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Viscount Bledisloe: My Lords, I join all of your Lordships in expressing gratitude to my noble friend
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Lord Tenby for introducing this debate and for doing so with his customary skill and wisdom. Like him, I find it surprising that it is so long since this topic has been debated in your Lordships' House, especially as the role and the position of the police have changed, and are changing, so much.
Although it is as I gather his birthday, I must start by contradicting the noble Lord, Lord Elton, absolutely. I, and nobody else, am the person by far the least qualified to speak in this debate. I have absolutely no specialist knowledge of the topic and I speak as an ordinary member of the public with, no doubt, many misconceptions shared by members of the public. From this position of outside ignorance, what are the changes in the roles of the police which seem to be the most significant? First, as many noble Lords have said, the nature of much of major crime has become vastly more complicated. Furthermore, much of major crime is international and, as my noble friend Lord Tenby said, it knows no boundaries. Much of it is also highly technical and complicated, involving sophisticated use, or indeed misuse, of modern technology. Fortunately, as a corollary, many of the methods of detecting crime and proving it are now highly sophisticated. Surely, top-class criminal brains, with their inventive ingenuity, require top-class police brains and skill to match the opposition.
Secondly, it seems to me and to many others that a much higher proportion of police time is spent on desk work and form filling. Again, my noble friend gave figures to demonstrate the truth of that proposition. There are no doubt many reasons for this. There is the increasing insistence, both in legislation and in the courts, that the police must go through lengthy procedures and must be able to demonstrate that they have done so. Then, almost as a corollary, there seems to be an ever-increasing demand within the police organisation, and from those with responsibility for it, that forms should be filled in and records kept to show what every policeman has done and why he did it. This is, I suspectthe noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate, made the pointbecause of an ever-growing fear of claims and complaints that lead people to go through procedures to avert those complaints or be able to answer them.
These requirements are no doubt devised with the best of intentions and to protect the public from unfairness or malpractices. But, as with so much form-filling requirements devised by government or by authorities, it seems to me highly dubious whether these requirements achieve their end and certainly whether the benefits of them outweigh the very considerable time spent upon them. Those who impose these kinds of requirements, whether upon the police or upon people in every other walk of life, seem to fail to recognise that rules of these kinds do not deter those who are bent upon malpractice. Such people merely tick the required boxes and ignore the substance of the requirements. Where they do bear heavily is upon your normal, reasonably conscientious police officer or
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citizen who regards form filling as a waste of their time and a distraction from the real functions which they hope to perform when they join the police.
Thirdly, there is the creeping expansion of the police role from law enforcement into what one might call social services and nanny-state good works. Fourthly, there is the unfortunate widening gap, almost alienation, between the police and those whom they should be seeking to serve. The public nowadays has a strong feeling of "them" and "us", which did not previously exist and which is highly undesirable. There are no doubt many reasons for this and various individuals who would give differing reasons. But I have little doubt that almost everyone shares my perception on this, and equally that almost everyone feels that it is a serious and indeed sad change, which it would be highly desirable to reverse.
The other side of this Motion is in the organisation of the police. My gut feeling is that the changes in the organisation over the past years have not been such as to keep up with the changing role and the ever more complicated and difficult task of the police, or to give police management the skills needed to cope with the new problems and to overcome them. On this issue, I want to raise with much diffidence the question of the quality of those in the upper, although not necessarily the top, levels of the police hierarchy. Many years ago I took a humble part in a lengthy inquiry conducted by Mr Justice Mars-Jones into a particular incident in a police station and into the defects of the subsequent investigation by the police hierarchy of that incident. In the course of that inquiry we heard evidence from all the senior officers involved in the chain of command. Our unanimous feelingour team was headed by Lord Lane, who became the Lord Chief Justicewas that virtually everyone in that chain of command had been promoted beyond his level of competence.
I do not know, but I suspect, that this would still be the case. My main reason for this feeling is that, as a general rule, you do not get enough talented natural leaders in any organisation if the sole or main route to the top is by steady promotions from the very bottom. In business, commerce and industry, as well as in the armed services, people are taken in expressly to be leaders and to manage. It may be true that every private soldier has a field marshal's baton in his knapsack, but none the less the majority of our generals, admirals and so on did not start as private soldiers or able seamen. Of course in any organisation there will be some who rise to the top and perform magnificentlyand we have in this House living proof of that factbut that does not mean that the average occupant of a second-tier leadership post has the talent, the breadth of vision and the mental scope required nowadays in a top-class police force needing to cope with the great technical difficulties of modern policing.
I am well aware that these tentative views may sound horribly elitist, but we need to consider carefully why it is that the police have a system of breeding their managers that is totally different from anything that
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occurs in private business or in the armed services, and which they find best, indeed essential, to get leaders without whom nothing can go right.
Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, on securing this debate at what is obviously an extremely important time for the police service. I declare my interest as a member of the Thames Valley Police Authority since 1993, save for a couple of years. I have served, and still do, on the Association of Police Authorities. I am the chairman of the basic command unit in Oxfordshire and a member of the Police Performance group there, which perhaps gives the lie to the fact that there is a separation between operational policing and the role of police authorities. I am a member of the Crime and Disorder Partnership in the Vale; I belong to the Local Strategic Partnership and Public Services Board in Oxfordshire; and I am a member of our local area policing board.
So I have comprehensive knowledge of the way policing is conducted and of the Government's attempts, following the Green Paper in 2003 and the 2004 White Paper, toin their viewbring policing closer to people and involve them in the process. However, the Government's proposals in their Closing the gap paper and the subsequent Police and Justice Bill are thoroughly insensitive, impatient, illiberal, uncosted, and likely to increase bureaucracy and weaken substantially the democratic accountability of, and local involvement in, policing. I say "impatient" because many changes have been and are being made in policing following the reforms initiated by Mr Blunkett when he was Home Secretary. Those reforms have not even been completely implemented, and we are faced immediately with another series of reforms before those of the former Home Secretary have been put into place.
Much improvement in policing is taking place as a result of the previous series of reforms. We have reduced the number of basic command units in my authority, Thames Valley, by half, and we have made their boundaries coterminous with the local authorities in our areas. We have set up the crime and disorder reduction partnerships. Where they work, they are comprehensive bodies involving local authorities, health authorities, the police, those responsible for housing, who are now mostly outside local authorities, those responsible for dealing with drugs and alcohol abuse, and those responsible for tackling domestic violence. All those people are being brought together and we are beginning to make progress, but we have only just started. We have had about three full meetings of the CDRP, and already someone is trying to change the procedures.
Our local area policing board is only just getting its people. Some of them are coming to their first meeting in May next year, because it has taken that length of time for the whole process to go through. There are plans to strengthen the protective services. We have relied rather heavily on mutual aid between forces, but that aid has been forthcoming.
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I quote now from West Mercia, a police force that is efficient by any measure. It is the cheapest police force, and almost one of the best police forces in the country. It has just agreed, following the review of protective services, to have more staff involved: 21 more people on major crime; 20 additional posts dealing with serious and organised crime; and 19 new posts on intelligence. It will gladden the heart of the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, to see that there are 21 new posts in road policing in West Mercia, backed up by automatic number plate recognition, which considerably enhances their capability. There are six new posts for civil contingencies and eight new posts for critical incidents. I give those examples to show that people are not complacent. They have taken on board what the Home Office has said about the need to strengthen protective services. All of that is being added in West Mercia without additional cost, because that force is extremely efficient and has made considerable savings elsewhere.
We have been mindful of the criticism of the response of the public inquiry centres. The criticism was that we had established the single non-emergency number but we were slow to answer, and the answers were not followed through by police. Both issues have been addressed in Thames Valley and the authority has committed substantial extra resources to ensuring that the phone is answered very quickly and each incident is followed through until we have had some satisfaction from the users. All of that has been achieved against some very tight financial settlements. Our sanction detection rate has gone up in the past 15 months from 16 per cent to 30 per cent. The Minister may acknowledge that we have almost choked the Crown Prosecution Service and the Court Service with the work we have rendered to them to take through the criminal justice system. So the police force, in terms of actually arresting criminals, is very efficient, but it needs the Court Service and other people to see that those people get their just deserts.
That is a result of a huge focused effort by people, and it is all being put at risk by what I can only describe as an ill-researched, uncosted plan of enforced mergers of police authorities, which in my view is bound to lead to a complete diversion of effort to organisational issues. Those issues have to be addressed; you have to make large parts of the workforce redundant and then offer them posts in any new emerging organisation. It creates huge uncertainty and will take away the focus from catching criminals and delivering local services.
I turn to the issue of democratic deficit. At present we have one representative of each councilexcept Oxfordshire, which has twoon the police authority. If we expand as proposed, it will not be possible to provide the essential democratic link to elected authorities unless they are made unacceptably large, which would be inefficient. It is no use saying that accountability can be delivered at basic command unit level, at crime and disorder reduction partnership level, or through community scrutiny committees because none of them will be able to see the strategic picture or have an influence on such vital areas as training, call handling, property services, and so on.
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Those are necessarily delivered at force level and through the medium of the Association of Police Authorities.
The most objectionable and illiberal aspect of the Police and Justice Bill is the power that is transferred to the Home Secretary in respect of police authorities. Enacted by negative instrument, in which Parliament has no say, particularly objectionable is the power to appoint the chair and vice-chair of police authorities. The privilege of appointment rests with fellow members who make such judgments based on their experience of the competence of people rather than the whim of the Home Secretary of the day.
What of the people? The West Mercia force is efficient and cost-effective. The authority has already made so much by way of plans to strengthen its protective service. In a consultation exercise 123 out of the 126 organisations consulted supported the present structure and unambiguously said that large-scale reorganisation such as that envisaged would not realise the cost savings and efficiencies, and that large organisations soon lose touch with their customers. What professional research was done that has given such compelling evidence to the Home Secretary that only such a monstrous upheaval will deliver what is needed. We see no sign of such evidence and conclude that this is a hasty and ill-judged attempt at reorganisation without thought of its effect, the economics and purpose of police forces, and the way in which they interlink with local communities and democracy.
Obviously some mergers are welcome. We volunteered at Thames Valley to merge with Bedfordshire, which volunteered to merge with us. But, because we go across a regional boundary, which is a sort of line in the sand, that rules it out. The Government's expansion plans for Milton Keynes go between the two counties, and it makes absolute sense to merge them, but that has been ruled out by the Home Secretary without considering the effects.
I want to say a final word about the British Transport Police, which has a long and historic association with the railways. It is a specialist force which concentrates its efforts on keeping the railway open, minimising delay and disruption, protecting passengers and staff and reducing vandalism or other forms of anti-social behaviour. It has transformed itself under its present chief constable, and following recent terrorist outrages, is now equipped to get to incidents quickly and safely because it gives them a high priority.
When incidents occur involving the Metropolitan Police on railway property, they clear them within 126 minutes; the British Transport Police do it in 64 minutes. They are focused, and because of that the railway is kept open. Although it is not the Minister's responsibilityI know that the issue rests with the Department for Transportthere seems to be no valid reason for burying that highly professional specialist force, which is the policy that the Government have hastily concocted.
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