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Mr. Letwin: Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that he would be happy with only a very limited number of experiments being allowed on the face of the Bill?

Mr. Mullin: I see no need to put them on the face of the Bill because I am confident that, initially, only a handful of forces will sign up to this. Let us see what happens. I do not have a problem with that.

It is fair to say that there is widespread scepticism about—not to say downright opposition to—the proposal for community support officers from most parts of the police, particularly in relation to the powers of detention. Strong support comes from the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, who is keen to make use of them. The Minister has been at pains to assure us that community support officers would be optional, and that if a force did not wish to use them, it need not do so. If that is the case, and given that forces such as the Met are keen to make use of them, my Committee sees no reason to object. If the experiment works, others will try. If it does not, they will not. There is nothing to be lost by trying, and, personally, I am optimistic.

On the powers of CSOs, it has been pointed out that it is unlikely that they would operate alone in potentially dangerous areas late at night. The odds are that they would be used in conjunction with fully trained police officers. A majority of the Committee took the view that the proposals should be left as they are for the time being. I also take on board the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien) that CSOs would be ineffective in most situations if they did not have the power of arrest.

On complaints, there was widespread welcome for the proposed Independent Police Complaints Commission. Although some witnesses were concerned that the proposal did not go far enough, we believe that it is a big step forward and that its independence would be enhanced if its chairman were to be appointed—like the Comptroller and Auditor General—with the advice and consent of the House of Commons and not simply by the Home Secretary. Perhaps the Government could give some thought to that.

I now turn to several matters which are not in the Bill, but which, in our opinion, should be. It has been put to us, and we agree, that police officers should be brought within the scope of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998—the so-called whistleblowers Act. I welcome the Minister's commitment on that point. Secondly, we believe that there is a good case—as recent events at Yarl's Wood have demonstrated—for repealing the Riot (Damages) Act 1886 which makes police authorities liable for damage caused during a riot. This Bill may or may not be the right place to do that, but it presents a window of opportunity and the Minister might wish to reflect on this point.

Thirdly, we remain concerned about the huge and inexplicable variation—ranging from 9 to 63 per cent.—in retirements on medical grounds. The Metropolitan

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police have suggested a number of improvements to the regulations surrounding medical retirements and injury awards. We appreciate that, as the Minister said, these do not require primary legislation, but we would like to hear, during the course of this Bill's passage, what plans he has for dealing with this issue.

Finally, in view of the tight time scale, it would be helpful if the Home Office could reply to the Select Committee's report in time for the House to take the Government's response into account on Report. I would appreciate the Minister's assurance on that point.

In conclusion, people are crying out for more effective, visible policing. This is especially true of people in the poorer areas of the country such as the one that I represent. The problem is not organised crime, but disorganised crime. The lives of many of the people I represent have been made miserable by out-of-control youths against whom the criminal justice system is all too often ineffective. This is not simply an issue of resources. It is a matter of priorities and proper management of existing resources. I have long taken the view that a hundred policemen on bicycles would be more effective than two in a helicopter, although those propositions are not mutually exclusive.

Police officers used to live in the communities that they served, but one effect of the big pay increases awarded in the early 1980s was that they all got mortgages and moved up to the posher end of town. I remember a police inspector's wife in my constituency telling me some years ago that there were 13 policemen living in the rather short street in which she lived. By contrast, there were none at all in the vast housing estates where most of the crime and disorder is to be found.

During the 1980s and early 1990s, the poorer parts of my constituency—it was the same elsewhere—were virtually abandoned by the police. If they came at all, they came in large raiding parties and glared at the residents through reinforced windshields. Today, I am glad to say, all that has changed. Thanks to a succession of enlightened chief constables and other officers of all ranks, the quality of policing in Sunderland has improved immeasurably. I believe that that is true of many cities. We have dedicated police taskforces based in the communities they serve, working with local people and other agencies to overcome the mayhem that blights the lives of too many of my constituents. They have achieved some impressive results, but, with the best will in the world, we have a long way to go before the genie is back in the bottle. I hope that the measures in the Bill will make a small contribution.

6.55 pm

Norman Baker (Lewes): This country has high standards of policing and we all wish to maintain and improve them. We support the Government's aim to drive up policing standards and to achieve a better-quality police service. Echoing the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), my colleagues and I support the vast majority of measures in the Bill; it is well-intentioned and sensible, and will go a long way towards achieving those ends. For that reason, my colleagues and I will support the Government in the Lobby tonight on Second Reading, while ensuring, as far as we can, that the Government

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understand the strong arguments that we shall put forward on the small minority of proposals on whose impact we disagree substantially.

One issue that is not in the Bill, but which ought to be, is police pensions. This is the great unspoken issue, the time bomb coming down the track—probably a terrible mixed metaphor, I confess. The estimate is that 13.63 per cent. of police funding nationally is now being spent on pensions, and that percentage is rising year on year. Of course, all retired police officers deserve a decent pension, but not at the expense of front-line policing. The Government have to address that issue.

In Sussex, the percentage is even higher, and my local paper, the Evening Argus, made the point today that, under the present system, the local authority in which a police officer is working when he or she retires picks up the entire pension requirement rather than its being spread across all the authorities in which that officer has served. I hope that the Government will consider that issue, because it discriminates disproportionately against police authorities such as Sussex.

I was pleased that the Minister acknowledged in a written parliamentary answer on 19 March that there was a need to bring "greater clarity" to pension obligations on police forces, and that the Treasury and the Home Office were reviewing their options. I hope that that process will be accelerated, and, if possible, brought forward as part of the Bill, even at this stage. My colleagues in the Lords tabled an amendment relating to pensions, and I also hope to do so as the Bill progresses in Committee.

Having identified an issue that is not in the Bill, I shall turn to those that are, and identify some which are the cause of disagreement among hon. Members and between the Opposition parties and the Government. I entirely agree with the comments made by the hon. Member for West Dorset to the effect that the original clause 5 represented dangerous centralisation. Labour Members did not like that suggestion, but I ask them to consider the clause headings in part 1 of the original Bill presented to the House of Lords: "National Policing Plan"; "Codes of practice for chief officers"; "Powers to require inspection and report"; "Directions to police authorities", a clause which contained the provision entitled, "Power to give directions to a police authority"; "Directions to chief officers", which contained the provision entitled "Power to give directions to chief officers"; "Regulation of equipment"; and "Regulation of operational procedures and practices". I accept that that last one was amended by the Government in the Lords.

All those clauses may have some validity, and there may be some reason for their introduction. The Minister explained some of that is his presentation. Taken as a whole, however, they represent a change to the traditional tripartite system that has served this country well. It may not have been created deliberately as a tripartite system, but it has evolved into one that works and gives the people of this country confidence. It provides a fair balance between the local police authority, the chief constable and central Government. The Government meddle with that arrangement at their peril and at ours. I beg them to think again about their intention to try to reinsert the original clause 5 into the Bill. It is opposed by the Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives and other parties in the House. I believe it is also opposed by most of the police,

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and by the public. It would be a shame to spoil a good Bill by including such a controversial, destructive and debilitating measure.

The Government could command unanimity, or at least overall support. They could present to the public a united House—a House united in its determination to drive up police standards and maintain the improvement in years to come. They could ensure that those on all three Front Benches said the same, and backed them. If they want all that, they must not reinsert clause 5.

The arrogance of the Home Office lies in its belief that it can do best—that if someone fails, a superman will arrive from somewhere and suddenly make it all better; that a magic formula, to be used sparingly, can be sprinkled over police authorities, and suddenly whatever was wrong with them will be cured. I do not think that that will work, because it is undemocratic and takes power away from local people and local police authorities. I accept that local police authorities could be more democratic than they are now. That is a legitimate point, which has been made from the Labour Back Benches. Nevertheless, the Government's proposal is undemocratic.

Moreover, there is no indication that what the Home Secretary of the day will do will solve whatever problem appears to exist. Indeed, there is no guarantee that a problem will exist. How can a Home Secretary with officials in Whitehall be better able than the people of Essex, Northampton or Derbyshire to say that a problem exists in one of those areas?

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