Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 620 - 637)



  620. Why does the Bill not contain measures on police pensions?
  (Mr Denham) Because we have not yet resolved the issues we need to about the future of police pensions. It is the next priority in terms of new policy-making in terms of police reform, and we need, as we said in the White Paper, two things really. One is we would like to bring greater certainty and stability for police authorities and chief constables in particular on the issue of paying for pensions because, although we changed the contributions and the grant formula to cover pension costs, at any individual police force level if you have a retirement bulge over a couple of years you can actually get quite out of kilter with what you were seeking to advance. We would like to bring greater certainty into that but not in a way which would incentivise poor management of ill-health retirement or other areas of retirement. The second thing we need to do is look at whether the benefit structure, which is very good and very generous but very structured, is the right one. I do not want to say something which could suggest that we are about to change every police officer's pension scheme, otherwise we would have problems, but looking to the future have we got the right pension scheme for those joining the force in the future, are there different types of structures, are people always going to have near-30 year careers. We need to look at those issues but it is complicated and it is work which is going on with the Home Office and with the Treasury as well.[11]

Bridget Prentice

  621. I wanted to come back on the point you made to Mr Watson about the cost of private commercial activities. The example the Met gave us in particular was what they referred to, rather engagingly, as "a low level Premiership game at Chelsea". I do not want to go into the comments which were made in response to that. Firstly, the cost of even a low level game at Chelsea is quite substantial to the Met compared to the money they get back, so I would hope you will look at that again. The second thing I wanted to in a sense tie that into is, is the policing of football grounds on Saturday afternoons, or the area around football grounds, a role which the CSOs could be usefully involved in?
  (Mr Denham) I think the general answer is probably yes, but you have to remember that policing football matches is not just a matter of having large numbers of people on the streets. Some elements of policing football matches does involve quite serious operations against quite unpleasant and violent people who are going to football matches for violent and unpleasant reasons, and you would not want to be getting CSOs involved in that area of activity. The other area which may be relevant to the Bill is that the Accredited Community Safety Officer system may well be something that clubs themselves will want to work with the police on to embrace stewarding within the ground. Many clubs already have very, very good links with the police about the accreditation of stewards, but that is part of the framework which would also be relevant in the Bill.

  622. Have you done any analysis, or has the Met done any analysis, of the cost in terms of the rise in street crime post-11 September and the move of officers from the boroughs to Central London? It strikes me that one of the reasons—and I do not hear ministers referring to this—there has been a huge rise in street crime in the London boroughs after that might well be due to the fact that police officers were in Central London. I raise that here because the Met's argument is that if they had CSOs doing the eyes and ears job in Central London, police officers would be out doing the work they are paid to do, detecting crime.
  (Mr Denham) I am cautious at this stage, until it has been possible to do a much more robust analysis than has been done so far, of saying cause and effect. But I have a lot of sympathy with the argument that the impact of 11 September meant that officers who might have been deployed to deal with the rise in street crime were not as readily available as they otherwise would have been. I think one of Sir John Stevens' most persuasive arguments about CSOs is that he needs the flexibility to be able to target his police officers at the major crime problems but also to cover these other needs, particularly reassurance work, which have come high on the agenda since 11 September.

Bob Russell

  623. Minister, if you do revisit the policing of football grounds issue, could I urge you and your officials to appreciate that the financial situation of a club like Manchester United is in a different league from a club like Colchester United. The serious point is that just because a few clubs could afford it, many clubs—and Bury is another one close to the line at the moment—would go out of existence if they had any additional costs to bear.
  (Mr Denham) I think you make a very real point, and this is an area, as we said in the White Paper, of concern to us. One of the things we also have to bear in mind is that the policing costs do not necessarily directly relate to the business income of the club, and some clubs unfortunately with relatively few fans attract some people who cost a lot to police and others do not. Secondly, we have to be mindful of the very important role that football clubs play in many communities. Whilst we have indicated concern about policing costs, we have to say to the Committee we also need to look at the broader relationship between football, police and the role football plays in the community if we are going to move forward.

  624. I appreciate that very constructive response. Thank you. Can we move on to another area of interest, why has the opportunity not been taken to bring police officers within the terms of the Public Interest Disclosure Act, the famous whistle-blowers' act, of 1998?
  (Mr Denham) It is our intention to bring forward amendments which will put police officers in that.

  625. That is following on what was said earlier?
  (Mr Denham) You have hit twice—

  626. I had better put some money on the Lottery this week, had I not?
  (Mr Denham) See if you can get three lemons in a row!

  627. I think I will quit there, Chairman.
  (Mr Denham) I have to say that the formal position is that we are considering doing so, but we have acknowledged the case which has been made on this one. I will be in real trouble now with the Leader of the House for promising an amendment for which I have not got clearance.

Angela Watkinson

  628. Minister, the Riot Damages Act of 1886 raised its head again recently following the fire at Yarl's Wood, which makes police authorities liable for damages to buildings and their contents if a riot occurs under the Public Order Act, even if there has been no negligence of default on the part of the police. After the riots last year at Oldham, Burnley and Bradford, we understood this Act was being reviewed. Is there any hope this review will be concluded in time for an amendment to be part of the Police Reform Act?
  (Mr Denham) I must not even talk about the Riot Damages Act in the context of any of those incidents you have mentioned because it is the case in every case that no one has accepted that they have liability under the Act and nor do we want to encourage any lawyers anywhere to believe that liability does exist under the Act. But, you are right, the broad issue of whether an Act which is well over 100 years old is still appropriate has been raised. I honestly cannot say to you whether any conclusions will be reached about that in the timetable of the Bill and the issues are quite complex.

  629. But the review is on-going?
  (Mr Denham) Certainly the issue has been raised, yes.

Mr Watson

  630. To what extent do you think that actually delivering the success of police reform is dependent on police pay and conditions?
  (Mr Denham) I think getting the right package on police pay and conditions is a key part of the reform process. Obviously we are disappointed by what happened in the Federation ballot. It was our intention from the beginning to do two things. One was to make sure that the vast majority of police officers would be better off. The second was to encourage new features in the pay system which would encourage and reward new ways of working, in particular to make sure that people doing difficult and demanding jobs got extra recognition for doing so and the financial incentive to stay in those jobs. So it is an integral part of the overall picture. Of course, we are now in conciliation discussions with the Federation which have been constructive to date and we are very much hoping we can reach agreement.

  631. Do you think you will be able to reach agreement before the Bill is discussed in the Chamber?
  (Mr Denham) I would not want to set an artificial timetable. I think everybody involved sees the advantages in making progress but, equally, nobody wants to force themselves into a deal on an artificial timetable if there are still issues or details to be resolved. But the process is going on actively and there have been two meetings so far of the PNB since the conciliation process started.


  632. On paperwork, everybody seems to agree that a police officer's job involves a lot of paperwork and that it would be desirable to reduce it, but every change we hear about seems to increase it slightly. Is that fair?
  (Mr Denham) It is quite funny because this is always talked about as, "the Home Office has revealed that", and it was actually Ministers who set up the study of the diary of police officers because we were worried about the situation. It showed that 43 per cent of police officers' time is spent in police stations. What we did in response to that report was to ask Sir David O'Dowd, who is the retiring Chief Inspector of Constabulary, to set up a team of people to look at how this problem can be overcome and different ways of doing it. We should get their interim report very soon. I think quite sensibly the team has probably spent as much of their time—and this is a team drawn from the Police Service—looking at why nothing happened with all the other reports produced on reducing bureaucracy as coming up with good ideas. There is clearly going to be a range of things which can be done. Some will be literally about reducing paperwork, some will be about where the earliest wins are on the effective use of IT. I visited my own local police station on Friday and you see the same piece of information being written down by hand three or four times when somebody is brought in for arrest. Some of it is about the way things are organised. For example, where an officer arrests somebody, if the officer is responsible for the booking in, the interviewing and all the rest of it, it can take an awful lot of their time. Some police forces are beginning to organise a system where the patrolling officer who arrests somebody and brings somebody into the police station does the absolute minimum of processing and is then back out on the beat again, and so there are organisational changes of that sort. Because Sir David O'Dowd's task force is very heavily rooted in experienced police officers, including front-line police officers, I am optimistic at the moment we will get a good programme of work in the next year or two to really make a difference.

  633. Do you think there is a role for the humble bicycle in patrolling, for example, difficult estates?
  (Mr Denham) You know what is going to happen, the headline will say, "Minister says all police officers should be on bicycles". If I take your question as you put it, I am quite sure that there is a role for some police officers on bicycles in some circumstances but I would not like to give the impression that this minister is about to say which officers or where.

  634. Do we have any mechanism for encouraging the use of the bicycle? It seems to me that very often police forces seem to go for the higher form of technology and they all insist they need whatever Manchester has got or whatever the neighbouring force has got.
  (Mr Denham) At the moment the main mechanism we have for promoting best practice has been through the Thematics which were produced by the Inspectorate. I seem to remember that the Thematic, which was published just before Christmas, about high visibility policing looked at issues like this and promoted them. It is possible, and I cannot say this will happen, the new code of practice which is set out in the Bill, which is not mandatory but would be guidance to officers, might look at some point in the future at how you make police officers more visible in the community and could include ideas of that sort. This is not an area where we are looking at mandatory approaches—

  635. I appreciate that.
  (Mr Denham)—but it is an area where, if we get police forces with the new performance system, to say, "How are we doing on public accessibility, public visibility", and forces find they are not doing that well in that area, we would want them to be able to look at the models of best practice which people use. Lots of low-tech things are actually happening. A lot of mobile police stations are being used in more rural areas at the moment, so people go around on a regular basis to different communities; there are drop-in surgeries and things of that sort. I do not think it is quite fair to say that everybody is going for the high-tech solution. I think in recent years there has been quite a swing back towards getting visible, accessible policing out on the streets and we are very keen to encourage that.

  636. Did you say there was a Thematic Report by the Inspectorate on high visibility policing?
  (Mr Denham) Yes.

  637. Does it contain the word "bicycle" anywhere in it?
  (Mr Denham) I believe it does but I will need to come back to you on that.[12] The name of the Thematic was Open All Hours. If not, I will have a word with the Chief Inspector of Constabulary who actually wrote it and ask him if he looked at bicycles as part of the work.

  Chairman: Thank you. On that happy note, we shall conclude. You have been very helpful, Minister, thank you for coming.

11   See Appendix, Ev 166. Back

12   See Appendix, Ev 166. Back

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