Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee
[1st Allocated Day]
New Clause 20
Statutory duty on flooding
‘The Fire and Rescue Services in England shall make provision to lead and co-ordinate the emergency service response to—
(a) rescuing people trapped, or likely to become trapped, by water; and
(b) protecting them from serious harm, in the event of serious flooding in its area.”—(Lyn Brown.)
This new clause would make the Fire and Rescue Service in England statutorily responsible for leading the emergency services response to flooding
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 21, in clause 2, page 3, line 14, at end insert—
‘(8) For the purposes of this Bill, when considering whether a collaboration agreement would improve the effectiveness and efficiency of one or more emergency services that shall include the effectiveness and efficiency with which the emergency service is able to meet its duties under the mental health care concordant.”
This amendment would explicitly enable a collaboration agreement to cover duties placed on emergency services by the mental health care concordant.
Amendment 3, page 6, line 3, leave out clause 6.
This amendment, along with amendment 4, would prevent Police and Crime Commissioners from taking over the functions of Fire and Rescue Authorities.
Amendment 5, page 11, line 1, leave out clause 8.
This amendment would prevent combined authority mayors from combing their fire and rescue service and police force under a single employer.
Amendment 4, page 144, line 2, leave out schedule 1.
This amendment, along with amendment 3, would prevent Police and Crime Commissioners from taking over the functions of Fire and Rescue Authorities.
Amendment 2, in schedule 1, page 145, line 16, at end insert—
“4AA Power to change title of police and crime commissioner
(1) This section applies if the Secretary of State makes an order under section 4A.
(2) The Secretary of State may by regulations made by statutory instrument change the title of a police and crime commissioner appointed as a fire and rescue authority.”
This would enable the Secretary of State to change the name of police and crime commissioners to reflect their new additional responsibility for the fire service. The Secretary of State would have the power to make such a direction in secondary legislation at some point in the future.
Amendment 20, page 145, line 16, at end insert—
‘(7) No order can be made under this section until the Secretary of State has conducted a review assessing the funding required by the fire and rescue service to secure the minimum level of cover needed to secure public safety and maintain fire resilience.
(8) The review carried out under section (7) must assess the impact of the level of cover on—
(a) fire related fatalities;
(b) non-fatal fire related casualties;
(c) the number of dwelling fires and other fires;
(d) the number of incidents responded to, and
(e) the strength and speed of response to incidents.”
This amendment would require the Home Secretary to conduct a review on the level of funding the FRS requires in order to secure public safety before she may make allows police and crime commissioner to be a fire and rescue authority.
Amendment 6, page 157, line 33, at end insert—
‘(4) An order under section 4A, whether modified or not by the Secretary of State, may only be made with either: consent of all of the relevant local authorities and relevant fire and rescue authority, or a majority vote by local people through referendum.”
This amendment would ensure that a PCC can only take over a Fire and Rescue Service with the approval of local people or their local representatives.
I am delighted to see you in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker.
We oppose the Government’s proposals to allow police and crime commissioners to take over fire and rescue services, and amendments 3, 4 and 5 would delete the provisions in the Bill that would enable them to do so. We have also tabled amendments to mitigate the risks if the Government’s proposals are enacted.
Amendment 6 would ensure that a PCC could take over a fire and rescue service only with local support expressed either by elected councillors, with the unanimous agreement of all the local authorities affected, or directly through a referendum. Amendment 20 would require the Home Secretary to review the level of funding the fire service needed to secure public safety. New clause 20 would give fire services in England a statutory responsibility to deal with flooding. The Minister said in Committee that he was minded to consider that particular provision. He has not jumped to his feet to say he wants to take it as a Government new clause, but I live in hope.
When the Minister responds, I hope he will set out what benefits he believes PCCs will bring to the fire and rescue service. What skills and expertise do they have that our fire and rescue authorities do not? How will they help the fire service to cope with the new challenges it faces when dealing with major incidents such as flooding and terrorist attacks? What indication is there that the governance of the fire service is broken or substandard and needs replacing? The Government have not even begun to answer these questions or to make a case for the reforms.
Does the hon. Lady agree that the reason that the governance of the fire service needs to be changed is that very few of our constituents would know the name of every person on the local authority fire panel? Given her involvement with the Bill, could she herself name every person on her local authority fire panel?
My fire service is provided through the Greater London Authority, and I know that should I want to talk to anybody about London’s fire service, I could talk to those elected GLA Members—and I do know their names—or to the Mayor. When people in my local authority want to have an impact on a local service, they tend to approach their local councillors, which I think is not a bad route, but the reforms would change that. People would not be able to go to their town hall to talk about services that have an impact on them. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (James Berry) heckles me gently in a low voice and says, “They would be elected.” I know that Newham might be unusual but its councillors are elected too, and certainly the councillors at the GLA are elected.
I say gently to the hon. Gentleman that the turnout last time for PCC elections was dismal. I hope it will be significantly better this time, but when I was on the doorsteps last year, in parts of the country other than my own little patch in London I did not find that people knew who their PCC was. I say gently to him that our constituents do not know that when they go to the polls next week they will be electing a PCC who might be taking over their fire service. The Bill will not have been enacted by then.
I think that the timing and, as I will explain, the way we have done this has been wrong. The consultation preceding the Bill did not seek the views of experts and specialists on the substance of the proposals. It set out how a PCC could assume control of a fire and rescue service and then asked consultees what they thought of the process. It did not ask them what they thought of the proposals themselves, and it did not ask whether the proposals would increase public safety or lead to better governance.
It is not in the impact assessment—that very thin impact assessment, which I am sure that the Members who sat on the Bill Committee will have read—but the Knight review of the future of the fire service recommended that PCC takeovers be attempted only if a rigorous pilot could identify tangible and “clearly set out benefits”. The Government chose to ignore this key recommendation and are instead proceeding before any evidence has been gathered about the likely benefits, costs and threats to the plan. It is utterly reckless. The impact assessment is threadbare. The only rationale offered for this intervention is the Government’s belief that there needs to be greater collaboration between emergency services. No one thinks otherwise, but the Government have not provided any justification of why it is more likely to occur under PCCs or any analysis of the current barriers to collaboration. It is policy without evidence or clear rationale.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is really good collaboration now between all parts of our public services—between fire and police, fire and ambulance, and fire, ambulance and police—and I understand the Government’s wanting to move that agenda further and encourage more collaboration, but this bit of the Bill does not do it. As I will explain, I believe it will in fact deter some boundary and border merges, which would be a massive problem.
The Government’s cavalier approach to this public service upheaval is completely indefensible, given the significant risks that the proposals represent to the fire and rescue service. PCCs are still a nascent institution. The Home Affairs Select Committee has said:
“It is too early to say whether the introduction of police and crime commissioners has been a success.”
We do not know whether they have succeeded in their core duties, so why are the Government proposing to expand their portfolios by giving them control of the fire service too? I think the Government want to bolster the powers and budgets of PCCs to help them through their difficult inception and that the proposals are a step towards PCCs becoming mini mayors. A vital public service, such as fire, should not be pawned off to save struggling Whitehall inventions or to overturn a public vote against the creation of a mayor. Unlike mayors in combined authorities, the PCCs will be completely free from the democratic scrutiny provided by local government, and the creation of the extended office will not have been approved by local people.
The most serious risk, however, is that fire, with its much smaller budgets and less media attention than policing, will become an unloved, secondary concern of its new management—a Cinderella service. I have raised this point repeatedly with the Minister in Committee and in other debates, but he has not indicated what he might do to mitigate the risk. I am not the only one who thinks this: Peter Murphy, the director of public policy research at Nottingham Business School, has argued that if the fire service were to slip into the status of a Cinderella service, it would only repeat what happened the last time fire had to share an agenda with policing. I will quote him in full, because it gets to the heart of the matter:
“If the proposals ore implemented, there is a very strong chance that the fire and rescue services would go back to the ‘benign neglect’ that characterised the service from 1974 to 2001 when the Home Office was last responsible for fire services. Police, civil disobedience, immigration and criminal justice dominated the Home Office agenda, as well as its time and resources. If the fire service becomes the lesser partner in a merged service, the long-term implications will include smaller fire crews with fewer appliances and older equipment arriving at incidents. Prevention and protection work, already significantly falling”—
he is so right about that—
“will result in fewer school visits and fire alarm checks for the elderly”.
What a chilling vision for the future of our fire service!
My hon. Friend is making some excellent points. Does she agree that this proposal, combined with the 17% cut that we have already seen in the service across the country, could lead to a risky situation, particularly for many vulnerable households?
I listened carefully to the quotations, and I would be chilled if any part of what was said were factually true. If there were an attempt to combine the emergency services, fire and police, we would have moved to one funding stream. I categorically ruled that out, so this sort of scaremongering—not from the shadow Minister but from others—is flawed. There is a separate funding stream in the precept for the police. The only bit that is going to be amalgamated, should the PCCs be like the Metro Mayors in this respect, would relate to the back office and the administrative side.
But should a PCC take over the fire service, we would have a person in charge whose main attention was on policing and all that policing involved. The media focus much more on policing than they do on the fire service. The fire service will be secondary. Although the Minister rightly says—I do not doubt him—that the two funding streams will be different, I do not know how long that will last, and in truth, neither does he, because things move on. We had police and crime commissioners under the last Government; this Government are now proposing police, crime and fire commissioners. What will happen in a couple of years’ time? I do not know. There might be accounting efficiencies in order to save costs, and the budgets might well be merged. I do not think that these proposals make any sense.
A further risk is that these proposals will make mergers of fire services more difficult, which would be a real setback, as inter-fire mergers increase resilience and achieve significant savings. The 2007 merger of the Devon and Somerset fire services was supposed to deliver £3 million of savings in the first five years. It actually bettered that target by £600,000.
The Minister will know that Martyn Underhill, the Independent PCC for Dorset—I am trying to keep this politically neutral—has said that he has no interest in running the fire service. Why? It is because Dorset and Wiltshire fire service has undergone a merger that proposes to bring significant savings and increase the resilience in that area. He does not want to interfere with the process, and he is really wary about his office having responsibility for Wiltshire. I admire this decision, made by Commissioner Underhill, but how many potential mergers of fire services will not even be considered as a result of PCC takeovers and the need for coterminosity? I remind the Minister that until a few months ago, this Government trumpeted mergers as a key to the future of the fire service; yet they are now, sadly, going to slip off the agenda.
I know that the Minister has little sympathy with the particular argument I am about to make, but I am a brave soul. A large proportion of the work carried out by the fire service is preventive. There is a danger that these proposals will make this preventive work a little more difficult. It is a humanitarian service. We need to be honest: the police service is not a humanitarian service. The two services are seen differently by some communities, and these proposals could make the fire service’s preventive work more difficult.
There are some people who would not welcome a policeman into their home without a warrant. Police officers turning up at the door can be a scary experience. Firefighters go into people’s homes and work spaces, and check that smoke alarms and electrical appliances are safe. They fit sprinklers and even look for worrying signs that might concern other services, such as the NHS and council care services. This preventive work is not an add-on to the fire service’s work; it is at the core of what it does—keeping people safe, so that they do not have to be rescued further down the line.
I do not quite understand—perhaps I do, but I do not think it is fair—why the shadow Minister is conflating operational work that the police do with operational work that the fire service does. Of course, a lot of work is done together, particularly at road traffic collisions, but there is nothing in the Bill that would conflate the two in the way that the shadow Minister suggests.
First, they will not be equal partners, because we are talking about a big service and a small service. Secondly, in the minds of some of our communities, the police and the fire service will become one and the same. They will have one boss, and there will be an anxiety that someone coming through the door to fix a smoke alarm might have a different agenda.
In London, the service is run by a Mayor and elected councillors. It is not run by an individual whose other job is to be the police commissioner. I think there is a difference, and I believe that our communities will think there is a difference. We cannot prescribe how people think and what they worry about, but this concern has been raised with me.
Does the hon. Lady not accept that her comments could be interpreted by the police as quite insulting? They do a lot of preventive and humanitarian work. As she knows, the hon. Lady’s submission comes right out of the Fire Brigades Union’s consultation document, which I also thought was quite insulting to the great work that our police officers do in the very areas that she highlighted.
The police I meet on my doorsteps and streets are dead pragmatic souls. They understand the sensitivities that some communities have: they treat some of my refugee communities with extraordinary sensitivity to overcome the natural barrier that is there. What I am saying to the hon. Gentleman is that there is a natural barrier. That is no slur on our police force; our police force are an enforcement agency, and not really a humanitarian service. The police are there to implement the law. Let us move on.
The Minister is not passing over a service that does not have some difficulties. The fire and rescue service has been subject to a cumulative cash cut of £236 million or 12.5% since 2010—and, of course, there is more to come. [Interruption.] Is the Government Whip trying to engage me? Does he want to intervene? It seems not. I just thought I would give him a chance.
I believe that what one of my colleagues was trying to say from a sedentary position is that we should not wash over the debacle and the huge costs of the regional fire control centres that the previous Labour Administration forced on the fire service. [Interruption.]
Is that right? When I was a Whip, I was taught that I should be seen and not heard. I am sure that the hon. Member for North East Cambridgeshire (Stephen Barclay) did not want to intervene on me at all. The issue of regional fire control centres has been well thrashed out in this Chamber. There were a myriad reasons why they did not work, and I accept that they did not.
Let us return to what the Government have been doing. Here we are in 2016, and it feels as though they have been here forever. The fire and rescue service has been subject to a cumulative cash cut of £236 million, or 12.5%, since 2010, and, of course, there is more to come. We know from the local government funding settlement that fire and rescue services are expected to cut spending by a further £135 million by the end of the Parliament. A stretched service will be squeezed even further.
As a result of these cuts, 7,600 firefighters have already been lost, and the Government have repeatedly ignored warnings that the cuts may be putting services at risk. Their proposals will not protect a single firefighter’s job, or put a single firefighter back in service. I have been told by fire chiefs that their services will “not be viable” under the Government’s proposed spending plans, and I am sure that they have told the Minister exactly the same thing.
The National Audit Office has calculated that there was a 30% reduction in the amount of time spent on home fire checks and audits over the last Parliament. That is a huge reduction. The NAO has said that the Government have “no idea” of the impact of that on public safety. It has also said that, as the Government refuse to model the risk of cuts, they may only know that a service has been cut too long after the fact—that is, after public safety and the lives of the public have been put at risk.
I was not surprised, although I was dismayed, by the latest English fire statistics, which cover the period between April and September 2015. They show that there were 139 fire-related fatalities during that time, 31 more than occurred during the same period in 2014. There were 1,685 non-fatal fire casualties that resulted in hospital treatment, a 10% increase on 2014. Fire and rescue services attended about 93,200 fires, 7% more than in 2014.
The Government have cut the fire service, cut firefighters, and overseen a massive reduction in the amount of preventive work undertaken. I know that we are talking about a spike over just a couple of quarters, but there are statistical signs that the service may be feeling the awful effects of the cuts that have been made. So what do the Government do? Do they stop the cuts while they undertake a proper risk assessment? Do they begin to develop minimum standards for the number of stations and firefighters, and for preventive work? No. The Government want to pass on the responsibility to police and crime commissioners, who have had to deal with similar cuts in police budgets, and who have lost 12,000 front-line police officers. They are not even assessing the level of funding that PCCs would need to maintain resilience and keep the public safe.
This is a good line. By passing the buck without the bucks, the Government could be asking PCCs, who will be new to the fire service and its complexity, to undertake further potentially dangerous cuts. The PCCs will not know what the risks are, because the Government refuse to model them. That is why we tabled amendment 20, which would require the Home Secretary to carry out an assessment of the level of funding that fire services need to keep the public safe.
Our fire and rescue authorities are trusted experts on the fire service. The councillors who serve on them often have years of experience, and have gained a genuinely deep knowledge and judgment from overseeing the strategic direction of fire services in their areas. Given the trust and respect that local fire authorities have, allowing PCCs to take over a fire and rescue service without their support poses the clear risk that employees, and the public, will perceive newly empowered PCCs as an unwelcome central imposition. Our amendment 6 would ensure that a PCC who does take over a fire and rescue service can do so only with the approval of the locally elected representatives on the relevant councils, or, alternatively, of local people through a referendum.
The Government are presenting their “reforms” as part of a “localist” agenda, but what sort of localism allows the Secretary of State to impose her will against local objections? I guess it is the same sort of localism that is driving the forced academisation of schools. It is a localism that portrays an utter distrust of, and contempt for, local government and elected councillors. If the Government do not trust local authorities—and it seems clear that they do not—perhaps they will be pleased that our amendment allows the decision to go directly to the people via a referendum. I presume that they do trust the electorate.
The hon. Lady has raised the interesting issue of a local referendum. I wonder whether she can tell the House—so that we can consider her amendment properly—what the cost of such a referendum would be for each fire and rescue authority, and also who would pay. She has expressed concern about the removal of budgets from fire and rescue authorities. Perhaps if they were the ones who paid, more firefighters would be removed from the front line.
The referendum would take place on the same day as any local council election. We would not want an election to be prohibited by costs. As for where the costs should lie, I think that they should lie with the Government, because, after all, it is they who have proposed these changes. If the hon. Gentleman wants someone else to pay, perhaps it should be the Government’s arm, the PCCs. As he has rightly pointed out, their budgets are larger than those of any fire authority.
One of the joys of being in opposition is that we have to do our own work ourselves; we do not have a phalanx of willing employees to do it for us. Once the House had passed the amendment, I would need to rely on the Government and their civil servants to help us to work out the cost. If the cost became prohibitive, I could suggest that the Government drop this silly idea altogether, and save loads of money.
I have sat patiently while, on a number of occasions, the hon. Lady has referred to elected councillors being elected to fire authorities. Can she clarify, for the edification of the House and the public, that no elected councillors are elected to the fire authority in London—which covers her constituency—or, indeed, to the vast majority of fire authorities in the country?
I wonder what kind of interaction Conservative Members have with their local councillors, but I can only imagine that it ain’t good, because every time I raise this issue, anxiety is expressed about the genuine nature of locally elected members.
I can only say that I have a much better relationship not only with Newham councillors, but with GLA councillors. They are elected. They face the electorate. They are elected to a body which then places them on another body that is responsible for fire, just as they are given responsibilities for social services, education, leisure services, and so forth. It is the same process. I support democracy and I support my democratically elected councillors, who are doing a jolly good job in very difficult times to keep services going. Conservative Members should not denigrate their local councillors quite so much.
I assume that this is entirely my mistake; I probably did not make my question clear enough, and I take full responsibility for that. I will have another crack at this. Can the hon. Lady name any local councillor or London Assembly member who has been elected by the people of Newham to sit on the fire authority?
In London, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the people of Newham elect a GLA councillor and the GLA councillors then determine which parts of the work they will undertake for the GLA. I do not see that that is a problem. The same thing happens in Newham. When we elect 60 Labour councillors—and zero councillors from any other party—we then give them jobs looking after social services, education, recreation and so on. I can tell the hon. Gentleman the name of the councillor who has the fire remit in my council. He is Councillor Bryan Collier and he is a wonderful bloke. He has been doing the job for decades and he has lots of knowledge.
Speaking as someone who was a councillor until this time last month, I bow to no one in my appreciation of the importance of local government. However, the shadow Minister demonstrates a strange understanding of democracy given that she seems to prefer the patronage of local council group leaders to the direct mandate involved in being elected on to a body by voters.
I am bemused by the contempt that Conservative Members are showing for local councils. I hope for the hon. Gentleman’s own sake that he does not have a Tory-led local authority waiting for him when he goes back home on Thursday. Frankly, if I were a member of his council, I would be sitting on his doorstep waiting to have a word, because that is really not on. [Interruption.] Oh, really? That is such a shock! The chuntering from the Government Back Benches is outrageous. I don’t even know where I got to in my speech.
If the Government do not trust local authorities—and it seems clear that they do not—perhaps they will be pleased to accept our amendment, which would allow the decision on whether to place PCCs in control of fire services to go directly to the electorate. The Government’s reforms are fundamentally about the transfer of power from the collective democratic representation of local councils to a single individual, and the creation of mini mayors across England. The Minister knows this to be true, and he knows there is no democratic mandate for it—none at all. If he accepted our amendments, he could right that wrong and ensure that each local community could decide for itself what was in the best interests of its fire and rescue service. That would be a real localism agenda.
New clause 20 would give fire services in England a statutory responsibility to deal with flooding, as is already the case for their Scottish and Northern Irish counterparts. In December, much of the north of England was devastated by flooding. Many homes were flooded, bridges connecting communities were washed away, major roads were blocked and, in Lancaster, a sub-station was flooded leaving tens of thousands of homes without power. In December alone, firefighters responded to more than 1,400 flood incidents across the north-west, and on Boxing day, 1,000 people were rescued in Greater Manchester. The work of our firefighters was brilliant during those difficult days. I am sure that Members on both sides of the House would agree on that, if on nothing else.
However, fire services have expressed concern that they were not properly equipped to deal with that situation and that they lacked basic kit such as boats and dry suits. Frankly, that is not good enough. I believe that this stems from the fact that it is unclear who holds the primary responsibility for responding to floods.
When flooding is not formally the responsibility of any service, it will not be given the priority it deserves in budgeting and planning. If we are going to continue to ask fire services to deal with major incidents such as flooding, we should say so in this place so that proper provision can be made and they can prepare comprehensively for incidents. Stories of volunteers and the Army mucking in might be heart-warming, but that is simply no substitute for a properly organised and funded rescue service.
Before I finish, I would like to touch on the issue of privatisation. The Minister gave us categorical assurances that there would be no changes or movement in that regard, and that is why we have tabled no amendments on privatisation. I am going to hold the Minister to his word, but I am sure that those in the other place will want to do a bit of digging to ensure that I am right and he is right, and that there can be no privatisation of our fire services under this legislation.
I would like to speak to amendment 2, which is in my name and those of several right hon. and hon. Members across the House. Part 1 of the Bill sets out the measures to encourage greater collaboration between emergency services, a topic that I have spoken about several times in the House. Clauses 6 and 7 will give police and crime commissioners the opportunity to extend their responsibilities to include fire and rescue services. I have been calling for that extension for some time now, and I secured a Westminster Hall debate on the topic last year. As I said on Second Reading, I welcome the inclusion of those clauses in the Bill.
The introduction of police and crime commissioners in 2012 created greater transparency and democratic accountability in policing, with PCCs replacing unelected and unaccountable police authorities. Extending the responsibilities of PCCs to include fire and rescue authorities will mirror those benefits. As we have been hearing, fire and rescue authorities are made up of elected councillors, but they are not directly accountable to the public for those specific roles, as they are appointed to those positions. As I have said before, that is very different from, and should not be confused with, democratic accountability.
The introduction of directly elected PCCs means that the public can scrutinise their performance, precept and priorities, and exercise their approval—or, indeed, disapproval—at the ballot box. The public will get their chance to decide on the performance of the first tranche of PCCs in a couple of weeks’ time, on 5 May. It is absolutely right that the guardianship of the fire and rescue services should also be directly accountable to the public, and given the synergies between the two services, it is logical that PCCs should take on that responsibility, too.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, far from overlooking the attributes of our firefighters, it would be an advantage to local communities if highly trusted, experienced firefighters were given the opportunity to extend their preventive remit to areas such as crime prevention advice as well as fire prevention advice?
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. This is about collaboration, and prevention extends across our emergency services.
Amendment 2 is designed to provide the public with greater clarification on the role of the police and crime commissioner. If a PCC does take on the responsibility for fire and rescue services, it is important that the public are clear that the individual is responsible for both the police service and the fire and rescue service. I have called for the title change in the House before, and it will help to address some concerns raised on Second Reading, in Committee and earlier that the change represents a police takeover.
The services will remain operationally distinct under the legislation and the precepts will be distinct, too. To be clear, there is no suggestion that police officers will be fighting fires or that firefighters will be arresting criminals. The legislation simply reforms the governance of the two services and ensures that one democratically accountable individual has responsibility for them both. Although the Bill is designed to be flexible and does not mandate PCCs to take on responsibility for fire and rescue services, which will happen only when a case is made locally, there is a need to ensure that the new title is nationally recognised. That is why amendment 2 would give the Secretary of State the power to make the title change in secondary legislation at some future point.
The danger of leaving the decision in the hands of the PCCs who have taken on extended responsibilities is that we could find a patchwork of different titles being used across the country, which would create real confusion for the public at future elections. To continue to increase the profile of these nationwide roles and the elections, we need to ensure clarity in the title. The amendment does not state what the title should be, leaving that decision in the hands of the Secretary of State. Many different titles could be used—I have mentioned several in previous debates—but I am sure that the Secretary of State would want to consult to ensure that the title is appropriate, clear and not misleading in any way. That would also give various organisations and individuals the opportunity to make their representations.
The amendment is meant to be probing and might not be made to the Bill at this stage, but when the Minister comes to the Dispatch Box, it would be helpful if he could provide clarity about the discussions he has had with the Department regarding the title change and about his views and intentions as the Bill continues to progress through the House.
I rise to support new clause 20 in particular. I declare an interest as chair of the Fire Brigades Union parliamentary group. Giving fire and rescue services a statutory responsibility for leading the emergency services in response to flooding is something on which we have had meeting after meeting over the years with Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Ministers, who have all said that they supported it, and with Ministers from different Departments. It goes so far, but then it stops. There is clearly a Treasury argument here somewhere, but I feel strongly about the matter. There has been an increase in floods over recent years, and we have seen how our fire and rescue services have responded. What is happening seems wrong when we rely on them.
Let us look at the data from last year. Thirty-four fire and rescue services provided assistance in the worst-affected areas. Data collected by the FBU, which does a good job in getting it, from individual fire and rescue services found that firefighters responded to at least 1,400 flood incidents across north-west England and 450 incidents in Yorkshire. As we saw on our television screens, with politicians lining up to thank them and say how brave they had been and how wonderful they were, firefighters rescued people from a wide range of hazardous situations, evacuating people in advance of coming floods and making various other emergency interventions. It seems strange that we give our firefighters great praise for doing something that we and local people automatically expect them to do, yet we do not make their leading of the emergency services a statutory responsibility. I can only assume that the Government do not want to spend what might be some extra resources on ensuring that firemen and firewomen and all the rescue services are properly equipped.
We have seen terrible examples of when firemen and women have not had the right safety or protective equipment and have had to do things without the correct clothing, with things running out in some areas. They still did those things, but that is wrong and I genuinely do not understand the situation. I am sure that the Minister supported the proposal at one time. Many Ministers have supported it, but when they get into a position in which they actually have to make the decision or are allowed to get involved in it, they seem to change their mind. I hope the Minister will respond to that and that we will get the opportunity to support the change in a vote today.
I now turn briefly to the other issues. I share the position of the shadow Front-Bench team on police and crime commissioners. There is no public appetite for change. Wherever I have been around the country, no one has been clamouring for reform of how we govern our fire services or for any responsibility to be transferred to PCCs. I have not heard any evidence today—we may hear it from the Minister, but I doubt it—that there is a problem with the current governance arrangements. No one has convinced me that the change would deliver an emergency service that is more economic, efficient and effective or would help to improve public safety. We all want co-ordination, and I welcome that co-operation and co-ordination have gone further in some parts of the country than in others. As my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) said from the Front Bench, we want to see more of that, but we do not need to bring it in this top-down, totally anti-democratic way.
I am not at all ashamed to say that I believe that firefighters and police officers perform different roles. That does not mean that we do not value equally the roles of both, but they perform different roles and have different remits. A police officer is seen as a legal person and someone who is there to uphold the law. A fireman or firewoman, or anyone involved in the rescue services, is seen very differently. Having a single employer will begin to confuse that in the public mind. The preventive work that firefighters do and the way that they are trusted, implicitly and completely, by the public could well be jeopardised if the changes go through.
The Bill and this change would do nothing at all to invest in fire and rescue services’ resources. I have already mentioned the work that goes into responding to large-scale flooding incidents and providing emergency medical response. The Government should focus on putting extra resources into initiatives that will actually lead to the changes and to co-ordination.
I am sure that my hon. Friend would agree that this is frankly more about saving money than improving the service. She probably noticed that the burden has been shifted on to local authorities, with the 2% increase. Eventually, the entire burden for fire and police will be shifted on to local authorities. Then we will have a situation of profligate spending—we have been here before—and local authorities will get capped.
Absolutely; there is no doubt this is a cost-cutting exercise. I accept that these days everybody has to have constraints on the public purse, as far as is possible, but there are ways of doing that and this bureaucratic way seems to have been brought in by people who have had the idea for a long time and now have seen an opportunity to push it forward. The Government should not be pursuing these almost ideological ways of trying to save money. They should be looking at ways of improving our emergency services and ensuring that they co-ordinate well together. It would be wrong to transfer this responsibility to a PCC. We have a valuable, popular fire service that has the confidence of the public, and we should be very wary of making those changes, which I think will have a really detrimental effect on not only how the public see the service, but on its effectiveness out there in the country. I hope we will be able to make some changes to this proposal and that when Members get the opportunity they will vote to put a stop to something that is very wrong indeed.
I am obliged to you for calling me, Madam Deputy Speaker, although I apologise if I leapt to my feet rather more quickly than colleagues had anticipated. I am keen to speak in this debate, having served on the Bill Committee and, for a number of years, as chair of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority. I feel that I speak with a fair degree of authority on the implications of different governance models, because the LFEPA had to go through the process of making substantial changes to the London fire brigade and I saw at first hand the widespread misunderstanding of the governance arrangements, both of the London fire brigade, through the London fire authority and to the Mayor, and more widely and nationally.
I like clarity; it is a cornerstone of democracy that people can follow the golden thread from the decisions they make at the ballot box, through to the people who make the decisions about the provision of their public services and, ultimately, on to the delivery of those services. This is important, because when things go right in the delivery of those services, people should know who to reward at the ballot box. Perhaps more importantly, if things do not go well, voters should know who they can punish at the ballot box. That is a cornerstone of the democratic model, to which I am sure we all subscribe.
Previously, when we had police authorities, there was a break in that golden thread, because people did not know who ran their police force. They were probably aware of where the police headquarters were, although I am being generous when I say that. I suspect that in many parts of the country people might have had a vague idea that the police headquarters would be in the big town—the county town. People in my constituency are aware that the police headquarters were in Chelmsford, but I would be surprised if many were able to name their chief constable and absolutely amazed if any were able to name the local councillors who sat on the police authority.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman, in that my mailbox is full of matters such as housing. However, the mail on policing and fire is more about anxiety at the level of cuts since 2010. I would like a reassurance that all this meddling on governance is not going to lead to further service reductions in terms of our crucial bobbies on the beat, firefighters who turn up on time and all the rest of the expectations that the community rightly has of our emergency services.
I wish to bring my hon. Friend back to his point about how people may know the name of their chief constable but would not know who was on their former police authority. Does he agree that one real benefit of a PCC is that people will know not only the name of their chief constable, but also of their PCC? In addition, they will be involved in setting the priorities for policing in their own area. In the forthcoming PCC elections in Lancashire, one of our top priorities, which we are out there campaigning on—with success, we hope—is tackling rural crime, which is hugely important to the towns and villages around Rossendale and Darwen. The PCC election has given us the opportunity to say, “Tackle cybercrime and speeding, but also prioritise rural crime” and, thus, get people really involved with their own policing.
My hon. Friend raises an important point, which goes to the heart of the fundamental change in the relationship between people in the local community and the police force that represents it. It gives those people an opportunity periodically—once every four years, or indeed sooner—to hold PCCs to account. We have seen an example of where the priorities and the actions of a PCC have fallen below the level of legitimate expectation. That person was then forced to stand down and a PCC by-election took place, which really focused the minds of the people in South Yorkshire about what the role of their PCC should be. That requirement for PCCs to hold themselves to account before the electors goes to the heart of the success of the PCC model, and it is important to expand that success to the fire and rescue service.
The hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) spoke about cuts, but Cheshire’s PCC has been very successful at putting more officers on to the frontline. He is collaborating with his local fire and rescue service, and there will be co-location in the police headquarters in Winsford. That is an example of where co-operation is delivering more for less very effectively, and in a way that is protecting people in Cheshire, particularly in my constituency.
I thank my hon. Friend for making that point, which reinforces one of my beliefs. We hear a lot of talk in this Chamber about what people want, but all the evidence I have received, including from the extensive research carried out during the changes we made to the London fire brigade in my former role as the chair of the LFEPA, shows that what people really want is certainty. That goes to a point Opposition Members have made about people having quality public provision when they need it, where they need it. We should subordinate structures to the delivery of that agenda. I also believe that the changes proposed by the Government go a long way towards protecting those structures.
Does my hon. Friend share my incredulity at the Labour party’s talk about cuts, given that, if I am not mistaken, it was the shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), who went on the record calling for 10% cuts in the police budget? Perhaps my hon. Friend will reflect on that for a moment—
My view is that we judge people by what they say. I know that there will be indignation from Labour Members, but as we have seen when the Labour party was in government the quality of the delivery of public services is not always totally interwoven with the budgets allocated to them. Indeed, there are massive opportunities to get more for less, and surely that should be the acme of performance.
May I say to the hon. Member for Solihull (Julian Knight), who has just taken his place in this Chamber, that, frankly, this has been a better debate than that? His unreasonable slur on the Opposition is about our stance on the police services rather than on the fire services. It would be really good if he read the Whips’ report more carefully before he intervenes next time.
May I say to the hon. Member for Braintree (James Cleverly), to whom I have been listening, that his points are interesting and have some validity, but London is rather different from areas outside London? Over decades, London has got used to having a single seat of government—even though there was an interregnum when the Greater London Council was disbanded. The reality is that when our constituents do not know where to go to complain about a service or to bring up an issue, they end up at the door of our town halls. It does not matter whether we are talking about Newham or Newcastle, that is where they go.
London’s exceptionalism is often held up as the reason why things that happen in London cannot possibly happen elsewhere. I have to say that, having served in office both in London and in Essex, I do not subscribe to that view. There are many things that national Government can learn from what a Conservative administration has done in London. I will go even further and say that London could learn plenty of things from other parts of the country, including from my wonderful county of Essex.
The hon. Gentleman is making some interesting arguments, but the problem that we have in the west midlands—if we leave the Mayor and his authority to one side—is the frequency of change in the local superintendents. They change and the public do not really get to know them. In the past, before the Layfield report and the major reorganisations of the 1970s, people were able to identify who was in charge of the local police force and knew exactly who to go to. That is the problem that we have in the west midlands.
That is a fair point. I have had a number of people talk to me about the speed with which police officers move through posts, so I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman.
Let me drag myself kicking and screaming back to the point that I was trying to make, because I have inadvertently found myself speaking more about policing than about fire and rescue services. I think it is legitimate, because what we have seen in London is a very clear line of accountability. Londoners may not be able to identify their nearest—I do not use the word “local” here—fire authority member. The hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) mentioned the local councillor on Newham council who has responsibility for fire and safety, but that councillor does not sit on the London fire authority. In fact, the reason I asked her specific questions is that I know who sits on the London fire authority—I am probably one of the few people in this Chamber or elsewhere who does—and I know that no one from the London borough of Newham, either elected or appointed, is on that authority. When the people of Newham want to cast judgment on the delivery of fire services in that borough, the only person they can either reward or punish at the ballot box is the Mayor of London, who, we should remind ourselves, is also the police and crime commissioner for London.
I want to address the hon. Lady’s point about the fire service being starved of resources so that we can support what she feels is the higher-profile policing service. After the changes that the London fire authority made, the Mayor of London, who is the budget holder for both the police and fire authorities, made a commitment to protect the London fire budget irrespective of the budgetary award from central Government. He was able to do so, because he could flex his budgets over the two areas. Far from starving resources from fire and rescue to give to policing, he was able to protect fire and rescue by dipping into his broader budget. Therefore, I fundamentally disagree with this idea that a police and crime commissioner who has responsibility for both policing and fire services would automatically and obviously rob Peter to pay Paul. That view is reinforced by the fact—the Minister has stated this from the Dispatch Box on a number of occasions—that the budget lines are separate.
Before I conclude, I will touch on the concerns that were raised by the shadow Front-Bench team about the single employer model. There are many instances where the employer has very different types of employee in terms of public sector delivery. No one confuses civil servants at the Ministry of Defence with members of the Special Air Service. Ultimately, both are employed by the same organisation; there is no confusion in the minds of the public there. Indeed, in the fire and rescue service and the police force, we have both uniformed and non-uniformed members of staff. The police service has warranted officers, police community support officers and non-uniformed civilian staff, and they are all under the same employer and there is no public confusion about the different roles. The idea that, somehow, the British public are too dim-witted, or too slow on the uptake, to be able to tell the difference between a copper and a firefighter is an argument that is so bereft of power that it should be disregarded.
The British people deserve to know who to punish or to reward at the ballot box in relation to fire and rescue, because, like policing, it is a vital public service. I have no doubt that, next week, we will see a much greater engagement and turnout in the police and crime commissioner elections than we have seen previously because people now understand in more detail what they are voting for. They have seen where the police and crime commissioners have done well, as highlighted in Cheshire by my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach), and where they have done less well, and the PCCs will be held to account at the ballot box. When it comes to the delivery of fire and rescue provision, the British people deserve just as much a say as they do on policing, so I am happy to support the Government’s position, and I call on the House to reject the new clause put forward in the name of the shadow Minister.
Having spoken on Second Reading and served on the Bill Committee, it is a real pleasure to be here on Report. Initially, I want to address my comments to new clause 20, which was proposed by the Opposition. The aim of the new clause, which is to give fire and rescue services the lead in flooding, is good. However, I disagree with the new clause overall, and I will go on to say why I do not think it is necessary.
I was selected as the Conservative parliamentary candidate for Rossendale and Darwen in 2007. On 13 January 2017, it will be 10 years since I was selected—hopefully, there is a big celebration to come. In that period, the village of Irwell Vale in my constituency has, I think, flooded four times. The aptly named village of Waterfoot has flooded three times, and Whitewell Bottom has flooded twice. Like so many areas that have grown up because of the industrial revolution, the towns and villages of the Rossendale and Darwen valleys are built on the valley floor so that the manufacturers and industrialists of the day could take advantage of water power.
Like many other areas in the north-west of England, we have been subject to severe floods over the past 10 years, no more so than on Boxing day when we had what the Environment Agency called a once-in-75-years flood, having had a once-in-25-years flood a few years previously. Having been working closely with the residents of Irwell Vale who are still out of their homes four months on from the flood, I know the huge impact that flooding has and the huge family disruption it can cause.
One thing that was fantastic to see on Boxing day—the one ray of sunshine on what was a miserable day for so many—was the amazing response not just of our fire and rescue service but of our police force, and in areas of Lancashire such as the Ribble Valley and South Ribble the Army came out. Apparently, as the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is indicating from a sedentary position, the Army came out in Wyre too. Local people helped: people from all over my constituency volunteered to help with the clean-up. That is why I am not sure that placing a statutory duty on fire and rescue services always to take the lead in a flooding situation would work.
When I speak to members of the fire and rescue service in my constituency, it is clear that they do not need the Government to pass a law to tell them that they are responsible for flood recovery, flooding help and the prevention of loss of life. But knowing my own situation in Rossendale and Darwen, I could almost imagine a situation where the police would turn up first. Environment Agency officers, or in some cases the armed forces, might turn up first and feel unable to take immediate action because the fire service was not there to take the lead.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful case from personal experience. Does he agree that flexibility is crucial? That is what he is describing. Surely if someone has the skills and the wherewithal to tackle the situation and they are on the scene, they should be allowed to do so without fear of legal recourse.
My hon. Friend makes my point very clearly. People should try to prevent flooding or loss of life only when it is safe for them to do so and when they believe that they have the capacity to deal with the situation—for example, members of the armed forces or police officers, who are extremely brave, or the Environment Agency or the water board. The clause would put an unnecessary straitjacket on the response to floods in Lancashire. Although I support much of what it seeks to achieve, putting that in primary legislation is probably a step too far.
As an update, I can tell the House that the people of Rossendale are well served. We have the impending visit of the Minister with responsibility for floods, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who is coming to Irwell Vale on 13 May. I do not think he knows what is going to greet him. I will make sure that there is an angry mob to talk to him about the response of the Environment Agency, but no one should tell him that. I hope it can remain our secret. I hope that in future the Environment Agency may be in a position to take a lead in the Rossendale valley, looking at a full catchment solution.
There is no drought in Lancashire, but if the hon. Gentleman wants me to come to Coventry to do the rain dance, I am more than happy to do so if it is required.
Amendment 2, in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Amanda Milling), has been signed by right hon. and hon. Members across the House. Having been involved in the Bill since Second Reading, it is clear to me and probably to everyone who has spoken on the Bill or served on the Committee that the recognition accorded to police and crime commissioners is at an all-time high. We first went to the polls on a wet November evening in my constituency to elect a police and crime commissioner. When I went knocking on people’s doors saying, “This is an important national election. You must come out and vote”, I was met with blank faces. People did not know what the office had been created for and they did not understand what police and crime commissioners would do.
Everyone who heard the evidence session on the Bill, with some excellent contributions from police and crime commissioners all over the country, would say that that has now changed. I may fundamentally disagree with much of the evidence given by Vera Baird to the Committee, but I have heard of her. I listen to Radio 4 in the morning and I often hear her, usually beating up the Government. She is raising the profile of police and crime commissioners, as are police and crime commissioners across the country.
The general public like the idea of having one individual whom they can hold accountable for the performance of their local police service. The old police panel was remote. It was appointed and was therefore unaccountable. I compare that to the situation today with my local PCC. He has taken road shows all around Lancashire, going out there and talking to people about what they would like policing priorities to be over the next four years. I am slightly sceptical about his new-found fondness for going out and meeting the public. It seems like a last-ditch attempt to be re-elected. I hope that Andy Pratt, the Conservative candidate, who has 30 years’ service as a police officer, will win in Lancashire so that, like many other areas of the country, including Cheshire and Staffordshire, we can have our PCC all year round, not just every four years at elections.
If a member of the public has a problem, are they no longer allowed to go to the police chief? Do they have to go to the police and crime commissioner, or are there two centres? Can people write to the chief of police and say, “I’m really worried about this”, or are they expected to go to the police and crime commissioner?
There is nothing precluding people from writing to their local chief constable. As chief constables are primarily responsible for the operational work of their local police force, if the query related to an operational matter, I would recommend that people wrote to their chief constable. People like to raise matters with the police and crime commissioner as well, but that is one democratically accountable, known individual who can put pressure on the chief constable on their behalf. I am sure the chief constable would be happy to hear from someone living somewhere in Lancashire, but he might be quicker to reply to their letter if the police and crime commissioner had his foot on the chief constable’s throat about the issue—[Interruption.] Indeed, or the MP. Many people do come and see me.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. I have a couple of observations. First, I was not happy with the politicisation of the police force. It was wrong that we should have Labour or anyone else as PCCs. That worries me. Secondly, does my hon. Friend agree that there is potential for conflict between the PCC and the chief constable? In some cases the PCC is a former policeman, but PCCs may have no experience of the police, yet have the power to appoint and sack someone who may have 35 years’ experience. I am not happy with that, either.
On the politicisation of the police force, that may have been driven by low turn out. Even though the Labour party opposed the office of police and crime commissioner in its last manifesto, I note that it is standing a candidate in every division. At the last election there were many independent candidates standing as police and crime commissioners. At the evidence session of the Bill, we had the independent police and crime commissioner for north Wales, Mr Roddick, come to give evidence. He was excellent. If I lived in North Wales, I would probably vote for such an excellent individual with a fantastic vision for policing. If he were a Conservative, I would definitely vote for him. Many independents have been successful.
(Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman says that we need the highest possible turnout. Of course, historically turnout at police and crime commissioner elections has been low. Does he therefore share our surprise that the Home Office has committed to spend the grand total of £2,700 on advertising for this year’s PCC elections?
I have a lot of respect for the shadow Minister, but I think it is slightly disingenuous to say that the turnout was low, because it was the first ever such election, it was held in November and it was not coterminous with other elections. Given the interest in the local elections in all our constituencies, I think that the turnout will be slightly higher. With regard to the £2,700, I am surprised that the Home Office has spent so much. I do not think there should be any state funding for political parties or elections, so he will not find me lobbying the Home Office to spend more.
Let me return to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) about politicisation of the police. Support for our police and crime commissioners has grown, including for excellent independent police and crime commissioners. In Lancashire we have a police and crime commissioner who I think is very much at the beck and call of the chief constable. Although there needs to be a close working relationship between the two, I think that the police and crime commissioner often needs to be a critical friend, because he is not there to fight only for the interests of the police and police officers, as important as that is; he should be there to fight for, and put forward the voices of, people across Lancashire who want an improved policing service.
As I said in an intervention, one of the things I would like our police and crime commissioner to prioritise after the May elections, whoever he may be and whichever political party he may be from, is rural crime. That is driven not by Preston, Blackburn or Blackpool, the major conurbations in the county, but by villages such as Tockholes, Hoddlesden, Weir, Cowpe and Waterfoot in my constituency, where rural crime has a major impact on people’s lives. I hope that whoever wins the election is listening to this debate and will prioritise that. I think that can be the role of a police and crime commissioner: not to push the police’s agenda, but to push the people’s agenda in the area they represent.
Does my hon. Friend agree that that is absolutely the point of a police and crime commissioner: to represent the public? In doing so, they can look at things differently. For instance, the police and crime commissioner in Staffordshire has demonstrated innovation and is looking at ways in which the police can use technology to do the admin while out and about on our streets, rather than having to sit behind a desk.
I agree with my hon. Friend. Let me mention one of the best examples I know of a police and crime commissioner taking a different approach. I met the police and crime commissioner for Cumbria shortly after he was elected. He had previously been headmaster of a Lancashire school. He said, “Do you know that there is no rape crisis centre in Cumbria? That is absolutely disgraceful for a police area of this size.” He took some of his PCC budget that was meant to be spent on administration and set up a rape crisis centre. I think that shows just how police and crime commissioners who really care about their areas—it is nothing to do with politics—can make a huge different to policing. When he was elected he said, “This is one of the things that I am going to change, because it is a disgrace that Cumbria does not have one.” In fact, he changed that within 18 months of the election. As a result of such actions, the recognition and popularity of police and crime commissioners has grown, and I believe that the same will happen with police and fire commissioners.
We all have immense respect for police officers and fire officers, but we accept that they do very different jobs. The public often see them working together and co-operating—for example, at the scene of an accident—but the idea of those two separate services having a common leadership will take longer for the public to understand. That is why I believe amendment 2 is absolutely necessary to improve an otherwise excellent Bill.
Everyone will have their own idea about the name that the Secretary of State should give to a police and crime commissioner who takes on responsibility for fire, should this amendment be made—whether fire and crime, or policing and crime and fire—but we probably all agree that it is imperative that we preserve a nationally recognised brand for the office. One of the successes of the police and crime commissioners is that this time, second time around, it is a national election with a recognised office. It might not be discussed in the Dog and Duck in Erdington or in Rossendale and Darwen, but people will talk about PCCs and the work they do, especially as they take on new responsibilities. It is quite centrist to say, “The Secretary of State shall direct a PCC about what he or she may be called in future,” but I think that a nationally recognised label will reflect the national nature of the legislation.
I also note that the Secretary of State would have the power at some point in the future to come up with the name of a police and crime commissioner who had also taken on responsibility for fire. I hope that the Secretary of State and her officials would have a detailed consultation with the fire service to find out what would be an acceptable name, because I share the concern, which has been expressed across the House, about police services and fire services having a different nature. The fire service does not want to be brought into police work, and I am sure that the police do not want to be brought into the fire service. I think that they are needlessly nervous, but having a long consultation period with the fire service would give them comfort.
I think that our fire services probably perceive the Bill as bringing the biggest change and the biggest risk. I think that the change and the risk are minimal, but that is how they perceive it. As with all change, I think it is in fact the fear of change, rather than the change itself, that is concerning them. If the proposal is accepted, it is absolutely essential that the new name for a police and crime commissioner with the added responsibility of a fire commissioner keeps front and centre the operational independence of both our fire services and our police services. Nobody is suggesting that the day after the Bill receives Royal Assent a police officer will be sent out with a bucket and told to quench a fire, or that a fire officer would ever be expected to go out and feel the collar of a local criminal; they must retain their operational independence.
In short, I think that this proposal gives the Secretary of State the power to make a clear name change to ensure that at the next national elections people will understand that they are voting for a combined role of police and crime commissioner and fire commissioner. However, that title must cement in their minds the fact that although those roles have a combined leadership, they remain absolutely separate and their operational independence is protected under the Bill.
It is surprising what inspiration one can get when sitting in this place. I am delighted to speak to this group of amendments, and I do so in the very good hope that I can curry favour with my hon. Friends on the Front Bench and that they will give me everything I want when we come to discuss the next group of amendments. I therefore hope that they listen very carefully to what I have to say.
I think that this is an excellent clause, because it is enabling but not prescriptive. It enables fire and rescue authorities to be taken over by PCCs, but it does not compel them to be. That is where I take issue with the Opposition provisions. I have huge respect for fire and rescue authorities, which do a fantastic job. In my area of Gloucester, the authority is under the control of the county council, and—this is why I am pleased the clause is enabling not prescriptive—I would not want it to be transferred to the PCC, who is an independent and who is not doing a particularly good job. That is why the clause is excellent: it deals with everything on a case-by-case basis.
Having said that, I must mention my experience of having the Fire Service College in my constituency. The college provides major training for the fire service and does some amazing blue-light collaborative training involving the fire, police and ambulance services. As my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry) said, it is essential that those services work as collaboratively as possible in an emergency. The services in Gloucestershire are coterminous and relatively small, compared with some of the larger, urban authorities, and the chain of command works incredibly well, with each service knowing exactly what it is supposed to do in any given circumstances. It is essential, particularly with more sophisticated and frequent emergencies—whether flooding or, regrettably, things such as terrorism—that the blue-light services work closely together.
Training for such events could be improved. Resilience training for all three blue-light services, working together in emergencies, could be improved. If, God forbid, they are ever really tested in a big emergency—particularly one that takes place at multiple locations—they will need their training and collaboration to be of the highest order. That is where some of the mergers of fire and rescue authorities and PCCs could help.
Having said that, my area is looking at an ever-increasing fire and rescue service operating under the county council. It is not just operational efficiency that I am looking forward to from the Government’s proposals, but administrative efficiency. Let me give the example of Cirencester—the biggest town in my constituency. The fire station there was formerly operated by professional firefighters; it is now moving towards retained firefighters, and there will not be quite so many of them. The premises is vast, and it is maintained at public expense, but the police could usefully use it for their authority too.
We therefore begin to get the idea, which should be pushed more and more, that our precious public resources can be better utilised—in the case of property, if more than one public authority occupies it at once. However, that requires a different mindset from authorities. The police are used to having their police station, and the fire services are used to having their fire station, and hitherto, in some cases, the two have never felt it appropriate to mix. We can achieve significant efficiencies by merging the two, particularly when it comes to property.
I am sure my hon. Friend will agree that, when we go out and talk to our constituents, we see that they really care about the people out on the street and the frontline. We cannot measure a service by how many buildings it occupies in our town. Is my hon. Friend aware of the shared fire and rescue training and police training in Northern Ireland, which has saved tens of millions of pounds? That shows that, where co-operation is done right, and the police and the fire service maintain their independence, significant savings can be made.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because that gives me the opportunity yet again to praise what the Fire Service College is doing in Moreton-in-Marsh. It is a large establishment on about 600 acres. It is on an old airfield, and it includes a runway used as a practice motorway on which motorway pile-ups can be simulated using real scrapped cars, so that the police, fire and ambulance services can then train in a big joint exercise. The college has offices they set on fire, and the police, fire and ambulance services can use that to train. It also has a ship it can set on fire. It has all sorts of huge facilities.
In case my hon. Friend misunderstands, let me say that they do these quite sophisticated training exercises using a model ship, a model aircraft and an actual office block. This is a really good example of how collaborative training should be run. We should do much more of that, and we need much more of it to involve resilience, so that we can train people for the really sophisticated emergencies we face.
The Cotswolds have suffered considerably as a result of flooding in recent years. When we have had flooding, it has been distressing to see people taken out of their houses and sometimes evacuated, and to see their belongings completely wrecked. I must praise the emergency services hugely, because they are always there in the middle of the night and in the most difficult circumstances—often cold and wet—trying to deal with very demoralised and unhappy people.
We should act more collaboratively, but we should pay a great tribute to the emergency services, because they do a hugely good and dedicated job on behalf of all of us.
May I praise, as I did in Committee, the tone of the debate and the measured way in which it has been taken forward, even though we will obviously disagree on certain issues?
Thirty years ago, I wrote a paper on better collaboration between the emergency services, covering the ambulance, fire and police services. I was wrong, because it should have included the coastguard—as a former shipping Minister, I would say that, wouldn’t I?
Let me say at the outset that I have much sympathy with some aspects of the provisions that have been tabled today. We may be able to look at some of them again and to bring back proposals in the Lords. However, I fundamentally disagree with others, because they would rip the heart out of the Bill—I am looking at the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown), who knows exactly what I mean.
Let me also say that I am enormously proud to be the first police and fire Minister, and that role is perhaps an indication of how seriously the Government take some of the concerns the fire service and the shadow fire Minister have. I actually gave up huge swathes of my policing portfolio, including responsibility for the National Crime Agency and organised crime, to other Ministers, so that I could take on this portfolio. The work has taken up a huge amount of my time—that is not just because of this Bill—because I have been on an enormously steep learning curve from when I was a fireman all those years ago. The job has changed, although some of the semantics and language have not. Some things have changed enormously fast, but some have not changed as fast as we would perhaps all like.
Because we have a fantastic fire service, there has been a decrease of 17% in fire-related fatalities and of 50% in reported fires over the past 10 years. I am concerned about the correlation between those two figures, and I have asked my officials to look at that. As the shadow Minister said, there is an increase at the moment. We should not take one year as an example, and there may be, very sadly, some one-off events. I vividly remember, as roads Minister, going to the terrible fire on the M5 following a road traffic collision where many people survived the RTC, got out of their vehicles, and sadly lost their lives to fire.
Members of the fire service, the police and the ambulance service are amazing creatures. We often send them in one direction while we go in the other direction. The group of people who work in the fire service and in our other emergency services are a special breed. Many of them are ex-armed forces due to some of the training that we give in our armed forces. Sadly, not as many are coming through as there were in my time: I left the Army and went straight into Essex fire and rescue services. I applied to the Metropolitan police and the London fire service. I got accepted into both, but Essex offered me a flat. If the Met had offered me a flat, I probably would not be standing here now and would have retired a couple of years ago.
Friends of mine who are serving in the armed forces are finding it increasingly difficult to move into the police or the fire service. Could the Minister help in any way, because the training that the armed forces give to my friends is so important and should be utilised to make our police and fire services even better than they already are?
This issue has been very close to my heart for some time. For instance, we have a real issue coming down the line with a shortage of heavy goods vehicle drivers, and yet some 40% of the armed forces leave with an HGV licence, as I did.
Many fire services around the country have not been recruiting recently, although I understand that some have started to recruit now, but the police are most certainly recruiting. The Metropolitan police have brought in the right policy of making sure that people serving in the police force in London can represent their community, so they come from the community they live in. When the commissioner first proposed this and said that it was the right thing to do, I said, “Be very careful, because you would have excluded me from joining the Met. Although I grew up in Edmonton, you would have said that I’d been away for five years and so would not be allowed to join the police force.”
The rule has been changed, and, quite rightly, the police force in London will now allow someone to join even if they have been in the armed forces for some time. This is a very important area, especially as the police are now recruiting extensively. Only the other day, I took the passing out parade at Hendon, with over 200 officers. I think that in excess of 2,000 officers are coming through training in London imminently.
Perhaps because of my background in the military and in the fire service, I understand that neither organisation likes change. I listened to the arguments made earlier about why there was opposition to PCCs possibly taking control of the fire service in a managerial way, in the same way as they took over from the police authorities. It is almost an identical argument that says, “What experience do they have? Surely it’s better that we let the councillors who have sat on the committee for 20 years, with all that experience, do it.”
The introduction of PCCs was fundamentally opposed by Her Majesty’s Opposition—I understand why—who had it in their manifesto to abolish them. They did not win the election for many reasons, not least because people such as Vera Baird and Paddy Tipping are excellent PCCs in their parts of the world. Vera Baird has absolutely transformed victim support in her part of the world, as have many others. I know the candidates up there will say, “You shouldn’t name names”, but actually we should give praise where it is due. There have been good independents. I want Conservative PCCs to win in every single seat, but we have to be pragmatic, and if others are elected, then let us make sure that we can work together.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) touched on the concerns about whether PCCs have the necessary experience. Some PCCs do have lots of experience within the police force, but that is not necessarily relevant. When the Prime Minister appointed me as shipping Minister, I said, “You do realise, Prime Minister, that my constituency is the furthest away from the sea in the whole country?” He said, “Yes, but you should question whether the way things have always been done is the right way.”
I use the example of armed guards on ships. When I arrived at the Department for Transport, we were having massive problems with Somali pirates. I simply said, “Why hasn’t the Royal Navy been able to do that job with the Marines—no navy in the whole world is more capable—and so allow people to protect their property?” So we convinced other countries and the International Maritime Organisation that we should allow that. I did not look at that from the perspective of a shipping person; I looked at it as an outside individual who was trying to say, “Let these people have an opportunity to do that.” That idea had been looked at by people who were much more experienced than I was in shipping, and it had been rejected on more than one occasion because it was not possible. I came in from the outside and said that it was possible.
I am most grateful to the Minister for giving way. I think that he misunderstood me: I was not saying that a PCC should or should not be a police officer. Some are, and some are not. I was saying that I had concerns about the powers that they have to appoint and sack police officers, who may have had 25 or 30 years’ experience. I think that that role should be left to the Home Office and the Home Secretary.
I understand where my hon. Friend is coming from. That is a bit of a different issue, and not part of what we are talking about. There is a disciplinary process to go through, which is now, quite rightly, transparent as a result of other measures in the Bill.
Amendments 3 to 6, tabled by Her Majesty’s Opposition, would decimate the PCCs’ role. I know exactly why the shadow Minister has tabled them, because we had a very similar debate in Committee. The shadow Minister knows full well that I will not accept them, and if she presses them to a Division, we will attempt to vote them down.
In principle, we completely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Amanda Milling) on amendment 2. We need to do some work around it to ensure that it encapsulates titles other than the PCC, and we can work together on it before the Bill goes to the Lords, where we will introduce a Government amendment that will be very similar to amendment 2 but will be drafted in such a way as to make sure that no consequential issues arise.
If I had had the clearance today, I would have supported amendment 2, but there are issues on which I need to get clarification. We will introduce in the Lords basically what my hon. Friend is asking for, because it is important that the public understand exactly what they have got. Of course, the Bill will receive Royal Assent long after the elections. Some PCCs have, quite rightly, put in their manifestos now what they would like to see, but there is an issue about whether the title should include police, fire and rescue.
I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity to deal with a point that I raised about the clause. Will he confirm that, before the Secretary of State makes a direction under secondary legislation, as envisaged by the clause, there will be wide consultation? Will he confirm that the Government will consult widely with the fire and rescue service, in particular, given the concerns that it has raised about maintaining not only its operational independence, but an element of independence in the eyes of the public?
That is exactly what will be proposed. This is not one size fits all, and it will not be imposed, in that we would like an agreement locally. Clearly, that may not be possible in some parts of the country. Then it will be for the PCC to put a business case to the Home Secretary, and then we will go out to independent review when the consultation takes place. Fundamentally, we are not trying to interfere with operational firefighting and the operational police; this is more to do with dealing with administrative costs to save the moneys that we all know could be saved.
In Lancashire, for example, I met the chief constable and the PCC, and they told me that they were going to use some of the reserves to build a new police station in Blackpool. I said, “Fantastic news. I wondered what you were going to use the allocated reserves for. But you have had a conversation with the fire service as well, haven’t you? You cannot put a fire station into a police station, because the big red trucks do not fit in the foyer, but you most certainly can put a police station in a fire station.”
To come back to my specific point about the clause, my question is: if this or a similar clause comes forward in the Lords, will there be wide consultation, especially with the fire service, before the Secretary of State gives direction about the national title to be used by police and crime commissioners? I would be grateful if the Minister could answer that question.
It is vital that we get the title right and that there is a national title for those taking on those responsibilities. At the same time, there will be consultation not only with the FBU and the other unions and with the chief fire officers and their association, but with the chief constables and the Police Federation. The title will be with us for a long time. When I first joined the fire service—I think it was the fire service, not the fire and rescue service, at the time—I was, sadly, a fireman; I say that because in my time we did not have fire ladies. We were not called firefighters then. I think it is sad that that change did not happen many years earlier.
I want to touch on the issue of flooding. I was so impressed by our firefighters and ambulance crews, and by the local communities, volunteers, local authorities and police in areas where flooding took place. Flooding is becoming more and more a part of the fire and rescue service’s work. However, that is not new. There is a lovely place on the edge of Epping forest called Theydon Bois—it is in Essex, but quite close to east London, where the shadow Minister resides—where flash floods were a regular occurrence, and we used to go there. As a full-time firefighter, I regularly used to go there.
In Committee, I said that I would keep an open mind about the need to change the title to reflect areas of responsibility. In my opinion, this has nothing to do with money. Normally, I agree with nearly everything that the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) says, but on this occasion, I do not. Her constituency is only partially affected by the Bill, because the Mayor has now taken over direct responsibility for the fire service in London—that had been called for for some considerable time—so I am not surprised that PCCs are not at the forefront of conversations when she knocks on constituents’ doors in her part of the world.
There are real benefits to come from the collaboration that can take place. I am not saying that no collaboration is now taking place, but much more can be done. In particular, there is more work to do with ambulance services, especially with the triage units on blue light vehicles. I will soon have the honour and the privilege to go to America to pay my respects at the site of 9/11 in New York. No policing and fire Minister has yet done that, which I think is a sad indictment. One of the main reasons why I want to go to New York is to look at its firehouses, as they are called. Another reason is the fact that paramedics are carried in the back of fire appliances, which we need to consider very carefully in this country.
I have enormous sympathy with what my right hon. Friend is saying. It is absolutely clear that we need closer collaboration. However, in Gloucestershire we do not at the moment want the fire and rescue service to be put under the control of the PCC, so will he give us an assurance that it will not be forced to do so against its wishes?
I cannot do so because that is not part of the Bill. The Bill provides for agreements where they can be made. Where no agreement can be reached, as will happen in many areas, the PCC can make a business case to the Home Secretary, if the PCC decides to do so; frankly, if there is so much opposition in Gloucestershire, the PCC might see the writing on the wall and decide not to do so. The business case will then go out to independent review, and only then will the Home Secretary make a decision.
I am enormously keen not to make this a one-size-fits-all provision. However, there has to be a backstop provision in case no one can reach an agreement and no one can move forward. In a perfect world, we would not be in a situation where we had to make it a statutory requirement to collaborate, but, frankly, collaboration in some parts of the country is not of the standard we would expect in the 21st century. We therefore need measures to take forward such collaboration.
Finally, amendment 21 is about the concordat. I have talked about that, and other bits and bobs, particularly with the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones). I do not think it would be good to put that on a statutory footing—in other words, to make that law. The concordat seems to be working really well, so let us see how that evolves with these agreements. The shadow Minister did not refer to that, but it is relevant. We spoke about it in Committee and I will keep a really close eye on how the concordat works, but I do not think that at this early stage putting that into law is the answer .
I hope that I have alleviated the concerns of my hon. Friends. I hope, although I do not expect, that the Opposition have listened to the assurances that I have given, not only here but in Committee.
Clearly, close collaboration is important not only for efficiency, but for the delivery of effective prevention work. Can my right hon. Friend give additional assurances that the revenue streams of fire services such as that in the west midlands will be protected, including for commercial activities?
I have given categorical assurances in Committee and here that there will be two funding streams and that they will not be combined. Even so, whether it is a mayoral system or a PCC system, I would expect there to be better collaboration on how that money is spent. With that in mind, I hope that none of the amendments, none of which were tabled by the Government, will be pressed.
Two hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on consideration, the debate was interrupted (Programme Order, this day.)
The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (Standing Order No. 83E), That the clause be read a Second time.
The Deputy Speaker then put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83E).
Provision for police and crime commissioner to be fire and rescue authority
Amendment proposed: 3, page 6, line 3, leave out clause 6.—(Lyn Brown.)
This amendment, along with amendment 4, would prevent Police and Crime Commissioners from taking over the functions of Fire and Rescue Authorities.
Question put, That the amendment be made.
Provision for police and crime commissioner to be fire and rescue authority
Amendment proposed: 20, page 145, line 16, at end insert—
‘(7) No order can be made under this section until the Secretary of State has conducted a review assessing the funding required by the fire and rescue service to secure the minimum level of cover needed to secure public safety and maintain fire resilience.
(8) The review carried out under section (7) must assess the impact of the level of cover on—
(a) fire related fatalities;
(b) non-fatal fire related casualties;
(c) the number of dwelling fires and other fires;
(d) the number of incidents responded to, and
(e) the strength and speed of response to incidents.” —(Lyn Brown.)
This amendment would require the Home Secretary to conduct a review on the level of funding the FRS requires in order to secure public safety before she may make allows police and crime commissioner to be a fire and rescue authority.
Question put, That the amendment be made.
Provision for police and crime commissioner to be fire and rescue authority
Amendment proposed: 6, page 157, line 33, at end insert—
‘(4) An order under section 4A, whether modified or not by the Secretary of State, may only be made with either: consent of all of the relevant local authorities and relevant fire and rescue authority, or a majority vote by local people through referendum.”—(Lyn Brown.)
This amendment would ensure that a PCC can only take over a Fire and Rescue Service with the approval of local people or their local representatives.
Question put, That the amendment be made.
The House proceeded to a Division.
New Clause 31
Application of Firearms Act 1968 to the police: special constables and volunteers
‘(1) The Firearms Act 1968 is amended as follows.
(2) In section 54 of that Act (Application of Parts 1 and 2 to Crown servants), in subsection (3)—
(a) after paragraph (b) insert—
“(ba) a community support volunteer or a policing support volunteer designated under section 38 of the Police Reform Act 2002 by the chief constable of a police force in England and Wales,”;
(b) after paragraph (f) insert “, or
(g) a community support volunteer or a policing support volunteer designated under section 38 of the Police Reform Act 2002 (as it applies by virtue of section 28 of the Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003) by the Chief Constable of the British Transport Police Force.”
(3) In section 57 of that Act (interpretation), in subsection (4), after the definition of “imitation firearm” insert—
““member of a police force” means—
(a) as respects England and Wales, a constable who is a member of a police force or a special constable appointed under section 27 of the Police Act 1996;
(b) as respects Scotland, a constable within the meaning of section 99 of the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012 (2012 asp 8);
“member of the British Transport Police Force” includes a special constable appointed under section 25 of the Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003;”.’
Section 54 of the Firearms Act 1968 makes provision about the application of the Act to Crown servants. Only specified provisions of the Act apply to Crown servants and only so far as they relate to the purchase and acquisition of firearms. Section 54 provides for members of certain police forces and civilian staff to be treated as in the service of the Crown for the purposes of section 54 and the rules of the common law about the application of legislation to the Crown. This new clause amends section 54 so that designated police volunteers (see, in particular, clause 35) are also treated as in the service of the Crown for the same purposes. To avoid the risk that the amendment would cast doubt on the position of special constables (who are also volunteers), section 57 (which contains definitions) is amended to include definitions of “member of a police force” and “member of the British Transport Police Force” which expressly refer to special constables.
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Government new clause 32—Police volunteers: inspection.
Amendment 11, in clause 35, page 57, line 39, leave out subsection (1A).
This amendment removes the ability for volunteers to be given the powers of a Constable or Police and Community Support Officer.
Amendment 12, page 58, line 2, at end insert—
‘(2A) The chief officer of any police force may not place a volunteer in any role which requires the use of force or restraint.’.
This amendment would prevent volunteers being placed in roles which may require the use of force or restraint which should only be performed by officers and members of police staff.
Amendment 13, page 59, line 1, leave out subsection (9B).
This amendment removes the provision for volunteer PCSOs to be issued with CS spray and PAVA spray.
Amendment 10, page 59, line 31, at end insert—
‘(12) This section cannot come into force until the House of Commons approves a report under subsection 46(6) of the Police Act 1996 which guarantees no annual reduction in funding in real terms to local policing bodies in each financial year until 2020.’.
This amendment would guarantee that police funding would be protected in a police grant settlement approved by Parliament before proposals to grant additional police powers to volunteers can be brought forward.
New clause 1—Sale of knives and certain articles with blade or point to persons under eighteen: due diligence checks—
‘(1) The Criminal Justice Act 1988 is amended as follows.
(2) In section 141A, after subsection (4) insert—
“(4A) Due diligence serving to confirm the material facts in relation to a sale over the internet of with respect to the age of a purchaser must include, but is not limited to—
(a) age verification on delivery,
(b) online age verification, and
(c) offline follow up checks.
(4B) The Secretary of State must publish guidance, which the Secretary of State may revise from time to time, on how due diligence verification and checks under section (4A) are to be carried out.’.
This new clause provides a triple lock to ensure that knives are not illegally sold over the Internet to under-18s.
New clause 7—Amendments to the Firearms Act 1968—
‘(1) The Firearms Act 1968 is amended as follows.
(2) Omit section 5(1A)(f).
(3) Omit sections 5A(4), (5), (6), (7) and (8).
(4) Omit section 7(1) and insert—
“(1) A person who has obtained from the chief officer of police for the area in which he resides a permit for the purpose in the prescribed form may, without holding a certificate or authority under this Act, have in his possession a firearm and ammunition in accordance with the terms of the permit.”
(5) At the end of section 28A add—
“(8) Where an individual has applied for the renewal of a certificate before its expiry but the chief constable has not, as at the date of its expiry, determined whether or not to grant the renewal, the certificate is to continue to have effect until the application is determined.”’.
The new clause seeks to make a number of technical changes to the 1968 Firearms Act covering expanding ammunition, section 7 temporary permits and the renewal of firearms certificates in order to clarify the law and reduce the administrative burden on the police and shooting community.
New clause 8—Amendments to the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988—
‘(1) The Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988 is amended as follows.
(2) In section 15(1) (Approved rifle clubs and muzzle-loading pistol clubs) omit the first “rifle” and for the second “rifle” substitute “firearm”.
(3) Omit section 15(2) and insert—
“(2) Any club may apply for approval, whether or not it is intended that any club members will, by virtue of subsection (1) above, have firearms subject to section 1 or ammunition in their possession without holding firearm certificates.”
(4) Omit section 15(4) and insert—
“(4) The application of subsection (1) above to members of an approved club may—
(a) be excluded in relation to the club, or
(b) be restricted to target shooting with specified types of firearm, by limitations contained in the approval.”
(5) In section 15(7) omit “rifle”.
(6) In section 15(10) omit the first “rifle”.
(7) Omit sections 15(11) and (12).’.
The new clause allows a club to be approved for any type of Section 1 firearm so that if a person using a shotgun or long-barrelled pistol is taken ill, or the firearm malfunctions, another authorised person can legally ‘possess’ (handle) that firearm to assist and/or make it safe.
New clause 9—Authorised persons permitted to lend firearms—
‘(1) In the Firearms Act 1968, omit section 11(5) and insert—
“(5) A person may, without holding a shot gun certificate, borrow a shot gun from the owner or occupier of private premises or a person authorised by the owner or occupier and use it on those premises in the presence of the owner, occupier or authorised person.”
(2) In the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988, omit section 16(1) and insert—
(a) the owner, occupier or authorised person in whose presence it is used holds a firearm certificate in respect of that rifle; and
(b) the borrower’s possession and use of it complies with any conditions as to those matters specified in the certificate; and
(c) where the borrower is of the age of 17, the owner, occupier or authorised person in whose presence the rifle is used is of or over the age of 18.”’.
The new clause would clarify the law as regards who can lend a shotgun or rifle to another person. This addresses the uncertainty currently caused by the term ‘occupier’ in relation to the borrowing of a shotgun or a rifle by a person without a certificate.
New clause 19—Events, festivals and gatherings: control of flares and fireworks etc.—
‘(1) A person is guilty of an offence if he has an article or substance to which this section applies in his possession—
(a) at any time during the period of a qualifying event, festival or gathering when he is within the venue or in any area from which the event, festival or gathering may be directly viewed or physically accessed, or
(b) while entering or trying to enter a venue or area defined in paragraph (1)(a) at any time during the period of the qualifying event, festival or gathering, or
(c) while travelling by any means towards a qualifying event, festival or gathering with the intent to enter a venue or area as defined under paragraph (1)(a).
(2) It is a defence for the accused to prove that possession is with lawful authority.
(3) This section applies to any article or substance whose main purpose is the emission of a flare whether for entertaining, illuminating or signalling (as opposed to igniting or heating) or the emission of smoke or a visible gas or a noise intended to simulate an explosion; and in particular it applies to fireworks, distress flares, fog signals, and pellets and capsules intended to be used as fumigators or for testing pipes, but not to matches, cigarette lighters or heaters.
(4) The Secretary of State may be regulations define or amend—
(a) a “qualifying event, festival or gathering”,
(b) a “period of an event, festival or gathering”,
(c) a “venue or area from which the event, festival or gathering may be directly viewed or physically accessed”, and
(d) articles and substances falling under subsection (3).
(5) The power to make regulations under subsection (4) shall be exercisable by statutory instrument but such an instrument may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.
(6) A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable on summary conviction—
(a) in the case of an offence under subsection 1(a) or (b) to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months, and
(b) in the case of an offence under subsection 1(c) to a fine not exceeding level 2 on the standard scale.
(7) Nothing in this section shall apply to persons, articles or substances that are lawfully present at, entering, travelling to, or being transported towards, a qualifying event, festival or gathering by virtue of being a planned part of the event, festival or gathering under the responsibility, regulation and control of the organisers.’.
New clause 21—Firearms: Full recovery of the licence costs—
‘(1) The Firearms Act 1968 is amended as follows.
(2) At the end of section 53 insert—
“(4) The Secretary of State must set the sum payable at the full cost to the tax payer of issuing a licence.”’.
This new clause would help to ensure full costs recovery of the licencing of guns.
Amendment 7, in clause 106, page 115, line 22, leave out “the amount of any fee that may be charged” and insert
“that the fee charged must be equal to the full cost to the tax payer of issuing a licence.”
This amendment would help to ensure full costs recovery of the licencing of guns.
Amendment 8, page 115, line 41, leave out
“the amount of any fee that may be charged”
“that the fee charged must be equal to the full cost to the tax payer of issuing a licence.”.
This amendment would help to ensure full costs recovery of the licencing of guns.
Amendment 9, page 116, line 19, leave out
“the amount of any fee that may be charged”
“that the fee charged must be equal to the full cost to the tax payer of issuing a licence.”.
This amendment would help to ensure full costs recovery of the licencing of guns.
Amendment 1, in clause 107, page 117, line 14, at end insert
(c) other relevant stakeholders.”.
This amendment would require other relevant stakeholders to be consulted in drawing up statutory guidance to the police. The current non-statutory guidance involves consultation between the Home Office, police, shooting organisations and others and all existing parties, not just the police, should be accommodated within the new statutory framework.
Government amendment 62.
New clause 17—Alcohol abstinence and monitoring: cost recovery—
‘(1) The Criminal Justice Act 2003 is amended as follows.
(2) In section 212A, insert at the end of subsection 7(b)—
“(c) arrangements for recovering the cost of testing from the offender by the police.”’.
This would allow the Secretary of State to include to make provision for the police to charge an offender subject to an alcohol abstinence and monitoring requirement for the costs of testing their compliance with such a requirement.
At this stage I will speak to the Government new clauses and amendment, and I will respond later to the points that are made about other amendments.
Chapter 1 of part 3 will enable chief officers to designate police staff with a wider range of police powers. They will also be able to confer police powers, other than the core powers reserved for warranted officers, on volunteers. The intention is that the powers that can be conferred on employed staff and designated volunteers are the same. This includes the power to carry and use defensive sprays, such as CS gas and PAVA spray, where the chief officer considers that there is an operational case for this. It is already the case that chief officers can equip police community support officers with defensive sprays, and to that extent the Bill codifies the existing position.
New clause 31 makes necessary consequential amendments to the Firearms Act 1968 to ensure that police volunteers are civilian officers for the purposes of that Act. The effect is that they do not then need a certificate or authorisation under section 1 or 5 of the 1968 Act in order to carry a defensive spray.
I understand perfectly what the Minister is trying to do here, but I am not sure that there is a consensus out there for volunteers to be equipped with CS gas, for example. Does she understand the concern that the public have about that?
If the hon. Gentleman had been part of the Committee, he would have heard the extensive deliberations and debate that we had about that issue. In my response to the amendments later, I will come to the specific point about volunteers. I would like to hear the arguments before I respond, but I am aware that there are concerns, although I may not agree with them.
The new clause puts community support volunteers and policing support volunteers in the same position as police officers and police civilian staff. We are also taking the opportunity to make it explicit on the face of the 1968 Act that special constables are members of a police force for the purpose of that Act and therefore similarly do not require a certificate or authorisation under the 1968 Act when equipped with a defensive spray. This will avoid any doubt being created by the insertion of a specific reference to policing support and community support volunteers within the meaning of “Crown servant” in the Firearms Act.
My hon. and gallant Friend makes an important point and I can assure him that appropriate training will be given.
Government new clause 32 clarifies that designated community support volunteers or police support volunteers may be subject to inspection, just like any other member of a police force, and can be served with a notice requiring information or access to premises. As with other members of a police force, they would have no right of appeal against such a notice.
As I said, I will respond to the other amendments in this group when winding up the debate.
May I start by giving the apologies of the shadow Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), as to why he cannot be here today? He is at the Hillsborough inquest. Twenty-seven years ago a terrible wrong was done. Ninety-six husbands, wives, fiancés, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters died. The fact that today justice was done is due both to the remarkable persistence of the families to ensure justice for those who died, and to the outstanding leadership of my right hon. Friend who, in his courage, persistence and championing of a noble cause, has served the people not just of Liverpool, but of this country well.
We welcome many of the proposals before the House today, which follow our exchanges in Committee. I do not intend to speak to them all in detail. We welcome the move on pre-charge bail to prevent terrorists, such as Dhar, from ever fleeing the country before charge. We welcome the protection of police whistleblowers. We welcome moves to improve the way that the police deal with people suffering a mental health crisis, such as no longer considering a police cell to be a place of safety. We welcome moves to ensure that 17-year-olds detained in police custody are treated as children, which is something my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) has fought very hard for.
We support changes to the Fire Arms Act 1968 that will tighten our gun laws in line with recommendations made by the Law Commission. We support the duty on emergency services to collaborate. We will deal with many of these issues in some detail on the second day on Report. We also welcome moves made by the Government on other issues that emerged during our consideration of the Bill. For example, agreement has been reached following the excellent campaign run by David Jamieson, the police and crime commissioner for the west midlands, on the banning of those hideous zombie knives, whose only purpose can be to kill or maim.
However, given that the Bill purports to complete police reform, I am bound to say that there are a number of issues that should have been in the Bill but are not. The Bill does not help the police to adapt to a world in which crime is changing and moving increasingly online. There is a gaping hole in the Government’s policing policy on the failure to tackle—or even to acknowledge in the Bill—cybercrime, or to help the police deal with the consequences of the Government’s swingeing spending reductions. On child sexual exploitation and abuse, although the one clause is a welcome step, for a Bill that purports to be focused seriously on this grotesque manifestation of all that is worst in our country, one clause alone is not enough. The Bill does not go far enough on some of the issues it seeks to address, such as police accountability, but we will return to some of those on day 2.
Having spelled out those areas of the Bill that we agree with, I am bound to say that there are critical areas with which we fundamentally disagree. We have just had a debate, led by my formidable hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown), opposing the compulsory takeover of fire authorities by PCCs. Our strong view, as she indicated, is this: yes to greater collaboration; no to hostile takeovers that take place regardless of what local elected representatives and local people think.
The other highly controversial proposal that we are debating today is about giving police powers to volunteers. Let me make it absolutely clear that there is a long and honourable tradition going back 150 years of special constables. There is a more recent tradition, but one that is profound within the communities we serve, of volunteer engagement in neighbourhood watch. For example, the admirable Maureen Meehan, chair of the Stockland Green neighbourhood watch in my constituency, does outstanding work to ensure that the community is safe, working with the police. Indeed, in this House we have the police parliamentary scheme. My hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Gerald Jones) has had a fascinating insight into policing in the Met and in south Wales, and subsequently he has waxed lyrical about the work he has seen, for example on mental health, but also working with volunteers.
We are strongly in favour of enhancing citizen engagement and voluntary efforts. As the great Robert Peel said,
“the police are the public and the public are the police”.
Therefore, the role of the citizen in policing is key. But the public demand that police functions are discharged by police offices, which is essential. We are extremely concerned that the proposals contained in the Bill are an attempt by the Home Secretary to provide policing on the cheap.
My hon. Friend hits the nail on the head. Most people outside Parliament will see through this, because they are seeing the number of police officer and PCSOs in their own neighbourhood policing teams cut, and the Government are proposing to hand those powers to civilians.
My hon. Friend is exactly right. In all the surveys of public opinion about the visibility of the police over the past couple of years, the public have complained more and more that they no longer see their police officers or PCSOs, that they no longer have contact with them, that the police no longer have roots in the community and that neighbourhood policing is being progressively hollowed out. People want neighbourhood policing—the bedrock of British policing—to be rebuilt, but not using volunteers.
The specials’ support of the police force has been a success because it has been accompanied by mandatory training and appropriate support and because specials are sworn officers and Crown servants. However, the Government have done nothing to reassure us that the use of their brand-new police volunteers will be accompanied by appropriate training, scrutiny and accountability. Indeed, the Opposition tabled an amendment in Committee explicitly to guarantee that there would be a duty on the College of Policing to issue guidance to chief police officers on the training of volunteers, but the Government did not support it.
On that point, let me pray in aid the outstanding police and crime commissioner for Northumbria, Vera Baird, about whom the Police Minister also asked waxed lyrical. She said:
“Volunteers have a very important role to play in supporting policing, but not to place themselves in potentially dangerous situations. When the Home Secretary consulted on her proposals to increase volunteers’ powers, I said at the time she was trying to provide policing on the cheap.”
I understand the point the hon. Gentleman is making, although I do not agree with him. Does he accept that there are circumstances in which we all have police powers? If I witness somebody committing what I consider to be an indictable offence, I am able, as a citizen, to arrest them without a warrant. Does he agree, therefore, that if we are going to have volunteers among the police—unless he wants to do away with them completely—they should at least be trained? If they then find themselves in a situation of danger where they may have to act as a police officer, they can do so, perhaps using purely that power of citizen’s arrest?
The problem is that the Government have failed to spell out how they will ensure that these volunteers are properly trained and properly accountable, or how there will be clarity about their role—as I will say later, the Government have ruled out nothing in terms of the role volunteers might play in the next stages. The hon. Gentleman will no doubt want to come back on that issue, but on the particular point he raised, perhaps he will wait until I get to the relevant part of my speech.
I am very familiar with what has happened in Wales. All credit to the Labour Government in the Welsh Assembly for funding 500 PCSOs. I was in south Wales but two weeks ago, and I met some of the PCSOs concerned—in south Wales alone, there are 200 PCSOs on the beat, which is very popular with the public. However, they are employed by the police service; what is being proposed here is a new generation of volunteer PCSOs. As I will say later, the issue is not just training and accountability, but that volunteers will be able to use certain powers—I am thinking particularly of the issue of CS gas, and I think the public will be incredulous when it becomes clear exactly what the Government propose.
Vera was right, and no wonder. In the last five years, Government funding to police forces has seen the biggest cuts to any police service on the entire continent of Europe—a staggering 25% cut. For that five-year period, the Government’s alibi was, “Yes, we cut the police, but we also cut crime.” It is not true that they have cut crime. The statistics on police recorded crime, increasingly cleaned up over the past couple of years following criticism from this House, among others, show violent crime up by 27%, homicides up by 11%, a 9% rise in knife crime, and overall police recorded crime up by 7%. The Government continue to rely on the crime survey for England and Wales, but that does not include a whole number of areas of crime. In two months’ time, when cybercrime and online fraud is included in the crime statistics in the crime survey for England and Wales, it will show crime nearly doubling.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman, for whom I have a great deal of respect, is not confusing reported crime with the prevalence of crime. The independent crime survey for England and Wales is very clear that prevalence of crime is down but the reporting of crime is up. I hope that he would welcome the fact that we have more reported crime, because it is only by getting those reports of crimes that the police are able to solve them.
I agree that proper reporting and recording have been absolutely key—for example, in relation to sexual offences. However, in saying, “We cut the police but we have cut crime”, the Government have relied on the crime survey for England and Wales, where the projections, including those from the Office for National Statistics, are that when online fraud and cybercrime are included, there will be a potential increase of 5 million offences, nearly doubling crime. Therefore, with the greatest respect to the Minister, for whom I have great respect, the alibi of five years will be blown apart.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that such crime was happening before but was not included in the crime survey under the previous Labour Government, that this Government are making sure that it is included, and that we need to be honest about prevalence so that we can tackle the problem?
This is all very interesting, but surely the central point of the hon. Gentleman’s argument is that clause 35 should be deleted, full stop. All these pussy-footing little amendments that he has tabled are really designed to undermine the concept of the volunteer. He disagrees with the concept of volunteers; the Government clearly think they are a good thing. Why does he not just speak to that argument rather than wasting our time with amendments 11, 12 and 13, which are actually designed to make it difficult for someone to perform the function of a police volunteer?
With the greatest respect, I would not downplay the significance of this, including to the public out there whom we serve. We will come specifically to two issues relating to amendment 10, on volunteers, and amendment 13, on volunteer PCSOs being able to carry CS gas and PAVA spray.
It is simply not true that crime is falling. Nor is it true that the Government have protected the frontline. The Policing Minister has been good enough to acknowledge that he inadvertently misled Parliament by suggesting that. Nor is it true that police funding has been protected. Last November, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said:
“The police protect us, and we are going to protect the police.”—[Official Report, 25 November 2015; Vol. 602, c. 1373.]
Sir Andrew Dilnot has now made it clear that a £160 million cut, in real terms, in this financial year alone would be sufficient for 3,200 police officers. The inconvenient truth for the Government is that 18,000 officers have gone and ever fewer are doing ever more, just when demand is growing. Coming to the point made by the right hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Sir Edward Garnier), that is crucial in this respect: given the context in which this Bill has been introduced, our amendment 10 would block proposals to grant additional police volunteers until the Government have passed a police funding settlement that guarantees that funding to police forces will be protected in real terms. The Government said that it would be protected last November, but that is not true. We ask that it now be the case, rather than the phoney police promise that we heard from the Chancellor of the Exchequer last November.
I am aware of the hon. Gentleman’s experience of south Wales and his knowledge of the cuts made to South Wales police by the police and crime commissioner. If he comes to Cheshire, he will see that there have been increases on the frontline in my constituency, where there is a Conservative police and crime commissioner. If he goes to mid-Wales, he will see that there have been increases on the frontline in Dyfed-Powys, where there is a Conservative police and crime commissioner. Surely, the two are not linked.
The interesting thing about what the hon. Lady says is that the current police funding formula skews funding away from metropolitan areas towards leafy Tory shires. Why is the west midlands hit twice as hard as Surrey? If we ask the police and crime commissioner for Surrey, we find that he agrees. To add insult to injury, the Government finally said, “We admit that the formula is unfair. We will change the formula,” which led to the omnishambles before Christmas when they had to abandon the proposed changes to the formula.
Absolutely. Under the current arrangements in the police service, there is an agreement between the Home Office, the National Police Chiefs Council, the College of Policing and the police staff unions that police support volunteers should bring additionality to the workforce but should under no circumstances replace or be a substitute for paid police staff. The Government claim that they have protected police funding and that they are not using the provisions to plug holes left in the workforce from funding reductions. If plugging gaps in our hollowed-out police service is not the Government’s aim in these ill-though-out proposals, there should be no reason whatsoever for them not to support amendment 10.
The hon. Gentleman needs to realise that he is walking into a cul-de-sac, which may not be of his own making. Independent custody visitors are essentially police volunteers who visit custody suites, and a case could probably be made by a smart lawyer that they substitute for custody officers in their supervisory role. Are they the kind of people that he wants to get rid of?
I urge the hon. Gentleman to listen to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir Edward Garnier). We have a duty in this House not to create Heath Robinson legislation. Amendments 11, 12, 13 and 10 seem to me to be an extraordinarily roundabout way to disagree with what the Government are trying to do through the previous amendments. Surely the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) should simply vote against those amendments, rather than creating this Byzantine structure to negate what the Government are trying to do.
It is quite right, for reasons that I will come to, that those amendments have been tabled, but the amendment that we will press to a vote is amendment 10. As I have just said, the Government should not plug gaping gaps in the police service with volunteers; the police service should be properly funded in real terms. Not until that happens should the Government proceed with their proposals for a new generation of volunteers—for whom, as I will come on to say, there are no constraints thus far on what they might be able to do.
I turn to exactly that point: the proposal that there should be no limits in law on where the chief constable can place volunteers—no limits on the operational role that volunteers might play, including in some of the most vital, sensitive and demanding areas. The public will be rightly dismayed by the Government’s refusal to rule out the use of volunteers in tackling child sexual exploitation, terrorism and serious crime. There has been no clarity in the Government’s proposals thus far about the role that volunteers should play in those areas. We have asked for clarity, but none has been forthcoming.
I now turn to accountability in relation to volunteers. Under the Bill’s provisions, when police officers and special constables have been dismissed following disciplinary proceedings, their details will be added to the barred list held by the College of Policing, and chief officers will not be able to appoint anyone on the list as an officer, a member of police staff or a special constable. However, the Bill does not provide for volunteers dismissed for misconduct to be added to the barred list, which is why we sought to amend the Bill in Committee. Will the Minister explain what mechanisms are in place to ensure that volunteers who abuse their powers cannot serve again?
We still have not been given clarification about the accountability mechanisms that will be put in place for new warranted volunteers. This issue of accountability is absolutely key. Deborah Glass, the deputy chair of the Independent Police Complaints Commission, said:
“We believe it is vital for public confidence that all those who perform police-like functions and powers are subject to independent oversight.”
We wholeheartedly agree, but the Government do not seem to take that view in respect of this new breed of volunteer.
In Committee, we also tabled an amendment to provide for centralised guidance concerning disciplinary proceedings against volunteers, as well as against officers, specials and staff. Again, the Government did not support it, and we are no clearer about how exactly they hope to ensure that the necessary professional standards, quality of service and proper accountability are upheld for volunteers.
I now turn to one of the most extraordinary proposals in the Bill. The other day, a colleague of mine nicknamed it the John McEnroe or the “You cannot be serious” proposal. I was in Brighton with my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Peter Kyle) only yesterday to talk to PCSOs and members of the public. They just could not believe that volunteers will be able to use CS gas and PAVA spray. “What fool came up with that idea?” asked one. That is a good question. Perhaps the Minister can enlighten us. It is our very strong view that CS gas and PAVA spray should be used only by officers who are regularly trained in their use and, importantly, in the law concerning their use.
That is absolutely right. I will mention something similar in a moment. If we have volunteers—I again stress that there is a long and honourable tradition of volunteers working in and with our police service—we must, to be frank, go the extra mile to ensure that they are not subject to risk or harm. If they are ill-trained and there is no framework of accountability, issuing them with CS gas and leaving them to get on with it might lead to very serious consequences indeed, not just for members of the public but for the volunteers themselves.
Forgive me; my experience is not with the police, but I know very well that the police service, just like the armed services, would not issue CS gas or the like without very strict controls and very strict training. I am quite sure that volunteers would not be given any less training in the use of such chemicals in pursuit of their duty.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I used to be chairman of the defence unions. I am proud of my long association with members of our armed forces, of which he was an admirable example. It is extraordinary—I have given some reasons for this, and I will come on to others—that there is no clarity about training and accountability. A proposal has simply been inserted in the Bill for volunteer PCSOs to be issued with CS gas and PAVA spray, which raises fundamental issues of concern. I suspect that if this was raised with members of the public in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, they would say, as was the case in Hove and in my constituency at the weekend, “What planet are they living on?”
If I can just bring the discussion back to this planet, I accept that the Labour party does not want volunteers to be able to enter our police system in the way proposed by the Bill, but where on earth does the hon. Gentleman get that idea? I hope he is just making it up as he goes along, because if he has thought about his arguments I am even more worried than I was a moment ago. Where in the Bill does it say that anybody is going to be handed a noxious substance such as CS gas or the other spray without adequate training? It defies belief that anyone with common sense would advance that argument, and it is even less likely that a consequence of the measure would be that they would not get that sort of training. It is just bananas.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman should put that question to his Front-Bench colleagues so that the concerns he has just expressed can be allayed. The concerns raised during detailed scrutiny of the Bill in Committee were heard but not acted on, and that is precisely why we are having this debate today.
On the principle of volunteers in the police service, I went out of my way to say at the beginning of this debate that there is a long and honourable tradition of excellent men and women serving as special constables and in neighbourhood watch teams. Had we won the election in May 2015, we had plans to enhance the role played by local people in having a local say over the policing of their local communities, including greater volunteering and co-operation with the police. The question is where we draw the line on what is and what is not appropriate. Perhaps I could visit the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s constituency and we could ask the first 100 people we meet, “What do you think of volunteer PCSOs being able to carry CS gas?” I suspect that I know the answer we would get.
That, I respectfully suggest, is not a very clever question, because it is loaded to produce the answer that the hon. Gentleman wishes to receive. He is very fond of other volunteers, but he does not like clause 35 volunteers. If I asked anybody in his constituency or in mine, “What do you think about untrained people carrying shotguns, police weapons or CS gas?”, of course they would say that that was not very sensible, but the question removes reality from the practical application of the Bill. No volunteer within the ambit of clause 35 is going to be walking around Market Harborough, still less the hon. Gentleman’s own constituency, without having been properly trained in the use of the materials, weapons or instruments to which they will be given access. That is just plain silly, and I wish he would move on to something rather better.
I agree it is plain silly that the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s Front-Bench colleagues have not answered those questions. When they speak today and during the Bill’s subsequent stages, I have no doubt that he will pose those questions and say, quite rightly, that it would indeed be silly for something to happen without proper training or accountability. At the moment, for the reasons I have spelled out, that just is not in the Bill.
With respect, I disagree with the hon. Lady. If we look at the training received by the police, PCSOs and police staff, we see that there is guidance and that an agreement has been reached. The existing framework is very helpful, but as the Bill stands there is nothing for the new breed of volunteers that the Government seek to introduce. The hon. Lady might want to put that question to her own Front-Bench colleagues.
It is our very strong view that the use of CS gas and PAVA spray should be undertaken only by officers who are regularly trained in their usage and, importantly, in the law surrounding their use. In the words of Vera Baird:
“We have lost 861 police officers and 940 police staff since 2010 through government cuts which can’t be replaced by volunteers”.
She also said:
“many volunteers want to support the work of police officers—not to do their jobs for them. The use of CS gas and PAVA spray is something that should only be undertaken”
by sworn officers,
“who are regularly trained on their usage and importantly in the law surrounding their use”.
She is absolutely right. She went on:
“Rather than extending the role of volunteers, the Government needs to start funding police forces properly, to allow Chief Constables and Police and Crime Commissioners to recruit more police officers, who can go on the beat and serve local communities.”
The Government need to have a proper conversation with the police and the public about what they see as the acceptable use of force by volunteers, in a context in which institutions such as the Independent Police Complaints Commission have already raised serious issues about the use of force by fully trained warranted officers. With regard to that proper conversation, only today we received a briefing from the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, which has already said about the proposals in the Bill that
“the development of volunteering in policing needs to be driven by a clear vision and strategic direction”
and that the Government have not fully articulated
“what role the reforms will play in moving towards a different and improved model of policing beyond how it may offer forces greater flexibility and reduce costs.”
To return to the proposal on CS and PAVA, our police service has and needs the power to use force where necessary when carrying out its duty to protect the public. It is clear that the public understand that, and indeed, expect and rely upon it. However, under the UK’s tradition of policing by consent, they also expect that those who use force will be properly trained and qualified, and there will be proper accountability. The Government simply have not made the case for the proposal and we will therefore be voting against it.
I hope that, even at this late stage, the Government will listen to, for example, Winston Roddick, the chair of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, who said about the proposal:
“I have serious reservations about it... I think that the proposal raises points of principle about arming members of the public to do something by the use of arms, which goes further than the common law principle of acting in reasonable self-defence.”––[Official Report, Policing and Crime Public Bill Committee, 15 March 2016; c. 51, Q67.]
The hon. Gentleman—he is actually a friend of mine—and I both know that we arm members of the public in our reserve forces. With training, they do exactly the same on operations as any normal regular soldier, and they are sent on operations into really dangerous positions.
I am very familiar with what the hon. Gentleman has said. I am proud to have many friends who are reserves; they play a very important role in the armed forces. Crucially, they are properly trained and equipped, and work within a framework of accountability. That is exactly what has not been proposed—or at least spelled out—by the Government for volunteer PCSOs. That is precisely what we are seeking to draw out, and for that reason we will be voting against the Government’s proposals.
I will say one final thing on volunteering before I move on briefly to other provisions in the Bill. I return to what the NCVO has said; to be frank, it has captured our concern:
“The proposed approach to volunteering, through the creation of volunteer positions that are ‘equivalent’ to or ‘mirror’ paid roles, risks misunderstanding the nature of volunteering and the full contribution it can make. Rather than the language of equivalence we hope the government will recognise this and start to reflect a language of distinctiveness and complementarity. This will help ensure a more successful police volunteering programme.”
The NCVO is absolutely right that the Government have, in this respect, simply got it wrong.
I turn now briefly to other issues dealt with in Committee by my formidable colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham. Our new clause 21 and amendments 7, 8 and 9 would help to ensure full cost recovery of the licensing of guns. That is a crucial objective of the Gun Control Network. It is also a goal that the Government profess that they wish to achieve. In Committee, the Minister for Policing, Fire, Criminal Justice and Victims told us:
“We are as one on the fact that the taxpayer should not subsidise licensing.”––[Official Report, Policing and Crime Public Bill Committee, 12 April 2016; c. 259.]
We will hold him to his words, and so look for an assurance on when the Government will move to full cost recovery. We note that some forces are already moving in that direction. It cannot be right that an overstretched police service that has lost 18,000 police officers and 5,000 PCSOs should have to subsidise gun licences, and we look forward to the Minister’s response on that. He says that the e-commerce scheme will deliver full cost recovery, but we will see. Are we moving to full cost recovery, and when will that be achieved?
New clauses 7, 8 and 9 have been tabled by the hon. Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown). New clause 7 would allow a gun licence to remain valid while the decision to renew a licence is undertaken, new clause 8 would allow rifle and pistol clubs to use more guns than they are currently allowed to use, and new clause 9 would increase the number of people who are able to lend shotguns. Those new clauses are in line with recommendations published by the Countryside Alliance in March 2016, but we are not in favour of them. We believe that tough laws on gun control are necessary, and that they work.
New clause 1, tabled by the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes), seeks to ensure that knives are not illegally sold over the internet to under-18s, and it has our full support. Indeed, we have strongly argued for precisely such a measure for some months, and we warmly welcome the hon. Gentleman’s new clause. Age verification for online sales poses great difficulties. We were all truly horrified—this was mentioned in a helpful discussion this morning—when we read about Bailey Gwynne, the teenager from Aberdeenshire who was stabbed to death in school by a knife that had been illegally sold online to a 16-year-old. When The Guardian investigated the story, it was able to have a knife similar to that used to kill Bailey Gwynne delivered by Amazon with no age verification. It was as simple as ordering the knife online and posting a note on the front door asking for the package to be dropped off without knocking. That is very similar to the way that the knife used to kill Bailey Gwynne was bought.
Like the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate, who has given good leadership on this issue, we have consistently argued for a tightening of regulations on the sale of knives to young people—indeed, a campaign to that end is being led in the west midlands by the police and crime commissioner to whom I referred earlier. We therefore welcome proposals to introduce additional age checks when knives are sold online. That is not easy to do in practice, but the principle is key and we hope that the Government will agree to the proposal. There is strong support across the House on this issue, and it would be a shame if one more child died as a consequence of that loophole. I am therefore confident that the whole House will unite in support of the proposed change to the law. It is much needed and not before time.
What an honour it is to be called before all these august Members!
In respect of amendments 11, 12, 13 and 10, I congratulate the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) on manfully—or indeed womanfully—arguing what seems to be a lost cause; Conservative Members eloquently made the case that the proposals are nonsense.
Fundamentally, the hon. Gentleman is saying through his amendments that he does not trust a chief police officer to get right the architecture around volunteers used in their organisation. He is saying that a chief constable cannot be trusted to organise and train volunteers correctly—but if they cannot be trusted to do that relatively simple task, how can they be trusted to handle some of the risks that they face on a daily basis, even with their warranted force? As he considers these matters over the next couple of hours, I urge him to think about withdrawing his amendments and simply to vote against the Government’s amendments if he believes that to be right. His would be Heath Robinson legislation, as I said, and the House has a duty to keep things simple.
I am extremely supportive of new clause 1. As the hon. Gentleman said, the proliferation of knives, particularly these unpleasant zombie knives, has caused a huge problem, particularly in urban areas and especially in London. We have seen some tragic cases over the last two or three years. A while ago, as people will remember, there was some alarm about air rifles and air-powered weapons; as a result, the legislation on purchasing air rifles was changed so that they could not be bought other than face to face. Now, when someone buys an air rifle online, it has to be delivered by the firearms dealer, who has to verify, face to face on the doorstep, that the person is who they say they are and of the correct age, and that the weapon can be sold to them lawfully. Alternatively, there is a mutual network of firearms dealers operating in such a way that someone can buy from one and pick up from another, who will verify that person’s identity and age.
I am 6 feet 2 inches—nearly—and quite a big chap. I am much more frightened of zombie knives than of air rifles, so I urge the Government to look carefully at new clause 1. It would be a valuable addition to our armoury as we try to keep these weapons out of the hands of people who should not have them. Having said that, I do not think it would be a silver bullet—not much we do in the House is; many of these knives are bought on the dark web, where things are a little more amorphous, identities more difficult to find and things are often posted illegally. Many firearms are bought on the dark web and sent to the UK through the normal post, but the police are becoming quite sophisticated at picking them up, and the same could be true of knives. I therefore urge the Government to adopt the new clause.
I am similarly supportive of new clause 19, on flares at public events. They are not allowed at football matches any more, but elsewhere they often cause injury and terror—people, particularly children, are frightened of them—so it would be sensible to outlaw their use in those circumstances.
Finally, I will speak briefly—we are pressed for time—to new clause 17, which stands in my name. This is a probing amendment, as they say, and I have no intention, at this stage, of putting it to a vote, but I will give Members the back story because it might well appear in the other place.
Members might remember that three or four years ago City Hall ran a big campaign to get a disposal on to the books called “compulsory sobriety”, which manifested itself as alcohol abstinence monitoring orders made against people who have committed a crime where alcohol was a contributory factor. Essentially, an offender, rather than going to prison, which would mean losing their job and contact with their family, is sentenced to wear an alcohol-testing tag or bracelet that, for three, four or six months, tests their skin every 30 seconds to make sure they are not drinking. If they drink and the tag detects it, a signal is sent, the police apprehend them and they go back into the criminal justice system and might well get a custodial sentence. Effectively, the offender is in charge of their own custody.
These orders have been hugely successful in the United States. In South Dakota, where they started, there has been massive compliance and a drop in the number of people arrested for drink-driving and dying on the roads. I learned this morning that there has also been an increase in life span because there is less drinking. South Dakota is a big, flat state; there is not much to do except drink a lot and beat each other up, as in parts of this country. That was happening an awful lot, until these orders were introduced by the now famous prosecutor, Larry Long. They have changed the alcohol environment there entirely.
We managed to get the orders on the statute book here, and a pilot in Croydon over the last couple of years has resulted in a 93% compliance rate among offenders fitted with a tag and an extremely good reoffending rate—once someone has had three to six months off the booze, they do not tend to go back but instead learn the error of their ways. However, there is one aspect of the scheme in the states that we did not adopt but which they think is critical to its success: the ability to charge offenders for their own testing.
In the United States, when somebody is put on this disposal and they go to be tested, more often than not they appear twice a day at the police station, blow into a breathalyser and pay a buck, or a dollar, a test. Effectively, that is money that they would otherwise have spent on booze. From the point of view of the criminal justice system, that makes the scheme self-financing.
I can see that my hon. Friend is on to a good thing here. As someone who has not sentenced anyone to this type of order but has sentenced people to the drug testing orders under the Criminal Justice Act 2003, I would like to ask whether this should be a compulsory requirement. Is it that the police “must” or “may” charge? If it is the former, I think my hon. Friend will find that many people who fall into this sentencing remit will be so chaotic, at least to start with, that they will not have the finances to be able to reimburse the state for the charge.
My right hon. and learned Friend makes a valid point. However, these people are somehow financing an alcohol habit, so they are paying for alcohol. I think my right hon. and learned Friend would be surprised at the demographic of offenders. In the US, this was more often used for repeat drink-driving than anything else. In this country, repeat drink-driving is predominantly a crime of white, middle-aged, professional men; it is they who get done most for this offence. One hopes that they would indeed be able to afford to pay the cost.
My right hon. and learned Friend is, however, right that the proposal is that the police “may” charge. They do not have to. If a PCC believes it would be useful, they could apply to the Home Secretary to run a scheme on a charging basis and then decide on the charge. It might be 50p a day, a pound or £3—who knows? It will depend on the area and the level of offences committed.
Having this particular power adds two critical things to the scheme. First, one of the successes in the US is that the scheme gives offenders the notion that they are in control of their destiny. Every time they reach for a drink, they have to think about the consequences. That is why there is such high compliance—because people feel they are in control. At the same time, having to pay provides an even greater sense of ownership of the disposal. Offenders understand that this is a punishment; they understand that they have to take responsibility and finance the scheme themselves. It is essentially “the polluter pays”.
Secondly, although this disposal has been wildly successful in London and has spread to the rest of the capital, it took a lot of up-front Government funding to get the scheme out there. The Ministry of Justice had to put in £500,000 and the Mayor has done the same to get the facilities out and around town. If we want the disposal to spread so that other PCCs take it up, there needs to be a business case. Bluntly, I am a Conservative, and if there is a flow of income coming from this disposal to a PCC in a way no other disposal will allow, I believe PCCs would be more likely to use it and invest the money up front; they would know that the income would come in to finance it.
I realise that offenders paying for their own punishment would be a new departure for the British criminal justice system, but I think it could be useful given that alcohol abstinence monitoring orders are themselves a new departure. There may be some cultural difficulties. When I first proposed the disposal, I went to see my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), who was then Lord Chancellor. His first response was to say, “Good grief, you can’t stop people from having a pint!” I explained that if these people break somebody’s jaw or cause a crash because they have been driving drunk, of course we can. If we put them in prison, we stop them drinking. This was just a way of doing that, I explained, without incarcerating people. It is much cheaper, much quicker and, if the Government are kind enough to think about this new clause—perhaps following it up in the other place—the disposal could be self-financing and help to save a huge amount of money.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse). I start by saying that I have always been supportive of the police; I was brought up to be. I can remember my mum telling me as a very young child that if I ever got lost the police were my friends and that I should always seek out a police officer, who would always try to find where my mum and dad were. That is hopefully an ethic that I have passed on to my own children. That, I think, is where we must start.
In this country, there is a degree of consensus about the nature of policing, because we have developed, over a long period, the concept of policing by consent. I think that Parliament, when passing legislation both here and in the other place, must do everything in its power to ensure that we do not move away from that important concept. A number of measures in the Bill deserve to be scrutinised properly before Parliament decides whether it is appropriate to extend the powers in the way that the Minister proposes.
There are some very good proposals in the Bill, and I broadly support them. I would not like the Minister to think that that was not the case. I support, for instance, the proposal for improvements in the police complaints system, which has long been a bone of contention for Members in all parts of the House, and certainly for our constituents. I also support the proposed changes in the firearms laws and alcohol licensing. I know from experience in my constituency that there are some real shortfalls in the ability of the police to deal with certain aspects of the licensing regime, and I think it is right for us to tighten up some of the existing legislation.
Nevertheless, I have some serious concerns about, in particular, the way in which the Government expect the role of volunteers to develop. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey), I support the inclusion of volunteers in the work of our police service, which is important and long-standing, particularly when it comes to the role of special constables. Indeed, I think everyone supports that. I hope, however, that the Minister will be able to allay some of my fears about the powers that she wants to extend to volunteers.
It should be borne in mind that special constables are precisely that: they are police constables. There is a big difference between them and other volunteers, which brings us back to the issue of policing with consent. Although special constables are volunteers, they are also fully fledged police constables, and one would expect them to have the powers that police constables have, because they wear the uniform of a police constable. That, I believe, is quite an important differentiation.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the role that special constables play in our police force. They are vital to policing throughout the United Kingdom. Will he join me in calling on the Government, when the Bill goes to the other place, to consider extending the protection of the Police Federation to special constables, who cannot join the federation unless there is a change in primary legislation? I think that that would be a good way of ensuring that when special constables go out there and take risks, they benefit from the protection of a proper trade union.
I entirely agree. I am very proud that the headquarters of the Greater Manchester Police Federation are in the Reddish part of my constituency, in Stockport. The work that the federation does in supporting police officers is absolutely brilliant, and, as the hon. Gentleman says, it is crucial that we extend that support and protection to special constables. After all, they are doing the job of a police constable. When we talk about the role of volunteers, it is important for us to do so in the context of what we expect volunteers operating in the police service to do.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington, who spoke passionately about these issues, was right to draw attention to the important role of the home watch. In all our constituencies there will be home watch schemes led by dedicated members of the public and volunteers, working alongside the police and police community support officers. They provide a vital connectivity between the community and the police service, which, even following the introduction of neighbourhood policing, is still considered by too many of our constituents to be fairly remote from public concerns. So I support volunteers being the eyes and ears of the police on the ground and in schemes such as home watch.
Also, in my constituency, we have some very dedicated volunteers manning the front desks at the few police stations that are still open. They are playing an important role in ensuring that continuity of service is provided to members of the public. We often hear Ministers talking about protecting the police frontline, but to a number of my constituents who have experienced police station closures and front desk closures, that actually was their frontline. That was where they could get face-to-face access to the police service when they needed it. Were it not for police volunteers in Dukinfield in my constituency, for example, that police front desk would have closed in the same way that ones at the Denton and Reddish police stations have done. Those closures are a retrograde step for the communities that I represent.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, when the public see a police officer, they simply see a police officer? They do not look at them and wonder whether they are volunteer police officers or not. Volunteers who man desks do not wear the uniform, but wearing the uniform immediately tells the public that someone is a police officer. They do not think, “Is that a reserve officer?” They think, “That is a police officer”, and that is great.
It is great, and I think that the hon. Gentleman is inadvertently making my case for me that we should not be giving CS gas to volunteers who are not wearing the police uniform. My point is that we already have volunteer police officers. They are called special constables and they have the full power of a police constable and wear the uniform of a police constable. They wear the uniform with pride and they volunteer with pride, and we should be supporting the extension of the special constable programme rather than extending powers to other volunteers, which I do not think is appropriate. I take the hon. Gentleman’s point that, when people see someone in a police uniform, they do not care whether they are a special constable or a paid member of the police force. They just see them as a police officer. There is an important distinction that we must consider in examining some of the powers that Ministers are proposing. That is why we need clarity from the Minister before we decide whether to support the extension of these powers. I sincerely urge Members to exercise caution before we extend them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington also mentioned the parliamentary police service scheme. I was pleased to be able to take part in that scheme back in 2007, when I was Parliamentary Private Secretary to the then Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith. That seems a long time ago now. Taking part in the scheme provided an invaluable insight into the work of the police. I was posted with my own police force, Greater Manchester police, although I was a bit gutted that I was unable to go out on the beat in my own constituency. I was told that that was in case the police ended up nicking any of my constituents. I was gutted because I had a long list of people I would have liked to call on. Leaving that aside, it really was an invaluable experience. I had not appreciated just how complex the police service in an area such as Greater Manchester is. Indeed, it was not really until the end of my experience on the police service scheme that I began to appreciate not only the complexity of the organisation but how it all fitted together.
I want to talk about one experience that really changed my view of the police. Before coming to this House as a Member of Parliament, when I was a local councillor in Tameside, and following my election to this place, I took the view that the police were a pretty remote service, because when my constituents needed them, they never seemed to call on them when they were expected to arrive. On one day, I called in at Oldham police station, where I was posted on the parliamentary scheme, and was to go out on response calls with a very dedicated police officer. We looked at the computer screen and 14 jobs were waiting for the police officer. We took the job at the top of the list, but just as we were about to set off, he received a call on the radio to go to the local hospital, because a girl—a teenager of a similar age to my eldest son—had been picked up by the police and it was suspected that she had been raped at a house party.
The police officer had received Nightingale training to deal with such cases, so we did not go to job No. 1 on the computer screen; we went to the hospital. It was inspirational to see the officer’s work. He was able to get the girl to open up and to get the necessary information out of her. The father in me wanted to bash the girl around the head and say, “What on earth were you doing at that house party instead of being at school where you should have been?” That is the paternal instinct, but the police officer was so caring, gentle and professional that he was able to get the information.
That story is relevant because I was back in my constituency that afternoon at a public meeting in Reddish and one of my constituents started complaining about a neighbourhood nuisance issue in the field at the back of her house. She had called the police at the time, but an officer did not come round. Indeed, the police officer did not come round until two days later. I had to gently remind that lady that she might have been job No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3 on the computer screen—it was in a different borough, but it is just an example—and that we might have been going to head out to her when the police officer got called off on Nightingale duty. I asked her, “If that was your granddaughter, what would you think was the most important job for that police officer to go to?” She conceded that it was to go and look after the girl in hospital rather than to come and see her. That is where the public’s perception of the police’s work is out of kilter with the real pressures on the police service, not just in Greater Manchester, but across the country, and that is why we must tread carefully when considering how we move away from the traditional policing models. The development of neighbourhood policing has been invaluable, and a move away from it would be a retrograde step.
I suspect that part of the reason that the Minister has come to the House to try to extend the powers of police volunteers is to fill the gap that the Government have created. I will provide an example from my constituency. Greater Manchester lost the equivalent of five officers every week over the course of 2015 and has lost 1,445 officers since the Government came to office, which has an impact on what the police service can provide. I appreciate that this is where the Government are trying to fill the gap with volunteers, but I ask them to think carefully about how they approach the matter. If their approach—it is not clear in the Bill—is that volunteers will be trained to become special constables, that is different from a member of the public, with good intentions no doubt, being taken on by a police force and trained to a certain level, but not actually becoming a police officer. That is what most people outside Parliament will be concerned about.
I will use another local example. Back in 1998, Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council—a Labour local authority —decided to complement the Labour Government’s neighbourhood policing team policy with a team of council officers called the Tameside patrollers. They were to be trained in a similar way to PCSOs, and were to wear a uniform that, although in Tameside council’s corporate colours, rather than the police colours, looked similar to a police uniform. They were also to work as part of the neighbourhood policing team.
That all worked pretty successfully, but the council then asked the Labour Government of the day whether they could extend certain police powers to the Tameside patrollers. The Government rightly said no. The Tameside patrollers had certain powers, and there were certain powers the PCSOs were able to use in conjunction with the Tameside patrollers, but the Government said there was a real distinction between a paid employee of the police service and a paid employee of the local authority. Although the two could work in a very complementary way together, there was an important distinction to be made. That is very relevant when we discuss extending police powers to people who are not warranted police officers, who have not sworn the oath of allegiance to the Queen and who have not taken on warranted office. That is why I support amendments 10 and 11.
All that leads on to the issue of police funding, because Greater Manchester has struggled with the settlement. I do not think it is acceptable to say that, as some police areas are doing okay, everywhere should be the same, because the metropolitan areas have taken a real hit in police funding and it is having an impact on what services the police can deliver.
I wish briefly to discuss amendment 12. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington is right to say that we should not be putting volunteers who are not special constables in roles that may require the use of force or restraint—there is a distinction to be made there. That is not to say that those people are not perfectly capable of using force and restraining people, but this raises an issue about damaging policing by consent. If we have people who are not police officers doing this, whether they are voluntary or paid, that starts to damage the public perception of where the police are in communities, particularly in certain communities. Although this approach might work in parts of the country, we have to be very careful and honest about the fact that in other parts of the country there is mistrust of the police service. If we have people who are not warranted officers using undue restraint, without the checks and balances that ordinary warranted police officers have, through the police complaints system and so on, that leads to further distrust of the police service. I believe the Minister wants to increase, rather than deteriorate, trust in the police service, which is why I urge caution on some of these measures. It is also why I very much support my hon. Friend on them. We would expect these powers to be used by properly trained, properly qualified and, importantly, warranted police officers.
Amendment 13 rightly seeks the removal of what I can describe only as a barmy proposal by the Government to provide for police volunteers to be issued with CS spray and PAVA spray—I do not support that proposal. We need to be very careful here; we need to have proper, appropriate checks and balances, ensuring that the people who patrol our streets with CS spray and PAVA spray are warranted police officers. I do not think it appropriate for volunteers to have that facility. Perhaps the Minister can convince me about what the real intentions are here, and who would be expected to have the facility, but as the Bill stands it appears that that provision is available for any volunteer that a chief constable deems fit. That is too ambiguous. If we are to extend that power to volunteers, Parliament needs to be very clear about the circumstances, the conditions and the appropriate checks and balances.
Will the hon. Gentleman accept that Parliament is not seeking to extend the power to volunteers? It is seeking to extend the power to chief constables to make the decision on whether volunteers should have CS or PAVA spray. How long does he think that a chief constable would be in office if someone—perhaps an accountant—came in to volunteer on a complicated fraud case and he said, “While you’re in here, take this CS gas spray.”? I think the hon. Gentleman is being unduly alarmist.
I would sooner be unduly alarmist than face a situation in the future where somebody may have been approved inappropriately to have this facility. It is the duty of Parliament to legislate well. We need to be much clearer in the Bill about what we intend so that there can be no ambiguity in respect of a chief constable in future. It should be perfectly clear what Ministers intend with regard to the use and the extent of this power.
All it would take is for the Minister slightly to amend and to clarify those points, and we might then have a different view. Unless the legislation that we pass is completely clear, and the intention is completely clear, we run the risk at some stage in the future of somebody who is inappropriate having that power extended to them.
Is the hon. Gentleman seriously suggesting that Parliament should sit until the recess and come up with an exhaustive list of circumstances in which chief constables could use this power? Surely the appropriate thing to do is to trust our chief officers to use the power responsibly, which is exactly what this Bill does.
I hope that we would not have to face a situation in which chief constables inappropriately use the powers that the Government are seeking to extend to them, but it is our duty to legislate for a situation where that might be the case. I do not want, at some stage in the future, a chief constable to be all over the headlines of the national press because they have done something that they should not have done but to get out of that because the intention of the Act was not clear. All I am asking for is some clarity from the Minister. If we have to wait to get this right, the Government have the power to carry over legislation. Bills do not fall at prorogation if the Government want to carry them over. Actually, the Government could easily amend the Bill and clarify the point during the remaining stages.
The hon. Gentleman is making a peculiar point. If he is saying that, essentially, we should not give chief constables a particular power because, at some point in the future, they may well fall foul of it or misuse it, then there are lots of other powers that we give chief constables to which he may wish to apply that rule. For instance, a chief constable is able to license a police officer to handle a firearm. If that firearm is used incorrectly, as we have tragically seen in the past, then the chief constable faces the consequences—whether that be legal consequences or otherwise. Does he think therefore that this principle that we cannot trust these highly trained and highly experienced chief constables to use their discretion should be applied to other perhaps more critical areas of their operation?
The hon. Gentleman has, inadvertently, made my case for me. He talks about extending firearms powers to police officers. That is the difference—he is talking about police officers. Chief constables are accountable for police officers. What we are talking about here is extending the use of CS gas to volunteers. We need to be very clear in the Bill what Parliament intends and how Parliament expects that power to be used. If the power is abused or misused, it is Parliament that will be at fault because it has not been clear about the fact that these are volunteers, not police officers.
I appreciate that other Members want to contribute to the debate. I return to the fundamental point about policing by consent. If we extend to volunteers, who are not warranted police officers in the form of special constables, powers that we would expect warranted police officers to be given, Parliament must be very careful and clear about the intention and the use of those powers, so that there are appropriate checks and balances if those powers are misused or abused, which we hope they will not be.
I shall try to rattle through my contribution. I shall speak to my new clause 1, but first let me mention new clause 17. I welcome the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse) and pay tribute to his work as deputy mayor on championing alcohol abstinence and monitoring requirements. I did my bit in the Commons and in the Lords to ensure that the new clause eventually got on to the statute book and we need to make it have meaningful effect.
The evidence from what is happening in London, which is spreading, and the impact on the offender, not least as a result of the inconvenience of having to pay, is significant and supports the South Dakota model. That needs to be taken into account when the measure goes to the other place. There are those in the other place—Baroness Finlay and others—who champion the cause and who will look carefully at the evidence and give further impetus to cost-effective efforts to help those caught up in the cycle of alcohol-related offending.
I welcome the cross-party support for new clause 1 and the support from my hon. Friends the Members for St Ives (Derek Thomas), for Colchester (Will Quince), for South Thanet (Craig Mackinlay), for North West Hampshire, for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), for Romford (Andrew Rosindell), for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) and for Altrincham and Sale West (Mr Brady). Some more recent supporters such as my hon. Friends the Members for Gower (Byron Davies), for Eastbourne (Caroline Ansell) and for Windsor (Adam Afriyie) did not quite make the cut last night to get their names on the amendment paper.
Over a number of years there has been support to ensure that knife crime legislation was fit for purpose and that it dealt properly with the issues of enforcement, recognising as do all of us who represent constituencies that have, sadly, been affected by knife crime, that much work is needed on prevention. I welcome the Government’s work over a number of years to ensure that we tackle knife crime both at its source and when it comes to court. I and a former Member, Nick de Bois, championed mandatory sentencing for repeat knife offending and I welcome the fact that that has now reached the statute book and is being implemented. We will continue to monitor that to ensure that it is implemented properly.
More needs to be done. No one can be complacent about the need to review legislation and to use the opportunities presented by the Bill to deal with knife crime. At 11 pm last night there was another incident of stabbing in the borough of Enfield, where a 28-year-old was stabbed twice in the abdomen and twice in the head in what was probably a gang-related incident. An off-duty police officer found the victim opposite Edmonton police station. The case reminds us of the impact of knife crime.
New clause 1 focuses on the sale of knives, particularly online sales, to those who are under age. I recognise that in some ways that is of marginal relevance. When I talk with police officers about gang crime, they explain that the easiest way for a youngster to obtain a knife is by getting one from the kitchen, or from someone else, or an adult might purchase it for them, so we have to recognise that there are other areas where we can tackle the prevalence of knives that would not be tackled by new clause 1.
Nevertheless, the Government have been on this case as well, in relation to how we deal with appalling cases such as that of Bailey Gwynne, which was mentioned by the shadow Minister. During the trial we got a reminder of what we are talking about when knives get into the hands of young people and are used, tragically and fatally, on other young people. When the police asked the offender how he bought the knife, he said, “I ordered it over the internet, because they don’t check your age.” I appreciate that the Scottish legislation relating to such cases is very different from ours and not totally applicable, but we want to ensure that our legislation on the sale of knives is fit for modern-day purposes, not least in relation to online sales.
I want to pay tribute to others who have campaigned on this issue, not least my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park, who has helped lead the charge to tackle knife crime, particularly in relation to zombie killer knives. He and others have worked hard, in London and elsewhere, to encourage the Government, who have effectively indicated that they will be banning the sale of those knives and that secondary legislation will give effect to that. That is very welcome.
I also welcome the fact that in March the Home Secretary announced the agreement of principles between major retailers and the Government to tackle knife crime. That voluntary agreement is very welcome. It has been signed by the British Retail Consortium and others. It is important to recognise that commitment by retailers to raise public awareness of age restrictions and robust age verification checks for knife sales.
However, in this legislation I am looking not so much at the prevention end, but at the prosecution end, because when these cases get to court there is a concern that we need to cement and support the Government’s action and the voluntary agreement by seeing what read-over there is through to the time when it reaches the courts. Under this legislation—section 141A of the Criminal Justice Act 1998—since 2009 there has been a drop in in the number of prosecutions. Back in 2009 there were 232 prosecutions, and 190 convictions were secured, but the number of prosecutions and convictions has reduced to a handful, despite the increased access to knives online. I admit that the evidence base is thin, because the police do not know the exact prevalence of online sales, and there is not much evidence for tracking those sales. Particular attention is quite properly given to guns and other illicit material that is obtained on the internet. I appreciate the comment made by my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse) about knives also being obtained on the dark web. We need to see what we can do.
I have looked at the Chartered Trading Standards Institute website to see what it says. The situation we are facing is this: when a matter goes to court and someone is quite properly prosecuted for selling a knife to someone underage, they then need to provide the defence of due diligence, which is that they have taken all reasonable precautions to avoid the conviction for the offence. The Chartered Trading Standards Institute says that what would certainly not reach the threshold of due diligence is simply relying on the purchaser to confirm that they are over the minimum age, for example by asking them to provide their date of birth, or using tick-boxes to ask purchasers their age, or using a general disclaimer, such as, “Anyone ordering this product will be deemed to be at least 18.” That is not sufficient.
The Chartered Trading Standards Institute also says that using an accept statement for the purchaser to confirm that they have read the terms and conditions and that they are over the minimum age is not due diligence, and neither is using e-payment services, such as PayPal, Nochex or Worldpay. Those services might require customers to be over 18, but they might not verify a user’s age. The issue is the verification of age that may not be properly adhered to. There is a suggestion on the Chartered Trading Standards Institute website that not all retailers are following basic trading standard requirements.
We need what has now been agreed voluntarily by the major retailers to be applied by other online retailers and places where knives are available, such as small fishing shops. We need to ensure that this legislation has bite. We need to do that because young people can sadly evade the more stringent proof of age checks that are required for face-to-face purchases on the high street. That is why new clause 1 seeks effectively to tighten the defence that a seller took all reasonable precautions and exercised all due diligence to avoid the commission of the offence. The triple-lock check in the new clause uses three minimum requirements recommended by the Chartered Trading Standards Institute for online sales of age-restricted products.
The first check is age verification on delivery. Retailers would be required to carry out age verification checks at the point of delivery by ensuring that their delivery drivers request valid proof of age to confirm the purchaser is over the minimum age necessary to buy the knife. The reality is that third-party couriers do not accept responsibility for age verification, and that could be a loophole. Furthermore, although the voluntary agreement the Home Secretary got the major retailers to sign up to means there is a commitment on their delivery drivers, we are looking at all other online retailers.
The second check is online age verification. Obviously, the credit card could provide that, but easily obtainable software could also ensure that a person’s age and identity are verified during the ordering process. Checks could use a register or a credit reference agency, and that could help to provide a proper due diligence check.
The third check—a follow-up offline check—goes a step further than the voluntary agreement. In some circumstances, it may not be possible to verify a potential purchaser’s age to conclude an online order. Further checks would then be required, such as requiring the customer to provide valid proof of age, which could then be appropriately checked.
Those checks put more flesh on the bones of the due diligence check. I understand that the specificity of due diligence is not usually included in statute, and the Government may well respond that they do not want the new clause to cut across the voluntary agreement, but it does not seek to do that. In many ways, it is about cases that get to court, whereas the Government’s voluntary agreement is about trying to prevent online sales to under-18s and encouraging responsible retailers.
We want the prosecution and the court to be properly appraised of what is the very least in terms of reasonable precautions. New clause 1 would give them a clear understanding of the minimum requirement and of what is not a good trading standard, going beyond just the good voluntary agreement the Government helped to agree. It would make clear where the read-across is when cases reach court, so that the court has a clear understanding of due diligence.
I have tried to find other legislation where due diligence is specified, and it is hard to find. Nevertheless, there is an example of guidance relating to money laundering. Following a meeting that gave rise to something not dissimilar to the voluntary agreement with online retailers, the Government published guidance on customer due diligence on their website on 5 August 2013, and that guidance can be read across into court.
The new clause has cross-party support, and the Government will have seen how many Members—not least Conservatives—have signed up to it, and others no doubt support it as well. It is therefore important that the Government respond constructively and look at how we ensure that publication of their voluntary agreement leads to guidance so that the courts recognise what a due diligence defence to such crimes is.
In conclusion, it is important that the offence we are talking about is fit for the modern-day purposes of online sales. Often, we are talking about not just the sale of a knife but the supply of a knife. I would therefore welcome the Government considering whether a tweak needs to happen so that the sale of knives also encompasses the supply of knives. A wider understanding of sale and supply would ensure that we allow for the purchase of a knife by an adult who then passes it on to a youngster. We would then have full coverage. We should make the most of the opportunity provided by the Bill, whether that is today or later, when we come back to it here or in another place.
According to the National Audit Office, police forces saw their funding from central Government fall by 25% in the previous Parliament. The Chancellor and the Home Secretary have been rebuked by the statistics watchdog for claiming in the November spending review that police funding would be protected in this Parliament. As my hon. Friend the shadow Policing Minister said, Sir Andrew Dilnot, chair of the UK Statistics Authority, noted that the budgets would be cut by £160 million in real terms between 2015-16 and 2016-17. The result is that 18,000 officers have been cut by this Government, 12,000 from the frontline. This has led to police forces being overstretched and struggling with the challenges that they face. In many areas, specialist teams are stretched, and sometimes being merged, leading to even more pressure on the frontline.
I oppose the Government’s attempts in this Bill to plug the holes that they have created in the workforce with volunteers. I recognise the excellent work done by special constables, as highlighted by many right hon. and hon. Members. Some weeks ago, I had the privilege of spending some night shifts with the Lambeth division as part of the police service parliamentary scheme. I was absolutely impressed by the dedication, commitment and professionalism of all the specials I met in having to deal with fighting, robbery, assault and a range of all sorts of offences during those shifts. For many years, my own father was a special constable in south Wales, so I absolutely appreciate the role played within the policing family by special constables, as well as the other volunteers who work to support the police through neighbourhood watch, police and crime panels, and a range of other roles. However, there is a big difference between volunteers bringing additionality to the police workforce and volunteers acting as replacements for paid police staff.
One of the most concerning results of police cuts has been the reduction of in the number of neighbourhood policing teams. Under the Labour Government, we saw significant investment in local policing teams. That had a really positive impact in reducing crime, building rapport with local communities, and raising awareness and visibility. Sadly, we are witnessing the loss of local neighbourhood policing, and that is a huge backward step.
My hon. Friend is making an incredibly powerful point about the importance of neighbourhood and community policing. Does he agree that the other important aspect is stability for our economy? Increasingly, particularly in constituencies such as mine in the far south of England, high numbers of self-employed people are working at home and therefore need stability in order to boost our economy and retain economic growth within the community where a lot of our economic activity now takes place. It is not just about personal harm; it is about economic stability as well.
Failsworth in the borough of Oldham had one of the borough’s reassurance projects, which were the forerunners of the model of neighbourhood policing that we all see and respect today. The police station in that area is now closed. There is not a single custody cell in the whole borough of Oldham, and there are only two PCSOs left in the township, one of whom is likely not to be there if the cuts continue. The seven neighbourhoods that were in the borough of Oldham have now changed so that they stretch from Manchester’s city boundaries all the way through to Saddleworth and towards Huddersfield. That is not a neighbourhood, by anybody’s standards.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. As a local councillor, I spent many years working with the neighbourhood policing team in my communities, organising monthly advice surgeries and working with the team to resolve issues that were brought up. Cases that we as local councillors come across often have a two-pronged effect: are they a policing issue or a council issue? Very often, issues cut across both. The ability of elected local councillors to work with local neighbourhood policing teams has had a positive impact on solving crime that was, in some cases, low level, but that often led to bigger issues brewing if it was not resolved at an early stage. Local neighbourhood policing is essential to resolve community tensions, bring communities together and act as that visible part of policing that, unfortunately, we came to take for granted but that is no longer there in the way it once was. The Government should fund police forces properly and allow police and crime commissioners and chief constables to recruit more police officers to be visible on our streets, and to have the positive impact on crime that we became used to under the previous Labour Government.
I want to ask the Minister a question about police community support officers. More than 4,500 PCSOs have been lost since 2010 as a result of Tory cuts to policing. Does the Minister expect the volunteer PCSOs to plug that gap and keep our communities safe? I am thankful that I represent a Welsh constituency where support for PCSOs has been provided by the Welsh Labour Government.
In fact, those people are community support officers, not police community support officers. Policing is not devolved to the Welsh Assembly Government, so the position is that they are community support officers. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), who is speaking from a sedentary position, might want to check that. The Welsh Assembly Government do not have devolved powers over policing or justice.
I accept that the Welsh Assembly Government do not have power over policing, but there is no difference between the 500 PCSOs that the Welsh Government fund—they are part of the policing family—and other PCSOs. They are certainly not what is being proposed in the Bill; they are paid police community support officers who work in communities across Wales. Sadly, because of the Conservative cuts, the number of PCSOs has been drastically reduced elsewhere. Wales is the only area where PCSO numbers have increased, and I am thankful that I represent a Welsh constituency where that is the case. I close by asking the Minister to confirm whether she expects the volunteers to plug the gap that the Government have created by cutting the number of PCSOs.
I probably did. I start by drawing attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I am the chairman of the all-party group on shooting and conservation, and I am a shotgun and firearms certificate holder. I have tabled several amendments that are technical, so I will take them slowly. They have the support of the British Shooting Sports Council, the Countryside Alliance and the British Association for Shooting and Conservation. Those associations cover very large numbers of lawful certificate holders.
I rise to speak to new clauses 7, 8 and 9 and amendment 1. New clause 7 has three purposes. First, subsections (2) and (3) relate to expanding ammunition. Expanding ammunition is required under the Deer Act 1991 and the Deer (Firearms etc.) (Scotland) Order 1985 to shoot deer, and it is the humane option for pest control and humane dispatch. It is therefore widely possessed. Certificates are rendered more complex by the inclusion of the additional authority to acquire and possess it. Expanding ammunition is also safer than fully jacketed ammunition, being less prone to ricochet.
It is my understanding that the National Police Chiefs Council has asked for a revision of this provision. Currently, special authority has to be given on a firearms certificate for the possession of expanding ammunition, which requires additional administration for the police. The new clause would simplify the licensing process, save resources for the police and facilitate the movement of such ammunition for the trade. Moving expanding ammunition back to section 1 of the Firearms Act would reduce the administrative burden. It is also illogical to have a type of ammunition that is banned by one Act, but required to be used by another.
Secondly, subsection (4) of my new clause 7 would replace the existing section 7(1) of the 1968 Act to address an anomaly in the Act as regards section 7 permits. The insertion of words “or authority” would extend section 7 temporary permits to cover section 5 items held on a firearms or shotgun certificate. That would help in a variety of circumstances when temporary possession has to be authorised—for example, when there are firearms or ammunition among a deceased person’s effects that have to be disposed of by the executors.
Thirdly, subsection (5) of new clause 7 would clarify the law with regard to certificate renewals, and replicate the provision in Scottish legislation that ensures that the possession of firearms remains lawful when there is a delay in renewal. This has happened to me. An application may be made to the police in good time, but because of the number of certificates that the police have to inspect and then decide whether to grant, they do not actually renew the certificate on time. Unless they issue a section 7 temporary permit, the person holding the firearms or shotguns is doing so illegally because the certificate has not been renewed. I therefore suggest the adoption of the Scottish solution.
A recent freedom of information request to all police forces in England and Wales has shown that there has been a substantial increase in the number of section 7 temporary permits issued during the past five years. For example, the number of permits issued in Hampshire has increased by over 15 times, from 79 in 2010 to 1,205 in 2015. It should also be noted that some of the police forces inspected by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary have failed to issue a section 7 temporary permit to individuals whose certificates have expired, placing those individuals in an illegal situation through no fault of their own. Of the 11 police forces inspected by HMIC, between one and 168 firearms holders were currently in that category in each police force area. Simply by deeming the existing certificate to be in force until it is renewed by the police would reduce the administrative burden on them, and not place the individual certificate holder in the invidious position of holding illegal firearms.
New clause 8 would extend Home Office club approval to cover section 1 shotguns and long-barrelled pistols used for target shooting at clubs approved by the Home Office. These clubs are very strictly vetted. They may possess firearms for the use of their members, who may temporarily possess one another’s firearms. This allows the club to instruct new members in safety and shooting skills, as it is required to do under its licence, and for a range officer to take possession of a firearm on the range in the event of a problem.
At present, the Home Office may approve target shooting clubs to use only rifles or muzzle-loading pistols. Long-barrelled pistols and section 1 shotguns are increasingly popular for target shooting, but because of the limitations placed on firearms for which Home Office approval may be given, only the person—this is the critical bit in relation to new clause 8—on whose firearms certificate the long-barrelled pistol or shotgun is entered may use it at the club. This has adverse consequences in that clubs may not possess such arms for the use of members, and may find that the possession stricture makes safety instruction difficult and, critically, prevents range officers from taking control of such firearms should there be a problem. For example, if the weapon jams or, even worse, if something serious, such as a heart attack, strikes the user of the firearm, the range officer in the club cannot lawfully take possession of the firearm. New clause 8 seeks to amend that provision.
New clause 9 addresses the problem caused by the term “occupier” in relation to the borrowing of a shotgun without a shotgun certificate under section 11(5) of the Firearms Act 1968, and the borrowing of a rifle without a firearm certificate under section 16(1) of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988. I will cut a lot of verbiage from my explanation of the new clause by illustrating it with an example. Suppose, Mr Deputy Speaker, that I invite you to shoot on my shoot and I am the occupier. If you bring a friend, he can borrow my gun, because I am the occupier, but he cannot borrow your gun, because you are not the occupier, even though you might be a lawful certificate holder.
Recent inquiries made to police forces suggest a lack of clarity as to how the term “occupier” is understood, but it is construed narrowly. The organisations that I have mentioned carried out a survey. When asked under a freedom of information request for their definition of “occupier”, the majority of police forces relied on guidance. Sussex police force replied that “occupier” meant
“either the owner of the land or the person possessing the sporting (shooting) rights over the land”.
The Durham police force, however, defined “occupier” as
“an owner, lessee or authorised person over the age of 18 years who holds a firearm certificate and who owns or is responsible for land that has rights of hunting, shooting, fishing or taking game”.
Those two examples make it crystal clear how different police forces construe the meaning of the word “occupier”.
The Law Commission’s scoping consultation concluded the following on the lack of definition:
“It has been reported to us by a number of stakeholders that this provision poses real problems in practice for shooting enthusiasts. This is because it inconsistently limits this very temporary, restricted loan of shotguns, with the result that some novices wishing to shoot are arbitrarily forced to take out shotgun certificates in their own names”.
By simply replacing the word “occupier” with
“the owner, occupier or authorised person”,
anyone granted a lawful certificate by the local constabulary would become the authorised person. The new clause deals with the anomaly.
Moving rapidly on to my amendment 1, this Bill will give the Home Office the right to produce statutory guidance by which the police will have to abide, but the shooting organisations fear that they will not be consulted as part of that process. That would be monstrously wrong, because the thousands of lawful certificate holders would not have a say in that guidance. My amendment simply states that other organisations must be consulted on that statutory guidance.
I would like to spend 30 seconds on the Opposition’s amendments on full cost recovery. If they look carefully at the work of the fees working group, they will see that all the organisations, including the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Home Office and the shooting organisations, agreed that the system allows for full cost recovery. Put simply, the police must adopt the new, computerised efficiency systems to give them those reductions in costs. Unfortunately, not all constabularies are complying with that new e-commerce system. I ask the Minister to encourage all 42 constabularies to adopt the system so that they can get the maximum efficiencies and keep their costs to the lowest possible level. That would benefit all certificate holders. Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for allowing me this opportunity.
I want to speak to new clause 19, which appears in my name and those of many right hon. and hon. Members from parties on both sides of the House. Members may recall my promotion of a ten-minute rule Bill on the subject in question a couple of weeks ago, so I hope they will indulge me while I provide a quick summary.
My new clause seeks to ban those attending live music events from carrying or using flares, fireworks or smoke bombs. In 2014 there were 255 incidents involving such items, which can be very dangerous as they can burn at temperatures of up to 2,000 °C. Although we are lucky that no one in this country has died from such incidents recently, such deaths have occurred elsewhere in the world, so we should try to act now to prevent that from happening here.
Many people I have spoken to were surprised to learn that such dangerous behaviour is not already prohibited in law, especially given that football fans already have that legal protection; possession or use of pyrotechnics among spectators is banned at football grounds. That approach demonstrably works: there were only three incidents in 2014 at football grounds. I understand that a young woman was hurt by a flare at Wembley over the weekend; the difference is that the cretin who burned the flare and hurt the girl can be dealt with in law, in front of a court if necessary, whereas that could not happen for an incident at a music event.
Perhaps I am too demanding, but the current legal situation for music festivals is deeply inadequate. Flares are not covered by existing fireworks regulations at all, because they are not designed for entertainment. Under-18s are prohibited from carrying or using fireworks in public places, but most concerts and festivals occur on private property and so are not covered—therein lies the anomaly. Adults can be convicted of an offence of using or carrying the items only if it can be proved that that was done with an intent to cause harm. That is not usually the case when someone takes the stupid decision to set off a flare or throw a firework at a concert.
I have tabled new clause 19 in the hope of making the law consistent and offering music fans the same protection as football fans—protection that they deserve. To be entirely clear, the new clause would not affect the ability of artists and their production teams to use pyrotechnics on stage. Dig if you will, Mr Deputy Speaker, a picture of you and me at a concert where the only fireworks on display are part of a show and are deployed by pyro experts rather than by someone ill-equipped to handle such dangerous objects.
Flares are meant as emergency tools and should not be used as toys or makeshift torches. I have absolutely no desire to stop people using fireworks in any of the many ways in which they can be used safely, but it is blindingly obvious that in the close quarters of a concert audience their use is not safe. Under the new clause, courts would be empowered to impose fines or short prison sentences on those found guilty of this reckless behaviour, in line with the penalties at football matches.
Since I raised this issue a couple of weeks ago, I have been contacted by many people who have been affected by such incidents; in fact, I had a call this morning from a young woman who had been hit in the head, very close to her eye, by a firework at the Brixton Academy. It is little comfort to those wounded or scarred by fireworks and flares to be told, “I never meant to cause you any pain.” Their use should be outlawed.
There is wide support for making this change from the music industry, artists, venue owners and operators, and fans. The industry representative body UK Music, the Association of Independent Festivals and many others have all asked the Government to back up all those in the industry who already strive to put on safe and enjoyable performances. The founder of Bestival, Mr Rob da Bank, has said:
“As the promoter of a 50,000-capacity festival, audience safety is always at the forefront of event planning, and we would like to see our fans offered the same protection as those attending sporting events.”
Mr da Bank goes on to say—this is sadly a “Sign ‘O’ the Times”, Mr Deputy Speaker:
“There are increasingly more incidents and the time is right for the government to act and support organisers in minimising risk and providing a safe and enjoyable environment for everyone attending.”
I finish by asking the Minister to give serious consideration to new clause 19. I am incredibly grateful to colleagues across the House, and the members of the all-party parliamentary group on music in particular, who, as sponsors of the ten-minute rule Bill and now by adding their names to the new clause, have helped to demonstrate that there is cross-party support for these changes.
I thank the Home Secretary for meeting me to discuss this matter, as well as the Ministers of State responsible for policing and for culture for taking time to discuss my proposals. I am pleased that the Government are willing to listen to such cross-party proposals and are ready to work with us. I do not intend to test the will of the House at this stage, but I look forward to some assurance from the Minister that this provision will form part of the Bill by the time it receives Royal Assent.
I rise to add my support to new clauses 7, 8 and 9. In particular, it is important that people who are not seen as a risk when holding firearms—I declare that I hold a shotgun certificate—do not suddenly become a risk overnight because their certificate has expired. New clause 7, and particularly subsection (5), is a sensible amendment to firearms legislation.
If an application to renew a certificate has been received by the local firearms team but it has been unable to deal with it in time, it seems wrong that members of the public who have exercised their responsibilities appropriately and within the terms of their licence should be criminalised overnight by the failure of the police force to deal with that application in time. I urge the Minister to take that into account. New clause 7 would make matters administratively simpler for the police, and avoid unnecessarily criminalising people who have otherwise done nothing wrong.
Does my hon. Friend agree that in that situation, one way forward that the shotgun licence holder is given is to apply for a temporary permit? Yet that application is made to the same firearms department, which is already overburdened with work, and it requires the same amount of work as issuing a permanent permit. We need some mechanism such as that proposed in the new clause.
I totally agree. The new clause would remove that unnecessary duplication of effort and allow the police to concentrate on getting through a backlog of licence renewals, or processing them quickly and effectively.
Let me highlight some of the anomalies behind new clause 9. As a landowner I could lend somebody a gun that is lawfully in my possession and that I am authorised to hold. Many children are taught to walk around with unloaded guns for many years, so that they learn how to use shotguns safely. Those guns are never loaded, but children are taught how to carry one, how to keep other people safe, and how to cross fences. That is a valuable part of training, and it makes a nonsense of the current unclear legislation on the term “occupier”—my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) spoke about how different police forces interpret that term, which indicates that there is something of a postcode lottery regarding where someone lives and how the law is applied.
The new clause brings much needed clarity to the process, and I urge the Minister to consider taking the matter further. If he cannot accept the new clause today, perhaps he will commit to it being considered in the other place. It is clear that these new clauses do not involve further risk—or indeed any risk—to the public.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) mentioned the police funding formula. In many areas, rural policing is like rural schooling and delivery of services. The policing formula does not support delivery of policing in rural areas—indeed, it tends to favour metropolitan areas. I have many examples of that. I know from previous experience that North Wales police were underfunded by £25 a head. It would be quite wrong, therefore, to give the impression that the leafy shires are better funded than metropolitan areas; that simply is not the case. The difference, particularly in Dyfed–Powys or indeed Cheshire, has been the way the PCC has allocated resources to frontline policing.
With the greatest respect, I have to correct the hon. Lady. If we compare metropolitan forces with areas such as Surrey, Sussex and Hampshire, we will see that the evidence is stark. In addition, after the debacle over the police funding formula, proposals were made for transition arrangements, but all the emphasis has been on helping Conservative areas, which cannot be right.
I simply do not accept that. The “damping” provisions have ensured that metropolitan areas have had substantially more funding, and rurality is not adequately accounted for in the funding formula to reflect the difficulty of policing often very large areas. After all, communities in rural areas deserve to be policed in exactly the same way and to have the same support and cover as those in metropolitan areas. I want to correct the impression that that is not the case.
In Cheshire, the PCC’s approach to services has led to a substantial increase on the frontline in the number of warranted officers. PCCs are making choices about where to allocate resources, but the examples from Cheshire and elsewhere, such as Dyfed–Powys, show that we can protect frontline services and even increase frontline policing using the funding settlements made over the last few years. The examples are out there, and I invite members of the public to check them out.
I start by joining the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) in paying tribute to the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) and his work to expose the tragedy at Hillsborough. I also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who instigated the coroner’s inquiry and made sure we had the inquest. Had it not been for her work, we would not be here today with the unlawful killing judgment that we are all grateful for.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the Committee was good natured. There was a great deal of agreement and consensus, and where there was agreement—and even where there was not—the debate was good natured. I must, however, take issue with some of his points. We had a bit of a debate during his contribution about crime, but the figures are clear: since 2010, crime is down. He is right, however, that reported crime is up, and that is good news. We want victims to come forward and we want the police to believe them. We want to ensure that when a crime has been committed, it is reported and recorded, so that we have the best possible chance of catching the criminal and bringing them to justice.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the changing face of crime and seemed to imply that the Bill had failed. I hope he will acknowledge that the Investigatory Powers Bill, currently in Committee, deals with many of his points about the changing face of crime. He is right that there are new ways criminals can attack us and get to us.
Before the internet, a criminal simply could not get to somebody sitting in Leek, in my constituency of Staffordshire Moorlands, or to Joe and Josephine Soap in The Dog and Duck in Erdington, who we have heard much about in our debates. They could simply not get to those people from places such as the far east, eastern Europe and so forth. Now, thanks to the internet, they can. The internet has provided a great opportunity, but it also means that criminals have access to that opportunity. I believe that the Investigatory Powers Bill being debated upstairs addresses many of the points that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington raised.
I would like to pick up on a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) about police and crime commissioners. I was in Cheshire last week with John Dwyer, who has done fantastic work in that county. Likewise, my own PCC, Matthew Ellis in Staffordshire, has maintained front-line warranted officers. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Amanda Milling) mentioned in the earlier debate, he has also introduced new ways of policing, including using electronic communication, to address precisely the points that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington made about the changing face of crime. Good Conservative PCCs absolutely deliver and make sure that policing is exactly as their communities need.
I am conscious of the time, so I am going to ensure that I comment first on the newly tabled amendments. We have already debated many amendments on similar themes at length in Committee, and I will touch on them if I have the time, but I hope Members will understand why I shall focus my initial comments on the new amendments tabled today.
New clause 1 was proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes). It goes without saying that I share his concerns about inappropriate knife sales, and we absolutely need to make sure that the law—it is very clear that it is illegal to sell knives to under-18s—is upheld and enforced, and that retailers and others understand that law. My hon. Friend knows that we have had extensive discussions of the matter and that we are taking steps to make sure that the law is known, that retailers are made aware of it and that we strengthen our response to knife crime. In February this year, for example, we supported 13 police forces in co-ordinated action against knife crime. This involved targeting habitual knife carriers, weapon sweeps, test purchases of knives from identified retailers and the use of surrender bins.
On 23 March this year, we published the modern crime prevention strategy, which sets out a range of measures to strengthen our response to knife crime, including working with the police and industry to ensure there are effective controls on the sale of knives and other offensive weapons; identifying and spreading best practice; delivering measures designed to deter young people from carrying knives; and introducing secondary legislation to ban the sale and importation of “zombie-killer knives” that glamorise violence. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington mentioned the PCC David Jamieson in that context, and I pay tribute to this Labour PCC for the work he has done.
We have also agreed a set of principles with major retailers, including with Amazon and eBay, to prevent under-age sales of knives in stores and, very importantly, online. The agreement builds on the round table with major retailers, which was chaired by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary last month to encourage them to sell knives more responsibly.
It is crucial to realise that the current law is very clear: a retailer commits an offence if they sell knives to a person under 18. Retailers are required to take “reasonable precautions” and exercise “due diligence” to prevent such sales. That is why we worked with retailers to ensure that an appropriate code of practice looks not just for age verification at the point of sale. It is right that age verification is not just ticking a box for someone to say that they are aged 18. We mean proper and appropriate age verification, very much like that on which we have been consulting in respect of access to pornography for under-18s. We expect appropriate, online age verification there, too, and not merely a tick box for somebody to say that they are 18. We need to know that appropriate software or other age-verification techniques are being used. These are used by the gambling industry and across the world.
We have that agreement from the retailers, but also crucial is verification at the point of delivery. It is not good enough simply to verify that the purchaser is aged over 18; there must be confirmation and verification at the point of delivery. That means that many retailers—Tesco and Argos, for example—will not deliver a knife to anybody. They insist that the person must go and collect the knife from the store so that they can determine that he or she is over 18, and has appropriate verification.
The law is clear, and the new code of practice is clear. I want to give an agreement that is not even a month old a chance to work, but I also think that we should bear in mind what my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate said about prosecutions. We need to know that, if a prosecution is brought, the courts will have the weapons that they need to secure a successful conviction. I shall be happy to work with colleagues in the Ministry of Justice, including my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Fire, Criminal Justice and Victims, who is sitting next to me. We also need to bear in mind what my hon. Friend said about whether we need to take any action on the supply and delivery of knives.
May I briefly intervene in support of new clause 1? There is no doubt that welcome steps have been taken, but what the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) and others have proposed, with cross-party support, is the imposition of clear obligations and responsibilities, in law, to which those engaged in the selling and provision of knives must be held. Are the Government rejecting that approach?
The law is clear. Selling a knife to anyone under 18 is against the law, and anyone who does so is breaking the law. What we are seeking is the best way in which to ensure that that responsibility is upheld and there is appropriate enforcement of the law, and that means ensuring that retailers adhere to the code of practice. It is a voluntary code of practice, but we want the onus to be on the retailer rather than on the Government. The key issue is effective implementation and enforcement of the law as it exists. My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate pointed out that such matters are not generally covered by primary legislation, and tend to be dealt with in, for instance, codes of practice. I shall be happy to look into whether there are suitable ways of enabling the code to be implemented by prosecution services or others, and I will keep my hon. Friend apprised of developments.
Let me now deal with the new clauses relating to firearms which were tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) and supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury. I think that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir Edward Garnier) has left the Chamber, but I sensed that he was about to support them as well.
The purpose of the firearms provisions in the Bill is to close the most pressing loopholes in the current legislation, which are open to exploitation by criminals. The Government accept that firearms legislation needs a general overhaul, but our priority must be to address the issues that pose the greatest risk to public safety. The Law Commission recommended that firearms legislation be codified, and we are giving careful thought to the case for that. We may be able to consider some of the proposals in new clauses 7, 8 and 9 as part of such an exercise. The provisions in the Bill have been subject to detailed consideration and consultation by the Law Commission, unlike the proposals presented by the British Shooting Sports Council. We need to think carefully about the impact on public safety before legislating on any of these matters, and I assure my hon. Friend that we will do just that.
With great respect to my hon. Friend, it sounds as though she is shunting my new clauses into the very long grass, which would simply not be acceptable to the millions of lawful holders of firearms and shotguns. There will be a great deal of pressure on my hon. Friend. Will she please assure us that she is not shifting this into the very, very long grass?
I can assure my hon. Friend that that is not the case. I understand that he had a productive meeting with officials yesterday to discuss his new clauses. As I have said, our No. 1 priority must be to promote public safety, but I accept that we also need an efficient licensing regime that minimises bureaucracy and inconvenience both to the police and to legitimate holders of firearms certificates. We will study my hon. Friend’s new clauses further, and if there are elements that can sensibly be taken forward without our compromising public safety, I shall be happy to look into whether it might be possible to do that in the Bill. I will keep my hon. Friend informed of progress in advance of the Committee stage in the other place.
I recognise that amendment 1 is intended to enable those with practical expertise to contribute to the development of the guidance to the police. We will consult widely on the first edition of the new statutory guidance, and that consultation will consider the views of shooting organisations as well as of the police. However, this is not a matter for legislation.
The hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) has tabled amendments relating to firearms fees. Currently, combined, the authorisation and licensing of prohibited weapons, shooting clubs and museums cost the taxpayer an estimated £700,000 a year. It is our intention that licence holders, not the taxpayer, should pay for the cost of the service. The proposed fees will be set out in a public consultation and the Government must consider any evidence put forward about the impact of the fees on particular categories of licence holders. I cannot pre-empt the consultation but, for example, organisations in the voluntary or civil society sector might put forward a case.
Fees for firearms and shotgun certificates issued by the police are separate and were increased in April 2015. Those were the first increases since 2001. My hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds talked about the police’s new online e-commerce system. Once that has been introduced across all 43 forces, fees will recover the full cost of licensing.
Yes. I understand that the Minister for Policing, Fire, Criminal Justice and Victims will write to Opposition Front Benchers with further information when we have further details of the consultation.
My hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse) has tabled new clause 17 on the question of sobriety orders. He and I had a good discussion on this yesterday, and I am keen to explore the areas that he has talked about. He has rightly made the point that it is currently not possible to make offenders pay for the cost of their tags, and to do so would represent a departure from what we are doing in other parts of the criminal justice system. So, if he will allow me, I would like to explore the matter further, check for any unintended consequences and other points and perhaps continue to discuss the issue with him so that we can ensure that we get this measure right if it is appropriate to introduce it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams) tabled new clause 19, and I want to start by praising him. He should take great pride in having identified a real gap in the law. He is quite right to say that we do not want to see hundreds of young people—and perhaps not-so-young people—at festivals being maimed by flares. The Government fully support the intention behind the new clause but we need to be sure that there would be no unintended consequences.
It is for that reason that the Home Secretary and I have agreed with my hon. Friend to work together to table a Government amendment on this issue in the other place. I can assure him that when the Bill is enacted, such an amendment will be on the face of the legislation. I can also assure him that we will work to ensure the timely implementation of the amendment so that the law is in force by the time of next year’s festival season. I think I picked up some references in his contribution to a great artist who passed away last week. I can assure him that, at next season’s festivals, people will be able to party like it’s 1999.
Question put and agreed to.
New clause 31 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.
New Clause 32
Police volunteers: inspection
‘(1) In section 54 of the Police Act 1996 (appointment and functions of inspectors of constabulary), in subsection (7) (as inserted by section 34), after paragraph (a) insert—
“(aa) persons designated as community support volunteers or policing support volunteers under section 38 of the Police Reform Act 2002;”
(2) In Schedule 4A to the Police Act 1996 (further provision about Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Constabulary), in paragraph 6D (as inserted by section 33), after sub-paragraph (1A)(c) insert—
“(ca) a person designated as a community support volunteer or a policing support volunteer under section 38 of the Police Reform Act 2002;”.’.—(Karen Bradley.)
This new clause makes provision about how the law relating to police inspections under the Police Act 1996 applies to those designated as community support volunteers or policing support volunteers under section 38 of the Police Reform Act 2002. The amendment of section 54 clarifies that inspections of police forces may include inspections of designated volunteers. The amendment of Schedule 4A is related to amendment 48 and means that designated volunteers served with a notice under paragraph 6A of that Schedule requiring the provision of information have no right of appeal against the notice (and, hence, are in the same position as constables serving with a police force and civilian staff designated under section 38 of the 2002 Act).
Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.
Proceedings interrupted (Programme Order, this day).
The Speaker put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83E).
Powers of police civilian staff and police volunteers
Amendment proposed: 13, page 59, line 1, leave out subsection (9B).—(Jack Dromey.)
This amendment removes the provision for volunteer PCSOs to be issued with CS spray and PAVA spray.
Question put, That the amendment be made.
Amendment proposed: 10, page 59, line 31, at end insert—
“(12) This section cannot come into force until the House of Commons approves a report under subsection 46(6) of the Police Act 1996 which guarantees no annual reduction in funding in real terms to local policing bodies in each financial year until 2020.” .—(Jack Dromey.)
This amendment would guarantee that police funding would be protected in a police grant settlement approved by Parliament before proposals to grant additional police powers to volunteers can be brought forward.
Question put, That the amendment be made.
Amendment made: 62, page 142, line 17, at end insert—
“() section (Application of Firearms Act 1968 to the police: special constables and volunteers);” —(Karen Bradley.)
The Firearms Act 1968 forms part of the law of England and Wales and Scotland. This amendment provides for the amendments to that Act made by new clause NC31 to form part of the law of England and Wales and Scotland.
Bill to be further considered tomorrow.