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The Earl of Rosslyn: My Lords, in thanking my noble friend for introducing this debate I should declare an interest as a serving officer in the Metropolitan Police, where I have responsibility for royalty and diplomatic protection. It was also a pleasure to hear one of my former commissioners speak today. While my future career prospects no longer depend upon agreeing with him, I did so in almost every respect.
Few mission statements survive contact with 200 years of organisational development, and rare is the corporate performance indicator that seems as relevant in the 21st century as it did in the 19th. Thus, when the first commissioner defined the primary role of police as preventing crime, and the protection of life and property and public tranquillity as measures of success, he showed acute and enduring insight. But while those principles guide us still, the operating context of policing has changed profoundly and today is more complex than ever, with the risks to operational officers painfully self-evident. Part of that complexity derives from the relationship between national, regional and local policing, how it is to be delivered and by whom. This, I believe, is today's greatest challenge for my service. How do we respond to serious organised crime and terrorism while retaining the spirit of localism in policing, so greatly valued and so fundamental to its overall success?
Organised crime groups increasingly dominate the criminality most threatening to our national interest. Sophisticated, well resourced and operating across force boundaries, they have a growing understanding of law enforcement techniques and use elaborate counter-surveillance techniques themselves and complex money-laundering arrangements. The scope of their criminality and capacity for extreme violence and intimidation made the case for the Serious Organised Crime Agency, soon to be operational, which will link intelligence investigation and intervention and provide a single point of contact for international partners.
However, that national response to organised crime cannot be detached from other aspects of law enforcement and must link effectively with local policing. Organised criminality has loose structures with its roots in local crime where criminals learn from dysfunctional role models. Even when operating at a national or international level such criminals are, as another noble Lord mentioned, still based in local communities. Recognising these interdependencies and managing relationships with local police and neighbourhood communities will be a key determinant of the new agency's success.
A parallel challenge exists in counter-terrorism. With its indifference to mass casualties, its international capability, unconventional structures, disinterest in negotiationand with suicide as a feature of attack planningthe UK today faces what is perhaps the first truly global terrorist threat. While, in scale and complexity, the threat is still revealing itself we have already seen offenders entering this
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country from abroad to commit attacks, UK citizens involved in terrorist offences overseas, and now British citizens conspiring to commit acts of terrorism here. We have seen alongside that, in the efforts of the emergency services and the public, an inspiring contradiction to the prevailing cynicism which assumes that people always act out of their narrow, short-term interest.
With intelligence often fragmentary and hard to interpret, those investigating such offences must carefully balance public safety, community confidence and evidence gathering. Moreover, while the level of collaboration between international agencies is unprecedentedand co-operation between the police and intelligence services is unique internationallywe need to consider how police capability can further be improved. In particular, we need to question honestly whether we have sufficient resilience if faced with sustained demand on the scale of July last year.
At present, New Scotland Yard has the only substantial capability for terrorist investigation; yet it is clear that we face a threat not uniquely metropolitan in nature. While the Association of Chief Police Officers sets strategic direction for counter-terrorism policing, we do not presently have a national structure for investigation linked to regional investigative capability, which can in turn connect with local communities. Nor are police lines of accountability perhaps as clear as they might be. Does the Minister agree that further progress needs to be made in that area?
Finally, I turn to the proposed restructuring. If larger strategic forces are to be createdand there is a case for some changepeople may, instinctively at least, feel a greater sense of detachment unless some compensating measure exists to make them feel otherwise. Now, I accept that a community's strongest affinity lies with its local police commander, but some of these new force areas could be very large with, for example, Avon and Somersetas the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, mentionedpotentially becoming part of a force whose northernmost point is nearer to Scotland than to the Cornish coast. That is a striking example, as nobody wishes policing to be seen as the agency of a distant power.
That compensating measure to which I referred could, I believe, come from the development of neighbourhood policing models which provide greater responsiveness and accessibility. In London there are already over 250 of these safer neighbourhood teamsas they are called herealigned to ward boundaries, working with partner agencies and with guidelines preventing their abstraction for other duties. Early results are promising with evidence of environmental, economic and social gains as well as reductions in crime. But nothing will deliver effective neighbourhood policing if public engagement is absent at the design stage. If, therefore, in the context of force reorganisation, neighbourhood policing is to be an effective compensating measure, local communities need to understand the bargain that they are being
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invited to strike. We need to be really confident, in more than an aspirational sense, that police and partners can deliver.
This is the most radical proposed reorganisation of the police for decades, withalbeit latterlya developing and quite proper level of scrutiny at a professional level about cost benefits and arrangements for governance and accountability. I hope that collaborative arrangements short of force mergers will not be discounted if the balance of interest recommends it, and that final judgments will be the product of critical analysis rather than the application of some rigid formula.
But long-term success, together with sustainable progress against terrorism and organised crime, depend on a public who understand the case for change and do not feel disengaged or misled. I feel that more needs to be done at all levels to involve thema point made by a number of noble Lords. For if larger, seemingly remote forces neglect the diverse context in which policing takes place, public confidence will erode and policing at all three levels will be diminished.
Lord Elton: My Lords, although I was for a year Minister for police at the Home Office, I am the least-qualified person here to speak, because the Home Secretary at the time was Willie Whitelaw. He made certain that I had so much other responsibility to discharge that he could carry on doing it himself. It took the arrival of my noble friend Lord Hurd at the Home Office to begin to change that attitude.
The police live in difficult times, not only for all the reasons that have been deployed, but because it is now 30 years since the great recruiting bulge took place in the mid-1970s. Consequently, a considerable turnover of personnel is in process. The Centrex prediction of the recruitment necessary to maintain a national level of 136,000 to 138,000 policemen runs at around 9,500 per annum until 2012. That throws great responsibility on those who train the recruited policemen. In passing, I should say a word of commendation, to the extent that the police have managed to absorb that considerable turnover of new blood into the system without weakening it.
However, one must look at how training is carried out and that is being changed. The principal agent is Centrex. I was startled to discover that in 200405, its budget was cut by 17 per centin real terms it was 26 per cent, because apparently they lost the ability to reclaim VAT in that year. I apologise for not giving the Minister warning, but can she say what the budget is now and what it is projected to be for the next financial year?
Training is changing. It used to be centred at places such as Hendon and Cwmbran. I cannot resist saying that it is exactly 23 years to the day that, in my temporary position as Minister for the police, I visited Cwmbran. I was impressed by what was going on there, but more by what happened when I was about to leave. I was detained by the officer in charge, who asked if I could wait for a minute or two moreI had
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finished my sandwichesbecause they were not quite ready for the next thing. I wondered what that might be. Suddenly the double doors burst open and a great column of singing Welshmen came in bearing a cake and singing, "Happy birthday to you, Lord Elton". The coincidence of dates was such that I could not forbear from mentioning it. I still tingle with gratitude.
What surprises me about Centrex is that it is not a validated teaching organisation, which means that, first, it does not have an academic institution overseeing the way that it carries out its instruction, which could be valuable to it; secondly, those who receive qualifications through Centrex do not have accredited qualifications that, if they change careers, they can wave in the face of a future employer. That needs urgent attention and is recommended in the HMIC report on Centrexrecommendation 6.2, I think.
As training is brought into local police forces, the difficulty of obtaining an equal standard throughout the country increases and may be relevant to the present hunger to enlarge police forces. I would have thought that a Centrex is needed that can deliver in every force a standard unit of training and interoperability between police forces. I know that in his contribution to the Politea report, the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said that one need for an overall, national force of some sort arose from the difficulty of pursuing criminals from one area to another where the equipment and the training were not interoperable. The Army manages to be interoperable between all arms. Any regiment can fight next to any other regiment, or be interpolated with it without difficulty, because they have common equipment, training and language. That should be achievable without amalgamation.
Whatever the merits of amalgamation, I share the affront felt by my noble friends and others throughout the House at the rapidity with which, and the manner in which, the current proposed amalgamations are being carried forward. I asked the noble Baroness a Starred Question, just a couple of days ago, regarding what consultation had been carried out. Her reply was:
"My right honourable friend Hazel Blears, the Minister who has led on the matter, has consulted widely up and down the country to try to ensure that we properly understand people's needs".[Official Report, 28/2/06; col. 128.]
The Minister said that she was happy to write, and I hope that she will. I do not take exception to not yet having received a letter, but I look forward to it. But that is not the way to consultsending the Minister out to obtain information. The noble Baroness will correct me if I am wrong, but I understand that the Minister spoke almost exclusively to police forces and police authorities. We live in a democracy. As has been said again and again, "The police are the servants of the community"those are the words of the noble Lord, Lord Imbertnot of the state and not of the
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Government. That is desperately important. It touches the whole fabric of our nation. I and most noble Lords here are old enoughalthough I congratulate the Minister on not being anything like old enoughto remember how Europe went under a series of dictatorships; in Spain, Italy, Germany, the Russian Federation, Austria, not Portugal, and France when it was overrun. The agency of despotism was always the police, the Gestapo, OGPU or whoever. Once a government get control of a police force, it is a lethal weapon against democracy.
From 1688 and beyond we have realised that that must not happen. At one time we would not have a standing army. That is now under control. It is an instinct in the British people that the policemen are there to protect them, not to keep them in order on behalf of a great central power. Every increase in the size of forces is an incremental step towards the bogey that we all instinctively fear. If you then set beside that fear, which already has our antennae quivering, the Police and Justice Bill that will come from the other place, which devolves from Parliament to Secretaries of State the detail of not merely the composition but the responsibilities of police authorities, you begin to see that the hand of the state is reaching right down into the policing system.
We already have examples where the police apparentlyand it may be coincidentalhave started behaving in a political way on certain issues such as homosexuality. My noble friend Lord Waddington quoted another quite different example of the ladies who read out names on the Cenotaph war memorial in Whitehall. We suddenly have people springing to the defence of No. 10 against two, not quite middle-aged women.
What my noble friends say in distrust of what is being done is well founded in instinct. It is also well founded in democratic politics. It would seem elementary sense to take to individual voters a decision such as this, which affects so many of them, to get their opinion and to win their support. This has not been done and that is a great pity.
Turning from amalgamation, because it is a subject much better discussed by others already, I ask the Minister one other question. I see that Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary has, over the past two years, changed the basis of annual inspection to what is now called "baseline assessment", which works on a three-year cycle. That is pretty important, and I would hope that we might hear at least her initial views on whether the change is resulting in a more effective inspection, and clearer insight into what is going on in Government and the Home Office. I ask the Minister and her colleagues to be aware of civil servants, who are in power always and who regard Parliament as an obstacle to legislation. They are urging that bigger is better and units of policing should be closer to the hand of the Home Secretary. They should not.
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