|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Fowler: I have only just started. If the noble Lord will be patient, I will address that particular point. I cannot comment on any debates that the police service has in private but what I said about the public debate is absolutely correct. The Home Secretary's response was that Ian Blair's plans and the ones we have today were a real possibility.
The proposal goes way beyond anything we have had before. As far as I know, we do not have private patrols on the streets with the power to arrest and detain people for 30 minutes before the police turn up. Does the noble Lord want to correct me and claim that hundreds of people are undertaking such patrols?
Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate: I am reluctant to intervene again and to interrupt the noble Lord's flow but this is about completely removing community support officers. The question of powers will be debated later.
Lord Fowler: With respect, we are debating the concept of community support officers. That is the whole point of the amendment. It is difficult to debate the concept without examining the powers. Unless the noble Lord and the public understand that we are discussing something new, the debate will get off to a bad and confused start.
We should remember recent historyand here I praise the police service. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, I was engaged in writing a book about the police in Europe. In 1968, there were riots and demonstrators fought against police in Amsterdam and, notably, Paris. In London, things went very differently. The point was made to me time and time again in Europe that the mistake made by the European police was adopting the view that "My uniform is my authority". The British police had won trust. I fear that we risk saying, "Your uniform is your authority". I am not sure that the public would understand or accept that concept.
Under the Bill, community support officers would have powers never seen before. There will be disputes about abuse of power. This is ABC stuff as far as the police service is concerned. It realises that policing must be sensitive. The importance of trained police on
The Government and the country have a strategic choice. The Government are saying, "Don't worry. These things are taking place but there is a record number of police". The Minister used that phrase himself. I am a qualified admirer of the Ministerqualified only because I do not agree with many of his political views. However, I have known and worked alongside the Minister in Birmingham a long time. When he was a member of the Opposition, he would have choked with indignation if a Conservative government had used that phrase to describe police recruitment. We all know that no priority was given to police recruitment in the first four years of the Labour Government.
A rather important point was, again, made by the noble Lord. I do not believe that he is right when he says that new police cannot be recruited. I simply do not think that that is the case. Indeed, there is a lesson to be learnt from New York and its zero tolerance policy. We have all been over there to see it; at least anyone who has had anything to do with home affairs over the past five or six years has done so. Its introduction has been remarkably effective. It has targeted resources upon so-called "hot spots" in crime, and has cleared up crime in a remarkable way. But what was the first course of action that they took before the policy was introduced? They recruited something like 7,000 to 8,000 new policemen. They did not recruit community support officers, they recruited policemen. That was also true throughout the cities of the United States.
The noble Lord, Lord Condon, put it gently, but I should put it much more bluntly. The fact is that we are under-policed in this country. We are under-policed in London; we are under-policed in our big cities; and we are under-policed in many other towns throughout the country. In my view, that is the problem and the issue that we should be addressing. If we have resources, it seems to me that they should be directed to that area. The Government say that where such additional community officers have been introduced they have had an effect. Of course they have had an effect. But the question to consider is this: if police had been introduced in those areas, would there have been an even greater impact on the situation?
Frankly, I fear that the proposal is Treasury driven. It is the cheapest way that the Government can find to reassure the public. I believe that to be the long and short of it. It will be a grave mistake for this country to accept such a proposal. Fundamentally, this is the wrong course for the Government to take. Of course we want a bigger anti-crime presence on our streets, but I suggest that the publicthey are the acid test
Lord Tope: On the first Committee day I declared that I am a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority and of the Association of Police Authorities. Therefore, I am very well aware that very different views are held by those who come from the MPA from those who come from other police authorities. I do not find that in the least surprising, or, indeed, in the least remarkable. It arises because we have very different circumstances and experiences. The metropolisLondonis probably unlike any other city; it is certainly unlike most other cities for well-known reasons.
If the Bill were proposing that every police authority or police service in the country must have community support officers, I should be loudest in my opposition to that proposal. That would be completely wrong. It would be inappropriate for the circumstances of most areas. However, as I understand itI am sure that the Minister will confirm thisthe proposal is that they "may" do so. I shall not enter into an argument about who first thought of the idea, but it is well known that the proposal has been driven by the Metropolitan Police service and, now, by the Metropolitan Police Authority; and, in particular, by our Deputy Commissioner. I have had the benefit of Deputy Commissioner Blair's briefings on many occasions, and I am almost word perfect now. Nevertheless, the noble Lord, Lord Condon, explained the proposals as regards the Metropolitan Police with greater authority, and much better, than I can. So I shall not repeat those points.
However, if I thought for one moment that what was being proposed was simply a cheap alternative to policing, I, too, would oppose it. In the Metropolitan Police Service, of which I can speak with knowledgeI cannot for other areaswe are now recruiting at maximum. The Metropolitan Police Training College in Hendon has been full on every intake for most of the past year, and it looks as though that will continue for next year because the budget provision is available. So at last, long overdue, the Met is recruiting as fast and as fully as it can. It is in that context that I view the current proposals for community support officers. It is not a question of them being recruited instead of uniformed police officers. Like all noble Lords and members of the public, I certainly want to see as many uniformed police officers on our streets, and elsewhere, as possible. CSOs will not be introduced instead of uniformed police officers; they will be there as a supplement to the latter. That is an important difference. It is the condition upon which I support them.
There are those to be used in connection with security needsthe standing-on-the-street-corner position, which has been carried out by police constables since 11th September and police constables are extremely bored with having to do it.
There is also the transport proposal. Within the Greater London Authority there is now an agreement between the Metropolitan Police Authority and Transport for London for a transport policing initiative, which, when fully developed during the course of the coming year, will cover 26 of the bus routes most subject to criminal activity. Those duties will be conducted by uniformed police officers, supplemented by what I suppose will be called "community support officers". I do not mind what name is used. That proposal will go ahead; the agreement is there.
However, the key question is the issue that we should be debating; namely, what powers will these officers have? But that is not the subject of the amendment now before the Committee. The amendment proposes that we should delete CSOs from the Bill. That is why I am uncomfortable with it.
There is an important debate still to be addressed about the nature of the powers that such officers will have. That is the key question; it is not about whether they should exist. Then, in due course, the greatest number
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page