|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Imbert: My Lords, like other Members of your Lordships' House, I am grateful to the noble Viscount,
2 Mar 2006 : Column 364
Lord Tenby, for putting down this most important and timely Motion for debate and for setting the scene in his comprehensive opening address. It is timely for two reasons. The first is the proposal, as has already been mentioned, that some of the smaller forces should amalgamate with others to make fewer, but larger police areas. The second reason, as already mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, is that Sir Ian Blair called in his recent Dimbleby address for a public debate on what sort of police service we want. That question is apposite to all citizens: those who are policed in this country.
I realise that I follow most erudite and experienced speakers and I shall attempt not to go over their ground again. The noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, is a former senior police officer; the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, is a former Home Secretary; and the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, has experience as a member of a police authority and the vice-chairman of the Association of Police Authorities. As a simple bobby, I wonder how I can follow such erudite and experienced speakers, but I shall do my best and try not to go over their ground.
Regarding amalgamations, big is not always beautiful. I pray that size is not the only criterion by which the future structure of the police is to be decided. That would be unwise. Although some amalgamations are inevitable in the quest for better value for money and enhanced efficiency and effectiveness in the delivery of service, I hope that any changes will be decided on a case-by-case basis and in consultation with the communities and the police authorities of the areas concerned.
I fully support an examination of the structure and role of the police in this country. I hope therefore that the debate will contribute in some way not only to the question, "What sort of police service do we want?" but also to the question, "What kind of police service do we need?"
Since Sir Ian called for the debate, the Independent Police Research Foundation, the think-tank of policing, together with the Oxford University Centre for Criminology, has picked up the gauntlet and organised a forthcoming conference to try to identify what the Government and the police themselves think they ought to be doing and how they should be doing it. Any national debate must examine the use of lethal force by a largely unarmed service in a liberal democracy, balancing the question of how the police should deal with suicide bombers and armed criminals against our long-held tradition of civil liberties. Most importantly, the debate should take note of what the public expect the police to do on their behalf.
In the late 1980s, when the police of London also were asking the question, "What sort of policing do you want?", a capital-wide survey was commissioned to find out what the London public expected police to do and how they wanted them to do it. The public's unequivocal response was that they wanted firm policing for those who broke the law, but fair and friendly policing for the law-abiding: firm, fair and friendly.
Further London-wide consultation resulted in a new mission statementwe called it a Statement of Our Common Purpose and Valueswhich explained the role, objectives and style of policing sought by modern-day Londoners. In September 1989, in response to public demand, the ethos of the Metropolitan Police was changed from force to service, but, as has already been mentioned today, times have again changed dramatically since then, when the suicide bomber had yet to appear here. The modern mission statement of the Metropolitan Police now begins with the words:
Just one or two officers out of a workforce of more than 30,000 described the concept of service as opposed to force as "a soft option", initially failing to see that to arrest an armed and dangerous criminal is to provide a service to the law-abiding public, and that it is just as much the job of police to facilitate peaceful protest by accompanying marchers, even though one may have found their views odious, as it is to quell a violent demonstration.
The police are the servants of the public and not their masters. Policing the area between liberty and licence has never been easy. This year, hundreds of officers have already been assaulted and injured while on duty. Many have been women officers, of whom one was shot dead and two are still in intensive care. Like many thousands of members of the general public, I pay tribute to those ordinary men and women who are doing an extraordinary and, not infrequently, life-threatening job. As has already been mentioned, police will sometimes get it wrong and, because of the nature of the job we give them, often dramatically so. That understandably becomes headline news.
2 Mar 2006 : Column 366
The police, albeit as human beings, must continue to serve the public within the laws, as enacted by Parliament. I make a plea to the legislators to make such laws understandable and acceptable to the public, so that they will want to live within them, and, indeed to refrain from making too many.
"the engineers are German, the police are British and it is all organised by the Swiss. Hell is where the cooks are British, the engineers are French, the police are German, the lovers are Swiss and it is all organised by the Italians".
In case anyone should think that is racist, it comes to me from the owner of an Italian restaurant, who has it pinned up on a board. The moral of the story and definition is that, although there must be changes, do not rush to make them without careful thought and genuine, meaningful consultation. To put it another way, we must be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Viscount Simon: My Lords, this absolutely fascinating debate was introduced by the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby. I feel somewhat reticent to speak, given that my knowledge is confined to only one area. I will stray only very briefly from that area, which is road policing, something that is generally swept under the carpet and ignored by both police and public, until they become involved. I took my class one police certificate in the early 1960s. I still go out on traffic patrol on a regular basis. I still take advanced driving courses. Last weekend I was invited to a specific course for senior investigating officers; unfortunately, I could not attend.
In the report on police force amalgamations, Closing the Gap by Denis O'Connor, roads policing is considered, briefly but importantly, as a key and protected police service. Such observations seem to be at odds with the general attitude the Government and ACPO have shown to this vital policing role in recent times, which I shall touch upon later. I would not wish this debate to exclude careful consideration of how to ensure that roads policing is given proper recognition under the overall impact proposed by these amalgamations.
Last Wednesday I went out on patrol from 6am to 5pm. It was a very quiet day, but the previous day there had been two fatal collisions. Had those people died in a railway or aeroplane crash, they would have made newspaper headlines, but these were mere road deaths, so nothing was reported.
Chief police officers have systematically stripped the roads policing structure of resources in order to meet other government objectives and targets. Sadly, road
2 Mar 2006 : Column 367
safety and maintenance of the rule of law on our roads is not one of those priorities, except perhaps when death and serious injury are at issue. Am I being controversial if I say that enforcement cameras only catch motorists exceeding the speed limit and do nothing about the driver with excess alcohol in his system, dangerous driving, or the driver wanted for offences that could range from the mundane to the serious?
We witness more and more resources being poured into neighbourhood policing teams, to the exclusion of other key protected services, for which road policing is an ever-tempting source of officer supply. There is a clear parallel here with community policing, which fell into decline in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, precisely because only a snapshot of the broader spectrum of the tasks undertaken by officers was recognised and valued. There are concerns from RoSPA, PACTS, RoadPeace and others about the future and direction of roads policing.
The ACPO vision document for workforce modernisation alludes to Asda accomplishing recent success through a complete programme of organisational change of both their workforce and business structures, highlighting an eightfold increase in share value between 1991 and 1999. Does this presuppose that ACPO wishes to model the future of the police force on the operations of a major retailer? It seems absurd that policing should be compared with buying and selling such commodities as tins of beans. If Asda has a line that does not work or make a profit, or is too costly to sell, it can ditch it; does the same rationale apply to roads policing?
How will the Government provide assurances that roads policing is delivered as a protected service under the new system of amalgamated forces? If, following mergers, some chief constables are not persuaded that roads policing is important, or believe that the role can be carried out by other agencies, will they, under financial pressure, be compelled to shed the task completely? I wonder, idly, if the Department for Transport is being set up to take greater ownership of road traffic enforcement. As they have invested £800 million in HATOs over a 10-year period, are these people going to be given further powers on the basis that police officers should focus on the strategic aim of denying the criminal the use of the road? That is significantly different from delivering the road safety message, or traffic law enforcement.
The motorway network now benefits from the overt operation of these highway traffic officers. What is the policy when HATOs identify breaches of traffic law? Do they summon the assistance of other agencies, such as the police or VOSA? Is it envisaged that they will ever enforce road law with powers to stop similar to those currently available only to constables in uniform and certain authorised staff of VOSA? There is much confusion in the eyes of motorists as to what HATOs can and cannot do, and the apparent communication overlaps and underlapsif such a word existsbetween other agencies. Due to an enabling clause in
2 Mar 2006 : Column 368
the Traffic Management Act, more power could be extended to HATOs. Could my noble friend confirm that the Government have no such intention?
"any operational police officer can enforce traffic legislation, as appropriate, when an offence is being committed. The increased number of officers on any general beat duties will enable increased and swifter action against breaches of roads law".
I would love to see an officer on foot patrol, chasing along a street, trying to stop a vehicle being dangerously driven at 70 miles per hour. To be serious, such comments fail to understand the sheer weight of demand on operational officers and the lack of training in order to enforce such laws. Those police officers providing roads policing in England and Wales are highly trained, dedicated, professional people with a vast range of abilities and skills. The general public respect them and regard them as effective. Enforcement of traffic laws, apart from speeding offences, is in decline. Driving under the influence of drink or drugs is becoming more commonplace and a real cause for concern. We must ask ourselves how effective the roads policing officer is who randomly and spontaneously pulls over a vehicle, almost by instinct, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Mackenzie, for something a non-traffic trained officer would not necessarily notice. This might lead to an arrest that otherwise would not have been made.
ACPO and the Government might argue that ANPR is the panacea to these problems, but it still will not detect drink and drug-related driving offences, construction and use offences, seatbelt-wearing offences, provide a visible presence, or, indeed, just assist and advise the motoring public.
I should like to provide some food for thought for my noble friend. First, the new powers of arrest exclude those disqualified from driving. While that in some cases is surmountable, the police no longer have the power to enter property to effect arrest, which includes vehicles. Secondly, evidence is rising on the problem of drug driving, and there is a need for legal clarity and simplicity in enforcement. Please consider removing the requirement to prove impairment. Thirdly, roads policing enforcement relies so much on safety camera funding. It is vital that the police have access to that funding under the new arrangements. Local authorities are already eyeing those funds which, if successful, would have a detrimental effect on roads policing.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|