HC Deb 15 April 1993 vol 222 cc932-6
1. Mr. Campbell-Savours

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what impact he expects his proposals for police reform to have on the county of Cumbria.

5. Mr. Evennett

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received to date on his proposed police reforms.

9. Mr. John Greenway

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received on his recent proposals for the reform of police authorities.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Kenneth Clarke)

My proposals would improve the effectiveness and performance of the police forces in Cumbria and elsewhere and thereby improve the value for money that we get from them. I have so far received a few representations from hon. Members, members of the police service and others. I propose to issue a White Paper setting out the details of my proposals before the summer. I will continue to listen to the views of all those concerned with improving the performance of the police service.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Why should meddling Conservative appointees appointed by the Secretary of State be appointed to the Cumbria police authority when they surely serve only to undermine the authority and the excellent work being done by our chief constable? Has the Home Secretary no faith in local institutions which can make adequate appointments and carry out the responsibilities that the public expect of them?

Mr. Clarke

I do not make appointments to public bodies for which I am responsible on a purely party political basis. The hon. Gentleman's question is indicative of the attitude of many Labour Members. When police authorities are mentioned, all that they can think about is whether they are of their own political persuasion. I have every confidence in the local delivery of police forces. That is why I intend to create stronger local authorities, whose presence will be more visible to the inhabitants of Cumbria. I will also give them more autonomy in handling resources from central Government. I will lift from the shoulders of the Cumbria police authority and others many of the detailed restraints currently imposed upon them by me and by the Home Office.

Mr. Evennett

I warmly welcome my right hon. and learned Friend's determination to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the police. However, I urge him to look again at the issue of London. Does he agree that London is different from the rest of the country in many ways and should, therefore, be treated differently in his reforms?

Mr. Clarke

There is a question about London further down the Order Paper which I shall answer. The answer to my hon. Friend's question is emphatically yes. He and many of my right hon. and hon. Friends have already made their views known to me informally about my first proposals. I accept that the Metropolitan police, who cover the capital city and parts of the surrounding counties, are quite different from the rest of the country. I will carefully consider representations about the nature of the new police authority which I propose to establish for the Metropolitan police.

Mr. John Greenway

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that there are a great many people who could be appointed to police authorities could bring a vast range of experience for whom serving as councillors or magistrates is not an option? Will he make it clear when he publishes his White Paper that he is looking not just for people with business experience but for people with experience in running police liaison panels, victim support schemes and crime prevention schemes?

Mr. Clarke

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. In considering people to serve on a police authority, one must bear in mind that not every man or woman able to make a contribution in that way can also spare the time to be elected to the local county council or to sit in a local magistrates court. People who might want to sit on a police authority should not be judged, as the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) would judge them, on whether they are the right party political colour. [Interruption.] The Labour party's defence of local authority membership of police authorities is because, all too often, it sees local authority appointments to committees of this kind as a means of party patronage. We are concerned with strengthening the police authorities and improving the effectiveness of the police service. I hope that the Labour party will eventually take a more enlightened view of the undoubted need to strengthen the effectiveness of the police service.

Mr. Martlew

Earlier this year, the Cumbria police force axed four senior police posts and asked the Secretary of State if it could spend the money thus saved on seven constables, but he refused. Will he change his mind today and allow us to have extra police in Cumbria to fight the rising tide of crime?

Mr. Clarke

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. He has described the existing situation, and I regard that feature of it as positively daft. That is why, in my recent statement to the House, I announced my intention to change that situation so as to give far more discretion to the local police force to determine how it spends its resources and what balance it strikes between men and resources. We need stronger police authorities with unfettered discretion to handle money in that way and I propose to set them up. It is the normal instinct of the Labour party to be against any reform or change of any kind to any public service. I hope that at least this small detail of my reforms will get the hon. Gentleman's support.

Mr. Anthony Coombs

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the effectiveness of police reforms in ensuring that the police can combat crime better will be a matter not merely of organisation but of police operational priorities? Is he aware of the Audit Commission report which points out that 20 per cent. of police time was spent on administration and 25 per cent. on non-crime priorities such as traffic management? Should that not be investigated when the reform proposals are being considered so as to ensure that the police are more actively concerned in beating crime?

Mr. Clarke

It is important that we do, and the police service does, exactly what my hon. Friend proposes. We need to be clearer about what the priorities of the police service are, and what the local public expect of it. We then need to reflect those priorities in the disposition of manpower and resources in the locality and to measure performance in meeting the first priorities of the police service. For that reason, in addition to the White Paper that I am producing, I have other studies under way into exactly how we should prioritise the different duties imposed by the public on the police service. The service also needs to be better organised so that it can react to those priorities, dispose of its resources accordingly and then account to the local public and the general public for its performance.

Mr. Blair

Is not one part of an effective police service the provision of an efficient police and prison escort service to and from the courts? In relation to Group 4 Total Security Ltd., which has taken over certain police and prison functions, will the Secretary of State confirm that, in the past few days, not merely have four prisoners gone missing, but at Leicester prison Group 4 turned up with the wrong van and the wrong documentation and then could not get through to headquarters because the line was engaged? Is he aware that in Derby, court hearings have been delayed because prisoners have turned up late, in Nottingham, court hearings have been postponed because Group 4 vans have got lost in the city's one-way system and that yesterday, a Group 4 van carrying prisoners crashed into a police car outside a police station? Is it not about time the Secretary of State took a grip on his Department and the prison escort service and started to run a service with some regard to public safety rather than one that is like something out of an Ealing comedy?

Mr. Clarke

Escorts between prison and the courts are frequently an occasion for escapes. In the contract area of Group 4 alone, last year more than 50 prisoners escaped during escort—an average of more than one a week—but the Labour party took no interest whatever in that. It could not care less so long as prisoners are escaping from public sector workers. Suddenly, when a contract is taken out by Group 4, it pays attention to every crash of every vehicle, every escape of every prisoner and every slip on the paperwork. If we have aroused the Labour party's interest in the quality of the service provided when escorting between prison and court, we shall have made at least one modest advance. The fact is that the Labour party is obsessed simply with whether a driver belongs to the right trade union. Until it can lift its thoughts about the criminal justice system above that pathetic local Labour party executive committee level, it will have nothing to contribute on this front.

2. Mr. Lidington

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to encourage devolved management within the police service.

6. Mrs. Gorman

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a further statement on his intentions to allow chief constables to manage their own budgets.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Wardle)

As my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary said in his statement on 23 March, he intends to give police authorities and police forces greater freedom to decide for themselves how best to spend their money.

Mr. Lidington

Is my hon. Friend aware that local management of police forces has been broadly welcomed in the Thames valley area by the police service and by the general public? 'Will he and his colleagues press on from that position and ensure that the performance indicators that he and the Home Secretary are now planning can be applied at local area level so that the public know that not just chief constables but area commanders are making proper and efficient use of resources committed to their stewardship?

Mr. Wardle

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We want to give more freedom to chief constables and police authorities to deploy the resources at their disposal, and that means devolving responsibility within police forces from headquarters to local units. National standards and objectives will be translated into local objectives which mean something to the local community and by which those local units can be measured.

Mrs. Gorman

My hon. Friend will not be surprised that in Billericay, where we are well known for our dedication to private enterprise and personal responsibility, the chief superintendent welcomes the moves announced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, but will my chief superintendent be freer of paperwork imposed on him by the Home Office so that, instead of pushing paper, he can be out catching crooks? In addition, will he be able to subcontract out more of his detective work to the Maigrets and Miss Marples of this world?

Mr. Wardle

There will be greater freedom for chief officers to manage—that is the important thing—with much of that delegated to local level. We want to put the nearly £6,000 million a year spent on the police to the best possible use with as little red tape as possible. Where minor functions can be subcontracted, they will be, leaving the basic policing to the police.

Mr. Raynsford

Does the Minister agree that the first principle of a proper arrangement for delegation is to recognise that it is the chief superintendent on the ground who has the best knowledge of the resources required to ensure effective policing locally? If so, will the Minister please stop sending hon. Members such as myself misleading replies about the actual reduction in police officers that has occurred in Greenwich? Will he ensure that the real representations made by local police and representatives of the community are met by a positive response to build up numbers to tackle crime effectively in Greenwich and elsewhere in south-east London?

Mr. Wardle

From what the hon. Gentleman says, I take it that he is in favour of the reform proposals, as it will then be up to the chief police officers themselves in the police authorities to decide precisely what the strength of their force should be within their cash-limited resources.

Mr. Battle

Will the Minister explain why, when chief officers have decided that resources should go local and have set up special urban crime schemes, such as those in my constituency in Armley and Bramley, when they have proved to be successful after a year of operation the Government withdraw the funding?

Mr. Wardle

The hon. Gentleman will already have heard, if he has followed the proposals, that it will be up to the chief police officers to decide precisely how funding will be deployed. If there is a particular scheme on which a chief police officer wishes to place emphasis in any local area, he can so do. It will be up to the chief police officer and the police authority to determine priorities.