Previous Section Home Page

Column 273

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

Mr. Blair : No, I am not going to give way.

Thirdly, not only does the Bill centralise the composition of the police authorities and ensure that the objectives are to be taken over and set by the Secretary of State even when they are in conflict with local objectives, but it provides for a wholly new mechanism of amalgamating police authorities. Conservative Members should think very carefully before supporting a Bill which includes those provisions.

In virtually every other situation, and certainly in the law until now, where there has been an amalgamation of a police authority, it has been subjected to a proper public inquiry. The proposals will allow the wholesale amalgamation of police authorities without any element of public inquiry. While even minor property developments are to be subjected to a public inquiry in which views can be put, something as central to local communities as the status of their police authorities will be removed from the public inquiry process altogether. That is a centralising measure.

There were debates in Committee about the nature of amalgamations. Ministers tried to pretend that nothing was further from their minds than such a notion. In fact, the gloss to the provisions was given in a recent Conservative research department briefing.

Mr. Rod Richards (Clwyd, North-West) : Will the hon. Gentleman give way ?

Mr. Blair : No, I will not give way, as many other hon. Members wish to speak.

That research briefing stated that-- [Interruption.] Conservative Members should listen to this as I am referring to a briefing from their own research department. The briefing states :

"There are no current plans to amalgamate police forces. Amalgamations will only happen when the time is right."

Many people in the police service and elsewhere believe that the time will be right when the Bill and its problems are out of the way. There will then be a wholesale amalgamation of the smaller police services. That will remove local policing further from local people when there is no evidence that it will create a more effective police service.

Not merely is policing to be centralised ; the magistrates courts are to be centralised as well. Time and time again in Committee, the case was made against the wholesale amalgamation of magistrates courts areas, yet that is precisely what will happen in the Bill. The Bill, which is a centralising measure opposed by everyone other than the Conservative party, is a wasted opportunity. When the previous settlements were formed in the Police Act 1964, it was preceded by a royal commission. It was discussed, debated and properly consulted on. Where amalgamations occurred, they occurred as a result of public agreement. This Bill has had no such commission and no such prior consultation. The representations that were made have been entirely ignored. Not one authoritative body consulted on these measures has agreed to them. In fact, the authoritative bodies disagree with them, yet they will go through.

Only today, the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers said that the review of the police core functions--which is an integral part of the Bill--could

"end with us being forced to withdraw from the vital social services role which the public tell us they value so much."


Column 274

If modern policing is about partnership, shared responsibility and local people having control over local services, the Bill runs against every aspect of local democracy which it is possible to contemplate. When we need that local partnership more than ever, the Bill will not improve the fight against crime. It will undermine the fight against crime. That is not the view simply of Labour Members ; it is the view of the police as well.

Why could not the money that is to be wasted on this--the millions of pounds to be spent--be better spent on crime prevention measures locally ? Why could it not be better spent on a drugs education programme for young people ? Why could it not be better spent in the fight against crime ?

The Bill is a measure of dogma. It is not supported by the people of this country, and it is not supported by those who admire our public services and our police. It has no support anywhere and should be rejected by the House.

10.31 pm

Mr. Miller : It was fascinating to serve on the Committee dealing with the Bill. Labour Members recognise that the role of the police and magistrates in our society is under attack as a result of the measures incorporated in the Bill. Both the police and magistrates hold a special place in our society, and it is with great regret that I share the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) about the dogma incorporated in these measures.

In all our proceedings, no progress has been made on flushing out what is clearly behind the Government's statements about the number of police forces which were launched by the previous Secretary of State, now Chancellor of the Exchequer. No one has denied that his office was responsible for floating the number of police forces and suggesting that we would have only half the present number. The previous Secretary of State's sticky fingers were on that, as they were on a number of other aspects of the proceedings. It is clear that he is still having an influence on what is going on. In an earlier debate under the heading of local partnerships to promote crime prevention, great opportunities were missed. The Government failed to recognise the importance of police officers serving in our communities, working towards education and helping with crime prevention measures. When the Government failed to recognise the importance of our amendments relating to local partnership, they missed an ideal opportunity to raise the status of police officers working in such fields.

The rejection of those important amendments will make it more difficult for police officers in such categories of work to have their important activities recognised by the police authorities which they serve. There is no doubt that officers who work in exercises such as the one that took place a few weeks ago in my constituency under the general heading "Kidsafe" play a vital role in our society. It is important that the service of such officers is recognised. The Government's approach will undermine that.

We have dealt with matters relating to private security. The Minister referred to cowboys in the industry--a recognition that there are some cowboys in the industry. How on earth does the Minister expect to regulate cowboys


Column 275

without introducing some proper regulation ? If they are not members of proper organisations, how can he expect to control them ? The Minister said that access to criminal records for vetting purposes for employment was being reviewed. It is interesting that that is under review, yet local authorities have recently been told that they will not have access to such information when employing people to become engaged in activities in which young people are involved. There seems to be a certain amount of double standard in that. The review is under way, yet changes have already taken place and at the same time the Government put up a stone wall on private security licensing.

There is no question about the importance of local justices as the proper vehicle for summary justice in our society. The Home Secretary gloats over the comments about outer London, yet he failed to comment on the closures of local courts that have been forced on magistrates committees by the failure of his Department properly to fund some areas within our community. I referred to one such area in Committee. We have had no answer from the Government.

The Home Secretary has not referred to the pressures that currently impinge on our society to close local court offices. A public consultation is being held in my area on that matter at this very moment. There was no mention of that or of the important public service that the local court offices provide.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) said, the Lord Chancellor has all the powers he needs in terms of financial control. My goodness, he can exercise them now, let alone with the powers that would be vested in him by the Bill.

The hon. Member for Faversham (Sir R. Moate) is not in his place just now. He let the cat out of the bag because he referred to a map. It is interesting that Conservative Members have a map showing the future structure of magistrates committees, but that that information has not been made available to members of the Committee or Opposition Members. The House is entitled to see such a map if it exists. If it does not exist, perhaps it was merely in the mind of the hon. Member for Faversham.

In a great piece of theatre, one of the Ministers referred at length to the importance of the word "or". The Government's rejection of that particularly important word in the amendment moved by my hon. Friends gives the game away. It is clear that the Government are determined to centralise powers. They have no intention of allowing people in our communities to have control over the process of summary justice. Nor do they have any intention of allowing any exercise of control over the management of many of the other services connected with the committees.

In his diatribe, the Home Secretary said that our opposition

Mr. Michael : My hon. Friend is flattering the right hon. and learned Gentleman.

Mr. Miller : That is true.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that our opposition to the Government's reforms was muddled. Had he spent just one minute in Committee, he would know that that is far from true. We attempted to have structured debates about the important issues, but, because of the dogma behind the Bill, the Government simply rejected all our proposals.


Column 276

The right hon. and learned Gentleman concluded by referring to the envisaged changes in police numbers and capital budgets, and it is clear from his comments that the previous Home Secretary, in his new guise, will have his sticky fingers all over those budgets and their implications for police numbers. The Home Secretary said that the Bill is designed to liberate, but it will do no such thing. It gives more centralised powers to a centralising Government, who do not believe in giving people in our communities the freedom to make decisions that affect them. On that basis, the Bill must be rejected.

The Government have a disastrous record on crime prevention, and the Bill is yet another abysmal failure. I urge my hon. Friends to reject the Government's short-sighted attempt to centralise and undermine still further services that are so important to our communities.

10.40 pm

Mr. John Greenway : I had not intended to speak, but I cannot allow what we have heard from Opposition Members, in particular the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), to go unchallenged.

I appreciate that the hour is late and that the House is weary, but, frankly, the country is weary of the level of crime. Throughout tonight's debate and in Committee, the Opposition complained bitterly that the Government were doing nothing about crime. The Bill contains important reforms to help the police to tackle crime all the better, but all that the Opposition want to do is to deny the Government the opportunity to do something about crime and to strengthen the police service.

The hon. Member for Sedgefield argued that the Bill has no friends. I wish that he had attended the meeting of the Select Committee on Home Affairs just three weeks ago, when the head of the National Crime Intelligence Service gave evidence to our Committee during its inquiry into international organised crime, which is sweeping not just this country, but Europe and the western world. The hon. Gentleman would have heard that man say that too many forces exist and that we need national strategic objectives to fight crime. That is what the Bill provides.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary recognises his responsibility to take the lead in tackling crime. That is why it must be right to set a national objective for policing. Throughout the many months of debate on the Bill, the Opposition have sought to suggest that by setting such an objective the Home Secretary is undermining local policing. That is total rot. Local policing is about creating proper relations between communities and their local police. Police authorities do not achieve that. That is why the policing of a neighbourhood is never an issue at local council elections. The issue is what the Government are doing nationally about crime. That is why the Bill is so right in its provisions. We achieve local objectives and policing not through police authorities, but through the police liaison panels which were set up under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. We need to see more of those. There is much more that I could say, but I have received a glare from the silent one in the Committee. I refer hon. Members to some of the things that were said in Committee which were recorded in the Hansard report. It is total bunk for the Opposition to suggest that we lost the


Column 277

argument in the Committee. We certainly did not. We won the votes then, we will win them tonight and we will take the country with us in the fight against crime.

The Home Secretary was extremely modest in what he had to say tonight, because it would appear from what the hon. Member for Sedgefield said that my right hon. and learned Friend had no friends in the police service at all. The truth is that the chairman of the Police Federation has said that the Home Secretary's policies on law and order are more in tune with the Police Federation than those of any Home Secretary for 30 years. That is another good reason why the Bill should be supported.

10.45 pm

Mr. Maclennan : If the Home Secretary was modest, he has--in the words of Winston Churchill about Clement Attlee--much to be modest about.

The reality is that the Bill is the misbegotten progeny of the ill-fated report of Sir Patrick Sheehy. The scrapings of that report were mixed up and submitted to another place. They were mangled there, and have been brought to the House in an almost unrecognisable form. The Bill does nothing to tackle the problems of crime which preoccupy and concern so many of our citizens. The Government have failed to tackle crime throughout their 15 years of office, and throughout the tenure of more than five Home Secretaries. They change with such frequency that it is scarcely surprising that there is no consistency of purpose to be found in that Department.

The core reason for the Home Secretary bringing forward the Bill appears to be that he thinks that if he is to convince the public that he is doing something about crime, he must bring a fairly substantial piece of legislation before the House. We are asked to suspend our judgment about its contents and merely to recognise that there are lot of clauses before us, regardless of whether they are apposite to deal with the matter. When their provisions are called into question, it is treated as captious opposition.

The pity is that the Bill did not follow a proper in-depth analysis of the role of the police in society and the needs of modern policing. Such analysis has always preceded the major police Bills which we have had in the past. We did not have a royal commission report to consider. We had a report the evanescent effect of which will go down only as a reminder of how not to tackle the problems of the police.

The philosophy behind the Bill has never been concealed by the Home Secretary--not even tonight. The right hon. and learned Gentleman indicated that the reality was that he wants to control the police. He wants to draw into his own hands the authority to tell the police what to do. The most obnoxious aspect of the Bill is the provision that enables him to set national objectives. To defend that, as the right hon. Gentleman did tonight, in terms of its being impossible to judge the effectiveness of the police other than by conformity with those objectives, is to fail to recognise how policy is conducted most effectively on the ground and that the police are an institution admired throughout the world.

The political control that the Home Secretary seeks to exercise is democratically dangerous and ineffective in reducing crime. Local policing means much more than the hon Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) suggested. It means involving the local community with the police in the


Column 278

fight against crime. It means accepting the local community's targets as those of the local police in brace. It does not mean translating targets set by the Home Secretary into some kind of local priorities--quite the reverse.

There are crime problems common throughout the country, but we live in a highly diverse nation, with different problems in different parts. The problems of inner cities and drugs are not those experienced in constituencies such as mine. My constituency is not a crime-free zone, but to impose on my constituents--and the Bill deals with Scotland--the priorities considered appropriate for Liverpool, Rochdale or the London suburbs is simply nonsense. That is what national objectives are about.

We know that the national objectives trial has not been greeted with great enthusiasm or acclaim by the police. Despite national concern about drug- related crime, there has been issuance of that from the Home Office as a national priority. I suppose that next year we will hear from the Home Secretary that crimes related to drugs must be treated as national priority. That will be hailed as a great new initiative--just as in the past there were new initiatives such as dangerous driving Bills and other ad hockery presented as a fight against crime. The Bill is a cover for the vacuity of the Home Secretary's approach.

My second principal objection to the Bill's contents is the way in which the Home Secretary has tampered with the independence of police authorities. Public confidence in the police rests historically on their understanding that police authorities are local and not the creatures of Whitehall. The Home Secretary has tampered with that in a foolhardy fashion.

It is true that, in another place, some of the Home Secretary's worst excesses were stopped in their tracks by the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary and a number of former Home Secretaries, who have more sense that the right hon and learned Gentleman. There remains, however, a flawed approach to the construction of police authorities. The dangerously unhistorical approach to the amalgamation of police authorities demonstrates the Home Secretary's urge to control, politicise and answer demands relating not to the delivery of justice or the criminal justice system but to Treasury requirements. We heard constantly about value for money, but little about the merits of the criminal justice system.

I fear that the amalgamations will be pushed through--not as in the 1960s, when my noble Friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead had responsibility for such matters. Far greater changes in the structure of the police force took place in 1966-67 than have been admitted by the Home Secretary. At that time, those great changes were not unacceptably held up by local public inquiries. Such inquiries took place, but the process of justice was not damaged and confidence in policing was retained. The locality of policing was strengthened and its effectiveness and efficiency were secured.

The Home Secretary is drawing the strings of power further into his hands. As a consequence, he will be held more directly responsible for future policing failures than is desirable for a Home Secretary. It will be said that his objectives have not worked, that they are wrong, and he will bring into contention matters that would be much better left for resolution at local level. He should have underpinned and not undermined the tripartite system, which is our police system's unique safeguard.


Column 279

The final part of the Bill dealing with magistrates courts is also unloved, but it has been largely gutted by amendments in another place. Here again, there are dangerous centralising tendencies and a dangerous removal of democratic control, but not with an eye to strengthening our criminal justice system. Our magistrates system, which is cheap and efficient compared with the systems in other countries, and which is locally accountable, is being put at risk by Treasury pressure that the Lord Chancellor is quite unable to resist. It is being done in the name of spurious accountability. There has not been public criticism of our magistrates courts system to merit such changes.

People visit this country from all over the world to see how our magistrates courts system works and how local justice is delivered efficiently and effectively and gives value for money. This is a bad Bill and the House should have no hesitation in rejecting it. 10.57 pm

Ms Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate) : Perhaps the Secretary of State's reluctance to speak about the Bill stems from the defeat visited upon his previous piece of legislation in the other place only this evening. I found particularly bewildering the reference to the accountability of police authorities to their local communities. That bewilderment stemmed from the fact that as a citizen of this great city and having the privilege to represent a London constituency, I found that in the Bill, as in other legislation, London has been denied an overall police authority.

In my constituency, crime has increased by 8 per cent., and a crime is committed every 20 minutes. We are to lose 22 police officers, there is to be a reorganisation of divisions, but there is nothing in the Bill to reassure me or my constituents that crime and criminal activity will be reduced.

It has been well established, not only in Committee but in the House, in debates on the seemingly unstoppable rise in crime, that the war will not be won if the only weapon that is sent in against the criminal is the police force. We will defeat crime only by the combined efforts of the police, local authorities and citizens. In my local authority area of Camden, there was a particularly successful example of that tripartite approach to defeating crime--Operation Welwyn. That was a perfect example of the way that efforts to defeat crime and criminals should be moving.

There is nothing in the Bill or in any other piece of legislation presented by the Secretary of State that enforces or reinforces the will of every law -abiding citizen--and, despite the crime figures, such people comprise the majority of our citizens--to harness themselves in concert with their local authorities and their police forces to defeat crime and criminals.

One of the main causes of concern in my constituency is fear of crime, particularly among women. The largest single group in my constituency are pensioners, and the majority of them are women. They are caused grave disquiet as much by the fear of crime as by the actual crimes that we know are being committed. They believe--and I believe--in the deterrent power of a uniform, but nothing in the Bill or in the plans that the Home Secretary


Column 280

has presented to the House leads me to believe that we shall have the deterrent provided by a policeman on the beat, now or in the future.

The hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) spoke of police force numbers. It is possible to visit any part of London now and observe that, although there is indeed more than one police force, there is also an increase in the number of advertising hoardings announcing that estates, individual properties and commercial premises are being guarded by private security firms. If that is the path that the Home Secretary wishes policing to follow, it will be of little comfort to my constituents or the country as a whole.

The people who experience crime should be able to make an important contribution in regard to the way in which criminals are defeated and crime is prevented. Nothing in the Bill deals with crime prevention, although it must surely be an integral part of the defeat of criminals.

I know that many hon. Members wish to speak. Let me end by saying that my constituents are only too willing to support the police, greatly admire their local police and are well aware that an essential part of policing is not simply the catching of criminals but--as the police themselves say--the time, care and consideration that they can devote to victims of crime. They realise that the Bill will remove that aspect, and--most important of all-- the essential, basic trust that is so vital if crime is to be defeated. That will be lost by the Bill, and I strongly urge all hon. Members to vote against it.

11.3 pm

Sir Ivan Lawrence (Burton) : It was Mogadon man who forced me to my feet. I could not bear to hear the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) say that he resented the fact that a British Home Secretary might have more control over the powers of the police, given that his party wants to give more and more control to an international organisation in Brussels.

The hon. Gentleman also objected to the fact that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has refused to accede to a large number of the Sheehy proposals. I remember the hon. Gentleman's saying that he himself was against those proposals. No doubt he supported the slimming away of some of the fat in the middle of the police force : indeed, I think I recall his saying on some other occasion that he did. Yet that is in the Bill, and he is opposed to it.

The hon. Gentleman has not even been anywhere near Scotland in the past two years, although his constituency is there. If he had, he would have seen that in Scotland over the past two years the Government have brought down the rise in crime. It is beginning to fall in Scotland, as it has been falling in England over the past 12 months. There has been a 16 per cent. reduction in the number of burglaries in London ; the figures for Manchester, Cambridgeshire and parts of Wales are 17 per cent., 26 per cent. and 27 per cent. respectively.

Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin) : Since when ?

Sir Ivan Lawrence : The hon. Gentleman is not acquainted with the facts of law and order. He has not bothered to find out that for the last 12 months there has been a fall in crime. [Interruption.] Let me tell the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott), who is shouting at me from a sedentary position, exactly why that has happened. It has happened because the police forces are


Column 281

freer now to target particular burglars, and because the courts have been sentencing and removing from circulation for longer periods those who have been targeted for burglary. As a result, burglary has fallen--and it has fallen because of the activities of the Government and the Home Secretary.

As for policing, when one considers what has gone wrong with law and order over the past few years, one sees that we have given more powers to the police and the courts, and more money for law and order. Everything that we have done has been dedicated to reducing the rise in crime, yet still it has not been effective. Until fairly recently, crime has risen and the police have been making fewer and fewer arrests.

What is the answer ? Anybody with even the smallest connection with business will know that the problem was lack of organisation and lack of management. The Bill is all about improving the organisation and management of the police force, and freeing the chief constables--the local chiefs of police--so that they can deploy the money as they think fit to target the burglars and support the courts.

There has been a development almost in anticipation of the success that the Bill will have in freeing the police forces and giving more powers to the people who really matter--that is, the local policemen, in response to the local people. Under the provisions of the Bill, the business men whose shops are burgled and ram-raided, and the local householders, will be backed by the local police force. Almost in anticipation of that, in the past 12 months the police force has taken a grip on itself and responded to the promise that there would be legislation to give local police chiefs more power and freedom. All that nonsense about the Government presiding over rising crime over the past year or so can be brushed to one side, because crime is falling.

Mr. Maclennan : No, it is not.

Sir Ivan Lawrence : If the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland goes to his constituency, he will find that crime is falling there, as it is everywhere else. If that is not happening, it may explain why that extraordinary constituency has for so long been represented by such an extraordinary Member of Parliament.

The hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) disappeared for a week or two to prepare his speech for this debate. He was sighted here, but he has now gone, no doubt to prepare his acceptance speech. But if

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I ruled earlier, when the Home Secretary was speaking, that I wanted to hear about the Third Reading of the Bill, not about personalities or individuals.

Sir Ivan Lawrence : I listened with great care to the Third Reading speech of the hon. Member for Sedgefield, and if that is the best that he can do, the Conservative party has nothing to worry about. 11.7 pm

Mr. Campbell-Savours : I venture to suggest that most Conservative Members who vote tonight will be unaware of one of the changes resulting from the Bill that will affect


Column 282

them in the conduct of their duties as Members of Parliament. I refer to the changes proposed to the revised powers of the Police Complaints Authority.

The authority was set up under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 to deal with investigations against police officers and matters referred by police officers, and to decide on disciplinary matters. I understand that it is now expressing grave concern about the practical effects of the proposal that misconduct procedures can be considered only when an officer might have committed a crime, or breached the codes of practice in such a way as to have a detrimental impact on a member of the public. That could result in behaviour that now breaches the police discipline code being dealt with in future as unsatisfactory performance.

When the allegation resulted from a complaint from a member of the public-- many such cases go through our hands--such cases would be dealt with entirely by the police force concerned, with no involvement of the Police Complaints Authority. That has major implications for us as Members of this House because certainly some of us, during our time as hon. Members, have had to advise our constituents on how to seek address for the grievances which they have raised in our surgeries. We are seeing a change. The responsibility to carry out inquiries in many of those areas will move from the independent Police Complaints Authority to an internal police disciplinary procedure.

During 1993, the Police Complaints Authority considered 1,916 complaints alleging incivility by police officers. Since that is neither a criminal offence nor a breach of the codes of practice, such cases will in future be handled entirely by the police with no civilian oversight at all. Taking a more serious example, the authority dealt with 1,830 alleged failures of duty during 1993. Many of those did not constitute breaches of the codes of practice and would not, therefore, be considered as misconduct under the new system. However, they raise concerns about the grey area between clear- cut performance failures and acts of misconduct.

The Police Complaints Authority fully supports the objective of making police managers more clearly responsible for the performance of their officers. However, that aim must be balanced against the need to ensure that the public's complaints against police officers will be thoroughly and objectively investigated. That is why the authority was set up.

The standing of the Police Complaints Authority will be undermined if the public see that a number of their complaints are to be excluded from its considerations. That is why the Police Complaints Authority has consistently argued that there should be a right of review in such cases. Where a divisional commander, possibly after a limited initial inquiry, determines that a complaint from a member of the public is to be considered under the performance procedure, the authority proposes that the commander should write to the complainant, setting out his decision and explaining how the matter will be dealt with. He should also indicate that, if dissatisfied, the complainant would have, say, 21 days in which to exercise his right to have the police decision reviewed by the authority. Failure to respond will be taken as acquiescence in the force's decision. The only decision to be taken by the authority would be whether a complaint would be correctly regarded as one relating to performance or whether it should be dealt with as misconduct.


Column 283

The authority already hears some criticism that the police power to determine whether to record a complaint undermines the independence of the system from the very outset. I had a complaint in my constituency in the case of a Mrs. Steele in Workington, which I did not believe had been dealt with correctly by the police. It should be the subject of the fullest possible inquiry, yet I cannot get it to be considered in the police complaints procedure. The existence of a review power in performance cases would provide reassurance against similar criticisms that the police could keep potentially serious complaints away from civilian oversight. However, in doing so, it would not interfere with the responsibility of police managers for the performance of their officers.

Confidence in the system of provision of information to the general public by the Police Complaints Authority depends largely on the authority's ability to explain the action that it has taken to ensure that a complaint has been thoroughly and impartially investigated. That ability is severely constrained by the impact of section 98 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which makes it a criminal offence to disclose information about a case, except in a summary or other general statement made by the authority, which does not identify the person from whom the information was received or any person to whom it relates. The authority frequently has to tell complainants--our constituents--and their legal advisers, and Members of Parliament, that it cannot meet our reasonable requests for more information because of the requirements of section 98. That leaves the authority looking like a secretive body, unable to explain the strength of a case in public.

I believe that this matter should have been dealt with in the Bill. I understand that the legislation is to go on to the other place for further discussion. If so, I appeal to their Lordships to reconsider the issue, and the revised powers as they relate to the PCA. Unless they do so, I believe that Members of Parliament will find themselves embarrassed in their surgeries in the future.

11.15 pm

Mr. Mike O'Brien : I had not planned to speak in this debate, but the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) said something that must be answered. I have heard Conservative Members quote the chairman of the Police Federation, Mr. Richard Coyles, before, and the hon. Gentleman only half-quoted him.

Mr. Coyles's comment deserves to be put in context. That context is his strong opposition to this Bill. He would want me to place on record the fact that the Police Federation is not in the pocket of any political party ; it is a non-partisan organisation, and it is certainly not in the pocket of the Home Secretary and party who brought us the Sheehy report, this Bill, and the review of police core functions.

In the past decade, crime and the fear of crime have increased right across the country. Burglaries in Warwickshire have trebled and car thefts there have quadrupled since 1979. In the face of all this, have the Government supported the police and enhanced their morale ? No, they have not.

In the past two years, the police have faced three challenges from the Government. First, there was the Sheehy report, which sought to destroy the terms and conditions of most police officers. It aroused greater anger


Column 284

among them than anything this or any other Government have done in more than a century. The Government half backed down on the report, but the fag end of it remains in this Bill.

The second challenge came in the form of this Bill. The concern of the police and of their federation was that the Bill would centralise and politicise the police. The Police Federation and other police organisations conducted a lobbying campaign in another place to challenge the Bill's worst aspects. They feared that the Government's agenda was to implement the fag end of Sheehy, to prepare the ground for the amalgamation of constabularies, and to put Home Office placemen in police authorities--in short, to centralise and politicise the police. Fortunately, their Lordships amended some of the worst aspects of the Bill, but much remains that is dangerous and must be opposed.

The third challenge created for the police by the Government is still in process, for the Bill in some ways prepares the way for it. I refer to the Home Office review of the core functions of the police, scheduled to report by the end of the year. The general secretary of the Police Federation, Lyn Williams, not a man given to exaggeration--besides which his comments have been backed up by academic studies--believes that the review is likely to reduce the number of full-time police officers from the current 126,000 to 80, 000 by the end of the decade--a drop of 46,000. That is why the Home Secretary will not have the federation or any police officer in his pocket.

The Bill should be rejected because it has more to do with dogma than with fighting crime. It undermines police morale. If the Home Secretary was really concerned to fight crime and boost police morale, why did he not listen to the police ? Why did he reject police requests for changes to disciplinary rules ? Why did he reject police requests for the regulation of private security organisations and the criminals who, on occasion, are infiltrating them and putting themselves forward to guard people's homes and factories ? Why has he sought to undermine the role of the chief constable, about which the Police Federation and the Association of Chief Police Officers have expressed concern ? If the Home Secretary supports the police, why did not he listen to them and ditch the Bill ?

11.19 pm


Next Section

  Home Page