Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill — Second Reading
Lord Stevenson of Balmacara (Labour)
My Lords, this has been an excellent debate. When I was thinking about how to describe it, it reminded me of a delicious chocolate chip cookie. There have been lots of typical extremely high-level Second Reading debate comments and, every now and again, you come across a chunk of deep, bitter chocolate, represented by the expertise which has been massing over on the Cross Benches and some other Benches of people with real experience of working in the areas which we are discussing. There is more to come, and if noble Lords stay with the debate to the end, they will see what I mean, because we have more contributions of real calibre to come.
The debate has ranged across the whole Bill, which is good because it covers a wide range of issues, and has drawn in a huge amount of expertise, including three widely and rightly praised maiden speeches. Like many other noble Lords, I was very moved by the comments of the noble Baronesses, Lady Berridge and Lady Newlove. The noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, and I entered the House on the same day, so I am glad that she has now made her maiden speech and is joining us as a full Member. I am sure that she will contribute in a wide range of activities.
Mind you, if I were the Minister, I would not be quite so pleased by what I have heard today. Indeed, she is not here; she has gone; perhaps she has had to go off to seek inspiration elsewhere. I also notice that although she started with eight people in the Box, we are now down to one. I rather suspect that the devastating critique which is running at about 10:1 against the Government's proposals may be having an effect.
I have three reservations to make about the Bill, because many of the points that one could have made have already been made very well. I will make one suggestion at the end.
My first point is: why are only some of our police services in England and Wales being legislated for? If you look at the full list of police forces, you find that there are seven additional services which operate in England and Wales: the British Transport Police, the Central Motorway Policing Group, the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, the Ministry of Defence Police, the Port of Dover Police, the Port of Liverpool Police and the Serious Organised Crime Agency. In Scotland, there is also the Scottish Drug Enforcement Agency. They will not be caught by the Bill. As a result, the operational activities which we have been discussing risk being steered away across the whole of the police service. I should declare at this point that I have a past interest as a mentor involved with the British Transport Police, a service which I hold in very high regard.
I am concerned, in the run-up to the Olympics, about a divergence between the police forces under the Bill, if it passes, which will be operating under one set of rules and operations, because the BTP and the others I mentioned will of course be under a different regime. They will all be playing a part together, as has been mentioned, in the Olympics. There are differences already across government because the BTP reports to the Department of Transport and not to the Home Office. But it surely must be in the best interests of all concerned that as much commonality of approach and operation is present in our police services, however they are organised, and I do not think the Bill will help with that.
Like several noble Lords, I am concerned about some of the licensing proposals. I echo some of the concerns expressed by my noble friend Lord Brooke and I listened to what the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, was saying about the concerns he had received from the licensed trade, which are worth serious consideration. I look forward to the Minister's response to that.
My particular concern, which I think was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, is the stealth tax that is being applied on the late night levy, which may have a devastating effect on live music. If that is the case and it does come in in that way, it will undermine the Private Member's Bill, which we support on this side of the House and which seems to be running dangerously close to some of the provisions in the Bill. We will have to watch that very carefully.
I have two concerns about aspects of the drugs provisions in Part 4, some of which have been mentioned already. The temporary banning orders for new drugs fly in the face of common sense. About a month ago we had a debate on the Government's drugs policy. We learnt that banning was not always the best way to deal with new drugs. We were told during the debate that some 40 new drugs are produced every year. We must have evidence, and that evidence must be used to make the decisions. I was glad to hear what the Minister said in that, but I think we will need to probe this matter more in discussion in Committee. What has been argued in the debate, and seems to be agreed around the House, is that we really have missed an opportunity in the Bill in terms of drugs policy, which is that we now need to look forward to a regime that encompasses all potentially harmful psychoactive substances, including alcohol and tobacco. That is not provided for in the Bill.
In her opening remarks the Minister stressed the value of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. As has already been pointed out, at the same time Clause 153 removes the requirement of the advisory council to have members with certain specified scientific expertise. I can understand the need for flexibility in this area, and of course there are credibility issues. Again, we should probe that in Committee.
I should like to end by agreeing with some of the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Patten. I did not agree with much of what he had to say, but I did agree with his point about the tensions that have come up a number of times in debates between the appropriate democratic accountability of the police force and the operational independence which it must have. We have not seen the protocol. It is a bit like "Hamlet" without the prince: we cannot discuss this because we do not know what is in it, but we all know that it is a serious and big issue that will need to come back and be discussed again.
The noble Lord, Lord Imbert, made an important point. If all police constables and above have to swear loyalty to the Queen, surely a protocol-whatever that might be-is not enough. We really should be thinking in terms of a royal charter-in that sense echoing the movements towards a military covenant and the work that was done on the NHS constitution-to enshrine the high-level objectives and standards that we require across the whole country in a way that cannot be changed on a regular basis and that will give the certainty and the backbone we need as we go forward in our police service.