Previous SectionIndexHome Page


Mr. Denham: The hon. Gentleman said, among a whole list of things that he did not reference, that the Home Secretary said that the police service was "rife with Spanish practices". I invite him to give me a reference to establish that the Home Secretary or myself, or any spokesperson on behalf of the Home Office, has ever used that term about the police service.

Mr. Paice: I will happily provide it. I have it in front of me. One assumes that spin doctors still speak on behalf of the Government—if they are still in post. In this case, the quotation is:


That was published in the New Statesman.

After the Home Secretary had upset the police, it is hardly surprising that they rejected his package, which even the Minister accepts was considerably vague, particularly over the special priority payments. If the Government had not been so headstrong in trying to push measures through so quickly and had got more detail on the table, perhaps police officers would have been better able to understand whether they would be better or worse off.

I have had countless e-mails from and conversations and correspondence with police officers, and I understand that the main reason why they were determined to vote against the package was that they were so angry about the way in which the Home Secretary had addressed them over the past few months that they felt hatred towards him.

Geraint Davies: Sir John Stevens recently suggested that more people should be denied bail. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Bail Act 1976 should be changed automatically to deny bail?

Mr. Paice: I do not see how that is relevant to what we are discussing.

Geraint Davies: A moment ago, the hon. Gentleman spoke about people reoffending on bail, and now he is talking about the police. A top policeman has made some remarks about bail, and the subject is important for this debate.

Mr. Paice: There is certainly never a case for automatically changing any Act, to pick up on the hon.

8 Mar 2002 : Column 548

Gentleman's phrase. There may be a case for amending the Bail Acts. Bail policy, and sentencing policy, should not be governed by the capacity of the prison sector, which is what is happening currently. The prison population is now past the 70,000 mark, and that should concern us all, but we should not allow that to determine bail and sentencing policy. Magistrates in London, in particular, are letting people out on bail because there is nowhere to send them. That is not good news.

That is the point that I was making and, indeed, the point that the commissioner was making.

I turn to the Police Reform Bill, on which the Minister touched. I want to address the point with which he concluded concerning the powers of the Home Secretary to be involved—I use as non-pejorative a phrase as possible—in how the police operate. I have immense sympathy with the Home Secretary. Any of us who has sat in an office in Whitehall know, the frustration felt when decisions made at ministerial level seem to become diffuse by the time they appear on the ground. I have been there at a lower level and I understand that. There is a temptation to want to grab hold of things and make them happen. However, that does not mean that one should give in to such temptation.

The proposed methods in the Bill, particularly in clauses 5 to 7 and in part 1 generally, are wrong. This is what the Home Secretary recently said about the Metropolitan police—I should hasten to add, before the Minister picks me up on it, that the following is a direct quotation:


He told the Commissioner that


One must ask the Minister who in the Home Office will do a better job. Is this the same Home Office that runs the Passport Agency, the prison service and the immigration and asylum system? Is there really anybody in the Home Office who thinks that they can run the police service better than the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis?

Historically, there has been a tripartite system of the Government—the Home Secretary—the police authorities and chief police officers. There is no evidence that there is anything fundamentally wrong with that system that needs changing. As debates in another place on the Bill have shown, part 1 is extremely unpopular, especially, as I have said, clauses 5 to 7, which give the Home Secretary powers to intervene in operational matters. The Minister is right that the Home Secretary cannot tell the chief constable to arrest Joe Bloggs because he does not like Joe Bloggs, but in every other aspect of operational matters, the Bill gives the Home Secretary immense powers.

That is not just the view of the Opposition and, I dare say, the Liberal Democrats—although the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) will speak for himself. We have consulted on the matter, and the view is shared by every police organisation: the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Police Superintendents Association, the Police Federation and of course the Association of Police Authorities. It is also a cross-party view in the other place. The decision to take control is tempting, but the Home Secretary should resist it. If he persists in trying to take

8 Mar 2002 : Column 549

control, he will lose that part of the Bill. I therefore urge him to think again about the powers that he is seeking to take.

The second aspect of the Bill to which I wish to refer is what might be described as the provisions on non-police policemen—community support officers and those in accredited community safety organisations. Civilianisation is of course not new; it has existed for some decades. However, giving such people police powers is new.

We welcome support for the police from wherever it comes and strongly support the various street and neighbourhood warden schemes that are already up and running in many parts of the country. Indeed, we have no objection to giving police powers to civilians for special purposes, such as in custody suites or for fraud investigations.

If we consider what is proposed for community support officers, we find, first, that the only body of support for the proposal is in the Metropolitan police. That is based on the assumption that resources to fund such posts will be transferred to the Met from local authorities. Perhaps the Minister would like to comment on that. Everyone else in the police family is against granting such powers. Now is not the time to rehearse arguments against giving such officers those powers—and the absurdity of a 30-minute detention period with no idea of what happens after those 30 minutes—but I tell the Minister again that the provision is wrong.

Many accredited community safety organisations—employees of local authorities or, possibly, security firms—already exist. They do a very good job, but without the proposed title and the proposed powers. I have visited a number of such organisations, and they have all told me that they do not need and do not want police powers. A system of accreditation of those organisations will be fine. It will give them a badge of recognition and a certain public esteem, but they should not be given powers permed from a range of options that will vary from force to force and even within forces. That would be confusing to the public and lack accountability.

Mr. Mark Field: We all want a policing system—and in the broader sense, a security system—that works. There is concern that the Police Federation in particular has been obstructive over some of the initiatives that have been introduced. Only yesterday it was announced that in my constituency and that of the hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) there would be a 40-strong force of uniformed city guardians who will have certain powers. Most residents will be very much in favour of that—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman must bring his remarks to a conclusion.

Mr. Paice: I understand my hon. Friend's points. I am sure that most residents of London boroughs and throughout the country will welcome a significant increase in the number of people helping the police. However, there is a risk of immense confusion—I shall come in a minute to the wider reasons—if such people have police powers. Any study of the Bill reveals a range of powers from which the chief constable of any force, or the commissioner in the case of the Met, can choose, and their use will vary. Anybody who exercises police powers

8 Mar 2002 : Column 550

should be accountable to the chief officer and to the independent complaints commission. That is another omission of the Bill.

The major reason why we the Opposition oppose what I call pseudo-cops is the failure to recognise the importance of community policing in the true sense of the word. Indeed, it could be argued that the provision downgrades the importance of community policing. There has been a great deal of debate—it is ongoing—about the role of community policing, especially in the context of what happened in New York.

Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North): I agree with the point about accountability; the issue of power should be closely scrutinised. I say in support of the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) that community support or auxiliary officers have a role in relieving pressure on our police in areas such as the west end of London, where the community policing dimension is less relevant. It is precisely in freeing police officers to work in partnerships and to reduce crime that community support officers and auxiliaries will be most effective.


Next Section

IndexHome Page