Police Reform Bill [Lords]

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Mrs. Brooke: I thank the Minister for his comments. As I said, we want to withdraw amendment No. 2. I am heartened by his remarks on amendments Nos. 134, 135 and 136, and I emphasise that those points need to be picked up. I accept that there is some sense in waiting until we debate Government amendment No. 131, and I thank him for his reassurances on balancing the level of direction, because we all want to achieve efficient and effective policing. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mrs. Brooke: I beg to move amendment No. 137, in page 4, line 30, at end insert—

    '(1A) No police force, whether in whole or in part, or generally or in particular respects, shall be regarded as not efficient or not effective or about to cease to be efficient or effective under subsection (1) above, on the grounds that the chief officer has not—

    (a) designated any persons under section 35 of the Police Reform Act 2002; or

    (b) established a community safety accreditation scheme under section 36 of the Police Reform Act 2002.'.

We focus yet again on directions to police authorities, and we want reassurances and safeguards on the extent of those directions. The Minister has already hinted that the point made here may be covered elsewhere in the Bill and in other regulations, and I shall listen to his comments with interest. The amendment is nevertheless important.

We keep drawing parallels with Ofsted. The reports might contain strong recommendations on the balance of staffing. We want to ensure that CSOs are not imposed by the back door. We are genuinely concerned that the Bill might allow the Secretary of State—obviously not the current one—to use the power to take remedial measures and empower police authorities to adopt CSO schemes. I feel sure that the Minister will agree, given that he stated so forcefully this morning that there is no intention to force CSO schemes on police authorities. The amendment should be totally acceptable in that context.

3.15 pm

Mr. Hawkins: We agree with the spirit of the amendment. I agree with the hon. Lady: the matter is very important. She also quite rightly cited what the Minister said before lunch: no police force will be absolutely impelled to go along with the various schemes that the Government are keen on, such as accreditation and CSOs. If that is the case, there is no reason why the Bill should not safeguard that position. We would be very uncomfortable if a chief constable and a police authority were penalised in any way because they felt from their expert knowledge of their area that it was not appropriate to have accreditation or CSOs.

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It is extremely important that something along the lines of amendment No. 137 should be in the Bill. We are not tying ourselves to the particular wording, but we think it would be terribly helpful to have a provision that makes it clear that a force cannot be penalised for not going along with accredited schemes or CSOs. Like the hon. Lady, we will listen with interest to what the Minister has to say, but we consider this an important matter.

Mr. Denham: I shall not bore the Committee by repeating what I have said already about our intentions for CSOs. We need to be careful about the approach taken in the amendments. In debates such as this, a constant refrain asserts that the legislation might be all right as long as I and my colleagues are Ministers, but questions the future. There is equally a danger that an obsession with one issue, however controversial it is at the moment, can lead people to draft bad law and table poorly thought-out amendments. I am afraid that the amendment falls into that category.

There has been much discussion about CSOs. I had understood that the Opposition parties, at least in another place, welcomed the provisions in part 4 enabling chief officers to designate support staff as detention or escort officers. Forces are already civilianising their custody functions, and the Bill should provide a new impetus for that. We cannot be certain, but it is conceivable that in five years' time, civilian detention or escort officers could well be the norm.

If we look to the future, we cannot rule out the possibility that HMIC could undertake an inspection of a force that continued to employ only police officers in its custody suites. If other forces had achieved, for example, a 10 per cent. saving through civilianisation with no loss of effectiveness, the amendment would debar HMIC from commenting on the efficiency with which the police force uses its resources, or the opportunities taken to civilianise detention duties, even if established best practice across the vast majority of forces suggested that that was a good way of freeing up police officers for other duties. That is the practical effect of amendment No. 137.

Mr. Hawkins rose—

Mr. Denham: The amendment shows the difficulties of focusing in such a narrow-minded way—as in so much of the debate—on one element of the provisions, and trying to rule it out. Effectively, it is an approach that would hamper HMIC in drawing on the experience of good practice. We do not know that it is good practice today—let me make that clear. The use of escort or detention officers in an expanded role is new, so we have to wait until there is some evidence, but clearly there is a possibility that it will be shown to be efficient and effective, and it could be promoted by HMIC.

Mr. Hawkins: I am glad that the Minister added his parenthesis, because when I first alerted him to the fact that I wanted to intervene, he had not made it clear that the facts had not been established. I am glad that he has now made that concession. If he is relying on a judgment of what is best practice and what is not, will

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there not always be the danger that a Whitehall judgment may not be accurate?

Mr. Denham: We are talking about HMIC. We have to trust someone. The hon. Gentleman is in danger of arguing himself into a corner. A person who is not from the police force could form an opinion on how it is operating. It has been recognised for an enormously long time that an independent inspectorate is necessary. The inspectorate accumulates a great deal of knowledge from forces throughout the country about what is efficient and effective. As we discussed earlier, its role has been extended under the Government. Far from saying that it is wrong that the inspectorate should be able to form a view about this or other issues, we consider it an important tool in support of the Secretary of State and value the advice that we receive.

Mr. Hawkins: We have made clear our enormous admiration for the work of Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary. We are not seeking to undermine it, but the amendment would protect a force that chooses on the basis of its local judgment not to adopt the particular extra practice of the CSOs and accredited schemes that the Government are introducing. Why should a force be regarded as ineffective or inefficient because it has not adopted such a practice? Surely that matter should best be left to local judgment.

Mr. Denham: We could be discussing traffic wardens in the 1960s. If a force chose to use its police officers to issue parking tickets, instead of traffic wardens, the hon. Gentleman would expect the inspectorate to say that that was ludicrous. We have established best practice throughout the country and we do not want our police officers to undertake such work. We are not in a position to say that it has been proved that the powers that we are introducing will produce efficiency and effectiveness. There is a huge consensus that the powers will achieve that, but that has not been proven on the ground. To say, however, in 2002 that we should introduce primary legislation that would prevent the body of evidence that builds up over the years from being used by the inspectorate to provide advice and make a judgment about efficiency and effectiveness would make bad law out of the current debate about CSOs. I strongly urge the Committee to resist the amendment.

Mrs. Brooke: There is a fundamental difference between advising on good practice and making that crystal clear, and introducing a power to force local police authorities to take certain action. I am sure that the traffic warden example can be dealt with by advice, guidance, good practice and publicity, without a power being forced on the police. After all, there are circumstances in which police carry out other jobs.

Vera Baird (Redcar): If the intention is to stop something being forced on the police, is not the amendment misguided? It would stop expert inspectors saying that in a particular part of the Redcar division in, say, Grangetown, the police are not dealing effectively with litter because they do not have CSOs. The amendment would stop that being declared. It may or may not be necessary to direct that the power must be introduced, but the amendment

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would prevent inspectors from considering matters and reaching a decision.

Mrs. Brooke: The intention of the amendment is to avoid direction and tunnel vision, as much as anything. We want to ensure that a judgment is not made about deficiency or ineffectiveness simply on the grounds that the chief constable has not adopted a CSO scheme. If we examined a broader range of targets and outcomes, the point made by the hon. and learned Lady would be answered.

The adoption of CSOs must be voluntary and not in any way under duress from the Secretary of State. That is the bottom line. When I hear the justification from the Government it makes me increasingly nervous that the CSOs will be imposed. I endorse what Conservative Members have said. Although we generally welcome the Government amendments, my hon. Friend and I would like to press our amendment to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 11.

Division No. 3]

Brooke, Annette Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl Hawkins, Mr. Nick
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 MacDougall, Mr. John McGuire, Mrs. Anne Prentice, Bridget Stoate, Dr. Howard

Question accordingly negatived.

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