§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Second Reading debate resumed.
§ Lord Faulkner of Worcester
My Lords, I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Bill and to welcome the proposals contained in it. It is an important piece of legislation, and, like most other speakers, I think that the greater part of it is well worth supporting.
There are, however, some weaknesses and omissions in the Bill as drafted, and I hope that the Government will address them in Committee. I had intended to start 551 by commenting on the speed with which the Home Office produced the Bill, but the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, has done that effectively already. It is worth remembering that the Bill stems from a White Paper entitled Policing a New Century, which was published in December, with a closing date for consultation of 21st January. The Police Reform Bill was ordered to be printed on 24th January—not on 25th January, as the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, said—which was just three days after the end of the consultation period. There were over a thousand responses to the consultation. I hope that the Government intend to consider those representations as the Bill proceeds through this House and in another place. I hope that they will amend the Bill, where appropriate, in the light of those representations.
I draw your Lordships' attention to one important omission from the White Paper and from the Bill; namely, the involvement of the police in the reduction of road crime. That point was made in response to the White Paper by both the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, of which I have the honour to be president, and the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, of which I am a member. In its response, PACTS pointed out that:The enforcement of road traffic law is not an optional extra for the police. It operates on two levels, sending out a clear signal to all road users that certain activities are not acceptable in a civilised society and punishing the extreme offender. These are important strands in establishing a culture of responsibility on our roads.PACTS also highlighted research commissioned by the Home Office into the criminal histories of serious traffic offenders and published as Home Office Research Study 206. It concluded:The use of intelligence derived from road policing could impact on both I raffle and other crime reduction",and that,traffic officers have a dual role in the detection of both traffic and mainstream criminal offences".Put in context, that means that one is far more likely to die in a road crash than to be the victim of a homicide. For every one murder, over four people are killed on our roads. That is why, at the end of last year, the Association of Chief Police Officers published a manual on the investigation of road deaths that sought to place the road death investigation on a par with that of murder or homicide. Such an important publication is to be welcomed. Yet it would seem that the Home Office does not entirely share those priorities. Comments from the Home Secretary in response to the recent decision by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner to reduce traffic policing in London seemed to suggest, first, that other forces would wish to follow suit and, secondly, that he would not object to their doing so.
Mr Blunkett was, for example, quoted in the Independent on 12th January as saying that the measures to re-deploy half of London's traffic police,would mean traffic policing taking a back seat in the short term".I must say to my noble friend the Minister that there is great concern among road safety groups on those matters. I have received, among others, a submission from Mr Chris King, who is a spokesman for the 552 London Accident Prevention Council and the principal safety education officer in the London Borough of Richmond. He says that taking officers away from traffic duties will remove the visual deterrent for drivers to drive dangerously. He points out that the announcement of the measures in the national press had the effect of publicising the fact that drivers who drive irresponsibly in London in the coming months are now even less likely to be prosecuted than they were.
The Government and Transport for London have set challenging casualty reduction targets for local authorities which will require full implementation of the "three Es". For education and engineering to be effective as casualty reduction measures, they must be supported by the third "E"; namely, enforcement: of traffic laws. Will my noble friend tell the House whether traffic officers are seen as a long-term solution to the street crime problem? What if that does not work? Will the operation be extended until it does? We should realise that one consequence of the new approach will be significantly fewer police patrolling the streets of 24 London boroughs.
One way of addressing the issue in the Bill is to include road policing as a central element of the national policing plan, the production of which is a duty placed on the Secretary of State in the first clause. It is a challenging opportunity to build on the work undertaken by local crime and disorder partnerships and to identify national priorities for reducing crime and disorder. The Government are already committed to a reduction of 40 per cent in the number of people killed and seriously injured on our roads by 2010. Tomorrow's Roads—safer for everyone, the road safety strategy published in March 2000, emphasised the importance of enforcement as part of casualty reduction. I hope, therefore, that we shall find some evidence of government departments working together and complementing each other in important areas of public policy, with the Home Office working with the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions to deliver lower road casualties.
There seems to be another omission in the clause proposing the national policing plan. So far as I can tell, there is no requirement for the Secretary of State to consult about what should be included in the plan. Put at its most extreme, it appears that the Secretary of State could include in the plan whatever he or she wished—an outcome which, I am sure, was not the intention of the drafters. I hope that, in Committee, the Government will consider an amendment requiring consultation with such organisations as the Secretary of State sees fit.
Also missing from the Bill is any reference to the standards unit proposed in the White Paper. That was an interesting proposal and, no doubt, it would have become known as "OfCop". It offers an opportunity to monitor the effectiveness and consistency of police forces.
§ Lord Rooker
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt my noble friend, but, as I made clear, the standards unit is up and running. It has been appointed. It does not 553 require legislation. Most of the White Paper does not require legislation. The unit is up and running, with an expensively appointed head, which received a lot of publicity.
§ Lord Faulkner of Worcester
My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend. That is reassuring, and I am delighted to be corrected in that way.
In evidence provided to the Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions in the other place, Mr Richard Brunstrom, speaking on behalf of ACPO, pointed to the reduction in the number of dedicated traffic officers in individual constabularies. I am sure that the standards unit will have something to say about that, and I hope that reducing crime and disorder will be a suitable area for its involvement.
As I said, there is a great deal to commend in the Bill. My concern is to raise the profile of road traffic policing to ensure that it is not forgotten. Above all, safer roads are part of a safer community. I warmly welcome Clauses 48 to 51, to which my noble friend referred in his opening speech, relating to testing blood alcohol levels, and Clause 52, which relates to driving off-road in a manner that causes alarm, distress or annoyance. Those are important measures, and I am sure that they will have wide support.
Finally, I shall say a brief word about another matter. Some of your Lordships will be aware that, on more than one occasion recently, I have spoken in the House about the role and responsibilities of the British Transport Police. The Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill, which we passed in December, implemented the most important of the recommendations contained in the consultation paper entitled Modernising the British Transport Police, which was published last October. It concerned the jurisdiction of the BTP when operating in support of a civil force away from railway premises. I had hoped that this Bill would provide the opportunity to implement other recommendations contained in that consultation paper, especially the recommendations which received strong support from those who were consulted.
The inclusion in Clause 54 of new powers for the British Transport Police in relation to children and young people who play truant is most welcome, as is Clause 55, which gives the BTP the authorisation to deal with parts of the fixed penalty notice process. I support those provisions wholeheartedly. However, there is nothing relating to the intention to establish a new British Transport Police Authority, another important step towards the modernisation of the force. I hope my noble friend will consider that that may be an appropriate matter for amendment in Committee, when we shall have another opportunity to consider it.
The Bill goes a long way towards implementing the Government's objectives. I am pleased to give it support. I hope that the matters to which I referred in my short intervention, particularly those relating to road crime and traffic police, will be taken on board.
§ 6 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Blackburn
My Lords, it goes without saying that the police are an integral part of the life of a well-ordered society which is made up of sinful human beings. They are there not only to detect crime, but also for that much more difficult task when it comes to measuring their success; namely, the prevention or deterrence of crime.
We must not underestimate the demanding task laid upon the police at the beginning of this 21st century, living as we now do in a society in which, as we are frequently reminded, there is no longer one generally-accepted consensus for morality, for judging what is right and wrong as once there was, and with investigative media which trade on emphasising the shortcomings and failures of individuals and groups who carry responsibility for the well-being of society. For whatever reason, be it the lack of the proverbial bobby on the beat, the noted corruption of a few officers, or that general lack of respect for those in authority which besets today's questioning society, it is clear that the police do not enjoy the friendly, positive relationship with the public which some of us remember once to be the case.
So while I very much welcome the aims or key principles of the reform programme which the Government have set out for the police in paragraph 10 of the Explanatory Notes, it remains to be seen whether the Bill as drafted will have the desired effect or perhaps serve in some measure to undermine police morale at the local level, for reasons given this afternoon. For myself, I hope and pray that its good intentions are in fact fulfilled.
The task of Parliament is surely to frame laws which enable our police force to be ever more effective. It is pleasing to record that crime rates are falling in some respects. The British Crime Survey—not a police survey—for 1999–00 showed that domestic burglary declined by 17 per cent, vehicle thefts by 11 per cent and violence by 19 per cent. Those are statistics which cannot be questioned on the grounds of self-justification by our police forces. On the other hand, sadly, as the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, reminded us, street robbery and drug offences are increasing.
Again, the police are at the forefront of efforts to reduce racial tension in this country, though often their task is to stand between hostile groups when others who ought to have done better have failed and the flashpoint has been reached, as I know only too well from last summer's experience in Burnley. But I know also of the effective work undertaken, for example, by the Lancashire Constabulary, behind the scenes to prevent racial tension reaching that point—work in which my own diocese actively co-operates.
I want to express from these Benches the Church's support for police officers as they seek to prevent crime, increase rates of detection and establish public support for their efforts. We try to do that through our police chaplaincy service, which also reveals to us the pressures under which individual officers strive to do their work. The Bill must seek to help the police in all of that, and it contains creative proposals to do so.
555 In spite of the reservations raised, I believe that properly recruited, trained and organised, the proposed new civilian patrols are a way of enabling the police to respond to the difficult demands placed upon them by society to be, as it were, ever omnipresent. I do not see the patrols as a threat, but as a way to meet the demands of ordinary citizens to have a law-enforcing presence visible on our streets. Provided the patrols are properly authorised and given power by chief constables, they could prove an effective way to tackle what amounts to anti-social behaviour, checking the truancy mentioned in the previous debate and preventing its more sinister effects on our young people. They could provide public order support in dealing with crowds, support street wardens and victims of crime. But they have the merit of being optional; it is for individual police authorities to decide whether or not they want to use them. None of the activities I mentioned requires fully-trained police officers; but they require a recognised law-enforcing presence which will give the public confidence, not least in our towns and cities.
Others will speak of the more technical aspects of this Bill. I share the concerns of other noble Lords about the balance between the powers exercised by the Government nationally through the Home Secretary, and those rightly exercised by the local police authorities and the chief constables. These days we live in a country where the emphasis tends to be on a culture of scrutiny and accountability rather than trust and responsibility. We see successive governments supporting that approach. We see it in the education and the health services.
The Horne Secretary is correct in his reported assertion that he cannot be in every police station, any more than the Secretary of State for Education and Skills can be in every school or college, or indeed His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury can be in every church or diocese—in one sense I take some comfort from that.
We need to create a framework where chief constables are accountable yet trusted to know the job that they do, with sufficient authority for them and the police authority guiding them to be creative and innovative in their battle against crime. The result will be a measure of success which is almost bound to vary with local circumstances, but too much central direction may well affect the calibre of people prepared to take on this demanding job.
The definition of "good performance" is not at all clear to me, though it can lead to an intervention by the Home Secretary. Chief police officers need to know on what basis their performance is to be judged, and on what basis and by whom judgments are to be made about the nature and style of policing they are to provide. They need to know to whom they are accountable and to what extent they can direct and control policing at divisional level. Adherence to a police authority's annual policing plan should ensure that local needs are being met, and they may not be the same as the overall national needs. There is potential for real confusion if chief constables work to policing plans set by their police authority based on local 556 consultation, and are then taken to task for divisional "failure" against a different agenda directed from central government which can be enforced through directives from a Secretary of State, however well meaning that Secretary of State might be—I have no personal criticism to make of the present occupant of that office.
From these Benches we welcome the setting up of an independent police complaints commission. The lack of such a body, rightly or wrongly, has served to undermine the credibility of the police force and done nothing to enhance public support. Finally, I welcome the White Paper's emphasis on the need for partnership between the police and local communities. The 1998 Crime and Disorder Act set up crime reduction partnerships in every local authority between the police, the local authority and community groups. In the diocese of Blackburn we are in the process of setting up a community chaplaincy to help ex-offenders not to re-offend. That has a strong involvement with the police and Probation Service and financial backing from the local authority. It is through such schemes that there can be real cooperation between the police, the Churches, other faith communities, other local groups and local councils.
This Bill offers a new way forward for the police. It should help to rebuild public confidence.
Christians believe that policing should be by consent, and law and order can never be imposed or work without the support of those on whom the law rests. So, with the points that I have raised in mind. I offer the support of the Church of England—-and, I feel, of the other faith communities—in helping the Government as they seek better to police our urban and rural areas in the coming century.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Lord Mayhew of Twysden
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the right reverend Prelate, whose speech will of course merit study hereafter, not least for what I might refer to as its worldly insights.
In the past few years there have been two other police Bills. There was the 1996 Bill, a substantial police measure, and in 2001 we had the Criminal Justice and Police Bill. Now we have the substantial Police Reform Bill. Taken alone, this bald fact might be taken to imply that there is something seriously wrong with our police service in England and Wales; that it is in a bad state. I, for one, do not believe that it is. It is perhaps no bad thing that those who think as I do on this should, from time to time, say so. I, too, subscribe to the tributes paid to the police service by my noble friend on the Front Bench and to those tributes which have come from so many of your Lordships today.
It is to the great credit of this country that ours is a citizen police service. It is drawn, in the main, from the communities it serves and its members do not have any privileges. They have only special duties, some of which, as we all know, are on occasion very dangerous. Above all, it is not, and never has been, the instrument 557 of some politician or his party. We are so used to that in this country that we tend to forget about it, and yet a glance around the world should remind us of what a very rare and significant achievement it is.
We are also rather accustomed to believe that our police are always fighting a losing battle against crime. They are not. Unfortunately in our society the springs of criminality are widespread; they never run dry; and in some quarters they positively gush. But protecting the public from them is not a lost cause. For example, in Kent, where I have the good luck to live, a combination on the part of the police of intelligence and technology has resulted in vehicle crime now running at a rate 31 per cent lower than three years ago and burglary running at a rate 26 per cent lower than three years ago—statistics which confirm what has already been said today about the British Crime Survey. I do not forget, of course, that my noble friend Lord Waddington administered a timely corrective to any complacency on this score. He pointed to the areas of crime which people most fear; that is, robbery, violent crime and drugs crime. During the short interval for the debate on the Statement, I legged it to the telephone and got on to the Chief Constable in Kent. I discovered that there is a reduction—albeit a lesser one—in violent crime in Kent, which is down by 8.9 per cent on three years ago. If I am wrong about that, I shall correct it at the Committee stage. Be that as it may, there are successes, although there are many areas where much more needs to be done to protect the public.
In these days when reforming legislation seems to tumble from the Government's cornucopia with great generosity—looking very often as though it has first been given a good shake—one's first concern is to see whether a Bill will do any harm. The most important area in any police reform Bill to which to apply that test is, in my view, the question of operational independence from political control. It is right that we should look very closely at this Bill from that viewpoint. When police are exposed increasingly to public order situations, for example, which derive from political controversy or very rapidly become the subject of political controversy, that principle is more important than ever. If it were allowed to lapse, the great asset of their reputation for impartiality would be lost to the police.
When Sir Hugh Annesley, then the Chief Constable of the RUC, first came to see me in Belfast after my arrival as Secretary of State, I said that I wanted to make one thing clear to him at the outset: that I had spent many years of my life as a law officer upholding the doctrine and principle of the operational independence of the police and that I was not going to change now. That information produced a notable relaxation in Sir Hugh's stern features—and we never looked back.
At the same time, it has to be remembered that in our democracy it is the Home Secretary who is expected to stand up at the Dispatch Box in the other place and answer for any apparent failure of policing. 558 This is not simply no bad thing; it is a very good and essential thing. He, after all, is statutorily responsible for the efficient policing of England and Wales. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, described it as "efficiency and effectiveness"—I expect that that is right—but, at any rate, words to that effect. The Home Secretary cannot be expected to carry the can unless he is in a position ultimately to influence how policing is carried out by chief officers. So a balance has to be established.
Some interesting speeches have been made today about the effects of the Bill on that balance. The noble Lord, Lord Condon, said that it would have a "very drastic" effect on the balance and would shift it drastically in favour of the Home Secretary. For my part, I do not detect emergency alarm bells sounding among chief constables up and down the country on that score in relation to this Bill, but we shall certainly need to look at it with caution. The police authorities may prove a different matter; I do not know.
In particular, we shall need to look carefully at the power of the Home Secretary to give directions to chief officers—this is contained in Clause 3 of Part 1—either consequent upon a report of an inspection or otherwise. I am not happy about that "or otherwise", especially when the Home Secretary is given the power to order an inspection from one or other statutory inspection body. At present, it would be better to limit that power to cases where its exercise would be consequent only upon a report.
The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, asked whether there was any evidence to justify a lack of trust in police authorities. My mind goes back some years to what happened in Derbyshire. I believe that that provided a fairly good illustration of how things can go wrong in that regard.
It will of course be right also to look cautiously at the provisions in the Bill which expand on the present ability of the Home Secretary to bring about the involuntary departure of a chief constable. I should not be surprised if those provisions arose from the melancholy saga recently in Sussex. At first sight. I acknowledge that this seems to be a reasonable development of the balance established at present. It is true that there is no right of appeal, but, as has been recently remarked upon and held in the Judicial Committee of the House, there is a right to judicial review. In some ways that may be a better device.
The other part of the Bill on which I venture to detain your Lordships briefly is Part 4—this has already attracted much interest today—which deals with the exercise of police powers by civilians. It may in part be inspired—at any rate in London—by a fear of what one might call "borough Balkanisation". I am sure that this will receive detailed examination in Committee. It should do, because there is a sharp division of opinion about it within the police service and even, I suspect, although to a lesser degree, in ACPO.
There will be problems. There is not a significant problem with the provisions in Schedule 4 on designated officers being escort officers, detention officers, investigating officers and so on, but there is a 559 problem, technically although not primarily, with the provisions to empower employees of a police authority with certain functions of a police constable.
However, the real problem on which we should be focusing our attention is the provision in Schedule 5, which authorises people called "accredited persons" to carry out policing duties in the street. That is where the most easily discernible problems will arise. Those powers and responsibilities are fraught with the potential for trouble. Persons accredited may be employed by locally established businesses, whose character is undefined in the Bill, although the Minister has told us that they may include the managers of trade centres, for example. The terms of their accreditation may vary from area to area within a police authority and even from individual to individual within the same area. It is more than possible, therefore, that someone who is asked to stick around for half an hour until a police officer arrives will inquire by what authority such a request is being made. That is putting it politely.
What kind of document will the accreditation be that must be shown to the offender? Paragraph 2(5) of Schedule 5 shows that a "relevant offence" does not have to be -a fixed penalty offence", but it may be one that has caused,injury, alarm or distress to any other person; or … the loss of, or any damage to. any other person's property; but"—here is the point—the accreditation … may provide that an offence is not to be treated as a relevant offence … unless it satisfies such other conditions as may be specified in the accreditation".By the time all that is explained, it will not be surprising if the offender, to use the rather engaging words in the schedule, "makes off". I am not making this up. It is rather nice language. I only wish that every provision was so engagingly and clearly drafted.
I am afraid that I am not surprised that the Police Federation foresees frequent occasions when its members will he called upon to sort out the pieces of an unholy resulting mess. I raise a flag on behalf of employers of accredited persons. I am referring to Clause 36(5). I hope that this will not be thought to be too much of a Committee point. Let us suppose that an employer has specifically instructed his employee not to use force in doing his job—indeed that he is not empowered by law to use force. If the man, even though he has been properly supervised by his employer, as he has to be, uses force and injury results—perhaps a young woman has a miscarriage that she claims was in consequence—why should that be treated as being done in the course of his employment? The clause makes the employer fully liable as a joint tortfeasor. In ordinary justice his actions cannot be said to be in the course of his employment. That matter needs to be clarified.
Will the Minister say whether the help to the regular police force that this part of the Bill seeks to provide could not be more acceptably done, in some respects at least, by expanding the role of special constables? A number of noble Lords have asked that question, and I ask it again. The noble Lord, Lord Condon, spoke of 560 the current unpaid volunteers. They are very good. I met the parish constable seriously and solemnly pacing the streets in the country town of Cranbrook only the other day. He looked very splendid and conferred great reassurance all round. If full-time service is required, how will that be obtained without paying people the sort of money that the regular police receive? If not, why not spend the money on enlarging the regular service, or at least on putting far more money into paying back-up staff in police stations so that police officers who have made art arrest need not then spend, typically, five or six hours in the police station on the paperwork?
Lastly, I draw attention to a piece of drafting which, to me, is of stupefying obscurity. I refer to paragraph 3(2) of Schedule 5, which I shall not read to your Lordships, but it can be found on page 123 of the Bill. After labouring over it, I think that I know what it seeks to achieve, but, as drafted, it is worthy of the excoriation of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman. Could it be tried in the vernacular, please?
Meanwhile, I look forward to the Minister's reply and to an interesting Committee stage.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate
My Lords, it is a delight, as always, to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, and I agree with most of what he said.
I declare an interest as a former president of the Police Superintendents' Association. It was not for life, like the noble Lord, Lord Condon. Once I had gone that was it, and I represent no one other than myself today.
The history of the police service in this country throughout its relatively short life has been one of those roller coaster rides, with periods of success and acclaim followed by periods of crisis and threats of reform. I once wrote a brief history of the Police Superintendents' Association and was struck by the cyclical recurrence of crises, with morale and pay dropping from time to time and politicians setting up committees and inquiries to remedy the problems. These went from Desborough at the beginning of the last century, through the Oaksey committee and the Willink commission, to the much lauded Edmund-Davies inquiry that was set up by the then Home Secretary, the noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees, whom I see is in his place, in 1978, followed by the controversial Sheehy inquiry in the early 1990s. The police service has been examined exhaustively.
The police are different from other workers and play an important part in our democracy. What singles them out from other employees? First, there is the importance of the job itself. No civilised society can function without the enforcement of the law and the maintenance of order in a way that is acceptable to the populace. That point has been made by your Lordships. Secondly, there is the statutory prohibition of industrial action as a bargaining chip. It is extremely important, therefore, that all governments treat their police force honourably and do not lose sight of that point.
561 This is an important Bill and it contains many important provisions. In the short time that is available, I shall deal with two of its aspects: complaints and misconduct; and the exercise of police powers by civilians. On the issue of police complaints, I believe that investigations have always been carried out exhaustively and that they do not lead to the injustice that has sometimes been suggested. However, justice is not always seen to be done. The new independent police complaints commission will have powers in serious cases when no complaint has been made, which is to be applauded. Even more important is the fact that independent investigators will be at its disposal, which gives it crucial independence in serious and controversial cases.
The vast majority of complaints will, as now, be investigated perfectly thoroughly by police officers from other forces, in many cases—with residual power held by the commission to call in any case either to investigate or supervise. It is also right that inferences may be drawn from police officers' silence during questioning, as in the general criminal law. In my experience as an investigating officer of complaints against police officers, there is great advantage in having been at the sharp end oneself and knowing, as it were, the tricks of the trade.
It is also pleasing to see that those civilians serving with the police and under the direction and control of the chief constable will be brought within the remit of the complaints system under the Bill. That answers those critics who ask how such appointees will be accountable.
A matter that I wish to raise is the length of time of some complaint inquiries. While I appreciate that some inquiries by necessity will take longer than others, it cannot be right for an inquiry such as "Operation Lancet" in Cleveland into the conduct of Detective Superintendent Mallon and other officers to take almost five years.
During that time, Mr Mallon has remained on suspension in connection with discipline matters, with his life on hold, cleared of all criminal charges. Granted, he is on full pay. The inquiry is estimated to have cost £7 million. He is a prisoner of the police complaints system. What price human rights? That cannot be right for any of the parties.
Has my noble friend the Minister given any thought to putting a time limit on such inquiries into discipline matters on the basis that justice delayed is justice denied? When I was president of the Police Superintendents' Association, we recommended that the then chairman of the Police Complaints Authority should look into whether serious and long-running complaint inquiries should follow procedures used by the police in long-running and complex murder inquiries. That covered matters such as strict terms of reference, the maintenance of a policy book and, most importantly, a review after a set period of time by a totally independent officer to ensure that nothing had been missed. A fresh set of eyes can work wonders. Those suggestions were turned down at the time. Will 562 my noble friend consider revisiting them and perhaps including them in any guidance issued by the commission?
The subject of community support officers has rightly excited a lot of interest. It has been common thinking for some time that dealing with crime and disorder, anti-social behaviour and law enforcement have never been matters for the police alone. The ethos of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 was the establishment of statutory partnerships between the police and other agencies. The public can be well pleased with the crime figures, which are going down, but they are not pleased with the lack of a police presence on the streets. I am certainly tired of complaints about a lack of police response, including for serious matters such as burglary in some cases.
It is not always the fault of the police. We ask a lot of them. The "thin blue line" is an apt description in many of our towns and cities throughout the land, particularly on a Friday or Saturday evening. We are talking not about serious crime, but about anti-social behaviour such swearing, urinating, begging or throwing down chip cartons. When I was a constable, such behaviour would be confronted, often quite effectively. That does not seem to happen now. Standards in the community have dropped and there is less respect for authority, as has been mentioned.
What is to be done? Leadership is important. Chief police officers should clearly lead by example and say what they want from their officers. They must practise what they preach. It can be done. Bill Bratton introduced zero tolerance policing to New York in the 1990s. Anyone who knew that city before he took over as commissioner will know what a difference he made. By making commanders accountable for their areas and ensuring that quality of life offences such as graffiti, litter, drunkenness and damage were confronted, he made a dramatic impact. There was an 80 per cent reduction in subway crime and a more than 50 per cent reduction in street crime as a result of his policies. That speaks for itself. Even the incidence of serious crimes such as murder dropped dramatically. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Condon, rightly mentioned, there was another factor—he also recruited thousands more police officers to the NYPD.
In Britain, thankfully, recruitment is rising, but it is difficult to maintain because officers leave on a regular basis. The reform programme attempts to stem that by encouraging officers to stay on with what I consider to be a very attractive pension offer.
The public want reassurance—a uniformed presence on the streets. We used to have bus conductors, park keepers and the like who were visible figures of authority. In shopping malls and large stores we now have security officers—and what a difference that makes. Perhaps I should declare an interest as the director of a security firm providing such a service and as president of the Joint Security Industry Council. We hope that the cowboy firms will eventually go when the industry is fully regulated under the legislation passed last year. That will be good for the industry, for the police and for the public.
563 Other organisations patrolling in uniform are not new. In Secigefield and other places there are council-provided uniformed community patrols, without additional powers, who act as the eyes and ears of the police. I know that Durham police welcome them and work closely with them. The Bill will allow the police to recruit and train such community support officers themselves. That is welcome. They will be part of the police family and totally accountable through the police. There is a lot of fuss about giving them police-type powers. Let us be clear: there is little difference between citizens' powers of arrest and those of the police in serious matters. However, powers are necessary to deal with the quality of life matters to which I referred earlier, which do not carry a power of arrest. It is no earthly good asking an officer to report people acting anti-socially and sending him out naked on to the streets without additional powers. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, said, if two fingers are put up, he needs something to back him up.
I have been in that situation. Before 1984, there was no power to detain people who were acting antisocially. I hesitate to say that we used to use what we called the "Ways and Means Act". It would be made clear to the transgressor that, power of arrest or not, he was not going anywhere until he was properly identified. In this litigious society with its growing compensation culture, we cannot expect new community support officers to bend the law as I did. The Bill extends the same protections to designated support officers as are available to the police under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 on the use of reasonable force. That is perfectly right.
I also welcome the powers to be given to designated officers to issue fixed penalty notices in respect of a range of anti-social offences, coupled with the power to detain for up to 30 minutes. Legally, of course, that is an arrest—-let us have no argument about that. It is limited in time, but it is necessary when a name and address is required. If it is refused, an offence is committed.
We cannot ask uniformed officers to deal with antisocial behaviour without such minimal powers. They will be fully skilled and trained as to their responsibilities.
My only reservation is with regard to discretion, which is an important and valuable facet of policing in this country. Will community support officers be allowed some discretion, or will they have absolute duties without discretion, rather like traffic wardens? That is an important question, as the rigid enforcement of the law can, in some cases, lead to unnecessary aggravation and might even be counterproductive in suppressing disorder.
Generally I welcome all the provisions of the Bill.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ Lord Phillips of Sudbury
My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, would understand if the little time that all of us have was devoted more to criticism than to praise, but it would be wrong not to praise many aspects of the Bill. I am sure that those on 564 this side of the House will do just that. I should like briefly to mention some issues that have not been touched on, the first of which is whistleblowing. The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 excluded the police from the scope of the whistleblowing provisions on somewhat technical grounds. The Police Complaints Authority and ACPO were in favour of including police officers within the scope of that legislation. We shall return to that during the debate. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, would want to associate himself with that, given his involvement with Public Concern at Work.
I shall also raise briefly the issue of whether it would be appropriate and helpful for police powers to be devolved to the National Assembly for Wales, as Roger Williams MP has suggested. I shall be interested to know the Minister's response to that as a general principle. If my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford were here, I believe that he would have said much more about it.
The question of special constables has been referred to by a number of noble Lords. I, too, am a little perplexed. In seeking to uphold and further support the police in their difficult work, why has not more thought been given to that body of men and women? They comprise about 10 per cent of the total police force. Although they are part time, they have full police powers. Like my noble friend Lord Bradshaw, the noble Lord, Lord Condon, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, one wonders why there should not be a scheme to pay special constables. I was very impressed by the statistic given by the noble Lord, Lord Harris; namely, that 40 per cent of special constables in the Metropolitan area are from ethnic groups.
I turn briefly to the question of police strength. A number of noble Lords have touched on that. I am perplexed that, as in the case of prisons, we in this country seem to go on year after year failing to grasp the nettle of how to deal really effectively with crime and punishment. It is not enough for the Government, any more than for their predecessors, to say, "But we are not doing too badly. The figures have increased a little although they are lower than they were". The truth is that we need a great many more policemen. Everyone who has referred to the example of New York has commended it. I am particularly impressed by the two police Peers, if I may call them that, who did so.
Perhaps I may read a sentence from the Home Office research study which looked into the cost of crime to society in England and Wales for the year 1999–2000. It states:The total cost of crime to England and Wales in 1999/00 is estimated at £60 billion. This figure is by no means comprehensive—costs of precautionary behaviour, quality of life, drug crime, low-level disorder, undiscovered fraud, costs in terms of attitudes and social structures and other costs are not included in this figure".If we were to increase the number of police in Greater London from 26,500 to 42,000, which would put us on par with New York, the total cost would be in the order of £500 million to £600 million a year. I am not 565 a great mathematician, but if its effect was to reduce crime not by the figures mentioned by the previous speaker, but by an infinitely more modest figure of 3 per cent, the provision would pay for itself. If one came anywhere near the figures quoted for New York in terms of the impact on crime across the board, we should be making the best investment in the history of policing law and order. Therefore, I put it to the Government: why on earth are we not doing something about what everyone knows is a profound lack of much-needed resources?
I turn to an issue which many noble Lords have touched on and about which everyone has been concerned; namely, the impact of the Bill on police authorities. It is worth contemplating the fact that the seven-page summary of the White Paper put out a couple of months ago by the Home Office contains only one reference to police authorities. There are endless references to the Government and the Home Secretary, but only one to police authorities. I do not understand why the Bill does not contain measures which, far from taking away powers from police authorities, add to and support those powers. Surely, we all know by now that the notion of removing powers from local government and local authorities to Westminster and Whitehall is not a recipe for solving deep-seated problems, but more, I fear, a recipe for compounding them.
We do not need to spend a great deal of time, as the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, mentioned, looking at health, education, transport and law and order, to realise that the relentless tendency of both this Government and their predecessors towards removing more and more power from the regions and the localities to the centre has failed abundantly. That is because there is endless change in the Ministers who preside over ministries with their swollen powers, in their policies and in legislation itself. It may simply be because we have not tasted the panoply of power for a long time that we on these Benches have a deep suspicion of government garnering powers to themselves. We have particular suspicion as regards the Home Office, which seems to be the greatest acquirer and hoarder of powers of all the ministries. We saw a magnificent example in the anti-terrorism Bill where, but for a few examples of deft footwork in this place, there would have been a grotesque addition to ministerial power.
We need to be satisfied here that any increase in central powers at the expense of local powers can be proven beyond reasonable doubt, root and branch, and on principle as well as in practice. As many noble Lords have pointed out, we have had no evidence at all for the assumptions underlying Part 1 of the Bill in particular. When the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, replies, I hope that he may be able to satisfy those of us who sit here like hungry sheep waiting to be fed with concrete examples of where and how the accretion of powers will help. We are always being told that justice should be of the people, by the people and for the people. What better example is there than the work of police authorities, the civilian powers of locally elected 566 people and independent local people close to the police for whom they are responsible? Many have referred to the tripartite arrangements. I believe that the provisions in Part I disturb that delicate balance in a wholly unwarranted way.
Many of us would say that the Police Act 1996 went too far in the direction of centralising powers. I hazard a guess that, were we to re-read the discussion of that legislation in Hansard, we should see that those who are now in government strongly opposed many of those centralising measures, and rightly so.
Clause 2 of the Bill entitles the Secretary of State to issue codes of practice relating to the discharge of their functions by chief officers. That goes a lot further than Section 39 of the Police Act 1996, which gives that power only vis-a-vis police authorities themselves. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, pointed out, the problem is that Clauses 2 and 5, which entitle the Home Secretary to give directions direct to chief police officers, cuts right through the balance of powers, bypasses the police authorities altogether and in the process—no doubt inadvertently—undermines their power, authority and esteem. Beyond that, the power to impose codes under Clause 2 is accompanied by the provision in subsection (5) that,a chief officer of police shall have regard to the code".That is a provision which is not present in Section 39 of the 1996 Act vis-à-vis the imposition of codes on police authorities.
Clause 5 is much more serious to the autonomy and status of police authorities. Whereas under Section 40 of the 1996 Act the Secretary of State can give directions to police authorities after adverse inspection reports, under Clause 5 of this Bill there is no need for the Secretary of State to have received any adverse inspection report in order for him or her to impose directions. That will mean that the Secretary of state can meddle and compel, at any time and on any issue, if he is satisfied—that is the small word—that, in any respect, any part of any police force is not efficient or effective. Those two words provide an extremely feeble constraint on a misguided and forceful Home Office. I put it that way not because the Home Office or Home Secretaries are usually misguided and over-forceful, but sometimes they are, and certainly they can be. It is the job of this place not to hand to a Home Secretary those powers.
The Bill provides no control or system by which a Home Secretary's intervention can be challenged other than the extremely cumbersome, expensive and uncertain one of seeking judicial review in the High Court. The Secretary of State is not required even to consult with the relevant police authority before issuing any of these directions.
So for those reasons and others, like many noble Lords, I believe that that part of the Bill needs very careful reconsideration and fundamental reform. I hope that, in the debates to come, the Government will be open-minded in listening to these arguments. I look forward to those debates.
§ 6.5I p.m.
§ Baroness Gardner of Parkes
My Lords, the Bill's title is "Police Reform", and the Bill seems to produce a number of ideas that match its title. However, my concern is not so much reform as improvement. I was therefore pleased to hear the Minister say that many improvements are happening even without the Bill. We need, above all, improvement in the number of police available and visible in local neighbourhoods. We all know the old expression "the bobby on the beat", and many of us look back to that as a happy time, but, nowadays, the bobby is more likely to be in a car. With numbers as they are, such deployment is often the only way of coping with the pressures and pace of the society in which we live.
I listened to the speech on London by the noble Lord, Lord Condon, and I know his great personal experience of the subject. I was in New York for New Year's Eve. That night, 7,000 police were on crowd control and security duty in Times Square. It was awesome, most impressive and trouble-free. Adding CIA numbers to the New York Police Department figure, there are more than 44,000 police in New York.
Zero tolerance has been most effective. I remember the days when one was frightened to walk in New York. Now, there is a feeling of confidence. As the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, said, the dramatic change has been achieved as much by stopping vandalism and minor crime as by tackling more serious crime. The results have been better than anticipated. As the noble Lord, Lord Condon, said, financial resources are essential. I would add, however, that the political will is also essential.
I speak as an ordinary person without police expertise; but London is the area of my local and regional government experience. London's greatest problem is its need for more police. In the days of Sir Kenneth Newman, the aim was to have 30,000 police officers in the Metropolitan Police. Today, we have about 26,000, although that number is supposed to increase soon to 27,000, with the aim of eventually reaching 28,000. As the noble Lord, Lord Condon, said, in 1992, the Met had its highest ever figure of 29.000.
The statement is regularly made that the increase in violent crime on London's streets is all down to 11th September and the removal of police from routine duties to take up security positions. It is not easy to convince me that that is the total answer. Returning from a West End event with my husband, we were attacked in a supposedly safe street by three powerful young black men. I was mugged and left unconscious on the ground. That happened shortly before the Summer Recess and well before 11th September.
The Minister described the fear of crime as greater than the risk of crime. My noble friend Lord Waddington described street crime in a manner that I recognised better. My unfortunate experience had a shattering effect on my street confidence. Even many months later, I find that I am constantly aware of danger in the street and think twice about when and where I go out.
568 The pattern is all too familiar. Although the city of Westminster is still considered a very safe part of London, the aim of reducing street crime by 2 per cent between April and December 2001 became the reality of a 42.36 per cent increase in street crime across the borough in that period. Moreover, crime seems to be moving to more affluent areas of Westminster, such as St John's Wood. In the same period, street crime has increased by 62.4 per cent, vehicle crime by 44.97 per cent and burglary by 26.34 per cent. Is it surprising, therefore, that last night's Evening Standard reported that,thousands of Londoners are employing their own security guards to protect them from robbers and burglars"?The report went on to say that no crimes were reported between July and October on six Kensington streets where residents had paid £1,000 per household to employ their own guards. Does London want to become like Miami, where people arrange their own protection, to the extent that Miami police claim not to have access to 19 per cent of properties? I think that it would be very wrong if our society became divided in a way in which only the rich who could afford extra personal security were safe whereas those without such funds would not be.
I was interested by the Minister's remark that he wanted to see more policing on housing estates. In the days when I was an area GLC housing chairman, covering one-quarter of London, we were always asking for more policing on council estates, but we were always told that police had no right of access because the estates were private property. Has the position changed? If so, I should be glad to have that confirmation. I remain concerned that some sink estates have become almost "no go" areas, certainly for GPs and even for police.
There is a difference between private police forces and other local police who are already employed by boroughs. I am thinking particularly of the park police in Hyde Park, under Kensington and Chelsea council, and those in Battersea park, employed by Wandsworth council. However, the park police as currently constituted would not be suitable for working in the streets.
Some London boroughs are, however, willing to meet the cost for police to work within the community in their own areas.
Kensington & Chelsea council wishes to have borough constables to work specifically in certain wards or areas and to become familiar figures there. However, the council is very concerned that if the constables are completely controlled by the police, the situation immediately following 11th September could be repeated: officers funded by council taxpayers may be moved from the borough to somewhere else where there might be a need. That would entirely defeat the security build-up—the "reassurance patrolling", as the Minister described it—and the objective of ensuring that there is again a familiar officer on the beat.
569 Joint control by the borough and the Metropolitan Police would ensure that those borough constables remained on local duty, as local identities. I ask the Minister seriously to consider providing for joint control.
I am also concerned for the safety of community support officers themselves, but I was not satisfied by the answers that I had from a senior police officer who met a group of Members in the House last week. Community support officers (CSOs) will not be entitled to carry a truncheon, a spray or any form of protection. Park police are allowed to carry a type of plastic handcuff to use when they need to restrain someone. Will CSOs be allowed to use such handcuffs? I asked the officer how CSOs themselves will be protected. He said,we would only put them in situations where there is no risk".The officer went on to say that, when there is risk, trained police in full body armour would be used. However, how does anyone know where there is risk? Almost every week, I see a traffic warden being threatened when he is about to issue merely a parking ticket. Too often, fully trained police officers on foot patrol are severely injured in the course of performing seemingly normal duties. How can we with certainty accurately assess whether a situation is risk free?
It is essential that community service officers have some way of protecting themselves, even if it is only by use of reasonable force; otherwise they will be rapidly targeted as easy prey—particularly if, as we were told, their uniform is slightly different, making it clear that they are CSOs.
Another point that I raised in the discussion concerned identity cards. I think that it is high time that everyone had an identity card. They would be helpful under the provisions of Clause 44(2) where the person acting anti-socially is asked to provide his name and address. I see that it will be an offence to give a false name and address, but someone who has done that will be able to walk away and may not be traceable afterwards. It is clear that if someone refuses to give name and address, he can be restrained, but if he gives an address, how can the officers have any idea whether he really is the person he says he is? The police replied that they were neutral in terms of ID cards and that they saw both their advantages and disadvantages.
It surprises me that I am the only woman speaking in the debate as these issues are of great importance to everyone's life. Over 50 per cent of the population are women. In the older age group, which includes many widows, the proportion is much higher. This is a matter of great concern to women and to everyone else in the community. I support the Bill.
§ 7 p.m.
§ Lord Corbett of Castle Vale
My Lords, it is extremely difficult to win support for change, not least in the public services. Your Lordships' House and another place demonstrate that close to home. But change there needs to be, as the Bill proposes, if the police service is to be enabled and encouraged 570 consistently to deliver what the communities it serves expect of it. The job we ask our police officers to do is demanding and we have high expectations of them. They know that and they know that we entirely support them.
Although crime has fallen by about a fifth in the past four years there is still too much and detection rates are too low. Just 24 crimes in every 100 recorded in 1999–2000 were detected. Only nine in every 100 resulted in a conviction. I want to mention four reasons why I think that is so.
First, we have forgotten the foundation on which policing rests. It is not the detection of crime; rather it is the prevention of crime. Not enough is being done now to prevent crime and, when it is, it is inadequate. Secondly, this happens because links between local police officers and the communities they serve have weakened at a time when family links have also weakened and members of the family are more likely to live 100 miles up the road than across the road or round the corner.
Thirdly, just as family links have lengthened and loosened, so have links within communities. In many families both parents work. There is more to do and less time to do it. Fewer people volunteer to serve their communities as JPs, elected councillors, helping to run Scout and Guide groups or even local branches of political parties. I strongly believe that if we are to improve crime prevention we need to rediscover community and neighbourliness.
Fourthly, these weaker links make it harder for police to work with communities to restore the safety and security too many feel they have had stolen from them. In too many areas communities feel abandoned because police response is either too slow or simply does not happen. Effective crime prevention partnerships cannot be built in this way. I spent years as a Member or Parliament fielding complaints from the public about being told the police did not have enough manpower to respond to community concern. I refer to a case where, for example, an intruder was seen in a garden in the Kingstanding area of my former constituency for a second night running by a neighbour, who rang 999 to report it and said that there was a woman alone in the house with small children. Even then in a high burglary area there was no response. However, I have to tell your Lordships that the superintendent in charge of that area said at a public meeting, after complaints that people could get no response when they rang the police station, that neither could he when he tried to ring in on his day off.
That is why the proposals for community support officers, trained and paid for by the police, who can act as the eyes and ears of local communities, are such an important part of these reforms. Those police officers who oppose the measure cannot have it both ways. If they keep parroting to members of the public that there are not enough of them to respond even to calls which they classify as priority, they must not be surprised when the community turns to street wardens or local businesses to private security firms. The new support officers can provide a missing patrol presence 571 on the streets where we shop and live to do what I mentioned earlier—prevent crime by making it more certain that those thinking of carrying out offences are more likely to be caught, although the trained police officers will deal with the high-crime hot spots.
Sir Ted Crew, the widely respected chief constable of the West Midlands Police, argued in a letter to The Times on 4th January:Any strategy for defeating street crime and enhancing public confidence in policing must include the deployment of highly visible skilled police officers in the high crime areas … and … highly skilled detectives".He is absolutely right, but under the proposals in the Bill it is up to chief constables whether to recruit community safety officers and, if they do so, where and when to deploy them. Sir Edward gives the impression that the community safety officers are a substitute for well trained and experienced police officers. They are not. They will supplement the work of police officers, not substitute for it.
Running alongside the reforms are proposals on pay and conditions which make the necessary point that reforms and rewards go hand in hand. The Police Federation leadership may shout, "No cash—no deal", but the public insist, "No reform—no rewards". The leadership of the Police Federation is asking its 125,000 members in England and Wales to take part on Wednesday in what it calls a consultation. The federation reached agreement within the Police Negotiating Board on the heads of the proposals on pay and conditions, although some of the details have since been changed to the advantage of officers. What a pity the leadership of the federation did not make that shared outcome of negotiations clear to its members in the consultation process. Rather, in the February issue of its magazine, Police, in an editorial misleadingly headlined, "The moment of truth", it describes the proposals in a one-sided way as those put forward by, "the official side". That could give an impression that they were unilaterally imposed.
After fairly setting out the pay and conditions proposals, the federation then attempts to steer the outcome in the direction it wants. There can be no other inference from what is said in the editorial on page five which states:This is a ballot that is clouded with other considerations that have nothing to do with police pay but everything to do with the current abysmal state of police morale".So suddenly the leadership of the federation turns the consultation into a ballot and then imports other extraneous issues into that consultation. That seems to me to smack of an attempt to rig the outcome. It gets more loaded and biased as the editorial adds:Mr Blunkett himself is part of the problem, along with his Government colleagues".Just in case there is a police officer left who does not get the point, it adds:They have created a climate of suspicion and distrust that lessens the chances of the ballot being a dispassionate judgernent … and more of an opportunity for police officers to answer back at the Government, politicians and pundits, who have spent more time burying the reputation of our service than praising it … They … have helped create a picture of a police service that is riddled with incompetence, corruption … and sexism".572 That is the worst, old-hat kind of yesterday's rhetoric and will disappoint most serving officers with its lurid language and cry for a return to the bad old days of industrial relations in the public sector—when the other side was always to blame. lf the federation wanted a "No" vote in the consultation tomorrow, it should have had the courage to say so—rather than pretend that it is based only on the merits of the shared proposals from the Police Negotiating Board.
I want to put three concerns to my noble friend the Minister. First, why are police authorities not being given any new powers which are needed to ensure that the 43 separate police forces in England and Wales reach agreed national policing standards; in other words, powers to build a national policing plan from the bottom up to reflect community concerns, rather than top down from Whitehall?
Secondly, what can the Minister tell the House about the extra cash that will have to be made available to modernise and equip the police for the 21st century, in terms of training community support officers and the information technology that will enable each of the 43 forces to speak to any of the others? If existing budgets are to be raided for those purposes, other activities will suffer.
Thirdly, when will the Government reach a conclusion on the reorganisation of police pensions? The estimated liability stands at between £34 billion and £36 billion. My noble friend the Minister will understand that money going into pensions. as it must under the arrangements, cannot be spent a second time on reform and modernisation.
I particularly welcome the Bill's proposals for an independent police complaints commission, which follows a report from the Select Committee on Home Affairs in the other place when I had the privilege of being its chairman—especially since, in given circumstances, the IPCC will be able to appoint its own investigators.
I urge my noble friend to lose no time making it possible for registered social landlords and bodies such as the Castle Vale Action Housing Trust in my former constituency to apply to the courts for antisocial behaviour orders—the quicker to get them in place, to restore peace and tranquillity to many communities throughout the country.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville
My Lords, It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Corbett—not least in his recent capacity as chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs in the other place. He will recall that almost one quarter of a century ago, when he was due to follow me in the other place to propose a Bill on animal welfare, paradoxically his own party Whip encouraged me to speak as long as I wished. In that spirit, I shall not long delay the noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees—who knows much more about these matters than I do.
Such significant exposure as I have had to policing outside Northern Ireland was at opposite ends of the constabulary spectrum. For 24 years I was as inner-city a Member of Parliament as it is possible to be, involving 573 the City of London Police as well as the Metropolitan Police, with New Scotland Yard at the heart of the seat. For an equal period, I have been a part-time resident in Wiltshire, where protection against terrorism brought me into prolonged and greater contact with the Wiltshire force than most part-time residents would enjoy.
A Home Office study in 1997 indicated that Wiltshire and Kent had the lowest proportion of officers retired with medical pensions in the country. I never served as a Minister or even as a Whip in the Home Office, although my late noble kinsman piloted the Police Act 1964 through the other place as Home Secretary. In the 1970s I employed one of Her Majesty's Chief Inspectors of Constabulary as director of administration in my old private sector firm—thus affording me a privileged leper's squint at police experience.
I share the views of the noble Lord, Lord Condon, on the independent police complaints commission. Like most of your Lordships, I imagine, I can see where a significant part of the Bill is coming from—the mismatch between police responsibilities and police resources. Our post-September 11th experiences of shifting resources to anti-terrorism duties have had their immediate effects in increased consciousness of street crime. The dilemmas of a potential mismatch are with the police for ever and a day.
RoadPeace—the national charity for road traffic victims—recently drew the attention of parliamentarians to the steady reduction in traffic police available to respond to 50,000 personal injury crashes in London. There was always the irony in Northern Ireland during the Troubles that the understandable absence of marked police cars in Ulster sent the number of road deaths spiralling above the number killed by paramilitaries.
The fact that much street crime funds drug addiction adds insult to injury in the community. I pay tribute to the Met's efforts against the drugs trade in the West End.
We must hope that the Government's present response to mismatch through the promulgation of community safety officers, other dedicated officers and accredited community safety organisations is nearer the target than the Home Office was with antisocial behaviour orders—though I acknowledge the utility of crime and disorder reduction partnerships, which reappear in Clause 68.
I acknowledge also that accredited community safety organisations have a good pedigree. The river police were set up to protect the West India Docks in 1798—long before the Metropolitan Police were created. However, the Home Office uses up so much parliamentary time that it is unfortunate that it is simultaneously prone to U-turns—as currently, on asylum policy—and in such short order. The problem that the Home Office is seeking to cure is serious and alarming to many Londoners and others in urban centres—I speak particularly with London experience—so it is good that the Government are responding. If we give them the benefit of the doubt on the principle that they are addressing—which my noble 574 friend Lord Waddington does not—we have a responsibility as parliamentarians to fine tune the legislation so that it has the best possible opportunity of succeeding.
Without seeking to cross swords with my noble friend Lord Waddington on special constables—he has much more experience of these matters than me and my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew was also a Home Office Minister—there is a different situation with special constables in London compared with the rest of the country. That is why community safety officers are so potentially important. In the same way as trained officers in the Met leave for leafier forces elsewhere, my former director of administration in the 1970s now lies under the sward. I hope that somewhere he is smiling, since what is otherwise an ill wind for the Met is giving young constables a year or two in London, where street experience will form them as policemen much faster than could ever happen in any other part of the country. My former director of administration believed that was to the national good.
In the envisaged duties that CSOs will perform is a touch of the St. Petersburg responsibilities being assigned to the European Defence Force, in contradistinction to the heavier responsibilities of NATO—although that analogy cannot be carried too far. I have read the account of neighbourhood wardens in Leeds and have myself seen the work of community policing in Holland where the Dutch, in part as an initiative to reduce unemployment, have been significantly more successful than ourselves in recruiting ethnic minorities into their subordinate force. The statistics quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, for ethnic minority recruitment of special constables can be matched by ethnic minority recruitment into the Territorial Army as against the Regular Army.
It was notably good to see the pride and morale that members of the subordinate Dutch force derived from serving in uniform, even if they did not carry the ability to issue fixed penalty notices or detain people in the way that the Bill envisages. Eyes and ears on the street are still important in the fight against crime—as the street-level beggar proved in the Admiral Duncan pub bombing in Soho—and even more so in imposing civic tidiness.
For success, it is critical that the CSOs earn public acceptance and recognition, which is why clarity in the legislation is so important. My noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith touched on the powers of CSOs. Differing powers at differing levels are capable of confusing the public. Common sense is not necessarily a guide. No. 10 pushed the Prime Minister into one initiative of on-the-spot fines in the previous Parliament, which the Home Secretary and the Home Office had instantly to disavow.
At a trivial level, I once sat the exam for the State of Connecticut Highway Code. It had a multiple choice of answers to each question: two broadly sane, and two patently insane. The test was to decide which of the two broadly sane answers was right. I failed to gain 100 per cent. In answer to the question, which I narrow down to 575 the two sane answers, "Is it your primary duty as a motorist in the State of Connecticut—(a) to avoid killing people; or, (b) to avoid making a noise?", I illadvisedly chose the former answer and failed to appreciate that fatalities were less important in Connecticut, provided that the accident was silent.
If differing powers at differing levels can confuse, so can differing powers in adjacent jurisdictions. A lack of clarity or of familiarity will rob this initiative of public respect. The London Borough of Camden suddenly extended its parking meters' "close of play" in theatreland some years back from 6.30 p.m. to the later hour of 8 p.m. while the City of Westminster stuck to 6.30 p.m. A fair amount of constituency and parliamentary ink had to be expended before common sense returned in common treatment across a boundary with which motorists were obviously unfamiliar.
Finally, on the issue of powers, clarity is required even to the extent of clairvoyance in relation to the powers of detention. In the current context of the Bill, it is possible to envisage episodes of an absurdity, as my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew mentioned, such as caused the disagreement between No. 10 and the Home Office about No. 10's suggested solutions a year or two ago. The powers of detention by CSOs, and their use of reasonable force, will need detailed dissection in Committee if they are to work; and their working well is important to public respect for this innovation.
I end as I began with the Home Office. Despite the sensible words of the Minister at the onset of his speech in this debate, we have a broadly centralising government. When the Arts Council can, with ministerial support, solemnly launch a statement about the dismantling of the regional arts organisations in England by saying that there are three reasons for doing so of which the first is to achieve greater decentralisation, I wonder whether it believes what it says or is simply fooling itself. The Home Secretary acquired a reputation for centralisation while serving as Secretary of State for Education, some of which centralisation is said to be responsible for too many teachers leaving the profession—the subject of another debate this evening. We cannot afford to lose policemen in the same way.
In my youth I worked indirectly for, and directly with, the Nestle company, both in Switzerland and in this country. The subsidiaries were then ruled on a Roman consular basis by two men: one an Italian/ Swiss and the other a French/Swiss. The former, who had made his reputation as a general sales manager of the Milano Secundo sales district of Milan ran continental Europe for Nestle as if it were the Milano Secundo district. His colleague ran the rest of the world, including the United Kingdom—it was the days of EFTA, before we joined the EU—with a much lighter rein. An Irishman, who later ran the UK operations in this country, was sent to run the Australian unit with a personal send-off from the French/Swiss joint managing director, who said to him:I guarantee I shall not interfere. I hope I am not obliged to intervene".576 There are powers of intervention for the Home Secretary in this Bill. As my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew presaged, we should scrutinise the Bill in Committee with that French/Swiss distinction between interference and intervention ringing in our ears.
§ 7.24 p.m.
§ Lord Merlyn-Rees
My Lords, Robert Carvel was the political correspondent of the Evening Standard in the 1960s and 1970s, and I believe for many years before that worked for the Star. He was a real political correspondent, not like so many today. One morning at about 10 o'clock when the Evening Standard came out, Robert Carve] had written, "Westminster is agog", with interest in a certain Bill. I happened to be here, and there was not a soul about. At the annual dinner for the Lobby that day I learned that Harold Wilson had picked up the same story. It appears that Bob Carvel lived in Northwood and that he wrote the article when he was shaving on the borders of Rickmansworth. I have told that story because the one thing that I am certain about is the fact that I shall be brief. The House of Lords is not agog with great interest in our activities at this time of night.
I can tell the noble Lord that I entered the House of Commons 40 years ago and within a few days I was involved in the discussions on a police Bill, following the Willink report. The noble Lord's father was in charge of the Bill. I learned a good deal from him that day: I learned that the briefer the Minister is, the briefer the discussion on the Bill will be. I am not the Minister, but I shall be brief.
I declare an interest that, since 1972. my wife and I, together with our family, had police protection to different degrees. We know the West Yorkshire Police, we know the Metropolitan Police and we know the RUC. I am on the side of the police. Nothing I say will ever alter that position. However, that is not to say that there is no need for reform.
The Bill before us is complicated, though the principles are simple. I congratulate the Home Office, the Library of the House of Lords and the Audit Office on supplying many papers on these matters. I wish only that we had the facilities during the following stages of the Bill whereby we could take evidence from ACPO, from the Police Federation and from the superintendents, so that we could study some of the arguments that have been put. For example, when I served in the Home Office, I heard that some policemen were in favour of increasing the number of officers on the beat, while others thought that the increase should be in officers in patrol cars.
Here, too, there are two schools of thought, arid it might help to resolve the matter if we had those concerned giving evidence. However, I am not sure that we have procedures to cover that sort of hearing. We need to look at the role of the inspectorate and at the powers of the police, which are on I he increase. The House of Lords is a place where we can do that. I hope that we shall have a productive Committee stage on the Bill.
577 The one subject that I should like to talk about is the proposal for community support officers. When I first went to Northern Ireland I had been shadow spokesman for a long time. Much of Belfast was not under the control of the police—it is not so even now. I had a bright idea that came to me while working in the office; namely, to have auxiliary policemen circulating in these areas. I announced it to the House. The Chief Constable came to see me and said, "It won't work Secretary of State; it won't work at all. The IRA will take over those Republican areas and the Prostestant paramilitaries will take over the ones in the other areas. You must be careful with this idea".
In principle, the introduction of CSOs is a very good idea. But are they to be accredited? What sort of uniform will they wear? In my old constituency we devised a scheme for Saturday morning surgeries: two councillors would sit at desks in different corners of the room, together with the community constable. The people would queue up outside. In the event of one of them raising a police matter, I was able to consult the police directly. But what is to happen to community constables? Will they still be around. They carry out the sort of job that we expect these auxiliary policeman will have to do. The proposal needs to be carefully considered.
I should tell noble Lords that I have a sore throat. I have but one further point to make. We must use the Committee stage to investigate these matters carefully. Let us use the process properly. All too often during a Bill's passage through the House we have an ongoing Second Reading debate that continues for weeks. The Bill does not need a continuous Second Reading debate; it needs investigation. I wish the Bill well. I hope to be able to play my part in its progress.
§ 7.29 p.m.
§ The Earl of Rosslyn
My Lords, I should like to say something about the issue of community support officers. In doing so, I should declare an interest as a serving officer in the Metropolitan Police, in which I am a commander with responsibility for the force's training.
Writing in 1943, Charles Reith said that,the police are the public and the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare".That sense of collective responsibility for policing is reflected today in the overwhelming emphasis on partnership approaches to crime reduction and community safety. One expression of that dominant philosophy is the network of crime reduction partnerships which throughout the country brings together the police, local authorities and a wide range of other bodies to promote joint activity at a local level. Another example is that of the partnership between regular officers and the Special Constabulary which other noble Lords have mentioned. That involves men and women who on average contribute 578 more hours per week for a longer period of service than those undertaking any other form of voluntary activity.
In developing the doctrine of policing, therefore, opportunities have always been taken to involve others and to allow active citizens to participate in creating safer societies. Both examples demonstrate that it is possible to contribute to more effective policing without joining the service itself.
Today, demands on the police are rising, and if our strategic aims of safety and reassurance are to be met, we need to develop a culture that seeks out new opportunities for engagement with partners, volunteers and the public. For those reasons, I believe that a properly accountable, trained and well-managed network of community support officers could contribute positively to making London the safest capital city in the world. How might they do that?
Over the past decade, driven at least in part by government performance indicators, some progress has been made in improving our response to serious crime, major incidents and calls for assistance. When the public demand more officers on the beat, as they do, police managers tend to respond by pointing to the improved detection rates for murder and other serious offences, to the declining levels of burglary and to quicker response times. However, none of that appears to have reassured the public that they are safer.
That paradox is nowhere more evident than in the findings of the most recent British Crime Survey, to which other noble Lords have referred. That showed that, although the chance of being victimised had fallen to its lowest level for 20 years, fear of crime remained high. More than half of the 2001 sample believed that crime rates had risen in the preceding year, while the survey itself showed a fall of 12 per cent.
The significance of that gap between falling levels of crime and rising degrees of fear has now been recognised as a phenomenon in itself. The clamour for reassurance is an intangible but fundamental dimension of modern policing. The public want to see the visible presence of authority in public spaces and yet the police officers who provide that are all too often taken off the streets to process arrests, give evidence in court and undergo training.
The evidence for that can be found in last year's Home Office report, The Diary of a Police Officer, to which the Minister referred. It revealed that officers were spending 43 per cent of each tour of duty inside the police station dealing with paperwork, preparing prosecution files and processing prisoners. Arresting someone, whether for a minor or serious offence, removed an officer from the streets for an average of three-and-a-half hours. When officers were out of the station, most of their time was spent dealing with incidents and making inquiries. Only 17 per cent of their time was spent on general patrol of the type likely to promote public reassurance.
Such reassurance is not just desirable in itself; it can stimulate a virtuous circle in which increased confidence generates additional information and 579 intelligence, from which more effective policing can emerge. In short, reassurance is fundamentally linked to the success of conventional policing priorities.
Community support officers could, it seems to me, contribute to that sense of reassurance not by replacing police officers but by assisting them and allowing regular officers to make more effective use of their skills and training. With their complementary and distinct role, community support officers could provide that additional visible presence through which confidence is improved and fear of crime diminished.
The principles of such an approach have already been established in the growing number of local authority warden schemes. Patrolling in the Borough of Islington recently, I saw the positive collaboration between those wardens and local officers. The Bill provides an opportunity to develop that principle of joint working, with the local beat officer co-ordinating directly a support officer's briefing, tasking and deployment.
I imagine that many noble Lords will know their own local community officers and will have seen how they are often working alone and relatively unsupported. Such local officers could for the first time have at their disposal a means of providing additional visible patrol in areas where anti-social behaviour or fear of crime were most acute. That extra tier of patrol, which is less likely to be called away, can of course he characterised as cut-price policing. But it can, more constructively, be seen as an attempt to respond creatively to the dynamic of changing public demand.
While the importance to us of the Special Constabulary will be undiminished, the service also needs people who are able to come into work at a prescribed time and carry out a specific task. It should not have to rely exclusively and unreasonably on the good will of volunteers. We should, I believe, take this opportunity to develop a mixed economy of police and support staff. just as nurses today undertake some of the jobs that doctors used to do and care assistants take on some nursing roles.
There is a second way in which community support officers could assist in the policing of London. In the latter part of 2001, between 500 and 1,500 officers were deployed daily, predominantly in central London, to provide protection, reassurance and a response to major incidents and security alerts. Given the scale of that demand, they were drawn from other boroughs of London, and the impact of that abstraction was significant and damaging. Some of their security duties, such as the management of cordons and the patrol of discrete areas, were labour intensive and could, I believe, have been undertaken by community support officers, properly briefed and properly supervised.
Visiting a central London police station just before Christmas, I found that 40 per cent of the duty time of probationer constables—that is to say, officers with less than two years' service—was being spent on security duties. For all its importance, that deployment was providing them with little 580 opportunity to develop the wider range of skills that are expected of police officers. It could not offer the breadth of challenge that attracted them to policing and which will retain them in the service.
In 1829, when presenting his first Bill for,Improving Police in and near the Metropolis",Robert Peel told Parliament that he intended to,proceed slowly with the experiment with a cautious feeling of the way and deriving aid from experience, essential to the ultimate success of all reform".Integrating community support officers into policing may require just such an approach. We will need to involve local communities in those discussions if the notion is to win public consent. If the issues of control, accountability and training are properly attended to, I believe that the case can be made.
§ 7.39 p.m.
§ Lord Kimball
My Lords, the noble Earl has given us an up-to-date review of policing from his own point of view. The House must take careful note of everything that he said. In a moment I shall pursue his question of what we should do about the special constables, how they should be paid and what allowances they should have.
I am rather worried by the idea that outside London we may find ourselves faced with a tiered police force. I am afraid that I agree with everything that my noble friend Lord Waddington said about the community policeman. There is a danger of the Treasury leaning on chief constables to establish why some use cannot be made of them.
As a whole, we do not like wardens; we do not like people exercising police power as civilians. I refer not only to traffic wardens. We do riot like people displaying anti-social behaviour, causing damage to property and stopping cars. Last week I was very impressed when a very senior and well respected detective inspector in Leicester said to me, "You have no idea the amount of trouble we have to get them out of". I believe that that probably applies to many community police officers.
I believe that we are also in danger of moving, as the French and Italians have done, towards a form of tied police service. After all, the Republican Guard was incorporated into the main French force in 1849. But it has a very limited police power. I was lucky enough to have the Republican Guard at the Olympia horse show four years ago. Its members are very good horsemen, but their police powers are limited, unlike the English mounted police, who come every third year to Olympia. They are, first and foremost, policemen and women and then good horsemen afterwards. I am also concerned as to what might happen in Italy, where, I am advised, 10 different policemen can all have different powers.
I now turn to the question of special constables in Leicestershire and Rutland. There we have 2,000 full-time officers and exactly 200 special constables. They are not paid but they receive out-of-pocket expenses and—I may be corrected on this point—they complete 10 training sessions a year. We should approach the 581 specials in exactly the same way as we do the Territorial Army. Provided that they are available for a limited numbers of days and complete their training sessions, they should quality for a tax-free bounty. I believe that the new police negotiating body, which is now examining the matter of payment, should make a firm recommendation about a bounty for special constables. It should be based on the interruption to family life caused by their special duties and it should allow them to take their families on a good holiday as a result of that interruption.
If, at the age of l8/12 someone in a village decides to join the police force, that is reflected throughout the whole community. Everyone considers it to be excellent that the person in question has joined, and it also reflects on the school. The House will be aware that, when trainees first join, they have 15 weeks of virtually hard labour, followed by two years' probation and then a final six weeks. Therefore, they become fully-fledged police officers at the end of three years.
I believe that we must begin to consider police recruitment as a whole. Today, many people go to university and we must start to recruit there. I do not refer to the old-fashioned scheme of accelerated promotion for graduates. I do not believe that that was fair, and it never worked. However, I believe that we should look at the possibility of a person at university spending his long vacation holiday with the police service, for which he should be paid. If at the end of his three-year period at university he does not join the police force, he must pay back the money. That is what happens now in the armed services.
Therefore, if one spends part of a gap year gaining work experience with the police and then completes three years' police training during the long vacation, one should start in the police force on an equal footing with those who have just joined the force at the age of 18/12. I believe that we should now give serious consideration to recruiting from universities because that is where almost everyone seems to go. There are various degree subjects at university; none the less, that is where nearly everyone seems to end up.
Finally, because Mr Edmund-Davies lived in my constituency, I was conscious of what he did for the police service. We shall have to face the fact that all those who decided to join up or extend their service following Mr Edmund-Davies's reforms will all start to retire in 2006. I believe that a larger number of people are retiring than at present we probably realise.
I have nothing more to add, other than the fact that I believe that the Police Negotiating Board should do everything that was done in 1976. I also believe that a special review should take place of the terms relating to special constables, and we should consider once again a proper form of university recruitment.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Lord Brennan
My Lords, the preservation of public order and the protection of the public against crime is carried out in our country by community-based police 582 forces. It is a system which we have adopted for many, many years. Its successful continuance over that period of time has been due to the fact that the public have confidence in their police and the local police force knows that it has the trust of the people whom it serves. That is a vital aspect of our national life which we should always seek to preserve.
Although we have community-based police forces, we nevertheless control them through a statutory framework. Therefore, any police Bill is of singular importance and we should investigate its provisions to determine whether they will, at the very least, maintain the present level of confidence and, wherever possible, increase it. This Bill seeks to achieve that objective. I raise three issues concerning the Bill in order to seek to ensure, as we investigate it in detail, that the public confidence which we value so much will not be endangered.
My first comment is a query about the structure of Parts 1 and 3 of the Bill. If our 43 police areas each function under the command of a chief constable responsible to his police authority, with ultimate responsibility lying with the Secretary of State, how is that relationship to be maintained so that local policing is preserved?
In opening the debate, the Minister helpfully indicated the two strands of Parts 1 and 3 which the Government consider to be important in seeking, if they must, to direct the work of local police forces. The first will be the introduction of a national plan, which itself would have the consequence of local plans to implement it. Therefore, my first query is: what place is there in the national plan structure for the Secretary of State to determine and, if necessary, to direct chief constables of police to use support staff; and, if there is such use, what will be the amount? At present the Bill proposes that the power to use support staff will be in the hands of the chief constable. But how does that fit in with a national plan for policing that seeks to enforce efficiency and effectiveness? That is my first query.
The second is to reflect the concern which, with our historical dislike of the concept of a national police force, we all have that, under the Bill, the Secretary of State will have as a last resort—that was my noble friend's phrase in opening the debate—the power to dismiss a chief constable by enforcing retirement or resignation. In what circumstances can we envisage that measure of last resort being exercised, particularly if a chief constable honestly and genuinely disagrees with a particular feature of the national plan, and his police authority and the local community agree with him? Those are not critical queries. They are designed to give a shape to the Bill that will preserve, rather than damage, confidence in this first area of community-based policing.
My second comment is one of commendation in relation to police complaints. The stature of any public service is best tested by the way in which it allows the public remedies for misbehaviour by its servants. In my view, this Bill creates a police complaints commission of high quality. I suspect that it is a rare 583 occasion in this House when a noble Lord can congratulate the Government on spending three times more than in the past on a public service, but I understand that to be their intention. Some 14 million or £15 million will be spent on this commission. I applaud that expenditure, dictated as it is within the Bill through an efficient system of complaint investigation and resolution. As one of my noble friends said earlier, the reason for delays in the investigation of police complaints is because the fact of investigation has become the remedy for a complaint, when the complainant wishes to achieve resolution. That is an important feature of daily life. I commend this first aspect of the police complaints commission very warmly indeed.
I turn to the internal disciplining of police officers. For many years at the junior Bar I was retained by the Police Federation in my region to represent it in every aspect—civil and criminal—but particularly at internal private disciplinary hearings conducted by chief constables that did not involve members cif the public. It was difficult to understand the length of time that they took, the reason why suspension should be so lengthy and the reason why only the chief constable could conduct the tribunal. I am not sure what the present system is; I suspect that it is much the same. Important t hough it is to preserve force morale and the line of discipline, it is simply unacceptable for any chief constable to expect to chair every such inquiry.
In looking at the Bill, and in putting it into context for police officers, I hope that in due course chief constables will allow their deputies to conduct the tribunals, or even an independent lawyer, with the one target of achieving an early completion of the complaint. I stress that because within Part 2 of the Bill there is an interconnection between internal complaints and reference of them by the chief constable to the independent commission. One should not be out of sync with the other in terms of expedition.
My third comment is caution in relation to Part 4 of the Bill. It is a self-evident truth that a security guard is cheaper than a police officer who has had the benefit of long-term training and who has the benefit of sickness pay and pension entitlement. That economic truth should not dictate the future shape of our police. I invite a cautious inquiry to be made of some of the issues that will arise from the use of support staff as envisaged in the Bill.
First, I refer to consistency of use and training. The giving of a power to individual chief constables to determine in each of their forces who is acceptable and who is not is perfectly reasonable, provided that that power is exercised consistently and not, in certain circumstances, under the pressure of desperate need, when the less acceptable may be accepted rather than the acceptable. That is consistency of use and training.
Secondly, echoing the comments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, if a community service officer is entitled to use reasonable force—I understand that he faces that prospect unarmed—a drunken hooligan will be aware that the person who may seek to control him, under the powers given to 584 him under this Bill, will not be armed and will riot be able to defend himself, except with his own physical strength. In my view, that is likely to give rise to the real risk that such support officers, seeking to do their duty, will be the subject of serious violence. That area requires careful attention.
Thirdly, as yet no one has mentioned the important fact that the Bill allows support staff to act as investigating officers and detention officers. The Explanatory Notes state that the first of those categories covers people like scenes-of-crime officers. That is not so. A quick perusal of Schedule 4 indicates that such an investigating officer will be armed with the same powers of search and seizure as any ordinary police officer. Other than in cases of violent crime where armed police may be involved, will we see search warrants and search and seizure carried out by support staff and not by fully qualified police officers? If not, how will the code that allows them to he used be applied in a way that avoids that?
On detention officers, a number of individual powers are given to someone acting as a detention officer who is not a police officer. The Bill is silent on whether he or she will have the power to detain within a police station, by which I mean to exercise the authority of a custody sergeant, to inspect someone in a cell to ensure that one does not face—as one sometimes has to in this life—the terrible event of a cell death or unnecessary violence. What role will such a detention officer play in that scenario? The Bill does not explain.
The Association of Community Service Organisations enjoys, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, said—if "enjoy" is the right word—the liability that the chief officer of police enjoys in respect of claims made against either one or both. Will a chief constable ensure that any ACSO that he uses will be properly insured and that the staff are properly trained, not to meet claims, but to ensure that claims can be avoided? In recent years a problem that has beset the Metropolitan force has been the scale and complexity of actions against the police. It would be unfortunate if the support staff provisions of this Bill served merely to extend that unhelpful area of litigation.
Lastly with regard to Part 4, we can look forward, I hope, to each chief constable employing such support staff issuing an annual report as to his experience of them—not just with regard to what they did, but on whether it was worth the money and whether their use should continue.
These comments of query, commendation and caution should not be thought to undermine what is a commendable Bill. However, I should like to make two points in conclusion. First, the Government are introducing a new system of policing. They are putting the powers of support staff policing into the hands of chief constables. That does not permit the Government to renege on a duty they owe: to determine from time to time by their own report to this House and the public whether this system is working; and, if it is not, to show a readiness, which I am sure they will, to adapt and change as necessary.
585 Secondly, this Bill is innovative. It will bring about a different form of policing. But I suggest that it should not be passed as if it is fixed for all time. We should not face the situation anticipated by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, of the budgetary allowances of policing hereafter being dictated by the existence of these two forms of policing. Of course I accept the public pressures on resources that might lead to that risk. But it is a risk that we must avoid because—closing as I opened—if we allow that state of affairs to arise, it is certain sure that the public will lose confidence in the policing system. They will feel that the police they were used to are a police apart, and that they are getting second best. I am sure that that is not the intention of the Bill and certainly not of the Government.
It is our duty as citizens, and the Government's as the conductors of state policy, to ensure that, in future, confidence in the police is maintained to the level which it has been in the past.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Earl Attlee
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for introducing his Bill. I intend to cover four subjects: special constables; the provision of escorts for abnormal loads; the management of police recovery schemes for broken down vehicles; and the Ministry of Defence and British Transport Police.
Many noble Lords have raised the issue of special constables. I have no special knowledge of them. But it is interesting to compare the relationships between the Regular Army and the Territorial Army and the regular police and the Special Constabulary. As a TA officer I have no doubt that I have a healthy relationship with my regular counterparts and also that I have power of command over regular officers and subordinate officers. Equally, I would demur to a subordinate regular officer if I thought that he had greater knowledge of the matter in hand.
I accept that some special constables do not want to be paid because that is against their ethos. But I wonder whether it is the most efficient and effective way of going about the business. We may not reach a conclusion about special constables during the passage of the Bill, but I believe that it will be a fruitful area of study.
I remind the House that I am the president of the Heavy Transport Association. I also own and operate a very heavy transporter that lives at the REME museum at Bordon camp. Clearly, abnormal loads have to be escorted because of their very nature. Traditionally the police have provided this service, normally for no charge, but actually there is no statutory provision for so doing.
The problem is that escorting abnormal loads is not regarded as a core police activity. As a result, hauliers of heavy loads often have to wait several hours in order to get a police escort. When police constabularies change they have to wait another period of several hours. Police escorts are normally available only during main working hours. But, ideally, abnormal loads should be moved at unsocial hours, and even in 586 the small hours—one or two o'clock in the morning. This is a subject that is very dear to the heart of the noble Lord, Lord Mason of Barnsley.
Initial options for change centred on a policy of "contractorising" the police function. That caused major concerns in industry because there was the worry of having a monopoly supplier working for the police but being paid for by the hauliers. It was seen as very controversial. Many operators wanted to stay with the concept of a free service, even if it meant waiting a considerable length of time. Of course that was not a likely outcome. As a result there was not much government activity, but the police have been steadily relaxing the escorting criteria. Also the police are becoming fairly relaxed about allowing self-escorting. I have done it myself. It has also been carried out in North Wales.
These matters were covered in an Unstarred Question of the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, on 2nd May 2001. The noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, when talking about the 1998 consultation, said:One can draw from that [the consultation] the implication that there was not absolute consensus on the way forward".—[Official Report, 2/5/01; col. 1940.]I think that he was quite right at the time. The Road Haulage Association, for instance, shared my concern about the dangers of "contractorising a police function". It raised difficult issues of accountability and responsibility and also the expense to the operator.
However, now there is consensus along the lines of the chief constable authorising the movement but telling the haulier that he will have to provide his own escort, but in accordance with ACPO guidelines. The ACPO guidelines might cover the experience of the escort driver, say, three years of having a Class 1 Heavy Goods Vehicle licence, the lights, the signs and equipment carried within the escort vehicle. Detailed studies have already been undertaken. Moving in this direction does not require any legislation, either primary or secondary. The chief constable already has the power to go in this direction. I have mentioned the situation in North Wales and there are other informal arrangements.
Noble Lords may not be aware, but the Metropolitan Police, who have serious pressing policing priorities which have been touched on today, will now escort only abnormal loads over 13 feet 6 inches wide and 100 tonnes gross train weight. If I were to move an abnormal load of that size on a single carriageway without some form of escort—not necessarily a police escort—I would regard myself as being grossly negligent.
I do not take issue with what the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police has done with regard to his priorities. But it indicates that urgent action is required in this area. At the present time, the Metropolitan Police are moving very fast, but the hauliers do not have their own escort facilities. So right now, hauliers are trying to move very heavy loads across central London without any escorts. There is a real risk there.
587 I intend to meet the Minister's right honourable friend Mr Denham to confirm consensus on the way forward. I hope that the Minister will facilitate that so that it can take place before we get to the Committee stage. It may possibly save time in Committee.
I believe that private escorting is in line with the Minister's policy on police reform. It will reduce inconvenience to the public and save considerable sums of money to the industry and of course make better use of police resources.
Charging for escorts is a related issue. It will be appropriate for the police to charge in certain circumstances, but it is not clear whether the charges are legal or are set at the appropriate level. I will address that issue in Committee. In Committee, I shall also raise the issue of police recovery schemes for broken-down vehicles and accidents. There have been several court cases involving the chief constable and the new recovery schemes, some of which have questionable integrity. On the back of those schemes, the police force gets free recovery. We have had serious problems with one of those schemes in south Wales. On the other hand, we also have a serious safety problem. The hard shoulder is the most dangerous part of the motorway, and we cannot afford to have vehicles parked on it, waiting any length of time for recovery. Action is needed.
Breakdowns on highly congested roads must be cleared extremely quickly. Perhaps, the Highways Agency ought to consider having some sort of free recovery system, rather like the contraflow systems, in order to remove the congestion at the earliest possible moment. There is no consensus about recovery schemes, unlike private escorting. They are difficult problems, and we should explore them in Committee. However, I do not expect to see much progress in the short term.
The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, and others raised the issue of the British Transport Police and the Ministry of Defence Police. Several provisions have slipped out of the Bill, but we can, of course, correct that in Committee. I look forward to subsequent stages and, in particular, listening to the suggestions of other noble Lords for the improvement of the Bill.
§ 8.11 p.m.
§ Lord Borrie
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes—the only noble Baroness who has spoken in the debate—was one of several speakers who pointed out that the apparent disappearance of the uniformed policeman from our streets is one of the major concerns of the public and that it has existed for some time.
I do not believe any more than other noble Lords that the police car with sirens wailing is any substitute in terms of giving comfort, providing deterrence and reassuring the general public. Nor, however, do I think that the clock can be put back. Possibly—I may do him an injustice—-the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, may think that it is possible. He certainly placed emphasis on special constables. Assuming that they are unpaid, 588 reliance on them—in London, at any rate—would not seem to be feasible. Therefore, I am attracted, in principle at least, to Part 4 of the Bill. which refers to people, whether they are street wardens. security officers or whoever—all uniformed, as I understand it—who would provide that measure of reassurance to the public that, to the regret of noble Lords, has disappeared. Their powers to deal with so-called low-level crime and anti-social behaviour would be a valuable supplement—I emphasise "supplement"—to the powers of the police.
My only concerns about Part 4 are Committee matters which can be examined at another time. What does "accreditation" mean? Will it mean something different in 43 different police areas? I follow the points made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden, who picked on particular clauses—I think that they were Clauses 33, 34 and 35—and talked of the anxieties about who would be responsible in the event of an injury being caused in some kind of tussle between the support staff—the auxiliaries, as I may conveniently call them—and a member of the public. It seemed to me, before I heard the noble and learned Lord's more detailed points, that Clause 35 relied greatly on the auxiliary's employer to ensure that the auxiliary would be someone of the kind of character, behaviour and personality that would make him suitable to be a member of that force. Much attention must be paid to the accreditation of individuals, especially at the beginning of the new system. The public will be watching, and the police force proper will be watching. Relations between the auxiliaries and the police on one hand and the public on the other are of tremendous importance if Part 4, which I agree with in principle, is to be a success in practice.
I also welcome the creation of the new independent complaints commission. I welcomed the comments about the new system by the noble Lord, Lord Condon, in his excellent speech. Tested against criteria of accessibility, effectiveness and independence, the new commission scores high marks. It is certainly a far cry from the days when the police investigated complaints against the police, with the risk of coverup—or certainly with the perception of cover-up on the part of the public—with regard to the outcome. I remind your Lordships that, to meet legitimate public concern, those in many other professions— lawyers, accountants and others—have felt that they should introduce complaints systems with at least a lay element that would have greater public acceptance than the systems that they replaced. So there is nothing embarrassing for the police; there is no thing special to single out in relation to the police. Other professions are properly doing similar things.
It has not been mentioned in the debate, but I am glad that bodies such as citizens advice bureaux, representative bodies and others will be able to pursue complaints apart from individual victims. Of course, there must be safeguards against complaints that are produced for some kind of political or other reason that is not justified, but I like that idea, and I like the innovation that the commission will be able to conduct 589 an investigation. It is described in the Explanatory Notes as a "totally new concept" for serious complaints, those that are likely to concern the public interest.
On the provisions for the new commission, I should welcome an explanation as to how the new concept of the commission conducting investigations directly will work. Do we envisage having permanent staff? Do we envisage sufficient work to require permanent staff to conduct investigations throughout the year? Sadly, perhaps we do. Where shall we get qualified people? Do we envisage that people will be seconded from the police force in some temporary or permanent way? It will make a lot of difference to the perception of the new commission and of the independence that is enshrined in its title if we know where the investigators will come from.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, for raising the matter of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998. I had the privilege of piloting it through the House. It was a Private Member's Bill in the other place, initiated by Mr Richard Shepherd, Member of Parliament for Aldridge-Brownhills. It gave useful protection—as it still does—to employees in all kinds of enterprises who blow the whistle on wrongdoing in the place of work and are then dismissed or victimised in some other way.
The Government said that police officers must be excluded from the Act because technically they are not employees. That is perfectly true. But the relevant Minister—Mr Ian McCartney at that time—said that it was clear the police should be covered by whistle-blowing protection and, as recorded in Commons Hansard on 24th April 1998 at col. 1143, he gave an "absolute commitment" that police officers would be afforded equivalent protection to that in the Act.
There are some whistle-blowing provisions in the police regulations. But they do not provide equivalent protection to that in the Public Interest Disclosure Act. The officer is not given any right of redress. He is merely entitled to bring a so-called "grievance"; a procedure in which, according to no less a body than Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary, the police have little confidence. According to the Government's White Paper, Policing a New Century, which the Minister has had in front of him during most of the debate, a modern police service requires modern employment terms and conditions. That suggests that the old technical reason for excluding the police from the Public Interest Disclosure Act no longer applies.
§ 8.21 p.m.
§ Lord Dholakia
My Lords, this has been an interesting Second Reading debate, notably because of the contributions of three noble Lords with direct policing experience, further supplemented by the Minister who I understand spent a night shift with the police in London. I had a similar experience, spending a night shift with the police force in Chicago. The most frightening thing was that every arrest was made when guns were produced. It was on that day that I realised what a wonderful police force we have in this country.
590 I detected a common concern among most noble Lords, and shall certainly include it in my contribution. The police and policing methods have come under considerable scrutiny over the past few years. For example, no one would have imagined that the Macpherson report into the death of Stephen Lawrence would result in such a fundamental appraisal of policing methods. To the credit of the police forces, they took on board many of the recommendations and to that extent the Home Office must take credit for the way that it pursued those recommendations.
Parliament has to date looked at issues affecting the police very much on a piecemeal basis, as was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate. This Bill gives us an opportunity to examine present practices and the improvements that are necessary. As my noble friend Lord Bradshaw and the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, pointed out, some contentious issues arise and we shall debate those in Committee.
I echo the concern expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, that the Bill may not reflect the consultation that has taken place. How can that be possible in the short time between the end of the consultation process and the publication of the Bill? Will it be possible for the Minister to make available in the Library the evidence submitted by the various organisations so that we can see their concerns in relation to the consultation process outcome.
In Part 1 the Home Secretary asks for new powers regarding police forces and police authorities, and I shall deal with that matter later. I note the Minister's assurance that he values the tripartite relationship. I do not question his intentions. But the effect of his proposals is precisely the opposite. It questions the sound relationship of the tripartite arrangement that has existed so far.
Part 2 concerns the overhaul of the police complaints system and the establishment of a new independent police complaints commission. I endorse the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Condon. The police have powers which, if misused, can be oppressive and fundamentally affect the lives of ordinary citizens. It is right that such misuse can be dealt with and we welcome the additional powers.
It is important also that we scrutinise the powers for the removal, supervision and disciplining of police officers as contained in Part 3. I say that because no one can take comfort from the way in which the Secretary of State exercised his authority in a recent case. The removal of the Chief Constable of Sussex raised some important issues and we want to distinguish clearly the role of the police authority and the part the Secretary of State should play. I do not question the rights or wrongs of the case; but I question the method employed.
The Home Secretary has power also to reinstate police officers. But the way he exercised his authority in that case broke all the rules of natural justice. He cannot be the judge and the jury at the same time.
591 The most fundamental provision in the Bill relates to police powers, police support staff and the establishment of a community safety accreditation scheme. Again that is new and it is right that we should probe in detail the Government's thinking and the police response to it.
I have always said that we have the best police force in the world. But that does not mean that it could not be better. Equally, there is recognition that the public's expectations are far greater than the police's ability to meet them and deliver the appropriate service to them. We must not forget that 130,000 individuals—that thin blue dividing line—make the difference between a democracy and a dictatorship. It is for that reason that we need to examine carefully the impact of the government proposals and their impact on the police generally.
The question we quite rightly need to pose that arose in the consultation document is whether the Police Reform Bill will actually assist in reducing crime. Will it help to tackle persistent offenders more effectively? What will be its impact on detection and conviction rates? Again, the noble Lord, Lord Condon, is right. The police are not the only agency. The joined-up approach should look at all parts of the justice system if we are to achieve some uniformity in the way that the system operates.
The question I have repeatedly posed in your Lordships' House is this. Why is it that when the crime rate is dropping as confirmed by the British Crime Survey, the prison population continues to rise? I welcome the announcement of the Home Secretary about the need to reduce over-crowding and the plans he has for weekend prisons. There is at least a recognition that sending people to prison does not work. I welcome that new thinking.
No one disputes that public safety and the protection of all our citizens must rank high on the Government's agenda. We need to be satisfied that the Bill before us has a balance between crime and its detection, and the need to deal with offenders in a more effective way. If that means tackling bureaucracy in the policing network and more effective use of police in tackling crime, then that is welcome.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, in his most important report on the Brixton disorders in 1981, identified independence and the consent of the community as an essential element in successful policing methods. A number of noble Lords mentioned those factors. We want to be satisfied that neither has been sacrificed in the Bill before us, nor that they have been diluted so that those factors are eroded.
We welcome the Home Secretary's duty to produce an annual national policing plan. The questions we must raise are these. Would local consultation in formulating the national plan be part of the Government's strategy? If not, why not? Is the national plan the forerunner for a national police force? That is the indication one gets despite the Government's assurances. Would the independence of the police be sacrificed? Are we slicing away or eroding 592 their independence in operational matters? How else can the Minister explain powers to issue directions? Why does the Secretary of State require powers to issue directions, particularly to chief officers and police authorities? Does this not compromise the independence of our local police forces?
It would have been helpful if the Minister had indicated why the present methods have not worked—if they have not worked. The Minister has demonstrated an insatiable appetite on the part of the Government to control police functions nationally. I hope that that is not the case. The powers that the Home Secretary is seeking, particularly the power to issue directions, could have serious implications if there is political interference in the performance of police duties. We want categoric assurances that this will not be the case and that the power will be restricted to directions for implementing an annual national policing plan which has been approved by Parliament.
We must avoid politicising our police service at all costs. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden, rightly drew our attention to this matter. Perhaps I may draw an analogy with the miners' strike and the use of police operating nationally at that time which created wounds in our mining communities which have yet to heal.
I am concerned about the Secretary of State's relationship with police authorities. Prior to the reorganisation of the membership and function of' the authorities, much of the discussion at meetings related to point scoring, particularly political point scoring. I know because I was a member of such an authority at that time. The reorganisation and the appointment of independent members altered that situation. Why is it necessary to meddle in the fu:nction of such authorities?
Again, the action of the Secretary of State in bypassing the role of the authority and asking the Chief Constable of Sussex to resign has not helped. Why do we need such powers centrally? What is the justification? If we take away the remaining vestige of independence from police authorities it will make them fairly sterile and will be damaging to the accountability of the force.
Part 2 deals with complaints and misconduct. This is an area in which we will certainly offer the Minister our support. The current system of handling complaints has flaws. Let me declare my interest. Unlike many Members of your Lordships' House, I was a member of the Police Complaints Authority from 1994 to 1997. It was created in the early 1980s as a result of the report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, on the Brixton riots, the Royal Commission on Criminal Procedure and recommendations from the then Police Complaints Board.
The procedures were ground-breaking at that time. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, himself proposed the arrangement whereby investigations into serious complaints would be supervised by the Police Complaints Authority. Police investigating police has never been accepted by a section of the populace, and public perceptions count as much as reality.
593 The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 was also ground-breaking but it needs updating. The Police and Magistrates' Courts Act 1994, now part of the Police Act 1966, reformed the police discipline system but did not change the process of investigation. There are specific reasons why we need to reform the system now.
The current system does not allow for any appeal against a failure by a chief constable to record a complaint against police. If you cannot record a complaint, you cannot get an investigation. Many frustrated complainants write to the Police Complaints Authority, but, while the authority will intercede if appropriate, it has no locus in the case and cannot override the force's decision.
Special constables and civilians, such as custody gaolers, who have taken over posts formerly held by constables, are outside the current system. The Bill will bring them into the same complaints system.
The Police Complaints Authority cannot initiate an investigation of its own accord. It has to await a complaint or a voluntary referral by the force. The complaints of people who witness police misconduct also cannot be recorded, although on occasions the force will set up an investigation. Following incidents causing grave public concern, there is particular concern about police officers investigating, albeit under the supervision of the independent Police Complaints Authority.
The PCA has had tiny resources to undertake a major job. For example, its £4.4 million budget to cover 51 police forces in England and Wales is only about half of that of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, where the total number of police officers is about 10 per cent of that in England and Wales.
There is no appeal against a misconduct decision taken by the Police Complaints Authority. Judicial reviews are expensive and are only the prerogative of people who are legally aided.
The restrictions on disclosure of information hindered the present Police Complaints Authority considerably in its first 10 years and damaged public confidence in the police complaints machinery. The name "Police Complaints Authority" leads the great majority of complainants to assume that the independent body is an arm of the police. The system under which the PCA finds itself writing to complainants to tell them the result of an investigation on behalf of the police fuels this misunderstanding.
It has been a difficult time for the PCA to operate but it has made some very significant progress since the 1980s. I am delighted that the Minister has acknowledged the individual contribution of members of the authority. The PCA is much more flexible now. It has handled many cases of miscarriages of justice and around 40 convictions have been quashed as a result of its investigations. Despite receiving criticisms, investigations are much more robust and the complainants and their families are well briefed about their cases.
594 We need to commend the authority's work on guidance for pre-inquest disclosure as regards deaths in custody. It has played a significant part in reducing the number of deaths in care and custody from 65 in 1998 to 32 last year. We can add to that the guidance on the police use of batons and CS sprays and the way it has worked with a number of police forces to pioneer restorative justice techniques within the police complaints system. It is to be hoped that none of this will lose its impact when the authority is reorganised.
I welcome the proposed changes because they will take the system a lot further. The independent police complaints commission will have important new powers, its own investigators and a role in police inspections alongside Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary. It will clearly be independent of the police service. The new system will also give every incentive to the police service to deal effectively with complaints and to satisfy complainants. If it fails, then the complainant will appeal to the IPCC. The number of appeals in each force will surely become a performance target.
But much will depend on the financial and administrative support available to the new authority. Can the Minister confirm that the figures which have been given will be available for undertaking complaints work? Can he assure us that adequate provision will be made, not only in terms of finances but in terms of staffing requirements, to undertake that task?
The final approach in terms of the complaints machinery must surely be that the Police Complaints Authority in the last financial year accepted 586 cases for supervised investigation and dealt with more than 4,000 cases for misconduct review, resulting in more than 1,000 disciplinary outcomes. That is a commendable record. It is the basis on which the new police complaints commission will he judged.
We have serious concerns about Part 3. Will the removal, suspension and disciplining of police officers weaken the local accountability? It is a draconian measure to take a power to direct a police authority to suspend a chief constable of a force, notwithstanding that the police authority does not judge this necessary to maintain local confidence in the force. There is a serious issue in that the impression is given that the Secretary of State could ignore the voice of the local community and make police authorities the poodles of central government.
Where is local accountability? Where is the independence of police authorities? Where is community involvement? What would the Secretary of State do if the police authority refused to obey his diktat? The Bill smacks of central control, whichever way we look at it.
We shall challenge the Government with appropriate amendments at the Committee stage. We must never sacrifice the discretion that is available to meet local needs. The Government need to establish a clear distinction between broad operational policy and the operation and control of the chief officer.
595 I now turn to police powers. There is a need to tread carefully. It is right that functions that can usefully be undertaken by others would relieve officers to concentrate on fighting crime. I commend the initiative taken by Sir John Stevens and the Metropolitan Police Service. That force is well ahead in recognising the deployment of civilians who can be suitably skilled and trained. I make a plea to the Minister. Would it not be wise to monitor how this works in the Met before establishing similar provisions in other forces?
We need to exercise great care in case the logical outcome of such a scheme lends itself to a privatised police force. Would the public have the same confidence in private security firms as they have in our police? It is right to examine police and policing issues and their relevance at present. We shall certainly be constructive in our response to the Bill. The Home Office should take note that any attempt to impose central control will meet stiff resistance from these Benches.
§ 8.41 p.m.
§ Viscount Bridgeman
My Lords, it is pleasure, not for the first time, to follow the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. This has been a good debate and I associate myself with my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith in thanking the Minister for such a good start to it in his speech.
At this stage of the debate, I shall confine my remarks to Parts I and 4 of the Bill, to which my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith referred, and about which we have some reservations. There is, of course, universal agreement to augment numbers in the police forces. Many references have been made to the New York Police Department. Such policing would be a desirable, if unrealistic, option—certainly to that degree. The choice therefore lies between an increase in regular forces, special constables or auxiliaries.
We are aware of the considerable strain imposed on police forces, particularly in the Met, after 11th September and the upsurge in street crime that followed. We are aware of the large increase in protection duties and cordon duties, which are an inefficient way of employing highly trained police officers. The noble Earl, Lord Rosslyn, gave us a particularly and an expectedly well informed background to the issue. His colleague, the deputy commissioner, Mr Ian Blair, in some helpful briefings to all parties, said that the one reaction of police officers to this sort of duty is boredom. Boredom is not good for morale.
We are aware that from the Met's point of view, there was a need to pre-empt the proliferation of local police forces which, with some sense of drama, has been compared to the state of London policing before the creation of the Metropolitan Police 170 years ago. The Government's proposal to recruit various grades of auxiliary is one way of solving the problem. My noble friend Lord Waddington referred to the thin end of the wedge, which was again referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Brennan. We are in new territory and we must be in no doubt about that.
596 Considerable work is required to improve a scheme that currently has many practical drawbacks. The power of detention for 30 minutes invites all sorts of comments. One is reminded of the fiasco of the cashpoint and asylum seekers 18 months ago. The security industry does not have a good public profile. There have been some well publicised cases of staff being involved in inside jobs. Extremely careful vetting will be required and much thought needs to he given to the presentation and to the uniform of auxiliaries. We welcome the Government's intention to employ a large number of directly employed staff. We need look no further than the Metropolitan Police security staff in the Palace of Westminster to see a very fine example.
Then there are the restricted powers that the auxiliaries will be given. Considerable attention will be given to what is termed human resource risk management. There will be many areas in which it will not be possible to put auxiliaries and where back-up will be required from the regular forces. Many of us are concerned about the aspect of dual responsibility of the accredited auxiliaries. That needs careful debate in Committee. However, the concept of accreditation in general is to be welcomed.
I am sure that your Lordships will be disappointed by the opposition to the scheme by the Police Federation. That was couched in a courteous and well argued letter, but we are particularly depressed by the account of the publicity put out by the federation, to which the noble Lord, Lord Corbett, referred. In the end, our strong preference on these Benches is for strengthening the effectiveness of the Special Constabulary. My noble friend Lord Waddington said that this will need to be accompanied by financial incentives. That was further fleshed out by my noble friend Lord Kimball, in terms of the bounty to which reference has already been made.
The advantages are obvious. Properly equipped, the Special Constabulary would be a visible and recognisable presence, with public respect borne of many years. Let us consider the Metropolitan area where recruiting is a problem and where there is a drain of Specials into the regular force. which should he welcomed in many ways. However, that does not address our present purpose. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, pointed out that Specials are a valuable source of ethnic recruitment.
Not for the first time in this debate, I draw your Lordships' attention to the disparity between the circumstances, both current and historic, between the Met and other forces in the country. In certain other forces, the recruitment of Specials is much moire healthy, and it may be that in those forces the reliance on auxiliaries will be less pressing. Our position is clear. Our preference is for special constables with the emphasis on auxiliaries as a second best option.
I turn to Part 1 about which many of your Lordships have expressed considerable concern. My noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith referred to the community policing of forces outside London and many of your Lordships have drawn attention to the precious concept of the 597 tripartite agreement which has stood the test of time so well. I am pleased that an enthusiast such as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, is involved in the tripartite club.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn made a particularly moving statement on the role of the chief constables. On the requirements of the local plan, I do not want to be frivolous, but requiring the police authority to show its essay to teacher sticks in the gullet, although I have to acknowledge the Minister's undertaking to amend the Bill so that the police will be involved. It is so important to avoid the charge that one size fits all, to which my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith referred.
The character of policing is different in different forces outside London. The Bill is centralising and several noble Lords have said that it puts us half way towards a national police force.
We are assured that the powers for the dismissal of chief constables are little greater than those in the 1986 Act. We shall need to address that carefully at subsequent stages. It has also been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia.
From this side of the House, we welcome the general thrust of the Bill, but we shall press helpful but incisive amendments.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Lord Rooker
My Lords, like all Ministers in this situation, I arrived in the Chamber this afternoon with a prepared speech for Second Reading—because it is my responsibility to put the general thrust of the Bill on the table—and with about 12 pages of speaking notes for winding up, which is also par for the course. I have not read them. With all due respect to my excellent team in the Box, I have only skimmed over two or three of the notes that have been passed to me, but I have made my own notes on every speech, which I shall use to respond.
I am not going to make policy on the hoof and I shall be really brief. There have been 21 speeches and I do not propose to spend a minute on each, because there is other business to be dealt with.
Over the past few hours we have had a good look at the issues that your Lordships will want to raise in Committee. There have been some common themes, including centralisation and the role of the Specials, which will have to be addressed. The juxtaposition of the Specials and what we are planning is not dealt with on the face of the Bill. There is clearly some work to be done there. We shall need responses to the amendments that your Lordships will table.
The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, kicked off with a point—I shall not say that it was a cheap point—about the juxtaposition of the closing date for consultation on the White Paper and the publication of the Bill. At the risk of repeating myself—I have dealt with the issue in an intervention—the White Paper has to be looked at as a totality. The Bill is not specifically the result of the White Paper. Many of the ideas in the 598 White Paper on the reform of policing do not require legislation and are proceeding. I referred to the Police Standards Unit earlier.
The consultation on the White Paper closed in January and a few days later we published the Bill, but that does not mean that we have ignored or not taken account of the comments made on the White Paper. To the best of my knowledge, we have not placed the consultation responses in the Library. It is the norm these days to tell everyone who responds that their comments will be published unless they have a particular reason for not wanting them published. We would normally place those responses in the Library. I shall be quite upset if they are not there before we start the Committee stage, because your Lordships are entitled to see the comments of those who have responded to the White Paper, particularly on the issues that are relevant to the Bill. Obviously, there are other parts of the White Paper that are not relevant to the Bill. We are talking about policing in total, not about isolated parts. We have not pulled a fast one and ignored the results of the consultation.
The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, talked about too many powers being given to the Home Secretary. I made a note that basically he did not like Part 4. He asked for the evidence. In Committee we shall produce evidence to show why Part 4 is drawn as it is, based on what is going on in the country as a whole. I have a sheaf of notes giving examples of warden schemes throughout the country and community-based activities that have had excellent results. The noble Lord also mentioned the Specials, as did many other noble Lords.
At the risk of embarrassing the noble Lord, Lord Condon, if I had to show Members of the other place how to make a case in detail in 10 minutes flat, I should tell them to read his speech. I made an extensive list of points during the noble Lord's 10 minutes. I found his contribution extremely helpful and I know that the officials who are advising me on the Bill will also have taken account of his speech. He gave a broad welcome to the Bill, as he did to the White Paper last year. He pointed out, quite fairly, that the tripartite system has stood the test of time, but that the balance of power is now shifting towards the Home Secretary. I should be a fraud if I denied that. We have to make sure that it does not go too far and that Parliament is comfortable with that in the final Act.
The noble Lord also said that community support officers should be given a fair chance. I shall not repeat his points, which others also made, about the role being an entry point to the service. That point was also made by Mr Blair at the recent briefings given to Members of the House—Mr Blair of the Met, that is. He also spoke about what happened on the streets of London in the weeks before December in respect of anti-terrorism activities and about the effects on the outer boroughs. Trained, quality police officers were getting bored. There was a key job to be done, but did it necessarily need to be done by police officers? Clearly, there is another way of doing it.
599 The noble Lord, Lord Harris, made an important point about the effects of the tripartite spirit, as did the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman. The noble Lord also pointed out that community support officers are important and do not represent policing on the cheap. I do not accept the criticism that some have made about that. They are not intended to be policing on the cheap. One or two noble Lords have cautioned the Government to make sure that we do not fall into that trap. That is not our intention. I was grateful for the noble Lord's support on that.
The noble Lord also referred to the considerable improvements in the complaints system. The noble Lord, Lord Condon, pointed out that there is a benefit to police officers in the new complaints system. That is very important. It is there for the public, but the proposed complaints system will also benefit police officers.
The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, gave a robust analysis of where we had got it all wrong. He was not supportive of Part 4. Given his extensive experience, no doubt we shall have some interesting debates in Committee. I am not complaining about that. It would he useful to have the figures that he requested for the various police authorities. If they can be produced, I shall make sure that they are made available to noble Lords before Committee stage.
My noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester understandably concentrated on the policing of road traffic issues. He pointed out that people in this country are more likely to be killed in a road traffic accident than murdered. However, we still have not got to grips with the fear of crime. All the surveys show that overall crime is coming down—although I realise that the situation varies according to area—but the fear of crime is still much too high. We have a problem there.
The noble Lord and the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, made a point about escorts of loads. I have extensive notes about escorts of people, but escorts of loads should certainly be looked at as well. I cannot speak for the diary of my colleague John Denham, but I shall do everything that I can to ensure that the noble Earl has a meeting with him before Committee stage, if only to avoid another speech and so that he can get the answers that will make him a happy Peer. He also made a point about the Specials that has been made by others. We shall return to it in some detail.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn made some telling points about the partnership between the police and local communities and about the careful balance of power that we have to consider between the police authorities, local communities, the chief constables and the Home Secretary. He was supportive in the main of community support officers and thought that it was good use of a law-enforcing presence to give confidence to the public. That reassurance patrolling is very important.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, made a central point at the very beginning of his speech. He said that we have a citizens' police service in this country. We want to keep that. I believe he considered 600 that the balance of power was right. It is true that we need to look at it. He raised the question of the role of the Specials. I shall have some questions to answer at Committee stage about the accreditation aspect of the extended police family. He gave some examples. I have read paragraph 3(2) of Schedule 5 to the Bill. I believe that I understand it, but by Committee stage I guarantee that I shall have a really good explanation for it. If there is another way of drafting the matter, I am sure that we shall look at it. The noble and learned Lord picked up an interesting paragraph in the schedule. I believe that he was also broadly supportive of the role of community support officers as an extension of the police service, but not as a substitute.
My noble friend Lord Mackenzie referred to complaints inquiries and what has happened as regards Detective Superintendent Mallon. I cannot comment on individual cases, but it is frankly scandalous if inquiries relating to disciplinary and other matters, whether in the health service, local government or the police, take four years. When matters drag on in that fashion, that is below the accepted standards of conduct in public life and in public administration in this country. There is a fault in the system.
My noble friend was very supportive of the community support officers and uniformed officers on the streets. That is very important. It is also reassuring. It is true that powers are needed by the police family. We shall need to be very careful about the way in which these matters are dealt with. He also asked about community support officers having discretion in the same manner as police officers. They will have that discretion. They will be expected to use their powers and their common sense in the same way as police officers. We shall go into that in greater detail in Committee.
The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, raised an issue to which I shall have to return at a later date. My noble friend Lord Borrie made the same point about whistle-blowing. The noble Lord, Lord Borrie, very kindly gave a copper-bottomed reference to a passage in Hansard and one of my ministerial colleagues. We shall have to make sure that we deliver on what was said because, as I have discovered, what is said by Ministers at the Dispatch Box is supposed to be carried into policy. It does work! I am the living proof. I know that one can change policy at the Dispatch Box, but one has to be careful how one goes about it. The subject of whistle-blowing is very important because of issues relating to the police, employment and human rights legislation.
The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, made the point that he did not like Part 1 of the Bill. He referred to the antiterrorism Bill. I have left that alone. We are trying to implement the Act. We still have things to do and we need to return to the matter. The legislation was not gutted. We believe that we achieved 98 per cent of what we wanted. But I do not want to start a row about that.
The noble Lord said that we need more police. I made the point that we have record numbers of policemen. By the spring of 2003, on the basis of 601 recruits now going through the system, we reckon that we shall have 130,000 officers. We are achieving that figure at the same time as having record numbers of police in order to provide a better uniformed presence on the streets. However, I accept that because of last year's effort, the Diary of a Police Officer, it is quite clear that, through bureaucracy and other factors, officers spend too much time in police stations. It is all very well having more and more police, but it is no good if more and more of their time is spent in police stations. This Bill tries to overcome some of those difficulties.
This is not a criticism of noble Baronesses in this House, but the only female Member of the House to participate in the debate was the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes. I was very sorry to learn of her and her husband's difficulties last summer in the streets of London. It is very distressing when such matters occur to oneself or to one's own family. Not many of us are untouched by such circumstances, but I do not want to set another debate going as I wind up.
The noble Baroness raised the question of ID cards. Although I have been sitting in the Chamber all day, I believe that I know what is happening in government. A White Paper is due, I hope, this week on the question of nationality, citizenship and asylum. It is a substantive document in which there are a few paragraphs relating to entitlement cards. The Home Secretary answered a question in the other place today on the subject. I repeat the point that, whatever happens, we are not in the business of even contemplating introducing any card the carrying of which is a requirement and where it is an offence not to have it in one's possession. I make that absolutely clear. That is exactly the same as the provision we have made as regards the asylum application registration card which began to be issued last week. It is rather like the driving licence. One is required to have it available and if it is not, the holder has a week in which to produce it at a police station. There will be no stopand-search power. Whatever the result of any consultation, I make that absolutely clear.
My noble friend Lord Corbett of Castle Vale, with his experience of the Home Affairs Select Committee in the other place, was very supportive. He referred to a lack of response on some issues when he was a constituency Member of Parliament. I thought that that was very unkind of him because the place he referred to was for five years part of his responsibility, but for 20 years it was mine. That was in Kingstanding. Therefore, I know that what he said was true. The complaint was always that police officers were not available to deal with balls being kicked against the ends of houses and the bikes all over the place. These matters are serious to the individuals affected and almost threaten mental health. Although it is not like robbing a bank, such things are a serious problem.
My noble friend also referred to Sir Edward Crew, the Chief Constable of the West Midlands. I do not want to refer to his letter in The Times or the front page of the Birmingham Post of today's date. However, I shall share with the House a passage from an article in 602 the Birmingham News of 4th January. We have some warden schemes in the city of Birmingham. It is worth while putting on the record a quotation from that newspaper which states:'Community wardens are there to help with all aspects of security and quality of life', said PC Derek Smail from the Attwood Green scheme, which started in April last year. 'They are not a substitute for the police—they are the eyes and ears of the community. I understand where the chief constable is coming from, but the very presence of wardens in their uniforms does dissuade crime and wrongdoing—.I hope that I am not causing that police constable any problems. However, that PC is on the front line.
I am not saying that Sir Edward is not on the front line—he is a quality chief constable—but I hope that the West Midlands will soon be able to take advantage of the provisions. Nevertheless, if the chief constable decides not to take advantage of them, we shall not force him to do so. It is his decision. We shall not interfere if chief constables decide not to take up community support officers or accreditation. It is entirely a matter for them.
My noble friend Lord Corbett also very eloquently put the boot into the Police Federation magazine editorial, a copy of which I happen to have in my little box for today's debate. I shall not get into any of those issues now—as I said, the polling stations open tomorrow—but I think that my noble friend was absolutely fair in the way in which he analysed that editorial, "The moment of truth". It is from an organisation that was party to the agreements made with the official side.
I confirm to my noble friend that, once the legislation is passed, we shall move with all speed to enable socially responsible housing associations and landlords to obtain anti-social behaviour orders. The orders will considerably assist those parties, as I hope I made clear in my opening remarks.
The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, mentioned Home Office U-turns. Although I am not exactly sure what he was referring to, I do not want to encourage him to get up and explain. I am not saying that we have never reviewed or changed policies according to the circumstances—we have not set the position in concrete, but are trying to be realistic—but I was not sure whether the noble Lord was referring to police or other matters.
The noble Lord made a valuable point on the ethnicity make-up in the Specials and drew an analogy between them and the Regular Army. Although it is important to have eyes and ears on the street, as he said, we have to be clear about the powers that we provide. I very much hope that, in that part of the Bill, we shall be judged according to his analysis of interference and intervention. I shall take his analysis as a theme in trying to ensure that we properly analyse each of our proposals.
Early this morning, I noticed that my officials had kindly put beside the name of each speaker in this debate a note on what he or she had done previously or does now. In my ignorance of the House, I was unaware that the noble Earl, Lord Rosslyn, is a serving police officer. Although I have not yet been completely 603 bought over, I shall use that fact when defending this House. Unlike some noble Lords who spoke in our debate today, no one who will speak to the Bill in the other place has served as a police officer or as a chief officer of police or is a serving police officer. Some of our speakers have come from the front line and some will go back to it tomorrow. There is no question but that that benefits our deliberations. It is not for me to argue about: how people arrive in this place—we have the Parliament that we have—but the noble Earl's speech has been an absolute benefit and plus.
As I said, I welcome the noble Earl's comments, and I recognise that there is a Met perspective on community support officers. He also drew an analogy with nurses. who are now performing tasks formerly performed by doctors. Roles in society are changing and the police have to make the same types of changes. The mentality has to change. The noble Earl's final point, on the accountability, control and training of civilian police staff, was crucial. The proposals will not work without those elements. He also reiterated the point about facts being different from public perception, which takes us back to the point about the fear of crime. We have to tackle that fear. I think that the whole House is grateful to the noble Earl for his contribution.
The noble Lord, Lord Kimball, strongly made the point on the Specials and the possibility of a bounty. As I said. we shall have seriously to examine that issue during our consideration of the Bill.
I cannot answer all the questions asked with some care by the noble Lord, Lord Brennan. However, he asked about the Home Secretary's last-resort powers to dismiss by retirement or resignation. As I tried to explain—although only briefly as this is Second Reading—the Home Secretary already has certain powers in relation to chief officers. However, not only do those powers relate purely to retirement, they are cumbersome. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary is not the first Minister to come up against those facts. Although the issue will have to be addressed, A cannot delineate all the relevant circumstances now. Although the powers would be used only in the most exceptional circumstances, one noble Lord—I think that it was the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew—reminded us of events in Derbyshire. However, we can discuss that issue in Committee.
The noble Lord, Lord Brennan, also said that it takes far too long to deal with complaints, and I accept that point. As I can explain in Committee, investigating and detention officers will have search powers. However, they will be qualified and trained people who are employees of the chief constable. Investigating, detention, escort and community support officers will be employees of the chief constable of the relevant police service. They will be subject to the same complaints procedure and other procedures as other employees. It would be unusual for chief constables not to report on the operation of Part 4. I do not think that that is something we would have to require them to do. I should be astonished if those chief constables who think that it is a great 604 success did not laud it and if those who did riot welcome it in the first place and find that it does not work out did not fail to report that. 1. believe that we shall receive reports from chief constables.
I touched on the comments of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, earlier and therefore I shall not repeat myself. My noble friend Lord Borrie also mentioned the important matter of the complaints procedure and the need for greater public acceptance of it. I have some figures on that. There are about 30,000 complaints a year divided into different categories. There will he time to discuss the details at a later stage. Far greater resources are being allocated to the complaints procedure. The new commission will be able to employ the people it chooses to carry out investigations. They could be serving officers, ex-officers or non-police officers. It will not be a case of the police investigating the police. That is the central point.
The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, shared with us his experience as a member of the Police Complaints Authority. I am grateful that he accepted my earlier assurance that I did not seek to criticise that body. However, I do not accept his comments as regards what happened in the Sussex police force. That incident arose just after I arrived at the Home Office. It was a difficult situation which, frankly, given its history, had to be dealt with. It could not be allowed to fester.
We do not intend to behave as a dictatorship. We intend to work in partnership. As I said earlier, as far as the public are concerned the Home Secretary is the person who will have to stand at the Dispatch Box and be accountable for the police although he does not have operational powers over them. That is an interesting concept and one we support and applaud. However, the Home Secretary wants to have some levers to raise standards. That is not to say that all 43 forces will operate in exactly the same way, but the idea of having some plans and a road map, as it were, is a good one.
The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, mentioned Parts 1 and 4. I suspect that those parts will comprise much of our discussion. Part 2 is important but I believe that Parts 1, 3 and 4 will figure largely in our debates in Committee. That is not to say that noble Lords have ignored other parts of the Bill which are absolutely crucial. I am extremely grateful for the contributions that have been made. I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.
On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.