Previous Section Home Page

Mr. Wheeler : Searching the streets for pennies.

Dame Janet Fookes : My hon. Friend makes an interesting intervention.

It is not likely to be popular if we suggest that money should be diverted from the greedy clutches of the Treasury. It does not matter which Government are in office because the Treasury attitude remains the same. There is a case for allowing the police service to retain some, if not all, of the money confiscated under the Act. In what better way could we spend some of that money than on the upkeep and an increase in the work of the staff college? Indeed, the report recommends that, and I hope that it will be taken seriously. It has the merit of not picking out one police force as against another ; it is common to all. It is especially appropriate that the money should be used in that way.

I wish to discuss one or two of the wider issues arising from our inquiries. They have been touched on in the remarks about the forensic science service, and they apply equally to the training of the police. There are grave weaknesses in the way in which our police service is organised and split between the 43 police forces of England and Wales, coupled with the separate police service in Scotland. At a time when there is an increasing need to pool resources and to act not only nationally but internationally, there must be some doubt about whether the current tripartite system should be allowed to continue. That point does not arise out of the report's recommendations ; I make it simply as a personal view.

The more we study the police service, the more we find weaknesses arising from that pattern of arrangements. I shall not be so bold as to say how I think it should be organised, and in any case, it is probably beyond the scope of the debate. I simply state that urgent questions should be asked, not only by our Committee but by Home Office Ministers. The problems of crime are likely to increase, as will the costs of dealing with them. In the 1990s there will be difficulties in recruiting sufficient police because of the downturn in the birth rate.

In all those circumstances, I believe that the Home Office should take a hard look at the problems, and not take too long about doing so, because we must ensure that the police service is geared for the turn of the century and beyond.

5.18 pm

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale) : My association with the police service over many years is well known. I had the privilege of serving as a policeman in London for five years during the 1960s. More recently, I served as vice-chairman of the North Yorkshire police authority. I am now greatly enjoying a third bite at the cherry of police activity by

Column 497

working with the Home Affairs Select Committee under the very able chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler).

Some important facts have already come out of tonight's debate. There is a great deal of agreement among hon. Members on both sides of the House about the problems that face our police service in society's fight against crime. We are not looking to answer those problems with ideological solutions. Nevertheless, there are one or two different remedies, which the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) has mentioned.

It is important to say at the outset that there has been an unprecedented increase in crime, not just under this Government, but over the past two or three decades. There is grave public anxiety about how we should tackle the crime rate and how we should best respond to society's anxieties. The main purpose of the Select Committee's inquiries into police matters is to make the policing of Britain more effective so that the public will feel more reassured and, in particular, have their confidence in the police restored. It is a great tragedy that, for a variety of reasons, that confidence has been eroded in recent years.

I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) is not in his place, but I understand that he hopes to take part in the debate. However, it is important whenever possible to pay tribute to the dedication of our police service. The comments that have been made tonight and in the Select Committee's report are a reflection not on the dedication of our policemen but on the archaic structures that are increasingly coming under strain and stress. There has been a notable recurrence of several common themes in our recent inquiries into police activity. They include the problems of funding and whether we are funding our police services adequately, despite the record resources that the Government have made available to the police service and to increasing manpower. There is the need for more central direction and co-ordination of police services, to which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary referred recently in a major speech about policing Britain.

There is the potential benefit to the community of consistency in policing policy and performance. Working with the North Yorkshire police authority, I found that crime is no longer the province of local villains. It is a mobile problem. In north Yorkshire, many burglaries are committed by gangs who can be 50 or 60 miles away within half an hour using fast motor cars. That emphasises the need for more consistency and greater co-operation and co-ordination. There is the problem of the under-utilisation of specialist support services, particularly in training and in the forensic science service, which was dealt with in two of our reports. Finally, there are the strains and stresses of the existing structure, to which I have already referred.

In our reports, we have offered markedly different solutions to the problems of various aspects of the police service as we felt was appropriate. For example, on funding and direction--matters that have already been outlined--we looked for greater direct responsibility in police forces in the use of the forensic science service and perhaps even greater responsibility in carousel training

Column 498

courses on particularly topical isues at the police college at Bramshill. They could be accommodated at force level, but we look for more central funding and co-ordination, higher police training, police recruitment, the installation of telecommunications equipment and-- without pre-empting the report that we shall lay before the House later this year on drug trafficking--national co-ordination and effort in the war against the scourge of drug abuse.

The procedures for funding common police services are protracted and cumbersome given the amount of money involved in relation to the overall costs of policing and local government expenditure. The Home Office acknowledged that during our inquiry, suggesting in its memorandum that local authorities may be faced with a bill for services on which they have not been fully consulted, although both parties have sought to make the system work as well as it can. But the Home Office memorandum discussed only the cost arrangements and did not deal in detail with the discussions between the Home Office, police authorities and local government agencies-- the Association of County Councils and the Association of Metropolitan Authorities. I do not want to dwell on that matter at length, but I refer my hon. Friend to an interesting exchange of views which took place during the evidence given by the head of the finance and technology group at the Home Office, when the conflict that that creates was clearly admitted. In his final comments, the head of the finance and technology group said :

"I would not want to have a Common Police Services Committee made up of the members of every one of the subsidiary services. That would be unmanageable. What the local authorities therefore have is a group of representatives who are, after all, empowered by the local authority associations to take decisions which commit members to spend money. This really is where the buck ends, because at that stage they are talking about a figure, they have to agree a figure, or the Home Secretary in the end has to decide on a figure on the basis of their evidence, which ratepayers will have to meet. So there is bound to be a conflict of interest between those who want more training or more forensic science and those who have got to meet the bill."

It was the strains and stresses of that conflict which caused the Select Committee to suggest in its recent report that the common police services budget should be a centrally funded item in the way in which my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North has already outlined. That conflict creates difficulties for chief constables, police committees, police authorities and local authorities. It also raises questions of accountability.

Chief constables have difficulty in exercising judgments about how a chief constable should best police his force. There are difficulties for local authorities in balancing the need to maintain and develop an effective police service without which other more substantial expenditure on manpower, to which they have gladly committed themselves, may not be put to best use. At the same time, there is a need to control expenditure for ratepayers.

Those local authority representatives who assist in controlling the common police services expenditure are seldom in a position to decide on policing priorities. In addition, chief constables are already facing detailed local negotiations with their council treasurers or leaders or chairmen of policy resources committees over the cost to the local authorities of the chief constable's own plans at force level, which may also involve detailed representations to the Home Office for approval. Matters of equipment, police house repairs or the standard of police

Column 499

stations and accommodation are discussed for many hours by local police chiefs and their police committees, but a discussion of what is in the common police services budget seldom, if ever, takes place. That is one reason why we considered direct charging for forensic science as a way forward.

Our report recommends that the ACPO secretariat should be strengthened in order to improve the central co-ordinating force within the police service. That seemed to be the only sensible way forward within the present structure.

However, chief constables have only a limited accountability to their police authorities. They are not accountable for operational matters. No one should seek to change that essential absence of political interference in police operations. Nevertheless, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary looks to ACPO to provide more central co-ordination and to assume additional functions on a national basis. It is not clear what line of accountability such arrangements would create for my right hon. Friend and for the House, particularly given that the only line of accountability for chief constables is to the 43 police authorities--and even that is limited.

That all suggests a need for change. The Committee's report recommends that the ACPO ranks become a centrally directed force. That would be one way of achieving better accountability and co-ordination, but I wonder whether we should consider a further opportunity. When members of the Committee visited the police college in Holland and spoke to officials of the Dutch criminal justice department, it became clear that that country has a completely different arrangement for chief police officer representation. Holland has a separate body to deal with the requirements of chief police officers' professional associations, and another for central co-ordination of police services.

The structural stresses and strains in our police service require serious consideration of that arrangement, and I should like to see formed a new, central support committee, drawing on only a small number of police constables but involving also inspectors of constabulary, a handful of representative police authority chairmen, and Home Office officials--all under the formal chairmanship of the Home Secretary, and thereby accountable to this House.

In that way, the role of ACPO as a professional association could be kept separate, and would avoid the difficulty of securing agreement from 43 chief constables, let alone that of all the deputy chief constables and assistant chief constables--who together constitute the 249 members of ACPO. Getting them all to agree on policy is far from easy. We must break through that barrier and instead get heads together to arrive at solutions to improving the effectiveness of our police service and making better use of the substantial resources we commit to it.

The objectives are only too clear. We must continue to improve the professional standard of policing, for only in that way can confidence be restored. We must ensure that police have access to the finest training, and that those who provide it are of the highest calibre and have up-to- date practical experience. They should include, as my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Dame J. Fookes) pointed out, officers who will subsequently achieve higher rank in the service, so that the time they

Column 500

spend at Bramshill as training officers will be part of their career development, rather than an avenue at the end of a distinguished police career.

We must ensure that resources are used to best effect. It is not just a matter of ensuring value for money from forensic science or police overtime but of reordering priorities. It is about ensuring not only that the value and benefit of forensic science, for example, is better appreciated but that that service is given every opportunity and encouragement to achieve its potential.

Structures are under pressure not only because of financial constraints, though it would be wrong to under-estimate the difficulties that such constraints create. Structures are under pressure because centrally provided facilities have been unable to develop their full potential and to provide the quality of service needed to convince chief constables, seniour police officers and police authorities of the benefits that such professional help can bring to the fight against crime. There is no doubting that chief constables are fully aware of the value of forensic science, but given the inadequate facilities to be found at some laboratories, it is difficult to see how chief constables would be encouraged to refer cases to a forensic science laboratory, when they want a much quicker solution to a particular criminal investigation.

There is much anecdotal evidence of the savings in police resources through more skilful use of forensic science, and the Committee recommended that there be more investigation of that aspect. Even so, an expanded forensic service along the lines suggested by the Committee would make a major contribution, if implemented over the three years that the report suggests. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department can give the Committee and the House information about the progress of discussions and negotiations with the Treasury.

The question has already been asked whether direct funding of forensic science would provide a suitable solution. In my view, it would. Direct funding would highlight for police authorities the value of forensic science. Most police authority members are unaware of the behind-the-scenes arguments, but would become aware of activities within the forensic science service if it was an item in the budget, to be considered in the same way as other heads of expenditure.

The hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie asked how one would know that direct charging was working. The answer is that we must give it a try. How do we know that committing hundreds of thousands of pounds--or, in larger forces, millions of pounds--to police overtime works?

As to the structure of 43 police forces, I know that there are differences among the members of the Committee, and I take the point made by the chief constable of north Wales, and chairman of the association's crime committee, who clearly drew the Committee's attention to the undesirability of wholesale changes of structure because it would divert and erode police effort. Nevertheless, if we believe in a local management system that does not interfere in operational matters but which would give a chief constable and his force the financial and managerial support that they require, I see no reason why we should not trust the police authorities to deal sensibly and properly with forensic science services on a direct charging basis. It would be an insult to the forces' integrity and professionalism to suggest that they would do otherwise.

Column 501

The Committee suggested that the Home Office and the inspectors of constabulary should issue guidance on the use of forensic science, and recommended--as did Touche Ross--that more scientific support managers should be appointed to help police forces make greater use of it. Central co-ordination and funding of DNA profiling will be essential if this major opportunity to improve detection of offenders and to eliminate suspects--DNA profiling will be particularly relevant--is to be realised.

My hon. Friend the Member for Drake spoke at some length about Bramshill college, so I shall refer to it only briefly. I strongly support the comments that have been made about the method of selection and appointment of senior police officers. It is haphazard and amateurish. The chief constable of Sussex police, Mr. Roger Birch, described it as an unprofessional lottery.

Chief superintendents do not have a sufficient incentive to take the next step up in the ACPO ranks. Many factors dissuade and discourage them from taking that step, quite apart from the major domestic upheaval that is caused because people have settled into particular areas. There are changed pension arrangements and little additional remuneration for a chief superintendent who becomes an assistant chief constable. It is astonishing that 47 per cent. of assisted chief constables have not attended a senior command course, but that must be balanced with the more damning evidence that many police officers who have been on senior command courses have not taken the step beyond chief superintendent rank into the ranks for which they were selected and trained.

As the Home Affairs Committee recommended, funding of the common police services should become a centrally directed arrangement. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Drake and the recommendation in our report that it would be no bad thing if drug profit confiscations were committed to a trust, with the police college as a major beneficiary. My hon. Friend referred to a good band and to images. The reputation throughout the world of Bramshill college is based upon its skill in training senior police officers. It is not a reflection of the quality of accommodation available for them. Higher professionalism is the key to retaining and restoring confidence in the police. Such professionalism demands up-to-date practice and high-quality training. Great strides have been made, but much more could be done if priorities were reassessed and reordered. I am sure that the Committee will look forward to hearing the Minister's response.

5.43 pm

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : In discussing common police services, I want to refer to the problems associated with disaster planning. I am interested in that issue because of my constituency concerns.

The police are involved in two aspects of disaster planning. First, problems can arise in designated works, such as Staveley Chemicals in my constituency. If a disaster occurred, the population nearby would be seriously affected. Obviously, the emergency services must have plans to handle a disaster, and the police are at the forefront in triggering action. It is essential that the latest

Column 502

technology is available and that police methods are correct, and that involves the police training college and other back-ups. Secondly, there are general disasters for which there is no specific contingency plan but only a general plan. That general plan must be adapted to handle railway emergencies, air disasters--such as the east midlands disaster, in which Derbyshire county police provided assistance-- toxic and hazardous waste problems and the nuclear transhipments that travel up the M1 and clip the end of my constituency at Heath. Any such disaster could hit anywhere and must be handled carefully.

The police engage in periodic exercises to handle potential disasters such as air crashes. The backing that they are given is essential. They often suffer from inadequate training and have difficulty in releasing manpower to provide common services and appropriate training. The Home Office has wide powers. Paragraph 12 of the fourth report of the Home Affairs Committee states that, under

"the Police Act 1964, the Secretary of State may provide and maintain or may contribute towards the provision or maintenance of a police college, district police training centres, forensic science laboratories, wireless depots and such other organisations and services as he considers necessary or expedient for promoting the efficiency of the police'."

The Home Office bears 51 per cent. of the costs. This presents great difficulties when local authorities are involved with the police authorities. There have been a number of years of Government cuts in financial assistance and now local government funding is to be transformed with the introduction of the poll tax.

More funding should come centrally to develop effective disaster planning. The difficulty is in deciding who controls what happens--central police forces or local police forces. It is essential for the police to have adequate resources. They are expected to show the right susceptibilities in handling problems. Considerable training and provision are required in respect of not only disasters but general policing matters. Police officers may not be aware of what to do in an accident involving hazardous or toxic waste. The most that even a senior policeman is given is a short course, when he merely examines a video for an afternoon, and he is then expected to act. The answer is to provide considerable resources to enable the police to release the appropriate training manpower.

The fourth report also deals with the role of the secretariat of the Association of Chief Police Officers. I have just come down from the Committee on the Football Spectators Bill. My connection with ACPO is its statistics on arrests in or around football grounds. The Minister for Sport gave those statistics to the House and they became known, incorrectly, as the "League of Shame". My investigations into the figures show that there were errors in the statistics and that ACPO was unable to supply details to explain which arrests were inside the grounds and which were outside, the reasons for the arrests and the categories of offence involved. Were the arrests for the carrying of a klaxon horn, for example, which occurred at one club, or for theft? How many arrests were of street traders outside football grounds?

The secretariat clearly needs some organisation so that it can present adequate information in matters in which the police are involved, especially in matters that relate back to the Hillsborough disaster. It seems that police forces throughout the country collect information which

Column 503

varies according to local experience. That information is then stuck together by the central organisation which clearly lacks the expertise and time to put information together effectively and in a way that would allow the House to judge properly an issue which is of concern and which could have a considerable impact on the work of the police.

That issue also has an effect on the way in which disasters are dealt with. I understand from a parliamentary question that the Home Office is concerned about disaster legislation. America, France, Australia and several other countries have contingency planning and centralised co- ordination to handle disasters. That is not dealt with adequately in this country. We should ensure that there are proper centralised services to assist the police, because they are at the forefront of co-ordinating and organising the different authorities, such as the fire service, that have to be brought together to pick up the pieces when a disaster occurs. Some of that could be achieved by careful planning. There must be greater understanding and education so that people can adapt and make adjustments according to the circumstances.

When the east midlands air disaster occurred, for example, the mountain rescue organisation was of great value. That organisation automatically dug steps into the embankment, which meant that rescue arrangements could be handled easily. Such information could be spread by a central organisation, but that does not happen automatically at present. We must ensure that the correct groups of personnel are involved in dealing with disasters and are able to respond effectively.

Mr. Ashby : As the hon. Gentleman knows, Kegworth, where the air disaster occurred, is in my constituency. One fact that emerged crystal clear from the disaster was that all the many years of training for just such a disaster fell into place perfectly. The co-ordination required was there because the planning was there. The rescue services had thought long and hard about every eventuality. One cannot pay anything but the highest tribute to the rescue services in Leicestershire on that day.

Mr. Barnes : I agree with the hon. Gentleman. My own local knowledge of the services operating in Derbyshire which assisted at that disaster tells me that the hon. Gentleman is correct. However, it is important that, as well as having trained and dedicated people to help, we should ensure that they have the right materials and understanding to handle disasters. A common-sense approach needs to be developed. When dealing with hazardous and toxic waste, for example, what is needed is not only the ability to turn to the relevant information, but for the police to have a good pair of binoculars so that they can pick out the information at a distance, rather than placing themselves in great difficulties. The spread of training, the sharing of training exercises and the building up of national policies for handling disasters will lead to applied common sense and dedication being able to work effectively.

5.57 pm

Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge) : I must first delcare an interest as the parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation. I must also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) on the great clarity with which he presented the recommendations

Column 504

of his Committee. It was especially interesting to listen to my hon. Friend explaining exactly what was proposed and how the Committee had arrived at its conclusions.

I want to deal with the future of the forensic science service. Paragraph 93 of the report recommends that the Home Office should plan to transfer direct financial responsibility for the regional forensic laboratories from central support services to individual police forces. That proposal is of major importance and of legitimate interest to the Police Federation. The Touche Ross report made the point that one does not appreciate a service unless one pays for it, but I am told that, due to a shortage of staff, the forensic service has not always been able to respond as fully as it would like to police requirements. Staffing is obviously of vital importance. The Police Federation believes that many of the report's conclusions and recommendations are based fairly on the evidence given to the Committee, but there are several matters of concern about the proposed change in funding arrangements, which I will highlight. The Police Federation believes that such a change could have a serious effect on the investigation of serious offences, especially by smaller forces. Following the Brighton bomb murders, for example, 1,200 dustbins of rubble and material were sent for forensic examination. One cannot help wondering whether a force would be prepared to meet such costs, especially if the victim were a vagrant or someone of lesser public importance than those who were unhappily involved in that tragedy.

There is also the question whether a smaller force would be able to finance a large-scale DNA screening exercise, espcially if the people to be screened were from the area of an adjoining large force. Those costs would be the smaller force's responsibility, simply because the murder victim was found within its force area. I shall give the House a hypothetical example. Let us take the case of a serious murder which must be investigated by the local force. If a Londoner were found murdered in, say, Bedfordshire--which has a comparatively small force--Bedfordshire would have to assume responsibility for the forensic costs involved in that investigation. That point is causing the federation some concern and, like me, it will be interested to hear what my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department has to say about that aspect when he replies to the debate.

Another aspect of the forensic service which is of great importance is the quality of the service. It is widely agreed both in the House and outside that it is vital to maintain that quality, because so much depends on it in the detection of crime.

The Select Committee on Home Affairs recognises that the service should seek to appoint and train about 40 new staff per year for each of the next three years. Allowing for natural wastage, the Committee states that that would leave the service 10 per cent. larger than is currently planned. In its reply to the Committee's recommendations, the Home Office has stated that it is actively considering the case for further increases in staff for the forensic service. It then points out that in the light of the Select Committee's

recommendations and other information, it is already committed to bringing the service up to complement. At present it is 23 members of staff below complement. The additional staff proposed by the Select Committee exclude those staff.

Therefore, on the assumption that wastage will continue at about 20 per cent. per year, the Home Office

Column 505

pointed out that the Committee's proposals amount to a net increase of 60 posts by the end of March 1992, roughly 10 per cent. over and above the 51 posts already planned.

The Government's reply then contains a sentence which I view with concern :

"The implications of this, and the costs and benefits of the additional staff, will be covered in the assessment the Home Office is making."

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North and his colleagues will wish to see that matter pursued and to be certain that the additional staff that they recommend are provided. Having said that, one recognises the Home Office's difficulties in funding such an operation.

Mr. Wheeler : It is good of my hon. Friend to allow this brief intervention and I assure him that the important point that he has raised will be pursued. It may be helpful for my hon. Friend and the House to know more generally that it is the practice of the Select Committee on Home Affairs to review its reports regularly, to look back to the recommendations that it has made and to assess the progress that has been made with them. Therefore, there is the opportunity to measure those points once again--that is, apart from the value of the comments made by my hon. Friend in this debate.

Mr. Shersby : It is reassuring to know that my hon. Friend's Committee follows up its recommendations. Indeed, one would expect nothing less from a Committee of such excellence.

I turn now to the issue whether the work of the service should be entrusted in the future to a body with executive agency status. That is an important aspect of the report. One must consider how the executive agencies which have already been set up are working. So far the experiment--or rather, the change--has been a good one, and positive results are already flowing from the change of status. I hope that the Home Office will follow that up and that the change to executive agency status will be carried out in the not- too-distant future.

I welcome especially the comments in the report on relations with the police. I should like to put on record how much the federation welcomes those paragraphs in the Committee's report and in the Government's response to it.

DNA profiles are a move of the utmost importance in the detection of crime. The costs involved in carrying out that type of research are probably not yet fully appreciated. They may well increase considerably in the years ahead, and clearly that factor will have to be taken into account in a change in funding levels.

In conclusion, paragraph 20 of the Government's response, which deals with forensic pathology, states :

"The final meeting of the Working Party on Forensic Pathology took place in April 1989 and their report is now being submitted to the Home Secretary."

I understand that that working party has been in existence for four years. I should be grateful if my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary would say something about when the working party's report will be published, because it is a matter of considerable interest to all those who are interested in forensic pathology, and not least to the members of the Police Federation.

Column 506

I am grateful for the opportunity to have made these brief comments on these serious, interesting and excellent reports, and I look forward to hearing my hon. Friend's reply.

6.6 pm

Mr. Gareth Wardell (Gower) : I shall refer briefly to the forensic science service. The work of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler), was a great public service to the people of this country. The test of how well the Government have responded to the Select Committee's report will depend to a great degree on whether they take on board the point that the chief constable of Kent made in his evidence to the Select Committee, when questioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington). It is vital that the House remembers the critical comments of paragraph 108, which state :

"Following the Rayner Review, Selectivity' was the expression which came along and cases were extremely carefully sorted out before they were sent off to the laboratory. They were not sorted out necessarily so that you were going to get the best result from the laboratory, full stop, but because the investigating officers knew that the manpower resources available at the laboratory were not such as to do more than a fraction of what investigating officers wanted them to do. As a result, a lot of stuff that you would have expected to have been forensically examined was not and still is not. It is not right, but that is the truth of the matter. The spinoff from that, of course, is that there is less confidence by officers who do not necessarily understand the problem but understand the result in the Forensic Science Service, and that will go on to people not being as careful or as enthusiastic at the scene of the crime as they should be, because they do not anticipate that they are going to send anything to the laboratory in any event."

That will be one of the crucial tests that the Home Office and the Government will have to pass. They will have to justify themselves and tell the people of this country that justice does not come cheap and that it is vital that resources are made available. The pay must be good enough to attract people into the laboratories. It is nonsense that police officers cannot send exhibits that they find at the scene of the crime to the laboratory. That is a terrible indictment of the present situation, and people are no longer prepared to accept it. I hope that the Government will come up with the goods.

The chief constable of Kent did an excellent service by sending the Committee a letter--it is printed on pages 61 to 63 of the report-- continuing examples of the excellent work that the forensic science service does. I shall not list all those examples now but let me give the House one of them. It concerns a murder in Shifnal in 1984. The forensic science laboratory was able to identify a single imprint of a shoe outside a particular property as the imprint of one of only 90 pairs of shoes imported into the United Kingdom from an Italian manufacturer. All the people who had purchased the shoes were traced, and a conviction was made. It is critical, not only in serious cases such as that but in far less serious cases, that the facilities are available to police officers to enable them to send all the scientific exhibits that they wish to send to be properly examined and to receive the necessary treatment.

Mr. Sheerman : Is not one aspect of the Select Committee's deliberations rather worrying? I refer to the evidence from senior people in the police force and,

Column 507

indeed, chief police officers, who said that charging for the service might mean that the investigating officer would consider the cost to his force first and only then whether the evidence might be useful in apprehending a criminal somewhere down the line.

Mr. Wardell : I share my hon. Friend's concern. If cash limits in the police force are such that an officer cannot submit exhibits to the forensic service because of cost considerations, that will have serious implications for justice.

My second point concerns the availability of forensic pathologists. I shall rely heavily in my remarks on the comments of the president of the Forensic Science Society, who is professor of forensic pathology at the university of Wales college of medicine in Cardiff. In evidence to the Select Committee, which appears on page 159, in paragraph 421, Professor Bernard Knight says :

"The basic problem is that the core of forensic pathology, which is university based, has declined so much that it is now ineffective in really training sufficient future pathologists and also training those from the hospital service who are newly appointed and who actually numerically now markedly outnumbers us in the Home Office appointed list. This central core is shrinking rapidly and one wonders what is going to happen when it reaches vanishing point, which is not very far away. That is the basic problem : the contraction of what you might call the full-time professionals who not only provide a service themselves but are responsible for teaching, research and the training of more peripheral part-time pathologists who are currently in the majority. I have to say that I think the standards are beginning to decline because of this general wind-down."

We must address that problem. If we do not have high-quality, highly trained forensic pathologists, the quality of the service available to the police will be much reduced.

Finally let me deal with the whole question of what Professor Knight calls "waiting for Wasserman". In paragraph 427, Professor Knight says :

"It has got to the point where I would not say it is funny but "Waiting for Wasserman' is like Waiting for Godot', it has become a phrase in our sub- culture."

Mr. Wasserman is the chairman of a Home Office committee which, according to Professor Knight, had already been considering the matter for four and a half years when he gave his evidence on 4 December 1988. It is a little worrying when Governments use terms such as "shortly", "in the near future", "soon" and "this year." They use the worst possible excuses for the inadequacy of their response. An eminent professor of forensic pathology has pointed a finger at the chairman of the committee on which he serves. Surely, when that happens, it is high time that the Government looked into the matter. The Government's response to the comment about the Committee chaired by Mr. Wasserman was wonderful. The recommendation was clear :

"We recommend that the Working Party on Forensic Pathology should set a deadline for the production of its report to resolve without delay the short-term difficulties of the forensic pathology service".

That was a kind response to four and a half years of delay. The rest of the Committee's response makes wonderful reading : "The final meeting of the Working Party on Forensic Pathology took place in April 1989 and their report is now being submitted to the Home Secretary."

"Is being" is a wonderful phrase. The Home Office does not say "It has been submitted" or "It will be submitted", but "It is being submitted." That implies an endless chain of events and it is impossible to know what stage the

Column 508

process has reached. It is high time that we knew. I know that the Minister knows, and I am sure that he will tell us, when the report will be published. It is to be hoped that it will be before the end of this year--before the five and a half years have elapsed. We are talking about an extremely important aspect of the ability of the police to ensure that the public have confidence in their ability to identify causes and find those responsible for crime. Without proper staffing, training and funding, the service will never be able to do the job that we so desperately need doing.

6.19 pm

Mr. David Ashby (Leicestershire, North-West) : It was a delight to be on the Select Committee that examined forensic science services. Its report was virtually unanimous, apart from one point about charging for services. Tht showed the great philosophical divide between Conservative and Opposition Members. Conservative Members believe that cost controls and cost management are essential tools of management. Everyone in management understands that point. If there are two companies in similar areas, both producing similar goods, but one producing them at a greater cost, in management terms it is right to be able to inquire into the reasons for it. Charging for forensic science services would help to do that.

Charging for the service, and applying cost controls and cost management, do not mean cutting the service. That applies to the National Health Service and various other services. Opposition Members believe in providing services without management finding out what services cost and how they can be more efficient. That is the great divide between us. The Committee's recommendations should be followed.

One cannot help thinking that the police force, which was founded in the 19th century, is still in the 19th century in management terms. It should be looking towards the 21st century. Our investigations revealed that we should have a unified police force or, perhaps, a force divided on the basis of no more than four regions. The chief constable of Leicestershire, my own chief constable, has said that he thinks there should be no more than 10 regions. Why are we playing the numbers game? Mr. Birch, the chief constable of Sussex, suggested larger regions. Why 10? Why four? We are looking for a unified force. With the 43 local police authorities, we have seen a dissipation of resources, problems with promotion, resources, management teams, and a lack of co-ordination. When we point that out, we hear the reply, "We have a committee." It is wonderful to have committees, but they are not a substitute for a properly co-ordinated national police force.

Our report on higher police training at the police staff college at Bramshill highlighted a lack of clear direction about what we should do in the 21st century, in terms not only of a unified police force but of management. There seems to be no real direction for providing proper management in the police force. Management requires a high degree of expertise. Every organisation, both major and minor, trains its managers from an early age. The police force trains people in the best use of available resources, and how to make proper management decisions about priorities not only in their own service but in other aspects such as investigation. People are trained in the use

Column 509

of the forensic science service and in the necessary financial priorities. Why should the police force lack proper financial management in the forensic science service and other services? It is a proper tool of management.

When the Committee investigated the management structure of the police, it was surprised to find how deficient it was. We went to the Netherlands and saw that the future leaders of the police service were trained at an early age and in a positive manner. They are being taken on at about 21 years old, and even younger, and they are doing a four or five-year training course. I met a police officer who had been in the force for about 10 years. He was aged 29. I asked him what he felt about going to the special training course and training in management skills. He said, "I am too old. I am set in my ways. Yes, I will benefit and I will be able to achieve certain things, but I know that I am too old. I should have done this at a younger age." One cannot help but think that we are doing too little too late in training police officers. We have police on a special course at Bramshill. That course is designed to identify those who have the potential to achieve the rank of chief inspector and to accelerate their promotions. It is a sandwich course over two or three periods with seven months' training at the college. That college training is also divided into two periods. The course focuses on the foundations of management skills, but it does not carry them through. An interesting point about the course is to be found at paragraph 75 to 78 of the report. Mr. Birch, who was also the director of the police extended interviews, identifies those who should go on the course. He said that there was misunderstanding and suspicion about the course and a failure adequately to promote it within the police service. It is vastly under-subscribed. Last year, of 3,196 provincial officers qualified to apply for the special course, only 463 chose to do so. The problem is that there is a little of the "us and them" approach to the course. There is perhaps a sneering approach--"He has been on a special course," or, "He is very uppity. He is going on that special course." There is a failure to recognise that special courses provide rapid acceleration for someone who is capable of management skills and of making full use of his potential thereafter. Much of the problem is caused simply because we have 43 police authorities. Possibly, some authorities have individual approaches to the people who have been on such courses. Some do not appreciate the nature of those courses and the valuable contribution that people who have been on them are able to make.

Mr. Birch considered that recruiting officers sometimes failed to identify those officers with the potential to move to the senior ranks in the service. He said that there were variations in policies between forces and that that led to bewilderment amongst potential recruits and to a perception of the police service as unprofessional. That highlights the problems that result from having a number of different police forces, a problem which perhaps a uniform police service could take on board.

Mr. Birch also suggested that there was a need to examine ways of ensuring the selection of a sufficient proportion of recruits of higher than average calibre to provide a pool of talent for rapid promotion. He went on to suggest that the solution to the problem was the

Next Section

  Home Page