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Column 185

New clause 3 --

Office of constable in a designated police force

-- .--(1) A person may be attested as a police constable only if he serves in a police force which is either a force constituted under a Police Act or in a force designated under this section by the Secretary of State.

(2) Subject to subsection (4) below, the Secretary of State may by order and after consultation with persons representative of police authorities and chief officers of police specify the jurisdiction and responsibilities of a constable.

(3) No order may be made under subsection (2) above unless a draft of the order has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.

(4) A duly attested constable serving in a designated force shall have all the powers and privileges of a constable under a Police Act but only

(a) where no other constable is present and available to exercise his powers as a constable and he is satisfied that the circumstances require him to exercise those powers and privileges, or

(b) in pursuance of a request for assistance from another police constable serving in a force constituted under a Police Act. (5) The Secretary of State may by order apply such provisions as he considers appropriate of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 to constables serving in a designated force.

(6) For the purposes of this section, a "Police Act" means the Police Act 1964, the Police (Scotland) Act 1967, the Metropolitan Police Act 1829 or the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1970.'.-- [Mr. Michael.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

5.30 pm

Mr. Michael : I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

We now come to an extremely important issue which was debated in Committee in respect of police forces other than the ordinary police forces. Those are sometimes called Home Office police forces, but they should be regarded as the police forces of local people, which we have in different functions in the country.

The new clause deals with the office of constable, and asks what a constable or a police officer is. It relates to the confidence of the public in recognising a police officer and knowing that that somebody whom they have identified as a police officer is, in fact, a constable. The new clause is designed to meet the Minister's objections to some of the ways in which we proposed to tackle the smaller, non-regional and non-local police forces. I refer hon. Members to the debates in Committee, and particularly to some very well-informed speeches by my hon. Friends. I do not intend to repeat the arguments that were made at that stage.

It is more important than ever that we should know how to recognise a police officer. In an age of vigilantes, core functions, national targets, privatisation and centralised control within Whitehall, it is important that we know who is a police officer. I underline the fact that we are talking about the police of the public, and not the police of the state.

The new clause seeks to determine who is a constable and what is a police force, and the public have a right to know with certainty who fulfils those categories. The new clause states that somebody can be recognised as a police officer only

"if he serves in a police force which is either a force constituted under a Police Act or in a force designated under this section by the Secretary of State."

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That seems to be a fairly simple and straightforward way of dealing with the issue, and it also takes into account the problems raised by the Minister in Committee.

It is only right that there should be something specific about the jurisdiction and responsibilities of the constable. It is also right that we should deal with the difficulties facing members of the British Transport police. The new clause says that if somebody is a designated and trained police officer who has the responsibility and experience of a police officer, he should have

"all the powers and privileges of a constable under a Police Act but only where no other constable is present."

If an officer from the British Transport police was on the way to Ystrad Mynach and an accident or incident occurred which required the help of a police officer, that officer should be able to act until a member of the South Wales police force was available to fulfil the functions of policing. That British Transport police officer, or an officer of any of the other non-regional, non-local police forces, should have no doubt that he has the powers of a constable, and members of the public should be in no doubt about his status and his powers to act.

A variety of other arguments were made in Committee, and I do not intend to rehearse them, but I was disappointed in Committee by the way in which Conservative Members sought to diminish and minimise the importance of the issues. The Minister made reference to the Barnet dog handlers and, as someone who was bitten by an alsatian in Barnet at the age of 13, I intend to find out more about that body and why its strength at present is zero.

The Minister said in Committee that it was a centralising idea to bring the forces together and to combine them under a single authority. That is not required by the new clause. We have overcome the difficulties that the Minister brought out, but the choice is clear for the Government. The Minister should say either that the organisations concerned are police forces staffed by constables and that they should be brought within the ambit of the relevant law, or that they are not police forces. In that case, the Minister should describe how they must be governed and regulated, because it is certain that they should be governed and regulated in some way. If members of the forces are police officers, they should come within the proper ambit of the law. If not, they should be acknowledged as something different. The Minister failed to tackle those issues in Committee and I hope he will tackle them today, perhaps by accepting the new clause.

The Minister also said in Committee that some of the constables outside the local police forces are in tiny forces. That is true, but what does it mean ? Does it mean that because they are small, such forces should be outside the scope of the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill and the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 ? Should they be outside the jurisdiction and supervision of the inspectorate, the training requirements for police officers and any formal supervision ? Is that what the Minister maintains on the Floor of House, as he did in Committee ? I hope not.

There is a need for certainty to be given to the public and to those who should be recognised as police officers in the vital role of constable, wherever and under whatever conditions they exercise those functions. The new clause would give that clarity, and I appeal to the Minister to accept it.

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Mr. Charles Wardle : The hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) is at his most dangerous when he says that he appeals to me. I have listened to his entreaties, but I fear that I must disappoint him, as I did when we debated this subject in Committee.

New clause 3 is an only slightly rejigged version of what we discussed in Committee. A range of useful, complementary and--in many cases--rather small policing arrangements are already in place. The House has already given necessary powers and provided jurisdiction to those individuals concerned, and also provided a system of complaints where that is needed.

We do not want or need the Home Department gainsaying those powers and providing a top-heavy, centralised system. That would not serve non-Home Office forces well. It is not a question of a legislative gap. The House made wise legislative arrangements for the various undertakings and classes of undertakings involved on an individual basis, which makes for flexibility and allows arrangements to be tailored to individual circumstances. It also allows problems and proposals to be dealt with on their merits, as they arise. That approach is reflected in the arrangements for applying the provisions of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 to non-Home Office forces. In Committee, I explained that section 96 of PACE allows its complaints and discipline procedures to be established for those forces along the lines of those for forces maintained under the Police Act 1964. That is fundamentally important.

The new clause makes the somewhat radical proposal to extend the jurisdiction of all constables in non-Home Office forces so that, in effect, they could exercise their powers anywhere in England and Wales to assist the public or local police force. There is a constitutional point. The limited jurisdiction of the forces in question reflects their constitutional position as decided by the House. By and large, non-Home Office forces are not about policing the general public but about protecting private property and specific interests. Their members are recruited and trained for specific purposes, and their accountability, management and control arrangements reflect that.

It would not be acceptable to the public or to the House for members of such forces to exercise full constabulary powers anywhere in England and Wales. Local public accountability would not be there, and training, discipline and management arrangements are different, and rightly so. I must therefore disappoint the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) : I support new clause 3 and will respond to some of the Minister's erroneous arguments. There is a plethora of so-called non-Home Office forces. Some are highly regarded, highly valued, highly skilled and of historic importance. There are also small forces valued by the public, but not in the same league.

Among the big players are the British Transport police, whose training, ethos and traditions are almost indistinguishable from those of Home Office forces. I couple with them the Ministry of Defence and Atomic Energy Authority police and the Royal Parks constabulary. Three of those forces operate within a stone's throw of the House. If you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, were to walk with me down Whitehall, we might meet a police officer whose appearance would lead us to think that he was a member of the Metropolitan police but who was a Ministry of Defence

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officer. We might cross the road into Horse Guards Parade and meet a member of the Royal Parks constabulary. British Transport police also operate in the vicinity.

I present that scenario because many members of the public cannot understand why such officers would have any hesitation in responding to an incident. Non-Home Office officers would have at least momentary hesitation because they do not have powers as police officers, except in the immediate vicinity of a railway station, the Ministry of Defence, the Atomic Energy Authority or St. James's park--yet all could witness an incident in the street to which they would want to respond, but are not at liberty to do so.

In Committee, the Minister acknowledged that non-Home Office police have no more powers than you or I, Mr. Deputy Speaker, yet--unfairly, I thought--he never suggested that they would be duty bound to respond. That is the spirit in which those proud police officers respond, but they risk being placed in jeopardy. If a complaint were made about their conduct or they suffered injury, the question would arise of their competence and insurance. The matter should be regularised for that if for no other reason.

Three London boroughs and other authorities throughout the country have appointed police forces to patrol their parks--where, unhappily, there is an incidence of crime. Those officers wear traditional uniforms, but they do not have the training of other officers and are not subject to PACE or to the Police Complaints Authority. The Minister said that it is within his competence to ensure that they are subject to the authority. Perhaps he ought to exercise that power, and not leave that to the new clause. However, it beefs up the arguments and emphasises the public need for change and to ensure standards.

5.45 pm

A number of bodies are appointing police officers, but there is no central knowledge of who holds the office of constable, which is irresponsible. It is also unfair to the majority of police in the Home Office forces, Metropolitan police and quality forces to which I referred, that people whose names are not known centrally can be arbitrarily sworn in after receiving poor training. They place in jeopardy not only their own status as police officers and the reputation of their small forces but those of other officers and forces.

It would be prudent to make the proposed modest addition to the Bill to ensure that the Home Secretary has the capacity to ensure standards among those described as police officers and sworn in as constables, and to ensure that there are proper complaints procedures to enhance the status of such constables and protection for the public.

The Minister was talking rubbish when he implied that the new clause sought to extend the general powers of police officers in non-Home Office forces. No one is arguing for co-jurisdiction. The clause makes explicit the fact that, where no other police officer is available, a constable in certain designated non-Home Office forces--we have in mind quality forces such as the British Transport, Atomic Energy Authority and MOD police and the Royal Parks constabulary--would have the full powers and competence of a Metropolitan police officer. What is wrong with that ? Such a change is urgently needed.

If a Metropolitan police officer required assistance, he would be able to call on a constable in any of those other

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forces for assistance, and it would be given by the respondent as a constable and not as a member of the public.

The argument is best illustrated by the poll tax riots in Trafalgar square, when we saw dramatic television coverage of a scaffolding pole being thrown through the window of a British Transport police vehicle. Clearly, the occupants of that car were inextricably involved in a dangerous incident-- but under the existing arrangements described by the Minister, they had no more competence than any of us to respond. That is barmy.

If the Minister is fair and generous, and reads the new clause properly, he will know that we are only talking about ensuring that in an emergency, police officers who have been highly trained at significant public expense would have the capacity to respond in the interests of police colleagues and the public--who demand and expect the attendance and attention of a police officer.

Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge) : The hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) made an interesting point. I have a particular interest in the Royal Parks constabulary because I was responsible for bringing it into existence through a private Member's Bill. It is a fine force and does a good job in St. James's park and other royal parks. The Harbours, Docks and Piers Clauses Act 1847, with which I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Mrs. Lait) is intimately familiar, provides for the appointment of constables in docks such as those at Harwich. Those constables are responsible for the protection of private property. Their recruitment, training and accountability and their duties in the docks and one mile outside the perimeter are different from those of officers in a regular or recognised force.

The issue of accountability has troubled me since I came across this Victorian statute some five years ago. I am not criticising the port of Harwich or the officers who serve there. I merely draw the matter to the Minister's attention in the hope that he will reflect on it to see whether it might be possible to ensure that all uniformed police officers who carry out their duties in the areas to which they are appointed are properly trained and accountable. To all intents and purposes, they should carry the same responsibilities as regular police officers.

Mr. Maclennan : The hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) has done the House a great service by focusing upon forces with designated status which are highly efficient and much regarded in their areas. I can speak with personal knowledge of the Atomic Energy Authority constabulary, which has operated for years not only in Dounreay but in its vicinity. The hon. Gentleman has alighted upon a sensible suggestion as to how such forces could be more usefully integrated in the areas in which they operate and where there is a chance vacuum that their training and experience equips them to fill better than anyone else. So far, the Government have not shown any support for that, but I hope that they will rethink the matter because the common-sense suggestion has great value.

Question put and negatived.

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New clause 4 --

Conditions for setting national objectives

-- For section 28 of the 1964 Act there shall be substituted

General duties and the setting of objectives for police authorities

28.--(1) The Secretary of State shall exercise his functions under this Act in such manner as is most likely to promote the efficiency of the police.

(2) In exercising his functions under sections 28A to 28D below the Secretary of State shall have regard to the desirability of promoting locally accountable policing.

(3) The power by order to determine objectives for the policing of the areas of police authorities under section 28A(1) below shall not be exercisable before the relevant date.

(4) For the purposes of this section the relevant date shall be a date determined by the Secretary of State which shall be

(a) not before he has laid before Parliament a study by an independent person appointed by him of the effectiveness of levels of performance ("performance targets") established by police authorities in accordance with section 28B below ; and

(b) not less than three years after the issuing under that section of a direction to establish performance targets.

(5) Before appointing any independent person for the purposes of subsection (4)(a) above the Secretary of State shall consult persons representative of police authorities and of chief officers of police.".'. -- [Mr. Michael.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Michael : I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments : No. 4, in clause 14, page 9, line 43, leave out from (1)' to the' in line 44.

No. 20, in page 9, line 46, leave out from targets")' to end of line 47.

No. 12, in page 9, line 47, at end insert

(1A) Before issuing any direction under subsection (1) above the Secretary of State shall consult persons representative of police authorities and of chief officers of police.'.

No. 5, in page 10, line 4, leave out from beginning to end of line 7.

No. 17, in page 10, line 20, at end insert

(4) No code of practice or revision of a code of practice laid before Parliament under subsection (3) of this section shall have effect unless it has been approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.'.

Mr. Michael : In an exchange on Second Reading, it became clear that the Home Secretary had not properly understood what he was doing in taking the power to establish national objectives. His mistake in not understanding his own Bill became clearer as our debates in Committee proceeded. I am sure that the Home Secretary meant what he said on Second Reading when he suggested to my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) that national policing objectives would not override or unduly influence local objectives and local policing plans. That being so, I am sure that he will accept new clause 4 with enthusiasm and alacrity.

As it stands, the Government's proposal for national objectives is a centralising measure. Our alternative will improve the performance of police in partnership with the community that they serve, and it will be for the Government to listen and learn from local experience. I hope that the Home Secretary will acknowledge that the

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new clause is positive and constructive and should be accepted. It says that, in exercising the powers to set national objectives, "the Secretary of State shall have regard to the desirability of promoting locally accountable policing."

The trouble with the Government's approach to this issue is that although they pay much lip service to locally accountable policing, the tendency of legislation is away from that important principle. I hope that the Home Secretary will put his money where his mouth is and accept the new clause.

The new clause would delay the implementation of national objectives. The Home Secretary would not set national objectives and lay requirements before Parliament until he had received a study by an independent person whom he had appointed. We have no desire to take the Home Secretary out of the picture. If he wished to do so, he could play a constructive part in developing the future role of the police. Only after the report would he set national objectives and performance targets for police authorities to pursue.

We also require a period of three years before the issuing of a direction to establish performance targets. The reason for that is that we should learn from local experience. Performance indicators and targets should be developed on the basis of local experience, requirements and aspirations. For that reason, we also suggest that the Home Secretary should consult representatives of police authorities and chief officers of police.

How can the Minister not accept such a modest and constructive approach to the establishment of national objectives ? National objectives should be based on local experience and on the views of the police and public. If that is done, they may work, but national objectives based on a paper exercise carried out in Whitehall, however able are those who undertake it, will not work because it starts from the wrong end.

The White Paper on police reform said that each authority "will be required to secure implementation of the Home Secretary's key objectives and to publish its own local objectives".

I emphasise the word "required".

We have four worries about the national objectives. First, local priorities could be unduly distorted because of failure to tailor policing to local circumstances. That is a real danger, because the Home Secretary will not know the local circumstances ; nor will he be able to design general, national objectives to suit the local circumstances of each force.

Secondly, the process will threaten police integrity by distorting recording patterns and skewing priorities. That is a disturbing development which the Home Secretary will bring about.

Thirdly, the objectives will not be owned by the police authorities or the police service and they should be owned, understood and possessed by both.

Fourthly, the police service should not be measured against objectives that are largely outside police control. That fourth point is important. I have experience of the successful implementation of management by objectives in local government. Those objectives were used to improve the quality of service to the local community by the local authority and a variety of departments. We were successful in pursuing that course because we involved those who had to try to meet the objectives--local authority officers at

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every level--as well as the public, who had a right to expect a decent standard of service from the way that the objectives developed and were pursued.

We already have difficulties with the key objectives for 1994-95, which have been established at the Home Secretary's behest. As often happens, Parliament is discussing legislation for matters that are already being pursued with some vigour in the machine. There are five key objectives for 1995 : detections for violent crimes ; detections for burglaries ; to target and prevent crimes which are a particular local problem ; high- visibility policing ; and emergency calls. All those objectives are important. Four of them will be measured by numbers and percentages, but the third key objective--to target and prevent crimes which are a particular local problem--is different. The Home Office has said that no high-level indicator is currently available, although there is work on developing an indicator for 1995-96.

On the key issue of crime prevention--local partnerships and the police are about crime prevention as well as investigating crimes that have taken place--there is difficulty in finding key indicators. I have had experience of that as well, although perhaps it was not intentional. A project in which I was involved included probation and social services and had the police and voluntary organisations on the management committee which was chaired by the local vicar. We involved education, and so on.

The chief constable referred to the project in his annual report in three successive years, and it was also mentioned by the chief probation officer, because it was reducing the incidence of crime among young people in the community.

6 pm

Such recognition might have been expected to lead to the continuation of the project, but we received a telephone call from the probation service saying that the two people who were primarily involved would have to be withdrawn. The reason ? "We receive our money from the Home Office chiefly for the supervision of young offenders, and offenders in general. Because not enough young offenders are going to court, we cannot justify continuing to devote time to the project."

If certain factors are measured, that will influence the way in which a service is provided. Unless the indicators are right--unless the right factors are being measured--priorities will be distorted. The problem is that we cannot easily measure what we have prevented. Crime prevention is crucial ; yet the development and use of performance indicators to affect the performance of the police is likely to remove them from some of the crucial elements that should be a priority for them.

The Bill's suggestion of a power for the Home Secretary to give and enforce directions is worrying, because it appears to run counter to a focus on specific and detailed local issues and factors that affect crime. It runs counter to the theme of the White Paper on police reform, whose aim was supposedly to empower chief constables to deliver a service that responded better to local needs and strengthened police authorities.

It seems that the Government's theme is to devolve responsibility to chief constables, but to keep carefully in the hands of the Home Secretary and civil servants a great deal of the influence on what must be chief constables' priorities. We consider that a mistake.

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As drafted, the Bill involves the potential entry of the Home Secretary into local operational issues. We touched on that point in an earlier debate. The operational independence of the chief constable should not be interfered with, but the way in which national objectives are being set--not in the way that we suggest, but in the way that the Home Secretary suggests--would affect that independence.

The Bill will not serve to clarify the respective roles of chief constables, police authorities and the Home Secretary in improving accountability for the performance of the police, which was supposed to be one of the White Paper's objectives. It will enable the Home Secretary to override the police authorities' views on resources : he will be deciding the national objectives. It is likely to result in increased staffing demands on the Home Office for planning, directing, monitoring and action at local level and in specific detail. It is important for the setting of objectives, and the measuring of those objectives at local level, to be done in a way that does not increase the amount of bureaucracy in a local police force, rather than helping it to carry out its duties.

The powers in the Bill are likely to interfere and be inconsistent with the Home Secretary's responsibility for national policing efficiency, rather than for becoming involved in the detail of priorities that should be set by a chief constable and the police. They run contrary to the arrangements for performance targets that local authorities set themselves under the Local Government Act 1992.

The new clause and amendments would do three things. They represent a measured approach to the setting of national objectives, which would best aid the Government's objectives if they really want to improve policing standards. They would give police authorities an opportunity to demonstrate the responsible exercise of their functions in the interests of a locality, without depriving the centre of a locus : in other words, local police forces would be able to set objectives that recognised the nature of crime in their communities, the aspirations of the public and the experience of the police, and the centre could then learn what happens at local level. Finally, the new clause and amendments would continue to promote partnership in the best traditions of the tripartite system. The Home Secretary should accept our new clause with enthusiasm if he meant what he said on Second Reading about not wishing to interfere with the priorities of the local police, in conjunction with local authorities that represent local people and local interests. That is where the important objectives are set, so that patterns of policing for the future can be decided.

Mr. Maclennan : I am sorry to have to disagree with the new clause. I do so not because I believe that some of its objectives are not laudable : it recognises the need to ensure that police objectives are set locally, with local considerations and priorities in mind. Nor do I fail to recognise that the new clause would, to some extent, water down the power of the Secretary of State to set the general, national objectives contained in clause 14.

I feel, however, that the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) risks supping with the devil, and using too short a spoon. It is extraordinarily unlikely that the present Home Secretary--or, indeed, any foreseeable Home Secretary in the current Government--would appoint an independent person, under the terms of the new clause, to conduct a study of

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"the effectiveness of levels of performance"

which might conceivably be acceptable to police authorities or to the police. One wonders whether the Home Secretary might have in mind for the task someone comparable to Sir Patrick Sheehy, who may be deemed the originator of much disquiet in the bosoms of the police, and who may have prevented the Home Secretary--equanimous gentleman though he is--from sleeping every now and again.

I do not believe that that task is either appropriate or capable of being performed to anyone's satisfaction. The whole concept of imposing performance targets externally on a service such as the police strikes me as misconceived. Performance targets are fairly contentious even in the areas of commerce and industry where they have been deployed, and I feel that in the police service--where so much depends on the inhibition of unlawful or disorderly behaviour, and where performance is almost impossible to measure--the exercise would be in vain.

The new clause requires the Secretary of State to

"consult persons representative of police authorities"

before appointing the Sir Patrick Sheehy equivalent. I am rather dubious about whether anyone would regard consultation as offering much of a safeguard. I recall that, at an earlier stage of the Bill's progress, the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth took exception to the use of the word "consultation", suggesting that "agreement" with police authority representatives and chief officers might be more appropriate when a Conservative Home Secretary was involved.

Mr. Michael : The hon. Gentleman is referring to a comment that I made about agreement between chief constables and police authorities on local objectives and plans in their areas. I am rather surprised by what he has said. Is he suggesting that he would prefer the Home Secretary to introduce national objectives without benefiting from local experience ? That is what will happen unless the new clause becomes part of the Bill.

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