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Geraint Davies: The hon. Gentleman will be interested to know that the first traffic wardens in Britain were established in Croydon, which has always been a popular place. Police in Croydon meet local councils weekly to
Norman Baker: Yes, and the Government are on the right track in talking about crime and disorder partnerships. Good work is being done in my constituency by Lewes district council, East Sussex council and the police. A great deal can come from such partnerships, not least the provision of information on the ground that can help the police to detect serious crime. As the police themselves say, those involved in petty crime are often involved in serious crime. Such a partnership tier should not be neglected.
Part of the solution is more police. The bottom line is that we need more professional, paid police officers doing a proper job. We need better retention of those officers to ensure that the good work done in recruitment is not lost at the other end. Perhaps we need a retained forcesuch as that in fire serviceto offer part-time police work to those of, or approaching, retirement age. That would enable specialisation and help us to build on experience. We also need more specials. I do not understand why we cannot attract more specials, and we must consider what can be done to increase numbers. We also need community support officers, who should be local authority employees and should rack up the powers of traffic wardens.
A more serious issuein this regard, I share in large measure the views of the hon. Member for SouthEast Cambridgeshireis the powers in the Police Reform Bill relating to democracy and accountability. In essence, the Home Secretary will have far greater powers of intervention than any previous Home Secretary has enjoyed. That is worrying and dangerous, and I hope that the Government will not go down that road. In many ways, the police are accountable to their local police authority. That tripartite structureas the hon. Member for SouthEast Cambridgeshire described itis essential. It works well, and ensures that operational control remains with the chief constable, who in turn is accountable to the local police authority. That is a better way to deal with matters, rather than through the Home Office legislating via Parliament.
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): When Mayor Giuliani took office, he was told by the local police establishment that he should concentrate on important matters, rather than concerning himself with petty crime, but he did concern himself with such crime. He put the criminals inside, and in doing so solved the major crime as well. However, he had direct control, and was directly and democratically accountable. Does the hon. Gentleman think that we should learn from the American lesson?
Norman Baker: I am happy to learn lessons from anywhere in the world. We in this country are always keen to learn from America, but perhaps we should learn rather more frequently from our European Union colleagues. I am always surprised when we look to America for solutions. America prides itself on having the death penalty, but that is neither fair nor particularly
Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we have an opportunity in London? The Mayor of London should take a real interest in the policing of the capital and liaise closely with the Metropolitan police authority. We have a chance of effective political direction for policing in London, but whether we will get it is another matter.
Norman Baker: The Mayor clearly has a role to play in the co-ordination of policing across London. The hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Ms Prentice) mentioned the danger of balkanisation unless a London-wide perspective is adopted, and I agree with that point.
I tell the Minister plainly that my party cannot live with clauses 5 to 7 of the Police Reform Bill, which would give unprecedented powers to the Home Secretary. He would be able to direct chief officers to submit action plans. He would also be able to make regulations to require police forces
It would be very dangerous to give any Home Secretary such powers. The present Home Secretary is an affable fellow, most of the time, but when we frame legislation we should think about the worst possible holder of that office. We need to consider how those powers might be used by a future Home Secretary. I do not wish to upset the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire, but I wonder whether the Minister has thought about what the worst sort of Conservative Home Secretary could do with the proposed powers. That is the test that we need to apply in deciding whether the powers are reasonable and sensible.
I am also concerned by the Home Secretary's tendency to intervenemost notably in the sacking by press release of the chief constable of Sussex. I do not claim that the chief constable of Sussex was perfect, but if he was not, it was a matter for the Sussex police authority to deal with, not the Home Secretary. If the Government wish to argue that greater powers are necessary in law to deal with chief constables who are not up to the job, I am willing to consider the issue and to determine what provision could be made to that end. However, such powers should rest not with the Home Secretary but with the police authority or some other independent mechanism. When the Home Secretary was the Education Secretary, his style was to intervene before breakfast, before lunch and before teaalthough someone else might have said that. That was unpleasant and unwelcome in education, but it is positively dangerous when it happens with the police.
Another aspect of the reform package is the independent police complaints commission, which is a concept that I wholly welcome. However, the March issue of "Police" says that it was the Police Federation's understanding
The clear-up rate was 32 per cent. in 1990, according to an answer supplied to my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes). That fell to 25 per cent. in 19992000, although the actual number of clear-ups rose, reflecting the increase in crime over that period. The public are concerned by those figures, but we must put them in perspective. The clear-up rate for serious crimes, such as murder, is much higher. That is right. Ifhorror of horrorsa child is murdered, the public want to know that the police will take it seriously and will not rest until the person responsible is apprehended, brought to justice and convicted, however long that takes. The performance indicators that the Government wish to introduce should not dilute that approach. The danger is that the performance indicators will dictate the police's approach. It would be easy to raise the clear-up rate by paying less attention to serious crimes and scooping up less serious crimes. That would be wrong.
People respond to performance indicators. The Minister had responsibility for the fire service at one point and he will know that it has often been argued that fire authorities get paid according to how many call-outs they receive. That means that they have no incentive to reduce the number of call-outs through education in schools. Sussex fire brigade tried that approach, the number of call-outs fell and it was penalised. Fire officers have suggested to me that they should ring up with false alarms to bring the number of calls up. We have to be careful that performance indicators, which are valuable in some ways, do not achieve a perverse result.
The point made by the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) is important and I hope that the Government will consider the issue of imitation and replica weapons, licenceseight-year-olds can qualify for shotgun licencesand the access that those under 18 have to weapons, including air guns, which are a major problem in terms of cruelty to animals.
The role of customs officers at ports is also important, because many guns and drugs enter the country. We now have a full ferry service againthank goodnessat Newhaven, but the number of customs officers has fallen from 120 10 years ago to 15 today. We cannot hold back the guns and the drugs if there are no customs officers. A big green channel has opened up at Newhaven, but the red channel is very small. If we had more customs officers, they would pay for themselves, and I hope that the Government will make that calculation.
My final point concerns the fear of crime. Many areas, including my constituency, are not hotbeds of crime and are relatively safe, which is not the case everywhere.
The hon. Member for Lewisham, East mentioned the Crown Prosecution Service and the prosecution of crimes, but people seem to get away with a whole range of petty crimessuch as vandalism, scratching cars and pulling up flower bedsbecause the police do not regard them as a priority, the CPS do not want to press charges and if those responsible are brought to justice they are given a fine or a warning. Such behaviour receives no proper sanction, but if people wake up to smashed milk bottles and windows, scratched cars and upturned flowers, they believeoften wronglythat their area is unpoliced, not law-abiding and not safe. We must deal with those crimes if we are to make big inroads.
Overall, the Police Reform Bill has many good elements, although the Government have a problem with the Police Federation over the present pay and conditions package. The Minister will have to reconsider part 1 of the Bill because, as it is constructed, it will not wash.