HL Deb 20 November 1991 vol 532 cc901-36

3.7 p.m.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale rose to call attention to the problems facing the police service of England and Wales; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is some time since we debated the police. It needs no words of mine to remind your Lordships of the importance of the service to the life of the community; nor does it come cheap. We are talking of a service with a budget approaching £4.5 billion or perhaps, as he told us yesterday, the noble Earl would prefer to say £4,500 million. I am most grateful to those who put down their names to speak today. I believe that the list of speakers contains a greater level of expertise than we have ever previously managed to achieve.

Perhaps I may say at the outset that the police service in this country is one in which we can take great pride. Nothing I say today detracts in any way from my admiration for the service and the way in which it tackles its difficulties; including, for example, the kind of problems to which the noble Earl so graphically referred in speaking in the debate on the Address. All the same, the police would readily agree that there are problems. Regrettably, there is reason for thinking that public confidence in the police—and, indeed, trust in their integrity—is less than it used to be. Cases in which individuals convicted of serious crime have had their convictions overturned because of what came to light about police procedures have done nothing to help.

I first became involved with the police in my early days with the Home Office in the 1930s. There were then 180 or so separate forces in England and Wales. Training in most of them was non-existent. Out of the six top posts at Scotland Yard, four were filled by non-policemen, and we were only just beginning with the proper employment of policewomen and the development of police wireless and the forensic science laboratories. Indeed, in those days people knew what the word "forensic" meant.

How things have changed! There are fewer forces (43 of them) but there are more police, more civilians who help them and more civil servants in the Home Office. There is more crime and more traffic. There are more drug problems. There are more forms to fill in and more offences that the citizen can commit. It seems necessary, for example, to announce at least one new criminal offence at every Conservative Party conference. There are new problems with the ethnic minorities and there have been extensive problems with riots, although those problems are not new. I have vivid memories of the black-shirted fascist brawls of the 1930s.

The first issue that I want to raise is that traditionally the police service is a local government service, although there has always been the marked exception of the Metropolitan Police force. As the Audit Commission has pointed out, the responsibility of each police authority to maintain an adequate and efficient force has become increasingly blurred. Is there not some risk that the new Local Government Bill will make matters even worse? In my time, police boundaries and local government areas kept on changing, but somehow never at the same time and never in step so that we now have merged forces such as Thames Valley, to take one example, responsible to a joint committee. What will now happen if we go in for the widespread creation of unitary local government authorities? I believe that Home Office Ministers have said that they do not contemplate any reduction in the size of police areas; so are we to expect considerable use to be made of the powers being taken in the Bill, amending the provisions of the Police Act 1964, aimed at amalgamations, which in their turn mean local responsibility at two removes, as it were?

I found it interesting, looking at the police service as a local government service, to note that, as far as I can see, not one word was said about the police in Monday's debate on the Local Government Bill and about the provisions in that Bill dealing with police amalgamations. There is the fact that, for all the police being a local service, there are already in being a number of arrangements which go beyond the boundaries of individual forces, and one wonders how much further down that road it will be thought fitting to go.

I can well recall my involvement in the setting up of a national police computer, but am I right in thinking that that is now old hat, and that there is to be a new and bigger computer with improved criminal records and, more especially, improved criminal intelligence records? What is to happen to the regional crime squads? Are there any prospects of including in the new set-up an automatic fingerprint recognition system? Will the local authorities still be paying their whack under the common police service arrangements, which I gather are themselves in some kind of trouble? If so, are they being given an effective say in what is to be provided?

That last question leads me naturally to my next point which is to ask about the control of the purse strings. The Autumn Statement allowed for 1,000 extra police, and some of us, I fear, are puzzled by the mysteries that that evokes about the relationship between police grant and the Department of the Environment's standard spending assessments and capping powers. Are the local authorities obliged to set aside in some way their contribution towards the costs of the 1,000 new posts? Apart from a large extra allocation like that, is it the Department of the Environment or the Home Office which decides upon the size of the police ingredient that goes into the calculation of the standard spending assessment? Who in the end decides how much can be spent on the police" How does that apply to the Metropolitan Police force? Will it not become even more complicated outside London if there is a proliferation for which joint authorities are responsible? That is indeed arcane territory, and we look forward to some enlightenment.

Once a force has its money and its manpower, what about its management? The Chief Inspector of Constabulary said that, although the service seemed comfortable with the concept of operational responsibility at superintendent level, the same could not be said, with some exceptions, about financial control. He also thought that there were some 12,000 jobs at present filled by police officers which could very well be taken over by civilians. Such comments are bound to raise some doubt about the management of resources and whether it is yet as satisfactory as it might be.

The Audit Commission's comments, for example, on the top-heavy command structure in some forces add to those doubts. A report from the Select Committee on Home Affairs in another place on co-operation with Europe went rather further and talked about the service being made up of piecemeal solutions and Heath Robinson structures for a system designed for a Victorian Britain. It came as news to me that heath Robinson was a Victorian, but I let that pass.

I am aware that the inspectors of constabulary are conscious of those problems, but I wonder whether they have access to enough expertise. We have come a long way from the day when the Scottish Express stopped for an extra 10 minutes at Carlisle and the inspector, on his way to the grouse moor, stepped out to examine and inspect the local force, drawn up for his inspection on the platform. But there is a serious question here: should the inspectorate be supported by professional management expertise?

I must say a word about selecting the leaders of the service. We have said goodbye forever to the old days, when county forces tended to take their chief constable from outside, and when the pre-war Hendon Police College set about creating an officer grade—both of them arrangements which produced rather mixed results.

I am aware that much thought has been devoted to carom. planning. I understand that, unlike previous years, the accelerated promotion course at Bramshill is now full; but until now the procedure for filling the top posts from within the service has fallen some little way below perfection. I should like to hear from the Minister whether he is satisfied that we are now on the right course.

My last point is to inquire whether the Government contemplate any further changes in the procedure for handling complaints. These provisions have come in for criticism, for example, from the Police Federation. That body occasionally complains about things. Seeing the arrangements from afar, one is tempted to wonder whether they have become rather too complex and will take too long to implement. Are the Government satisfied that we have this matter about right?

I am not advocating a Royal Commission. I know there are many who would like to see one, but a Royal Commission is already sitting which may produce findings that greatly affect the police. I believe it is as well to leave the matter there. Nor do I regard nationalisation of the service and the solution of the problem of the role of local government by removing that role altogether as serious starters. However, I recall that some years ago the Willink Commission demolished many of the arguments commonly advanced against a national force.

It is undeniable that various problems have arisen that call for careful consideration by the Government and by all those who have the future of the service at heart. I end as I began by stressing the vital importance of the service to the well-being of the community on whose behalf it acts. All I have sought to do is briefly to consider some aspects where there is reason for thinking there may be scope for making this splendid service even better and for recovering in full the esteem in which it used to be held by its fellow citizens. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

3.22 p.m.

Earl Nelson

My Lords, I start by making the observation that there are certainly more cops than robbers taking part in the debate today.

I wish to quote from a recent statement made by the Police Federation which sets out clearly current police thinking. It states: The time has come for the people of Britain to say what kind of Police Service they want, for the Government to provide the necessary resources and for the Police Service to give priority to public expectations". It is a fact that from time to time the police find they lose direction and a sense of purpose. Why should that be the case today? The basic problems this time do not seem to revolve around pay and conditions as such. They are without doubt the ever-increasing demands on manpower and the consequential effect not only on human resources but also on morale. I recognise of course that the Government have increased police manpower and financial resources dramatically; but has that been sufficient given the awesome extra responsibilities that are heaped on to the police year in and year out, if not day in and day out?

There are persistent cries for more men on the beat, yet simultaneously there are increasing demands on manpower. My following examples illustrate those increasing demands. An avalanche of legislation has played its part in this regard. Recently the police have been required to police red routes and to implement dog registration schemes. They also have to process financial disclosures under the Criminal Justice Act and various drugs and anti-terrorist laws. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act has had the greatest impact as its system of checks and balances keeps hundreds of sergeants in chargerooms as custody officers, and it keeps arresting officers off the streets longer than hitherto.

Furthermore, non-criminal matters account for an increasing proportion of resources. All racial incidents must be fully investigated, the needs of victims catered for and action taken beyond merely giving advice. That is also the case when dealing with children, matrimonial disputes and domestic incidents.

Sporting events must also be policed. As the public continues to exercise its right to demonstrate, large numbers of police are committed to public order duties on a daily basis all over the country. During industrial disputes involving the emergency services, police have had to act as firemen and ambulance men. They have repeatedly had to act as prison officers. As a result of the current dispute, police are now guarding some 1,800 prisoners in police cells. Although costs are borne by the Home Office —that is certainly the case with overtime costs—large numbers of police are being kept from the streets. They did not join the force to become prison officers.

The expanding workload as regards data protection has led to an increased reliance on computers. In turn a greater capacity to search records has prompted yet further demands; for example, the vetting of juries and the vetting of employees with access to children and other matters. Those demands will grow. In the future the police may be required to issue certificates of good conduct to persons travelling abroad. They may also be required to vet employees of private organisations such as security firms. Complying with those requests while observing the principles of the Data Protection Act involves considerable extra work in checking inputs and in weeding things out.

The police are becoming increasingly anxious, annoyed and frustrated at the reluctance of some local authorities to detain juvenile defendants in secure accommodation; and at the Bail Act's restriction of the grounds for opposition to bail. We all know that that has led to an alarming increase in offences committed by people who are already on bail.

As regards motor vehicle crime, the police have long despaired that the act of taking a conveyance falls short of the definition of theft and is known as "joyriding". The current craze of "hotting" will perhaps change the perception of both the public and the courts as regards that offence. I am of course well aware that the Government propose shortly to introduce legislation to counteract that current craze. However, prior to 1988 the maximum penalty for taking and driving away a vehicle was three years' imprisonment. Under the Criminal Justice Act 1988, Section 37(1), the maximum penalty was decreased from three years' imprisonment. It stands presently at a maximum fine of £2,000 and/or six months' imprisonment. I wonder therefore whether we are not in part responsible for the present situation.

At present the public's attitude towards people who illegally drive away a vehicle is ambivalent to say the least. If the police chase a mere joyrider, they stand to be criticised when he crashes. If they desist from chasing, they only encourage criminals (who may have committed more serious offences) to make a run for it or to repeat the offence. In this case as in many others the police appear to be in a total no-win situation.

White collar fraud has become a growth industry to the extent that fraud squads can no longer cope. Offences involving millions of pounds are now dealt with by non-specialists who are taken off other duties to carry out that work. Government privatisation issues have become a particular headache for the police. Each one results in progressively more referrals for investigation. Contending with these examples of crime—there are of course many others—requires ever more sophisticated and comprehensive training. The number of Metropolitan Police personnel alone, either under training or providing training at any one time, is now equivalent to the number of personnel in a medium-sized police force.

It is simply not realistic to place seemingly infinitely increasing demands upon finite resources. The task of the police must be defined, resourced and then communicated to the public in such a way that there is no doubt about what we can expect from the police. The police cannot make these decisions alone. The future of policing is far too important a subject to be left to political decision alone. The choices must be informed by consultation and debate, and by the speedy setting up of a new Royal Commission.

3.29 p.m.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I do not enjoy the advantages of the two previous speakers. The noble Earl, Lord Nelson, was a much respected police officer and the noble Lord, Lord Allen, to whom we are grateful for opening the discussion, was the head of the Home Office for many years. However, I cannot fail to join with them in expressing our pride in the police force. As one who speaks often in this House from what might be called the other side of the argument I recognise that we, on our comfortable perches from which we recommend penal reform or other civilised causes, would hardly exist without the police force to whom we all owe so much.

In preparation for today's debate I have made a rapid investigation of the problems confronting the police in an area which I used to know well, the Oxford area. The so-called riots—which the police call disorders—have arisen on an estate, the Blackbird Leys estate, which did not exist when I was a councillor representing Cowley. They have taken place in an area where it would seem impossible that such things could happen.

In the course of my investigation I have done my best to talk to the right people. I have been given a great deal of help and been taken round the troubled area by a very able police superintendent. I have talked to a councillor who lives on the estate and is married to the Member of Parliament for Oxford, East. I have spoken to a lady who is chairman of the parish council and has lived in the area for many years, and I have also spoken to a minister of religion who has also lived there for a number of years. When time is available I try to equip myself to offer a few thoughts to your Lordships.

On the face of it, it is extraordinary that the disorders, which have been going on now for at least two years, should occur in that area. The estate cannot be described as a deprived area. No doubt I shall be told (and the Reverend Stephen Heap has already told me) that there are many more disadvantaged people there than might appear to the visitor. Nevertheless, 50 per cent. of the houses are owned by the occupants. There are good facilities such as a swimming pool, a youth centre and playing fields, and unemployment is not as high as in some areas of Oxford. Therefore one cannot say that there is a correlation between a deprived area and the outbreak of disorders. One needs to look deeper. This afternoon I shall not embark on a sociological investigation, although perhaps on some other occasion I may do so. I shall say simply that in my opinion the one outstanding fact about that area is its isolation. The chairman of the parish council said that the residents do not feel that they are part of Oxford.

I shall now turn to the particular problems of the police. I asked the police superintendent why the police had allowed the disorders to continue for two years. He explained that the problems are a great deal more acute than the visitor might suppose. On the one hand, people go joy-riding and steal cars; if they are interfered with they assault the police. They wear masks, which makes it more difficult to identify them. When they have been identified, when the police try to arrest them a crowd assembles and people in the neighbourhood attack the police. Although we are told that 90 per cent. of the inhabitants of the estate are law-abiding it is extremely difficult and even dangerous to try to arrest someone in that area. When people are arrested and taken to the police station, as they are entitled to do they obtain a solicitor who advises them to say nothing and to observe the right of silence. Therefore it is very difficult to arrest people. Nevertheless, I believe that 99 people were arrested in connection with the riots or disorders which occurred at the beginning of September. Many of them are still awaiting trial.

I have taken one individual area, but the problem is widespread. What can be done about it? If one talks to the police, to councillors, to members of the parish council or clergymen living in the area there is general agreement that there should be community policing. That is a very easy phrase to use. Most of us think of community policing as meaning the bobby on the beat.

I have given the Minister notice of this question: can community policing be introduced without an increase in resources? I put to him the further question: if it cannot be, can he justify the refusal of the additional resources which are necessary if the police in Oxford and in so many other places are to be able to serve us as they wish to serve us?

3.35 p.m.

The Earl of Winchilsea and Nottingham

My Lords, I too am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, for submitting this topic for short debate, a topic which is very current and one which demands urgent attention.

It is an extremely far-reaching subject, touching as it does nearly every aspect of our lives; social services, conditions and behaviour, education, planning, housing, employment, health, the judicial system, the prison service, current thinking concerning the future of magistrates' courts and, with the coming of 1992, cross-border policing and all the problems that will come with that, to name but a few.

This afternoon I should like to speak from the street, as it were. Your Lordships may not be aware that one of the reasons why I do not sit on these Benches as much as I should is that for the past two years I have been spending a great deal of time with policemen and policewomen. I have been out on the streets, walking around with them, talking to them, yes, but mostly listening to what they have to say. I have done that all over the United Kingdom and I am continuing to do so. Tomorrow, for example, I shall be with the City of London police.

I have seen at close quarters what our police have to deal with and no doubt I shall see a great deal more as time goes by. Their role is often that of nursemaid to society. They have to deal with the results of legislation. They uphold, or try to uphold, the law of the land. They do their very best to maintain the Queen's peace. However, the reality of life out there is grim.

I have witnessed horrendous things. For example, I witnessed an attack on a home beat policeman by a man armed with a machete which opened his thigh down to the bone. A courageous council worker who went to the policeman's rescue nearly lost his arm for his trouble. Noble Lords will no doubt have seen the front page of the Daily Express two days ago which carried a short piece about a PC who saw two men tampering with a car in Chancery Lane and asked them what they were doing because it seemed to him as though they were trying to steal it. The men beat him up and then drove over him for good measure. He lies unconscious in hospital. Such are the hazards of modern day policing in this country.

Through the contacts I have established with members of our police service from all over the United Kingdom I think that I have built up a fairly accurate picture of how they feel and their thoughts and worries for the past, present and future. My experience is by no means confined to the federated ranks. It includes opinions voiced by high and middle ranking police officers as well as PCs on the beat.

There is no doubt that there are many problems facing our police service. Many are serious and common to all police forces. Others are problems which face a particular force for one reason or another. Although many of those difficulties are directly concerned with the public and the community served by its police, many are internal police problems that can be addressed only by the police themselves.

There are two problems in particular which stand out. They have been repeated to me over and over again by serving policemen everywhere. They complain most bitterly and with great feeling about the lack of communication between the lower and middle and the higher ranks. That in turn has an often disastrous effect on morale. It must be said that that complaint tends to grow with the size of the police force—the larger the force, the more often the complaint occurs.

The problem of communication is by no means confined to the police, although it is perhaps fair to say that, in an organisation structured, as the police is, on military lines, it is likely that divisions will occur between the Chiefs and the Indians. Many people say that there are too many Chiefs and not enough Indians. That is encouraged by the system, but it is not necessarily the wish of senior officers. It brings into question the entire promotional structure of the police which is another feature that is often a cause of worry and resentment.

The public want to see policemen and policewomen on our streets, patrolling the way that they used to. I can remember, growing up as a boy in central London, living in a street which had a police station at the bottom of it. Consequently, our street was full of policemen coming off and going on duty. We knew them all, some of them by their first names, but all of them by their surnames, and they knew everyone in the area. We knew that, if we misbehaved and were caught, we were in for it from a policeman and from our parents. We did not hate the police. We did not despise them for giving us the occasional clip round the ear. We admired them and respected them and looked up to them. They were part of the community that they served and they performed many valuable services to us all.

That may well be what the public want. It may well be what we need to help to bring back some of the values, morals and standards that make up a civilised society. There is no question that that is what the police themselves want. Give them the resources and they will do it. In many cases they feel cut off from the community that they are supposed to serve. They feel isolated and they do not like it. So often, the only contact that anyone has with the police is when they are in trouble, when a crime has been committed or when there is an accident or some kind of emergency. The normal, day-to-day friendly contact, the exchange of greeting and the passing on of information which may or may not be of interest or use is often sadly lacking. It is by those means that a position of mutual trust and respect is established. Without it, the police and the public remain separated from each other and that simply feeds the "them and us" approach which is so totally negative.

I talk about resources being given to the police. It is well known that the Government have given their support to the police by providing additional recruiting and money. It is not so well known that in many cases local authorities have not been able to allocate the necessary funds to recruit the extra men and women needed to meet the Home Office requirements because the same Government who recommended the additional recruits have imposed spending restraints on them. The community charge fiasco must bear the brunt of the blame for that.

As I mentioned, another problem affecting the rank and file of the police service is the promotional system within it. Too often, not enough thought and consideration is given to those members of the service who are not that interested in promotion, but who have joined the police to serve the public. In many cases their superior officers cannot understand that all those officers wish to do is to remain as constables, building up a good local rapport and providing the kind of policing on which many of us look back with fond memories. The Dixon of Dock Green spirit is very much alive, but it needs a little encouragement to flourish. To encourage those community policemen, three different grades of constable should be established with adequate financial reward offered at each stage, perhaps after 10 and 20 years' service.

In connection with that point, another internal police matter that requires urgent attention is the attitude that derides the uniform branch as being something less than human, when the reverse is true. It forms the bedrock on which all else rests. Constables in particular find it hard to relate to middle and senior-ranking officers because, in so many instances, time does not allow it. It often seems that, just when you are getting to know your newest boss, he is posted elsewhere.

In conclusion, I should like to take the liberty of suggesting that, although I thoroughly approve of efforts to make the police more accountable to the public which they try hard to serve, it might be a good idea for the police to try to make themselves more accountable to their own members by giving them the chance to state their views and express their worries and by listening to what they have to say without any fear of retribution. We cannot afford to waste precious resources; what resource is more precious to us than the product of the human mind if it is allowed and encouraged to function positively and productively?

3.45 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Chichester

My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, for putting down this Motion on the Order Paper. He said that it would be largely a debate of experts. I make no claim to be an expert in this matter, but during the 18 years that I have been in Sussex I have grown in admiration and sympathy for the police and their work there and in my understanding of their problems. I welcome the Motion, particularly because it provides an opportunity to express support for the police and confidence in them at a time when many of them feel attacked and undervalued.

Some while ago the Chief Constable of Sussex invited a group of senior Church leaders to meet members of his senior staff for discussion because they felt that the publicity given to the overturning of various terrorist convictions in recent years had led to undermined confidence in the police generally. Although related to only a small number of officers, it was brushing off on the whole force and on forces in areas which were not involved. It is important to recognise that the troubles involve only a small proportion of the police. For example, I was told yesterday that in the Chichester area last year there were over 2,000 arrests and that the number of complaints dealt with was minuscule. That element of proportion must be borne in mind.

Law and order can be properly maintained only if there is a right relationship between those whose job it is to enforce it and the community at large. That relationship depends on the quality of the police officers themselves and on the care by the community for the police. I am thankful that in Sussex we have an excellent well-led force and that relations with the community are good, but that cannot be taken for granted. It needs to be worked at and it is important that the leaders of the local community, whether they are those formally involved in local government or others, make a point of knowing their local police and supporting them in every way.

We have recently had a series of seminars for the clergy and the police. They arose out of the need to formulate contingency plans for major disasters in the light of the experience gained at the Clapham rail crash and other such incidents, but they extended into a wider discussion of relationships. Matters raised included the pastoral care of the police and their families who can feel isolated and at times vulnerable. The discussion also extended into the general area of initiatives in police and community relations. Such meetings are valuable. They supply important information about what is happening, they establish personal contacts and they help to build up confidence and trust.

We should all strive to see the policeman as a valued member of the community. That is why some of the suggestions to hive off some police functions to the private sector must be regarded with suspicion. The present combination of various functions in one force is an important factor in ensuring that the police are seen as part of the community as a whole and not just as a group in opposition to it. The dangers of having private security forces independent of the police are obvious. The protection of the police force should be open to all and should not just be for those who are able to pay for it.

I also join those who have criticised proposals for a national police force. Certainly there are areas in which a degree of national co-ordination is vital. Dealing with terrorism and some other sorts of crime is one. However, the further that control of the police is taken away from the local community, the more its influence and visibility as part of that community are weakened. I am sure that the proposals for privatising and nationalising contribute to undermining the morale of the service which, as I said, is already weakened by other happenings.

I suspect that it is not always recognised throughout the country at large to what greater extent nowadays pressures and demands are made upon the police, not only in the way of additional legislation, to which reference has already been made, but as a result of terrorism of various kinds. At the time of the bombing of the Grand Hotel in Brighton, there was some unjustified criticism of the Sussex police. Many people did not realise that only a week or so earlier that force had been fully employed in dealing with the Trades Union Congress in Eastbourne where there had been threats of demonstration from the miners. The coming together of two big occasions of that sort within a matter of a few weeks imposes enormous burdens on any police force. Such burdens are increasing, as was shown by the precautions taken at the last Conservative conference in Brighton, where a large sector, part of the centre of Brighton became virtually an armed camp. Security problems are now so extensive that even such a small matter as a Crown Court service to be held in Chichester Cathedral next week is adding greatly to the burdens of the local force and takes men away from other duties.

All these things make it that much more difficult to maintain rural policing and in an area such as Sussex that is a serious matter, as I am sure it is elsewhere. The fact that the policeman is seen about and is known is in itself a deterrent to crime and a contribution to people's sense of security. But the strains on resources make it increasingly difficult to maintain rural policing. And then understandably country folk ask why they should pay the community charge so as to send policemen to protect the Conservative Party at the Brighton Centre. There is a proper place for national intervention. The financial burden should be spread more evenly over the whole country to cover the whole range of terrorist activities. I hope that this debate will help the police and assure them that their work is appreciated and valued. I hope also that it will encourage community support for the police.

3.53 p.m.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, those who are involved in upholding law and order are working to the best of their abilities, often in increasingly difficult circumstances, and there is on their part an openness which has not been seen in the past. Each component part of the criminal justice system can point to successes. It may be in the form of some local scheme where crime has been reduced; it may be a police area where detection figures have been improved; or it may be a voluntary body which has counselled youngsters away from crime. However, we have become used to ever increasing crime and new ways have to be found if the rise is to be stopped. What is missing is an unambiguous national and corporate policy to combat crime. Information must be the key.

At the moment, each organisation within the criminal justice system collects, stores, collates, assimilates and disseminates its own information. Much is common to and duplicated by all. For example, in the case of a juvenile offender, the name, address, date of birth, family circumstances, educational attainments and employment record will be kept respectively by the police, the social services, the education services, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Probation Service and magistrates' courts. If he or she goes on to a higher court and receives a custodial sentence, a further two organisations will duplicate that information.

There are also voluntary organisations which may become involved as well as the central criminal recording centre. One set of information can be duplicated 10 times. The cost in time and effort of that bureaucratic nightmare is indefensible. There is no argument for its continuance.

In addition to that common information, each agency will add its own unique text to its file, such as police interviews, custody records, prison records and prison release dates. A substantial part of that information has to be communicated to one or other information agency in the chain. For example, the police files have to be passed to the Crown Prosecution Service and then to the courts. Where information is passed on, it is duplicated and copies are retained for the originating agency. Were all that information to find its way into a common database, available to all others within the system who could claim legitimate access, huge reductions in bureaucracy could be achieved. Information from a common database would immeasurably help agencies judge the effect of certain actions on criminality and if and how those actions had contributed to deterring crime, along with the effects of sentencing policies.

At the moment if we want to know the outcome of our sentencing policies we must first wait for researchers to take an interest and, secondly, just hope that those agencies will grant them access to the information that they need. Valuable work has for some time been undertaken to improve communication between the various agencies which have need to communicate directly. But each does not wish to lose control of its own system in favour of another's and each would claim, perhaps justifiably, that it had no resources beyond its own threshold.

How then could commonality be achieved? A national criminal justice agency should be created and be the responsibility of a Minister. It would not interfere with the independence of the component parts of the criminal justice system which would retain their own unique responsibilities, but it would have its own computer system linked to each agency. Once a person came to the notice of any agency within the criminal justice arena those details would immediately be available to others in the system.

The records would grow as other agencies fed in new information, but all duplication would be eradicated. Operational information would be available to all legitimate users and as that information became more comprehensive, so policy decisions could be based on that knowledge. That could well relate to resourcing, deployment of staff, employment of specific diversionary tactics which have proven successful, or redistribution of work. The possibilities for the use of that information and its impact on the criminal justice system within this country are limitless and the information would be available almost immediately.

The criminal justice agency could be created at little cost. It certainly would not make much of a dent in the £7 billion now spent on criminal justice. There may even be savings if the huge waste of time and money in the present system are taken into account and staff currently involved in administering the current system could be redeployed to the new agency. The advantages are legion. Practitioners would be more willing to outline clear strategies, confident in the knowledge of the likely effect on other agencies, crime and criminality. The policy makers and indeed the purse holders at national and local level would for the first time have some measure of the effectiveness of their policies. Above all, the community would have growing confidence in the system and it would be of inestimable value to the police.

One other point that I should like to make relates to the countryside. Rural crime is on the increase and thefts of farm machinery and equipment rose, according to the Economist, by 45 per cent. in the first half of 1991 over the previous year. Not only equipment but livestock, gates and even growing trees are taken as well; and of course there are home burglaries. Even stone walls, fences, roofs and ornamental statuary disappear regularly. Motorcyclists swarm at will and stolen cars are stripped down in the woods. Not only are there fewer farm staff to keep watch on the land but also criminals operate over a wider range, using wireless communications. They are prepared to be violent if in danger of being caught, as increasingly occurs elsewhere when they are confronted by the police. The noble Lord, Lord Winchilsea, referred to that point.

In the meantime, in many rural areas police are few on the ground. Many police officers are town bred and have little concept or appreciation of the problems in the country when they are fully occupied with survival against the town hooligans. Areas such as mine have formed Farm Watch. They have a special officer designated for the countryside. That must be a help for those hours when the officer is on duty. At least the farmer knows to whom to report the constant vandalism and theft. Perhaps it is a case for greater practical use of the mounted sections to provide a threat of an ever-lurking police presence.

However, the fact remains that the countryside is now being torn apart by vandalism. The police are hard pressed to do anything about it. I refer to vandalism and theft of anything that moves, or that can be prised off or dug up.

4 p.m.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon

My Lords, many speeches in the debate will undoubtedly focus on those areas where the police service has a deficiency—a lack of manpower, equipment, public support or accountability.

I intend to address an area touched upon already by the noble Lord, Lord Allen, and the noble Earl, Lord Nelson, of which the police service has had an excess in recent years. It is an area in which your Lordships have been directly involved and partially responsible for. I refer to legislation, in particular those pieces of criminal legislation, ill conceived and hastily drafted, which deal with complex problems that have suddenly attracted the attention of the more excitable elements of the media. I have in mind, for example, moral panics about mugging, drugs or dangerous dogs, and currently young car thieves and squatters. Few of them are new problems. However, lately there has been a rush into legislation and an assumption that the police service is a bottomless pit, an oubliette into which such problems may safely be dropped without extra resources or prior consultation.

Some of the legislation affecting the police service passed during the past 10 years has been excellent and well conceived. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 was an essential piece of legislation which forced us to put our house in order and it was drafted after considerable prior consultation with the police service. However, the Act has had profound consequences for police resources, requiring the Metropolitan Police to withdraw 400 sergeants from street patrol to become dedicated custody officers, with a consequent loss of supervision and police presence on the streets. My figures refer only to London but are an illustration of the broadly similar effects elsewhere.

A further problem attendant upon each piece of new legislation is the need for training or retraining, which takes police officers off the street. For example, in 1985 over 45,000 man days in London were spent on training officers in relation to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act. Even that was woefully inadequate for such a complex piece of legislation and further courses have since been run. The reduction in officers on patrol is not the only effect. Other planned training has to be cancelled. For example, in 1985 policing skills and race awareness courses had to be cancelled.

Other legislation has brought similar problems. The drugs profit confiscation legislation is so complex that dedicated officers have to go on courses on financial management and investigation. The Metropolitan Police in the past year alone has had to train 104 officers.

Those pieces of legislation have been useful but have put additional strain on police resources which is not al ways considered in advance by the Government or the Home Office and even retrospectively has not been allowed for in full when manpower increases are calculated.

An even more important anxiety is those pieces of legislation which are potentially damaging to the role of the police service by setting it against the less privileged sections of our society. Great damage has been done to the relationship between police and public in many parts of the country because of the cynical use of the police service by this Government to enforce trade union legislation. The image of the police service as "Maggie's thin blue line" has destroyed for a generation at least the relationship between the police and the community they serve in many northern and Welsh mining villages. It is very important that governments do not jeopardise the political neutrality of the police service by suggesting that they are on the side of the propertied and prosperous and opposed to the poor or the homeless.

Legislators also seem often to have wholly unrealistic expectations that the creation of a new crime will somehow eradicate a social problem. It was with Particular horror that I heard the suggestion by the Home Secretary that he was considering making squatting a criminal offence. Does he really believe that he will thereby eradicate the problem of homelessness? About a third of squatters are families with children for whom the alternatives are at best the placing of mothers and children in bed and breakfast hotel s. If squatting were criminalised, would the police service be expected to accommodate that new criminal class in police stations already crowded with men and women who should be in prisons?

Other hastily conceived legislation this year has been the Dangerous Dogs Act, with which your Lordships are all familiar, and in consequence of which a number of owners of Staffordshire bull terriers are currently complaining of harassment by police officers. I can imagine only too well the media excitement when the first destruction order is issued for someone's family pet. It will be police officers, not legislators, who will be seen as brutal and uncaring.

Another issue which has attracted media attention and calls for changes in the criminal law is the long-standing problem of young boys who steal cars and drive them with dangerous and sometimes fatal consequences. If the Home Secretary were serious about crime prevention, he would not be considering increased penalties but would be encouraging the Department of Transport to lay an amended construction and use legislation on the table requiring all motor car manufacturers to fit tamper-proof ignition systems. Technology such as smart cards or embedding the wiring in the body of the car to prevent hot-wiring already exists. The main obstacle is of course the cost to the manufacturers and ultimately to the motoring public. But the alternative is the continuing cost of death and destruction.

Before new criminal laws are introduced, I suggest, first, that consideration should be given to the existence and adequacy of current offences. For example, there are perfectly adequate existing offences which duplicate the proposed new offence of prison mutiny. Secondly, consideration should be given to the ability of the police service to cope with the new demands upon it. For example, if red routes are introduced throughout London, the Department of Transport formula suggests that that would require 800 extra officers to enforce the parking restrictions. I believe that it is much better to spend public money on improved public transport. Thirdly, consideration should be given to the consequences that the legislation may have on the fabric of our society. Is it divisive, setting the police service on the side of the powerful against the weak; or is it even handed and directed at a real abuse so that the actions of the police service are seen to be just and legitimate?

4.8 p.m.

Lord Knights

My Lords, I too wish to thank the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, for introducing the debate, which noble Lords may feel comes at an opportune time when the police service is under the spotlight probably to a greater extent than it has been since the Royal Commission of 1959.

Against the background of continually increasing figures of reported crime, the role of the police service in the investigation of offences and the prosecution of offenders is under examination by the Runciman Commission. The service's general effectiveness and efficiency is the subject of detailed consideration and examination by the Audit Commission. The Association of Chief Police Officers is examining the ethical standards of police officers stemming from its recently agreed statement of common purposes and values.

With the likely requirements of the forthcoming Citizen's Charter and the reported preparation by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary of some 45 indicators against which to measure total police performance, exceptional demands will be made on the management skills of chief constables. It is only right, therefore, that their ability to respond to those challenges should be examined. As the noble Lord, Lord Allen, said, some people have recently doubted that ability and have pressed for direct entry to the senior ranks to be introduced. I do not support that view. I believe the necessary quality is to be found within the service itself. After all, today one officer in every 14 is a graduate. I believe that to introduce direct entry, thus blocking promotion prospects, would inevitably and disastrously destroy the quality and variety of recruits to basic police work, at which level the relationships between the police and the public are really forged. It is vital that the present quality of the lower ranks should be maintained.

What is necessary is a "fast track" system which recognises real potential when it is recruited and ensures that it is properly brought on and prepared for the higher ranks. I am not sure whether that is yet the case. While the present arrangements for graduate entry and accelerated promotion by way of the special course at Bramshill may go some way towards meeting the needs of the ACPO rank—and, like the 1989 Home Affairs Select Committee of another place, I have some doubts about that—it does little to meet the need for high-quality officers in the rank of superintendent. At present there are approximately 1,550 throughout the country. Not only do they control operations on the ground but they are expected to handle the interface with other local government services and to take the day-to-day decisions about police priorities, budgeting, resource allocation and other management matters. It is a matter for concern that the staff college training for that rank is available only when officers are already chief inspectors with an average age of 42½ and having 22 years service. Perhaps the Minister will tell the House what progress has been made in the review of their training needs. That matter was referred to at paragraph 11 of the Government's response to the report of the Home Affairs Committee to which I have already referred.

If one were to ask a chief constable what was his main problem he would probably say that it was the fact that the service had no clear definition of its role. Many of the tasks required of it have nothing to do with maintaining law and order and preventing crime, as was said by the noble Earl, Lord Nelson. However, at the same time some traditional police duties—for example, those in and around the huge shopping centres throughout the country—are being discharged by other groups; in particular, the security industry and some statutory and voluntary agencies. Their activities and their relationships with the police need defining and regulating, especially those of the private security companies.

Coupled with that are uncertainties about what the public expect from the police, what the police's priorities should be and who should decide them. How should the public be consulted and what can the police realistically deliver? It is vital that those doubts should be resolved. Some of the anxieties of the police about the criminal justice system are now being examined by a Royal Commission. There are those, including the noble Earl, Lord Nelson, who believe that a Royal Commission should be set up to examine the boundaries of policing. The Police Federation is also lobbying for that. I doubt whether there is sufficient agreement that the problem is so great as to warrant a Royal Commission. Nevertheless, the matter needs to be discussed. I know that the Police Foundation is anxious to undertake work in that field and I hope that it might take the matter forward. At least a start could be made in respect of the role of the security industry. Perhaps the Minister can tell the House what is happening in respect of the lengthy discussions on the regulation of that industry, which appear to be reaching no conclusion.

Finally, I wish to refer to the funding of the police, which is another matter raised by the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale. Undoubtedly the present system is less than satisfactory. That is particularly so in the metropolitan counties where the police budget is isolated from the district councils' financial considerations and is individually capped. It is argued with some justification that generally insufficient discretion is left with police authorities. They have been referred to only briefly in today's debate but they are an essential part of the police system of this country. The tight central control imposed on capital spending leads to difficulties as regards the provision of equipment. The fact that the Government by way of direct and revenue support grants meet some 70 per cent. of the bill should not lead to the police authority's essential role being eroded, as I believe at times it is.

No doubt there will be other opportunities to pursue these matters when local government reform comes before your Lordships' House after the general election, as it appears will be the case whichever party is then in power.

4.15 p.m.

Viscount Tenby

My Lords, I must first declare an interest as a magistrate member of a county police authority. We are extremely grateful to my noble friend Lord Allen for initiating this debate and for launching it with a typically incisive and thoughtful contribution. It is a most important subject which affects us all.

In many countries police forces are the tool of evil regimes. Here in a democracy they are a thin blue line standing between chaos and order and the instrument by which society protects its freedoms. However, it is undoubtedly the case that the mutual esteem which at one time characterised relations between the police and the public has in recent years markedly deteriorated. There have been examples of malpractice; in some cases grave malpractice. It is reassuring that in some cases the improprieties have been identified by the forces themselves or by others called in. However, other cases have come to light only as a result of the persistence of people outside the service. It is important to bear in mind that the price of a good police service is eternal vigilance.

It is also regrettably true that some officers in their dealings with the public are unimaginative, insensitive and fall short of the normal standards of courtesy. Ironically those shortcomings usually appear only in the case of relatively minor misdemeanours. That is a tragedy because such conduct is undesirable and damages relations with the overwhelming proportion of the Public who are law abiding and on whose good will the police rely.

There is another side to the coin. In the past 20 years or so a whole subculture has grown up. I regret to say that it has been fed by irresponsible elements in the media and by some fringe political activists whose aim is to undermine the police and the confidence of the public in them. Those two elements have combined in an unwitting alliance to reduce the esteem in which the police were formerly held.

My noble friend Lord Allen has already referred to the grim examples that were movingly reported by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, in his reply to the humble Address. Signs of similar breakdown have occurred in my area. On two separate occasions men have attempted to rape policewomen who were on duty in uniform. I know of a slightly-built WPC who recently was twice thrown through plate glass windows and of another whose jaw was broken. The list goes on and it is contemptible and deplorable. Make no mistake, my Lords, those who spit on the police spit on the people of this country.

Speaking as a magistrate, I must say that some of us do not come down as firmly as we should on people who attack police officers. Salutary though such a tightening up of sentencing would be, it would be a case of shutting the stable door after this particular horse had bolted. Society must address the problem of why people behave in such a way towards the police and turn them away from such anti-social behaviour. The only way forward is continuing emphasis on community policing in the hands of officers best suited to it, together with a major programme of educating the public, in particular throughout schools at every level, about the problems facing the police and how they deal with them. The importance of the task is confirmed by the fact that in 1988 a British crime survey found that 60 per cent. of the public had contact with the police during the course of a year. We must not fail in our task of making sure that in future that contact is based on mutual understanding and respect.

What of the police service in the 1990s? Pay has been improved to a point at which, at least in economic terms, a career in the police service is attractive. However, this must be matched by a career structure which ensures that an officer's abilities are fully utilised, which is something to which most forces are now fully committed. Ethnic recruitment is still disappointingly slow; in the area of which I have some knowledge, it is only I per cent. of the total. That is because the number of applications is low and the only way in which this can be overcome is by targeting such minorities and selling—I apologise for the use of this word but I have had a career in marketing—the attractions of a career in the police force.

Police forces are also fully committed to an equal opportunities policy and I have already mentioned the able and brave role that WPCs play in all operations. But an increase in their numbers of 24 per cent. in 1990 was matched by a leaving rate of 17 per cent. No doubt some of it was due, if I may put it delicately, to natural causes but it would be interesting to discover whether resignations due to stress-related causes are higher among WPCs than among PCs.

I now turn to the ever-increasing burden that we are asking the police to bear in today's complicated society. This has already raised by the noble Earl, Lord Nelson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton. For example, the police have to attend various sporting occasions; they have to separate fans at football matches and keep hunt protesters and hunts apart. They have to enforce stringent gun laws, act as gaolers in their own cells—and I am not talking here about what I might call "overnight visitors"—and undertake many additional tasks. Nor must we forget the enormous amount of paperwork that they have to get through due to procedures laid down, no doubt in good faith and with the best of intentions. by those not at the sharp end and whose perception is sometimes driven by the merit of what has been rather than what should be in terms of practicality and efficiency.

If we are to give the police all these additional tasks more resources will inevitably be needed. Civilianisation, already under way, must continue to be implemented as a cost-effective strategy for releasing more officers for up-front duty. There could also be merit, in the long term, in seeing whether some retired officers who were willing to serve could be re-engaged in a second-line capacity. The importance of the Specials too will continue to increase and they must be made to feel that they have an integral part to play in operations.

All such measures cost money but as the crime rate increases and the duties we expect the police to perform increase, so the need for more money will inevitably increase. There will be the usual cry of "more money". I fully appreciate the sensitivity of this area with so many competing claims on limited available funds.

Also, the workload of which I have spoken is often carried out in old and cramped accommodation. In one station in my area 20 policemen and women have the use of only one lavatory. In another area, were all the CID officers to try to get into their office at the same time they would be unable to do so because the office is too small. In others —the majority—there are no showers for officers returning from some unpleasant task or indeed after having spent hours on patrol in driving rain. The miracle is surely that, despite these conditions, they remain cheerful and their morale is high. However, a perceived indifference on our part to substandard accommodation and facilities scarcely reassures the force that alienation between them and the public is not fast becoming a reality. The danger is that if this drift towards alienation is not altered it may result in the creation of a fortress mentality—"them and us"—and that would be a tragedy of the greatest proportions.

I refer again to my opening remarks. This is a vital topic. It is one of the most important, complicated and urgent issues with which we have to deal at the present time. We owe it to all those brave men and women who do a job and do it very well—a job which I for one would not care to do one little bit—to give these matters our sympathetic attention and the highest priority.

4.25 p.m.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe

My Lords, I believe that the best way in which we can help the police and the long-suffering general public is to pursue the point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Nelson, as to the deficiencies of the Bail Act and the offences committed by people while on bail. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Allen, for giving me this opportunity to draw to the attention of your Lordships' House the remarkable study which was done by the Avon and Somerset Police under Chief Inspector Brookes and his team. I would also draw attention to a study done in Northumbria about offenders out on bail committing further offences. These two studies show that one in three offenders arrested and charged with a crime were already out on bail for similar offences. We are talking about one in three, which is an extremely high offending rate and one which is also going to inflate the general level of crime. I am told that, so far as Avon and Somerset are concerned, extra cases last year arising from offences committed on bail totalled 28,000. Extrapolating the figures for this year would give a figure of 34,000. Those are shocking statistics.

At present a post-sentence review is being conducted in Horfield prison. Twenty-three offenders have been interviewed and have admitted that on average they had committed seven offences while on bail. One individual actually admitted to having committed 50 to 100 offences of mugging while on bail. Burglary and theft, including theft of and from motor vehicles, account for 70 per cent. of all crime. The criminals who commit these offences are also the ones who are most likely to offend again on bail. In addition, three-quarters of all those arrested for these crimes are 17 to 20 year-olds. Young people under the age of 21 are twice as likely to commit offences on bail than their older counterparts. It is these young offenders who are pushing up the level of crime and who are obviously in most need of rehabilitation; yet they are being sent back out onto the streets. Many of them believe that during the time they are out on bail there is no real harm in continuing their criminal activities, since they have already been arrested. In other words, there is no incentive to stay out of trouble.

Most of the re-offenders are in fact arrested for the identical offence for which they were originally arrested and bailed. Also, offenders with one or more previous convictions are much more likely to offend. What is even more perverse is the fact that fewer offenders with no convictions are out on bail than those with previous convictions. To put it more clearly, one person in 10 with no previous convictions is out on bail, compared with one person in four who has three or more convictions.

There is a major discrepancy between Section 38 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act and Section 4 of the Bail Act, which has no provision to allow police to refuse further bail when the offender is likely to commit further offences if released. Yet this provision under Section 4 of the Bail Act is given to magistrates. Your Lordships will know that, under the present law, after charge a person will be released unless—and here the Act gives a number of conditions such as reasonable grounds, own protection, no fixed abode and so on.

What is required is an additional ground for refusal to the effect that they have committed or are likely to commit offences whilst on bail, not that the police can decide on remand in custody but merely that the police have the right to bring the alleged offender before the court rather than releasing him on bail, and that the court may take into consideration the fact that offences are alleged to have been committed whilst on bail when deciding on bail or custody. Also, a separate offence should be created of committing an offence whilst on bail, to ensure that offenders receive additional punishment, not thinking that it is "Liberty Hall".

The question of overcrowding in prisons is often referred to. What are we going to do if there are far more bail refusals? I am going to make a suggestion to your Lordships which may reinforce my already rather tarnished reputation. Quite frankly, in view of the Defence Review that is in progress, I think that secure defence establishments should be taken over and used to house people who are on remand. Before the civil liberties lobby jumps on my neck about inflicting those conditions on remand prisoners, I hope that they can show me a record of having complained of the conditions in the camps when they were being used by our Servicemen and women. Desperate measures are required and I suggest that the Government look seriously at the point.

When the Home Office researched the Avon and Somerset and Northumbrian material it said that the findings would be produced by the end of October. I am sure that they will be published soon. I hope that the findings compare like with like; that is, that they look at police bail and not court bail.

We shall hear much today, as we have already, about resources. If we solve that problem the effect will be remarkable. I am told that at 0700 hours on 18th November the number of prisoners in police cells amounted to 1,623. In Avon and Somerset alone there were 44 in cells and another 36 for whom Avon and Somerset were responsible held in other local police force cells. Those remands may involve round trips of 300 miles and more. The number of police officers and the mileage involved is astonishing. Avon and Somerset calculate that in this year alone, from June to October, the costs amounted to more than £1¼ million. Your Lordships can imagine the countrywide costs when that figure is multiplied by 40 police forces. Moreover, in several cases the officers from Avon and Somerset had to travel to Bedworth, Warwickshire, Sussex. Middlesex, Hythe and Worthing to collect and return prisoners remanded from courts within their own area.

The whole matter has become a nonsense. A prison- building programme is of no use if one is simply running hard to keep up with the increasing numbers. The Government should look again at the conditions of the Bail Act; consider the creation of a new offence; and bring into commission some of the secure camps which are now being abandoned by the Services. They are perfectly reasonable for holding people on remand. At a stroke it would cut through the rising crime figures and release extra resources to the police.

4.32 p m.

Baroness Sharples

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, for initiating today's debate. Having taken the opportunity to ask a chief constable about the problems facing him and his force, I should like to concentrate this afternoon on rural areas in which the police work in this ever-changing world. My noble friend Lord Gisborough spoke of the Farm Watch scheme. The chief constable to whom I spoke told me of its success in the area in which I live. He said that besides deterring villains, it encourages individuals to keep the police informed of any strangers or unfamiliar vehicles. I hope for his sake that the schemes continue to expand.

In one county during the past three years the proportion of civilian workers increased to form almost 50 per cent. of the police available. That allows the police to do the jobs for which they were originally trained. One fact brought to my attention was that when a custodial officer is a civilian, the prisoner is less likely to vent his or her spleen on that person. In-house training enables civilian employees to be aware of police problems. In the recruitment of "specials", as mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, I understand that a large proportion of those applying are women. In their turn, those "specials" can train others on police issues.

One special anxiety in rural areas is the growing number of "acid house" or "rave" parties held in disused warehouses or barns where up to 1,000 people may be present. Parents would be horrified if they knew of the dangers facing their youngsters. At one such venue, when a large warehouse was broken into, the organisers sealed three out of the four openings, leaving the fourth opening to act as an entrance and exit. A generator was needed to supply light. Had that generator failed, what would have happened to so many people attempting to get out in the dark? A fire had also been lit inside the building. Even young women with babies were present. We can all imagine the terrible panic that would have ensued.

On that occasion the police stood back. They were present at night but realised that more problems may have been caused by confronting those inside and those outside waiting to go in. It was not until seven in the morning that they were able to arrest anyone.

Notwithstanding the valiant attempts by Her Majesty's Government to deal with the problems presented by those illegal parties, public safety, public health and the noise nuisance surely merit more attention. Local authorities are hamstrung by the present law. Equally, the police do not possess powers to deal with that growing menace in the countryside. I hope that when my noble friend replies to the debate he will have some new initiative to help the police to deal with those illegal gatherings.

4.36 p.m

Lord Charteris of Amisfield

My Lords, I should like to add my congratulations to those of other noble Lords to the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, for initiating this interesting debate on the problems which face police forces in England and Wales. It is an important matter. We rely upon the proper functioning of those forces to ensure that the rule of law as opposed to anarchy obtains in this country. It is a matter of concern to all of us.

My reason for taking part in the debate is this. For the past four years I have been chairman of the Police Convalescence and Rehabilitation Trust which raised and continues to raise money for Flint House, the centre at Goring which looks after police officers in the southern part of the country who have been damaged physically or psychologically in the course of duty—by that I mean at the hands of the "opposition". Another centre at Harrogate deals with those officers injured in the northern counties of England.

I came to be chairman of the trust on the sad death of Lord Trenchard who did all the hard work in raising the money to bring Flint House into being. My work for Flint House over the past few years brought me into close contact with the police and taught me something in regard to the rougher side of the job that they are expected to do.

Flint House, which replaced the original convalescent home at Hove, was opened by Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother in June 1988. Ever since then it has been used to full capacity. I am sorry to say that there is a waiting list. Planning consent is now being sought to increase the size of the centre so that it may be better equipped to deal with the demands made upon it.

Perhaps I may give noble Lords some statistics for 1990 which illustrate why Flint House has a waiting list. During that year, working to capacity, Flint House looked after 1,064 police officers, of whom 257 came from the Metropolitan Police. During that same period in 1990, the number of assaults made on police officers was as follows. For the Metropolitan Police, 4,022; for the rest of England and Wales, 13,878. That made a total for England and Wales of 17,900. Noble Lords with a quick head for figures (or, alternatively, with a pocket calculator) will realise very soon that that is just over 49 a day, which is a great deal.

A policeman's life is by no means an easy one. It is not easy because, as the figures above illustrate, he is often threatened with physical assault. It is not an easy life also because in carrying out his job he is often subject to more subtle dangers than those presented by armed criminals or angry mobs. I mean the problems of exercising authority without aggression and with courtesy to all; to the young and to the old; to black and to white. I mean the temptations put on him to twist the law for personal gain or to twist the evidence to obtain a conviction where he may be certain in his heart that the person concerned is guilty. We should never condone the conduct of police officers which falls in any way short of the very high standards expected of them; but we should remember the very difficult problems which they face.

If we were settling down to write a job description of the "perfect copper" I believe that it would turn out to be the Archangel Gabriel with a Ph.D. in psychology and a knowledge of unarmed combat. There are not many people of that quality around. We should be grateful that so many of them seem to be in the police forces of England and Wales.

4.43 p.m.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, I too wish to thank the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, for having introduced this debate. I propose to speak briefly on three matters: one on which I believe significant progress is being made; and two matters where I believe that there is a very substantial problem.

Perhaps I may turn first to the most cheering example, which is the case of the Metropolitan Police. In a debate of this character it is right to recognise the very substantial progress that has been made in recent years. Many significant problems remain. Crimes of violence are continuing to rise; the level of drug trafficking is still increasing; and we are at constant risk of sustained terrorist attacks. In addition to that, the public inevitably expect improvement of the quality of service they receive from the police, particularly as regards offences for which in some respects they have a more direct interest, such as domestic burglaries and criminal damage. Nevertheless, the Metropolitan Police are now better equipped to deal with the situation than they were, say, 20 years ago.

The force is a great deal more professional; the quality of recruits has risen significantly, thanks partly to the Edmund-Davies' pay review, but also inevitably to the deterioration in employment opportunities elsewhere. The noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, also made the point about the reforms introduced as a result of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act. That is a piece of legislation not based on the hunches of a number of politicians, but following a careful review by a Royal Commission. As a result of the implementation of that legislation, it is now less likely for malpractices to occur. That is not impossible because no system can ensure that, but it is far more difficult. There has been some encouraging indication that when misconduct or impropriety arises, there is a greater disposition for some officers to report such matters to their superiors.

There are many reasons for that, not least the plus programme which the present commissioner, Sir Peter Imbert, has introduced. The programme was a revolutionary idea not only in terms of the police, but also of the public service generally. Both the uniformed and civil staff of the force have been invited to a series of small seminars where they have been encouraged to discuss in a frank and uninhibited fashion the quality of the service which they are providing to the people of London. I am sure that that is often a very uncomfortable experience for some managers in the service. However, I believe that the programme is already having a significant effect on the manner in which the Metropolitan Police are carrying out their duties. We owe a profound debt of gratitude to Sir Peter Imbert because without his determined leadership in this matter these major reforms would not have been pushed through.

I turn now to the other two matters which I want to raise this evening. There is the serious and, so far as the Home Office is concerned, unintended effect of the level of standing spending assessment and the charge-capping criteria adopted. That was a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, at the beginning of the debate. I refer in particular to the metropolitan county forces which are the largest forces in this country outside the area of the Metropolitan Police. All police forces are now facing serious budgetary problems; but the situation is far more difficult for the six metropolitan joint authorities which do not have the same room for manoeuvre as the forces of the shire counties.

The consequences of the policies of the Department of the Environment are as follows. The noble Lord, Lord Knights, was previously Chief Constable of the West Midlands force. In the current year that force has been compelled to make a 33 per cent. reduction in overtime working, which has had the effect of removing 150 officers from the streets. The force has had to freeze 140 civilian posts thus compelling it to use uniformed officers to carry out duties which could easily be the responsibility of civilians. There has been a reduced contribution to agency services such as the regional crime squad. One hundred police vehicles have been taken out of service, and there have been cuts in the medical services and communications budgets. All that has taken place in the area of a force which has had to deal with serious inner city disturbances as well as a swelling level of serious crime.

Perhaps I may now refer to West Yorkshire. In 1991–92 the force is having to cut its strength by 200 officers. An average of 100 civilian posts is having to be kept vacant. There has been a halt to the civilianisation programme, which again will lead directly to fewer police officers being available on the streets of West Yorkshire. Next year there may have to be further substantial cuts. That may lead to a situation in which by March 1993 there may be a shortfall of over 400 police officers and a cut of 200 in the number of civilian employees. How can that possibly be sensible? I have given the noble Earl advance notice of this matter, and I shall be grateful if he will deal with it in some detail. People in these areas simply do not understand why it is that police forces which have the most serious problems are being affected in this fashion.

I could go through force after force and perhaps I may deal with just one more—that of Northumbria. As we all know that is an area force which recently has had substantial inner city disturbances. The force has been fared with a cut of 116 officers this year, and the prospect of a further reduction of 350 officers next year. In the area of this force we have also seen the development of what is now referred to as "ram raiding". There has also been the problem of attacks on the homes of police officers. Young criminals have attacked those homes, thrown paint around officers' living rooms, and threatened their families. The resource implications of something of this kind are substantial. The chief constable will have to make more officers available to deal with the problem. How can it be right to make this force reduce its already inadequate strength? I should be grateful if the noble Earl would deal with this aspect.

My next point concerns the curious situation in the county of Derbyshire, a shire county. The problem facing its police force is not, in my view, primarily the responsibility of the Department of the Environment. Last year Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary found that the state of policing in Derbyshire was "mixed", but that there was a deterioration of both infrastructure and morale. This summer he has issued a further report in which he has described the situation as "alarming". Despite the strictures in his report of last year, the police authority had taken little effective action except to consult senior counsel, a process which itself took several months.

The ratio of police officers to members of the public in Derbyshire is worse than in surrounding force areas and is a great deal worse than the national average. The inspector of constabulary went through a whole series of departments of the force—the casualty bureau, the fingerprint bureau, and so on. All of them were seriously deficient. There was an inadequate response time to emergency calls from police officers who found themselves in serious difficulties in the streets. The inspector of constabulary will carry out a further inspection of the force at the end of this year. As the noble Earl will be aware, if the inspector of constabulary does not give a certificate of efficiency to the force, the Home Secretary will not pay police grant to that authority. I very much hope that the Derbyshire police authority will now attend to the serious problems that have been raised in the inspector of constabulary's report. No sensible person wants a confrontation between central government and the police authority. But if the authority does not take action, that confrontation will inevitably take place.

The police service has passed through two or three years of immense difficulty. It would be foolish for us to pretend that that has not had some effect on the morale of the service. However, the service will be in a better position to respond to the challenge facing it as long as it listens to the public it serves and responds positively to their anxieties. The service will not be able to do its job effectively if force manpower in areas which have the most serious crime situations is driven down directly as a result of government action.

4.54 p.m.

Lord Richard

My Lords, I echo the thanks expressed by previous speakers to the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, for initiating this timely debate. It has enabled noble Lords on all sides of the House to express, first, their admiration for the work of the police and, secondly, their anxiety about present police organisation and the prospects for the future. It is a debate in which it is not permissible for Front Benchers to speak for more than the specified eight minutes. I shall therefore concentrate on one issue and in doing so partially follow the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Harris.

The Government have made much recently of their support for the police and the increase in the number of police officers since 1979. But increases expressed in global figures are somewhat misleading. During the term of the present Administration the increase in police numbers has actually been less than 1 per cent. per annum. According to Home Office statistics, between 1984–85 and 1989–90 the number of police officers rose by 4.7 per cent. That is the scope of the rise that has taken place over the past few years. For the year 1991–92 the Government agreed that the authorised establishment should rise by 700. Even if this were achieved it would represent an increase of just over a half of 1 per cent. of the total authorised establishment—that at a time when crime rates are rising by no less than 18 per cent. a year. It is against the background of the Government's record in relation to increases in police numbers that we should spend a few moments and look at what we are asking the police to do.

During the past 12 years the police workload has increased dramatically. Between 1978 and 1990 reported crime rates doubled. They are still curving steeply upwards. The last quarterly figures, released on 13th September, showed an 18 per cent. rise over the previous 12 months—4.9 million offences were recorded by the police during the year. While the police have to do a great many other things, which I shall mention in a moment, their primary responsibility—and rightly so—is to do something about crime. Their primary responsibility is to prevent it happening and to catch the criminals who commit it.

In addition to that primary role, which has always been there and is implicit in any police work, they have had to cope with urban riots, non-metropolitan disturbances and football hooliganism. Police work has been increased by recent legislation such as the Drug Trafficking Offences Act, the Criminal Justice Act, the Firearms (Amendment) Act, the Police and Criminal Evidence Act and even the Dangerous Dogs Act, which passed through this House just before the Summer Recess. The police have become increasingly involved in crime prevention work, particularly through the setting up of neighbourhood watch schemes. They have added responsibilities in relation to child abuse, domestic violence and the victims of crime. On top of that, they now have to spend a disproportionate amount of time guarding prisoners in police cells.

The point has been mentioned already during the debate but I should like to emphasise it to the House. In 1982 there were 47 people in police cells but by 1990 the figure had risen to 962. On 18th October 1991, which is the most recent date for which I have figures, no fewer than 1,802 prisoners were in police cells. That is frankly intolerable. I do not want to repeat the points that were made during the course of the Criminal Justice Bill, but the noble Earl must not get the impression that because we have not been back to this subject for a month or so it is necessarily forgotten. It is not. It is a matter that causes the police to expend a disproportionate amount of their time, energy and effort. It is one also which I know causes great resentment in the police force itself. As a result of the rise in crime and the inadequate number of officers being recruited, the police are now grossly overstretched. It is against that background that the current position must be judged.

The outlook for most forces is extremely bleak. Due to the pressures that I have outlined there is now added to those pressures the grave financial pressure caused, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, indicated, by the impact of restrictions on local government spending. Many police authorities simply cannot afford to recruit the number of police officers to which they are entitled. There is indeed an ever-widening gap between the number of officers that forces are in theory allowed and the reality on the streets.

I hope the House will bear with me for a moment if I give some figures. On 31st May this year the authorised establishment was 125,794. The actual number of police officers in post was 125,053. That was a shortfall of 741 officers. There were 1,066 vacancies. As at that date, 28 forces were below establishment. The position of those forces will have deteriorated since that time. For example, Northumbria, which was 44 officers short in May, is now 87 officers short and expects to be 116 officers under establishment by the end of the financial year. Its prospects for the future are even worse. Merseyside was 36 officers short and expects a shortfall of 100 by the end of the financial year.

It is all very well for the Government to say that they are increasing police establishment figures and to claim at the Conservative Party conference, with a great fanfare, that we will have an extra 1,000 policemen. Unless the police authorities can afford to recruit the number of officers to get them up to establishment, such an increase is, frankly, illusory.

The impact of capping has been severe, especially on the six metropolitan authorities. It has had a devastating effect on the authorities of Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Northumbria, South Yorkshire, West Midlands and West Yorkshire. Those are the very areas which have some of the worst urban problems presently faced by this country. But what has happened to them? In 1991–92 those six police authorities were forced to make cuts amounting to no less than £33.3 million. In addition,£6.6 million was taken from reserves to reduce the impact of the capping. That was last year. However, for 1992–93 the position will become worse. Such authorities will now be capped on the basis of a deduction of £33.3 million which has already been made. Therefore, in future things will be even more tightly stretched than they are at present.

On 13th September a deputation from the Association of Metropolitan Authorities met the Home Secretary. He told them—and this was an interesting comment—that it was a potentially fruitful time for the association to approach him. I am not quite sure why he thought that it was potentially fruitful, nor am I certain as to what "potentially" actually means. However, that seems to have been his opinion. The Home Secretary said the total local government spend had been announced for 1992–93 but that service-by-service distribution had not yet been decided. He added that he would "fight hard" for police and fire with his colleagues and that that would apply to all the authorities concerned.

The present situation cannot be right. We demand a great deal from our police force, especially as crime figures have doubled in the past decade. By and large, members of the police force perform with distinction and efficiency the tasks we place upon them. I should like to join the tributes that have been paid to our police force from all sides of the House. But, however willing, they may be—and, indeed, are—"over-stretched", and that can only be taken so far: eventually the elastic will break. Even if it does not actually snap, it will certainly lose its flexibility.

The police feel that they are now caught up in a battle between various government departments—the inevitable victims of the clash between operational requirements, on the one hand, and over-rigid cash spending limits on the other. It is unfair that they should be placed in this position. I hope that the Minister can give us some reassurance on that point.

5.3 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, for introducing this debate on the police. It is important. He was quite correct to say that there has not been such a debate for some time. It is also correct that your Lordships should have the opportunity to debate the subject this evening.

At the conclusion of his speech, the noble Lord, Lord Richard, said that the police felt that they were caught in the position of having an ever-increasing number of duties placed upon them on the one hand and the conflict among various government departments on the other. I can only say that inevitably the police have increasing demands made upon them. That is part of the nature of life. The Government increasingly have their own problems of trying to live within the constraints which are placed upon any government. It is their duty to try to match those two conflicting interests as best they can.

We have not only had an informed debate but we have also had the participation of my noble friend Lord Nelson, who was a police officer. Moreover, we also heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton of Eggardon, who was a commander in the Metropolitan Police and from the noble Lord, Lord Knights, who was a chief constable. No one can say that your Lordships' House does not have people who are well informed.

The noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, in his peculiarly slow way of speaking was enormously incisive. He shot a volley of questions. If I may say so, his standard was repeated by the speakers who followed him. One important point he made—and we should remember this—was to emphasise the fact that policing in this country is done by consent. The relationship between the public and the police is essential; it is essential, as the noble Lord said, that the public should respect the police. It is vital for the public to respect and support them. I was glad that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester said that he hoped the debate would encourage the police to believe that they have support. They need it. It is essential to their work that they should feel that they have the support of the community which they serve. The noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, said that it was important to give sympathetic attention to the police and the problems which they have to face.

I believe that what noble Lords have said this afternoon has demonstrated the concern which is felt in this House. Everyone has his own ideas about the police and everyone has views as to the problems which the police have to face and how they should be overcome. The advantage of a short debate is that brevity crystallises the mind and a number of very concise and important points have been made. Those who occupy a position of high profile, as do members of the police force, are subject to constant inspection, criticism and direction as to what they should be doing and hew they should conduct themselves.

The shortcomings of the police or of anyone else leap up like hobgoblins in front of us. The successes, achievements and sources of pride are often taken for granted. The noble Lord, Lord Charteris, was correct when he said that we must never condone the police when they fall short of the high standards which are imposed upon them but that we should understand the difficulties under which they work. It is not unlike the thoughts is which Shakespeare must have had in mind when he wrote, under rather different circumstances: The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones". The things that go wrong exercise us all. They often submerge the things which go right and which so often never reach the public arena. While the public are quick to criticize—and there are areas which deserve criticism in the police service—there is much which is excellent about the police, and there is much in which we can all take great pride and in which we do take great pride. I was glad that the right reverend prelate the Bishop of Chichester emphasised that fact.

When I travel up and down the country visiting police forces —and I have done a lot of that over the past four years—and talk to chief constables and other ranks, including special constables, about their work and the problems which they face, I see a police service which is facing up to what is thrown at it, often quite literally in some of the most disgraceful scenes of violence which this country has seen: for example, police officers who are hit with scaffold poles; lighted rags which are put into the petrol tanks of occupied police vehicles; and officers who are hit with bricks and missiles and sometimes even stabbed. I was glad that the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, referred to that aspect. It is a shocking state of affairs which reflects badly on our society. It is a situation in which none of us can take any pleasure.

The noble Lord, Lord Charteris of Amisfield, referred to Flint House. He told us that 17,900 officers were assaulted last year. That was a terrible figure, but Flint House does impressive work. When one is subjected to such behaviour, to deal with it and to come up smiling requires great leadership and brave and devoted dedication by each officer. Although not one greatly used to quoting poetry—the noble Lord, Lord Allen, is much more versed in it than I am—I say that the police could do well to remember the words of Rudyard Kipling: If you can keep your head when all about you Are losing theirs and blaming it on you … You will be a man, my son". With all the difficulties that the police suffer—which have been referred to by some of your Lordships—we must remember that the police service has been the recipient of substantially increased resources over the past 12 years. Police strength has increased by nearly 16,000, and that is 14 per cent. more officers than there were in May 1979. Police expenditure increased to £4.9 billion by the end of 1990–91. That is an increase of 67 per cent. Three quarters of the work which the police are asked to do—a point referred to by my noble friend Lord Nelson and the noble Lord, Lord Knights—is on matters other than crime. They are everyday matters such as nuisance, domestic disputes, traffic work and patrol and community liaison work. They are invisible so far as the criminal statistics are concerned, but they are essential and fundamental parts of policing, as we know it in this country.

The noble Lord, Lord Richard, was right when he said the prime duty of the police is to catch the criminal, but those other facets of policing are also essential. He said that they should not be dealing with prisoners in police cells. I agree with him. That is not the job of the police service. That is not what police officers are trained for. But they sometimes have to deal with such matters in emergencies.

The police service is facing up to the need for change. We are establishing a national criminal intelligence service. The noble Lord, Lord Allen, reminded us that he had set up the first national police computer. We are now developing a second. The information on the second one is much the same as that on the first; but it is provided in a more efficient, flexible and helpful way. Work is now in hand to extend the range to include a national criminal intelligence system to support the new national criminal intelligence service. The national criminal record system will provide the police and other criminal justice agencies with direct access to police records.

The noble Lord, Lord Allen, asked what was happening to regional crime squads. ACPO proposed reconstructing regional crime squads by reducing them from nine to five, which should result in more effective investigation of major crime. Discussions are going on with police authorities, regional crime squad committees and ACPO to consider that matter. The noble Lord also referred to automatic fingerprint identification. In 1991, the Home Office began working with the FBI to develop and implement a computerised automatic fingerprint recognition system. I saw it the other day. It is most impressive. The aim is to supply a system for the United Kingdom by 1996–97, but it is an expensive piece of equipment.

Our police service stands high in international respect. It is taking a leading part in shaping the structure of future co-operation in Europe. It is attracting good quality recruits, a point in which the noble Lord, Lord Knights, was interested. There are 50,000 applicants a year; and one in seven is successful. The police service can afford to choose and does choose. It takes only the best. There are more graduates in the police service than there are in the Army, the Navy or the Air Force.

The police service is tackling head on difficult and sensitive areas such as equal opportunity issues, and—this is a point referred to by the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby—it is encouraging members of the ethnic minorities to join the service. The police service is also determined, overtly and totally, to provide a better, more courteous and more personal service to the members of the public with whom police officers come into contact. That is what the police themselves had determined to do before the introduction of the Citizen's Charter. The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, referred to the Commissioner's Plus Programme, and he was right to do so. It is an enormous task to try to raise the whole profile of a large organisation where each man is the person who faces the community. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, that the commissioner should be given great credit for what he is doing.

The Citizen's Charter will reinforce the commitment to improving the quality of service to all sections of the public. In all those areas, and many others, the police are showing great determination, professionalism and understanding. Of course they face problems. They always will, but they are tackling them with tenacity and determination. There is no easy route to dealing with the police. Of course if the supply of money were endless, the solution would be relatively simple; but it is not, and we have to accept that.

The noble Lord, Lord Allen, referred to expertise in Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and suggested that it would be a good idea to include some outside expertise. The inspectorate already has non-police expertise. There is an accountant/ statistician who is available to it and consultancy is provided from time to time. He also referred to the Audit Commission, which had commented that the command structure was top heavy. A number of forces have removed their divisional structure in recent years and have considerably slimmed down the command structure as a result. They all review their overall structure from time to time. The Audit Commission's reports have been helpful in providing the methodology for such a review.

The noble Lord, Lord Allen, also referred to common police services. Discussions are continuing with the Home Office, ACPO and the local authority associations about future funding of the police service. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, referred to community policing. He said that community policing involves a considerable increase in police resources.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I did not say that. I asked the Minister whether community policing did involve an increase in resources. If it did, I said that it would need more resources.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, that was because I did not take down my notes properly. Community policing does involve a considerable increase in police resources, but there is plenty of evidence to suggest that that style of policing is what the public wants. Police forces throughout the country are developing their own methods of doing it. The Metropolitan Police is introducing what it calls sector policing. That is where teams of police officers go out in what are called geographic sectors. They assume responsibility for those sectors on a 24-hour, seven days a week basis. Surrey has a total geographic policing system. Other forces have similar schemes.

The noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, got on to the complicated subject of standard spending assessments. I am the first to admit that that is not after dinner small talk stuff; it is wet towel, late night stuff. The noble Lord's anxiety was whether SSAs deliver a fair allocation to police forces, whether they reflect the increases in establishment which will flow from the Government's public expenditure survey and whether local authorities will have to put aside extra money to pay for the extra policemen.

Total standard spending is the amount which the Government consider should be spent by all local authority services. The sum for the police is top sliced off the total standard spending amount. Part of that money is paid by the Home Office by specific grant. The noble Lord asked whether it is the Department of the Environment or the Home Office which provides the standard spending assessments. It is the Home Office. The amount of money available for police SSAs is that part of the police expenditure which is agreed in the public expenditure survey which is not provided through police specific grant. The SSAs are determined by reference to each police authority's establishment of police officers which my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has approved.

The noble Lords, Lord Allen, Lord Knights, Lord Harris and Lord Richard, referred to the problems of the metropolitan authorities. They are single service authorities. I understand their anxiety as a result of the situation they face in 1991–92 as regards their budgetary problems. The authorities are also concerned about the possible effect of charge-capping criteria on budgets for 1992–93. They are in a peculiar position. They cannot move the money from one pot to another as it were. Their money is to be spent solely on the police.

It is right to remember—the noble Lord, Lord Allen, made this point—that the responsibilities we are discussing are not government responsibilities. They are local responsibilities. However, the Government provide the funds. Recently the Home Secretary met a delegation from the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and listened to its concerns about the capping criteria which may be set for next year. We are concerned about that subject but it is currently under discussion. Therefore I am sure your Lordships will understand when I say I am not in a position to give any undertakings about the possible outcome of the discussions.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris, referred to Derbyshire. Mr. Dear has deferred making any formal judgment on the efficiency of that force. He will revisit the force before the end of the financial year to assess the effect of the changes which are now being made. Like the noble Lord, Lord Harris, I, too, hope that Derbyshire will by then have taken the action needed to brig g its police force up to the standards enjoyed by other counties. A police authority has a legal duty to secure the maintenance of an adequate and efficient police force for the area concerned. That is solely the duty of the police authority.

Sometimes it is suggested that inadequacies occur as a result of the standard spending assessment formula or through the limited sums being made available for capital expenditure. However, the fact remains that those factors apply equally to all authorities. It is only in Derbyshire that affairs have been so badly managed as to provoke a high level of criticism from the independent inspectorate.

The noble Lord, Lord Allen, and a number of other noble Lords referred to the complaints system. The complaints system is operated by the Police Complaints Authority. Taints Authority. Since I have held my present office I have been horrified by the length of time taken for complaints or disciplinary matters—even those of a modest nature—to be investigated. That matter is being pursued.

My noble friend Lord Gisborough referred to a national criminal justice agency. His idea was interesting. Whether those tasked with guarding our civil liberties would agree that to have such a pool of information available for sampling would be a good idea is not something on which I can comment. Nor do I know whether information technology has reached the stage of sophistication necessary to handle so large and so complex a mass of information. However, my noble friend's idea is a constructive one and I thank him for it.

I realise I have nearly reached the end of my time limit and I have not replied to all the questions asked. I shall ensure that I write to those noble Lords I have not answered today. Finally, my noble friend Lady Sharpies referred to acid house parties. The Government took the view that the penalties available for holding such unlicensed events should be enhanced. That matter was dealt with in the Entertainments (Increased Penalties) Act 1990. The Association of Chief Police Officers was consulted and it took the view that its powers were sufficient to deal with that matter.

I fear I shall have to resume my seat despite the fact that I have not replied to all the questions I have been asked. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Allen, for introducing this debate. As I said at the beginning, the debate has covered a great many issues of great importance.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale

My Lords, I drafted the original Motion in general terms to permit a wide-ranging debate. We have had such a debate. I am most grateful to noble Lords and to the right reverend Prelate for making such interesting contributions. I hope it is not invidious of me to say a few words of especial appreciation to the three speakers who have experience of serving in the police force. That experience showed in their contributions.

I have a few minutes left, but I shall not make another speech. I am conscious of the fact that there is an important debate to be held after this one. The Minister did not have time to reply to one or two points that were made in the debate including the position of local government under the terms of the new Bill with regard to police amalgamations. No doubt I shall hear from the Minister in due course.

I listened with some care to his comments on capping and standard spending assessments. I agree with him that the Byzantine complexity of the arrangements makes them difficult to understand. However, I am still puzzled by what will happen if the capping arrangements result in the reduction of a force to a size where the Home Secretary takes the view it is no longer capable of discharging its duties efficiently. However, I leave that thought for the Government to ponder together with some other thoughts that emerged during the course of this interesting debate. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

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