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Lord Carter: My Lords, at a convenient moment after 3.30 p.m., my noble friend Lady Ashton of Upholland will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement which is being made in another place on the Ofsted annual report. It is hoped that the Statement will be repeated after the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, and before the speech of my noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester in the Second Reading debate on the Police Reform Bill.
Perhaps it would be helpful if I gave a short explanation about the matter. At Second Reading of the Export Control Bill a number of concerns were raised by noble Lords. They concerned the way that sustainable development criteria were dealt with in the Bill. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott of Foscote, also raised some significant points concerning the drafting of the schedule to the Bill. To
I have also placed in the Library of the House a briefing note explaining the effect of the key amendments to assist noble Lords further in their consideration of the amendments. As these amendments involve a significant re-ordering in the clauses and a redrafting of the schedule, I thought that it was important that all these amendments should be tabled together so that noble Lords can fully understand their impact. The amendments that we have tabled today have most impact on Clauses 5, 7 and 8 and the schedule to the Bill. My purpose in seeking agreement to this order of consideration is to give noble Lords a reasonable amount of time to consider the amendments.
The order of consideration, if accepted, will mean that on Thursday we shall consider Clauses 1 to 4, Clause 6 and Clause 9. These clauses contain the key order-making powers of the Bill. There will be many important issues to debate on them, but they are not greatly affected by the amendments. The order of consideration, if accepted, will also mean that we shall consider Clauses 5, 7 and 8 and the schedule to the Bill on the second day of Committee. Noble Lords will therefore have more time to consider them.
The Police Reform Bill must be seen in a wider context than just the Bill itself. Last December, the Government set out a wide-ranging programme of reform in the White Paper Policing a New Century: A Blueprint for Reform, which was the subject of a Statement in your Lordships' House.
The single most important measure of success of the reform programme is whether the changes that we are taking forward with the police service will make a real and visible difference to the quality of life of
It is clear from the responses to the White Paper that the police service accepts that challenge. There is widespread recognition from the police staff associations and the Association of Police Authorities that policing cannot stand still and we must put aside the mentality that nothing can be done. Much has already been done. The British Crime Survey of 2001 recorded an overall reduction in crime of 12 per centthe largest annual fall in the 20 years of the survey. We all owe a debt of gratitude to the overwhelming majority of dedicated and professional police officers and support staff for that success. It is an example of all that is best in public service.
However, crime is still far too high and the recent fall in crime has not been matched by a commensurate fall in the fear of crime, so there is much still to do. To succeed, we need a more professional service, better led, better trained, better equipped and working in partnership with others. I repeat that the Police Reform Bill is not the only vehicle to move forward the reform agenda. Other measures are being taken through administrative and other means, many of which were set out in the White Paper.
This spring, we have a record number of police officers in post. By spring next year, we expect to have 130,000 officers in post. Funding for the police is up by 20 per cent over the current three-year spending period. The Police Standards Unit has been established and its first director appointed. There is a new Police Leadership Development Board. We have already established the Police Skills and Standards Organisation, and the Central Police Training and Development Authority is to be launched in April.
We have also secured agreement in principleI watch my words carefully herewith all sides on the Police Negotiating Board to a package of reforms on police pay and conditions. That is all that I propose to say today on that matter, which is not covered by the Bill but which will be the subject of a ballot tomorrow. We have worked closely with the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Association of Police Authorities and others in developing the proposals in the White Paper and the Bill. We continue to work in partnership as we move towards implementation.
Briefly, I shall go through the parts of the Bill. I understand that some parts are probably more contentious and will be subject to more debate than others during our subsequent proceedings. Part 1 refers to,
We also need to address the frustrations faced by officers doing their best in difficult circumstancesfrustrations caused by excessive bureaucracy, poor information technology, having to cover for colleagues on sick leave and poor support from other local agencies. The new framework that we are setting up will help to deliver user-friendly, compatible IT systems, a common, rigorous approach to management of sickness and effective local partnerships. We want the focus to be on improving performance and delivering a police service of the highest quality, not on centralising or politicising the police service.
The provisions in Part 1 build on, not replace, the framework of the Police Act 1996. We value the tripartite structure and respective roles of the Home Secretary, the chief officers and the police authorities. Those will remain essentially as now. There will continue to be 43 police forces, operating under the direction and control of 43 chief constables and accountable locally to 43 police authorities. But, at the end of the day, the Home Secretary is accountable to Parliament for the overall efficiency and effectiveness of the service and, as such, must be able to make a difference in his office. We must focus on priorities that will deliver a better service to the public.
The Home Secretary plans to publish an annual national policing plan. The plan will set out the Government's strategic priorities for policing over a three-year period. It will include the Home Secretary's objectives for police authorities and plans for issuing guidance and codes of practice and for making regulations. The plan will also set out other priorities, such as in the area of science and technology. In drawing up the plan, the Government will work closely with our tripartite partners and other stakeholders. As suggested by the Association of Police Authorities, we propose to set up a non-statutory national policing forum as a focal point for discussion of the national policing plan and thereafter to review its progress.
In addition to setting out the strategic priorities at national level, we shall also be strengthening police authorities' capacity to plan for the medium to long term. Many authorities already plan beyond the one year covered by existing police plans. The Bill will imbed good practice by requiring police authorities to produce three-year strategy plans that must be consistent with the national policing plan.
Part 1 also establishes all-important machinery for delivering high standards. The White Paper set out a three-tiered approach for identifying and promulgating good practice: regulations, codes of practice and guidance. Regulations are needed where it is essential for effective policing that all forces act in the same way, for example, for common information technology and communications systems. Codes of practice are appropriate where there are important practices that should be in evidence in all forces, but with some scope for local variation to take account of
The process will be overseen by the Police Standards Unit, which has a key role in identifying good practice that delivers improvement in performance. The standards unit will commission the National Centre for Policing Excellence, which will be part of the Central Police Training and Development Authority, to advise on policy to be enshrined in regulations and draft codes of practice. ACPO will be centrally involved in that work, as will others with relevant experience of issues under consideration.
The onus will continue to be on individual chief constables to manage their force efficiently and effectively and on the local police authority to ensure that that happens. But where there is clear evidence from the inspectorate of constabulary, the standards unit or elsewhere that that is not the case, the Home Secretary cannot stand idly by and do nothing. In the last resort, it must be open to the Home Secretary to ensure that remedial measures are taken to raise performance to an acceptable level. That will be especially important where there is consensus about best practice and the force's failure to implement it has led to adverse performance in a given area.
The Bill does not provide for the taking over of the management of a force, or of a basic command unit, or for sending in "hit squads". I draw your Lordships' attention to proposed new subsection (8) in Clause 5, which is worth having continually uppermost in our minds. It states:
Part 2 of the Bill deals with complaints and misconduct. It establishes the independent police complaints commission and a new system for the investigation of complaints against the police and police support staff. Arrangements will also provide for the investigation of serious conduct matters where no complaint is made. That is nothing new; it follows
I shall be brief about this matter. The new system will deliver greater openness and certainly better accessibility for complainants and greater independence. Greater openness will be achieved by the presumption in favour of the maximum disclosure of information to the complainant, subject to a sensitivity test. There will be improved access, facilitated by allowing a representative of an aggrieved person or an independent group to make a complaint on his or her behalf.
The position of complainants will also be strengthened by new rights of appeal at three levels. The complainant will be able to appeal to the commission against the refusal of a force to record his or her complaint. Where a complainant has agreed to follow the local resolution process, he may appeal if that process has not been properly used. At the end of the investigation, a complainant may appeal on the outcome, on the question of disclosure of sufficient information and on the proposed disciplinary action, if any, against the officer concerned.
The complaints commission will be the guardian of the new system. It will ensure greater independence by having oversight of all serious cases or cases with the potential for high public interest. In the case of the more serious complaints, including allegations of serious corruption or racist conduct or involving the death or serious injury of a member of the public, the commission will take over either management or supervision of the police investigation. In the most serious cases, the commission itself will take on the investigation, particularly where there is a high degree of public interest.
The commission will have its own body of independent investigators with all necessary police powers. It will be entitled to employ whomsoever it chooses; there will be no bar, save for the degree of competence. It will be in control of its own body of independent investigators. At the end of an investigation, if the commission is not satisfied with the action taken by the force, it can intervene in disciplinary proceedings by presenting or instructing counsel on the case against an officer. Taken together, those reforms should result in a complaints system in which the police and those who have a grievance against the police can have full confidence.
I accept that I have been extremely brief in explaining the new system and how it differs from the present system. We imply no criticism of individual members of the Police Complaints Authorityfar from it. We wish to give them a greater role.
Part 3 relates to the removal, suspension and disciplining of police officers. It must be read in the context of our wider proposals for building strong and effective leadership in the police force. The White Paper set out measures for nurturing top quality leadership at all levels, through better selection procedures, better training and improved arrangements for professional performance appraisals, including at the highest levels. It is likely to be only very exceptional circumstances
The existing procedures, provided for in the 1996 Act, are cumbersome and unduly restrictive. They provide only for the retirement of a chief officer in the interests of efficiency and effectiveness. There may be occasions on which retirement is not the appropriate course. Part 3 provides for the alternative of resignation. Whichever route is takenresignation or retirementthe process can necessarily take a long time to complete. By its nature, such action is initiated only in very grave circumstances. Allowing such a situation to continue for any time could significantly impair the efficiency and effectiveness of the force. Accordingly, Part 3 provides for the suspension of a chief officer by the police authority, pending its consideration of an appropriate course of action and, thereafter, pending completion of the removal process. As under the existing legislation, the Home Secretary would, as a last resort, be able to call upon a police authority to exercise its powers of removal and suspension.
Chapter 1 of Part 4 deals with the exercise of police powers by civilians. It is generally accepted that the police cannot fight crime and the fear of crime alone. To face down anti-social, loutish behaviour and reduce the fear of crime that such behaviour instils, we must provide more visible policing in town centres and housing estates. Many public, voluntary and private bodies already employ a variety of personnel, including neighbourhood, street and park wardens and shopping centre security staff, who contribute to community safety. Part 4 builds on the work of such groups.
We must also make the most effective use of police officers' time. Last year, we published the findings of a study of how 400 officers spent their time on duty. I think that it was called The Diary of a Police Officer. The study found that officers spent almost as much time in the police station as on the street. The figure was 43 per cent. Of the remaining 57 per cent of their time, when they were out on the street, only 17 per cent was spent on what was colloquially called by the consultants "reassurance patrolling". Most of that was in cars. There is a big gap to fill in reassurance patrolling. Much of the time in the police station is spent on preparing prosecution files and paperwork. Like many Members of this House and the other House, I have done my full night shift with the policenine hours, it wasand I saw the amount of time that was spent on paperwork back in the station after we had picked people up in the middle of the night.
One way of ensuring that a higher proportion of a police officer's time is spent on the front line is by making greater use of police support staff. That is nothing new. Already, there are 55,000 support staff in the police service, many performing functions previously undertaken by police officers. Greater civilianisation will have the desired effect only if support staff can exercise appropriate police powers.
Community support officers will support the work of police officers by providing an enhanced visible policing presence. Their role is focused on deterring and, where appropriate, tackling low-level anti-social behaviour and nuisance. Community support officers will receive full training and be equipped with limited powers, including powers to issue fixed penalty notices and to require a person's name and address in certain clearly defined circumstances. We do not expect community support officers to get themselves into positions of conflict when discharging their functions, but there must be some way of enforcing their powers. Accordingly, the Bill provides that if a person has failed to supply their name and address or has provided false details, the community support officer may detain that person for up to 30 minutes, pending the arrival of a constable. If necessary, the community support officer could exercise reasonable force to effect the detention.
Part 4 provides for chief officers, in conjunction with the local police authority and other local partners, to establish community safety accreditation schemes. Chief officers maynot willaccredit individual community safety officers employed by local authorities and other agencies.
Accredited persons would also be able to exercise a range of powers, albeit more limited than those of community support officers. They would be able to address community safety issues in co-operation with the local police. Before any powers were conferred on accredited persons, the chief police officer and employer of that person would need to agree, the employer being, for instance a local authority or perhaps the management of a shopping centre.
There would be direct linkage with the police and that would enhance the credibility and effectiveness of accredited organisations. It is not policing on the cheap. It is putting a more visible policing reassurance presence on the streets of this country. Many of our police services could make good use of it. They are not required to do so. Some chief constables will not want to use the service, others will. Therefore in the near future we shall have the opportunity of seeing such work in action. People will be uniformed and trained for the functions and powers that they can exercise, which will be extremely limited in comparison with those of a police constable.
Part 4 also contains provisions for modifying and supplementing police powers. I was reminded by a Member of the other place earlier today, for example, that it confers the power on a police constable, in certain carefully defined circumstances, to obtain a blood sample from a driver without the driver's consent. Normally consent is required. But there have been a number of instances where a person has been killed or seriously injured in an accident, but it has not been possible to take a specimen from the driver because the driver has either been unconscious or so injured as to be unable to give consent. That has meant that there has been no evidence available to support an appropriate drink-driving prosecution and it cannot be right that people can evade being accountable for their actions in that way.
The Bill will allow a blood sample to be taken from such a driver. Subsequently he would be asked if he consented to its analysisobviously two samples would be taken. I stress that clinical care of the driver in those circumstances would be paramount. By definition the driver is unconscious or severely injured, whether or not there has been another death.
That part of the Bill also tackles the issue of alarm and distress caused to local residents as a result of having their roads and open spaces turned into unofficial racetracks. When I read the supplement to the Bill in that regard it reminded me of a quarry site in my former constituency which, every Saturday and Sunday afternoon, became a wonderful track with its ups and downs for motorcycles. It was nice for the cyclists. It kept them off the roads. They were safe. But it was murder and mayhem for people locally and, what is more, nobody could do anything about it. The owner of the land was hundreds of miles away and the police said it was nothing to do with them; they could do nothing. The Bill attempts to deal with such situations by giving the police more effective powers to put an immediate stop to anti-social use of vehicles. It will enable vehicles to be seized quickly by the police and the owner to be charged the appropriate removal and storage fee.
The Bill contains some technical adjustments to the role of the Ministry of Defence Police, which we debated in a recent Bill, and puts the inspection of MDP officers on a statutory footing. The miscellaneous part of the Bill contains some important measures, and I do not denigrate them in any way by saying they are contained in that section. It removes the anachronistic bar on the recruitment of foreign nationals into the police service. As a consequence there is a change in the oath such people would swear, whether or not they be Commonwealth citizens. It simply replaces the words in the oath of allegiance from,
The Bill introduces changes in the way the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the National Crime Squad recruit staff. It also opens up the post of the director general of NCIS to non-police officers in recognition of its multi-agency status.
FinallyI regret this but it is a necessary part of police legislationwe intend to bring forward at the appropriate time government amendments to strengthen the effectiveness of the anti-social behaviour orders. That is a vital part of the Bill for Members both of this House and the other place. We want to extend the use of such orders to registered social landlords and the British Transport Police. We want to introduce a system of interim ASBOs so that communities can be protected pending the outcome of a full hearing. We want to enable anti-social behaviour orders to travel with the people on whom they have been served. That will ensure that people cannot escape the consequences of such an order by moving from one area to another. We also propose to explore whether or not, to save time, there is a role for county courts in making orders when they are already dealing with an eviction notice or other civil proceedings against an individual.
The police reform agenda focuses on giving individuals and communities the police service they expect: a service that is of the highest quality, responsive to their needs and fully accountable. It is not a Bill for centralising the police force. It is not a Bill enabling the Home Secretary to take over the powers of the police, nor to allow the Home Secretary to interfere in the operational structure of the police service. I commend the Bill to the House.
The first, and perhaps the most important one, is an expression of thanks to all existing members of the police force, be they active policemen or civilians working for the police. While as politicians we are wont occasionally to criticise their deeds, the fact is that they have served and no doubt will continue to serve the community well.
I echo the Minister's desire for a more professional and effective service, although I found that sentiment just slightly at variance with Part 4 of the Bill, which seems to reduce to a considerable degree some aspects of the professionalism of policing. Of course, anything in the Bill which will help to improve data processing throughout all branches of the police force, and communications not merely within the police force but between the police force and other emergency services, is welcome. It is a preposterous situation when the police are called to an accident, have to call for a fire engine, and the fire engine may be only two miles away but the police cannot talk to it to tell the fire officers where they are. Provisions to improve that situation must be good, and if such outcomes arise from the Bill they are wholly to be welcomed.
But the Bill contains other aspects. The Minister rightly drew attention to the way in which the Bill will be operated. I know and respect the Minister; and I know of, and respect, his right honourable friend in another place. So I do not concern myself too much with the possibility that they will run amok with the powers in the Bill. But the duties of this House are different. We must consider not merely the way in which the Bill will be used by the present incumbent of the office, but also the way in which its powers could be used by someone else who may not be so honourable or straightforward. In that regard we see some problems.
We need to face the fact that public aspirations for the police are somewhat ambivalent and to some degree contradictory. On the one hand, communities wish to have community policingpolicemen on the beat. To the extent that the Bill does anything to improve that, it must be welcome. It gives people a much enhanced sense of security and well-being; it helps to prevent many lesser crimesmuggings, vandalism and so on; and it increases the number of arrests. We all feel better when we see a policeman on the street.
On the other hand, we also expect the police to deal with more serious crimes. In a sense, there is a war between the criminals and normal, honest society, for which we all pay. It is immensely expensive. For instance, the global value of containers and their contents stolen each year is greater than the cost of the total value of the damage done on 11th September. That relates only to stolen containers. The cost of heroin to this country is about £4 billion per annum. That money financed very nicely a long criminal chain all the way back to Afghanistan and represented a considerable proportion of government income in that country.
When I look at Part 1 of the Bill, I think back over the constitutional arrangements in the police force that I grew up with when I was in local government. The old tripartite arrangements were clearly understood by everyone. All police authorities were responsible to the Home Secretary, who looked after them in many ways. As the representative of government, he provided most of the money to the force. We need to recognise that. I have always believed strongly that he who pays the piper calls the tune.
Within that framework, each police authority was properly the representative of the community police. That is a very important function. It is the key which makes British policing acceptable. It saves us from some of the problems experienced by other countries with much more national police forces, which can lead to occasional outbreaks of tension of the worst kind. The local community, of course, supplied the balance of the funding, and that was critical.
The third person in the tripartite arrangement was the chief constable, who had operational and administrative control. All of those parts have worked well together and, with the help of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary, have developed and changed very well with the times.
There was some erosion of that position under the terms of the 1996 Act, which gave the Secretary of State, after consultation with police authorities and chief constables, power to set objectives; power to set performance targets; power to issue codes of practice for the discharge of functions by police authorities; power to require inspections of specific actions by a police authority in the light of an adverse report; power to direct minimum budget; power to require dismissal of chief constables; power to require reports and statistics. One might think that that was a fairly long list by way of recompense for paying the piper. It began a trend towards a greater central possibility.
That list is fairly comprehensive, and one could argue that the Home Office no longer feels any need to pay regard to the Government's lip-service to devolution because the Bill adds to the list of interventionsnot greatly, but in critical ways. It adds to the Secretary of State's power to prepare a national plan and to require all local plans to conform with it.
The Home Secretary will have power to prepare codes of practice with chief officers, after consultation with the Central Police Training and Development Authority, which, as the Minister has just explained, is a new body established under the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001, but which is not yet in being. We hopehope is the only word that we can usethat that body will be effective, that it will work well and that it will do a great deal to improve standards in the police force, but we do not know. It seems odd not to involve HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, which is closely linked with the Home Office and the Home Secretary and, in a different way, with the local police authorities and chief constables.
The Bill gives the Home Secretary the power to require an inspection of a part of the force and, if a report is adverse, he can direct the authority on specific action. The Home Secretary can even bypass the police authority and direct the chief constable on a plan of action, thereby breaking the conventional lines of communication. I am grateful to the Minister for explaining that there will be direct exclusion from operational interference. It is important that that exclusion is maintained. However, if the plans are too detailed and lead to inconsistency, these additional powers could damage policing in certain areas.
Micro-managing from the centreand the idea that Whitehall knows bestdoes not work. One need only consider matters such as education, health and transport to see that the one-size-fits-all approach that a national plan produces does not recognise the reality of what happens on the ground. Can one really compare the Metropolitan Police or Manchester police with forces in Cumbria or in Devon and Cornwall, or perhaps in the smallest authority, Warwickshire? At the basic police command unit level, can one equate Westminster with Merton, or, in my own authority, a BCU in south Essex with a BCU in north Essex, where manning and equipment levels and procedures are different? A national plan cannot take that into account.
Part 4 of the Bill gives certain police powers to individuals who are otherwise civilians. Aspects of that make good sense. No one could object to a chief constable appointing civilian employees as investigation officers, detention officers or escort officers. That is straightforward and, to the extent that it will relieve constables who have administrative duties, it is excellent. But granting police powers to civilians leads us into a more difficult area. There are one or two worrying aspects to these provisions. I refer to Clause 33(5), which states:
That means that different people can have different powers. For example, community support officers in the same police force can operate different powers in different parts of an authority or they can act side by side. The public will never understand that. Why have the Government introduced such complexity to their proposals? Police on the beat who have to face the public do the most difficult job in the police force. Detection, criminal investigation, and so on, are highly important, but making snap judgments about human behaviour and how to handle it is the critical job that the police have to do. Importantly, that job gives the police their reputation in the eyes of the public.
In other words, someone who is out on the street with police powers will be put into the difficult position whereby he is not responsible to the police for his actions when he is acting in a police capacity. He will be responsible to his original employer, which puts the original employer in a wholly invidious position.
There is perhaps much in the Bill that will be good, but there are risks in it that it needs to be examined critically and to be limited. There are aspects that will need to be changed considerably. Much heavy work is before us. However, I am sure that at the end of the process, the Bill will leave the House in a better state than when it arrived.
Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, I have been a member of the Thames Valley Police Authority on and off since 1993, and for the past three years, I have been vice chairman and deputy chairman thereof. I am also a member of the Association of Police Authorities. I was a member of that organisation when we were told by the then Home Secretary to lose 200 police officers and was still a member when we were told by another Home Secretary to recruit an extra 200 officers. It is difficult to retain the people who are recruited.
I remember that in 1993 police pensions were a problem. They still areonly more so. The Home Secretary who is keen to interfere in our affairs has done nothing about that problem. We have brought the boundaries of our area into line with local authority boundaries, and we have done much to improve our methods of consultation and our recruitment of ethnic minorities. But do not let us believe that we are as out of touch with what people
The Bill seeks to centralise control in the hands of the Home Secretary and to allow him to set objectives and plans and to remove senior officers from their posts. What does the Home Office think is the point of having police authorities with good quality membership, strengthened by the independent members, of whom the Home Secretary approves?
The authority's annual policing plana requirement of the Police Act 1996together with the Home Secretary's overarching objectives, breaks down into four priorities. Those drive our efforts. We had previously tried to have seven priorities, but we decided that four was as many as rank and file police officers could readily absorb. To have more tends to lead to more bureaucracy.
Under the Local Government Act 1999, we have a five-year rolling programme to review all our activities under the best value performance plan, so that services are provided efficiently, effectively and to a good standard. That work is overseen by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and the district auditor. Central government require us to make a 2 per cent year-on-year saving. Our meagre central government grant is dependent on our achieving that. This year we are drawing on our reserves to stay within the Government's suggested council tax limit. Under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 we are required to furnish plans, in conjunction with local authorities and other agencies, to reduce crime and disorder in our area. If your Lordships think that I am beginning to give the impression that we already have enough directives from above, which we are trying sincerely to fulfil, you are correct, yet we face even more centralisation and directives.
This week I had breakfast with two recently retired head teachers who say that they left the profession because head teachers no longer have time to teach due to administrative overload. The number of applications for such jobs declined. One local school has advertised three times for a head teacher. People want to go into teaching in order to teach, not to be administrators. Similarly, most police men and women want to police, not to sit in offices filling out forms.
Your Lordships will have gathered that we think that the proposals to put more power in the hands of the Home Secretary are wrong. He has enough authority now. The whole tripartite structure of the policing part of our constitution depends on each party playing its part.
Along with Magna Carta, policing by consent is one of the touchstones of our unwritten constitution. It is a bulwark against a police state. Policing by consent has many facets. One aspect, which we proudly describe as unique, is the tripartite system of police governance. As your Lordships know, control of the police is
In our view, the Bill contains proposals that would radically shift the balance away from local people and local accountability towards greater central direction and control by the Home Secretary. Many saw the 1994 Act as a centralising measure. The Bill goes considerably further, but does so in a more opaque way. In our view it is a retrograde step, taking us away from a policing service that should seek to be more sensitive to the views of local communities.
Those who have read the Explanatory Notes will have found no overt statement that the legislation would fundamentally alter the existing balance of the tripartite relationship, but a closer look at what is involved shows that that is what it will mean in practice. The cumulative effect of the Bill will be to transfer power away from local communities and their police authorities to the Home Secretary at the centre. In my view, it will unbalance the tripartite relationship.
First, there are proposals for a national policing plan. At first sight, that is a welcome means of pulling together coherently the Government's priorities for and expectations of the police service. However, as the Bill is drafted the national plan could easily become a vehicle for national diktat on policing, whether under this Home Secretarywho may have good motivesor a future one.
Then there is to be a new duty on police authorities to submit their three-year strategies to the Home Secretary. Again, it seems eminently sensible to provide for three-year local policing strategiesno major business could be managed without a medium-term strategybut why should the Home Secretary need to call in such a plan? Does he not trust local police authorities? If not, why not? Where is the evidence to support that contention?
There are to be new powers for the Home Secretary to decide what equipment and operational practices the police should deploy. Perhaps the Home Secretary should be the ultimate arbiter on such overarching issues as Airwave, but before making such decisions, should he not have to consult the tripartite partnersthe police authorities and the chief constablesas well as ACPO and the APA? Should not the Bill require that? Are the civil servants in the Home Office better judges of what works than those on the ground?
There are to be powers for the Home Secretary to direct chief constables. Your Lordships will know that the Home Secretary recently set up a Police Standards Unit, with a remit to intervene in so-called failing
No one would question that some communities are not receiving the policing services that they deserve. If we value the tripartite system, should not remedial action be taken in conjunction and co-operation with the police authority, whose job is to monitor and manage local police performance? Should the Home Secretary bypass those people and intervene directly in the chief constable's affairs? How does that impact on the long-established doctrine of operational independence?
There are to be new powers for the Home Secretary to suspend a chief constable. The Minister said that they would be used only exceptionally, but the power is there and can be used, if not by this Home Secretary then by a future one. No Home Secretary is in a position to second-guess the judgment of the local people who sit on police authorities about whether the communities retain the confidence of the chief constable. Peremptory action might make a bad situation worse.
Evidence from many studies of local government suggests that self-improvement aided by peers is far more effective than external intervention. The Government ought to support the APA's improvement programme for police authorities, which seeks to generate self-improvement at local level.
We shall wish to explore all those issues in considerable depth in Committee. At present we feel that the measures in Part 1 do not deserve support. We are not heartened by the proposals in the consultative paper, which the Government have recently published on the British Transport Police, to note that the Home Secretary proposes to appoint the independent members of the proposed police authority, the chairman and the vice-chairman and to set the objectives for the authority. We believe that the present arrangements for appointing members and officers of police authorities are satisfactory and can see no need for change.
There are other radical proposals in this Bill which will equally be the focus of your Lordships' attention. Mention was made of policing on the cheap, two tier policing and all sorts of things. I doubt whether I am alone in finding it difficult to translate the stark clause in the Bill into practical terms. But there are two different limbs to the operation. First, there is the concept of giving police powers to support staff under the direction and control of the chief constable, which is favoured in London by the Metropolitan Police and may be applicable there.
The second limb is the Government's response to the cry for more "bobbies on the beat". The Government's solution set out in Part 4 of the Bill for non-police community support officers and accredited staff to exercise certain police powers, raises fundamental questions which go to the heart of our policing system.
The proposals will allow both police support staff and non-police staff, including employees of private security firms, exercising considerable police powers over the community. Among other things, they will have the power to detain individuals for up to 30 minutes pending the arrival of a constable, and in the case of CSOs, some stop-and-search powers.
I shall not go into detail about all our concerns here: that is for the Committee stage. But the question I ask the Government is this: what evidence do they have that this is what the communities want? As the Bill is currently drafted, we will never know. Local people or indeed local police authorities will have no say in the matter. The Bill makes it a simple deployment decision for the chief constable. Is that right? Should such a fundamental change be allowed to go to the heart of our policing?
Unless there is community support, how will these community support officers or accredited staff use their powers effectively? Does it not bring us back to the fundamental issues of policing by consent?
I suggest that the legislation should provide for local communities to agree to non-police officers exercising these powers over them and for police authorities to consult local communities about such changes and determine the way forward in the light of their views. Should not the Bill require such a critical issue to be agreed by a police authority as the community's representatives? In addition, community support officers now undertake many duties connected with local authorities, and if any of them are to come under police direction, these other duties will have to be overtaken.
These proposals also raise all kinds of other questions which will need to be explored in depth. I shall signal a few of them now. How do we recruit people if we pay them a good deal less than police officers? How do we pay for them beyond the short-term funding which is now agreed for community wardens? This is a significant problem.
How can we be satisfied about their training; that they exercise their powers in a fair way among ethnic minorities? What equipment will they carry? How is their health and safety to be covered? Will they be accountable for their actions? Will they be subject to an equally rigorous complaints and disciplinary procedure as police officers and cruciallyI make no apology for returning to this matterhow are they going to be funded because most of the funding is only for three years? At the end of it, local authorities and, I presume police authorities, will have to pay for them.
I reiterate my disappointment that the subject of pensions is not mentioned because that is very important. At the moment police authorities are spending a great proportion of their budget on pensions and a quarter of their budget will go on them by 2013. Some of them have already reached that figure. The Government have been promising since time immemorial to resolve this issue. Reports have been in the pipeline for years, but they have never been delivered.
We recognise that there are no easy solutions and that any new approach will involve significant costs. But if the Government do not take steps urgently, police authorities and local communities will face, to put it bluntly, a policing crisis.
Accountability to local people for the police services which they receive is the responsibility of police authorities. Day in and day out, it is the local police authority members who are there on the ground to consult local people, listen and respond to their grievances, identify their policing needs and expectations and ensure that the chief constable and the force delivers that agenda within resource constraints. That is not something that Ministers or civil servants in Whitehall can do.
That is why there has to be a partnership approach and why neither Parliament nor Ministers should seek to exercise detailed control over police from the centre. Yes, Parliament and Ministers should set the strategic direction and help to disseminate good practice. If the disturbances last summer, for example, have taught us anything, it has been to reinforce the crucial importance of policing which is sensitive to local needs.
We recognise and support the Government's desire to ensure that our police service is for the 21st century. We need modern, flexible policing services which value their staff and make the best use of available technology and good practice in fighting crime. But the policing outcomes that we all wish to see can be achieved only if all the tripartite partners work together in true partnership without domination or control by one partner over the others.
All this leaves out of account the future of the Special Constabulary. We know that the number of specials is falling. We know that that is partly because of the new rules on health and safety and training, but we suspect it is because changes in the nature of society mean that volunteering for that role is no longer attractive. We believe that special constables should be paid and be available on a regular basis to assist particularly at times of peak demand. I say to the Minister, take no notice of what the present specials think. It is new people we want to join and it is they we should ask.
With the present structure of inspections I believe that we have sufficient direction and that police authorities are well structured to take action against chief officers. At present we judge the performance of BCU commanders. For example, we put good people into Slough although we know that it is our toughest
We see no need for codes of practice; neither do we need the direction of a report to show us we are efficient. I would go so far as to say that prompt action is taken if we believe that we are on the slide. There is no need to give direction about operational procedures and practices. Both ACPO officers and police authorities meet regularly and good procedures become evident and are adopted and will probably be taught by central police training, although that may vary from one place to another as to what might be appropriate.
Finally, we welcome the emergence of the independent police complaints commission and the provision of independent lay visitors to police stations. We hope that traffic wardens will have properly defined and substantially increased duties.
Lord Condon: My Lords, I declare an interest as a life member of the Association of Chief Police Officers. Many members of the police service past and present have argued for reform and this Bill provides some of the long overdue building blocks in this change process. I believe that the Bill is to be broadly welcomed, but it also raises concerns which I hope will be addressed in your Lordships' House and another place. I shall raise some of these anxieties in a moment.
I believe that the most important provision in the Bill is the proposed creation of the independent police complaints commission. Many of us have campaigned for such a body for more than a decade. Police officers can intervene in people's lives in a way that alters those lives for everfor good or for evil. It is vital that the investigation process against police officers enjoys maximum public support and confidence. Nothing short of a completely independent complaints commission will assuage public concern about the integrity and thoroughness of the complaints process.
It is interesting that the proposed commission will also provide better protection for serving police officers themselves, who sometimes become the victims of malicious complaints or even of tactical complaints by career criminals who can exploit the current arrangements. I therefore wholeheartedly welcome the creation of the independent complaints commission.
The noble Lords, Lord Dixon-Smith and Lord Bradshaw, have mentioned the tripartite structure for the governance of policing. That structure has not only stood the test of time; it has provided the checks and balances that underpin our policing system. Local police authorities, chief constables and the Secretary of State have been very effective partners in policing. I agree that the cumulative impact of the clauses in the Bill which give the Secretary of State new powers to direct and control policing will dramatically alter that balance of power in favour of the Secretary of State. Although that may be considered necessary to kick-start some of the proposed reforms, there may well be
We do not have a national police force. The Bill, while necessarily seeking to ensure an overall policing plan and strategy and the spread of best practice, should also recognise and celebrate local needs and variations. Her Majesty's Government explained recently in your Lordships' House, in relation to reform of the health service, that they were not seeking to run an organisation, but rather seeking to oversee a values-driven devolved system. Surely similar principles should apply to police reform.
I come now to community support officers and community safety accreditation schemes. Other noble Lords have already mentioned the Bill's enabling provisions to allow chief officers of police to employ or designate suitably skilled and trained civilians as community support officers and to perform other specified functions. I think that those proposals should be given a fair chance and not dismissed out of hand. The key issue is that the relevant clauses are enabling. No chief officer or police authority will be required to make such deployments or designations.
I believe that some forcesparticularly my old force, the Metwill utilise the provisions, if they are enacted, with enthusiasm and relish in dealing with particular problems and particular needs. I am sure that, with the current, post-11th September stretch of resources and the need for additional security patrols and premises guarding, the Met will seek to use the new provisions. Similarly, they will wish to use the provisions to establish an important new entry point for colleagues from ethnic minority backgrounds who currently cannot manage to make the leap into the police service itself, but who could well use the new community support roles as a bridging mechanism to policing.
Other forces will rightly be more cautious. Rural communities are more likely to relish, for example, the appointment of 50 additional rural bobbies, with all their skills, powers and influence on community life, rather than 80 or 100 community support officers, accredited wardens or guards. Seen as an innovative extension of the police family, the flexibility offered by the provisions is to be welcomed. If, however, the provisions are used to enable a cheaper substitute for traditional policing, they will do immense harm to the reservoir of good will which, although strained, still exists between the police and the public. If the only significant contact between the public and policing is in street encounters with under-trained community support officers, over time, confidence in the police service will be seriously eroded.
I think that the Bill enhances police reform in the round and plays an important part in the overall reform programme. The police service wants reform to succeed. Communities desperately need police reforms to succeed. As the Bill passes through your Lordships' House and another place, I hope that it will be influenced by a number of key principles. First, we have not chosen to have, nor have we evolved, a national police force. The Bill's provisions move us closer to a national police force, which may or may not be a good thing. However, in changing the balance of power between the Secretary of State, police authorities and chief constables, we must not lose the potential for good and for innovation that comes from variety and from the strongest possible links between local communities and local police.
Secondly, in extending the police family and in establishing these challenging new performance targets, there must be a real and tangible link between the strategies set for the police service and the resources made available to it to carry out these reforms. Of course there must be emphasis on value for money, raising standards to the level of the best and constantly demanding greater efficiency. However, experience elsewhere has shown that resourcing is vital to reform.
The improvements in New York are often cited as a model to be followed here, and I agree. The improvements in crime reduction, public safety and public confidence in New York are real and startling, and they are attributed to strong political and police leadership, tough performance standards and review, and, importantly, a dramatic increase in resources. Metropolitan Police numbers peaked in about 199192 at just under 29,000 police officers. As of today, there are about 26,450 police officers for London. At one stage, the New York Police Department manning level dropped to about 25,000 police officers, for a city with approximately the same population size as London's. However, under a new mayor and a new commissioner and with new resources, New York police numbers increased to 42,000. As I said, as of today, there are 26,450 police officers in London, but 42,000 in New York. Resources will make a difference.
Thirdly, the police service, which seeks to embrace reform, encourages similar reform in other spheres that can impact on the criminal justice system, crime prevention and public confidence. The Auld report has stimulated overdue discussion about the courts system and reform. Police are not the only stakeholders in criminal justice, crime prevention and community safety who are in need of reform. Joined-up government should surely lead to joined-up reform.
We have the opportunity for comprehensive reform of policing. This important Bill lays the foundation for much of that reform. I hope that, in passing through your Lordships' House and another place, the Bill will be improved to take account of the concerns and expectations that have been expressed today.
Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority and as a member of the executive of the Association of Police Authorities. I should also say, to reassure my colleagues on those bodies, that I do not necessarily reflect the detailed policies of those respective organisations.
I believe that there is consensus in what has been said in your Lordships' House on the need for reform and the need to address some of the serious issues that currently face the police service in tackling crime. There is clearly agreement on the importance of the need to promote high standards and to encourage good practice. Therefore, the Government's proposals and arrangements for a new police standards unit, working no doubt in close collaboration with Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary, are clearly welcome.
The Bill is an important part of that reform process. It is an important part of demonstrating that we want to see policing by consent in this country. The proposals in the Bill should constitute an important part of building public support and reassurance as regards the vital work that the police service does.
In that context I was extremely interested to hear the description of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, of an old-style tripartite arrangement. I was worried that his defence of police authorities might be a trifle lacklustre but I am sure that he will make up for that in the course of the weeks to follow. The tripartite system has great importance and its purpose should not be forgotten. As I understand itI am a relative newcomer to this fieldthe tripartite system comprises having operational decision-making resting with the chief constable; local accountability and local direction resting with the police authority; and national accountability and overall standards resting with the Home Secretary. That is a system of balance which blends the local, the national and the operational requirements.
In that context I believe that it is entirely logical to have a national policing plan. There is certainly nothing sinister in that. Indeed, I suspect that it would constitute an enormous convenience to many people to be able to codify the existing multiplicity of guidance and guidelines that emanate from the Home Office. It is also not at all sinisterindeed, it is entirely helpfulthat it should be informed by local three-year plans. That is certainly not the sinister sign of central control that the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, suggested. I should be far more concerned if the national policing plan were drawn up in the absence of knowledge of the three-year policing plans of local police authorities. What is more, it is proposed that the national policing plan be brought before Parliament, which gives a degree of parliamentary scrutiny. Again, that is something that I am sure your Lordships will welcome. However, in the spirit of the tripartite principle it is no doubt an omission which will be rectified in the amendments that my noble friend the Minister indicated he would bring forward on behalf
The Bill suggests that the national policing plan should be brought forward before the start of each financial year. Perhaps when my noble friend the Minister replies to the debate he will clarify how long before the start of the financial year he considers sufficient. The national policing plan should feed into local policing plans and into budget making. That clearly requires that the national objectives that the Home Office may wish to set are known at an early stage.
I wish to say a few words about Clause 5 on directions to chief officers. That measure strengthens the Home Secretary's role, although it is not clear to me in the discussions that I have heard so far why that could not be exercised through the police authority mechanism. That would, of course, preserve the tripartite structure and would ensure local accountability. Certainly, there is a dangeragain, my noble friend may be able to clarify how that danger can be avoidedof blurring responsibility lines where directions from the Home Office appear to be set against police authority priorities. Certainly, there should be consultation with the local police authority on the issuing of any directions. I should hope that action plans from chief officers could be delivered to the Home Office via police authorities following their consideration by the police authority concerned.
Clause 7 enables the Home Secretary to make regulations on operational practices and procedures. I have no problem with that. It may be necessary to promote good practice and certainly would involve the Home Office and the national government in the preparation, on a tripartite principle, of the existing guidelines which are produced by the Association of Chief Police Officers. But if the tripartite principle is to be strengthened by the Home Office being involved in that process, I hope that it could also be strengthened as far as the third leg of the stool is concerned by requiring the involvement of police authorities in the process. Regulations, operational practices and procedures would be issued following meaningful consultation with APA and with ACPO. I believe that that is in the spirit of what is intended. No doubt my noble friend will clarify that that will be the case.
I turn briefly to Part 2 of the Bill, complaints. As the noble Lord, Lord Condon, indicated, there has been enormous dissatisfaction with the existing complaints arrangements which are not seen as independent by most of those who make complaints. They are seen as the police investigating themselves. What is more, the processes are painfully slow and they are certainly completely opaque to the complainant and, indeed, to most other people. Therefore, the proposals in Part 2 are to be welcomed. They are an enormous
The only omission that I can see is what appears to be an exclusion of complaints about the direction and control of a force. I do not see why that cannot be included within the terms of reference of the IPCC. Certainly, however, those proposals will be widely welcomed and I believe that many people will look forward to their implementation and will work to ensure that they are a strong and effective arrangement for improving public confidence in the police service.
I turn to the proposals in Clause 33 for community support officers. I strongly support the principle that is contained in those proposals. I certainly believeagain I say this in the spirit of the tripartite arrangements that we all supportthat chief officers should prepare a plan in this regard which should be agreed by the local police authority. That measure should be stated on the face of the Bill before individuals are designated as community support officers. I am also pleased that the Bill recognises that there are different needs in different areas. That is not a solution that will necessarily find favour everywhere in the country. As chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority, I have to say that in London it is certainly seen as an important development in the context of substantially increasing police numbers. After a decade in which, year on year, police numbers in London have declined, in the current year there is a net increase of over 1,000 police officers in the London area. On the basis of the budget that is likely to be approved in the next few weeks, we shall see an increase of between 1,000 and 1,500 officers in the course of the coming year. That will bring police numbers in London to around 28,000close to the maximum that has ever been achieved to which the noble Lord, Lord Condon, referred.
It is important that those proposals are seen in the context of increasing police numbers rather than decreasing police numbers. Community support officers should be concerned explicitly with adding value to what is being done by the police service locally. They are certainly not substitutes for police officers.
As to the escalating problem of street crime in virtually every London borough, we hear from the public that there is a need for reassurance but also for more to be done about its perpetrators. Visible patrolsperhaps by community support officersare vital to providing reassurance and may deter street crime. However, such patrols might not be the solution or make the best use of fully trained police officers in achieving a better rate of judicial disposal.
There is a balance to be struck between using community support officers to improve reassurance and provide the eyes and ears of the Metropolitan Police and using fully trained officers in intelligence-led, specialised and targeted operations that focus on
The new category of officer will provide an alternative route into the police service for many. At present, 40 per cent of special constables recruited for the metropolitan area are from black and ethnic minority communities. The figure for those entering the Metropolitan Police is only 11 per cent. It is possible, therefore, that using such intermediate steps might attract more recruits from black and ethnic minority communities, which is an important priority in London. The issue is reassurance with consent, which is why the proposals are so important.
Similarly, the provisions for community safety accreditation in Clause 34 recognise the burgeoning number of schemes. I spend time visiting London boroughs, to talk with local authorities, police commanders and partnerships. Many boroughs have already implemented local schemes for neighbourhood wardens, estate wardens, estate officers, parks officers, enforcement officers and so on. The accreditation proposals can be used as part of the wider police family as the eyes and ears of the police serviceand to impose quality standards to offer the public reassurance about the quality of work that is done.
Clause 34(3) requires that police authorities be consulted on proposals to introduce an accreditation. No doubt "consult" should have read "approve" but at least that provision exists. Perhaps it could be replicated in Clause 33.
I welcome the extension in Clause 60 regarding nationalityan issue raised at many of the meetings that I have attended throughout London in respect of recruitment and retention problems in the past. Of course applicants must meet rigorous standards but they should not be barred because of their nationality.
If I may be permitted to nit-pick an excellent Bill, Clause 68 on crime and disorder reduction partnerships contains a sensible proposal to bring them together with drug action teams. There is a plethora of partnerships, so simplifying the structure must make sensebut I question whether the Bill's solution of having primary care trusts serve as the responsible authorities is a sensible way forward. Under the previous arrangements, the local police commander and local authority chief executive had joint responsibility for producing crime and disorder reduction plans for the area. That enabled the existing partnership to be built on, and made it happen.
Resting responsibility for such plans on two individuals can be difficult enough, so I wonder whether it is sensible to place that responsibility on three individuals. Perhaps some new status that recognises the importance of health, particularly in the context of drug and alcohol abuse, could be incorporated into the Bill. At the same time, perhaps it might be possible to remedy the failure of earlier legislation to recognise the important role of police authorities. In my visits to London boroughs, I have seen how valuable it would be for a police authority to
The Bill is an excellent part of the police reform programme and has many excellent aspects. I have cited the issues relating to complaints, community safety and accreditation. Building on the tripartite principle, as is clearly the Bill's intention, is the way forward for effective policing.
Lord Waddington: My Lords, the White Paper Policing a New Century boasts that crime is falling. Until the noble Lord, Lord Harris, mentioned street crime in London, I was beginning to think that there was a real risk that this debate would proceed, if not in a mood of complacency, then at least without anyone talking about what is really going on in the streets of our cities.
The uncomfortable truth is that the crime that concerns and frightens people most is growing at an appalling rate. In the past three years, assaults and muggings in London have risen by no less than 28 per cent. People in London are now six times more likely to be assaulted or robbed than are residents of New York. Percentages do not bring out the true horror. One can get that day after day by reading of the muggings, knifings and carjackings that go on in this, our capital city. It is shaming and disgraceful.
The White Paper states that fear of crime is high. It would be astonishing if it were not. Fear of crimeand, common sense tells us, some crime actually committedis increasing not least because of what The Times referred to the other day as the retreat of the police from the streets; a retreat that has deprived citizens, frightened of what is going on in their neighbourhoods, of the comfort and deterrent effect of a police presence.
The question we must address is why that retreat from the streets has taken place. Are the new bureaucratic burdens that have been placed on the police to blamethe form-filling that accompanies every arrest and the new tasks that the police have been given? Yes, up to a point, I say; but is it not also clear that another factor has been the view of many senior officers that if patrolling is not actually a bit of a waste of time, there are better ways of using scarce manpower that are also less demanding and more popular with the rank and file?
The other day, The Times reported Sir David Phillips, Chief Constable of Kent and president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, as criticising calls for more visible police patrolling. He expressed the view that there is no prospect of the police ever having enough manpower to do enough patrolling to satisfy public expectations. That may be right or wrong, but Sir David's words certainly seem to justify the claim by, among others, the Police Federation that not just a shortage of police officers but the lack of priority given to beat patrols by chief constables has led to the present state of affairs. The research into the diaries of
We are told that there are considerable discrepancies in performance between different forces, which is why the Home Secretary is determined to take steps to ensure that policing everywhere is brought up to the standards of the best. I should like to know whether the discrepancies in performance between different forces, about which we have heard, include a discrepancy in the amount of actual patrolling that takes place. If so, the addressing of those discrepancies, and the redeployment of existing police resources, may be thought more of a priority than the recruitment of community support officers. I should like to be assured that all forces now recognise that although every street cannot be patrolled, officers on the beat do provide reassurance to the public and are an important part of policing; and that incident response, sometimes delayed for an absurd time and rarely leading to an arrest, is no substitute for the foot patrol.
I should like to say a few words about community support officers. Although I can see great merit in the proposal that police authority employees may be designated as investigating officers, detention officers and escort officersall that is excellentthe idea of having quasi police officers with only limited police powers patrolling the streets has, to my mind, few attractions. I gather that some in the Metropolitan Police are happy to go along with the idea because they see it as a way of heading off pressure from certain London boroughs, worried about the lack of police presence on the streets, to set up their own auxiliary forces.
But if we go in for this two-tier policing, have we not every reason to fear that in a few years' time the Treasury will be insisting that forces should save money by steadily altering the balance between police officers and auxiliaries, recruiting fewer police officers who are so costly to train and more community support officers who cost so much less? That is a real fear. If it is realised, the end result will be a steady decline in quality, a fall in both standards and performance, and lessnot morepublic protection.
Then there is the very important point made by Mr Lawrence Roach, former Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, in his letter to The Times last Wednesdaya letter that I commend to all noble Lords who have not already read it. It is all very well talking of police support staff going out on patrol to reassure the public, ready to deal with anti-social behaviour and minor disorder, but is not peacekeeping indivisible? Does it really make sense to give a patrolling officer power to deal with a lout who drops litter, but leave him impotent to deal with the same lout when, moments later, he seriously assaults a passer-by? It is very difficult to see the sense of that proposal. Is it really sensible to require such an officer to check the motorist who has improperly parked his car but studiously to ignore the knife fight or carjacking going on at his elbow?
Where are the people who will carry out such challenging tasks to come from? I suppose that there may be people who are prepared to do, at very much less than a policeman's salary, the pretty unpleasant job about which we are talking. But if such people exist, are they likely to be of the standard that the public are entitled to expect? Is the Home Office thinking of those now employed as traffic wardens? If so, I believe that we are entitled to be worried.
Before going down this road, surely the Home Secretary should try a far more obvious way of meeting the need that he has identified. He should do everything possible, including the use of substantial financial incentives, to expand the Special Constabulary. Some speakers have already mentioned the Specials in today's debate, and have commended their role. If there is a need for more support for the police to ensure greater police visibility on the streets, surely the Specials are the obvious people to carry out that function. After all, the Specials have been on the scene for years. They are well accepted; they have the confidence of the public; and, above all, they have full police powers. The White Paper, to which I referred earlier, tells us that the number of Specials has seriously declined in recent years from a peak of 20,573 in December 1993 to 12,738 in March 2001.
We are told that among the reasons given for that decline is the feeling among Specials that they are under-valued and are not given worthwhile and interesting duties. But those are all matters that can be put right. Strengthening the Specials seems to me to be so much easier for the police to accept than what is proposed. The Specials are not seen as a threat to their standing, as the gateway to two-tier policing.
I have concentrated on community support officers, but that is not because I believe them to be the most important part of the Home Secretary's proposals. Of course they are not; and there is much to digest in a very comprehensive package. Some people are worried that, through the new powers sought in Part 1, the Home Secretary is at risk of upsetting the present delicate constitutional frameworkthe partnership between chief officers, police authorities and governmentand that, in the words of the Association of Police Authorities, the voice of local communities will be sidelined. During the progress of the Bill through this House, we must look very closely at those powers to ensure than they are not wider than necessary.
The Association of Police Authorities sees the sense of annual, national policing plan, but it wants to be consulted. It seems to me that here, and in many other areas, a commitment to consultation with the police authorities would meet most of the association's concerns. But we shall surely have to consider with great care the powers that the Home Secretary seeks to intervene if a force is not efficient or effective, as well as the proposals with regard to the suspension and removal of senior officers.
The police undertake a very difficult job for us. We all owe them an enormous debt. They often do not receive the public support that they deserve. When this Bill has completed its passage through this House, I hope that the policeall rankswill see it as designed not to hinder them in their work but to help them. That is what they deserve from us.
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