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Police

Volume 450: debated on Monday 23 October 2006

Under the Police Regulations 2003, the Secretary of State issues determinations setting out the pay of members of police forces. Before making such a determination, the Secretary of State must take into consideration any recommendation of the police negotiating board and supply the board with a draft of the determination. The police negotiating board has its own constitution which sets out the procedure for its reaching agreement on a recommendation to be made by the board. If agreement cannot be reached, the matter can be taken to conciliation and then arbitration.

I am grateful to the Minister for laying out in clear terms the workings of the Edmund-Davies formula, but I and many other hon. Members have received representations from officers who feel severely let down that their anticipated pay increase is not going to be made. One wrote to me and said:

“I hope I have managed to convey how let down officers feel, at a time when our job has never been more difficult or dangerous.”

What words of certainty can the Minister give to officers about planning their domestic finances, given that this year the Government have chosen not to implement fully the Edmund-Davies formula?

As I said, that remains a matter for the arbitration panel. What I can say to the right hon. Gentleman’s constituent, the police officer, is that having met on 18 October, we are assured, as far as we can be, that the panel will report in two to three weeks. I can also say to his constituent that what we will not do is go down the road taken by the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), who, in one of his more recent “fluffy bunnies and sunshine for everyone” speeches, said among other things that first he would smash the national pay negotiating bodies by affording local flexibilities to chief constables; secondly, he wanted modern employment contracts so he could sack more officers; thirdly, he wanted seniority to be—[Interruption.]

Does my hon. Friend agree that special constables throughout the country do a fantastic job in local communities? Will he join me in congratulating the chief constable and Durham police authority on recently introducing a scheme to pay special constables £1,500 a year? That has increased the number from eight to the target of nearly 140. Will the Minister also see what other lessons can be learned from that initiative for other forces throughout the country?

I am more than happy to congratulate Durham constabulary on what it has done with the special police force, and I take this opportunity to congratulate the specials on their 175th birthday, just last weekend. Specials are often overlooked in what constitutes the growing police family these days, but up and down the country they play a very important role alongside police community support officers, warrant officers and police staff in doing what we need our police forces to do. I shall certainly take away the point about the stipendiary paid to specials, and see whether that can be put into the overall mix of police pay generally.

11. What steps he is taking to reduce the time police officers take to return to their beat after making an arrest. (95429)

The Home Secretary announced on 20 July our intention to consult on a possible review of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. This is part of our ongoing programme to look at custody and related processes, a key objective of which is to simplify and streamline procedures to free up police officer time for operational activity outside the police station. That is why, for example, we have enabled the arresting officer to grant street bail, and use street disposals such as fixed penalty notices and penalty notices for disorder; and why, in 2002, under the work force modernisation programme, we allowed chief officers to designate civilian staff to carry out functions previously performed by the arresting officer, such as escort, detention and case preparation tasks.

I thank the Minister for that answer, but what progress has been made on work force modernisation to release officers from the burden of paperwork and get them back on the street tackling crime, arresting criminals and cracking down on antisocial behaviour, which is what my constituents want them to do?

I share my hon. Friend’s concerns. We are having discussions with the Association of Chief Police Officers and are about to move to the next phase of work force modernisation. I think everyone would agree that having a record number of police is not sufficient if more and more are not out on the streets. I know that the right hon. Member for Witney agrees with that, because he referred to that, too, in one of his speeches. The use of civilian staff and the serious consideration that chief constables are giving to the role played by warrant officers, whether on the streets or in police stations, are important factors. Chief Constable Bob Quick is considering those, and will report to us shortly.

I welcome in principle the Government’s review of PACE, but does the Minister accept that the key to it is finding ways of altering the law so that less paperwork is required, not simply finessing the current situation and handing tasks over from experienced custody sergeants to civilians, which, because of inexperience, may result in acquittals?

I am afraid I do not agree with that. We must get the balance right between the bureaucracy and paperwork and the policing, but policing does not stop with the arrest and placing in custody of individuals. There is then the evidential trail, and all that follows in the criminal justice system. The hon. Gentleman is right: the key is the balance. If that requires more civilians to do some of the back-office and preparatory case work, that is entirely right, but this is not as simple as clicking your fingers, twisting your heels and going off to Kansas, and bureaucracy disappearing.

Does the Minister share my concern at the amount of handwritten documentation that must be produced by police officers following arrests? Surely we should consider the use of information technology. Police officers could use laptops to record information, or, if they will not do that, they could simply dictate their reports into a machine.

I agree. IT is one of the matters being examined as part of the work force modernisation programme, including the increasing use on the streets of hand-held computers that can be plugged in for downloading purposes on return to the office. This too is about getting the balance right, but it costs money. Perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who I believe is one of the tax cutters, will tell me how it could be achieved when £21 billion had been taken from the public purse by his party.

The Minister seems to ignore the reality of what happens with our police. A few weeks ago I was doing what Members in all parts of the House do—accompanying a police patrol on a Friday night. The police were confronted by an abusive and potentially violent young man. After they had settled the incident, I asked them why they had not arrested the young man, as they certainly could have done. They said that if they had arrested him, it would have taken the whole three-person patrol out of action for three hours—the crucial period for patrolling the town centre. Is the Minister not worried about the fact that after nine years of government by his party, the police are afraid to use their arresting powers because if they do they will be prevented from doing their real job of protecting the public?

With respect, they are prevented in part from implementing legislation passed by this Government in the teeth of opposition from the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends. Of course we need the balance between paperwork and bureaucracy, and proper policing. Along with ACPO and the Police Federation, we are trying to ensure that that balance is maintained and to enhance the modernisation that has already taken place. However, the hon. Gentleman is living in cloud-cuckoo-land if he thinks that that is all that happens in policing—and I would not believe “PC David Copperfield” either, because that is more of a fiction than Dickens.