Select Committee on Unopposed Bill Committee Minutes of Evidence

Sections 640-659

London Local Authorities Bill [HL]

Wednesday 19 February 2003

640. MR LEWIS: I did have a few more remarks to make, particularly in relation to the Home Office report. I can make those now or after you have asked questions of Mr Ausling and Mr Stratton.


641. CHAIRMAN: I have one for Mr Ausling on what he has just described to us. That is regarding the first incident, which sounds to me quite a serious one. When you were talking about that you used the word "armed" - I do not know if that was firearms or other kinds of arms - within the white van. Is that really the sort of incident which in future your parks police might be able to deal with on their own without calling for the assistance of the Metropolitan Police? Surely you are talking about a huge increase in the scale of things if you are thinking along those lines.

(Mr Ausling) My Lords, yes. In real terms the officers would have called for assistance whether the assistance would have come from other officers on duty at the time from the parks police office or from the Metropolitan Police. The issue here is that in and around the officers' own safety they did not have the power to officially stop the vehicle and search the vehicle, although the vehicle contained a number of youths and the weapons were various - there were clubs and knives and certain types of sprays and other noxious fluids. The mere fact that the officers did not have the power to stop and search the vehicle or the occupants of the vehicle they felt they were slightly restricted in the type of policing activity they could carry out. For that reason they put the vehicle across the driveway of the car park in an attempt to stop the people from escaping.

642. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Any other questions?

643. LORD ELTON: I have got rather a lot of questions, which probably ought to wait for a while, but I have one fundamental one which you can perhaps clear up for me. I am speaking, really, to the Promoters rather than the witnesses. It seems to me that by magistrates swearing somebody a constable attracts the whole of the legislation in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act and not merely the bits of it which you are seeking to acquire. I would be very interested to know if there is a means by which that attraction will be prevented and, if not, how you are actually going to draw permanent lines around the bits which you do not want attracted.

644. MR LEWIS: My Lord, I think the answer to your question is that if we were to draw permanent lines around those pars which we did not need or did not want then we would have to make an amendment, I think, to this provision.

645. LORD ELTON: In other words, the whole of PACE of 1984 would apply to constables?

646. MR LEWIS: I think that must be right.

647. LORD ELTON: Thank you. I will take that up later.

648. CHAIRMAN: Shall we now take the Home Office witnesses?

649. MR LEWIS: If I could make my few final remarks dealing with the Home Office report. We have had the introduction of the term "Balkanisation". There is no suggestion, as the report implies, maybe, that the councils are seeking increasingly to co-ordinate police activity. The councils have no intention of impinging on the role of the Metropolitan Police. As already is the case they want to complement them. If the suggestion is that the parks constabulary would be replacing the Metropolitan Police in the general policing of the parks, then that has some advantages if it frees up scarce Metropolitan Police resources.

650. However, as we have already explained, it is the lack of police cover in the parks that has led to this current situation. So there is hardly a question of replacement anyway, if there is such a thing as Balkanisation - and we would say that perhaps it has already happened with the implementation of the 1967 order.

651. Also, it is not as if an entirely new force is being created. Councils have had the power to employ constables since 1967 and Wandsworth - and, previously, the GLC - had done so since 1985. Tellingly, my Lords, the Home Office themselves were unsure about the question of whether park constables had full police powers until quite recently, and we have seen a letter from the Home Office to Newham saying that their view was that the constables did have full powers.

652. The next and later issue in the report is that some better-funded councils will be able to acquire better policing provision than poorer areas as proposals for borough forces increases. The Promoters cannot understand this point. The principle of parks constabularies, as I have said, was established in 1967 and since then the councils have decided individually whether or not to employ them on the basis of need and finances. This Bill changes nothing in that regard.

653. Finally, the report says that the Bill cuts across the Police Reform Act, which introduces Community Support Officers and creates community safety officers. The Promoters welcome these developments, but as the report itself says these officers are primarily aimed at low-level crime. CSOs will only have limited powers of detention up to 30 minutes, under very strict circumstances which relate to the question of whether the person that they are detaining has given their proper name or address.

654. My Lords, in summary, the Home Office report seems to indicate that the main objection is based upon an assumption that the Bill provides for a proliferation in the number of police forces in the capital. This is not the case. The office of parks constable has existed for many years, and all that is being sought is a sensible, measured increase in their powers bringing them into line with other existing, non-Metropolitan forces. It is telling that, like the councils, the Home Office themselves were until quite recently, it seems, under a misapprehension that parks constables already had full powers, yet this never seemed to cause the Home Office to raise any objection before.

655. My Lords, that is all we have to say at the moment.

656. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr Lewis. We will hear from the Home Office, please.

657. MR PAPALEONTIOU: If I may elaborate briefly on the Secretary of State's report, can I begin by emphasising that the Home Office is pleased to see local authorities taking steps to contribute to community safety and security in making their streets and public spaces safer. The Secretary of State's report opposing Clause 32 is not intended to discourage Wandsworth and other boroughs from such initiatives. Nor is it a denigration of the services Wandsworth Park Police and other borough park constabularies offer. We have heard today what a professional service Wandsworth do provide.

658. However, the Secretary of State's report opposes Clause 32 as the Home Office, through the Police Reform agenda, is clear that core policing should be conducted and co-ordinated by local police forces, in the case of London the Metropolitan Police Service. Investing one force with the responsibility for core policing facilitates co-ordination of London's policing needs across boroughs. It also ensures that all officers in London who take on core policing responsibilities are trained to appropriate and common standards, and that through the array of police legislation there are procedures in place to safeguard the proper exercise of full constabulary powers.

659. While Wandsworth have shown that they have effective discipline and accountability measures in place, there is nothing in statute to oblige London Local Authorities - any of whom can set up a parks constabulary without consulting central Government - to adopt such measures. It is not sufficient to rely on good faith in terms of guaranteeing both the officers concerned safety and the public's safety. Giving local authorities the power to establish local forces with full constabulary powers risks undermining the lead role of the MPS and could lead to a Balkanisation or fragmentation of policing in London that hinders effective co-ordination of London's policing needs.

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