|Criminal Justice and Police Bill
Mr. Simon Hughes: I will be brief. The clause contains an important transition of authority, and clearly does not yet have the confidence of the police. In such delicate areas, when discussing authority for intimate searches, we should not proceed without the assurance that the police are happy about the measure. The public may also be concerned about the matter. They would expect authority to be given by somebody of a rank that they regard as senior. I understand the Minister's arguments, but there has not been sufficient time for agreement to be reached on the clause.
Mr. Charles Clarke: I do not want to speak at length, so I will simply make three points about what has been said. First, I do accept the use of the word ``downgrade'' by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins). I do not think that he meant it in any derogatory way, but it is not right to describe what we are proposing as downgrading. We are proposing that in the flexible restructuring of the police force that is currently taking place, such responsibilities are appropriate for inspectors. It is not a matter of downgrading.
Secondly, the hon. Gentleman did not suggest in his remarks that the measure is motivated by considerations of cost, but he has done so previously. He is wrong about thatthe measure is concerned with the restructuring of the force, in the way that I have described.
Mr. Hawkins: The Minister was busy chatting to his ministerial colleague. I did make that point again, but he did not hear it.
Mr. Clarke: I should apologise. Unfortunately, there is a part of me that tends to switch off when the hon. Gentleman is going through the same speech again and again for each clause. I apologise to him and to the Committee if I missed that particular point.
As I said during yesterday's sitting, inspectors are in the unique position of both having the experience and knowledge required to conduct such operations and being available on the ground, with direct knowledge of the situation. That makes them very capable.
Mr. Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green): Since this is a specific task that the Bill seeks to delegate to police officers of the rank of inspector, would it be reasonable to assume that, in any future assessment of competence, the individual performance of those officers could be assessed against that specific task?
Mr. Clarke: My hon. Friend is entirely correct. One of the important sets of proposals in the Bill, which we will consider later today, is that concerned with strengthening the approach to police training, which we hope to do through legislation and with the resources that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has been able to allocate to the task in the comprehensive spending review. Our aim is to improve the quality of training precisely to deal with the kind of points that my hon. Friend is raising.
Mr. Hawkins: The intervention from the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. McCabe) and the Minister's response give me an opportunity to ask a question. On the police, Conservative Members have long been concerned that the Government have concentrated too much on process, at the expense of performance. Does the Minister accept that no sensible organisation could possibly cope with the number of performance targets that this Government have imposed? I know that they recently reduced it from 58 performance targets, which we had savagely criticised in the House, to, I believe, 42. No sensible business organisation has more than three or four performance targets.
The issue that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green raised with the Minister is another instance of concentrating on process. Let the police do the job of policing.
Mr. Clarke: Ironically, the position that the hon. Gentleman takes would have exactly the opposite effect. We want the police, at inspector level, to be able to do these jobs. He is saying that we should not allow that. I do not wish to enter into a general debate on the target-setting process throughout the range of police performance, unless you would especially like me to do so, Mr. Gale.
I can tell the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey that the Police Federation has doubts about all the changes concerning flexibility, the effectiveness of the developing use of new technologies and so on. That theme recurs, in different places, throughout the Bill. That is not the same as saying that the police service as a whole is against them; it is not. In general, the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Association of Police Authorities and the Police Superintendents Association are in favour of the proposed changes. Neither is it the same as saying that we do not take account of the view of the Police Federation. We are ready to discuss such questions with the federation, and do so. In fact, we should like to enhance the level of discussion. However, I am not prepared to say that simply because a position is put forward by the Police Federation, we should not proceed with any reform. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman acknowledges that that is the case. We want to consider the entire situation and to take the overall view of the police service. I hope that the Committee will agree that the clause stand part of the Bill.
Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill:
The Committee divided: Ayes 9, Noes 6.
Division No. 35]
Clause 78 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
|©Parliamentary copyright 2001||Prepared 8 March 2001|