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Norman Baker: I share the hon. Gentleman's view that the police should not investigate the police. However, does he agree that if that is to be achieved it is important that the independent commission is properly staffed and financed, otherwise the inquiries it looks at will go on for any length of time, as has Operation Lancet?
The independent complaints commission will have its own powers of investigation: it can call in a case for investigation or supervision and decide what level of investigation is fitting or justifiable in the light of the seriousness of a case; it can call for papers relevant to the investigation to be made available to it; it will have the power to enter any police premises without let or hindrance; and it can allow third parties access to the investigation. If an Independent Police Complaints Commission had existed, Lancet would not have become a debacle and public moneys would not have been needlessly spent on an investigation that went nowhere.
I wholeheartedly support the spirit of clause 8, which allows for the appointment to the commission of members who are not past or present members of a police force, thus allowing for greater public confidence and greater freedom to look laterally at the case under investigation, the way in which it has been handled by the force concerned, and the burden of the complaint laid against a serving officer or officers.
The Bill is a testament to that great promise[Laughter.] Opposition Members may laugh, but their Government never delivered that. Nowhere is the Bill more open and radical than in its clauses on police discipline and complaints; the only pity is that it was not introduced sooner. Had that been the case, the public of Teesside would have been saved many years of doubt, concern and anger and honest police officers would have
Mrs. Annette L. Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole): The genuine desire for reform, across the political spectrum and among relevant organisations, is welcome; clearly everyone shares the vital objective of curbing antisocial behaviour. Division in opinion largely concerns the details.
I should like to look at three areas: the extension of the Home Secretary's powers; the responsibility and scope of powers given to community support officers and accredited community safety officers; and the use of antisocial behaviour orders. Excellent cross-party work was undertaken in the other place and I commend colleagues on their work to change the more illiberal aspects of the original Bill. The Government introduced some welcome amendments, but there were also strong messages for them about various aspects of the Bill. I welcome the removal of clause 5 from part 1 of the original Bill, as it would have granted the Secretary of State powers to give directions to chief officers. I feel, as do many peoplemany hon. Members have expressed such views tonightthat it is inappropriate for a Home Secretary both to give orders to chief officers on the efficiency and effectiveness of police forces and to scrutinise action plans. The clause would diminish local influence, accountability and control, leading to a diminished role for chief officers and police authorities, whether actual or perceived, in the system.
As a local councillor, I know only too well the problems of lack of powers and authority locally. The level of centralisation and lack of true devolution in England are significant contributors to many problems in our local communities. They also lead to a blame culture. All the time in the local authority we have a sort of ping-pong game: "It's the local authority's fault", then, "It's the Government's fault". With the centralisation of power, we bring in the blame culture with no true accountability.
By concentrating powers over the police in the hands of the Home Secretary and, in consequence, taking powers away from chief officers and police authorities in clauses throughout the Bill, we are reinforcing the view on the ground that under the present Government power rests only with central Government in London. Although London may be important, there are those of us from the shire counties who see life differently. Life is very different in different parts of the country.
I agree with one of my colleagues in the other place who argued that during all stages of the passage of the Bill through the Lords, the Government provided little or no hard evidence to show why such powers in the hands of the Home Secretary are necessary, or in what circumstances they would be used. That colleague also pointed out that many new initiatives to tackle crime have been launched by the Government and draw on the experience and knowledge of numerous organisations, including the Association of Police Authorities, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Association of Chief Police Officers and the courts. With such initiatives, why are additional powers for the Home Secretary necessary?
I am not convinced that the Government's own amendmentsclause 42are enough to address fully the concerns of members of both Opposition parties, although I welcome the Government's efforts to improve the Bill.
As hon. Members have said, the tripartite system should remain just that. The Home Secretary should not be in a position to override local control. Such political powerthat is the crunchshould not hang over the police force. It contradicts the rationale underlying the tripartite system, which we all value.
On the use of civilian support, I shall begin by examining the proposed powers. I am concerned that the issues that caused so much debate in the other place and clauses that were so opposed by my colleagues there will simply be reintroduced. Many of those clauses infringe the liberty of our citizens. I do not deny that something must be done to prevent antisocial and criminal behaviour, but I am not sure that a non-police officer with limited training and powers should be able to detain someone for up to 30 minutes. We had a debate on that tonight, but I should like to add another point. What if a constable or a police officer does not appear within the allocated 30 minutes? In my part of the country, one cannot guarantee that the police will turn up in 30 minutes. That could lead to a very odd situation.
I welcomed the removal of clause 40, which would have enabled the Home Secretary to amend and supplement the list of police powers that civilians might possess. I am worried about the provision being reinstated.
With regard to the various forms of civilian support proposed in the Bill, I acknowledge that the Government do not intend to impose community support officers on police authorities where they are not required or wanted. Perhaps I am being generous; various hon. Members have mentioned the issue of ring-fencing. However, I am still rather naive, so I shall accept that assumption for the moment. I am concerned that in the absence of enough funding for police officers, police authorities can easily be seduced by the prospect of three for the price of two. I am frequently seduced in that manner when shopping in the supermarket; one does not always make the best decision. It is the seductive nature of the proposal that is inherently taking us down the wrong line.
I am very concerned about the authorities' proposed powers, and I think that variations in powers between neighbouring authorities could create great confusion. In all these matters, clarity and ease of understanding are vital. Will the public really be clear about all the different categories proposed in the Bill? Neighbourhood wardens are being introduced in one part of my constituency. I am very pleased about that; I would like them to be introduced throughout the whole constituency. They will have a distinctive uniform. The important thing is that they are employed by the police and have arisen from a partnership between the police and local authorities. I feel that we should have not accredited community safety officers but one type of community safety warden whose role is clearly defined and must be recognised only by local authorities and the police.
I want briefly to mention antisocial behaviour orders. When we discuss those orders in Committee, we must consider not only the evaluation of their effectiveness, but what guidance is being given to local and other authorities on rehabilitative measures. I do not think that ASBOs work effectively by themselves. They need to be used with other measures as well; indeed, there are lots of measures that we can use besides ASBOs, which should be a last resort. I cannot agree with the simplistic suggestion that a large number of ASBOs is a good thing and that a small number is a bad thing. That argument is far too simplistic.
In conclusion, I should like to highlight the fact that the police need and deserve support. Police morale is low, but we have to get the support right. I welcome in principle the use of available civilians to undertake some of the tasks that are currently carried out by police officers and to allow the police to concentrate on police work rather than incessant form filling. However, the dividing line between civilian and police work should be very clear. We need more police officers in the most demanding areas and support for preventive measures at local community level. Surely, we should focus on crime prevention and nipping crime in the bud. The costs to society are too great for us to begrudge spending in this area, and the possible benefits are too great to ignore.