Police Reform Bill [Lords]

[back to previous text]

Norman Baker: I thank the Minister for his considered response. He explained his doubts about the new clause as drafted, which is perfectly fair. With respect, however, I have not heard much by way of alternative, other than confirmation that he recognises the problem. I had hoped to hear about his route map for dealing with the problem, if not by the means that we set out in the new clause.

I do not accept that subsection (2)(b) of the new clause would involve what the Minister referred to as an enormous layer of bureaucracy, but there are other ways of achieving the same end. For example, it would

Column Number: 441

be possible for police grants to be increased or decreased for particular authorities depending on how far adrift they were from the average percentage of their expenditure paid on pensions. That would be one option. Alternatively, it could operate in the same way as business rates—an amount is collected and then redistributed on a per capita basis. There are other methods that the Minister could examine.

Clearly, the present system is running way ahead of inflation and is therefore affecting front-line policing, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole said. It is also significantly disadvantaging police authorities. Turning to Sussex, the area that I know best, Sussex police authority spends 16 per cent. of its annual budget—about £30 million a year—on pensions. I have calculated that, if Sussex paid the national average for pensions—which nobody has denied is increasing—it would save £4 million a year. It is paying an extra £4 million because of officers who have transferred down to the coast. That is a penalty that people in my part of the country should not be paying—I do not see why we should.

Before very long, if not this afternoon, the Government must provide a means by which more money is found, although it would not have to be the whole lot. I did not intend that the Government should suddenly find £35 billion or whatever figure the Minister mentioned, and I apologise if the new clause is badly worded and the Minister misunderstood. I imagine that the money could be found by redirecting the police authority grant or by reclaiming money from police authorities. That is what I had in mind in subsection (2)(a) of the new clause. He needs to find a way of dealing with the injustice faced by authorities such as Sussex and with the overall increase.

Mr. Denham: I do not want to prolong the issue, but it is not quite as simple as the hon. Gentleman suggests. First, in terms of swings and roundabouts, if Sussex were £4 million worse off compared with the average, somebody somewhere is £4 million better off. I do not see them coming forward in a rush volunteering to cut their services by £4 million, so we have a real problem.

Secondly, once one begins to unpick the costs of an officer, it does not stop at pensions. Unofficially, I have heard people in London say that the Metropolitan police trains officers for police forces across England and Wales. They question why the Met cannot reclaim the cost of training officers who work in the Met for five years and then go and work for 25 years somewhere else. I caution the hon. Gentleman about the idea that it would be simple to go down the road of working out the real costs of employing a police officer. Many others would like to leap into that debate.

Norman Baker: I agree with the Minister that it is not simple. There are no simple solutions. I have tried to raise issues and suggest a way forward, and the Minister has rightly replied. The idea of taking from one and giving to another is not unusual for the Government, however, it has applied to council

Column Number: 442

funding throughout the past 10 or 20 years, on which there has been transitional rate relief—when the Government decided to re-allocate the local government funding formula, for example. It is an established practice.

I do not wish to prolong the debate. I have raised the issues that I think are important. In conclusion, I tell the Minister that doing nothing is not an option, even though doing something might be difficult and could throw up problems. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New clause 6

Special constables

    '.—(1) The chief officer of police of a police force maintained for a police area who appoints special constables in accordance with section 27 of the Police Act 1996 shall submit to the police authority for that area a draft scheme relating to the appointment, deployment and progression of such special constables.

    (2) A draft scheme submitted under this section shall include the chief officer's proposals for—

    (a) the recruitment, appointment, retention and progression of special constables;

    (b) the arrangements for the provision of training for special constables;

    (c) the arrangements for the provision of equipment for special constables;

    (d) the arrangements for the making of bounty payments to such special constables and the circumstances in which special constables shall be eligible for such payments; and

    (e) an estimate of the costs to the police fund kept by the police authority of the scheme as a whole and each of the elements (a) to (d) above.

    (3) Before approving any such scheme, the police authority may, after consulting the chief officer, revise or amend it.

    (4) The chief officer may from time to time submit draft proposals for a revised or modified scheme to the police authority for its approval.'.—[Norman Baker.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

4 pm

Norman Baker: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The Chairman: With this we may discuss the following: New clause 7—Bounty payments to special constables—

    '.—(1) Special constables appointed by a chief officer of a police force in accordance with section 27 of the Police Act 1996 shall receive an annual cash bounty based on the number of hours operationally deployed as a special constable.

    (2) Police authorities shall be responsible for the arrangements for making bounty payments to special constables.

    (3) Payments to special constables shall be calculated and made by the police authority which is responsible for the special constable.

    (4) Payment shall be at the end of the each financial year.'.

New clause 21—Special constables (No. 2)—

    '(1) The chief officer of police of a police force maintained for a police area shall take all reasonable steps to appoint special constables in accordance with section 27 of the 1996 Act (special constables) in the proportion of one special police officer for each four regular police officers serving in that force area.

    (2) The chief officer shall submit to the police authority for that area a draft scheme which shall include his proposals for—

Column Number: 443

    (a) the recruitment, appointment and retention of special police officers;

    (b) the arrangements for the provision of training for special police officers, such arrangements being in accordance with the requirements of any code of practice issued under subsection (6);

    (c) the arrangements for the provision of equipment for special police officers; and

    (d) an estimate of the costs to the police fund maintained by that police authority of the scheme as a whole and each of the elements set out in paragraphs (a) to (c) above and the cost of remuneration of special police officers provided for in subsection (5) below.

    (3) Before approving any such scheme the police authority may, after consulting the chief officer, revise or amend it.

    (4) The chief officer may from time to time submit draft proposals for a revised or modified scheme to the police authority for its approval.

    (5) After consultation with the Police Negotiating Board, the Secretary of State shall determine an amount of remuneration to be paid to special police officers and other conditions of service, provided that a special police officer may elect to serve without being remunerated.

    (6) After consultation with the Police Advisory Board for England and Wales and such other persons as he thinks fit, the Secretary of State shall issue a code of practice specifying national standards for the training of special police officers and the competences which they are to acquire.'.

Norman Baker: Special constables have been the great unspoken in our debates. The Government have identified a need to get more people in uniform on the beat and onto our streets to help generally with the fight against crime. Under the Bill, they have chosen to do so by introducing CSOs and accredited community safety officers. They have also set a figure for an increased number of police officers across the country and, of course, we support that. However, unless I have missed something of dramatic importance, the Government do not have a strategy for increasing—or even stabilising—the number of special constables.

The beauty of special constables is that they are properly trained, genuine, 100 per cent. police officers. To the public, they seem no different to an ordinary police officer; indeed, they are no different, as they have the same powers. We have every confidence in special constables and the work that they do. They are well respected by the community for voluntarily giving their time to help tackle crime in that key way. I am surprised that, given the Government's intention to get more police and people in uniform on the beat, they have not addressed how to increase, or even arrest the rapid decline in the numbers of special constables.

A parliamentary answer that I received—at least, I think that it was me who received it; if not, I apologise to the hon. Member who did—stated that in 1971, there were 29,992 special constables. By 1981, the figure had halved to 14,604. There was an increase in the next 10 years, and by December 1991 there were 18,072. By March 1997, two months before the Government came into power, the figure had crept up marginally to 19,874. Since then, there has been quite a dramatic fall. In September 2001, there were 12,068 special constables. That is a drop of more than 7,000, and the fewest that there have ever been.

I do not understand why there has been such a drop in numbers of special constables in the past four years;

Column Number: 444

perhaps the Minister can tell me. Perhaps they feel devalued, or think that there are insurance issues or that they are not being supported in other ways. That drop means that there are 7,000 fewer properly trained people in uniform out on the streets. That is a serious issue. In my area of Sussex, the figure has dropped from 465 special constables in 1997 to 301. That is a significant change.

We need to address that, both under the Bill and as part of the Government's general strategy. We must ensure that special constables are and consider themselves properly valued, and we should have a method of increasing their numbers. Whatever the arguments about CSOs and others, I am sure that if police forces across the country could get hold of lots of special constables to help them, it would take the pressure off the need for the entirely new system of CSOs and ACSOs that the Government want to bring in.

Special constables are one part of the police family the Minister talks about that appear to have been neglected, for reasons that are not entirely clear. New clause 6 would require each authority and force to develop a clear strategy for the employment and deployment of special constables, including how they are equipped and trained.

New clause 7 provides for bounty payments to be made to special constables. I do not pretend that special constables could, or should, make a living out of those because they have other duties and occupations during the week. However, such payments would be a recognition of the value that the police, the public and Members of Parliament—if we accepted the new clause—place on special constables. It would also make a difference for those on the edge who wish to contribute by being special constables but who cannot afford to do so owing to the time that they have available. Consequently, our special constable numbers might be increased. Most importantly, recognition of the valuable work done by special constables would assist recruitment.

Returning to new clause 6, it is important to have a system through which police authorities and forces have a coherent strategy for the use and deployment of specials. Such people should not wander in off the streets to be told, ''Thanks very much for turning up. What can you do tonight?'' They should be part of the integral strategy of how the police cover an area. That is not the case at present. If the system of specials is to be more structured, the other side of the coin is that there must be recognition of the inconvenience to which specials might be put by guaranteeing that they will turn up on a specific occasion.

I do not believe that the proposals would represent a new financial burden for the police, in case the Minister wishes to deploy that as an argument against them. Indeed, if we managed to attract many more special constables, we might make a saving because it would obviate the need to employ extra CSOs. We could save on public expenditure. Has the Minister considered that point?

I hope that the Minister will examine new clauses 6 and 7 carefully. If he does not like them, I hope that he

Column Number: 445

will not simply point out their deficiencies, but present his strategy for ensuring that the number of specials increases and that they are properly valued by this House and people elsewhere.

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 27 June 2002