Police Reform Bill [Lords]

[back to previous text]

Mr. Hawkins: Welcome back to the chairmanship of our proceedings, Miss Widdecombe.

The amendments are entirely sensibly. The police made similar representations to us. The amendments are a necessary improvement to the Bill, and we are pleased that the Government tabled them.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 208, in page 134, line 38, leave out

    'a place in that area that is'

and insert 'any other place'.

No. 209, in page 134, line 40, after 'area' insert

    'or in another police area'.

No. 210, in page 134, line 40, at end insert—

    '(1A) Where a designation applies this paragraph to any person, that person may be authorised by the custody officer for any designated police station outside the relevant police area to escort a person in police detention—

    (a) from that police station to a designated police station in that area; or

    (b) from that police station to any place in that area specified by the custody officer and either back to that police station or on to another police station (whether in that area or elsewhere).'.

No. 211, in page 134, line 42, after '(1)' insert 'or (1A)'.

No. 212, in page 135, line 25, after '35' insert

    'or (Police powers for contracted-out staff)'.

No. 213, in page 135, line 29, at end insert—

    '(1A) In this Schedule ''a designation'' means a designation under section 35.

Column Number: 293

    (1B) In Parts 3 and 4 of this Schedule ''a designation'' also includes a designation under section (Police powers for contracted-out staff).'.—[Mr. Denham.]

Schedule 4, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 36

Community safety accreditation schemes

Norman Baker (Lewes): I beg to move amendment No. 144, in page 35, line 37, leave out 'consult with' and insert 'obtain the approval of'.

The Chairman: With this we may discuss the following: Government amendment No. 214.

Amendment No. 145, in page 35, line 38, after 'and', insert

    'before giving such approval, the police authority in question must consult'.

Amendment No. 146, in page 36, line 23, at end insert—

    '(6A) It shall be the responsibility of any police authority which has approved a scheme under this section to undertake a full review of the workings of the scheme 12 months after its establishment and in particular to—

    (a) seek the views of the principal local authority for the area; and

    (b) monitor the impact of the scheme on public confidence in the force maintained by that authority.'.

Norman Baker: I apologise for being marginally late this morning. I was accompanying a school in my constituency on a walking bus, which arrived on time. Unfortunately, the train from Lewes to London did not, hence my slight delay.

It would help the Committee if I were to set out briefly our vision for policing in so far as it affects accredited officers, who are the subject of the clause and the amendment. My colleagues and I have said on several occasions that we would like a system that is as simple and accountable as possible. One of our concerns is that the arrangements that the Government would like to put in place would lead to myriad bodies with unclear responsibilities and differing powers. The public would not know where they stood.

We are keen to have a two-tier system. One tier would consist of properly trained full-time—and part-time, if necessary—police officers and specials. The second would consist of everyone else, and would include CSOs, accredited community safety officers and traffic wardens, all of whom would have the same powers. That would have the benefit of simplicity and accountability. However, that is not what is proposed in the Bill. Through the amendment, we are trying to make the best of a bad job. I hope that the Minister does not think that it is unduly impolite to put it in those terms, but that is how we think of it.

Amendment No. 144 seeks to increase accountability. I will not speak for long on the subject because we discussed it when we considered the accountability of CSOs. In some respects, accredited officers are one stage further removed in the accountability process than CSOs proper. It seems from the Bill that virtually anyone can accredit officers to do virtually anything in any area. Although that is

Column Number: 294

a slight exaggeration, there is considerably more flexibility in this scheme than is afforded to the arrangements for CSOs in previous clauses.

The Government propose that accredited officers will be employable by the private sector and will operate in the interests of the private sector in many ways. We see that in more detail in Amendment No. 12, in the next group, which increases the need for accountability and approval by the democratically accountable police authority. That is why amendment 144 seeks to require the chief of police to obtain approval from the police authority rather than simply consulting it. Otherwise, the following scenario is possible. A group of people, a private company that may be controversial in some respects, may wish to have accredited officers. The chief of police may agree and even though the police authority may be wholly opposed, it could not do very much about it.

10.45 am

As the Minister said last week—and I agree—any chief officer would be foolish to go down that road against the clear wishes of the police authority. Nevertheless, the Bill as drafted would allow that to happen. It is better to prevent errors and problems than trying to correct them subsequently—perhaps by getting rid of chief officers using the wide powers that the Minister is giving himself. I hope that the Minister will be sympathetic to that argument.

I welcome Government Amendment No. 214, which increases consultation. It seems to go further than our amendment No. 145, so I have no problem with it. Amendment No. 146 seeks a review period after 12 months. The Government propose to embark on a new form of policing that is a radical departure. It involves the private sector far more than previously and involves a new tier of officers or wardens, or whatever the public comes to call them. It also involves a range of different and new powers for people who did not have them before. Under those circumstances, it is not unreasonable to have a requirement to stop and take stock after 12 months, and see whether the scheme is working.

We should see whether the scheme has delivered a safer environment. Do people feel better on the streets? Has it dealt with the problems of vandalism and disturbance that we all want to see tackled? Or, has it led to a withdrawal of police in favour of second tier officers, or whatever the official term will turn out to be? Has it led to problems for those people in their interface with the public? Has it led to the police being called to deal with more argy-bargy between accredited officers and members of the public? In other words, has it exacerbated the situation that it is meant to deal with?

The latter is a pessimistic scenario, and the optimistic one may turn out to be true—doubtless that is what the Minister will argue. Either way, I am sure that he will accept that the scheme is a radical departure. Under such circumstances, it is not unreasonable to ask for a review after 12 months, which I hope would involve not only the police authority but the community at large. Indeed, if the Minister is right and the officers will be welcome in the

Column Number: 295

community, he should welcome a review, because it would help cement the relationship, ensure that the foundations that have been built are secure, and that the roots go deeper into the ground.

It is not unreasonable to ask for a review. In many ways, to refuse it would be a sign of weakness and a lack of confidence that the system will work. For those reasons, I hope that the Minister will accept the logic of a review. At various junctures in their contributions to the Bill, the Conservatives have suggested pilot schemes. In a sense, our amendment would make this a pilot scheme to be reviewed after 12 months. We should proceed carefully, slowly and with proper monitoring procedures rather than go hell for leather and regret mistakes afterwards.

Mr. Hawkins: My party has more sympathy with some of what the hon. Member for Lewes has said on this matter than with several of his other proposals. At the end of his remarks, he rightly stressed that Conservative Committee members have repeatedly said that this entire new system should be properly piloted. If we were to persuade the Government to go down the route that we have consistently suggested of having a few pilot schemes that are sufficient to assess the system, it would be desirable to have a review of those schemes. Therefore, we have a lot of sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman has said about reviews.

However, we are concerned that many of those who have been looking at the way that community safety schemes have been operating, and the way that the Government's existing system of links between police authorities and local authorities are working, feel that there is a danger that the whole thing could be consulted to death. One can have too much of a good thing, and there is a lot of feeling—particularly among Conservatives in the local authority world—that so much consulting is going on that not much action can be taken. Therefore, we have less sympathy with the suggestion that everything must be consulted on, and approved of, before there is any action.

However, we appreciate that the hon. Members for Lewes and for Mid-Dorset and North Poole have genuine motives for proposing the amendments, and we will listen with interest to what the Minister says about them. The Bill talks about police authorities being consulted, and that might not make much difference in practice. The Liberal Democrats propose that the Bill should specify that there must be prior approval: if there were a big difference between having a consultation and having to obtain prior approval, that might indicate that there is something seriously wrong with the relationship between the chief officer and his police authority, because if a chief officer is going to be consulting anyway, he might not be willing to go ahead if the result of that is unfavourable.

I accept that it makes things much more explicit if the Bill refers specifically to prior approval. However, we have worries about issues such as consultation to death and consultation with everybody. Many of us have come across situations in which the views of the majority party in a local authority about the best way

Column Number: 296

to move forward are not in accordance with those of the chief constable, or many members of the police authority. We would not want the requirement for still further consultation between the police authority and the local authority to strangle the whole thing at birth, and to lead to a log-jam. Perhaps the Minister will refer to some of those points?

We have much sympathy with what the Liberal Democrats have to say on reviewing, but we also want the Government to move much further in our direction by agreeing that the new system should be properly piloted first.

Previous Contents Continue

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

©Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 25 June 2002