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Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am slightly confused as to why the noble and learned Lord has mentioned the Bloody Sunday inquiry. As I understand it, that investigation concerns aspects of an armed services operation.
Lord Mayhew of Twysden: My Lords, I mentioned that matter as I fully agree with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, with regard to the harm that arises from investigations and public inquiries into matters that occurred long, long ago when those at the receiving end are put on the defensive and are required to prove a negative.
I now turn to the question of prison sentences, which merges with that of prison regimes. Of course there are some offenders who above all else must be kept out of the way of doing harm. But the reoffending record of the inmates of most prisons is lamentable. The Government are not making progress fast enough, if at all, on that aspect. Indeed, I am not at all sure that they are not going backwards.
The Minister replied to a debate which I instituted in this House about a fortnight ago on Her Majesty's Prison Blantyre House which had become the flagship of resettlement prisons in this country, with an extraordinarily favourable reoffending rate of about 8 per cent, compared with 27 per cent for resettlement prisons generally and over 50 per cent across the whole prison estate. But unfortunately the Government are supporting measures from the Prison Service Agency which will reduce the education budget in that successful prison, abolish the teaching of art and photography, increase education class sizes and make the prison much more like a standard Category C prison. That, I venture to suggest, is an extraordinary way to treat a prison which has what David Ramsbotham described as an amazing success record.
After nearly four years the Government are presiding over rising violent crime, falling, or at any rate, low police morale and falling police numbers. I think that my noble friend Lord Tebbit will be thanked by a great many people in the country for shining the light of scrutiny on to this record. I hope that he and others will scrutinise, as I shall, such answers as your Lordships receive to the questions I have asked.
Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, for introducing this subject. In a break during this afternoon's proceedings he and I reflected on the time which we had spent working in the public sector. I worked there rather longer than he did. I remember being told by various old soldiers in many places that they had never known morale to be as low as it was. I am sure that that is just what one would find on any railway platform tonight. When the service is at a low ebb, when things are a shambles and when people have their backs to the wall, morale is low. Morale can be repaired quickly if people believe that they are achieving success, however success is measured. I know from my days working for the railways that if trains run to time, are reasonably full and if the newspapers get off their backs, morale rises rapidly.
I am convinced that low morale in the police force can be repaired. Obviously, restoring the numbers of policemen is one part of that; but other things are also necessary such as good, inspired leadership. Great changes are taking place in the police force. In my local Thames Valley force there are now three women among the six chief officer ranks. Twenty years ago to have three women chief officers out of six in a police force would have been regarded as outrageous and would no doubt have been denounced by the people who talk about low morale as being one of the reasons for it. One gets over these things, but one gets over them slowly with a constructive policy within a force which aims to change things.
I want to talk for a moment about an evening I spent in the police control centre in Reading on the Friday before Christmas. I mention this in the context of why morale might be low in the police service. I went to the control centre because I chair the police complaints committee and we have had some problems. I decided to investigate the problems for myself. They have been solved and need not detain us this evening.
As I say, I visited the control centre on the Friday before Christmas. People had finished work that lunchtime and had been celebrating. A number of incidents were reported. There was a fairly large crash on the edge of the motorway. A body was found in the River Thames. There were numerous small fights and fracas in bars in the centre of Reading. All those incidents were attended to promptly and efficiently, as far as I could see. However, some of them, for example, the motorway crash, were extremely greedy in terms of the number of police officers needed to sort out the problems.
Calls were received from residents who lived near one of the parks in the town. They said that young people were riding motor cycles round the park, through the park gates, down their road and back again. Another call was received from someone who reported graffiti being sprayed on vehicles in a residential area. These incidents are not treated as top priority as no one is being beaten to death or anything of that kind. The distress felt in the control room was not caused by not being able to attend to the first-line incidents, but by not being able to attend to those "social" incidents which caused distress. The police ought to have been able to attend to those incidents but the available resources did not permit us to attend to them immediately. The officer in charge told me that dealing with the motor cyclists in the park would require five officers. He said that he would not send one officer to chase the motor cyclists as that would make the situation worse rather than better.
Bad morale arises, first, when we cannot deal with the urgent incidents--in the case I cite we could; and, secondly, when we do not give the service the public want. When they ring for the police, they want someone to do something effective about whatever is wrong. The number of officers available did not allow that level of service to be provided. In most towns, cities and rural areas, the police cannot respond as they would like to do to a wide range of incidents
I come to what I regard as a key issue. In the Thames Valley we are trying very hard to meet recruitment targets. We cannot do so. As fast as we recruit people, others leave to work with other forces. Although police numbers in this country are rising, they are not rising in the Thames Valley. We have lost about 60 of our officers already this year--more than the number of extra recruits we have taken on.
There are two ways to deal with the matter. The first concerns the Home Office and must be attended to. The salaries we pay are insufficient to allow people to get on the housing ladder. Seventy-five per cent of our recruits are single people; 60 per cent come from outside the Thames Valley. We have to provide some accommodation for them and it cannot be police housing. Policemen nowadays do not want to live in tied cottages. They do not want to live in ghettos with other policemen. They want to be part of the community.
The second point is a matter I have raised with the Minister previously and to which he has given polite and reassuring answers. However, the whole police service is now waiting for a definite answer. We have heard that 6,000 Specials have left the force. Can we have some system of payment for part-time police officers? I am confident that we could recruit several hundred extra officers if we could pay people for one evening's training a week and one evening or day's service at the weekend. Many problems arise at peak times. We know that we shall need officers on Friday evenings. We know that when there is a football match on a Saturday, we shall need them. If industry has a peak demand, it has some form of part-time cover to deal with the problem.
A positive response from the Home Office on that point would go a long way to solving manpower problems in the short term. Being able to respond to those anti-social incidents would satisfy not only the police that they are giving a good service but also the residents of the Thames Valley.
I shall not go over many of the other issues. They have been adequately covered by noble Lords. Can the Minister respond, first, on the issue of housing; and, secondly, can we retain some form of special police force? At present, the Specials are sinking away into oblivion.
Lord Burnham: My Lords, from the tail-end position usually occupied by the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, perhaps I may congratulate my noble friend Lord Tebbit on choosing this subject from the many issues in which he is involved. My only regret is that we have not had the advice of the noble Earl, Lord Rosslyn. I fully understand that as a serving Metropolitan Police officer he could not have spoken today. In his place, we had the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, who, as a recently serving police officer, has given much advice. However, I do not believe that either side of the House benefits by complaints about what the other side has done.
I join my noble friend Lord Marlesford and my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew in commending the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux. He asked a question that the Minister cannot be expected to answer. However, the Minister responds on behalf of the Government. I hope that he will pass the matter on to his noble and right honourable friends and that we shall receive some sensible answers to the vital questions that the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, posed.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Crickhowell. It is not true to say that you can never find a policeman when you need him. In June 1979 my house was struck by lightning and began to smoulder nicely. We had no electricity or telephone but within five minutes a police car arrived, summoned by the alarm of the tree surgeons who occupy the farmyard. My wife went to the police car with the immortal words, "The house is on fire. Could you ring 999 for the fire brigade". The fire brigade responded as quickly as the police had. Quick responses to calls for police are vital in town and country but you cannot have a quick response without the manpower. Almost all noble Lords have spoken about the drop in manpower numbers, particularly in London. In eight years there has been a decrease of 11 per cent.
However, there is immense waste of manpower. A few years ago a friend of mine, an inspector, commented on the fact that he had to sign a number of gun licences. That inspector is now retired from the police force and is employed, as are many former policemen, by a security firm. But why was an active inspector signing gun licences, about which there were no criticisms?
For sergeants and constables the compulsory retirement age is 55 years. The man or woman receives a full pension after 30 years. He or she could be 48½ on retirement. Inspectors can continue after 30 years, but the compulsory retirement age is 60. Most are active and fit (in the case of my friend, perhaps a little rotund) and able to carry out police work of an administrative nature. Employing retired policemen and civilian officers would enable more police officers to be involved in active policing. At present many policemen are involved in inspection of gun ownership and gun licences. It may be necessary; I think that it is overdone. That could quite well be carried out by retired police officers.
The problem as regards numbers is one of retention rather than recruitment. We have heard that the police colleges in certain counties are full. I hope that standards are not being lowered to get policemen into the force.
As with the Armed Forces, the problem is not getting people in, but keeping them once they are there, particularly those who have experience and ability and know what they are doing. Too often, they are just paddling along, doing their duty in the easiest way possible, waiting for the moment when they can retire.
There must be some doubts about the top ranks in the police. My noble friend Lord Marlesford mentioned the pre-war Hendon Police College, which was extremely successful in bringing forward a considerable number of very good policemen. I refer in particular to Simpson in London and St Johnston, the generator of "Z-Cars", in Lancashire. They benefited enormously from what they had learned in police college and the quick promotion that they were given. I knew St Johnston well. On one occasion while on the beat in London, he arrested a lobster crossing Jermyn Street.
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