HL Deb 05 December 2001 vol 629 cc875-89

5.36 p.m.

Lord Rooker

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary in another place regarding police reform.

"With permission, I wish to make a Statement on police reform, tackling crime and anti-social behaviour.

"There is not a Member of this House who would not testify that the greatest priority of their constituents is to live free from crime and anti-social behaviour. Freeing people from fear and the insecurity which damages their quality of life is a fundamental tenet of government. That is why I am placing before the House a radical reform agenda for both the police service and those who work alongside them.

"It is time to act to protect the victims of crime and disorder and to help rebuild and renew our communities. I pay tribute to the professionalism and expertise of the police and the civilian staff working with them. We all owe a debt of gratitude for the bravery often displayed by policemen and women.

"Our reform agenda will build on success. The British Crime Survey recently recorded an overall fall in crime of 12 per cent. This is the largest annual reduction in 20 years and the fear of crime has fallen from its peak in 1994. But there is no room for complacency.

"Modernisation is built on increasing police numbers. By the spring of next year we shall have reached an all-time record of 128,290. Today, I am able to announce a new commitment, to meet the target of 130,000 officers by the spring of 2003, a year early. This will be alongside an increase in civilian staff who will be additional to uniformed officers.

"But action is needed to improve consistency and overall performance. Only one in four recorded crimes is detected and only one in 10 results in a conviction. The variations across the country are unacceptable. The time has come to tackle the differences M performance and in absence.

"Detection rates vary from a high of 63 per cent to a low of 15 per cent. For robbery, the rate varies from a low of less than 15 per cent to over 50 per cent. One force achieved as few as eight days per officer lost through sickness, and another twice that rate. One force achieved a medical retirement rate of 9 per cent, in another almost two-thirds retired on ill health grounds.

"We have established a standards unit to wok alongside a refocused inspectorate. This will ensure that the best can be replicated by the rest. A new central police training and development authority will draw together leadership, management and training. A new national centre for policing excellence will develop and disseminate best practice on investigation and operational policing.

"We shall seek to improve personnel policies and shall establish a new, locally delivered national occupational health service.

"To achieve the goal of safer communities, there must be a dramatic modernisation of working practices. Through the Police Negotiating Board, we are seeking consensus on a programme of change and reform. We wish to ensure that those at the sharp end of public service are properly rewarded for the difficult job that they do. We are looking to enhance the status of, and rewards for, those doing the most dangerous, difficult or unsociable jobs.

"We want to see more flexible working arrangements and an end to unnecessarily restrictive regulations. The Police Negotiating Board has been asked to agree changes to part-time working, the current 16-hour minimum and the requirement to fix rotas a year in advance.

"Reform must be underpinned by support. We shall cut bureaucracy and halve the number of best-value indicators. The diary of a police officer illustrated that more than two-fifths of police time was spent inside the station. We shall civilianise and computerise many of the tasks undertaken by those who would be better deployed out of the station.

"We shall increase the number of specialist investigatory teams, develop a cadre of specialist detectives and accelerate the expansion of forensic work. Technology can also play a key role in enabling officers to do their job more effectively.

"The Airwave programme will now be extended across the country at a cost of £500 million, ensuring proper communication within and between forces. We shall widen the number of those who can work with and assist the uniformed police. The number of special constables will be accelerated dramatically. Community support officers—sometimes called 'auxiliaries'—will be trained aides to the police. The expanded 'police family' will allow street wardens, traffic wardens and others to be accredited by the police for specific duties within strictly defined limits. They will be trained appropriately.

"Our endeavour is to face down the anti-social and thuggish behaviour which bedevils our streets, parks, and open spaces. This will help with our civic renewal agenda, ensuring that the community becomes part of the solution. The police cannot reduce crime and disorder and tackle the scourge of hard drugs alone. Families have a key part to play in teaching right from wrong and respect for others. Local authorities, schools, the health service and the voluntary and private sectors must work together. All of us have a role to play in combating criminality and social disintegration. Decency and respect are the responsibility of us all.

"It is through the crime and disorder reduction partnerships and our community renewal programmes that we shall be able to restore confidence. By supporting Neighbourhood Watch and other local initiatives and by mobilising the community itself, we really can make a difference.

"The reform is for a purpose. Those whom we represent do not have a choice of policing services. That is why standards are at the heart of this reform. I am proposing today a three-tier approach to ensuring that the public are served to the standard they expect and deserve.

"Regulations setting out mandatory requirements, where it is necessary for all forces to adhere to national standards, will drive consistency across the country. Codes of practice will be issued by and in the name of the Home Secretary. These will be developed by the national centre for policing excellence, drawing on the expertise of the Association of Chief Police Officers. And guidance, where local flexibility and responsiveness require a light touch, will provide a menu of best practice.

"There is no intention that the Government will interfere in the day-to-day operational independence of the police. That would not be in the interests of the people we serve, the police service or the Government. However, where action is needed, it is the duty of government to respond. Using the expertise of the standards unit and the inspectorate, we shall establish new powers of intervention where consistent failure provides inadequate protection for the public.

"Basic command units, as well as the police force area, will provide comparison like with like. We shall work with Chief Constables and Commanders to establish and spread best practice. We shall provide support through multi-disciplinary approaches to tackle the worst repeat offending and repeat victimisation, mobilise the community against drug-related crime and establish policing priority areas. We shall update the role of the National Crime Squad and the National Criminal Intelligence Service.

"It is essential that we provide a greater degree of accountability, as well as devolution and delegation. We shall establish pilots for decentralising budgets to basic command units, enabling greater flexibility in the use of resources and in the response to local needs. In addition, we shall support the developing role of the police authority in reaching out and responding to the community. When things go wrong. It is important that people have confidence in the process. That is why I confirm today that in the police reform Bill we shall establish an independent police complaints commission.

"I spoke of our pride and confidence in the police service. That is why the Government have decided that we should award the Queen's Jubilee Medal to the police service. It is a symbol of our support. But the test will be the difference that we make to the well-being of those whom we serve. I want to put to rest forever the cry so often heard: 'There is nothing we can do'. Our job is to make sure that those who need help get it. Those who fear to walk down their local street or in their local park must be able to do so once again. Our job—my job—is to mobilise all the forces at our disposal to make that a reality, and I am determined that we should do so".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

5.46 p.m.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made by his right honourable friend in another place. It follows a long and distinguished line of Statements made by many distinguished predecessors. To that extent, this a very welcome.

What is particularly nice about the Statement is the thanks and recognition given to the police service and by the police service to the community. It is particularly gratifying to see that the Government have now decided that the Queen's Jubilee Medal should be awarded to the police. That is very important from the police's point of view. It is also very gratifying to see in the Statement a clear acknowledgement of the important part that families play in setting the tone within the community and in bringing up children with clear ideas of standards, behaviour, morality and of what is right and what is wrong.

I have always held that anything that is done can be done better. As I have already said, this Statement follows many previous Statements, and one hopes to keep improving matters. But British police practice, with local police services, has generally served the country very well. Certainly, some of the individual forces have a dynamic management and do a remarkably good job. It is inevitable that there will always be the good and the less good. Not everyone can perform at the top level because that is a statistical nonsense. Therefore, spreading best practice—the Statement makes much of that—is vital.

However, the Statement causes me some concern because it gives the impression that the Home Office might in future try to undertake a management role. Regulations setting out mandatory requirements, where it is necessary for all forces to adhere to national standards, will drive consistency across the country", is followed in the Statement by: Codes of practice will be issued by and in the name of the Home Secretary … developed by the National Centre for Policing Excellence", and that is followed by "guidance".

As have so many others, I have spent a long time in public life in this country. All too often when I have seen those words I have seen governments of all complexions try to take over the management of affairs locally. One would think that, with all the experience that governments have in this country, they should know better.

I ask the Minister for an assurance that the regulations. codes of practice and guidance will, none the less, leave local forces the freedom to organise and manage their affairs to meet local circumstances. Circumstances are not uniform across the country. What is the meaning of the new powers of intervention?

I note that there is to be a new standards unit to work alongside the police inspectorate within the Home Office. I have always had the greatest respect for the work done by the police inspectorate. I have heard nothing to diminish that respect. However, will the Minister say something about the relationship between the inspectorate and the standards unit? How will they work together? What is their precise working relationship?

I was fascinated, too, by a new, locally-delivered occupational health service. I am sure that that is to be welcomed. However, again, I should like a little more explanation as to precisely what is meant. Equally, I welcome the fact that the Home Office intends to use the Police Negotiating Board to modernise work practice and introduce more flexible working. I should like an assurance that the Police Negotiating Board will reach agreement rather than trying to dictate conclusions.

Also welcome is the fact that, where appropriate, the civilianisation of functions within police stations and police headquarters is to be increased. An increase in the use of special constables, community support officers, street wardens and traffic wardens might assist the police. However, what will be the relationship between those people and the ordinary police? Special constables have a known working relationship and are particularly well trained. Community officers are a less well-defined group. What will he their function? How are they to work? What training and function will street wardens and traffic wardens have?

More importantly, there is no suggestion in the Statement of the numbers of those people or of the functions from which they will relieve the ordinary police. I hope that the Minister can assure us that any expansion in those areas will not be at the expense of the existing police service and police force.

There is much to welcome in the Statement. However, a number of points cause concern. I hope that the Minister will be able to answer them when he responds.

Baroness Harris of Richmond

My Lords, I, too, pay tribute to the work of our police services. We must never forget that every day they put their lives on the front line to protect society and they deal with a difficult job with dedication, professionalism and purpose. They have been highly successful in their role, particularly in bringing down burglary and vehicle crimes, with an overall fall of 12 per cent in recorded crimes last year. We on these Benches are delighted to hear that it is to be recommended that Her Majesty award the Queen's Jubilee Medal to the service. It is wholly appropriate and timely.

I must declare an interest in these matters. I have worked alongside the police for 20 years as a member and latterly as chair of my local police authority. I have seen many changes throughout that time. These proposals are but another stage in the process of the reform that the police service has recognised that it must address.

Police numbers have been a major problem. We commend the work the Government have sought to do to improve the numbers of officers but it is still an issue with the police and the communities they serve. The latest figures, released in June, show that while numbers were up 1,350 on last year, after four years of a Labour Government who came to power promising greatly improved policing services, numbers were still 1,639 lower than those inherited from the previous government. At this rate it would take at least another year to get back to the number inherited from the previous government and two years to reach the proposed target levels. In some forces the numbers have decreased.

The number of special constables is also a great cause of concern us. Their numbers continued to fall dramatically, with 1,609 fewer than last year. We a re very pleased that the Government have recognised that and will act to stop this haemorrhage.

Let us now try to be positive, because that is what the service needs from us. Liberal Democrats support reform of the police but we need to be clear about the aims of that reform and about the principles by which it will be underpinned. I know that talks are under way within the Police Negotiating Board about pay and conditions of service. The Minister referred to that in answer to my recent Question. But we must not underestimate the difficulties ahead and we must carefully weigh every proposal in consultation with all the partners who have an interest in policing.

It is frustrating that it has taken a perceived crisis in the service in relation to recruitment and retention, not to mention morale, before action has been taken. For a long time I worked closely with others on the police reform programme. It has been a long and laborious process to get to this stage. For rushed decisions to be made now will not do the service any good.

The fundamental aim must be to improve the service, to make it more effective at tackling crime. That will be in partnership with others. It will not be achieved without taking hearts and minds with us.

The removal of outdated regulations is essential in order to increase flexibility in the service but not at the cost of damaging recruitment and retention. It is right to consider such issues as giving BCU level commanders more flexibility over use of staff and shift patterns. But, as I pointed out recently, it is also essential to consider how the pension system can be improved in order to encourage people to stay in the service and not be penalised if they wish to do so after they have reached retirement age.

Controversial issues about the use of wardens and other police support agencies must be addressed. We on these Benches have been supportive of expanding the use of a second tier to support the police. We propose that local authorities should be able to create community safety forces. However, we must be clear what we mean. We do not mean that those people will replace police officers. Police officers have a distinct and unique role. They must be freed up to undertake the fight against crime. We think that they need additional support to undertake those areas of their work which have historically been more about visible reassurance. However, while encouraging that area of work we must also ensure that there is local and democratic oversight and accountability of the service.

Finally, perhaps I may make this plea to the Government. Please do not rush this reform. It has been a number of years in gestation and the perception now is that everything has come quickly to a head. A great deal of work has been going on behind the scenes and good will and commitment are being shown on all sides. I urge the Government not to spoil that by putting a firm deadline on negotiations at this stage in order to fit into the parliamentary timetable. Policing reform is far too important to rush through. Let us try to work together to get this reform right. The Home Secretary has committed himself to a dialogue not a diktat on these matters. From these Benches we would seek to help him with that and to keep him to his word.

5.59 p.m.

Lord Rooker

My Lords, I am extremely grateful for the warm response from the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, and the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond. We shall not be rushing to parliamentary deadlines. We need to obtain an agreement with the police negotiating board. We want a decision, we hope an agreement, by the end of this month. I understand that there will be a meeting on 27th December. That is why we cannot go into the details of pensions, pay and all the issues which have been raised in parliamentary Questions asked in this House since I have been a Member. They are a most important part of the package.

Some aspects of the plans contained in the White Paper and whatever comes forth from the Police Negotiating Board will require legislation. A police Bill is planned for this Session which will be introduced on the back of the proposals. The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, welcomed the recognition that we are all part of the same community and the proposal that we must return to the family and community ethos so that we are all responsible for our own security.

We want to encourage best practice in police forces. It will not be a one-size-fits-all proposal. Comparisons will be made between forces. We are not planning league tables, but comparisons will be made on a like-for-like basis. It would be wrong to compare one police force with another in terms of sick rates, detention rates, action on robbery and street crime if they were not like-for-like forces policing similar areas.

There is diversity in performance and the public are entitled to expect to have answers for the massive variations in performance. It is not as though there is a narrow window through which performance is measured. It is extremely wide, as was made clear in the Statement.

In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, no attempt is being made to introduce a national police force. There will be 43 chief constables and each is responsible for operational matters in their area—not the Home Secretary, not Ministers, and not politicians. It is the responsibility of the local police forces working with their communities and police authorities.

The standards unit will fill gaps and I draw your Lordships' attention to the extensive White Paper. According to the executive summary, the standards unit has been in embryonic form since the summer and announcements will soon be made about its detailed structure. If there are critical gaps in the system, it will engage the service at basic command level to identify the most successful approaches for plugging them. That is important and it is a tried and tested practice in the health service and local government to see what works in different areas and to discover where it can be used elsewhere.

I was not sure whether criticism had been made of the occupational health facility. There needs to be such a facility for the police as there ought to be in every occupation. There should not be any no-go areas. There have been some remarkable examples of good use being made of occupational health facilities in order to stop the police, if they are injured or ill, having to wait for the necessary treatments, and in the mean time being off duty. That is most important, given the need for skilled police officers to be on the job.

However, although the occupational health facility will be national it must be delivered at local level. It is important that it takes account of the locality. The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, referred to the relationship between the police and the Specials; in other words, the police family. As regards the accredited community safety organisations, accreditation will be given at the discretion of the chief constable. A bullet-point list is set out at page 88, paragraph 5.15, making it clear that it will be for the local chief constable to take it up; the schemes must be consistent; and there will be an annual review.

Many of those organisations will be local authorities, but that is not necessarily the case because there can be a role for the private sector. There will be proper training and their powers will be limited. I caught the end of a recent "Newsnight" interview with the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie. I arrived home just in time to see it after dealing with the anti-terrorist Bill. He spoke of a matter which used to be raised with me a great deal in my former role as Member of Parliament; that we have lost the "parkies". We have lost much from the days when I was a youngster; for instance, people to keep a bit of order and keep you in check. For various reasons, good and bad, we have lost all that.

The fact is that there is a role for that kind of operation, but it is much better if those engaged in it are working under and in co-operation with the police with proper training and accreditation from the chief constable. There will be no vigilantes. That idea can be killed stone dead. This is not an operation involving vigilantes and I believe that it will be warmly welcomed by the police and local communities.

The noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, mentioned police numbers. I freely admit that we have to get them back up. There is no secret about the numbers; they are on the way up but they did fall after 1997. When any party leaves government, it leaves more police officers than it inherited. I know that there were more police officers in 1979 than in 1974 and that there were even more in 1997. The numbers then fell, but they are now rising and our projections are as I gave in the Statement. Having brought forward the target of 130,000, we estimate that we can meet that a year earlier than expected. The noble Baroness is right that there has been a dramatic drop in the number of special officers from 19,000 to 12,000 over a four-year period. We must take action in that respect.

Spending on the police service is rising dramatically from £7.7 billion in 2000–01 to £9.3 billion in 2003–04. There is a large role to be played by support staff because, as police diaries show, 40 per cent of an officer's time is spent in the station. We can use technology and expert civilians—perhaps former police officers—to help the police by beefing up this area in detection and forensic work.

There is much work to be done and nothing will happen overnight. The Government have published their White Paper and although we will not be seeking to rush through change, we want to drive it through and to take the police with us. We want to change or eliminate certain practices, but I repeat that there is no attempt to build a national police force. However, we want some national standards for the citizens of this country. They are all paying their taxes at the same rate and they are entitled to have their communities looked after to the same standard.

6.7 p.m.

Lord Condon

My Lords, I declare an interest as the former Police Commissioner in London. I congratulate the Minister and the Government on bringing forward this exciting and long-overdue package of reforms for the police service. I hope that the Minister will confirm that many past and present members of the service will welcome the measures and have lobbied for them for many years.

I hope that he will also acknowledge that there will he some residual anxieties and I predict that they will probably centre on three or four main issues. I hope that he will confirm some of them. First, the rank and file of police officers will feel some disguised attack on their overall pay and conditions. They will need to be assured that that is not the intention and that, in moving forward in the public interest, the police interest will coincide with the public interest on these issues.

Secondly, there will be anxieties around some of the performance regimes. Some police officers will have lived through the bad old days when detection rates were massaged to the point of almost being crimes themselves. I am aware of police forces whose detection rates were halved overnight because police authorities realised that integrity was being compromised dramatically in the name of performance. I welcome the moves to push up performance, it must not be at the expense of integrity.

Thirdly, chief constables will have some anxieties that units within their long-term command will be micro-managed by transient members of standards units who are here today and gone tomorrow and who have no long-term accountability for policing those areas. I do not share that anxiety, but it will be a real one that will need to be addressed.

My fourth concern involves auxiliary police officers. I congratulate the Minister on the proposals to extend the police family—that debate is long overdue. I predict that within my old service there will be a widespread concern that auxiliaries will be a smokescreen for reducing the number of trained police. Again, I do not share that reservation, but it will be a source of debate and anxiety.

The Minister used the word "consensus"; I encourage that approach. There is a happy coincidence in the interests of the police service and those of the public in terms of advancing the reforms, which I shall certainly support.

In my maiden speech to your Lordships' House a few weeks ago, I expressed my profound disappointment that my former colleagues were not to be awarded the Queen's Jubilee medal. Let me say how excited I was today to hear that they will now be included in the list.

The final measure that I pick out as being of critical importance is the creation of an independent police complaints commission. I have lobbied for that for many years. It is the final piece in a long overdue jigsaw and it will encourage public support for the police complaints process. I congratulate the Minister on these reforms and I hope that he will comment on some of my anxieties.

Lord Rooker

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his response, particularly in view of his background. I note what he said about the medal and the police complaints commission. On auxiliaries and the police family, I assure him that there is no intention for auxiliaries to be substitute police officers; they are an addition. The funds will also be separate. There is no intention to massage police figures by using auxiliaries and the extra police family. Auxiliaries will be an extra support to the police.

I take the noble Lord's point about chief constables. No manager or director of a company likes the idea of consultants who come in, take all of the best ideas from junior staff, tell people what they should be doing and disappear. I do not expect the standards unit to operate in that way.

Massaging figures is legendary in many areas, and the police service has in the past been no exception. The system will fall apart if that damages the integrity of the police.

Finally, I come to the noble Lord's first point. I have listened to my right honourable friend the Home Secretary and other Ministers. I appreciate that the rank and file might think, "Oh no, more change and another review". However, they are not under threat. Rank and file police officers serve their community and are well rewarded and looked after. They do a dangerous job in unsocial conditions and should be highly respected. These proposals are an "add on" to that arrangement. They do not involve a diminution of the esteem with which we hold the police force. The issues involving the Police Negotiating Board are separate but they are intrinsically related to the final operation of the whole process. That is why consensus is important.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate

My Lords, I welcome the Statement. As a former president of the Police Superintendents' Association, I declare an interest. Having lived through the years of the Sheehey proposals, it is clear that these proposals do not involve a Sheehey package; they are far more constructive.

Will the Minister confirm that league tables will not be produced, as is done with schools? I understand the need to examine best practice in different command units, but I would not like to see the production of league tables or superintendents competing and perhaps, as the noble Lord, Lord Condon, suggested, being driven by certain targets. That is not the right way forward.

Does the Minister agree that some of the problems of sickness and early retirement were caused from within, through the management of the service? I refer in particular to tenure, which was originally thought up to fight corruption. The idea was to move people on after two, three or perhaps five years regardless of how well they had been doing. That causes great disruption to experts, such as dog handlers or mounted officers, who may suddenly find themselves thrust into other duties and sometimes suffer stress. That may be a cause of the problem.

Once the security industry is regulated—I again declare an interest, as the president of the Joint Security Industry Council—does the Minister agree that there are many opportunities for greater co-operation between such a properly regulated industry and the police service? I echo the welcome that the noble Lord, Lord Condon, gave to the independent police complaints authority. I do not want a repeat of Operation Lancet and the situation in Cleveland, for example, where a superintendent has been suspended on alleged discipline charges for more than four years, and remains suspended. That would be a disgrace in any occupation and it certainly should not happen to police officers. I hope that these reforms will correct those matters.

Finally, the police service is delighted by the decision about awarding the Queen's Jubilee medal. I applaud the Government on a constructive U-turn.

Lord Rooker

My Lords, having people suspended without reaching a decision for such a long period is a failure of human resource management. I regret what is happening. The police are not alone in this respect. Such failures have to be addressed.

We are not planning to have league tables. We have, by the way, cut performance indicators, but we also want to cut the bureaucracy that is associated with the police. The noble Lord's point about sickness being partly self-inflicted is valid. I do not know about tenure—my noble friend has raised that matter previously and I know that it causes problems. Officers with whom I dealt in my constituency were not too pleased about the arrangement but it was put in place for a reason. The Police Negotiating Board should examine the matter, and pay and rations. Perhaps a package is needed in that regard.

My noble friend's final point was absolutely right. Once the security industry authority is up and running and we have a regulated security industry, there will be much more acceptance of the fact that there is a role for the whole community, including the private sector.

Lord Fowler

My Lords, there is obviously much to welcome in the White Paper, and I congratulate the Government in that respect. However, I am particularly concerned about the proposal to introduce street wardens, who will deal directly with the public. Noble Lords will agree that relations between the police and the public—in this respect, I speak for the public—are crucial. Do we not risk going backwards in that regard? Was not the whole reason for having an organised police service in this country that civilian police patrols broke down? Do not the Government think that it would be better to introduce more uniformed police, who are effective and accountable to the public? Is not the case for that even stronger in view of the fact that police numbers reduced during the first four years of this Government's life?

Lord Rooker

My Lords, I do not accept the noble Lord's suggestion. Some of the roles and functions of what I call the extended police family would cover matters that the police are not—we should face up to this—currently doing. I refer to the power to issue fixed penalty notices for litter, dog fouling or drinking in designated places, the power to demand a person's name and address and the power to detain but not to arrest. There will be no power to use reasonable force. Those people should be a properly accredited part of the police service. It will be up to the chief constable to decide whether or not to go down that route. The proposal is an "add on" for the police. The argument is that more uniformed police should be doing such work. People will be uniformed in the sense that they can be identified. The proposal does not in any way undermine or substitute for uniformed police officers. As I said, figures have gone down during the past four years, but they are on their way up and will be at record levels within the next 18 months.

Lord Bradshaw

My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the Association of Police Authorities and the Thames Valley Police Authority. The White Paper mentions Specials and says that the Government are considering paying them. I live in an area where, despite the best efforts of the Government and ourselves we do not have more policemen than we had two years ago. The reason is that they leave. They go to country areas where they can live more cheaply and they go to the metropolitan area where they receive much more money. We are caught in the middle and suffer grievously.

One way to help my area would be to pay Specials. I would like the Government to agree that properly trained Specials will be paid in the same way as we pay our retained firemen. That would cover the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, for more policemen in uniform as well as the extended police family, which I fully support.

We are extremely suspicious of the powers of the Home Secretary. Under the Transport Police (Jurisdiction) Act we saw the power of the Home Secretary to appoint members of the police authority. We had what I can describe only as a run-in with Michael Howard about appointments to our authority. It is important that we maintain independent authorities that elect their own chairmen and vice-chairmen. They are becoming more and more business-like with best-value regimes and the input from the inspectors, but on these Benches we are suspicious about centralisation and the imposition of league tables.

Lord Rooker

My Lords, there must always be a natural, healthy scepticism of governments. That is part of a mature democracy. We have no intention of setting up a national police force. There are 43 chief constables who are responsible for operational matters in their areas. However, it would be irresponsible of the Government to sit back and do nothing when faced with the variation in performance of similar police forces. Therefore, it is legitimate to introduce the changes. There will be legislation. Nothing will be slipped in through the backdoor.

I am not fully qualified to speak about the Specials. I know that they have full police functions so there is no difference between a Special and a police officer. They have the full powers of arrest.

On the areas mentioned by the noble Lord, there will always be services that will be caught in the middle, from a geographical point of view, because we live in an economically unfairly-balanced country. My prejudice against the South East is showing. That unfairness stares everyone in the face. I do not know all the details and ramifications of the negotiations. Apparently officers in the Thames Valley receive, on top of basic pay, a £2,000 allowance. That was agreed in the Police Negotiating Board and approved by the Home Secretary earlier this year. I understand that the Home Secretary pays 75 per cent of the cost of the allowance. I hope that that satisfies the noble Lord. If there is a further point I shall write to him.

The Lord Bishop of Wakefield

My Lords, perhaps the Minister is aware that the Church of England has 43 diocesan bishops. Our links with police forces are deep at every level. Not only ministers of the Church of England, but ministers of every denomination and of other faiths, have much for which to thank our police forces in relation to the support that they provide to the community.

In this short debate I believe that it would be inappropriate if, from these Benches, a tribute were not paid to the Government for the proposals that are being brought forward. I congratulate the Government on what appear to be sensitive moves that are made in a direction that I hope will improve the morale of the police force. I am sure that all noble Lords will agree that we are greatly blessed with excellent police forces in this country. Sometimes it is taken too much for granted. My hope is that these proposals will enable police at all levels to feel that they are deeply appreciated in what is sometimes a very difficult job.

Lord Rooker

My Lords, I am sure that the whole House is grateful for the words of the right reverend Prelate. He has spoken for all noble Lords in paying tribute to the activities and operations of the police forces in this country.

Lord Elton

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, spoke about centralising powers and, in particular, the powers of the Home Secretary. I shall try to be brief, so I shall not mention how glad I am about much of what is in the White Paper, particularly on the complaints authority. I notice that it is proposed that codes of practice should be issued under the authority of the Home Secretary. In the past, codes of practice for police forces have passed through Parliament after close scrutiny. I hope that the Minister will reassure the House that that course is to be taken. Can the Minister tell the House about the national policing forum, which is yet another new body that is referred to in paragraph 7.23 of the White Paper but not, as far as I can see, in the Statement?

Lord Rooker

My Lords, given the size of the White Paper, many of the topics are not referred to in the Statement. By definition, the Statement can give only a broad flavour of the matters. I am not in a position to give chapter and verse. I shall write to the noble Lord on his first point. In terms of codes of practice, I do not know what is issued with the authority of the Home Secretary. My initial reaction is: who else would be expected to do that at a national level? On the issue of scrutiny and debate, there will be legislation which will be dealt with on the Floor of this House as it will be in the other place. If I find that there is something that I can tell the noble Lord before then, I shall write to him.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale

My Lords, I commend the Minister for the emphasis in the White Paper on encouraging the community to be part of preventing and combating crime. Does the Minister acknowledge the importance of patient and persistent work by police officers to rebuild the confidence in communities so that those communities co-operate with the police and are willing to give evidence in cases that can lead to the conviction of those charged with serious criminal offences? He will know, as I do, that in many parts of this country, members of communities are absolutely terrified about having anything to do with the police because of threats from communities and from criminals.

Lord Rooker

My Lords, my noble friend is quite right. It is estimated that something like 100,000 people are responsible for half the crime in the country. There are persistent offenders and there are persistent victims, and we have tried to address both. One issue related to the extended police family. It is possible that there will be more people in official positions who may be used as professional witnesses. They will be able to give evidence in courts. My noble friend is quite right in saying that people are intimidated into not giving evidence. Incredible patience is required to persuade members of communities, who suffer from threats and victimisation, to give evidence because they believe that afterwards they will be on their own again. We have to ensure that that fear is removed.

Forward to