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Norman Baker: I hear what the Minister says, and I shall be interested to read Hansard tomorrow to find out whether that is exactly what he said earlier. I am sure that it will be because he is a very honest fellow. Nevertheless, the fact is that he now envisages a situation where, even if it is a kick start, certain authorities will be given a bribe, a sweetener, a golden hello to introduce CSOs. Those
In conclusion, I want to raise an issue mentioned by the hon. Member for Sunderland, Souththe Riot (Damages) Act 1886, the Yarl's Wood fire and the fact that Bedfordshire police are being sued for £40 million. That is nonsense, and we should take the opportunity provided by the Bill to deal with it. That could be done quite easily; otherwise we shall put the police in a difficult position. Neither is suing Millwall football club any way to recover money for the police.
By and large, this is a good Bill. It could be a very good Bill. There were one or two poisonous flies in the ointment but, by and large, they have been removed by the House of Lords, and I very much hope that the Minister will not seek to reinsert them. If he does, I assure him that we on the Liberal Democrat Benches will not waver.
Mr. Mike O'Brien (North Warwickshire): May I begin by declaring an interest? I am the parliamentary adviser to the Chief Police Officers Staff Association. I am also a member of the appeals committee of the Police Dependants Trust. Both those roles are unpaid. However, the views that I express today are my own, on behalf of my constituents, but I will let the House know the Chief Police Officers Staff Association's views on a certain issue.
Broadly, I welcome the Bill. It is a good Bill, which is designed to improve the performance of the police. On the whole, it will help police efficiency and effectiveness, and therefore reduce crime and the fear of crime and help to tackle antisocial behaviour. After all, police reform must be about giving the police the numbers, the tools and the management that they need to be more effective at catching criminals and reducing the fear of crime.
The taxpayer is putting unprecedented millions of pounds into Britain's police and expects results. To some extent, the taxpayer is getting results. The British crime survey shows a 21 per cent. fall in crime since 1997, but crime levels are still too high, especially for street crime.
I represent Warwickshire, which from 1993 to 1998, experienced one of the biggest cuts in police numbers. By 1998, Warwickshire had lost 11 per cent. of its officersprobably the largest number in the country. Police numbers are rising once again. The chairman of the police authority hopes shortly to restore record numbers of police officers in Warwickshire. As part of that process, the police authority has increased its council tax precept by 19 per cent.
Few voters in the recent elections complained about the cost of the police; they wanted to see more officers on the beat and were prepared to pay for it. Warwickshire police force has tremendous public support. It is an excellent, although small, constabulary. People are prepared to pay more for policing, but they demand value for the money that they pay. Taxpayers are not pleased when a police
Across Britain, questions need to be asked about why some forces perform better than others. What efforts are being made to improve delivery? The Bill will put each chief constable and each bobby on the beat to the challenge of delivering for the taxpayer. Most of them will rise to that challenge and raise their game, but it is also important that the Government, the police authorities and chief constables have the powers to deal with those who are not raising their game and not delivering for the taxpayer.
Most police officers everywhere are committed, but performance varies, even where local policing is similar. We need to ensure that policing everywhere is brought up to the standard of the best. We also need to deal with the problems of red tape and bureaucracy that all too often clog up police procedures. Police officers spend 43 per cent. of their time in the station, much of it on paperwork. I am pleased that the Government are addressing that with their taskforce, which is working alongside the reforms in the Bill. The Independent Police Complaints Commission is good news and will, no doubt, be welcomed by the Police Federation, which has long sought such change.
The Bill is therefore a move in the right direction, as part of a broad strategy to reduce crime and raise standards in public service. However, in our zeal to create organisational tools to improve standards, we need also to recognise that good policing requires a fair degree of local discretion and local decision making. That means that chief constables must have considerable discretion in operational matters in their locality.
Chief police officers welcome the Bill's broad thrust and want it to be enacted, but they do have concerns about individual aspects of the Government's proposals. Given that the Government have had one or two problems with the federated ranks, Ministers will need the support of chief police officers in implementing reform, and they will doubtless want to listen with care to their views. Individually, most reforms in the Bill cause few problems for chief police officers, but in combination they raise some concerns. The creation of plans, the setting up of national bodies that give guidelines, and the measuring of performance are all sensible provisions, but what worries some chief police officers is their conjunction with the Home Secretary's extended power to remove and to suspend chief police officers. However, they can be reassured through minor adjustments to those powers. The agreement to a protocol on their use is helpful, but a further concession would be even more helpful. Chief police officers would like a tribunal to review any decision by a Home Secretary to require a police authority to suspend or bring about the resignation of a chief police officer, and the tribunal would also need the power to reinstate such an officer.
I accept that the Home Secretary's current powers under the Police Act 1996 are inadequatea point illustrated by the recent experience of Warwickshire police, which found it difficult to remove a chief constable who was ill. Delay and difficulty occurred in that case, and although it was resolved, it is clear that better powers to take action are needed. It would help if the Home Secretary's powers were subject to review by a tribunal
To some extent, operational decisions should be the prerogative of chief constables. No Home Secretary should try to micromanage from Whitehall, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary doubtless has no intention of doing so. However, on police numbersa political issue whereby politicians carry the can if chief constables do not use their budgets to increase numbersthe Home Secretary should have a real say. I have said so before and I believe it to be true, but in deciding how many police officers operate in a particular area or how policing takes place, chief constables need flexibility, not straitjackets from Whitehall. I do not believe that Whitehall has any intention to micromanage, but such concerns do exist, so Ministers need constantly to reassure the police, and in doing so to put in place safeguards, where possible and appropriate.
The shadow Home Secretary's claim that he supports the concept of CSOs but opposes the power to detain is nonsense. He wills the end but not the means. He would give CSOs the power to issue fixed penalty notices for antisocial behaviour, which require giving a name and address, but if a person refuses to do so, he would leave CSOs with the power to do nothing except make a citizen's arrest. If we are to have CSOs, a power to detain for 30 minutes is necessary.
Mr. Letwin: Will the hon. Gentleman explain why detention is necessary to deal with alcohol consumption, confiscation of alcohol, confiscation of tobacco, seizure of vehicles, entry to save life and limb, abandoned vehicles, carrying out of road checks, cordons and so forth?
Mr. O'Brien: I could discuss each of those, but a gap in the hon. Gentleman's argument strikes me immediately. With an uncharacteristic lack of candour, he has omitted from his list fixed penalty notices, which he mentioned earlier. If he cannot fill that gap and must seek simply to divert attention, he ought to rethink his policy.
On abandoned vehiclesone of the hon. Gentleman's exampleslet us say that some young kids are found in the vicinity of a burning vehicle. If a CSO discovers them and is unsure of the circumstances, he may want to detain them until a police officer arrives on the scene. Under the hon. Gentleman's proposal, however, he would have no power to do so. He would have only two choices. First, he could use his citizen's power of arrest, which might be going too far; after all, under such a power he cannot arrest on suspicion. Secondly, he could let them go. The hon. Gentleman looks confused, as indeed I suspect that he is.