Police Reform Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Paice: I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman.

Mrs. Gillan: My hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset said on Second Reading that Pepper v. Hart did not apply, and that has been confirmed in Committee. Does not that make it doubly worrying that we are relying purely on the present Minister's interpretation? That confirms that there are no safeguards to ensure that what he asserts now and what we wish to achieve will ultimately end up in the Bill.

Mr. Paice: My hon. Friend is entirely right. I have rehearsed the arguments for the amendment. Nothing would stop a future national plan containing references to specific numbers of CSOs, accredited safety schemes or regular officers. That will be the basis on which many other parts of the Bill, including the powers under new clause 4, will be founded, so it is right that it should be written into the Bill. Unless the Minister can pledge to me that his and the Home Secretary's statements can be enshrined in legislation elsewhere in the Bill to ensure that there is no central direction, I wish to push the matter to a vote.

Mr. Denham: I merely repeat that the kernel of the issue is, with respect, not the national policing plan, which is, as I explained, not enforceable, whatever is in it. I hope that it will be a consensus of best practice, developed after consultation. The critical question for debate is whether there is a power to direct a chief constable to employ CSOs, and I have made my position clear on that. I recognise the importance of that debate, and I suggest that it takes place when we discuss new clause 4.

Norman Baker: Does the Minister not accept that if one lays a track, that determines the direction in which the train goes?

Mr. Denham: I am not sure that I understand that. There are differences between us. Clearly, the Opposition parties believe that the Government are wrong to set a target of 130,000 police officers and to deploy the finance for those officers. The Liberal Democrats have a right to say that they disagree with us. The Conservative party said, ''You shouldn't do that sort of thing. We wouldn't want to see that number of police officers in a national policing plan.'' I believe that the Government have taken a reasonable, right and proper decision to increase the number of police officers and make the finance available. The vast majority of people will find it extraordinary that it has been suggested this morning that that should not happen.

Mr. Paice: I cannot but react to that last jibe, because the Minister knows that he has completely misinterpreted what we said. Talk about selective

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interpretation—that is a complete misrepresentation. We believe that the national policing plan should be resource-led, and we welcome the availability of resources for 130,000 police officers. We have no objection to the Home Secretary talking about money being available for 130,000. We object to the concept of ring-fencing funds, which is highly applicable to the amendments. The concept is being used for the crime fighting fund and could be used to make money available solely for the employment of CSOs. It would be much better for money to be available for extra manpower, womanpower, personpower or whatever politically correct phraseology I should adopt. If money is being made available for those people, the choice of who they are—whether regular officers or CSOs—should be for the police.

Ian Lucas (Wrexham): Is the hon. Gentleman seriously suggesting that a future Home Secretary would overtly set up a national policing plan that would prescribe a reduction in the number of police officers?

Mr. Paice: That is not what I said. The hon. Gentleman has obviously not been listening. The Minister has done nothing to allay my concern that the policing plan as currently defined in the clause could lay out objectives for the number of CSOs or community accredited safety schemes that would then be a basis for later clauses. We have not yet reached new clause 4, so we cannot debate it, but I am certain that if the Government had the powers contained in the old clause 5, those powers would reflect back to what was in the national policing plan.

Ian Lucas: Is not the point that, if the Home Secretary prescribed a situation in which the number of police officers would decline at the expense of the number of CSOs, he would be directly, politically accountable for that and be held to account by the electorate in due course? We are being overt in setting priorities, and there will be political accountability at the end of the process.

10.45 am

Mr. Paice: The hon. Gentleman has simply undermined the Minister's arguments. I think that he should sit a further row back if he is going to make such comments in future.

We are worried not about the process being overt but about whether the figures would be in the plan. The issue is not the Home Secretary saying that there will be fewer police officers. I repeat the example that if a policing plan had been in place this year, I have no doubt that the figure of 130,000 regular officers would have been in it. Therefore, it is perfectly reasonable to make the supposition that next year's plan might say that in the following March there would be 130,000 officers—no reduction—plus 5,000 or 10,000 community support officers. The Home Secretary should not decide that resources that are available for CSOs should be spent on CSOs. If a chief constable receives extra resources, he should be able to decide whether to use them to employ CSOs or more regular

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officers. The hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) is shaking his head. He obviously does not trust chief constables.

Mr. Hawkins: Are our suspicions about the way in which these matters might be handled in future years—if the amendments are not accepted—reinforced by the fact that we are starting to hear speeches about the ''police family''? That blurs the distinction between fully trained and properly qualified police officers and people who might have less training. One can see the hand of the Treasury trying to muddy the waters. We might not see 130,000 police officers in future plans.

Mr. Paice: My hon. Friend is entirely right. The Bill does not apply to only this Government and this Home Secretary, because it will be on the statute book for many years. That is our worry.

I have rehearsed the arguments and I am not convinced by the Minister's responses. I shall press the amendment to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 13.

Division No. 1]

Baker, Norman
Brooke, Annette
Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl
Hawkins, Mr. Nick
Johnson, Mr. Boris
Osborne, Mr. George
Paice, Mr. James

Baird, Vera
Challen, Mr. Colin
Denham, Mr. John
Follett, Barbara
Irranca-Davies, Huw
Jones, Mr. Kevan
Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Lucas, Ian
MacDougall, Mr. John
McGuire, Mrs. Anne
Munn, Ms Meg
Stinchcombe, Mr. Paul
Stoate, Dr. Howard

Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. Hawkins: I beg to move amendment No. 109, in page 2, line 31, leave out

    'persons whom he considers to represent the interests of chief officers of police'

and insert

    'the Association of Chief Police Officers'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 115, in clause 6, page 6, line 17, leave out

    'persons whom he considers to represent the interests of chief officers of police'

and insert

    'the Association of Chief Police Officers'.

No. 116, in clause 6, page 6, line 27, leave out

    'persons whom it considers to represent the interests of chief officers of police'

and insert

    'the Association of Chief Police Officers'.

No. 120, in clause 20, page 19, line 37, leave out

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'persons whom it considers to represent the interests of chief officers of police'

and insert

    'the Association of Chief Police Officers'.

No. 121, in clause 22, page 22, line 25, leave out

    'persons whom he considers to represent the interests of chief officers of police'

and insert

    'the Association of Chief Police Officers'.

Mr. Hawkins: I, too, welcome to you to the Chair, Mr. Stevenson. I also welcome your co-Chairman, Miss Widdecombe, who will chair our future sittings.

The amendments are purely probing and are all to the same effect. We simply want to explore the benefit of replacing in the clause the person whom the Home Secretary of the day

    ''considers to represent the interests of chief officers of the police''

with the well-known and highly regarded Association of Chief Police Officers. I appreciate that that was debated in the other place, but this is a refinement of a Lords amendment. If a future Home Secretary seriously fell out with the leader of ACPO, he might create a new organisation that would tell him what he wanted to hear. That would not happen now, and may seem far-fetched, but we wanted to see what the Minister thought, and whether there was any reason why ACPO should not be named in the Bill.

Mr. Denham: ACPO is an association for chief officers and other senior ranks in the police service, and is the key body for consulting representatives of chief officers. There is also a registered company—the Association of Chief Police Officers of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Some years ago, ACPO split to produce another body—the Chief Police Officers Staff Association—that could concentrate on the trade union functions of representing chief officers rather than professional issues of policing practice. We consulted ACPO to some extent about suspension powers, which we will discuss later, but dealt most directly with CPOSA, as chief constable members consider it the most appropriate body.

The wording avoids the danger that an organisation might change its structure and its name in the future. The simplest thing to do was to follow the practice and the language of the Police Act 1996. ACPO is the representative body of chief police officers and the professional body that we will consult.

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