Police Reform Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Jones: Such people come under the control of the chief constable. Let us imagine that the chief constable was accountable to the local authority. Surely that will create confusion. The hon. Gentleman is proposing that the policing in an area should be politicised.

11.15 am

Norman Baker: The concept of policing that I set out at greater length on Second Reading would have been more simple and accountable than what is proposed in the Bill. People who exercised low-level police powers would be subject to local authority control, but they would have to go through a police-approved scheme. The chief constable would have a big say in such matters through the crime and disorder partnership. Such a concept is my preferred vision. Because it is absent, I am trying to make the best of Bill as it is drafted.

The Minister will have to deal with the fact that the only gatekeeper who will ensure that the process of private company individuals having police powers will work is the chief constable. I am sure that chief constables will look carefully at whatever scheme is proposed and that they and the police authority will do their best to monitor the situation. They are being dealt a weak hand under the Bill, as a result of which public accountability will suffer.

All political parties in the House can sign up to the majority of the Bill. It will lead to an improvement in policing.However, if the Minister introduces an element that does not command public support—lack of accountability is one possibility—that may undermine confidence in the rest of the Bill. I do not want that to happen nor I am sure does the Minister. We are concerned about a matter of principle, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman will reconsider those provisions that I consider are dangerous and ill-founded.

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire): I, too, welcome you back to the Chair, Miss Widdecombe. It will not come as a surprise either to the hon. Member for Lewes or to other members of the Committee that we do not wholly agree that the accredited schemes should operate only for local authority employees. We are not favourably inclined to such amendments. However, the hon. Gentleman has drawn attention to issues that are of concern to us, particularly that of accountability.

We are worried about how such schemes will be accountable and how they will be managed, controlled and monitored. The hon. Member for North Durham referred to monitoring, and one of the issues that I want to ask the chief constable—I mean, the Minister—[Interruption.] Everything comes to he who waits. Bearing in mind that the Government are planning to take over the powers of the chief constable, my remark was probably not as Freudian as it appeared.

How does the Minister envisage the chief constable knowing what is going on? There are to be codes of practice under clause 40. Will the hon. Gentleman share with us the contents of those codes? Our root

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worry is who will control the people in a day-to-day fashion. Who will deploy them and decide where they will operate? How will their operations be monitored? Will the local authority be responsible for private sector operations or if such activities were sub-contracted? Will the police be responsible if the local authority were not involved in the sub-contract arrangement? If such officers use the police powers that are given to them under schedule 5, will the use of those powers automatically have to be reported back to the chief constable, along the lines of, ''Here is a civilian who has used the power of a police officer,'' a statement from which events may flow?

Those are important and worrying questions to which we do not yet fully know the answers. We have discussed the complaints procedure and the role—or, in this case, lack of role—of the Independent Police Complaints Commission in previous sittings. I hope that the Minister will expand on the few sketchy words in subsection (6) that deal with how the complaints procedure will operate, and will say what element of independence will be involved when a complaint against one of those officers is considered.

I am conscious that I am straying slightly from the amendments and into matters that would normally come under a stand part debate. I hope that you will indulge me and allow me to do so, Miss Widdecombe, as the subject fits together with the issue of accountability, which the hon. Member for Lewes made the centrepiece of the amendments under discussion. The issue of training does not even appear in the clause. We are talking about people who will have considerable police powers. Will the Minister tell us about the training given to people before they are allowed to use those powers?

When we discussed the previous group of amendments, my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) made a point about the link between accredited community safety schemes and the myriad successful schemes across the country to which hon. Members of all parties have referred both in Committee and on Second Reading. Neighbourhood warden, street warden, ambassador and other terms are used to describe those involved in such schemes. I was pleased to hear the Minister tell my hon. Friend that there will be no compulsion on local authorities or others to incorporate such people into accredited community safety schemes. However, I hope that he will further explain what guidance will be issued to local authorities.

Many of those involved in neighbourhood warden type schemes have gained some experience but have very little training. According to the evidence that I have picked up, we are talking about a few days of training. There is no way, even adding the experience that some of them have gained, that they have enough to move straight into accredited community safety schemes, and to have police powers. There would need to be a lot more training involved.

I was interested to learn that new recruits to the Parks police in Kensington and Chelsea who have not come from the Metropolitan police have to undergo 10 weeks of training. I know that that is not a direct

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analogy; a Parks policeman has more power than an ACSO will. Nevertheless, 10 weeks is a benchmark against which we can measure the amount of training that ACSOs have before they get interventionist powers, including those for the confiscation of tobacco and so on.

Those are important points, and I hope that the Minister will answer them. We have no philosophical objection to local authorities using private sector sub-contractors, as some already do for street policing. I have seen that done in Camden. Nor do we object to the police directly accrediting an external organisation and making it part of the police family. However, I am concerned about accountability, the level of management control, how ACSOs use police powers and whether the chief constable is aware of how they are using them.

Mr. Paul Stinchcombe (Wellingborough) rose—

Norman Baker rose—

Mr. Paice: I give way first to the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Stinchcombe).

Mr. Stinchcombe: I listened to the hon. Gentleman's argument with great interest. Most of his questions will be answered by the arrangements into which the chief officer enters.

Mr. Paice: The hon. Gentleman is right; we certainly hope that that will be the case. However, we are here as legislators. Before we allow a Bill giving the chief constable such powers to be enacted, the least that we can do is challenge the Government about their precise intentions, not least because it is important to know what we are legislating for.

Mr. Stinchcombe: Of course the hon. Gentleman is right, but as legislators we must also provide legislation that gives the chief constable sufficient powers to enter into appropriate arrangements. The hon. Gentleman rightly refers to the breadth of those powers.

Mr. Paice: The hon. Gentleman's argument does not follow through, because a substantial part of the Bill relates to making decisions for chief constables. Part 1 of the Bill is all about telling chief constables how to run their force. The theme that the hon. Gentleman espouses does not run through the Bill.

One of the issues involved is complaints. There is total inconsistency between the vague statement in subsection (6) and the complaints procedure that we discussed for police officers and community support officers—civilians employed by the police. There will be one arrangement for a civilian employed by the police who confiscates alcohol and a completely different complaints procedure for the accredited safety officer who does so. That is not right. Although the Minister refused to accept our amendments to add to the remit of the independent commission, he owes us a duty to explain more fully the complaints procedure that he envisages, including independent scrutiny.

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I apologise for having taken a long time to give way to the hon. Member for Lewes. I was responding to the previous intervention.

Norman Baker: I understand.

Reliance on chief constables will weaken accountability further, as we shall not know what decisions chief constables are making when the Bill is passed. There may be wide variation in what chief constables do, and inevitably there will be good and bad practice. In the worst areas—by definition, there are bound to be worst areas—there will be unsatisfactory arrangements that have not been approved by Parliament.

Mr. Paice: The hon. Gentleman is right. There will certainly be huge variation, which, certainly in the early years, will in itself be a strength, inasmuch as we shall be able to find out a little more about how things work and iron out the wrinkles. Like the Minister, I hope that best practice will spread quickly under the arrangements that will ultimately be in the legislation.

I understand the view expressed by the Local Government Association, although I appreciate that the Minister may say, ''They would say that, wouldn't they?'' It is worried about the funding implications of introducing the accreditation scheme. The costs associated in training staff, monitoring performance and establishing vetting procedures cannot be met from existing budgets.

All those points relate to accountability, and some comments from the Minister about that would be helpful. Perhaps on this occasion he will rule out what he flatly refused to rule out, and effectively ruled in, when we discussed CSOs—the idea of a ring-fenced budget, to encourage the development of CSOs. I hope that he will assure us that there will not be a similar ring-fenced budget to encourage accredited community safety schemes.

Thank you for your indulgence in allowing me to stray beyond the amendments, Miss Widdecombe. All those issues are directly related to the clause and to the powers and development of accredited schemes, and I hope that the Minister will respond.

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