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Lady Hermon: May I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that in Northern Ireland each local council has a district policing partnership made up of council representatives and independent members who are representative on the basis of sex, origin and various other characteristics? Would the hon. Gentleman like thator a form of local accountabilityto be extended to England and Wales?
Mr. Cameron: I certainly would. We often have things to learn from Northern Ireland. I served in the Home Office when the Police Act 1996 was drafted. That introduced independent members for police authorities, which the Association of Police Authorities now says were a thoroughly good thing.
Members on both sides of the House have spoken about the tripartite structure of the police service in this countrythe Home Secretary, the chief constables and the police authorities. The tripartite structure is not just a good thing because it has a long name and it is there. It delivers something terribly importantpolice forces in this country have operational independence from the Home Secretary. That helps to give us policing by consent. The Home Affairs Committee referred to that at the beginning of our report:
I asked a lot of questions on the Home Affairs Committee, particularly of the Association of Police Authorities. That is why I think that there is more to this than the removal of clause 5 by the House of Lords. Mr. Peelgreat nameof the Association of Police Authorities said to me:
The conception of this Bill should have started with what is wrong with the police service in this country. Let me give four headings for that: we cannot keep enough good officers; it is almost impossible to sack bad officers; the ones that we have are strangled with red tape and paperwork; and there are not enough of them in any event. My problem with the Bill is that it provides no real answer to the first three of those problems. The problems of police disciplinary procedures are largely ignored by the Bill. It is a great irony that, once the Bill has been passed, the Home Secretary will be able to sack every chief constable in the land, just by order from his office. What about the chief inspector in the Witney nick, or the chief inspector running a basic command unitwill they be able to get rid of a police officer who is not corrupt but who is not particularly good at the job? That is incredibly difficult. We should be devolving power to police forces down to the basic command unit so that that can happen. I asked Mr. Ian Blairnot Mr. Peel, but Mr. Blairhow many of these problems with disciplinary procedures are addressed by the Police Reform Bill. He replied:
The question that the Government do try to answer through the Bill is that of having more officers. Their answer is community support officers. There has been a lot of confusion about them, not least from the Prime Minister, who was asked about them at Question Time by my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson). The Prime Minister gave them four different titles, so even the Government are not clear what those officers are meant to do. I agree with the comment that we should be in favour of more officers and more elements in the police family, whether wardens, specials or CSOs. What we must not have is confusion about their powers. That is a recipe for problems.
I was a little disappointed by what the Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety said in answer to the question that I asked him about using ring-fenced funding. The Bill has the ingredients to make sure that the Home Secretary has his or her way with every police force in the country with regard to CSOs. The Home Secretary can say, "Here is the ring-fenced funding; you only get it if you have CSOs." Compulsion to have CSOs can be included in policing plans. There is even concern that some of the powers on adopting procedures and practices could be used to insist on having CSOs.
Everyone who appeared before the Home Affairs Committee said, "Go for the local solution. Give us the money and let us get on with the job." The response from the Association of Police Authorities was,
Ross Cranston (Dudley, North): First, I apologise to the shadow Home Secretary, the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin). I was flatfooted by the fact that proceedings on the Bill did not start until nearly 5.30 pm, so I was not able to hear all his remarks.
I want to deal with the proposition that the Bill is somehow a major attack on the tripartite structure of the Home Secretary, chief constables and local police authorities. I do not accept that point or that we have the foundations of an interior ministry as described by the hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) and other Conservative Members. The much more measured response of the Select Committee on Home Affairs is to be preferred.
Three fundamental principles are involved when we talk about the police. The first is that the police have to uphold the rule of law. They have to protect citizens' lives, liberties and property and they have to prevent public disorder and assuage citizens' fear of crime. Secondly, the police have to act in partnership. Traditionally in this country, that involves the notion of community policing. However, in more recent times, legislation has meant that the police have been called upon to act in partnership with local police authorities and, under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, with other bodies, such as local authorities. That is a good thing.
The third principle is the important one of accountability. One aspect of that is the police's accountability for their performance, and one aspect of performance is efficiency. The powers in part 1 are perfectly proper in terms of ensuring better accountability for efficiency. In a way, the foundations of that were laid by the previous Government. The Police Act 1996
The performance of police forces around the country is variable, and it would be much better for our citizens if the performance of the best was emulated by all forces. One aspect of performance that varies enormously is the quality of files submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service. If we can improve performance through the activities of the standards unit and other measures, so much the better.
My remarks will concentrate, however, on the Bill's provisions that deal with antisocial behaviour, which is a major concern. I shall consider two aspects of the issue: the use of community support officers and accredited community safety schemes, and the special provisions in the Bill for antisocial behaviour orders.
I want to make four points about community support officers and accredited community safety schemes. The first is that we already have an extended police family. We already have traffic wardens, security staff, street wardens, local trading standards officers and environmental health officers, and we even have citizens involved as part of the extended police family in as much as they are members of neighbourhood watch schemes. We are not dealing with a new principle.
The second point is that community support officers and accredited community safety schemes will be under police control. If a chief constable does not want community support officers, he or she does not have to have them. Of course, there is also control over the accreditation for community safety schemes. That is a second guarantee, which is contained in the Bill, that ensures that ancillary aspects of the police family will operate in accordance with the law.
The third aspect is that the powers of the community support officers, as set out in schedules 4 and 5, will be very limited. The extended police family already has certain powers. For example, trading standards officers and environmental health officers have the power of access to premises and they can seize property, but we shall entrust only limited powers to community support officers and members of accredited community safety schemes. My hon. Friends have mentioned the power of citizen's arrest. Although that power is not especially favoured by the courts, it is possible for store detectives to affect a citizen's arrest. Again, the Bill does not do anything new in terms of principle.
My fourth point is that there is always a bureaucratic imperative when agencies are established with a special responsibility. The police take antisocial behaviour seriously, but they have a whole range of other responsibilities. By entrusting to special units in the extended police family responsibility for dealing with antisocial behaviour, we will better address the problem.
The evidence already exists. The preliminary results that were published in 1999 in the Home Office paper "Neighbourhood Warden Schemes: an Overview" identified some of the emerging evidence. More recently,
When antisocial behaviour orders were introduced in 1998, they were a major advance. The recent Home Office report No. 236, which was published in April, suggests, however, that there have been problems and that we have not had as many antisocial behaviour orders as we want. In the borough of Dudley, 16 ASBOs have been issued. Seven of them have been breached and that has led to custody in every case. However, we need more ASBOs to deal with the issue.
The Home Office report identified several problems. One was witness intimidation, and that must be addressed. Others were delay and the patchy performance of local authorities. Clause 55 attempts to deal with those problems by extending jurisdiction and by giving registered social landlords the power to seek ASBOs and the county courts the power to issue them. I welcome that.
I also welcome the steps taken on the Independent Police Complaints Commission and the assurance by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety that provisions on whistleblowing will be introduced in the Bill in Committee. The Government promised such provisions when the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 was introduced, and I look forward to the way in which such provisions can deal with the problem of malpractice in the police, in as much as it occurs.