Previous Section Home Page

Column 167

What is the solution, and why is this issue so important to the Bill ? The Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill introduces tougher penalties for young thugs. This Bill underwent a great deal of change in the other place, but I hope that their Lordships will be more charitable to the proposals in the criminal justice Bill. They certainly command the support of Conservative Members and the general public alike.

Those Bills in themselves do not represent the complete answer ; nor does telling the parents of young thugs that they should have more responsibility for them. If a police sergeant is attacked in the way I have described while trying to deal with rowdy behaviour, only two conclusions are possible : either he will not go in on future occasions--hardly a realistic proposition--or there will have to be more than one police officer. If three or four had gone in, I do not believe that the youngsters would have reacted as they did. We just do not have enough police officers to deal with incidents of this kind in rural areas. Three or four at a time, in the mobiles that we sometimes see in town centres, may prove necessary.

The crucial issue for the House is whether this Bill will deliver more police officers to patrol our streets. That is what the public want, and in the end it will be the acid test. I say, not grudgingly but with enthusiasm, that the Government deserve credit for the fact that, in the past 14 or 15 years, we have acquired the best-paid police force in Europe. But that has contributed to the problem that we do not have as many officers as we might like

Mr. John M. Taylor : I thank my hon. Friend for the gracious words at the beginning of his speech. May I point out to him that, in the first two months of this year alone, 452 more police constables joined the force ?

Mr. Greenway : I was coming to some of the improvements that have taken place even before this Bill is enacted. My hon. Friend anticipates me. I wanted first to refer to the fact that recruitment of special constables is playing an invaluable part in putting more police on our streets, especially late in the evening and at weekends. But that, too, is not the whole answer.

We must also consider the equipment that our police have. Today my right hon. and learned Friend talked of serious structural problems in the funding of police capital expenditure. If I remember rightly, he referred to information technology. We need to co-ordinate and speed up its introduction throughout the police force.

Police authorities have been reluctant to fund common police services. You, Madam Deputy Speaker, will remember the inquiries that the Home Affairs Select Committee has undertaken over the years. National initiatives in this area do not happen as speedily--if they happen at all--as they should, because of this reluctance. The fact that the national criminal intelligence service arrangements are so far behind schedule proves my point.

The Minister's intervention just now leads me to the point that there have been a considerable number of efficiency improvements in the force already, particularly since the Sheehy inquiry was launched. No one should say that Sheehy did not bring about some benefits. At least it made everyone sit up and ask what they should be doing. Many of us may have disagreed with many of its conclusions, but the atmosphere that it created--unhelpful in the sense that it affected morale--had the long-term

Column 168

benefit of helping to ensure a better use of resources. That, as the Minister reminded us, is putting more police officers on the streets.

This, too, is still not the complete answer. We have to face the fact that the present tripartite system is not delivering the resources required : it needs reform. This Bill introduces that much needed reform. None of the three parties to the present arrangements has overall responsibility. The mechanisms for funding provide no guarantees. For example, the Home Office and the Treasury control Government expenditure through the authorised establishments and, of course, through capital expenditure controls. Those controls have become increasingly nonsensical in the past two or three years, affecting the purchase of fairly inexpensive items, and they have caused havoc in the funding of police vehicle fleets. As the Home Secretary said, that is now acknowledged.

The Government can also influence expenditure through the standard spending assessment and their capping powers, but there is no guarantee that the local authority will spend up to its SSA, and that has caused problems in some police forces. We heard in the debate how some local authorities have to be publicly shamed into making sure that they spend up to their SSA. This is one of the key points about the Bill's funding arrangements, and it has not been addressed in the debate. Clause 26(1) provides :

"The power of the Secretary of State to give directions under section 28D of the 1964 Act to a police authority established under section 3 of that Act shall include power to direct the authority that the amount of its budget requirement for any financial year . . . shall not be less than an amount specified in the direction." That could be called a centralising power, but it provides the one guarantee that is essential to ensuring that the police know what their budget will be and that it will not be subject to the whim of local politicians. That is important.

The cash limit of Government funding will require the Government to state clearly what they think the minimum budget should be. The Government percentage of the budget will be 51 per cent. of X. One does not have to be brilliant at algebra to know that, if 51 per cent. is £100 million, £198 million is needed to fund a police force's authorised expenditure. For the life of me I cannot understand why there has been such opposition to that proposal because it makes Government support for the police service extremely transparent, and that is what is required.

Other matters need to be addressed. One problem that has not been solved, even post Sheehy, is the funding of pensions. In the North Yorkshire force alone, whose total yearly budget is about £50 million, in the 10 months from December 1992 to September 1993 no less than £4.4 million was paid in lump sums to retiring officers, most of whom were retiring on the ground of ill health. In the past couple of years such payments have rendered many police authorities unable to recruit up to their authorised establishments.

North Yorkshire has a fine record of supporting the police through the local authority and making sure that there are as many policemen on the streets as the authorised establishment will allow, but such pay-outs have made a huge hole in the budget. According to today's issue of the Yorkshire Post , the chief constable of West Yorkshire has threatened officers who have retired on the ground of ill health that if they recover they will be asked to go back into

Column 169

uniform on the streets or have their pension stopped. That may be a rather graphic description of precisely what the chief constable intends, but a Select Committee on Home Affairs inquiry into police sickness found that, sadly, too many officers who retired on the ground of ill health did so in circumstances that gave rise to some concern about the authenticity of the sickness. It will do no harm to ensure that the position of officers who recover is reconsidered. The Bill is about funding and the Government should be robust on the use of the precept. When the Government have established by an examination of their cash-limited grant what the budget ought to be, Ministers should not underestimate the public's willingness to pay a specific precept for the police. Those of us who ask our constituents at the weekend, "What would you be prepared to spend a bit more money on directly ?" receive the reply, "More police officers." That is certainly the reply in my constituency, and the result of following it up could be quite dramatic.

North Yorkshire has about 500,000 charge payers and a police establishment of 1,400 officers. If each charge payer contributed an additional £10 a year precept, it would raise £5 million. Police officers are paid about £25,000, so that money would provide another 200 policemen on our streets. I am highlighting, perhaps in an over-simplistic way, the fact that a little extra directed at employing more police constables and sergeants could have a dramatic effect on manpower and the ability of the police to fight crime. The Home Secretary made announcements on three matters that were overhangs from the other place. I agree with all three of his decisions. It is crucial that officers are represented throughout the disciplinary process, not least because police officers, more than anyone else in the public service, run the risk of mischievous and malicious allegations. Sadly, that happens all too often. The second issue is double jeopardy. When I was a police officer in the west end in the 1960s two officers were charged with living on immoral earnings. If my memory serves me correctly, they were found not guilty but the evidence adduced in court was so strong that I do not think that any other police officer would have wanted to serve with them ever again. Even if there is evidence to show that people are unfit to be police officers, it does not necessarily follow that the burden would be sufficient to meet the standard of criminal proof that would enable them to be convicted in court.

My right hon. and learned Friend has made the right decision on the issue of ranks by saying that the rank of chief inspector should be retained. Much has been said about the need to ensure that officers on the ground need to know who is the senior officer. In the great majority of cases the senior officer will be a chief inspector, not a chief superintendent, and that is the rank that can be disposed of. Another issue relates to the rank of deputy chief constable. It is fascinating that the Bill goes so much with the grain of what is happening in the police service. Almost two years ago North Yorkshire abolished the rank of deputy chief constable because it was felt that the money could be better spent on providing more policemen on the streets. Armageddon has not hit the administration of the North Yorkshire police force. I suspect that its chief constable and two assistants have to work more hours and

Column 170

a bit harder than they did when the chief constable had a deputy, but the decision not to have a deputy chief constable is generally regarded as a great success.

In conclusion, I want to refer to what has been said this afternoon and evening about police relations with local communities and the need for them to be strengthened. I do not accept that the police authority has anything to do with that. Police and local community relations are being strengthened through the liaison panels set up under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and through the divisional command structure that police forces are operating. The Metropolitan police--a huge police force covering an enormous area--has some of the best local policing schemes in the country, such as the domestic violence unit in Islington and the racial attacks unit in Plumstead, which are extremely effective.

I do not believe that the police authority issue affects the relationship between the local community and its police force. In any event, that would not be possible in a huge county such as north Yorkshire.

These days, the police are confronted by organised national and international crime syndicates which do not respect boundaries or the niceties of how we structure our police authorities. Our police forces can respond to such a threat only if they have a more focused and structured police service. The modernisation of the police service is overdue. There are many good measures in the Bill which will help to deliver it, and I shall certainly support the Bill in the House tonight.

8 pm

Mr. Mike O'Brien (Warwickshire, North) : I join the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) in declaring an interest. I am a parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation of England and Wales.

My concern is not just for the Police Federation ; it is also for my constituents. Crime in Warwickshire has trebled since 1979 and burglaries and car thefts have quadrupled. The number of police officers has increased by 16.4 per cent. in the same period. In the face of such crime, it is important, in my view and that of my constituents, that the Government are seen to support the police. Maintaining police morale among those who do an increasingly difficult and complex job, often putting their lives at risk, should be a Government priority. The Sheehy report, the White Paper on policing, the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill and the Home Office inquiry into the core functions of policing are not the way to maintain police morale. The effect has been the opposite. The police have had to fight off successive Government attempts to restrict and cut their salaries, cut out ranks and undermine their role. The Government have now, to some extent, disowned the Sheehy report, although some of its recommendations are in the Bill and others are likely to see the light of day in the Police Negotiating Board in the next few years.

There is great concern among the police that there is still a Government agenda on policing. That agenda is evidenced by Sheehy, the White Paper, the Bill and the inquiry into the core functions of policing. Let me say something about that inquiry, which is important as it is part of the context of the Bill. Taken as a whole, it is part of a series of policies which cause considerable concern to the Police Federation.

Column 171

The general secretary of the Police Federation, Mr. Lyn Williams, has said that he foresees Government policy reducing the number of fully trained professional police officers in England and Wales from 126,000 to 80,000 by the end of the decade--a cut of 46,000 officers. He sees that as the way in which the Government will develop their policies. The Home Office has not maintained the number of authorised establishments in a number of forces and there is increasing sub -contracting of functions to the private sector.

A recent paper presented to the Bolton conference on policing earlier this year written by Dr. Peter Moran and Mr. Alex Alexandrou stated :

"There is little doubt that creeping privatisation of police functions is taking place with the tacit assent if not active encouragement of the Home Office. Attested police officers are a homogenous group with regard to training and vetting : private security guards are not".

The concern is that there is a great temptation for the views about privatisation that have been all too apparent in a number of our public services to be moved into the area of policing. In some American cities, if someone phones the police because he is locked out, someone answers the 911 number and the caller says, "I am locked out, can someone assist ?" The telephonist presses a button and the call goes to "Get You In Ltd.", or whatever company it is. If the caller has a cat up a tree or a problem with a licence, he gets put through to We Get Your Cat Down, We Assist You To Get Across the Road or We Provide a Licence For You. Private companies carry out many of those roles.

It is tempting for the Government to say that the core function of policing should be defined, that the police should concentrate on that core function and that the other functions--obviously, if we define core function we shall also have non-core functions--should be hived off to the private sector.

The effect of that, and the concern of the Police Federation at the erosion of police functions and the number of police officers, is to erode the many non-confrontational links that the police have with the community. The way in which we develop community policing in Britain is that the police are part of and integrated with the community, and, in order to fight crime, we are trying to encourage the public constantly to co-operate with the police.

The effect of restricting the police to core functions would do two things. First, the public would deal with the police primarily if a serious offence had occurred and not in the non-confrontational cases where people needed help or a licence to be issued, for example. Secondly, the police deal with the public only when they have to go in hard, carrying out their core functions. In those circumstances, there is a danger that the police could develop the same attitudes as have been seen in places such as Los Angeles, where there have been problems in recent years. If we restrict the police to core functions, we shall, to some extent, change attitudes within the police. That is a considerable danger of which the Police Federation is aware. There is another developing problem that many people have experienced and that many hon. Members have seen in their constituencies. We are suffering increasing plagues of security guard company representatives knocking on doors saying, "For £1.50 a week we will watch your house because you have no policing in your area". That has occurred in several parts of my constituency.

Column 172

At the moment there is little or no regulation of those private companies. I hope that during the passage of the Bill I will be able to persuade the Clerk to accept an amendment to address that problem. It is possible at the moment for someone to come out of prison, after having committed a series of burglaries and with a long criminal record, to buy himself a dog, knock on doors and say that he will protect people from burglaries. That is not the sort of person one wants to protect one's house.

The chief constable of Avon and Somerset, David Shattock, said recently that he was powerless to stop a private security company run by a man with a long criminal record, including a prison sentence, from operating street patrols in his area. He was very concerned that the growth of untrained and regulated companies patrolling streets was an open invitation to criminals. He said :

"What better way of committing a crime than buying a van, putting on a white peaked cap and patrolling people's houses ? If you are caught shining a torch through the back of a building, it is the perfect answer".

We need to ensure that we have proper regulation of those companies, but we also need to ensure that the build-up in the past century of a professional police force which has links with the community is not undermined by moving from community policing towards forcing the police into dealing only with their core functions.

The Bill must be seen in the overall context of Government policy on policing. I accept that many of the Police Federation's key concerns have been dealt with in another place. The Bill that went into the other place was, humiliatingly for the Government, not the Bill that came out. The federation's main concern was that the Bill as it went into the other place would have politicised the police, putting them under effective Whitehall control.

That fear was based on the fact that various proposals, justifiable to some extent in themselves, when put together were

worrying--fixed-term contracts for senior officers ; Home Office-appointed chairmen to police authorities ; performance targets ; policing plans ; and amalgamations. To some extent, many of their Lordships shared those concerns and, to be fair to the Government, the Bill as now presented is somewhat emasculated. None the less, it is still worrying and dangerous.

It must be remembered that the proposals come not from any royal commission, independent inquiry, Select Committee or any body outside the House which requested such changes. They come with the opposition of all the police staff associations and police authority members of all political parties as well as all the groups involved in policing and the magistracy.

Why do we have the Bill ? There does not seem to be any real explanation, other than an ideological one. Major constitutional changes seem to have been made at the service of a half-baked ideological nostrum. The Bill seems to have been concocted from the Sheehy report. That is not the way in which to run a law and order policy in Britain.

The Police Federation's concerns about the Bill centre on five main areas-- discipline ; local police plans ; amalgamations ; the role of the police negotiating board ; and the disqualification of certain police authority members with previous convictions abroad. Discipline is a major concern because it directly affects all serving police officers. The Government's concessions on the appeals tribunal and on legal representation are

Column 173

welcome. I just wish that the proposals had never been put forward in the first place. But there is concern about the cost of appeals. Under section 37(5) of the Police Act 1964, the police fund meets the costs of police officers who mount appeals against dismissal, reduction in rank or required resignation. But under the Bill, the appellant will be liable for the whole of his or her costs unless the police appeal tribunal directs otherwise.

The federation believes that that will have a markedly discouraging effect on appeals and that is to be regretted. It is right that officers should be able to undertake appeals that are open to them and costs should not be allowed to prohibit such a course. Double jeopardy is another concern which I am sure will be debated at some length in Committee. I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), but, to some extent, he missed the point. Tbe issue is not so much whether the policy is right in terms of the criteria of balance of proof or beyond reasonable doubt in court. I accept that there is a distinction there. But the police officer is in a unique position. Moreover, he will clearly be subjected to a number of allegations that are patently untrue. It is wrong that he should be forced repeatedly to go through what is in effect a trial for the same thing. Therefore, double jeopardy is the issue rather than the balance of proof in any one situation. It is wrong that an officer should be tried twice for the same thing. That is against most of our common law principles developed over many centuries.

The federation is also concerned about the police plan, local policing objectives and performance indicators. The federation wishes to preserve the operational independence of chief constables in relation to the setting of local policing objectives and performance criteria. The responsibility for producing an annual report should belong to the chief constable. The federation argues that the chief constable, having overall responsibility for operational policing, is in a better position to handle information concerning his or her area and is free from political restraints. Consultation and co-operation between police authorities and the Home Office is essential, but not guidance in that sense.

Amalgamations are an essential and important concern. As a Member of Parliament for a Warwickshire constituency, an area with one of the smallest police forces in the country, I know that it is important to clarify the amalgamations issue. When the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) was Home Secretary, he said that he wanted to cut the number of constabularies in England and Wales from 43 to about 20, the better to be able to manage chief constables. Ministers now deny that they have such plans, but the Home Secretary still refuses to drop the new process that he has instituted which prevents a proper public inquiry into any amalgamations. Why ?

The Home Secretary should be required to show at a public inquiry that any proposed amalgamation should enhance police efficiency. The present local inquiry procedure proposals to alter or amalgamate police forces should remain. The procedure allows the relevant police authorities and local constabularies to voice concerns and possible opposition to proposed alterations. The Home

Column 174

Secretary's proposals, on consultation procedures and timetables, are clearly inadequate to allow that to happen properly.

The Bill proposes a consultation period of approximately two months. That appears unrealistic and undemocratic as an announcement on proposed alterations could be made during a holiday period, making it virtually impossible for local authorities, police authorities and local communities to make a proper considered response. The proposed changes as outlined in the Bill will enable the Home Secretary to carry through a major reorganisation of police forces against the wishes of substantial sections of local opinion and the police and could well be against proper police efficiency. The Bill gives the Home Secretary powers to create super- forces, covering eight or 10 regions. Who knows ? There would be no local inquiries and very little opportunity for proper parliamentary scrutiny.

The federation has a number of other concerns. At the moment, the police negotiating board is restricted in its ability to deal with aspects of pensions. Given that a police officer contributes one third of the cost of his pension, it would seem right for police pensions to be fully negotiable. But the Government do not appear to be willing to allow that. That is illogical and I hope that we shall be able to discuss it in Committee and in due course to propose amendments.

One minor point worrying the federation which caused problems when it was raised in another place, perhaps because of definition--I doubt whether the Government would be opposed to the federation's aim--relates to a person who has committed an offence abroad not being allowed to sit on police authorities. That is not dealt with in the Bill and I hope that in due course we shall be able to rectify it.

Mr. Fabricant : How does the hon. Gentleman suggest that the Home Office or the Committee should handle a situation where an offence committed abroad is not an offence here ? I agree with the hon. Gentleman's point, but that would have to be taken into account.

Mr. O'Brien : I accept that there may be circumstances in which an offence committed abroad would be regarded here as perfectly proper--for example, a political offence in another country such as a protest against a dictatorship or other such regime. That should not result in disqualification from membership. We would have to find a way to evaluate each case individually rather than simply saying that every person who had committed such an offence would be blocked. The principle is important. People who have committed abroad serious criminal offences, which we recognise as such, should not serve on police authorities.

The Bill is not what is needed in the fight against crime. It creates uncertainty where continuity and certainty are needed. It undermines morale where morale needs to be enhanced. It fails to address the need for more resources and to put more police on the beat, when that need is crying out to be addressed in the face of rising crime. The Bill is flawed and, like my right hon. and hon. Friends, I will vote against it tonight.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris) : Order. Before I call the next hon. Member, may I point out that exactly one hour remains before the wind-up speeches.

Column 175

Seven hon. Members hope to catch my eye, which leaves just under 10 minutes for each of them. I hope that hon. Members will bear that in mind.

8.20 pm

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cirencester and Tewkesbury) : Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to catch your eye.

When my right hon. and learned Friend made his 27 announcements at our party conference, my constituents were overjoyed. [ Laughter .] Opposition Members may laugh, but I suspect that their constituents also were overjoyed because unfortunately they, like my constituents, will suffer from the rising tide of crime to which I shall refer later.

I spent many a long hour on the Standing Committee that considered the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill. That excellent Bill implemented 19 of my right hon. and learned Friend's measures. The other part of the double-barrelled approach to reforming our criminal justice system is the Bill before the House. It will implement a further six of my right hon. and learned Friend's proposals--all those that require legislative change. [ Hon Members :-- "Hallelujah."] I am grateful for that salutation from Opposition Members, who obviously approve of my remarks.

The Bill deals with the overall structure of the police, which has not changed to any measurable extent for the last 30 years, and reforms the magistracy system, which has not changed to any measurable extent for the last 50 years. It is clear that both are long overdue for a long, hard look. I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department on the extent of their consultation and their ability to listen to sensible representations. I do not accept the criticism made this evening that the fact that they amended the Bill as it passed through the other place means that they are weak. In fact, that showed their statesmanlike character and willingness to make sensible changes to their proposals as they went along. My right hon. and learned Friend said that crime has increased throughout the western world over the past few decades. The number of notifiable offences in 1993 was 5.5 million, which is 119 per cent. up on the same period in 1977. The number of clear-ups increased by only 38 per cent. during that time. Worse still, the number of indictable offences proceeded with rose by only 3 per cent. and the number of cautions increased by 88 per cent. Clearly, not everything is perfect in this country's criminal justice system and I welcome a long, hard look at the nuts and bolts of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill and the overall structure of the Police and Magistrates Courts' Bill.

In common with the hon. Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Dr. Wright), I spent a whole night out with the police, in Cheltenham. We arrested a person who was in possession of drugs--[ Hon. Members :-- "We ?"] The constable arrested the suspect, and he was still dealing with the paperwork at the police station four hours later. That cannot be sensible. The police on the beat were well overstretched that particular night. It is incumbent on us all to ensure use of the latest technology available to the police--video recordings, sound recordings, electrostatic document analysis techniques and DNA fingerprinting--so that the amount of paperwork and wasted time is reduced.

Column 176

Anyone who has been involved in business knows that the best way to run a company is with the flattest, shortest command structure possible. I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend's proposal to reduce the number of police ranks by two. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary intervened to say that that has already enabled another 450 extra constables to be put on the beat in the past two months alone. It is estimated that, in an entire year, that change will put an extra 3,000 police on the beat. That is precisely the improvement for which my constituents have been calling--more police in the front line, on the beat, to detect crime and to arrest potential criminals.

I make a special plea to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. In Gloucestershire, a large number of police officers are deployed on royal protection duties. My constituency contains no fewer than three royal households. I have already written to my hon. Friend on the matter, but I ask him again to give my county police force a few extra supernumerary officers to perform those duties. Surrounding counties do not have such a responsibility.

Royalty is considered a permanent risk, whereas any Minister of the Crown is considered a temporary risk for supernumerary purposes. My county is not considered for supernumerary officers, so I again ask my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to consider that request. In fact, I will write to him again, to see whether something can be done. That issue causes great annoyance to my constituents. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary set out his overall policy for the new system of police authorities. Much of tonight's debate has centred on the way that the balance has shifted between local police and local authority responsibility and the Home Secretary and chief constables. Replying to the Second Reading debate in another place, my noble Friend Lord Ferrers said that

"the Home Secretary must retain some powers in the event of things going wrong. After all, he is responsible for the £6,000 million of public money which goes to police authorities . . . but this is not a centralising measure . . . it gives powers, responsibilities and accountability to the local police authorities and local chief constables."--[ Official Report , House of Lords , 24 March 1994 ; Vol. 553, c. 808.]

Overall policing objectives will be set by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, but under new section 28A of the 1964 Act, the objective of local policing will be set by the local police authority. Subject to any particular directive under new section 28A, the local police authority must set out its own objectives, which may be different from, and additional to, the foregoing, and then produce a local policing plan. In addition, it must produce an annual plan.

That seems a wholly transparent, local procedure. To demonstrate that, clause 11 provides for one local police authority member to answer questions from any member of the local council. That wholly transparent and democratic local procedure is established by the Bill.

The flexibility displayed by my right hon. and learned Friend and hon. Friends in listening to sensible proposals during earlier stages of the Bill means that there will be five Home Office appointees. I admit that the system is rather cumbersome, but we want somebody other than a magistrate or local councillor to sit on a police authority. There is a wealth of experience in our communities. All sorts of trades and professions are represented by people who are perfectly capable of sitting on police authorities. Mention was made earlier of admirals, but many business

Column 177

and professional men, doctors, nurses and others would be perfectly well qualified to sit on a police authority and would considerably enhance its work.

As has already been mentioned, the chief constable, who is appointed by the local police authority, still has complete operational independence. I cannot stress that too highly. It would be intolerable to do anything different. If a sudden emergency arises, who will make the decision ? Of course, it must be the chief constable. He now has an additional new power in that, subject to sticking within the budget laid down within the standard spending assessment system, he is able to exercise his discretion as to how many police officers he employs. Hitherto, he would have had to obtain permission from the Home Office to do that.

Mr. Fabricant : Does my hon. Friend agree that this is a good example of decentralisation, not centralisation ? Does he not think it an absolute irony that Labour Members keep saying that this is a centralising Bill ?

Mr. Clifton-Brown : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that observation, but, as time is moving on and as Mr. Deputy Speaker will constrict me if I go on for too long, I shall simply say that I welcome the part of the Bill that deals with magistrates. Some 30,000 members of the lay magistracy give freely of their time to dispense an excellent system of summary justice in this country. I welcome the proposed reforms in that respect.

I challenged the Labour party to tell us what its policy is. We learnt one thing from the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) : the Labour party is no longer in favour of elected police authorities. But we did not find out what is to take their place. The Labour party has consistently opposed every single such Bill since 1984, including the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill. It opposed the Public Order Act 1986 ; the Criminal Justice Act 1988 ; the Criminal Justice Act 1991 ; and the Asylum and Immigration Act 1993. And, almost at the very moment when the mortars were going off at Heathrow, Labour Members trooped into the Lobby, within moments of hearing that announcement, to oppose the renewal of the prevention of terrorism Act. That is disgraceful.

There is no doubt that the Liberal Democrats opposed many of those aspects as well. We have already heard this evening that the moment that they get into power in local councils, they reduce the budget for the local police authority--time after time. They are no friends of the police either.

I welcome whole-heartedly the Government's bravery in taking a long and hard look at how our criminal justice system should be run, so that we can go forward together--the public, police and magistracy--and detect and convict more criminals and make our streets safe places on which to walk.

8.32 pm

Mr. Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie) : It is fun to follow the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown), who praised the Home Secretary for being a listening Home Secretary. It seems to me that the Home Secretary is a listening Home Secretary much in the way that Evander Holyfield was a listening ex-heavyweight champion to Michael Moorer. The Home Secretary was mugged in the House of Lords. Anyone who

Column 178

wants to read an account of a genteel mugging should read the report of the Bill's Second Reading in the House of Lords. The Bill has been very badly damaged, but I shall concentrate, after several hours of debate, on the Scottish section of the Bill, which no one has talked about. Unfortunately, that part of the Bill has not been mugged. It has not been talked about or touched on. It deals inadequately, as far as this House is concerned, with Scottish legislation. If one wants to see why the Tories do so badly in Scotland, one should look at the way in which the Bill is presented. One of the special pillars of Scottish society is its separate and distinctive legal system, which, in many areas, is demonstrably better than the English system.

We see the arrogance of a Government who try to introduce changes to Scottish law simply by inserting them into English legislation. When the Home Secretary moved the Second Reading earlier, he made no reference whatever to its contents as far as Scotland is concerned, apart from something vague about bringing it into line with England. That is not adequate. There is no equivalent to the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department who can reply to the debate on behalf of the Scottish Office.

I suspect that, any moment now--probably in 20 seconds--a Minister from the Scottish Office will come to the debate, and may or may not listen to this speech. We need some justification from the Government for why the Bill applies to Scotland. Which Scottish concerns does it meet ? Who asked for it in Scotland ? Nobody did. It has simply been put in the Bill. It does not meet any of the problems.

There is a need for a Bill that deals with problems in the Scottish legal system, but this is not it. We are crying out for parliamentary time to deal with the problems and issues that arise with regard to the system on children's hearings. There is a need to consider whether there should be an equivalent in Scotland, or something especially Scottish, to the Police Complaints Authority, because Scotland does not have one. But we do not have such a Bill. What bothers me about this Bill is the depth of the contempt that the Scottish Office shows the people in Scotland in the way in which it has been introduced. They have not even attempted to make the case for the law change in Scotland. I am pleased to see the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) in his place. If he can point out to me where any Scottish Minister has attempted to make the case for the Scottish clauses, I will be pleased to give way to him now. I think that the fact that the hon. Gentleman does not wish to speak demonstrates my point.

Mr. Phil Gallie (Ayr) : Having served on the Standing Committee on the local government Bill, I would have to say that those issues were mentioned on occasion, but not in depth. The detail of the Bill refers to the structure of the police force in Scotland. It aligns with the rankings in England. I am quite sure that my hon. Friends have had many discussions with the Home Office on that issue.

Mr. Worthington : That just demonstrates to me that even though the hon. Gentleman is present, he does not know what the Bill is about. It says nothing about the structure of the police force in Scotland.

Column 179

We have to find a better way of dealing with Scottish legislation. A fortnight ago, during the debate on the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill

Mr. Gallie : Will the hon. Gentleman give way ?

Mr. Worthington : No, I will not.

At 1 o'clock in the morning we had a debate on the concept of aggravated trespass. That subject has produced a considerable mail bag in Scotland, because of legitimate fears that the Government are acting on behalf of a large number of absentee landlords and simply incorporating into Scottish law something to deal with the problem in England of hunt saboteurs and new age travellers, and also because the Government are interfering with what is a traditional and very valued freedom in Scotland--the freedom to roam.

One Scottish Member was able to talk about that in Committee--my good and hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman). Imagine the uproar if only one English Member of Parliament was able to speak on an issue affecting English law.

Last week, at 1 am, the rest of us could say something. We had a 90-minute debate, which was pathetically inadequate. But then the Minister got up to reply--he has still not turned up tonight--and took only three minutes, under clear instructions to get up and shut up. The vote took place. The Secretary of State for Scotland did not even bother to turn up. That is how we deal with Scottish legislation. Today, we continue that charade. It is a contempt for democracy. It is a V-sign at the Scottish electorate. It is a major change to the law in Scotland with regard to the police, with no discernible reason put forward for it. There will be one, or even two, Scottish Members on the Committee. No Minister from the Scottish Office will speak today. No Scottish Minister has spoken on the issue in public and made the case. Big changes will be made to the constitutional position of the police in Scotland. There will be yet more centralisation of the controls of the Secretary of State for Scotland, on the basis of no argument whatever, and being done independently of the Local Government (Scotland) Bill, referred to by the hon. Member for Ayr.

Joint boards will be set up. That will mean more joint boards in many parts of Scotland. My area--Strathclyde--is to cover at least 10 separate unitary local authorities. There will be absolutely no sense of partnership : that is bound to lead to much more remoteness, and to yet another democratic deficit in Scotland.

As a result of the Bill, we are even losing the requirement for a chief constable to consult the police authority when determining the number and ranks of men in the force. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Ayr knew that. Furthermore, as clause 46 makes clear, in future the annual report will be made not to the police authority but to the Secretary of State : it requires such matters to be reported "as the Secretary of State may prescribe".

It will not be a question of what the police authority thinks important, or even a question of what the chief constable thinks important.

The relationship between police and state is one of the most difficult constitutional issues that any society must face. The police must be under the control of the state--they can never go their own undisciplined way-- but they

Column 180

must be free to feel the collars of the most powerful in the land. If the Secretary of State behaves in an inappropriate and illegal manner, he must be arrested without hesitation.

To cope with that, we in Britain have invented a subtle tripartite system involving the control of operational matters by the chief constable : some powers for local authorities, some for the Secretary of State and some for Her Majesty's inspector of constabulary. If we wish to change the relationship between those three powers, we should do so only in the most measured, calm and reasonable way.

Mr. Gallie : Will the hon. Gentleman give way ?

Mr. Worthington : Certainly.

Next Section

  Home Page