Police Reform Bill [Lords]

[back to previous text]

Mrs. Brooke: The three amendments strengthen the whole concept by tying the police authority into the tripartite system—or the whole picture.

Although amendment No. 144 is crucial, I shall specifically talk about amendment No. 145. The hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) said that one can consult too much, and there is some truth in that. However, the scheme's objective is to establish neighbourhood policing, which is about involving all of the relevant authorities. It is about everybody working together to look at the whole picture, so that the reasons behind, for example, antisocial behaviour can be understood. It is isolationist to have individual wardens chasing litter without any communication about how that problem can be solved; the requirement to consult strengthens local crime and disorder partnerships. The key to success is to change behaviour, as well as to stop it. That is why consultation is helpful.

Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham): I do not think that anyone would have a problem with consultation because that is how to get the best policies. However, the Liberal Democrats propose a veto on the actions of the chief constable. Is it not a radical departure from the tripartite arrangements that we have previously discussed if the police authority and other parties may veto the operational independence of the chief constable? Is the new Liberal Democrat line to tie the hands of chief constables?

Mrs. Brooke: My background as a teacher makes me want to come out with a comment, but I shall try to bite it back. I made it clear that I was addressing amendment No. 145. That is about consultation, but not holding anything up or seeking approval. I addressed that in such detail that I cannot see any problems.

I reinforce the point that amendment No. 145 would strengthen a local crime and disorder partnership. We should examine the issue holistically rather than go around saying, ''Stop, stop, stop.'' We should change behaviour as well.

Mr. Denham: The issues are fairly straightforward. Let me deal first with consultation. There is no question but that the chief officer should consult with the police authority and, indeed, local authorities. Government amendments will tidy up the definition of the principal local authority. Undoubtedly, consultation will occur among crime and disorder reduction partnerships, local authorities and the police

Column Number: 297

authority when an accreditation scheme is proposed. However, that is not the issue. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) pointed out, the issue is whether a police authority should have a veto on an operational decision by a chief constable. We rehearsed the arguments on that last week when we discussed community support officers. Consultation should take place, but a police authority should not have a veto, and we resist the amendment on that basis.

I come to the question of review. The process of drawing up the annual policing plan, which involves consultation among the local community, the chief officer and the police authority, provides an appropriate vehicle to review the success and progress of an accreditation scheme after not only the first 12 months, but every year. I am reluctant to write a requirement for a separate process to do the same thing into the Bill because police officers and others would be diverted to that activity. However, I agree with the hon. Member for Lewes that it would be helpful to examine how the accreditation scheme worked in practice and to find out whether there were any problems and whether the scheme was delivering its intended results. It is appropriate to do that through the annual policing plan. We should avoid having a bureaucratic responsibility to do something different.

A couple of things should be clarified, and we might be able to debate them at greater length when we consider other amendments. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Lewes for setting out his vision. We shall resist the idea that accredited officers who work for non-police employers should simply be merged with community support officers who work with the police. There is a good reason for having a differential between the powers and responsibilities of those officers because their accountability is clearly different.

The hon. Gentleman said in his opening remarks that it appears that almost anybody may accredit a scheme. He continued to say that that was a slight exaggeration—I think that the expression that he was looking for was ''a total travesty''. The only person who may accredit a scheme is the chief officer. The chief officer is constrained by the requirements themselves and by whether the employer of the relevant group of employees wants to participate in an accredited scheme. The chief officer's power is by no means untrammelled. Nobody except the chief officer may agree that an accreditation scheme should exist in an area.

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton): Does the Minister envisage that most of the neighbourhood warden schemes that currently exist will become accredited schemes over a period of time? Alternatively, does he expect a two-tier system of schemes in which some are accredited and some are not?

11 am

Mr. Denham: If I can rely on the hon. Gentleman's use of the phrase ''over a period of time'', I anticipate that the majority of neighbourhood warden schemes and street warden schemes will come within accreditation. It is too early to be sure how many such schemes will take advantage of additional powers,

Column Number: 298

such as issuing fixed penalty notices or dealing with alcohol, and at what stage that will happen. For example, I suspect that the power to remove abandoned vehicles will be taken up widely at a fairly early stage. When considering other CSO powers that we discussed last week, people will look at those who first try using the powers to see whether they work, and they will make a judgment on whether the powers are appropriate for their area.

The advantages to an area of having a kite mark standard through which people who carry out the role have a common badge and accreditation system and a statutory framework to link people to radio communications and information systems lead me to believe that the take up of accreditation will be widespread over a period of time, which was the phrase that the hon. Gentleman used. The public will welcome that.

Mr. Osborne: Will the Minister clarify further that no pressure will be put on local authorities and other organisations to push them into accreditation even over a period of time? Many schemes do not currently want accreditation or to be nationalised as part of a great national accreditation scheme.

Mr. Denham: There will not be pressure other than that which comes from the spread of good practice and knowledge of what works throughout the country. There will not be a national accreditation scheme because the schemes will operate at force level, chief officer level or even within part of a force. My impression—this is not from a scientific study—after talking to representatives of schemes throughout the country is that the concept of becoming accredited and having a formal legitimacy as part of the extended police family is widely welcomed.

We have always acknowledged that the greater debate is about the extent to which additional powers should be taken up as part of the accreditation system. It is possible to have an accreditation scheme that examines issues such as common training, common insignia and shared communications without adopting the full range of formal powers in the Bill.

I should make a final point. We are actively considering tabling a further amendment on Report relating to consultation on accreditation schemes. It would relate to a consultation right for the Mayor of London because of his role in several London issues. Obviously, I shall write to hon. Members if that is likely, but I thought that it would be helpful to flag up our current thinking.

Norman Baker: I am sure that the Minister's last point is a sensible idea. We look forward to his amendment on Report, although I am not sure whether fixed penalty notices should be given for falling off balconies. We shall examine the details of the amendment closely.

I turn to the Minister's response to the amendments that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole and I tabled. I did not utter a travesty, to use his words. I used poetic licence—poetic

Column Number: 299

exaggeration—to make a point and underline my worry about the direction in which the process is going.

It is insufficient to say that everything in the Bill is hunky-dory and that we need have no worries. The Minister conceded that there is a case for a review but that he does not want to build in a formal 12-month period. The danger with his informal approach is that areas in which the system works well—if such areas will exist—will be keen to have a review to pat themselves on the back and demonstrate that everything functions brilliantly and the decision to implement the system was right. An area in which the system does not work well might be tempted not to have a review in case it throws up problems, and the area might hope that if it carries on, the problems will go away and a review could be held when it would give the right results. I do not think that the Minister's informal approach will necessarily work. However, as the issues have been exhaustively discussed, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: No. 214, in page 35, line 38, leave out 'and the principal local authority for that area' and insert '; and

    (b) every local authority any part of whose area lies within the police area.

    (3A) In subsection (3)(b) ''local authority'' means—

    (a) in relation to England, a district council, a London borough council, the Common Council of the City of London or the Council of the Isles of Scilly; and

    (b) in relation to Wales, a county council or a county borough council.'.—[Mr. Denham.]

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