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Police Reform (White Paper)

Volume 227: debated on Monday 28 June 1993

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3.59 pm

With permission, I should like to make a statement about the future of the police service in England and Wales.

I am today publishing a White Paper which sets out the Government's proposals for police reform. Those proposals will lay the basis for the police service of the 21st century and deliver the promises that we have made under the citizens charter.

We are rightly proud of our police service and of our tradition of policing with the consent and support of the community, but the present administrative arrangements can handicap the police in getting on with their job. There is not a clear enough distinction between the respective roles of the chief constable and the police authority. There is too much paperwork, and the police are not given a clear enough set of priorities. The aim of the White Paper is to enable the police to focus far more than they can at present on waging war against crime.

There are four main elements to my proposals. First, we need to forge the strongest possible partnership between the police and the public. The concept of such a partnership is not new; it can be traced back to the roots of British policing. However, we now need to revitalise community support for the police.

The police cannot succeed on their own. We all have a responsibility as individuals to give our help and support. There are many ways for people to get involved, for example as members of neighbourhood watch schemes, or by joining their local police consultative group. Even more importantly, we need to help the police to prevent and detect crime by passing on information that may be of use to them.

Service as a special constable is the most active way in which ordinary people can help the police. Special constables provide a valuable link between the police and the community. I therefore propose to set a fresh target of 30,000 for the number of special constables—an increase of 10,000 on the present strength of 20,000.

Secondly, I intend to strengthen local police authorities. They will set their own budgets. They will be required to develop local policing plans and strategies for partnership between the public and the police. They will be expected to consult closely with the public in drawing them up. They will be required to tell local people how well their force has done, so that they can compare its performance with that of other forces. They will be clearly responsible for ensuring that policing meets both local and national priorities, and they will be held to account for the results.

I intend that local police authorities should have access to a wider pool of local experience and ability in carrying out those tasks. Police authorities will all be independent bodies made up of local people. Each police authority will have 16 members: eight local councillors, three local magistrates and five local people appointed by the Home Secretary. One person from among the overall membership will be appointed by the Home Secretary to chair the authority.

Thirdly, we shall make it easier for chief constables and local police commanders to deliver a service that provides what local people want, in accordance with citizens charter principles. We want to streamline management within police forces to devolve responsibility to the lowest possible level. The main responsibility for local policing should go to the local commanders who are in touch with their local communities.

Central Government grant to the police will in future be cash-limited. That will allow us to give detailed controls on police manpower and capital expenditure. We shall no longer determine centrally how many police officers there should be in each force. It will be for local police authorities and police forces to decide for themselves on the mix of police officers, civilian staff, equipment and other resources that they need. They will not need the permission of the Home Secretary if they want more police constables instead of senior managers.

Fourthly, we want to give the police a clear sense of priorities. I propose that, in future, the Home Secretary will publish a brief statement each year of the key objectives for the police service. That will provide a framework for assessing police performance. Those objectives will reflect the Government's belief that fighting crime and the protection of the public should he the top priorities in police work.

The police must be freed as far as possible from the burden of paperwork, so that they can concentrate on the key objectives of fighting crime and protecting the public. That is why we have commissioned a swift study by consultants to examine the paper administration of the criminal justice process from arrest by the police to disposal in court. I attach a great deal of importance to this exercise. I want to see a significant reduction in paper pushing. The public want the police to concentrate on fighting crime. So do the police, and so do I.

I now come to my proposals for London. My predecessor, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), said in a statement to the House on 23 March that he would consider how the new format for police authorities might be changed to take account of the special circumstances of London. Since my appointment, I have given this careful consideration.

The Metropolitan police have unique national responsibilities. I have therefore concluded that the national interest in the work of the Metropolitan police makes it right that the Home Secretary should remain the police authority for London. But in discharging these responsibilities, I shall no longer rely solely on advice from the Home Office.

To help me oversee the performance of the Metropolitan police, I will be forming a new body. I shall appoint to it people from a wide variety of backgrounds with the skills and experience to make a major contribution to the work of the police in the capital. It will, for example, help me draw up local London objectives for the police taking account of Londoners' views. I have no doubt that these new arrangements will be of great benefit to the people of London.

These are the main elements of a much broader programme of reform. The White Paper also sets out a range of other measures to provide the police service with the best modern management systems.

On Wednesday, I expect Sir Patrick Sheehy to announce the results of his inquiry into police pay, conditions of service and rank structure. We need arrangements which will ensure that we can recruit and retain high quality officers and which allow for the widely differing responsibilities of individual officers

There will be new procedures to ensure that poor performance by individual officers is dealt with fairly and effectively. There will also be new separate arrangements for dealing with misconduct by police officers. Existing procedures are often long drawn out. This is not satisfactory from anyone's point of view, not least the police. Speedier decisions should result from the new arrangement.

I hope to bring forward legislation as soon as possible to implement all the elements of the reform programme. I want to see them all in place by April 1995. The changes that do not require legislation will be introduced sooner, and many are already in hand.

This is a programme of reform to lay the foundations of policing well into the next century. The reforms will lead to a better service for the public and greater job satisfaction for police officers. With the support of all of us, the police service will be more effective in its ability to wage war against crime. I commend these proposals to the House.

As I did in March, may I welcome the part of the Home Secretary's proposals that deal with greater flexibility in financing? Will he confirm that this is just the removal of a central Government inhibition on local finances and could be done by a simple one-line amendment to the Police Act 1964, and that it is distinct from all the other proposals in relation to police authority?

As the Home Secretary announced in The Daily Telegraph on Saturday, he says that he will increase the number of special constables from 20,000 to 30,000. Will he confirm what appears in the White Paper, that there is already a plan to increase special constables to 25,000—that makes his announcement today slightly disingenuous—and that the figure that he has announced is simply a target, not a firm commitment? At present, even the target is nowhere near being met. Will he also confirm that he is keeping the freeze on new police officers, which is hampering many local police authorities that want more police officers back on the beat in local communities?

One startling omission from the Home Secretary's statement was any mention of the proposal for amalgamating police forces. We might therefore have supposed that he has dropped it. Will he confirm that the White Paper contains a whole chapter on amalgamations? I do not know why he did not mention that. Is it because that chapter makes it clear that the Home Office believes that the number of existing authorities is questionable and because it wants to reduce them and amalgamate them considerably?

The White Paper states on page 42:
"But the Government does not propose to launch an immediate programme of compulsory force amalgamations."
It then states on page 43:
"Where in future police force amalgamations become desirable, the Secretary of State will be able to prescribe new police force areas."
It sets out a new procedure for amalgamation that leaves out many of the aspects of public consultation.

Will the Home Secretary come clean and say what his intentions are for larger police forces? All the evidence shows that smaller forces have better cost-effectiveness, a higher percentage of operational officers and a better clear-up rate.

On London, was not there the clearest possible commitment in March to a proper police authority for London, as there is in other areas? Is it not the height of absurdity to justify reneging on that commitment on the ground of the unique work of the Metropolitan police, when the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis has, during the last few days, given his full support to a proper police authority in the interests of better policing? Is not the truth that what has changed are not the views of the police, still less those of the people of London, but the response to the clamour of a few out-of-touch, unrepresentative Tory Back Benchers who want to deny Londoners a proper voice in how London is policed?

On the structure of new police authorities, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman confirm that that is opposed by virtually all chief constables and by Tory, as well as Labour, local councillors? He claims that it is necessary to remove local councillors from a large part of the police authority to depoliticise the police, but does he understand that the effect of his proposals will be not to depoliticise police authorities, but to transfer political control from local people who are locally elected to serve local communities to Government appointees who are accountable only to Whitehall?

There is a deep and growing concern in this country, across a range of issues, about the vast number of local services from health through to policing, involving billions of pounds of public money, where the chairmen and chairwomen of the controlling bodies now hold office at the Government's pleasure and the fact that their first loyality will not and cannot be to local people, but only to the Tory party in government.

Are not the Home Secretary's proposals, taken as a whole, the clearest sign of the utter bankruptcy of the Tory party as the party of law and order? Is that not shown by the fact that he should announce, as his first measure, not a new initiative on crime, drug abuse, violence, car crime, burglary or even crime prevention, but a misguided piece of prejudice against local policing? What this country wants is not a vendetta against local government, but a crusade against crime—and it is the Labour party that will wage it.

The first question was whether it would be possible to detach some of our elements of reform from others and enact them separately. Of course, the answer is in the affirmative. I am astonished that the hon. Gentleman should ask such a question.

On the issue of special constables, I had hoped that the hon. Gentleman would tell us whether he too was in favour of an increase in the target figure for special constables, and whether he thought that they had an important part to play. He remained silent. He was not prepared to say on that issue, as on any of the other issues that he raised, whether he was in favour of our proposals, against them or, as is so often the case, simply sitting on the fence.

The hon. Gentleman asked about amalgamation. As my predecessor announced, we are introducing more streamlined arrangements to replace the present cumbersome ones, where amalgamation is thought desirable. I shall consider any proposals for amalgamation on their merits.

On London, what it comes down to when one sits, listens to and penetrates the hon. Gentleman's bluster, is that he and the Labour party remain as determined as ever to put left-wing Lambeth Labour councillors, who are still not prepared to participate in the work of the local police consultative committee, on any local police authority for London that Labour would set up. That is what lies behind the hon. Gentleman's bluster about London, and we will have no part of it.

The hon. Gentleman repeated the old litany of criticism about police authorities outside London. Is he seriously suggesting that only councillors and magistrates can make an effective contribution as members of a police authority, and that no one else has anything to contribute? That is the import of the hon. Gentleman's criticism.

We say that 50 per cent. of the membership of police authorities should continue to be councillors. Three members should be magistrates, and five should be appointed by the Home Secretary. Those five can bring to bear their wide experience of the problems that are faced by police authorities, and make an effective contribution to the authorities' work.

We heard from the hon. Gentleman what we hear all the time from the Opposition, day in day out, in the House. "Things," they say, "are dreadful as they are. Let us keep them exactly as they are."

I warmly welcome my right hon. and learned Friend's statement—particularly as it relates to special constables—and I remind him, the House and the country that it was Special Constable Goodman who was murdered by the IRA in North Yorkshire. That proved that special constables can be as brave and courageous in the policing of Britain as full-time police officers.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that local accountability and contact between the police and the community both exist through the consultative committees, and not through the police authorities which have a small number of members?

I am grateful for the support of my hon. Friend. He is, of course, right to pay tribute to the bravery of Special Constable Goodman and, indeed, of other special constables, who, together with the police, are prepared to risk their lives for the rest of the community, day in, day out.

I agree with my hon. Friend about the important contribution that local police consultative committees can make. I am sure that they will continue to make an effective contribution under the new arrangements that I have proposed.

If the Home Secretary is to assume sole reponsibility for the appointment of the chairman and five members of the local police authority, for setting the key objectives of every police force and for capping their expenditure, is he not on the road to making the police answerable only to himself and not to the communities with which partnership is essential for effective policing?

Is it the Government's intention to follow the pattern that has been set in health, in which the Government have taken on doctors, dentists, nurses and even patients in attacking the problems? Are the Government prepared to pit themselves against the entire police service with the proposals?

The hon. Gentleman has misunderstood our proposals. We are not proposing to cap the expenditure of local police authorities, as he will find out when he looks at the proposals in detail.

It is difficult to take the hon. Gentleman and his party seriously on law and order. The only debate on the subject at the most recent party assembly was a motion to legalise brothels. When the hon. Gentleman's party takes law and order seriously at its party conference, we will take seriously what he says in the House.

Will my right hon. Friend assure me that the reforms are designed to help the police concentrate on what the people of Portsmouth really care about—the prevention and detection of violence, burglary, vandalism and so on—rather than on those matters that are so beloved of the Labour party, and particularly their local councillors, which make police officers into virtual social workers?

I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that he wants. I hope that the people of Portsmouth will take full advantage of the opportunities that the proposals contained in the White Paper will make available to them. They will be able to have their say in setting the priorities of their local police force—and, indeed, will be able to play a full part in helping their local police force to do its job more effectively.

Is the Home Secretary aware of the perception that the pendulum has been pushed too far against the police and the courts, and that there would be widespread support for any measures that restored the pendulum to at least mid-distance? May we look upon his announcement today as a modest beginning?

I am certainly aware of the perception to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. The proposals are a first step on an important road and will, I hope, go a long way to removing that perception. We have a unique opportunity to tackle the problem to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, and I intend to do everything in my power to tackle it effectively.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that his announcement about strengthening the partnership between the police and the public will be warmly welcomed, as will his comments about eliminating unnecessary police paperwork—which was imposed by the House when it passed the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984?

Is my right hon. and learned Friend further aware that the police service will have substantial reservations about his decision that he and his successors as Home Secretary will in future appoint half the membership of the new-style police authorities? How will their members be chosen, and who will vet them?

As to the increase in the number of specials, will my right hon. and learned Friend consider making their work a form of voluntary national service—so that young men and women who become specials can take part in police work and help everyone to become more aware of their civic responsibilities?

On the question of the Commissioner's advisory body—

Order. A number of hon. Members are seeking to ask questions. I ask hon. Members to put one question each, so that we may get through as many as possible. Mr. Secretary Howard.

My hon. Friend speaks with particular authority on these matters, and I am grateful for his opening remarks. As to police authority membership, I shall appoint live of the 16 members—fewer than one third of the membership. I shall look for people who can bring their experience and expertise to bear effectively, to ensure that the new authorities give the relevant leadership required in their local areas. I note my hon. Friend's remarks about special constables, and I certainly view service as a special constable as service to the community in a very real sense.

The Home Secretary said that the Metropolitan police has unique responsibilities, but he could have considered the option of taking away those responsibilities. Some of us believe that they take up far too much of Metropolitan police resources. As for the Home Secretary's cheap crack about Lambeth as a reason for keeping local councillors out of London's police authority, has the right hon. and learned Gentleman forgotten that, under his own proposals, local authority representatives would not even be in the majority on the police authority?

The Metropolitan police's special responsibilities are indivisible from its other responsibilities, and it would not be at all sensible to hive them off in the way that the hon. Gentleman suggests. For that reason, I reached the conclusion that I outlined in my statement. I well understand the Opposition's sensitivity towards the behaviour of Lambeth councillors, but they are elected as Labour councillors, and the Opposition cannot disown them.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that a key objective of the White Paper is to ensure that police in Aylesbury and throughout the Thames valley area spend less time filling in forms and more time out of the office and on the beat, detecting and catching criminals?

I hope that we shall be able to achieve the objective that my hon. Friend identifies. As I said, a study is being made of the amount of police paperwork. I hope that we shall be able to reduce it as a result of that study, and that the consequence will be more policemen on the streets and on patrol, fighting crime—as my hon. Friend and I would like.

The Secretary of State said that he thought of the special circumstances of London when he took office. Can he tell us how those special circumstances had changed when his right hon. and learned predecessor came to the Dispatch Box a few months ago and said that there would be a new police authority for London?

When the Secretary of State abuses councillors in London, will he remember that he is abusing not just Lambeth councillors but Tory, Labour and Liberal councillors? How will the advisory committee for London be appointed? Will the London Boroughs Association and the Association of London Authorities be able to make nominations? What does he intend to do about the City of London, which still has its own police authority in the middle of London?

I think that the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) identified the relevance of the special responsibilities of the Metropolitan police to the decision that I have made. As to the membership of the new authority, no one will be able to make nominations to it, but I shall be open to suggestions from any quarter. When the hon. Gentleman grows excited about these matters, it behoves us all to remember his words in 1986, when he described the police as

"all that is rotten in our society."

As long as I remain Home Secretary, the smaller the extent to which people who hold the views of the hon. Gentleman on the police have any influence on the police, the better.

Can the Home Secretary make it plain that, when amalgamations of police forces take place, they will take place after consultation with local people? Can my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that, whatever happens, nothing will be done that affects the integrity of the police force of the county of Kent?

My hon. Friend will understand that I have a particular interest in the well-being of the police force of the county of Kent, so I shall bear his remarks in that context very much in mind. I can assure my hon. Friend that no amalgamations will take place without consultation, but the process of consultation will be very much more effective under our proposals than it is at the moment.

Can the Secretary of State tell us who the consultants are and how much they are being paid? Can he guarantee that none of the principals, or the consultancy, has given money to the Tory party? Can he also guarantee that, when he appoints these people to the local police authorities they will not consist simply of Tory stooges?

I can certainly give the hon. Gentleman the assurance for which he asks. We shall have as members of the police authorities those people who can make the most effective contribution to the work of those authorities. If it is indeed the view of the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues that the only people who can make such a contribution to the work of police authorities are councillors and magistrates, he ought to examine the position afresh.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend acknowledge and appreciate that most people are fed up with the namby-pamby approach to law and order, and will welcome his move towards giving the police much more control over their own resources so that they can target them where they are needed? As part of my right hon. and learned Friend's campaign against paperwork, will he talk to the Lord Chancellor about the Crown Prosecution Service? An immense amount of police time is wasted on cases that never go to court, which is frustrating for the police and tormenting for the victim.

My hon. Friend is right to identify that as a matter of concern. I share his concern. I hope that it will be possible, in the light of our response both to Sheehy and to the royal commission, which is expected to report next week, to address that concern in a very effective manner. I shall certainly bear my hon. Friend's point in mind.

In the interests of reducing the paperwork, what plans does the Home Secretary have for putting an end to a little racket that has been going on in more than half our police forces for many years, whereby police officers tour the nation's gaols to persuade convicted felons to own up to offences on the unsolved book, which they then count towards their clear-up record?

Is the Home Secretary aware that, in Liverpool, for example, this practice accounted, according to the last figures I have seen, for more than 40 per cent. of the clear-up rate? It discriminates, of course, against honest police forces that do not employ this practice.

The hon. Gentleman will discover when he reads the White Paper, as I know he will, that one of its proposals is to enable local people to make recommendations to their local police authority on the objectives of the force. That is the kind of factor that they can take into account in setting what they think the objectives should be, and the police authority will be in a position to set them.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that not only the police but the country will welcome enormously the fact that we have a Home Secretary who is prepared to put some elbow and some muscle behind the police, to give them the equipment that they want and now to give them the reinforcements that they so badly need? What he said today about strengthening the special constabulary will be very welcome, especially in my constituency. What special measures does he propose to ensure that they are brought fully up to establishment at the earliest opportunity?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. I know that he has taken a close interest in the special constabulary, and in the important role that it plays. I am proposing a targeted campaign to maximise the recruitment of special constables.

I think that there is a mood abroad in the country that people want to play a part in helping the police. They are fed up with feeling frustrated and helpless and they all want to play a part in the war against crime. Becoming a special constable is one of the most active ways in which they can help. The targeted recruitment campaign will evoke a much more successful response than previous campaigns, and I shall certainly do all I can to ensure that it succeeds.

Will the witchfindergeneral please withdraw his odious and offensive remark against my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), which he knew was highly misleading? Will he confirm that, in appointing members to police authorities, especially the London authority, he intends to pack them with what have become known as "TWEMs"—Tory white establishment males?

I was particularly careful to quote accurately from what the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) said in 1986, and I note that neither he nor the hon. Gentleman suggested that I got the quotation wrong.

I very much welcome my right hon. and learned Friend's announcement, especially the fact that he has come down against the policing of London being the same as the rest of the country. He has responded to the view of many Conservative Members that a police authority would be quite wrong for London. Indeed, that view is shared by local authorities. Will he confirm that, in making a change in London, there will be no need for fresh legislation?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for welcoming my decision on London. I think it likely that we can achieve the new arrangements for London without legislation.

Why does not this poor man's Jack Benny have the guts to admit that what this Tory Government are all about it taking away powers from democratically elected local authorities? They have done it with education, in part; they have done it with housing, in part; and they are already privatising lots of services.

The idea of shifting police authorities to be run by Tory spivs is part and parcel of getting more power at the centre of Government and taking it away from elected local government. As for being more effective, if the police were not effective, how did they manage to arrest 9,000 miners in 1984? They trampled the streets of north Derbyshire—

The hon. Gentleman does not seem too happy with the police under the present arrangements. I should have thought that he might be prepared to look rather more kindly on new and improved arrangements that will ensure that people other than councillors and magistrates can serve on police authorities and make use of their expertise and experience.

When my right hon. and learned Friend comes to appoint members of the police authorities, especially in places such as Cleveland, will he make it his top priority to appoint people from the community who have a positive contribution to make and who will help to build a partnership against crime, not Labour county councillors who have been found fighting in the library or arrested or other offences?

I shall not appoint members of police authorities on the basis of their political affiliation to whichever party they happen to belong, but I do not envisage appointing those who have been apprehended in the type of activity to which my hon. Friend referred.

I welcome the important phrase that we need

"to revitalise community support for the police",
but may I warn the Home Secretary that it will not come about by wholesale amalgamation via the specious league table idea?

Reference has been made to a cash limit which, if it is unreasonable, will merely perpetuate under-establishment. For example, my force in north Wales is grossly under-established, I think to the tune of 70 members. If the cash limit is unreasonable, there will be no co-operation and the whole thing will be a waste of time.

Let me assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no question of wholesale amalgamation. Let me also assure him that the result of the changes envisaged in the White Paper will give much more control to the chief constable and local commanders, which will enable them to make decisions about the appropriate number of officers to a much greater extent than at present. I hope that, when the hon. Gentleman has had time to study the White Paper, he will find that his anxieties are allayed by its proposals.