that the early-day motion concerning Ever-Sure Textiles Limited and the dispute of members of the Transport and General Workers Union seeking union recognition refers to the hon. Member for Hallam. However, it must have been entirely in order for those references to be made as they have been accepted by the Table Office and, indirectly, yourself. I hope, therefore, that you will make it clear that the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Heeley and the early-day motion did not constitute an unprovoked attack on the integrity of the hon. Member for Hallam, which was what the hon. Member for Isle of Wight claimed. I hope that you will be able to clarify the record.
That the draft Passenger and Goods Vehicles (Recording Equipment) Regulations 1989 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.-- [Mr. Dorrell.]
[Relevant documents : First Report from the Home Affairs Committee of Session 1988-89 on the Forensic Science Service (House of Commons Paper No. 26), the Government Reply thereto (Cm. 699), the Third Report of Session 1988-89 on Higher Police Training and the Police Staff College (House of Commons Paper No. 110) and the Fourth Report of Session 1988-89 on Home Office Expenditure (House of Commons Paper No. 314), so far as it relates to common police services.]--[Mr. Douglas Hogg.]
Common Police Services
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a further sum, not exceeding £259,162,000 be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund to defray the charges which will come in course of payment during the year ending on 31st March 1990 for expenditure by the Home Office on court services, other services related to crime, probation and after-care, police, fire, civil defence, control of immigration and nationality, issue of passports, etc., other protective and community services, certain broadcasting services, data protection and other miscellaneous services including grants in aid and international subscriptions ; and on administration (excluding prisons).
Mr. John Wheeler (Westminster, North) : I welcome this opportunity to introduce a debate on common police services and, in so doing, to discuss three of the reports of my Select Committee on Home Affairs this Session. My Committee has reported on the forensic science service and the police staff college, both of which are paid for from the common police services fund and has devoted part of our report on Home Office expenditure to common police services.
The common police services fund is used as a means of paying for those centrally organised police activities which individual forces could not finance on their own. These services so funded have been described as the infrastructure of the police service. Under the provisions of the Police Act 1964, the Secretary of State is empowered to contribute to these services as a means of promoting the efficiency of the police. Although small in monetary terms and in relation to overall expenditure on the police, common police services currently include a variety of activities essential to the effectiveness of the police service as a whole.
Because the police service is based upon a tripartite structure dating from Victorian times, it is difficult, if not impossible, for the Government to introduce new techniques in policing or to achieve standard practice across all 43 police forces in England and Wales. It has been a feature of all three of our Committee reports that we have proposed ways of creating greater unity of purpose and common approaches to policing, without which the present police structure might fail to meet the needs of the 1990s.
Column 484Our first report, made in February of this year, was on the forensic science service. The Committee discovered that the service has been under-funded. Its resources had not increased in line with the increasing volume of recorded crime and the enhanced capacity of the laboratories for forensic analysis. The shortfall in funding had led to the demoralisation of staff and general dissatisfaction with the services provided by forensic science laboratories to individual police forces.
The under-funding was the more serious, in the view of the Committee, because we had evidence that in particular cases the use of forensic science could lead to great savings in police resources by quickly confirming the guilt or establishing the innocence of a subject. Forensic science analysis can have a direct bearing on the use of expensive police resources by enabling them to be better directed. Moreover, we also had evidence that, in some cases giving rise to major public anxiety, forensic analysis has contributed to a speedy solution of the crime and the allaying of much disquiet. The usefulness of forensic science is nowhere more clearly demonstrated than in the development of the DNA profiling test, which will match the DNA structure of a person to any blood, hair or other body fluids left at the scene of a crime. Because of the unique structure of each individual's DNA and the increasingly sophisticated and accurate results obtained from such tests, we made a special recommendation that pending the establishment of a register of DNA profiles or "fingerprints", for which the technology is not yet available, records of all those convicted of appropriate offences should be retained for future reference.
To overcome the problem of under-funding, we proposed that the laboratories should institute a system of charging police forces for work done. The evident value of forensic analysis to police inquiries in our view would ensure adequate funding. In any event, we proposed additional safeguards to ensure that the service should not be run down for short-sighted and short- term budgetary reasons.
The Home Office has reacted positively to our report. Under the new director general, it is proposed that the forensic science service will expand to meet the currently unmet demand for forensic science. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to inform the House that the essential short-term increases in staffing have now been agreed by the Treasury. Our proposal that individual forces should take direct financial responsibility for the work done by the forensic science service has also been accepted in principle and a detailed study is to be made into the feasibility of establishing the service as an executive agency. We welcome these steps, but wish to be reassured that the implementation of the practice of charging is not being held up by the failure to obtain the agreement of the Association of Chief Police Officers.
Our third report of this Session was on higher police training and the police staff college. Following our earlier inquiries, we were convinced that a key factor in making the fragmented police structure work was an efficient and coherent system of higher police training. Given the enormous cost of the police service in England and Wales--£3.7 billion in the current year, with 122,000 police officers and 40,000 civilian staff and a variety of other expensive resources--it is vital that senior officers are trained to maximise the use of those resources and manage them effectively to the benefit of the whole police service.
Column 485We were most impressed by the police staff college at Bramshill. Under the leadership of the present commandant, Mr. Bunyard, it has improved its command courses in terms of quality and content so as to equip those in command at all levels to fulfil their
responsibilities. Because we recognise the importance of the skills and qualities available at the police staff college, we propose that its resouces should be used more widely in police management consultancy, in the research enterprise and as a venue for seminars and conferences.
From our visits to the college and the evidence we received, it became clear that the location of the college at Bramshill was an essential ingredient of its success. Bramshill house has become a symbol throughout the world of all that is best in the British police tradition. Sadly, Bramshill house is in a poor state of repair and will need urgent expenditure if it is to be preserved, but I believe that the investment that has already been made in the current site makes it inconceivable that the college should move. I would ask my hon. Friend the Minister if he is yet in a position to commit the Home Office to the future of Bramshill house as the venue of the police staff college and to the investment which this will require. If the excellent training provided at Bramshill is to contribute fully towards a more effectively managed police service, it must be accompanied by appropriate arrangements for recruitment, career development and appointment to senior police posts. Sadly, at present, such arrangements appear to be lacking. We found that the special course, which provides an avenue for accelerated promotion for the most able young officers, has been seriously under-subscribed. We do not believe that this under-subscription derives from the current method for selection of candidates for the special course and the senior command course by extended interview procedure, which we strongly support. Rather, it appears to follow from difficulties in the recruitment process and in the career development process within forces. It was suggested by Mr. Roger Birch, chief constable of Sussex and director of police extended interviews, that some smaller forces lacked the capacity to select the future leaders of the service.
As a solution to this perceived difficulty, we recommend that the Home Office should investigate the establishment of a professional method of nationally directed and regionally organised recruitment into the police service of England and Wales. To ensure that the most able young officers are motivated to attend the special course, we further recommend that the special course should include a greater element of assessment so that it becomes the principal means for identifying the future leaders and senior officers of the service. Similar difficulties were also apparent in the case of the senior command course. The Committee was deeply disturbed to learn of the number of officers at ACPO rank who had not attended the senior command course, including 47 per cent. of all assistant chief constables. In addition, a considerable number of those who, after vigorous selection procedures, undertake the senior command course, fail to go on to achieve assistant chief constable rank. This represents an appalling waste of training on the one hand, and a lack of professional training for those in post on the other. The Committee
Column 486recommends the adoption of a policy whereby, from 1993 onwards, attendance on the senior command course should be a compulsory requirement for all officers applying for posts at the ranks of chief constable and deputy chief constable and Metropolitan and City of London police equivalent rank.
We were also greatly concerned about the wider matter of career development at ACPO rank--in other words, how the leaders of the police service are chosen. The current system of appointment was described by Mr. Birch as an "unprofessional lottery". There is little or no scope for career planning in these grades, and there is a positive disincentive to secondment to undertake essential central service jobs. This must be changed if senior officers are to be given similar opportunities to civil servants to broaden their experience and to deepen their professional knowledge.
The Committee came to the conclusion that the current method of appointment to and within ACPO rank is haphazard and amateurish in the extreme. To overcome the problem for this small career group, which comprises 249 posts, of which 63 are in the Metropolitan police, our report recommends that the ACPO ranks of the police service should be established as a central service grade within the Home Office as a cadre of professional officers holding the historic rank of constable, but available for appointment to the developing tasks of a modern police service both in central services posts and in existing constabularies.
In addition to the nine ACPO rank central service posts, there are currently 600 officers on central service duties within the police service- -a number almost equivalent to a smaller police force. The growing importance of such posts is evident from the passage of the Police Officers (Central Services) Act 1989, which received Royal Assent only this week, and which granted to officers on such duties the historic office of constable.
A common thread in our reports on the forensic science service and higher police training is that the Home Office has found it difficult to determine the amount of resources to be devoted to services funded initially by the Home Office, partially paid for by local authorities and used by forces directed by chief constables.
We have therefore proposed in our report on Home Office expenditure that the Home Office should take full financial charge of those services necessarily provided centrally and recommend that, from the financial year 1991-92, the Home Office should pay the full cost of these services and that an appropriate adjustment should be made in the police or rate support grant to leave central and local government contributions to police expenditure in the same proportion as in the current financial year. Such a change would give those responsible for the services a direct incentive to maximise their efficiency and proper use.
In our report on Home Office expenditure, we review three other areas of police activity falling on common police services. For example, we examine the proposal that the secretariat of the Association of Chief Police Officers, should be strengthened. ACPO is increasingly looked to by the Home Office for advice and, in the case of the mutual aid co-ordination centre, it undertakes a quasi-executive role.
We therefore support the enhancement of ACPO's secretariat, provided that it is accompanied by a fundamental examination of the association's statutory
Column 487responsibility and accountability. Until the questions concerning the current organisation of the police are resolved, it appears that ACPO is to be the unifying factor in the present fragmented police structure. It is important, therefore, that this is acknowledged and its accountability established.
Our Committee has also been concerned at the limited expenditure on police recruitment, in view of the looming demographic problem which will occur as the pool of young people diminishes in the 1990s. We have therefore proposed that the Home Office and the Police Advisory Board give urgent consideration to an advertising campaign to market the police service as an attractive career to the ablest young people in the future. We re-emphasise the importance of a recommendation in our report on higher police training that there should be national direction of recruitment policy and procedures. These should be directly funded by the Home Office.
The Committee welcomed the appointment by the Home Office of a professional procurement adviser to assist police forces to secure the benefits of bulk purchase of vehicles, while maintaining the freedom of individual forces to procure vehicles best suited to their operational needs and budgetary considerations. We conclude that the Home Office should play an active role in ensuring that all forces achieve the most efficient standards in the purchase and management of vehicle fleets. Our recommendation fits in well with a recent report of the Audit Commission which clearly demonstrated the scope for financial savings. I hope that the Minister will say what progress has been made in this sphere.
I conclude with a few words about the essential provision of central services for the police. My views on the inadequacy of a system with 43 independent police forces in England and Wales are well known. Indeed, there are eight more forces in Scotland and a considerable number of departmental police forces, such as the British Transport police force, the Royal Parks constabulary, the Ministry of Defence police and so on. One means of making this system work is to ensure that services which are vital to successful police work, but which are beyond the scope of individual forces to provide, should be provided centrally.
The current method of provision is through common police services. This arrangement fudges responsibility and obscures accountability between Government, local authorities and chief constables. We have proposed that the Home Office should be free to take decisions on such matters without requiring to justify them in financial terms to local authorities, many of which have varied and possibly conflicting priorities.
No example of a matter in which a speedy decision is required is more important than that relating to the greater co-ordination of the regional crime squads for the whole of England and Wales, which has been suggested in our current inquiry into drug trafficking. If Government are to take decisive action in the provision of a vital national service such as this, they must be able to ensure that it is provided on a scale and at a speed which meets the urgency of the problem. This, above all, is the justification for the change we have proposed in the funding of the common police services.
This is an important debate, in which I hope other members of the Committee and hon. Members will find the opportunity to contribute. I very much look forward to the reply of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to my
Column 488comments on the work of the Select Committee and the proposals that we make for the improvement of the police system in England and Wales.
Mr. Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie) : I am pleased to speak immediately after the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler), under whose chairmanship the Select Committee on Home Affairs has put together a series of valuable reports, which I hope will guide the work of the Home Office.
I shall restrict my comments to the forensic science report, although I am sure that other hon. Members will cover the wide range of other reports. It is especially important to put the spotlight on the forensic science service, because we produced a report which was highly critical of the way in which forensic science has been administered in recent years. Although the Government's response to the forensic science report seems to accept many of our points, I hope that the Minister will be able to flesh out that response to show us that the Government genuinely recognise that there have been some wrong turnings in recent years and that we need to make it clear, not just with words but with deeds, that the forensic science service is now esteemed and is moving forward.
When we examined the service, we found a disturbing scene. Our reports are written in very modest and moderate terms, but in this report we said that the service had fallen on hard times and that morale was at rock bottom. Those are harsh words, but I believe that it was the unanimous view of the Committee that they were justified, and that radical improvement was needed.
Basically, we thought that the fault lay with the failure of the Home Office and its Ministers to understand the function of the forensic science service. It might be that the forensic science service failed to persuade the Treasury that it had problems, but the fault must remain with the Home Office having inadequate persuasive powers. In recent years there has not been any lack of concern in terms of the number of investigations of the forensic science service, but the situation has been one of paralysis by analysis. No sooner had one group come along to examine the forensic science service than another one came along. We were fearful that we would be yet another burden on that service, in that we might also be the cause of some delay.
We found it disturbing that the reviews, such as the Chepstow review, seemed fundamentally to misunderstand what the forensic science service involved. While Lord Rayner might be highly effective within Marks and Spencer, his impact on the forensic science service has been nothing short of disastrous. It is necessary to understand the contribution of the forensic scientist in other than accounting and administration terms. It takes many years to produce a good forensic scientist. Not only is there a prolonged stage of initial training, involving a first and usually a second degree in the person's own specialism, but there is then a long period of work to develop the skills needed to be fully valuable to the forensic science service.
The competent forensic scientist undergoes a unique test when the most adept and agile legal brains of the country subject every aspect of his work to intense investigation. Not many people face such a test.
In recent years there has been a lack of effective leadership in the forensic science service, but more
Column 489particularly a lack of leadership from the Home Office. We found that morale was low within the service, and that that had been exacerbated by its pay and conditions.
One of the things that most disturbed me was the way in which vacancies are filled. That is done by the Civil Service Commission and I believe that if one wants to lower morale in any service one need only bring in that commission. Someone may apply for a job and hear only many months later that he has got it. What is also disturbing is the lack of involvement of regional directors in appointments. When there are vacancies in a forensic science laboratory a person turns up at the door many moons after the need for an appointment was realised. Such practice is not the way to build up the balance and the quality of service available within a forensic science laboratory.
In the report we urge that the regional laboratories should be involved in choosing those to be appointed as forensic scientists. I hope that that recommendation is accepted. We also urge that vacant posts should be filled more rapidly.
Discontent about appointments is also linked to discontent about pay and conditions within the forensic science service. In the south-east the service has been unable to compete effectively for scarce resources. Forensic scientists have not only seen their salaries fall in comparison to those earned by scientists in the outside world, but they are extremely mortified when they discover that they are paid less than the police constable working on the same case. That must be put right. Following the Rayner review, cuts were imposed which resulted in the worst of all worlds- -numbers in the service were reduced at the same time as those remaining in the service realised that others in the law and order business were valued higher than they.
We are faced with a strange situation. We have a law and order Government who have put great stock on the need to bring crime under control. They have recognised that the number of police should be increased, but they have not recognised that the forensic science service, which is a valuable tool for the police, should also have its numbers increased. It has, instead, been subject to cuts. In recent years the forensic science service has not expanded as it should and, therefore, morale has collapsed. Such a collapse is not inevitable. In our valuable visits we also saw the Metropolitan police and the Strathclyde police forensic science laboratories and neither of those places offers the same chronicle of collapsing morale and lack of contact with the management.
It is worth pointing out that the reductions in the forensic science service, run by the Home Office, have occurred alongside two other important events. The first is the massive expansion in the crime rate since the Government came to office. If the service is not expanded, inevitably there will be a diminution in the contribution that the forensic science service can make to the cause. It also emerged that more and more sophisticated techniques, developed by the forensic science service and others, could be applied to crime. Those techniques tend to be expensive in terms of labour and equipment. There was a consciousness of what could be done in relation to forensic science and a realisation that not all that could be done was being done. The most dramatic and
Column 490sophisticated of those techniques is the development of the DNA service. However, that is merely the most glamorous of the developments that have occurred in forensic science.
What issues face the forensic science service at present? I disagree with the rest of the Committee on the issue of charging. At present, as the hon. Member for Westminster, North said, the forensic science service is funded from the common police services budget. The majority of the Committee suggested that in future, the forensic science service should, at least in part, be supplied to individual forces on a piece rate basis. If forces asked for a particular job to be done, they would be charged for it on a piece rate basis. I disagree with that suggestion because it seems that the central reason for embracing that method of funding is that those involved will do anything to escape the Home Office clutches. It was interesting that the Metropolitan police and the Strathclyde forensic science laboratories made no request for a charging service. Somewhat surprisingly, the trade unionists were in favour of charging, and when I asked them whether that was because the system would enable them to elude the Home Office's clutches, they as good as admitted that that was a factor.
Mr. Wheeler : It is very good of the hon. Gentleman to give way. He has fairly described the Committee's debate on charging, but I think that he will allow that the Committee was able to observe that the Strathclyde and the Metropolitan police forensic science services were both peculiar and the creatures of the two constabulary services. Therefore, they faced quite different problems from those which exist for the 42 police forces of England and Wales, which have to dip in to the Home Office forensic science service. The smaller forces certainly, and perhaps all the forces, would be unable to establish their own service in the way that the much larger Metropolitan and Strathclyde forces have, of course, been able to do.
Mr. Worthington : I accept that there is a closer relationship between a single force and its laboratory than between regional laboratories and a multiplicity of forces. It is interesting that this simple idea of charging for services on a piece rate basis had not been proposed in the past, but was the product of several years of decline within the forensic science service.
The problem with charging is that it assumes that chief constables make rational decisions. It may seem extraordinary for me to challenge the rationality of chief constables, but at present with a free service--the contribution has been decided according to the common police services budget--they do not make rational decisions. The report referred to one force that referred 6.7 cases per 1,000 crimes and another that referred 1.5 cases per 1,000 crimes. At the moment, there is no price, yet the forces seem to make highly varied decisions. If rationality is to be applied within the charging system, we would have expected that rationality already to exist under the present system, which does not seem to be the case.
We know very little about whether our police forces are efficient or rational, because we have chosen to exclude them from scrutiny for far too long. We make assumptions about their efficiency which we cannot back up because public expenditure on police forces is an under-explored subject. That problem has been partly due to the system of local police forces, in which the operational control is
Column 491given solely to the chief constable. Therefore, it has been extremely difficult for local police authorities to judge how expenditure is incurred.
While I agree to some extent with the Chairman of the Select Committee about the excessive number of police forces in England and Wales, I would be dubious about remote police forces which would exacerbate our present lack of knowledge about police operations. Our system of local accountability is undeveloped and under-resourced. We have not developed an adequate means of assessing the efficiency of police forces.
One of the points in the forensic science report about which we were most critical was that, after 50 years of the forensic science service, we are still no closer to knowing whether the level of that service is adequate. Precious little research has been done about whether we use our forensic science services in a cost-effective way. Some work, including the Ramsey report, was done in about 1986, but it did not take us any further. Touche Ross, an outside consultant, was commissioned to produce a report that would enable us to judge whether we were receiving an adequate level of service. However, Touche Ross flunked that task and simply produced a recommendation about charging, believing that the market mechanism would settle the proper standard of forensic science services. The report showed that police forces were far too little aware of the resources which could be given by the forensic science service, and that communication from the service to the police was inadequate.
I have an important question to ask the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, and if he can stop resting his eyes, he may be able to answer it. Has anything specific been done by the Home Office to commission research that would enable us to tell whether the funding of the forensic science service was adequate? We constantly heard from people about how many hundreds of man hours were saved by the timely introduction of the forensic science service.
One often felt that the staff of the forensic science service talked about their most glamorous cases--about their contribution to the Yorkshire Ripper case, for example. But we need to know what forensic science can contribute to the humdrum cases. People whose houses are burgled are frequently very upset about the perfunctory work done by the police service when following through what has been an extremely significant event in their lives. The police would say that they cannot devote much time to investigating those crimes because of their lack of resources. Given the techniques available to forensic science, it is a great pity that adequate research into whether it would be cost-effective for more forensic scientists to work in police investigative teams has not been done. We were also made aware of the extent to which evidence is destroyed or insufficiently dealt with if no forensic scientist is present. I ask the Under-Secretary to go beyond the Home Office's response, which is once again that the matter is being looked into. Has a decision been made to conduct the--admittedly extremely
sophisticated--research to enable us to judge on cost-effective grounds whether we are properly staffing our forensic science service? At the moment it is just guesswork : we deserve something better.
Column 492became aware of any great difference in the attitude of the various client police forces to the effectiveness and value of the forensic services. Would such a difference show up under the proposed methods of financing?
Mr. Worthington : I am grateful for that intervention, I referred earlier to how forces vary in their use of forensic science service, and there are many reasons for that. For example, the Kent force told us that it has to use the Aldermaston service. Travelling from Maidstone to Aldermaston constitutes a formidable disincentive to using the service, given that it involves travelling past the Metropolitan police forensic science laboratory. I suspect that individual officers' knowledge is often a reason for variations in use, too.
Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) : My hon. Friend has put his finger on something. Deficiencies in the training of our police forces, and hence in their knowledge of forensic services and how to use them, are deeply embedded in their education procedures at every stage, particularly in the training procedures for officers who go on to criminal detection.
Mr. Worthington : That is right. That is why I am asking for more research. Remote regional laboratories may not be the most effective way of building up links with the police forces. Earlier, I mentioned the necessity of involving forensic scientists more routinely at the scenes of crime. That would go against the trend of recent years, when scientists seem to have been more and more laboratory-bound. They have waited for the work to come in rather than going to the scene of the crime.
Mr. David Ashby (Leicestershire, North-West) : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that a better management of resources might be the key, and that that takes us straight into higher police training? Could not the best use be made of forensic science in that way?
Mr Worthington : The general thrust of our report was that we did not believe that there had been coherent management of the service. The first step is to try to find a way to assess the appropriate forensic service for the differing case loads of the police forces. Such research is immensely difficult, but it has not been attempted. Our report seems to suggest allowing it to be done by charging--if a force wants the service, it will pay for it, so we will know whether the service is adequate.
That response is not good enough, given the imperfect nature of the market, which depends on people's knowledge of what forensic science can do. It also depends on geographical factors. If we are ever to use charging, the time to introduce it is after scientific research has established the proper level of a forensic science service in the first place ; otherwise, we shall try charging for a few years and then people will ask how we know it is working. We cannot assume that it works. The only way to check is to commission research into whether the service provided is appropriate for the case load of the police.
Mr. Sheerman : I thank my hon. Friend for giving way again. I share his misgivings. The Select Committee report will help to get the forensic service right, but to begin charging now might lead an investigating officer, under pressure from above, to ask how much a forensic
Column 493investigation would cost and to reject it in order to cut costs. His chief constable may be looking over his shoulder.
Mr. Worthington : That is right. A chief constable is under pressure from many directions. He is concerned not only with forensic science and the detection of crime ; he is under pressure to spend more from what is available--his force may be demanding overtime, he has to deal with traffic matters and with whatever worries his neighbourhood. An invisible and distant regional laboratory will tend to be forgotten. Forensic science offers no certain pay-off. A chief constable may invest in it as a way of finally nailing an offender with a missing piece of proof, but he may not invest in the speculative forensic science work which may be necessary at the early stages of an inquiry but may not seem to offer a certain return at that stage.
I look forward to the Under-Secretary's response to the report. It is a critical report, and the response has assured us that our criticisms have been taken seriously into account, although it has come across in rather a bland way. I hope that the Minister will be able to assure us that the forensic science service will have a much happier time during the next 10 years than it has had during the past 10 years.
Dame Janet Fookes (Plymouth, Drake) : I suggest to the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) that he has missed the main point which the majority of the members of the Committee felt important in relation to charging for the forensic science service. Surely the important consideration is that chief constables and those below them should have as much freedom as possible to dispose of resources as they believe right. In some instances, the careful use of forensic science techniques can save overtime and all manner of other uses of the police so that they can get to the point with the aid of forensic science. With proper management by chief constables and those immediately under them, it will be possible to make that choice. It is not as though the services of the forensic science laboratories are now available ad lib. We are aware that the laboratories are able to take on only a certain amount of work. In these circumstances, the arrangements that we are suggesting would be far more practical.
It has been valuable for the Select Committee on Home Affairs, of which I am a member, to have examined closely various features of the police service in the past few months. I say that for two reasons. We are well aware that our constituents, the public generally and the media are preoccupied with and concerned about ever-increasing levels of crime. Members of the public are especially concerned about crime that can affect them, such as attacks on them by others and the possibility of burglary and robbery.
We are aware also that crime in its more sophisticated sense is reaching out in a way that is terrifying. This is not the occasion to deal with the Committee's current inquiry into drug trafficking, but it is clear that the trafficking goes beyond the remit of regional arrangements. It is international in scale, and on such a scale that it almost beggars belief. In the circumstances, we are surely right to
Column 494concentrate on our first line of defence-- the police--to ensure that it is as well geared as possible to deal with the immense problems facing it now and in future.
The police service is costing an immense amount each year, and that is particularly relevant when we are considering Estimates. It is costing about £3.5 billion a year now, and the cost is likely to rise in the next year or two to well over £4 billion. We have a duty as hon. Members to ensure that that colossal sum each year is spent wisely. That brings me to my concern about higher police training and the staff college. Given the scale of crime and the scale of the resources that we devote to the police service, it is essential that the training of those who are the leaders of the police, in the jargon of the ranks of the Association of Chief Police Officers, is as good as possible. That must apply to what might be called their professional expertise and to the management of their resources, whether that is in terms of manpower or the various expertise that is available to them.
The Committee was fortunate in seeing not only the staff college at Bramshill but the training college in Scotland. Some members of the Committee were also fortunate enough to see the FBI academy at Quantico, Virginia, from which some of us returned only a short while ago. It has been possible for us to make some comparisons with our own training college. I was delighted on overseas visits to learn how well regarded the Bramshill college is and what a role it has to play in the international sphere as well as in providing training for our police force in England and Wales.
There is a particular difficulty, however, which I was staggered to find. The Chairman of the Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler), has already spoken of it, but it is one which needs to be stressed. It is possible to reach the ACPO ranks without ever attending the staff college at Bramshill. The figures are alarming. No fewer than three chief constables, 11 deputy chief constables and 67 assistant chief constables have managed to dodge, as it were, senior command courses. Some of those who have taken the trouble to participate in the courses have not received a reward commensurate with their expectations. I gather that 33 officers have attended the courses and have not received preferment. I warmly endorse the recommendation that by 1993 it should be compulsory for all officers in the higher ranks to have completed a senior command course. I hope that by the end of the century that principle will have been extended by younger members of the police force taking the special course for high flyers first. I suppose that I am now looking ahead to the next century. The present under-subscription is disturbing and it is something that needs to be remedied.
I shall devote a little attention now to the problems that the members of the Bramshill staff encounter. One might have assumed and hoped that any officer who takes time out of his normal career to go to the Bramshill college to make his expertise available would find subsequently that his career prospects are enhanced. The exact opposite appears to be, and is, the case. Officers forfeit opportunities by going to the college. It is hardly surprising that it is difficult to attract individuals of the right calibre. I believe that I am right in saying that the post of assistant commandant was vacant from January to
Column 495about April. It appears that no one had even nibbled at the post, let alone there being a group of applicants from which to choose. In these circumstances, we have as a nation been singularly fortunate in having so outstanding a commandant as Mr. Bunyard, who I think impressed all members of the Committee by the immense initiative that he has taken to bring all the courses up to date and to give them real vitality in the face of the changing problems in crime and policing. Shall we be so lucky again unless urgent steps are taken to ensure that no one suffers in his or her individual career pattern? I do not know why I said "her", as there seems to be a marked absence of women at that level in the police force. I shall not pursue that hobby horse now.
It is clear that some changes must be made. My hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North has already touched upon one of the difficulties under the present system, which is the absolute right of police authorities to choose whom they will for entry into the higher ranks. There is no particular slot available for those who have done their stint at Bramshill. I warmly welcome the Committee's suggestion that they should become part of the special cadre at Home Office level, from which the various police authorities must choose to fill their appointments. That is vital if the staff college is to occupy the central place, as it should, in the education of the higher police service.
It was interesting to note that the overseas course run by the staff college is highly popular with people from many Commonwealth and other countries. During our recent trip to the United States, we met one or two people who had attended the staff college and they spoke highly of it. The course should be extended because, apart from spreading good practice to other countries, it is of immense value in forging intimate links, which are not otherwise available, with countries that send their police officers to Bramshill. It is paralleled with the higher education that we give to young students from Commonwealth and, in particular, Third-world countries. It is one of the most valuable ways in which we can help the Third world. I very much hope that my hon. Friend, when he replies, will encourage our hope that the overseas course might be allowed to expand. It is clear that more money is needed to keep open the staff college. For example, the library is housed in bits and pieces all over the place. it is an excellent library and an important resource, but it is difficult for students to use it effectively. I urge my hon. Friend to ensure the provision of new accommodation. Indeed, there should be new accommodation for the students. We must remember that many of them are highly placed police officers who do not want to occupy third-rate 1950s and 1960s-type accommodation, which was never very good in its heyday and is now well past it. We were allowed to see a sample of the accommodation, and it was not worthy of the position that the staff college holds.
While there is some doubt about the staff college remaining on the Bramshill site, I can understand the case for being cautious about improvements, because they would be extremely expensive. I hope that my hon. Friend will take on board the Committee's recommendation that a decision should be made soon on whether the site should continue to be used, as we hope it will. The house provides a fascinating centrepiece that attracts all who go into it. We must never under-estimate the effect of symbols. It is
Column 496rather like the military bands attached to the armed forces ; they have an importance and a value far beyond just providing music or an attractive aesthetic environment.
We are aware that the Home Office is considering whether any of the money confiscated under the Drug Trafficking Offences Act 1986 should be used for the police service. We are also aware that that is not likely to be attractive to the Treasury, which always holds the firm policy of taking in any money, spare or otherwise, to dispose of as it wishes.