Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 440 - 459)



  440. You are?
  (Dr Henig) Can I say our view is that individual measures, many of them, can be justified in isolation but when you put them all together then you are changing the nature of the tripartite relationship. I think that is how we view it. It is the accumulation that is causing the balance to change rather than any individual provision. The feature about 29 which perhaps more than anything else caused us worry was the direct exercise of this from the centre could possibly introduce politicisation as well as more centralisation. That did worry us very much because one of the things which some of us do remember in the past is evidence where there was danger of politicisation. One of the things that the Association is very concerned about is whatever legislation goes through it should not enable any politicisation to come in. This idea of being able to suspend a chief constable directly from the centre did raise with us some concerns about the possibilities of politicisation, which did worry us. I just mention that at this point.

  441. So your two concerns about this area of the Bill are that it could politicise the role of either the police authority and/or the Secretary of State in a way that should not happen and that it is part of a centralising agenda on the part of all Ministers or just the Home Secretary?
  (Dr Henig) No, I think added to other measures, this legislation shifts the balance and draws in powers to the centre which at present are exercised locally.
  (Ms Leech) I think there are two tiers to it, if you like. We believe that this Home Secretary clearly does have a desire to pull to himself sufficient powers to operate the levers, as Dr Henig was saying earlier. To that extent we believe that there is an overt centralising agenda by the current Home Secretary. That is tier one, if you like. Tier two is that actually the legislation as it is currently drafted enables a future Home Secretary to go way beyond that in terms of the potential to have a much more centralising agenda. It is so broadly drawn that whilst one can have a view that this Home Secretary is legitimate in what he wants to do to take more powers to the centre, for the future this legislation enables a future Home Secretary to go much further than that and pull further power into the centre, and that is our concern about the Bill.

  442. Why do you think that this Home Secretary feels so obliged to do that? Is it because the present system is not working?
  (Ms Leech) I think he has a view that the best way to tackle what we all want to achieve, which is improvement, is through operating levers from the centre. We take the view that the improvement we all want to see, and we want to work in partnership with the Government to deliver, will only be delivered locally because it is local police forces that are out there delivering policing, it is local police authorities who are out there day on day overseeing that process and trying to drive up standards. Police authorities want to work in partnership with Government to do that. We see areas where the Government and the centre can add real value to that but we do not believe ultimately that you can deliver improvement on the ground locally from the centre.

  443. This is my final point. Can you point me to the number of improvements that have resulted since the police authorities have been established that could convince the Home Secretary that he does not have to take further levers of power?
  (Dr Henig) Certainly I think the best value programme over the last two years has yielded a whole range of measures which have brought about improvements which have been, if you like, certified by the Inspectorate who obviously look at these things. That process has not been going for quite three years yet, two and a half years. It has not gone very far but it has already yielded significant improvement in a whole number of areas of policing operation. I think there is evidence on that level. I also think that the police authorities in themselves have an improvement programme which the Home Secretary has been made well aware of, we have certainly tabled all the documentation, that we ourselves accept that we need to raise our game, we have never made any secret of that. We have an improvement programme which is being fully supported by the Home Office. We want to improve our capacity to be able to achieve that delivery locally together with the Home Secretary. We cannot work independently and in a sense nor can the Home Secretary, we have got to work in partnership. I think our concern is to improve that partnership and to improve our own capacity to be able to deliver locally in conjunction with the Home Secretary doing his job centrally. We have no problem with the Home Secretary's strategic delivery, I suppose it is this issue of what then becomes micro-management from the centre and what we think we should be doing in the localities working with him. We want a strong and constructive relationship.

  Chairman: Turning now to Community Support Officers, Mr Winnick.

David Winnick

  444. You are quite happy, are you not, with the introduction of Community Support Officers?
  (Dr Henig) Where do you want us to start?

  445. That was not meant to be a provocative question but from your memo you say your organisation welcomes the fact the provisions are included and you do not seem to have anything against the idea in principle.
  (Dr Henig) I think there is a part of the country, namely London, where clearly Community Support Officers are something which is supported by the Metropolitan Police Authority and the Metropolitan Police. Clearly in London there is a desire to have Community Support Officers. There is, as far as I am aware, no other part of the country—and I am trying to think of my colleagues here—where there is a desire to have Community Support Officers. There are a number of significant concerns in fact that we do have about Community Support Officers, both in terms of their capacity to deliver effective policing, the powers they might have, the cost and more significantly, and I think this is a concern to us, that in this provision in the legislation at the moment there is no mention of the police authority role here. Given that we do have this strategic responsibility for setting the direction of policing with the chief constable, the fact that under these proposals the chief constable could introduce Community Support Officers without actually bringing in the police authority, we see as totally unacceptable. But we would go further than that and say that if there are parts of the country which want Community Support Officers, and as I say I have mentioned London already, we would want to go out and consult with the community. We did this last year in terms of police recording stops, we went out and consulted people on what they thought and we think that with Community Support Officers we will want to consult people before they are introduced. We would both want to have a role in whether they are introduced or not and we will want to consult our communities on whether they should be introduced. If the communities went along with it, then that would be fine. As I say, in the London situation, there appears to be a genuine consensus that this is the way forward but we are not at all sure this is true of the rest of the country. I think we would want to test that and we would want provisions in the legislation to test that.
  (Mr Peel) I think that is absolutely right. Our other concern of course with these people is the powers they will have. We are concerned if they are to have policing powers, to whom are they accountable?
  (Ms Leech) We are on the Community Support Officers here.
  (Mr Peel) Yes.
  (Dr Henig) They are employed by the police.

  446. It is a fact that all of us sitting round this side of the table, quite likely yourselves as well, know the pressure on the police and the way in which they are constantly being asked to respond, not only to the most major incidents of crimes but relatively minor matters which nevertheless cause a great deal of problems for local residents. Why should not the police be assisted in various relatively minor matters by such people as being proposed in the measure which is to be debated in due course?
  (Dr Henig) We are talking now about Community Support Officers, are we, employed by the police, because I think we have got to clarify that, as opposed to wardens and other accredited schemes?

  447. We are not talking about wardens.
  (Dr Henig) Fine. If we are talking about Community Support Officers, for a start it is very clear that these are going to be, if you like, a subsidiary tier of a police person. There must be concerns about the sort of person you are going to recruit here. You are going to recruit people who are not police officers but are operating at a level below police officers. Presumably they are going to have to be given a significant amount of training. If they are going to be able to exercise powers they have to be accountable in the way that police officers are accountable for the use of those powers and I think there might be concerns that the sort of people you are recruiting you might not necessarily feel totally happy to give them those powers but I will leave that one for a minute. By the time you have trained them, they are probably not going to be that much cheaper than the normal run of the mill police officers. I think our response to that is why not more police officers? We are very sceptical that these people will actually be value for money, if you like, and will represent a value for money option. Giving them powers actually raises all sorts of problems with us about appropriate use of those powers, accountability of those powers, bearing in mind all the issues about stop and search. I think we have got to be extremely clear that they have to come under the same provisions as regular police officers. So for all those sorts of reasons I think we have great concerns that this does not really represent much of a way forward. I think your suggestion is there are other ways of meeting the kinds of problems that you are outlining other than through this measure.

  448. It sounds like almost the Police Federation, I do not know whether that is meant as a compliment or not. In so far as CSOs are brought into play despite the reservations you have just expressed, as long as the police authority are consulted that will be far more suitable. As far as I can understand from your memorandum you are saying that the police authority should be consulted before the chief constable appoints such people?
  (Dr Henig) Yes. As I say I think we would want to consult our communities as well. They are obviously going to be policed by these people. Our other concerns are clearly about the use of the powers that they will be given. We do not support giving powers to these people.
  (Ms Leech) The point underpinning our arguments about consultation with the police authority is, as Dr Henig said, so that the police authority which is the responsible body for doing so can consult with local communities. Clearly the introduction of CSOs goes to the heart of how you are going to police. People ought to be able to express their view as to whether they want to see CSOs in uniform alongside police officers, how they feel about that, how they feel about how they might be used and so on and so forth. The police authority is the vehicle for having that debate in the communities because that is what they are there to do. They are there to set the overall strategy and tone for policing in the area. I think the second point is that the police authority would be responsible also for overseeing how the individual force would cope with the various issues that Dr Henig has raised in terms of how the CSOs are going to be trained, how they are going to be directed, how they are going to be deployed, whether they would have the appropriate skills to deal with the powers they are given and so on. I think another issue, which I suspect you will say I am also sounding like a Police Federation advocate here, is whether or not you can legitimately define circumstances in which you can say you do not need full police powers and training to deal with these particular issues, you can do them with a subset of powers, or whether actually in practice it is not possible to make that clear distinction between certain types of things that CSOs can deal with as opposed to things that only police officers can deal with because in practice you are out there in public dealing with a particular situation which may or may not develop into something far more serious or something different which you do not have either the skills, the training or the powers to deal with. I think what we are saying is you need to debate those issues, you need to have a clear path as to how you deal with them, what your strategy for dealing with them is, you need to make sure all the appropriate checks and balances and mechanisms are in place and that is appropriately the job of the police authority to have that debate with the chief constable and to engage with the community to understand what their views are on these issues.

  449. Would it be correct to say that you are not objecting in principle, Dr Henig, but that in fact it is more a question of making sure the people appointed are well trained, there is an accountability structure and the powers are limited but, as I have said, from what you have indicated it is not a matter of principle that you are totally opposed to CSOs?
  (Dr Henig) No. I think it has got to be appropriate to the particular area. As I have tried to indicate it may well be that these people would be appropriate for policing in London. There seems to be some evidence that is the case. There may be other parts of the country where it may be appropriate if local communities and the police authority feel that is the case.

  450. What about your own area where you are the chair?
  (Dr Henig) I am extremely worried about the power of detention. I am extremely worried actually about giving a non police officer the power of detention because I have seen some of these street situations and I do not know about your area but in my area there is a lot of alcohol related disorder because it is a town with a lot of students. I could see grave problems if a non police officer had a power of detention. I could see all sorts of flash point situations arising which would in the end cause more police time to be wasted by the police having to come and deal with these problems. I would need a lot of persuading. I am not saying I could not be persuaded but I would need a lot of persuading that it would be effective. To me the test is "is this going to be effective in dealing with the problems in my area" and in my area I might find other ways which would be more effective than this. You are right, I would not rule it out completely and if there were parts of the country who felt this was a useful way of adding to their policing then I would say to them "that is fine, that is your choice". To me that is what local policing means, that different areas might find different models appropriate.

  451. If the law is such that CSOs come into being, it is not likely that the chief constable, and the same would apply to the deputy chief constable, would appoint CSOs without consulting the police authorities. Am I right?
  (Dr Henig) Can I add a note of caution. I am not a totally suspicious person, I am not even a totally cynical person, but what does worry me is that it would be possible for a Government to so organise finance and to so ring-fence finance that there would be a certain amount of finance that would be available for Community Support Officers which authorities could buy into, but if they did not want to they did not have to, so those parts of the country, possibly London, who bought into this ring-fencing would get the Community Support Officers and those of us who did not want them would not but that money might be top sliced and we would therefore be worse off. What I do not want is for this to be underpinned by a financial regime that actually achieves by the back door what is not being achieved at the front door. That is my concern. My concern is not about being forced to have these officers up front because my chief officer team and the police authority would work very well on saying "is this appropriate or not", I am sure they will in Essex too, but the financial regime might be stacked in such a way that the choices facing us might be quite difficult ones.

  452. I am sure that you have discussed that with the Home Secretary, or will do so.
  (Dr Henig) It is something we need to be alive to.

  453. Yes. Can I ask you finally, the existing schemes for traffic and community wardens, are they working well in practice?
  (Dr Henig) Certainly in the area I represent across Lancashire we have got some extremely innovative schemes which are working extremely well. My part of the country has just seen six traffic wardens recycled, if I can put it in those terms, into community wardens and that is working extremely well. The scheme is just being evaluated as we speak by Lancaster University. The evidence seems to suggest that these people are providing a lot of reassurance in the area and are doing an extremely good job. They are employed by the police whereas a lot of the community warden schemes are employed by the local authorities. The evidence that we have in our part of the country, and I think it is true of others, is that they do provide a lot of reassurance and they do deal with a lot of the things that you were alluding to, which is the lower level of disorder, quality of life issues, which police do not always have the time to deal with because in their priority system they obviously respond in terms of the priorities of calls being made. We find wardens extremely useful in providing reassurance.
  (Mr Peel) In Essex we are just going through a parking decriminalisation exercise—a horrible phrase but there we are—and as a result of that traffic wardens are becoming local authority employees. Starting in Southend on 1 April we will have a scheme whereby local authorities are having street wardens. They have taken over the traffic wardens and turned them all into street wardens. That is a scheme funded by the local authority. We do have three schemes, in fact, Basildon, Harlow and Mr Russell's Colchester, where in fact there are Government grants to do just that. We believe that will work extremely well. Certainly where it is already happening with traffic wardens it is working well. Those are local authority employees working in close communication with the police.

  David Winnick: Thank you.

Angela Watkinson

  454. Dr Henig has in part pre-empted my questions but I wonder if I could press you a little further on the power of CSOs to detain people who may be deemed to be guilty of disorderly conduct for 30 minutes, if they can. Can you foresee what will happen? Are they going to be required to declare this 30 minute limitation on their powers to the person concerned? What happens in the 31st minute? Also, if you would like to add to the comments you were making about funding. Are chief constables going to retain the option of employing four fully fledged police officers or six Community Support Officers?
  (Dr Henig) The second part I was referring to before. We do have concerns that there are ways of making police authorities go down some roads rather than others by the financial regimes. If you actually look at the funding for policing this year, more and more funding for policing is actually being ring-fenced. This is a trend that is there already and we are worried about how that might be used in connection with these provisions. As far as the half an hour is concerned, clearly the sort of people who are going to be detained are, by their very nature, likely to be abusive or likely to be drunk or likely to be difficult people, the sort of people we see in the town centre, they are not going to be amenable presumably otherwise they are not going to be detained.

  455. It is quite a tall order to detain people for 30 minutes.
  (Dr Henig) I obviously have not got the expertise, I have never been a police officer, but as a lay person it seems to me if you are not careful this could be a recipe for chaos because it could be a worse situation than you have got now because you might then have to take officers off the duties they are doing to come and help these people. I think that is what would worry me.

  456. That is the point I am trying to draw out.
  (Mr Peel) It could well take police officers off the duty they are doing because in 29 minutes they would think "ah, I have got to get down there quickly to see and arrest this individual". It could be counterproductive.

Mr Prosser

  457. On the issue of Community Support Officers, my own chief constable in Kent, Sir David Phillips, has told me that if he had the resources to take on extra CSOs he would take on extra civilians instead, put them in the police stations and release what he calls proper policemen on to the beat into the communities. I take from your gestures that you have some sympathy with that?
  (Dr Henig) We would be very supportive of that. We do actually support further civilianisation in a number of areas. He has also suggested civilisation in the custody area.

  458. That is right.
  (Dr Henig) And I think on that one we are very much in tune with the ACPO President in saying there are areas where further civilianisation will release police officers for operational duties. This is not a new process, civilianisation in different forms has been going on for the last 10 or 15 years. There are ways in which I think we can recruit civilian expertise into the service which would enhance the quality of the service as well as releasing police officers. I think David Phillips has a lot of very good ideas about that which we fully support.
  (Mr Peel) Providing, of course, he can actually do it. In this Act, fortunately, at the moment it is an enabling power. As long as he can do it, that is fine.

  459. That was the next part of my question. So presumably he is relaxed at the moment in that it is an option that he can take up or leave, but I have taken your point about ring-fencing and financial constraints which could press authorities into Hobson's Choice. Are you making recommendations that the Bill should ensure that choice remains untethered by financial constraints?
  (Ms Leech) We have welcomed the fact that these are enabling provisions and we are very clear that they must remain such. So long as they do, in a sense that is the legislative protection. I do not think it would be possible to frame in legislation a clause to the effect of tethering the Home Secretary's hands in terms of his annual statement on the police settlement to the extent that we are talking about. Our view is as long as the legislation is enabling, and we hope and expect the Home Secretary to confirm that the intention is that it should be genuinely enabling during the passage of the Bill, then we will expect him to hold to that.

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