Police Reform Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Denham: I do not want to stray too far into clause stand part territory, but it may be helpful if I explain one development in the Government's thinking since the publication of the police reform White Paper and earlier discussions in another place. The national policing plan will be informed by discussions in a non-statutory national policing forum, as we set out in the White Paper. It suggested that the membership of the forum consisted of police and Home Office interests with some representation from victims and witnesses organisations.

We have discussed the forum over the past few months, particularly with police service interests. They said that they would welcome a wider range of inputs, including those representing the local government and health agencies with which they work in partnership locally to reduce crime. I hope to be able to announce the forum's membership in the near future, but I thought that it would be useful for the Committee to know that we are moving in that broader direction in response to discussions with police service interests. That was a useful part of our consultations.

I shall deal with plans and advice and the question of broadening the content of the national policing plan. I do not want to anticipate later debates, but I shall give one example of an issue that might be covered in the national policing plan but would not be appropriate to cover as a best value performance indicator or a Secretary of State priority. As the Committee will know, having commissioned a report last autumn into a day in the life of a police officer, which deliberately raised the issue of bureaucracy higher up the agenda of policing debates, a taskforce led by Sir David O'Dowd, the recently retired Chief Inspector of Constabulary, has been working with the police service on how to tackle red tape and bureaucracy.

I cannot say what will be in the first national policing plan, but it is highly likely that we would want some reference to the implementation of recommendations arising from that report. We would want to see forces and police authorities throughout the country address that. It would not be appropriate to lay it down at this stage as a code of practice or a best value performance indicator, and it will be a rather different priority from those that the Home Secretary has set previously. None the less, it is sensible that such references should be in such a report. The hon. Member for Lewes said that the issue was not addressed in another place, but it is the sort of thing that could be included.

I shall deal first with the amendments concerning NCIS and the NCS. I shall ask the Committee to reject them, but I want to acknowledge that a point of

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substance has been raised. The amendment is inappropriate because NCIS and the NCS have their own statutory framework. The lines of accountability are different as, for example, the Home Secretary appoints the chair of the service authority and, since 1 April 2002 under the existing legislation, has the power to appoint the director general of both NCIS and the NCS. It is a very different line of accountability, and because consultation procedures for setting the priorities of those national organisations are laid out in statute, it would be odd to have two different pieces of legislation to use to set the priorities. The amendment would give rise to confusion, which is why it is inappropriate.

However, I acknowledge that we cannot say that serious crime happens here while ordinary policing happens somewhere else. One subject of discussion in the national policing forum, as it is in all our discussions with the police service, will be the interface between the work on serious crime that is done at police force level and that which is done at national level. There is an interrelationship, and it affects workloads. In the run-up to the World cup, NCIS co-ordinates the anti-football hooliganism activity, but police forces co-ordinate the seeking of banning orders. We want to ensure that those issues are properly taken into account when we develop the national policing plan. The consultation requirements enable the Secretary of State to consult directly with the NCS and NCIS where that helps to shape the plan. I assure Liberal Democrats and other hon. Members that we acknowledge the issue at the kernel of the amendment, but we do not agree with the wording.

I turn to the amendment relating to the Central Police Training and Development Authority. The authority has been renamed Centrex to reflect its developed role as the new home for the national centre for policing excellence. Centrex supports the development of policing in various ways, and has its own statutory objectives. However, I acknowledge that it is right for people to expect its objectives to be compatible with the objectives and priorities of the national policing plan. Future Home Office Ministers will have to ensure that CPTDA—as it is in the legislation—is given appropriate objectives to support the plan.

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I understand the point made by the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire, but it is not workable. After some to-ing and fro-ing in another place, it was agreed on a Government amendment that there will be a deadline for producing the plan in normal circumstances, but not in the event of a general election, major event, or outrage such as 11 September. The idea is to ensure that the national policing plan can inform Government decisions on the allocation of resources, and those of police forces and police authorities when they set their own objectives and allocate resources locally. The plan therefore needs to precede the resource-setting process. We anticipate that questions about resources will be raised

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when we draw up the plan and in discussions with the national forum. People will know the broad picture on available finance, as the spending review makes it a matter of public record. People will look back at the progress made in the previous year, and the extent to which resources were perceived to be sufficient to meet all the set objectives. I am sure that there will be a discussion on the relationship between finances and objectives.

I may regret saying this, but there has to be a chicken and an egg somewhere in the process. In the annual cycle, having the plan in place in November will inform decisions shortly after on the allocation of resources nationally and locally. That will enable Parliament to consider the settlement, and to debate the adequacy of the national policing plan in due course. That can then be brought into the consideration of next year's plans, and will enable us to take adequately into account the financial issues about which the hon. Gentleman is concerned. The amendment would make it difficult for the process to happen smoothly and efficiently.

Norman Baker: I am grateful for the Minister's detailed and lengthy response to the amendments. I am happy to accept that the wording of our amendment is not perfect: that is the advice of the Minister's officials. However, I am grateful that he recognises the serious point to the amendments. The forum that he mentioned is a helpful step forward, and doubtless we will support it. With respect, however, that is not the whole answer. A method needs to be found to bring together the different elements of policing throughout the country in one plan. As the Minister said, people cannot say that serious crime happens in one place and less serious crime elsewhere. I am not convinced that the method to achieve our objective is in place.

The Minister has been good enough to recognise that there is a case for the amendment, and I hope that he will return in due course with a proposal to improve the arrangements, which are insufficient. The Minister smiles, which I think means he agrees—I am optimistic as always. As I said, he recognises that we have a case, and perhaps that will evolve over time. In those circumstances, I am happy to beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Paice: I beg to move amendment No. 126, in page 2, line 26, at end insert—

    '(f) shall not include specification by the Secretary of State of the numbers of—

    (i) police officers; or

    (ii) civilian officers designated under section 35,

    to be employed in any police area.'.

The Chairman: With this we may discuss amendment No. 127, in page 2, line 26, at end insert—

    '(g) shall not include specification by the Secretary of State of the numbers of community safety schemes under section 36 to be established in police accreditation areas.'.

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I advise hon. Members that there is a mistake on the amendment paper. In amendment No. 127, the word ''accreditation'' should be after the word ''safety'' on the second line, rather than after the word ''police'' on the final line. I hope that that is clear.

Mr. Paice: Yes, Mr. Stevenson, although I was reading a different version with the correct wording. I live in optimistic anticipation that the precise wording of the amendment is significant because the Minister intends to accept it.

This group presages a debate that will take place some weeks from now on part 4, in which the Government introduce the concept of community support officers and community safety accreditation schemes. Following Second Reading, the Minister and the rest of the Committee will be fully aware that there is a dispute between the sides on this issue.

Without going through the whole debate about CSOs now, I repeat the point that my colleagues and I made in the Chamber: we have no difficulty in supporting the concept of civilians helping and being involved with the police, but we have difficulty with the types of police powers that they are given. In part 4 and schedule 4, the Government seek to give civilians a very wide range of police powers. Some are in the Bill now, and I suspect that the Government will seek to bring back at least one. As a result, there is a suspicion at the back of many people's minds that at some stage in future, a Government—the convention on these occasions is not to accuse the current Government of an ulterior motive—may seek to use CSOs to supplant regular police officers.

One argument is that CSOs will be cheaper to employ than regular police officers. We shall come to that larger debate later, but there is no doubt that employing CSOs would involve a huge cost saving. A future Chancellor of the Exchequer could say to the Home Secretary, ''I realise you need more people, but it would be cheaper to put CSOs on the streets, rather than regular officers.'' The worry is that there would be a gradual diminution in the standard of policing as a result.

On Second Reading, the Minister was challenged in a number of ways to rule out that possibility. My hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) challenged him on the issue of funds, to which the Minister replied:

    ''I see nothing wrong with funds being made available for the development of CSOs.''—[Official Report, 7 May 2002; Vol. 385, c. 60.]

None of us sees anything wrong with money being made available for that so long as it is not exclusively for the development of CSOs. Yet when my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) asked if he will

    ''guarantee never to compel a police force to adopt an action plan that includes the forced deployment of CSOs''.——[Official Report, 7 May 2002; Vol. 385, c. 60.]

the Minister was, to put it mildly, evasive, as the record shows. He would not rule that out.

However, last week at the Police Federation conference, the Home Secretary, in his new emollient mood, said:

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''We are not going to force this on any police area.''

Most people would take the word ''force'' at face value to mean that there would be no pressure whatever, rather than taking it literally to mean compulsion.

The amendments are drafted in the spirit of the Home Secretary's statement to the Police Federation, to ensure that the Bill states clearly that the national plan will not include an obligation on police forces in respect of how many CSOs, for example, should be employed under the accredited community safety schemes. Such decisions are rightly for chief police officers and their authorities, as we shall discuss under part 4.

Hon. Members should not be super-critical of one another, but it is imperative, in the spirit of the Home Secretary's statement last week—especially in view of his evasion of the issue on Second Reading—that the Bill should include a clear statement as proposed in the amendments.

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