Select Committee on Unopposed Bill Committee Minutes of Evidence

Sections 524-539

London Local Authorities Bill [HL]

Wednesday 19 February 2003

524. CHAIRMAN: Mr Lewis, I think we have only got two clauses to deal with this morning, plus a number of minor amendments you want to do. Which order are we going to take them in?

525. MR LEWIS: My Lord, can I first deal with one housekeeping matter, which is Clause 33? As you will remember, this is the clause relating to flyposting where we had some last minute discussions with ODPM yesterday. I had some swift e-mail correspondence between myself and Mr Saunders and we have come eventually to an agreement on the proposed amendment to Clause 33. Mr Saunders sent a revised version this morning with which I am instructed to agree. So we are there on Clause 33.

526. I think the only other outstanding housekeeping arrangement was the point which Lord Elton made about the defence of due diligence. If we can, perhaps, leave that until the end I will deal with it in a sweep-up.

527. CHAIRMAN: We will accept the amendment to Clause 33. Thank you.

528. MR LEWIS: My Lords, we now move on to Clause 32, if we may, Powers of Parks Constables. I thought we would take this one first, seeing as the Home Office are here with a report against this particular provision. I have with me today, on my immediate left, Mr David Ausling from the Wandsworth Parks Constabulary and, to my immediate right, Mr Martin Stratton, also from Wandsworth Borough Council. I would wish to give you some background before asking to give any evidence, but first you might want to have the Home Office people introduce themselves.

529. MR PAPALEONTIOU: Christian Papaleontiou, Policy Officer, Home Office.

530. MR HEPPLE: I am Tyson Hepple from the Public Order and Reassurance Unit at the Home Office.

531. MR LEWIS: I should also mention before I start to explain this clause, that at the end of the proceedings, of course, yesterday Lord Elton asked whether we would be bringing along somebody from the Metropolitan Police, and I indicated that we had not been intending to do so. Some rather frantic telephone calls were made last night and we do actually have here no less than a Deputy Assistant Commissioner from the Metropolitan Police, and that is Stephen House. I will be asking him, once we have finished presenting our case, to come forward and answer any questions which your Lordships may have of him. I do not intend to actually introduce him as a witness on behalf of the Promoters. I think you will understand why.

532. My Lords, everyone will be familiar with the concept of the local park keeper, but it is not widely known that London Borough Councils are also able to employ parks constables, who are sworn in by a magistrate in the same way as police constables. The big difference between parks constables and police constables lies in their powers. The powers of a parks constable are set out in the Greater London Parks and Open Spaces Order 1967. It provides that a parks constable can enforce the law, but only in relation to the bylaws which are in operation in the park. Obviously those bylaws (and I think we have a copy of Wandsworth's if the Committee wishes to see them) are really only related to park-type offences, and not more general offences.

533. My Lords, of course, the local parks constabulary are not the only non-Home Office, if you like, police force in the country. We also have the Royal Parks Police, the Port of London Authority Police, there is British Transport Police, and various other transport police forces including the Dover Harbour Police and the Mersey Tunnels Police, and there is also, of course, the Atomic Energy Authority Police as well.

534. It is a sad fact that a great deal of crime is carried out in parks and open spaces - and often crime of the most serious nature. Apart from offences against the person, we have robbery, vice, drugs and criminal damage. Parks are also good places into which criminals can escape having committed crimes elsewhere. Mr Stratton and Mr Ausling will be able to provide some evidence about the level of criminal activity in Wandsworth's parks.

535. It is also a fact that the parks and open spaces, at least in Wandsworth, are under-policed, in terms of the Metropolitan Police. As Mr Ausling will explain, however, there are thriving parks constabularies, which - to put it bluntly - are under-used for no good reason. They do not have the powers of a police constable to arrest and stop and search individuals, despite the fact that parks are places to which criminals of all sorts are attracted.

536. Although difficult to prove, it is certainly the view that in boroughs such as Wandsworth, where there is a well-organised parks constabulary, there may be a tendency not to cover the parks as well as would otherwise be expected, due to a reliance on the parks constabulary by the Metropolitan Police. Mr Stratton will provide some background about Wandsworth's constabulary and Mr Ausling will describe some examples where additional powers could have been useful.


Examined by MR LEWIS

537. MR LEWIS: Could you introduce yourself and say what your position is in the Council, how long you have been there and what you did before?

(Mr Stratton) Before joining the Council I was in the Army for 33 years. I joined the Council at the end of 1993 in the post of Head of Security. This looked after the parks police and the other enforcement organisations. My area of responsibility then in the mid-1990s expanded to take on events and various other things, and I am now the Assistant Director in one of the departments which looks after not only enforcement but all the parks themselves, cemeteries and refuse and street cleaning. So a fairly large portfolio. However, the parks police and security remains one part of my jurisdiction.

538. The Committee may have noticed the letters CBE follow your name. Can you explain?

(Mr Stratton) During my service as a younger officer I was welcomed to the Order as an MBE, and then I was given an OBE when I commanded my battalion. On my last tour in Northern Ireland I was made a CBE.

539. Thank you. Could you now explain to the Committee how and when the parks constabulary in Wandsworth was established?

(Mr Stratton) My Lords, in 1981 a mobile parks security group was formed in Wandsworth to replace the traditional park keepers. This was so they could move around all the parks and had a measure of mobility within the parks. This was coming at a time when the number of park keepers was being reduced and just before Wandsworth went to contractorisation of many of its contracts. By 1985 it was considered that these park security officers needed some powers to enforce bylaws which were being regularly broken. As the officers had really only a janitorial or warden role they were not empowered, equipped or trained to carry out any enforcement action. In 1985 suitable officers were sworn in by a magistrate as park constables under the provisions of the Local Government (Provisional Orders Confirmation) Greater London Parks and Open Spaces Act 1967. The Council and the local magistrates at that time believed that this gave constables the powers of the police within the parks and open spaces of the borough. When the GLC was abolished in 1986 the Council took over all the responsibilities for Battersea Park where the bulk of the activities of the parks police were focused. Today the parks police patrol all the parks and open spaces within the borough and the cemeteries, and all places are visited at least once daily.

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