Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 40 - 59)



  40. You say "may welcome", will welcome or may welcome?
  (Sir David Phillips) One imagines that those who have nothing to fear will be more welcoming than those who have.

  41. Yes, the point is taken. Can I bring you on to the question of strengthening the powers of the Home Secretary in removing chief constables. The existing situation is that where the Home Secretary wants to remove a chief constable it is actually done more or less, is it not? It is indirect but as we saw not so long ago that actually happens when the Home Secretary makes it clear that he wants a chief constable removed. Do you welcome the fact that the powers will be more direct now?
  (Sir David Phillips) I think the powers that the Home Secretary had previously under the Police Act were seen to be deficient in the detail, that the whole force, as I understand it, had to be inefficient before he could exercise his powers and that might be an impossible precondition to satisfy at a technical level. These arrangements at first glance are mainly to correct that previous formulation. However, I am not sure that we were entirely content with the previous formulation. I think the public would expect the Home Secretary to be able, one way or another, to remove a chief constable from a force if the force was inefficient. ACPO does not have a difficulty with that arrangement. It is a serious step to take and I think where I would like to see the Bill looked at is is there a proper procedure either in the Bill or in regulations that spring from the Bill which will put that into place so that there is some tribunal that can deal with this matter fairly. If the chief constable is suspended and is given an opportunity for an audience and that is it, it might be very difficult for him to put his case together. I have no real difficulty with the notion that there should be a power to remove inefficient people but I think it is important that a proper process is in place so that power could not be used arbitrarily. It may be that we need to see a better connection between Clauses 4 and 5 or whatever dealing with efficiency and Clauses 18 to 22 or whatever that talk about the powers to intervene. It seems to me there should be a greater relationship between these various provisions of the Bill, a connectedness between these provisions, and we would like to see more evidence of a proper procedure which would support them so that the chief constable could not be removed arbitrarily.

  42. You are taking that up are you, your Association, with the Home Secretary?
  (Sir David Phillips) We will write in those terms.

  43. You will or your Association have?
  (Sir David Phillips) We have responded to the White Paper but that was before we had seen the detailed provisions of the Bill.

  44. How would you answer the question, Sir David, that if such powers had been in force, say in the last five to seven years, we will not go back too far, would you be willing to tell us how many chief constables are likely to have been removed, or is that too leading a question?
  (Sir David Phillips) I think it is too leading a question. It is a long and critical path before somebody becomes a chief constable and I cannot imagine that this is anything more than a reserve power that should not need to be used with any frequency. There must be something wrong with our selection system if it would need to be used with any frequency. You can see why the power needs to be there for if those circumstances arise.

  45. If you had a chief constable who took the view that he was in direct contact with God, would you have thought that would be an appropriate step for the Home Secretary to take?
  (Sir David Phillips) I am afraid that is too hypothetical a question.

  David Winnick: It was not hypothetical at the time but be that as it may. Thank you very much.

  Chairman: Shall we move on now to Community Support Officers.

Mrs Dean

  46. Sir David, are you confident that the public will respect the authority of someone less than a fully trained constable to issue a fixed penalty notice in circumstances when the facts may be in dispute?
  (Sir David Phillips) I think we have some real concerns around the provisions relating to what I might usefully term auxiliaries. The police service is very enthusiastic to work with wardens and the like who are employed by other agencies. I can see how we might be active in helping with their training and communication, even briefing. That is one thing. In terms of using officers who are less well trained than police officers in uniform on general patrol, I have to say there are some divided opinions within ACPO. My own view is I view these provisions with caution but I would say this, the Home Secretary recently brought to speak to us the ex Chief Officer of the New York City Police, Mr Bratton. In looking at the New York City Police I observed that aside from having far more police officers per head than we do, some 38,000 in New York, for 38,000 police officers they have 44,000 support staff. Well, that is the opposite of our provision, we have roughly a ratio of one support officer for every two police officers. There are huge opportunities in the police force for many roles to be undertaken by support staff: statement taking, huge opportunities in handling people in custody and in jailing, in my view all control room operations can be civilianised. If there was money to provide us with many more auxiliaries, I would find lots of ways of using them and so would most of my colleagues which we would prefer to do before we put them on uniform patrol. I recognise, however, there may be special circumstances in London, and the Commissioner has particular problems that we do not all share. He may have taken a different view about how he would wish to use them in London and I am not qualified to speak about that. For most provincial chief constables we view it with caution. Having said that, we did strongly support the notion that there should be some specialist roles in which we might be able to empower people within the police. For example, I have long been of the view that we should move towards recruiting people for purpose in a more obvious way than we do. As someone who has run a fraud squad in the past, it seems to me it would be far better to employ auditing accountants and teach them to be investigators than employ police officers and teach them to be accountants. If I did that I would want to give these people appropriate powers for their role. Extending powers to people that we employ is one thing. The notion of officers on general patrol in uniform with the power to detain, paid less than a police officer and less well trained than a police officer holds out some fears for me.

  47. Do you believe there could be a danger that police officers would be called back to more minor offences by such support officers?
  (Sir David Phillips) It is possible but my main concerns are around how they will be perceived by the public and how they will deal with difficult situations. You cannot forecast the situations that you get into when you send out people on patrol. I imagine that if we receive a call—we do so every few minutes—and someone is saying "There is a violent disturbance" or a child rings up to say "My father is hitting my mother" and your nearest person is this person, will you send them or not send them? If someone's life is at risk or someone's safety is at risk, presumably you would have to send them. Are you going to put them into situations where more is expected of them than they have been trained to deal with? That would be a concern for me.

  48. Would the power to detain people pending the arrival of a police officer not help in such circumstances?
  (Sir David Phillips) It seems to me if you have a power to detain you are very much resembling the role of a police officer and it would be better value, therefore, to train people properly to be police officers. I have spoken to people in warden schemes and they did not see themselves as carrying out a police role. They saw themselves as facilitating safety in the neighbourhood: people who made sure that elderly people attending community centres could get home safely at night, giving them confidence and escorting them, making sure the playgroup was not interfered with by youngsters who should have been at school and the like. They did not—the ones I have spoken to—say "We want powers", in fact many of them said the opposite, that they really felt powers would put them in a different relationship and that they would prefer to be as they are. It is the mixing up of this community safety business and policing, they are not easily melded together. On the other hand, I have got to say there can be little harm in trying these things. If my fears are borne out there will probably be experience and there will be no reason why we cannot change it. We do not have to do it. You asked me for my views. If there is money for this we could do better things with it.

Angela Watkinson

  49. Sir David, I wonder if I could pursue the matter of Community Support Officers a little further. I understand that the proposal is to give them powers to detain using reasonable force if necessary but not to arrest for 30 minutes. Now if they are able to do that one can foresee some very difficult situations and some very difficult people that they will be trying to detain, if they are able to detain them for 30 minutes then two things might happen. The period of 30 minutes might elapse and then what do you foresee happening in the 31st minute? Or, a police officer might turn up before the 30 minutes has elapsed and in that case I was under the impression that the police did not have powers of arrest for anti-social behaviour, you might wish to correct me on that? I just wonder what would be the conclusion of an incident like this? If I could follow that up with a second question. Do you think there will be more operational gain from four police officers or six Community Service Officers?
  (Sir David Phillips) To deal with the first question. I can see that there may be difficulties. There is not a general power to detain people for anti-social behaviour but circumstances may provide a power of arrest, it depends on the circumstances. An officer can arrest if there is a breach of the peace and an officer can arrest in circumstances where he cannot satisfy himself about someone's identity and they are committing an offence. The laws relating to arrest are fairly complex. An officer may be confronted with a similar situation where he decides the appropriate course is to report that person for summons rather than to arrest them. You could see some difficulties arising. Equally, I suppose it depends on the nature of the duties that are placed upon them. If they were involved in some very specific role, perhaps a security role, then that power might be more useful. I think in some senses it was conceived in that way. In the face of a terrorist threat if you needed to put a lot of people in place to protect key public institutions and the rest and you could not provide this number of police numbers then it may be that sort of power would be one that might be useful. As for general patrol, it seems somewhat fraught to me. As to the second question, the answer would be four police officers. In my own case, some years ago I removed all the traffic wardens that were in my employ and replaced them with town centre police officers. I used the money from my traffic wardens to create two-thirds as many constables who were then dedicated to town centre patrol. At the same time we encouraged local authorities to develop their own powers to deal with traffic violators and parked vehicles. I felt that was a far better return. The visibility of a patrolling police officer I think carries more reassurance for the public than a patrolling traffic warden.

  Angela Watkinson: Thank you very much.

Mr Malins

  50. Sir David, traffic wardens again, I am afraid, our favourite people. Clause 37 changes, I think, the position about stopping vehicles and now gives the power to traffic wardens to do so. That is right, I think. What do you think that is going to mean in practice?
  (Sir David Phillips) I would have to refer to the section but my interpretation, and I may be wrong about this, is it allows them to deal with moving traffic offences. One of the difficulties we have with traffic wardens is the evidence of a moving traffic offence might be a stationary vehicle in an ironical way. That is to say, if someone has violated an entry order and driven into an area that they should not drive in, the evidence of that is the parked vehicle and traffic wardens cannot deal with that. I think that provision is to capture that, but I would need to check.

  51. The explanatory note of the Bill for Clause 37 says at the end it "thereby enables traffic wardens to be given the same power to stop vehicles as that currently held by police officers". Can you remind us what powers the police have got to stop vehicles?
  (Sir David Phillips) A police officer has a general power to stop any vehicle being driven on the road in any circumstance, a general power to stop.

  52. Okay. So if I am driving along and a policeman, he or she, simply wants to stop me to check a few things, they can wave me down and I should stop. If I am right that the same power is being given to a traffic warden, what do you think of that? It seems rather a huge extension of what is, after all, an extremely important power to prevent a person carrying out their business, being stopped by a person with how much training?
  (Sir David Phillips) I am afraid I feel unable to be specific about this because it is one of the bits that I have not studied.

  53. Fair enough. If they did have the same power as a policeman obviously it would be of slight concern, would it not? Do you know what training a traffic warden has?
  (Sir David Phillips) Many traffic wardens these days are not employed by the police and not trained by the police, so there may be a question there.

  54. Okay.
  (Sir David Phillips) As I say, I am not sighted on that particular provision, I need to look at it.

  55. A quick question on a later section, Clause 42, about offences for which a person can be arrested without a warrant. I think we are adding to the list now, are we not?
  (Sir David Phillips) Yes.

  56. Assaulting a police officer, making off without paying, driving whilst disqualified?
  (Sir David Phillips) Yes.

  57. Why do you think it is necessary to add these at this stage?
  (Sir David Phillips) Because I think we found difficulty in dealing with those offences. If we take them in turn, it would be absurd in a sense if you could assault a police officer and not be arrested but we have had one or two cases in court where the arrest has been challenged even though the facts of the case have been made out. That does seem absurd.

  58. That is right. I am not trying to query whether you are right on this but if somebody assaults a police officer in the execution of their duty is that not an offence for which they can be arrested on the spot, an arrestable offence?
  (Sir David Phillips) I cannot imagine that an assault on a police officer would not constitute at least a breach of the peace whilst the assault was in progress. I think the question is whether subsequently if you were investigating an offence you have the power retrospectively to arrest someone.

  59. I think that applies to driving while disqualified, does it not? If you find someone doing it it is arrestable now but this Bill extends to going round to see them at their home later and arresting them after the event.
  (Sir David Phillips) Likewise the bilking offence which is referred to, this is now assuming serious proportions. Frequently we are obtaining evidence in all those cases you have referred to from CCTV systems which allows us to pursue people and gives the opportunity for a later arrest.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 7 May 2002