HL Deb 11 March 2004 vol 658 cc1326-9

11.5 a.m.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have any plans to introduce legislation to amend Section 25 of the Police Act 1996 on the provision of special services or to issue a code of practice or guidance on the application of that legislation by police authorities and chief officers of police.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal)

My Lords, we are currently examining whether there are any suitable future legislative opportunities that would enable some amendment to Section 25. Guidance in Home Office circular 34/2000 deals specifically with charging for policing football matches. In response to concerns of the police and football authorities, a joint Home Office and DCMS departmental working group has been examining all the issues.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Is she aware that ancient fairs—some as old as 800 years—are at risk of being driven out of business by savage charging imposed by police authorities? In one case of which I am aware, the charge was £180,000.

While it is understandable for the police to charge for special services on private premises, does my noble friend agree that policing is a public service and that it is unacceptable to charge in respect of ancient funfairs in public places and on high streets, while night clubs and bars proliferate in city centres, causing massive policing problems, with no charges at all? Policing should be free at the point of delivery. After all, the public have only two choices—take it or leave it.

Does my noble friend further agree that the disparity in charging practices by the police amounts to postcode policing of the worst possible kind, which can only further damage the reputation of the police in the eyes of the public?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I hear what my noble friend says in relation to charging. I do not think I can agree with all the comments that he has made because, of course, what constitutes a special police service must be determined by taking account of all the circumstances of each individual case. It must also be requested by the event organiser and agreed by the chief constable, who will take into account the level of resources required and the deployment available.

I am aware that concern was expressed in relation to one fair as a result of a charge made by the local authority. The local authority asked for policing services, agreed the rate and then passed that sum on to the public. But that happened in one individual case. It is right that the group is looking at this issue. We hope that it will have a fruitful deliberation and fully take into account all that has been said.

Baroness Walmsley

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Home Office guidance on charging for the policing of football matches, to which she has just referred, could serve as an appropriate model for the charging for the policing of fairgrounds? Is she aware that in Chapter 13 of those notes of guidance it states: It is recognised that local circumstances cannot be ignored … In addition, the financial plight of some clubs is a significant consideration and asking for full economic recovery"— of the cost of policing— could lead to problems with recovering the debt and severe financial problems for the club"? Does not the Minister agree that the same sort of consideration should be given to some of our ancient charter fairs that some would believe are more part of our culture than football clubs?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, that is a powerful argument. As the noble Baroness will know, there has been a great deal of debate as to whether and to what extent this should be extended. The law at the moment sets out the criteria which should be applied when a decision is made as to whether special measures should be taken in terms of policing. But it is right that the whole amount is not recovered at the moment and these matters are very much under debate.

Lord Hoyle

My Lords, I must declare an interest. I am proud to be an honorary member of the Showman's Guild. Does my noble friend agree that it would be a great pity if we lost some of these fairs which have added to the gaiety and enjoyment of many people, particularly youngsters? And yet they are threatened; not only one authority but four authorities are now looking at this issue. Does not my noble friend further agree that it should not be done in such an arbitrary manner, which puts at risk the efforts of those who work so hard to provide us with this enjoyment?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I very much support what my noble friend says about the enjoyment of fairs and the ability to participate in them. The difficulty is that some of these very enjoyable occasions are now meted with some not so enjoyable fracas thereafter. People have to assess how such events will be policed, who will pay for the policing and how they are to be managed. I appreciate that such concerns are being considered. Indeed, the Government are undertaking a number of reviews in relation to how we deal with pubs and clubs as well.

Viscount Bridgeman

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the figures produced by the Merseyside Police Authority, showing that Liverpool and Everton football clubs contributed well short of the cost of policing those clubs, are representative of clubs up and down the country? I have in mind the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, about the poorer clubs. Will this disparity in costs be addressed in the review of the Police Act 1996?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I cannot comment on whether the situation of the Everton and Liverpool football clubs is replicated across the country. Some of the conference clubs would be a little anxious about any statement I made in that regard. However, the group that was set up by the Home Office and DCMS, together with the football and policing authorities, is looking at these issues. I cannot foresee what it will come up with, but I know these issues are at the forefront of its mind.

Lord Barnett

My Lords, how is it that a very poor authority such as the House of Lords is charged something like £8 million for police? Is that under review as well, and could it be eliminated from our costs?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I do not think that is something on which I could possibly comment. However, the day that our House gets a crowd of 60,000, I, for one, will celebrate.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate

My Lords, will my noble friend give some indication of when the committee to which she referred will complete its deliberations?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I am not able to say when the departmental working group will complete its deliberations; it is a matter for its members. However, if I receive further information, I will obviously be happy to communicate it to my noble friend.