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Lord Carver: My Lords, do the Government approve of the action of the police at East Molesey in encouraging a group of old age pensioners to man the police station because there are not enough police to do so?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, that is a new one on me! I am told that it was reported on the radio this morning. If that is considered helpful and appropriate, no doubt it is.

Lord McNally: My Lords, does the Minister believe that individual police forces are making sufficient effort to recruit from our ethnic minorities? It is over 20 years since I raised in another place the deplorable

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level of recruitment from ethnic minorities in our major police forces. One still gains the impression that, although the low numbers are explained away extremely glibly, there is no real effort to find recruits from an age group in which our ethnic minorities are particularly strong. That is an opportunity missed.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the noble Lord has an honourable record in promoting ethnic recruitment and supporting those initiatives. It is an initiative which the Government have taken very seriously. As the noble Lord knows, the Home Secretary has set targets for each police force area. In most of those areas, we are satisfied that progress is being made. The national recruitment campaign has made a feature of promoting the desirability of ethnic minority recruits joining the police service. We believe that it is an excellent profession that is widely supported and that it should have more ethnic minority officers. That would be for the good of ethnic minority communities and society as a whole.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, I do not know whether I heard the Minister correctly, but I think he said that the Government should be congratulated on having had the courage to launch a police recruitment campaign. On reflection, does he not think that that was a rather strange thing to say? The Government would have been entitled to a great deal of blame if they had not done something that was so obviously necessary.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I shall take that as a note of congratulation. For most of the years of Mr Major's Conservative Government there was a decline in police numbers. That government failed to launch a national recruitment campaign. We have had the courage to do so because we believe that it is right.

Earl Russell: My Lords, is the Minister aware that in not particularly expensive outer London boroughs, newly appointed police constables depend on housing benefit? Will he confirm that that situation is not the fault of the social security system? What plans do the Government have to do something about it?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I have heard those comments elsewhere and I am concerned about them. That is why we decided last year to put back an element for housing into the pay of police officers serving in London, not as a housing allowance but as a top-up for London weighting. The housing allowance had been taken away by the previous government when implementing the Sheehy report. That is the sort of measure that led to the recruitment difficulties that the previous government suffered and that we have suffered in our early years. It was a grave mistake. Members of the previous government should regret it and apologise for it. We have put that situation right.

The Earl of Selborne: My Lords, does the Minister agree that a more constructive proposal to deal with the serious problem of the cost of housing in certain

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areas for police recruits would be the promotion of the shared equity housing scheme? Will the Government look with the police authorities to see how that can be done?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for that helpful suggestion. The Government are on the case. In December last year we announced the starter homes initiatives that will help 10,000 key workers to buy their own homes in high demand areas. We introduced that proposal because of the problems that have been referred to this afternoon. It will make 250 million available over the next three years. We have made it clear that the fund will be targeted at police, teachers and nurses. We are looking forward to the relevant agencies bringing forward proposals so that we can put extra money into helping recruits and those already in the services. The initiative that the noble Earl referred to is precisely the sort that we would endorse.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I welcome any increase in the number of police officers, but does the Minister accept that the morale of the police is at a very low ebb? Does he agree that, given that neither House has a regular major debate on policing issues but instead deals with them piecemeal, it is about time that a Royal Commission was established to look into issues of pay, conditions, recruitment, retention and morale in the police? Would not that be helpful?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, that is an interesting idea, but, although Royal Commissions are easily set up, they have a habit of taking a long time to deliberate. We need to keep the issues constantly under discussion. Your Lordships' House is a good vehicle for that, as are the Home Affairs Select Committee and another place. We have had many important debates on those issues and I am sure that we shall continue to do so. The Police Negotiating Board is the appropriate vehicle and forum for discussions about pay and conditions. We receive many representations about police-related issues. They are part of an important national debate. I fear that a Royal Commission would be a way of kicking things into the long grass. We need to give them vigilant attention.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, what are the perceived dangers for which the Government would need courage to run a recruiting campaign for policemen?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, that is a fatuous question. The noble Baroness is rather expert at those, of course. We should encourage people to join the police service. The Government have that duty. The noble Baroness was a member of a government that presided over a decline in police numbers. I hope that she will have the courage to join the government Benches in endorsing our recruitment campaign and encouraging all those who feel public spirited enough to join the police service, because we need people to join the service and we need them now.

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Human Rights: Joint Select Committee

3.6 p.m.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the Commons message of 17th January be now considered, and that a Select Committee of six Lords be appointed to join with the committee appointed by the Commons, To consider and report on: (a) matters relating to human rights in the United Kingdom (but excluding consideration of individual cases); (b) proposals for remedial orders, draft remedial orders and remedial orders made under Section 10 of and laid under Schedule 2 to the Human Rights Act 1998; and (c) in respect of draft remedial orders and remedial orders, whether the special attention of the House should be drawn to them on any of the grounds specified in Standing Order 73 (Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments); To report to the House: (a) in relation to any document containing proposals laid before the House under paragraph 3 of the said Schedule 2, its recommendation whether a draft order in the same terms as the proposals should be laid before the House; or (b) in relation to any draft order laid under paragraph 2 of the said Schedule 2, its recommendation whether the draft order should be approved; and to have power to report to the House on any matter arising from its consideration of the said proposals or draft orders; and To report to the House in respect of any original order laid under paragraph 4 of the said Schedule 2, its recommendation whether: (a) the order should be approved in the form in which it was originally laid before Parliament; or (b) that the order should be replaced by a new order modifying the provisions of the original order; or (c) that the order should not be approved, and to have power to report to the House on any matter arising from its consideration of the said order or any replacement order;

That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the Lords following be named of the committee:

L. Carlisle of Bucklow L. Goldsmith L. Lester of Herne Hill B. Perry of Southwark B. Prashar B. Whitaker;

That the committee have power to agree with the Commons in the appointment of a chairman;

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That the committee have power to adjourn from place to place within the United Kingdom, and to institutions of the Council of Europe outside the United Kingdom no more than four times in any calendar year;

That the committee have leave to report from time to time;

That the committee have power to appoint specialist advisers;

That the minutes of evidence taken before the Committee from time to time shall, if the committee think fit, be printed and delivered out;

And that the committee do meet with the committee appointed by the Commons on Wednesday 31st January at half-past five o'clock in Committee Room 4B.--(The Chairman of Committees.)

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe: My Lords, the Motion gives the committee the power to appoint specialist advisers. I wish to repeat the plea that I made in the House on 17th July last year at col. 586, when we were considering the Liaison Committee's third report, regarding a constitutional committee, which could also appoint specialist advisers. I asked the Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees whether the same stage army of pressure groups that have done so much bouncing on constitutional reform would be involved. I ask for a similar assurance in this case. If specialist advisers are appointed, they should not be drawn from the cohorts of the chattering classes, such as Charter 88, the Constitution Unit and Liberty, whose zealots are already looking around for fresh targets, such as the monarchy. Taxpayers' money should not go into those organisations. May I have an assurance that that will not happen, because it would be a wrong use of public funds?


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