Select Committee on Unopposed Bill Committee Minutes of Evidence


Sections 700-719

London Local Authorities Bill [HL]

Wednesday 19 February 2003

700. MR LEWIS: The former question, Mr Ausling, about the range of powers, without committing to a strictly defined list, what is the range of powers?

(Mr Ausling) What I think we are looking for - not what I think, what I know we are looking for here is powers as ranged in Part 3 of the Act. With regards to covering the detention and other administrative issues within the Act itself, I think we would rather want to leave that to the Metropolitan Police to deal with because they have a bigger responsibility and the ability to deal thoroughly with these issues.

701. LORD ELTON: Of course, the right to search depends on the right to detain, does it not? It is going to be extremely difficult to keep out of a larger part of that. It does seem to me that this is a highly complex legislative basis that you have not, with respect, dealt with in sufficient detail and really taken the whole lot on board. It worries me that by doing that you are attracting duties as well as powers which you may not be able, or willing, to undertake.

(Mr Ausling) My Lord, we are seeking in many respects to increase the powers of the parks constables to make them more effective and the effectiveness of the parks police comes, in my opinion, from the ability to stop and search and arrest people under certain conditions. With regards to the idea of taking on further responsibilities, I do not think that would be a real issue provided that there was some detailed negotiation and thought given to this should you here today decide that the power should proceed forward.

702. LORD ELTON: The search upon arrest is actually in Part 3, so it seems that there is a discrete part of the Act which you are interested in.

(Mr Ausling) Yes, that is absolutely correct, my Lord.

703. CHAIRMAN: Shall we now hear from Mr House and then we might be able to conclude reasonably soon after that.

704. MR LEWIS: As I said, I had not intended to ask any questions directly of Mr House. He was only brought in at the last minute but he did have faxed to him last night the relevant provisions in the Bill and the Home Office report, so he has had some opportunity to read it.

705. CHAIRMAN: Mr House, thank you very much indeed for coming to speak to us at such short notice. I know my colleague, Lord Elton, was very keen that a representative from the Metropolitan Police should give the Metropolitan Police view on this and obviously answer any questions we might have. Thank you very much indeed. Do you want to say a few words to start with?

MR HOUSE: Thank you, my Lord. Thank you for the opportunity of being here, we were delighted to be asked. Maybe if I just put myself in context. I did get this last night so I have not had a great deal of time. I do work very closely with Ian Blair, in fact he is my direct boss and, therefore, the views I am going to be putting across are our views and, as has been mentioned on several occasions, he is probably the lead officer in terms of community support officers and extending the police family in England and Wales. He is taking the lead nationally on that, so he would have a great deal of interest in this and I would not be surprised, was he in the country, if he had come along himself today but I am afraid he cannot, he is abroad.

706. I am not sure how much you want me to say but, frankly, I have been listening to this with a great deal of interest and fascination and sympathy, in all honesty, for both parties in the argument. Nothing I seek to do is in any way confrontational. I certainly would not want to undermine the clearly extremely positive and mutually supportive relationship that the MPS has with the parks police in Wandsworth. One of the speakers said that liaison is very, very close and I am delighted to hear that. I also have to say, sitting in the back there, that the parks police seem to be doing a particularly good job. We heard about crime levels reducing markedly since they have been set up with the benefit of people we have heard being involved in it. There has been a considerable reduction in crime and a boost to reassurance, and that is very good to hear and long may it continue.

707. From my basic understanding of what is going on, what is being asked for is an increase in powers of arrest moving away from what any ordinary citizen can do into what a police constable can do, and I would use the term that I am in a Home Office appointed force. I have to say my view on that is that is a change that needs to be jealously guarded and it is quite right that it should come before you because no doubt throughout your long careers you will have been faced with a number of police officers asking for ever more power because if only we had ever more power we could do more and more and you have to choose a balance between giving the powers to the police and making sure that things do not get over-zealous, we do not have too much power and things remain in balance. Indeed, that was what PACE was very much all about. I think there are some issues there and you have explored them.

708. Opening up and giving that extra power of arrest brings with it a huge responsibility, a responsibility around quality of the staff selected and around the training given. I do nothing to criticise either of those issues but this is a change of circumstance and although it may appear only to be a slight change in one clause of an Act, actually it is quite significant, as you have pointed out.

709. I was going to raise as one of the points the fact that we are in very positive negotiations and discussions with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to merge with - I think that is the term we are using - the Royal Parks Police. Essentially it will become one of our operating units with a superintendent in charge of it as of April 2004. I think that underlines the way that we are going and the official MPS view on this which is that we would support the idea of an extended police family but we would do so along a line of stratification, if I can put it that way, so you have the one level, which is the Metropolitan Police Service in London, who have full powers and full responsibilities all the way from reassurance patrol through to dealing with anti-terrorism and taking that to court, etc. Under that, and completely supportive of it, you would have other levels of policing. Frankly, what I have heard described here this morning sounds like a truly first class example of that other level of policing, which is reassurance patrol, and I do not mean this in any derogatory fashion or do not mean to give any gradation to this because reassurance is what the public crave the most. It is the one thing that the Metropolitan Police Service is trying to deliver in the round and our aim to do that has been quite well outlined by resourcing issues and priorities. The argument has been made by Mr Blair and won, because it is going into legislation, that what we need is a level of policing, a numerous number of officers with lesser powers to provide a reassurance to the public. They are, if you like, a tripwire for the public and for the criminal. They deter low level criminality. If they see high level criminality they do not necessarily intervene but they do inform and direct in those units within the Metropolitan Police Service that are equipped to deal with that high level of criminality. What I have heard today sounds like a model of that in action, quite frankly. It is interesting that alongside many of the seven examples given I have written down "excellent police work" and actually many of them resulted in arrests. Clearly in one or two the extra power of arrest would have been useful but I am afraid that is the nature of police work and I do not in any way seek to explain this to my colleagues who have more police service than I have, I would not deign to do that. I think it is rather an example of how well it does work now.

710. Yes, we would all like more powers. I can sit here and ask you for more powers for the police that I think would reduce crime and put criminals behind bars quicker but those things have to be very carefully considered because they have unintended consequences and I think you have explored some of the unintended consequences and that is going down what has been called the "balkanisation" route. When Mr Blair gets back from his foreign trip I will certainly ask him to define "balkanisation".

711. CHAIRMAN: Perhaps he is in the Balkans.

712. MR HOUSE: He is in the United States which actually offers some interesting parallels in policing where we would want to go and which worries me slightly about what is being proposed here which is cities in the United States with four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten police jurisdictions. I think the Home Office's view is we should be moving away from that and that is certainly the Metropolitan Police view. We are, as I say, dealing with the Royal Parks Police issue and there is certainly media speculation, and no more than that, about the role of British Transport Police within London as well.

713. The point I am making is that I would say what is working at the moment with Wandsworth is that there is a very good tripwire reassurance patrol. They are asking for more powers. They say liaison with the Metropolitan Police Service is very effective. I can well imagine they are being ultra polite and diplomatic there and there would be occasions when the MPS are not quick enough in the view of the Wandsworth Parks Police to respond. I think that is an issue that could and should be dealt with at the local level. I would say this is an example of how both community support officers and the accredited support officers for the future could and should work.

714. Of course, it is not quite accurate to say that community support officers do not have powers of arrest because they have exactly the same powers of arrest at the moment that the Wandsworth Parks Police do and we would expect them to exercise those powers where appropriate, where safe for them to do so. I think there is that issue there. I would be a little bit concerned about giving more powers to a unit as small as the Wandsworth Parks Police and I think you have explored that around the training, the accountability, the discipline procedures and various other issues like that. The more powers you have, the more those are needed and it becomes economically difficult to justify and it becomes non-viable. One of the huge issues about community support officers was if you give them too many powers, they have more responsibilities and they need more training and their costs rise and they become so close in terms of cost to a police constable, what is the point of having them? Actually, one of Ian Blair's issues has been to keep the powers low to keep the economic margin between them so we can afford enough of them to get on the streets to have some effect. I see some dangers that if we overburden them with powers and responsibilities the training requirement rises - currently the training is a lot less than the Metropolitan Police Service initial training - and that would have to change.

715. My view would be that where we are now is a good place to be and I would urge your Lordships to take into account the view of the MPS which is to work within the police reform agenda, to look at the extended police family and to reinforce the fact that different members of that family have different levels of powers for very good and sensible and practical reasons.

716. Can I just raise one other thing that is slightly off the issue. It has not got a lot to do with this but it was a comment made and I would like to address it. It was a comment made that Wandsworth Parks Police do not currently have training on domestic violence because that is not appropriate. I would urge you to look at that again because domestic violence is not defined as something that takes place in a domestic residence, it is something that takes place in a relationship between individuals and it can happen in a park just as easily as it can happen inside a house, it is still a domestic violence incident, and training is required by officers to deal with those sorts of incidents. That is a passion of mine around domestic violence, that all police officers, including PSOs, have this training. Quite frankly, just to show I am not pointing fingers and being aggressive, I do not know what training our PSOs have in domestic violence but I shall be checking it when I go away from here today because it is something that all police officers should have.

717. I think that is really all that I wanted to say. I hope it has not appeared to be taking too defensive a stand. I do not think the MPS is precious about this, we are very keen to extend the police family. On the issue about community support officers being bought by the wealthier boroughs, Mr Blair has got a very cunning plan to deal with that. It is true that the wealthier boroughs have already bid for, and will be getting, community support officers and they are going to do that out of their own funds but, of course, the way for the less wealthy boroughs to do that, and I could name them but I shall not bother to stigmatise, is access through central government funding and Home Office funding which is increasingly going to borough partnerships. They will be using that money to buy in community supports officers and the MPS is committed to seeing that there is a fair distribution - it will not be easy - of those support officers between wealthy boroughs who can buy them for themselves and the less wealthy who can have them funded and we can hopefully put some positive pressure on central government to provide some funding to do just that sort of balancing act.

718. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much indeed, Mr House, that was an extremely good presentation, if I might say so. I do not have any questions arising from it.

719. LORD ELTON: I have one. When do you expect the merger of the Metropolitan Police with the Royal Parks Police to be complete?


 
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