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Viscount Tenby (Crossbench)

rose to call attention to the role and organisation of the police in England and Wales at the present time; and to move for Papers.

My Lords, I begin by saying how delighted I am to see the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, in her place on the Front Bench for this debate. I am sure that she is ready to give helpful and informative answers to all the questions that noble Lords will pose.

Given the amount of daily attention in the media about police and police-related subjects, it is perhaps remarkable that, although specific matters relating to the police have prompted many Starred and Unstarred Questions, as far as I have been able to discover, there has not been a general debate on the subject in this century—probably for much longer. I have deliberately made the terms of reference as wide as possible, not to remove any bite that there might be in noble Lords' remarks, but so that each speaker, if he or she wishes, can speak to his or her area of particular concern.

I come from a Cross-Bench stable that contains many thoroughbreds—three former Metropolitan Police commissioners, one former chief constable and a serving senior police officer—and I am glad that two of my noble friends are taking part. My presumption in instigating the debate might be thought to be breathtaking but it seemed to me at the time that the kick-off might be better executed by a referee not beholden to any side. In mitigation, I can plead over 20 years on the bench, some as chairman, and nine years on a local police authority.

The Police Act 1964 created 43 forces out of 117. Again we face amalgamations in the near future—more of that later. In the intervening years, nearly everything has changed: our perception of the police; their perception of us; the breakdown, to some extent, of social cohesion; the arrival of the technological revolution that has altered the face of much of the crime that is committed, as well as the modus operandi of many criminals; together with numerous other developments, not least the continuous growth of a multi-cultural and multi-racial society.

Let me start with the demands of such a society. It is essential that any effective police force should be viewed as a force for all the colours and creeds that help to form it. Ideally, that force should, at least in part, look like the community it serves. The Macpherson report raised the spectre of institutional racism in the police, and, vital though this issue is, I suggest that this has become an unhelpful preoccupation in recent years. Together with human rights legislation, it may even have contributed to a certain mindset that sees the police as an integral part of social accountability, perhaps almost on a parallel with social services, and where the letters "PC" stand rather more for "political correctness" than "police constable". That may account for the vigour with which some fashionable offences may be investigated at the expense of traditional crime, even though the latter is inevitably of far greater concern to the public.

I am sure that all noble Lords would agree that one of the best ways of embracing ethnic communities is by having ethnic representation in the service. Yet in March last year, out of 140,000 officers, only 4,500—the figures are rounded up—or 3.3 per cent, came from a minority ethnic community. At a higher rank, the disparity becomes even more pronounced, with only one chief constable, five assistant chief constables and ten chief superintendents from a minority ethnic community. But as the president of the National Black Police Association has been quoted in the press as saying:

"It takes a very determined black person to join the police force because a lot of black youths see black police officers as traitors".

This alarming and sad judgment, coupled with the current difficulty of retention, is a problem that has to be solved. Can the Minister give an assurance that it is high on the Government's list of priorities and that they will put in hand initiatives to reverse this alarming trend?

Of course quotas should not be blindly filled. The suitability and potential of an applicant for this demanding role should always be the primary consideration in selection. But it is condescending in the extreme to assume that ethnic minorities cannot supply recruits of a suitable standard, and that consequently the quotas have to be filled willy-nilly. It is the sort of muddle-headedness which, as was recently reported, results in 200 applicants being rejected by a force because they are white and male—which was quite correctly reported to the Commission for Racial Equality.

It is now generally accepted that the policy of taking officers off the street and putting them in cruising squad cars, unfortunately coinciding as it did with an explosion in street crime, resulted in much public disaffection and has been a major cause of the public's lack of confidence in policing strategies. Indeed, "Bring back the bobby on the beat" has become the bleat of politicians of all parties in recent years. Fond comparisons have been made with the "Dixon of Dock Green" days. But reference to a television series, however entertaining and heart-warming, is never the way to assess rationally the true state of play. Back in those so-called golden days a good deal of police procedure was unacceptable by today's standards. And with total police numbers significantly below what we have now, it is difficult to see how there could have been a constable on every street corner—more central casting than Hendon, perhaps.

In any event, the arrival of community support officers, although admittedly without powers of arrest, should ensure that there is a visible police-type presence on the streets. Perhaps the Minister can tell us how successful this initiative is proving to be, and how popular their arrival has been, at both higher and lower levels in the force, since there may not necessarily be unanimity on this point and there is some anxiety that their presence and use may result in beat officers not getting the experience that they should in policing at local levels.

It must undoubtedly be right to return to community policing, where a copper knows his patch and is in turn a familiar and trusted individual to the people on it. But two points are worth making. The first and obvious one is that the beat officer is inappropriate for any serious crime where the victim likes to feel that the rapid deployment of experts is top priority. The second point relates to the status of the beat officer, often used as a useful, last-minute resource and available for redeployment at anything from a football match to a demonstration. How many officers on enlistment are advised by older hands—who are always hanging around to advise young officers—to get a specialism in order to advance their career in the force?

As a magistrate, two things, not directly related but impinging on each other, used to worry me. The first was the degree of paperwork to which the police were subjected—from PACE onwards through stop and search, which resulted in almost endless filling in of forms. In 2004–05 the Met spent nearly £102 million on paperwork and a further £21 million on checking it, out of a total budget of over £3 billion. That was more than was spent on robbery and burglary prevention combined. I must not guess the Minister's response, which may be that there has been an expansion of civilian staff to cope and that well over 7,000 forms have been scrapped. But can she give me comfort that more initiatives are on the way? Is there, for example, continuing dialogue with the legal officers and CPS about how this burden might be reduced without the entire legal edifice tumbling down? How many forms are catch-all, designed to cover the whole spectrum of criminal offences, so that if, for instance, a simple theft is being investigated, questions are asked, inter alia, about any racial or sexual implications in the offence?

My second worry was the degree of understanding which existed between, say, quite junior officers and those operating in the lower courts. I remember when I was chairman, setting up a mock court for one of the Bramshill courses. Both sides felt that it was beneficial in succeeding in putting before each group the problems with which they had to deal. I was disappointed not long after to be advised that it was to be the first and last initiative, on the grounds that the law should not be seen to be doing anything, however helpful in an educational sense, with the police. Will the Minister confirm whether today there is any student interchange, particularly at lower levels, not just in the rarefied atmosphere of the Police Staff College, between the components of the legal system? During training, do police officers become familiar with all other branches of the Court Service? This is particularly important when the police no longer prosecute, and when their court appearances are fewer by the day.

We live in a society dominated by targets, probably as a result of this Government's obsession with them. While checking on progress is an excellent discipline, I remain worried about its universal application in the police service. For example, how much do targets skew arrest patterns? How great is the temptation for police officers to go for the easy option with a quick result that will show up favourably in the figures, rather than concentrate on a more complicated and serious charge where there is a distinct possibility of no result? There is a saying in parts of the service: "If you can't count it, it'll be discounted".

The media grants the police no favours—and doubtless much of what they write is taken out of context—but nitpicking on the part of officers and an insistence on pressing charges for what most people would regard as trivialities are public relations own goals. This must be addressed as a matter of urgency before irreparable damage is done. Is any guidance given on this subject, perhaps via ACPO?

Recruiting and associated matters were dealt with in great detail in a Politeia report in the autumn, and I am sorry that my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham, one of the authors, cannot be with us today owing to an important engagement overseas. The report asserts that public confidence in the police is declining, and implies that some of the current failure is down to the quality of officer recruited. Among other issues, the report identifies the need to attract new blood, particularly at senior levels, and draws attention to the drawbacks of single point of entry, in that it is too cumbersome and not flexible enough in providing for rapid change, so far as specialisms and ethnic minority representation and requirements are concerned. The report further advocates a distinct graduate entry route, as opposed to the high potential development scheme. It goes on in some detail to criticise the current quality of training. Will the Minister tell the House what the Home Office's view of this report is, and whether any steps are being considered to take account of any of its suggestions?

That brings me seamlessly to the subject of amalgamation. It is perhaps worth recording that there was similar vociferous opposition to the process when the 1964 proposals were first mooted, though possibly with less justification then. Nevertheless, we must not become too hysterical about them. Some forces are too small to stand alone and provide the capability to deal with serious crime and terrorism, which know no international frontiers, let alone county boundaries. It is also true to say that such developments need not spell the end of local accountability if the changes are carried out sensitively and imaginatively. However, despite the Minister's assurances on Tuesday, I remain sceptical about how much notice has been taken of local anxieties in view of the unseemly rush to kick-start the operation.

The plans announced to reduce to 12 super-forces raise many questions. Will the new areas make operational sense? What will happen to existing authorities? Are the Government satisfied that there is sufficient expertise to run the new forces? Above all, where is the money to come from? We are told that these amalgamations will strengthen the fight against terrorism, but, if that is so, why do we have a National Crime Squad but, so far as I am aware, no plans for a national counter-terrorism agency? I would greatly appreciate the Minister's answer to that. Will Special Branch officers continue to be farmed out to the new super-forces, or are there plans to integrate them nationally?

Wherever amalgamations occur there will be upheaval; a lack of operational efficiency, though, I hope, only temporary; uncertainty among staff at all levels about career prospects; and of course the question of costs. On operational efficiency, it is often difficult to see where that ends and political considerations take over.

Let me give an example which, as a loyal Welshman, I cite with great trepidation. Wales is to be merged into one force, which, on the face of it, gladdens the heart of every patriot west of Offa's Dyke. But accessibility between the north and south of the country has long been the subject of jokes. It can still take four hours—if one is lucky—to get from one end to the other. I doubt whether north or south Wales have much in common from a police point of view. Unless there has been a remarkable change in recent years, I suspect that the north Wales force looks towards Merseyside and the north-west for co-operation and operational dovetailing.

Uncertainty about careers will inevitably be widespread in affected forces. Below the rank of, say, chief superintendent, it is unlikely that many, if any, will be affected. Do the Government have plans to reassure those lower ranks about their future, ahead of the changes? Junior ranks would also welcome assurances that they will not in principle be redeployed far from their existing homes, which is of particular importance to married officers and their families. That factor will obviously affect both recruiting and retention.

With regard to costs, how will the money be found? Will it come from the Exchequer or, as I suspect, from the council precept? Council tax payers will be hit ever more fiercely, and will have to stump up for—at least in the throes of reorganisation—a less efficient service. As if that were not enough, in 2008, the 85 per cent funding of CSOs will end. From then on, will that burden have to be accepted by the long-suffering taxpayers? That is a time bomb ticking away under the seat of government. I hope that the Minster can answer those questions to the satisfaction of the House.

The police service is in the spotlight as never before. The technological age has provided it with powerful tools in the fight against crime, but that factor, reinforced by forthcoming legislation on identity cards and anti-terrorism, has given it unprecedented power over our lives. It is therefore essential that our faith in it is not shaken by improper use of that power. Much has been made in recent months of the need for a public debate about the police. "It is your force", or so the argument runs. "You must engage in saying what you want it to be". I do not want to be simplistic about such a sensitive and complicated question. However, I believe that the public want the primary function of the police to be to catch and, if appropriate, put criminals away. They want the police to be: locally accountable; a visible part of the community; and people they can trust to be sympathetic and even-handed to all in the community of whatever colour or creed. They do not want them to be another branch of the social services. That is what the people want, and I suspect that that is what the police want as well. For good measure they might add that they want an end to overenthusiastic intervention by central government at every opportunity.

With those aims always in view, let us give our support to those brave and dedicated men and women who do a job that most of us would not care to do and who, for the most part, do it very well. I beg to move for Papers.

11:53 am
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Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate (Labour)

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, on securing the debate. It is both timely and important. The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police recently suggested in his Dimbleby Lecture that we should have a debate about policing issues.

I attended an FBI conference a couple of years ago at which one of the delegates was Belgian. He started by saying that in Heaven, the cooks are French, the police are British, the lovers are Italian and the Germans organise everything. He continued that in Hell, the cooks are German, the police are French, the lovers are British and the Italians organise everything. Although that is a sweeping generalisation, there is a grain of truth in it. I took pride in his saying that in Heaven the police are British. We have a lot to be proud of in our police service, as faulty as it may be in certain areas.

I go back well over 40 years, when I joined the police service. It was a very different police service—and a very different public then. We often hear about the lack of police presence on foot on the streets. There is a fairly simple reason for that. In pubs and clubs, people often ask me why there seemed to be more police officers in the old days. In those days, police officers were not required to work an eight-hour shift. I recall being a village policeman—the television programme "Heartbeat" is a good example of what I am talking about—when the officers all came into the office at nine o'clock in the morning and perhaps were still there at midnight. Many noble Lords will have had the same experience. That does not mean that the officers were working 24-hour shifts, but they were doing, what we called, detached beat work. They turned out when they were required and made their presence felt in the village, town or community at appropriate times. They might see the children to school, they might see them home at lunchtime, and they would certainly be there when the pubs turned out.

In the late 1960s, the Police Federation—I was then a member—quite rightly secured the right of officers to have an eight-hour continuous tour of duty. When one takes account of leave and other factors, 5.4 more police officers are required to replace one village constable. That is the key to why there appear to be fewer police officers on the streets. To return us to where we were, we need an increase of something like five times the number of officers, which economically is not viable. I mention that because I am often asked about numbers and visibility.

The noble Viscount is quite right to say that the service changed its policy and started to put officers in cars. When I was a young constable, there was only one car for the whole division. If you arrested someone in the town centre of Jarrow, where I was stationed, you had to find a way of getting the man back to the police station. In essence, you walked him back; you were very fortunate if a vehicle came to give you some assistance. Times change and clearly that does not happen now. We have vehicles, but, where possible, we must encourage officers to communicate with the public. That is probably the key point. In this country, we police by consent, and consent means communicating and talking to members of the public.

Last year, I had the privilege of giving a lecture in Switzerland, where I met a retired Scotland Yard officer—and I am pleased to see that we have an ex-commissioner speaking in the debate. That retired officer is now in his 80s, but many years ago he was a detective. He said that one of the main sources of arrests was stopping and searching. As a plain-clothes detective, he would probably stop and search 26 to 30 people in a shift. Nowadays that may be looked on as unacceptable, but his instincts told him who to check and who to stop. He was not being discriminatory; he just had a feel for who should not be in a particular place at a particular time. As a result, he had many successful arrests through stopping and searching.

To a great extent, I believe we have lost that. Officers now are a little worried about stopping and searching for obvious reasons: they may be accused of victimisation or harassment. I suspect that we need to encourage officers, where appropriate, to carry out more stops and searches, particularly when we are concerned about knife crime and firearms. We need to encourage officers and not discourage them. The Macpherson inquiry was mentioned by the noble Viscount. In some senses that acted as a deterrent. It made officers worry about being accused of racism and all the other things that we read about. We need to speak out more and to give the police support where we can and not criticise too often. The police service is made up of officers who represent the community and all the faults of the community are in the police service as well.

We also have to deal with risk assessment. Senior officers now have far more problems than I had as a commander. I would act on instinct and send officers into situations in a way that perhaps would not be possible now, because of the requirement to make a risk assessment. We see senior police officers being accused, charged and disciplined for making the wrong decisions. It is extremely difficult at times. We saw the tragic case recently in which the police stood back and did not go in to assist two ladies who had been shot—noble Lords will have read about it. The police even prevented the medical services from going in, not through callousness, but because the senior officer had made a risk assessment. He did not know whether the gun was still at large and he would personally have been under threat of prosecution, or at least disciplinary action, if he had made the wrong decision and some of his officers or the ambulance crew had been injured as a result. We should consider that when we criticise the police.

The police make mistakes. I have certainly had my brushes with senior police officers since I retired. I think of the Tony Martin case and cases like it. When the police attend the scene of an incident, they look at the thing in the round and, particularly when a burglar or person on the street who has potentially committed a crime has been injured, they quite often interview and in some cases arrest the householder. That is absolutely ludicrous. The police have discretion; there is nothing to prevent them from inquiring into the circumstances and determining whether appropriate force was used. In my judgment—and I have said so—they do not necessarily have to arrest the householder, take him to the police station, formally interview him and even, in some cases, charge him. Very rarely is a conviction secured in these circumstances, because juries have common sense. They say that the criminal who was injured when he was burgling the house was probably the author of his own misfortune. Any sensible person would say that.

I implore the police to use a little common sense when investigating these things, because even if the case does not result in a conviction, householders and the public generally will be very concerned that they have been subject to arrest and detention in the police station. Of course, that makes people worried about defending themselves. The process starts with the police. As with many things, the police are in a position not to send a case to the Crown Prosecution Service. The police now are not acting alone; they work in partnership with many other organisations.

I look very carefully at amalgamations. I lived through the amalgamations of the 1960s and 1970s, to which the noble Viscount referred. That was a traumatic time for police officers. People do not like to give up their little fiefdoms, which is understandable to some extent. My judgment is that the time is right for the police to be reorganised. Strategic forces are exactly what they say they are—strategic forces. In my view, the change will not affect policing on the ground one iota. If you talk to the average person in the street, I think that you will find that he is not interested in and probably does not know where the police headquarters are. His concern is the policing in his community, which is done at the level of a local commander of a basic command unit, usually of superintendent or chief superintendent rank. Those are the guys or women who deal with the community issues; they liaise with the local council and with the other agencies in the area. So the location of the headquarters is not really relevant.

The big advantages of having strategic police forces, as I see it, are the economies of scale from training together, providing resources to tackle terrorism and all the rest that HMI set out in its report recommending that forces should have more than 4,000 officers to be viable for dealing with organised crime and terrorism. Therefore, I welcome the proposals. I think that perhaps the change is being carried out a little hastily; there is something in that argument. The police did not have a lot of time to consider the alternatives, but I think that, now that the process has started, it should continue. As I said, I welcome the move towards larger strategic forces. I do not want a national police force for the reasons that the royal commission set out all those years ago, in 1960. It recommended that we should not have a national police force because such a force would make it much easier for political control to be exercised over the police service.

We have a proud tradition of policing in this country, valued throughout the world. Whenever I travel abroad, people are interested in the British policing model. Many places try to copy it, and we provide a lot of training to other countries on policing issues. That is something we should be proud of. When the new arrangements come in, we will still have 10 or 12 police forces. Again, political control will not be possible unless you manage to control all 12—I would suggest that it is very difficult to control 12 independently minded chief constables.

I welcome the Government's proposals and again congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, on securing the debate.

12:06 pm
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Lord Waddington (Conservative)

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate. It is always helpful to hear his views on policing matters because of his distinguished service. Like him, I would like to thank the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, for initiating the debate, which is very timely.

I am particularly pleased to see the noble Lord, Lord Imbert, in his place. He knows full well that I am a great admirer of the police and am certainly not in the business of dishing out criticisms. But I have some important points to make today.

The police do a splendid job. For instance, we should all congratulate Kent police on the skill and professionalism they have shown following last week's £50 million robbery. However, there are occasions when actions of the police cause public concern. The best way to keep those occasions to a minimum is to have effective public accountability. No sensible person advocates interference with the operational independence of the police, but a number of controversial police actions in recent times would not have occurred had the police chiefs concerned been more formally accountable to the local communities—perhaps through police authorities that are directly elected.

I think that the public are entitled to question whether those in command have got their priorities right when a minister of religion is prosecuted for preaching that homosexual acts are wrong, while those assaulting him for expressing those opinions are not even cautioned. I think the public are entitled to question the wisdom of police resources being used to question a bishop of the Church of England for comments he had made on the same subject, and to ask how it can be right to spend police time investigating alleged anti-Welsh remarks made by Anne Robinson at the very time when another police force was saying that it had not the resources to deal with cases of shoplifting. I think that Londoners are entitled to question why recently there have been so many arrests of peaceful demonstrators, including a woman doing no more than read out the names of those killed in Iraq.

I do not know whether in those instances senior officers were trying to implement what they thought were government policies and priorities or were following Home Office advice—following, in particular, advice in a booklet called Hate Crime: Delivering a Quality Service which was recently published jointly by ACPO and something called the Home Office standards unit. Whatever the explanation, the fact that those incidents happened surely strengthens the case for a larger public input into policing, for strengthening the powers and composition of police authorities, and for less rather than more Home Office interference. I am sorry to say that in the main the changes in the offing point in exactly the opposite direction—to less public input and more political interference.

If one were starting from scratch, of course one would not plan for 43 police forces. On the other hand, Mr Blair, when in opposition, was surely right when he said that,

"a wholesale amalgamation of the smaller police services . . . will remove local policing further from local people".—[Hansard, Commons, 05/07/94; col. 273.]

He said that quite a long time ago, back in 1994, but it was blindingly obvious then and it remains blindingly obvious today. If you create a police force that is responsible for an area twice or three times as big as the area covered by each of the forces it replaces and you increase the size of the police authority from 17 to, say, 23, many local communities, some perhaps with special policing needs, will be completely unrepresented on the authority and there will be less public accountability. There cannot be any doubt about that. It is equally obvious that a few regional forces are far more easily controlled by the Home Office than are 43 forces. The fact that the Home Office relishes the prospect of more control is clear from the terms of the Police and Justice Bill. I invite noble Lords not to forget that in this debate. When that Bill becomes law, it will give the Home Secretary sweeping powers such as he has never had before to give orders to chief constables on how to run their forces.

I shall deal briefly with a few of the other concerns. The first is money. According to the Association of Police Authorities, the present proposals will cost more than £525 million and could work out at double that when all the associated costs of police restructuring are taken into account. The Home Secretary has offered just £125 million towards the cost of restructuring, but I am told that even that will not be new money. Most of it will either have to be borrowed or come from the existing police capital budget. It is no wonder that some forces have already put all their planned investment on hold.

The Government talk vaguely of economies of scale, but they have been unwilling or unable to give any estimate at all of such savings. I therefore ask the Minister to explain why the end of this process will not be cuts in services or higher taxes or both. Was the chairman of the Cleveland Police Authority right or wrong when he said that, in Northumbria, the council tax precept could well rise by as much as 40 per cent?

There is also concern at the speed with which the Home Office is proceeding. Announcing on 6 February his decision about the north-east, the West Midlands and Wales, the Home Secretary gave the chief constables and the police authorities only a few weeks to respond. In default of agreement, as we all know, the whole thing will be wrapped up in four months by an affirmative order. The HMIC report Closing the Gap certainly did not advocate that sort of timetable. It is worth remembering that when restructuring took place in the 1960s, it did so after a royal commission and about two years' debate. The Select Committee on Welsh Affairs was surely right to comment in its recent report:

"the very short timetable . . . has limited the scope of the debate and impeded consultation with the police forces and police authorities. Furthermore this has removed the possibility of full consultation with the public".

In the police and in police authorities, there is widespread opposition to what is afoot. Only one in three of the amalgamations which the Home Secretary proposed earlier this month has been approved by the police authorities involved. Lancashire and Cumbria have agreed a merger in principle, but there is no agreement in the north-east, where the chairman of the Cleveland Police Authority has described the Home Secretary's proposals as,

"ill-judged, deeply-flawed—and exactly the opposite of what local people want".

Cheshire has decided against merging with Merseyside. West Mercia, in expressing its opposition to being embraced in a monster regional force, has demonstrated in its submission that it is well able to develop both protective services and neighbourhood policing at no additional cost to taxpayers in the force area.

I do not believe that the public have any liking for this business; they certainly do not regard it as anything like a top priority. With fewer than one in four crimes detected and street crime rampant, they do not want reorganisation. What they want, as the noble Viscount pointed out, is the police spending less time filling in forms, meeting Home Office targets and taking account of performance criteria, and more time out on the streets. I feel that, in his haste, the Home Secretary may have botched this exercise. The least he can do now is slow down a little so that at least people will feel that their concerns have been considered properly. He should get the Treasury to agree that the costs of restructuring are properly covered so that no cuts will be made to existing programmes and no additional burdens will be placed on the shoulders of the long-suffering council tax payer.

12:17 pm
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Baroness Harris of Richmond (Spokesperson in the Lords, Northern Ireland Affairs; Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, I too begin by congratulating the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, on securing this important debate today. He and I enjoy talking about policing, and his long experience as a magistrate and police authority member in Hampshire has illustrated his great knowledge of, and continuing interest in, the policing service of our country. I join other noble Lords in welcoming the Minister back to the Government Benches. We have missed her very much.

I begin by declaring my interest. I was a member of my local police authority for 20 years, and I chaired it for almost eight years until 2001. I was also a member and deputy chairman of the Association of Police Authorities. I sat on several national committees, including the Police Negotiating Board and the Police Advisory Board, and I was a member of the National Crime Squad Service Authority—itself an amalgamation of regional crime squad committees, one of which I also sat on and which is shortly to be superseded by the Serious and Organised Crime Agency. Finally, I was a magistrate for 16 years, and I am still on the supplemental list for north Yorkshire. I make no excuse for using this debate today to concentrate on the proposals for the future of policing. I shall therefore concentrate mainly on the merging of many police forces into what the Home Secretary calls strategic forces, but also on other changes proposed in the Police and Justice Bill, which will shortly receive its Second Reading in the other place.

Many years ago, when I first joined my county's police committee, I well remember the then chief constable's words as he battled to persuade us to spend a huge amount of money on our first computer. He said:

"It will make paperwork obsolete".

I know that police officers will agree that that never happened. Since those days, policing has been in a state of constant change. First there were computers that took up whole rooms, then there were massive road-building schemes, which changed the face of traffic policing for ever. Police officers did not wear protective vests, carry state-of-the-art batons, or wear the plethora of necessary paraphernalia that they are expected to wear now, let alone have first-class communications to aid them. No one had heard of CS spray or imagined that so many of our police officers would be armed. The use of DNA in crime scenes and automatic fingerprint recognition were but dreams. So it is appropriate that we look more closely at how policing should "fit", in modern parlance, into our fast-changing, technocratic and unstable world.

The driver for the changes that we are likely to see shortly in our policing service is an interesting and important report from Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary, HMIC, indicating how fit for purpose the service is for the future. It makes grim reading. It says that,

"changes must be made not only to the structure, but the whole configuration of policing",

to deal primarily with what is known as level 2 crime. This type of crime deals with cross-border issues, usually organised crime and major incidents. Apparently, we no longer have the ability to deal with that level of crime within most of our local forces. As we have heard, the basic command unit, BCU, usually commanded by a chief superintendent or superintendent, focuses on level 1 crime, local criminality and volume crime, and simply does not have the capacity to deal with more serious crime. One wonders how the police have managed to hold things together for so long, or how managers within the forces have done so.

One would have thought that in order to address those concerns, a huge information and consultation process with the public would have been essential. That is not so. The HMIC report was handed to the Home Secretary on 13 September 2005, just six months ago. Within a few days, the Home Secretary had made up his mind. He wrote to police authorities on 19 September and gave them but three months, until 23 December, to decide the future shape of policing. The Home Secretary wrote to them all again on 15 December, saying that only police authorities which volunteered to merge their forces by this deadline would receive some money for doing so, if they indicated to him, by that date, that they were willing to merge.

Police authorities—the statutory bodies that are charged with setting the budgets for and strategic direction of their local police forces on behalf of the community and are responsible for their forces' continuous improvement—had but a few weeks rapidly to contact each other and decide their futures. They had little time even for involving those for whom policing is of the utmost importance—their local communities, local councils, the voluntary sector, crime reduction partnerships and so on. I maintain that the timescale for implementing these momentous changes has been ludicrous.

This is a wholly unacceptable way of moving forward an extremely complex and expensive organisation, which costs us all a phenomenal amount of money. How do we know that these hastily put together new arrangements will work? In the private sector, you would never find captains of industry completely redesigning their multibillion pound businesses in that space of time. How will this be achieved in that timescale? On what basis does the Minister claim that a complete restructuring of the service will improve things for the majority of people in this country?

Let us turn to the costs of this restructuring. These are estimated to be between £400 million and £500 million in total, a figure based on the draft submissions by forces and authorities on 23 December. Since that time, the Home Office has had these business cases analysed by independent consultants. The consultants' final figures, however, have yet to be discussed with partners. Despite these projections, the Home Office has made available only £50 million in capital funding for 2006–07 and £75 million in capital funding for 2007–08. That is a huge difference—at least £275 million.

So how should our police forces look in the future if we accept that change must take place? There are a number of models, of course, which HMIC's report addresses. It is right to highlight the problem of level 2 cross-border crime. A gap always existed between local forces, which focus on level 1 volume crime, and the national structure, which focuses on level 3 and serious and organised crime. It was ever thus. I vividly remember the angry discussions we used to have about the level of support we had or otherwise from the regional crime squad and later the National Crime Squad. It felt to us in the local force that the national body wanted to deal only with exciting headline-grabbing cases and treated local police forces with a measure of disdain. Rightly or wrongly, that is how things were perceived. Do not take my word for it—it was the leaders, the professional officers of my force at the time, who complained the loudest. The truth is that criminality is all around us all the time. The top criminals have to live somewhere among us; and who is better placed than the local force to monitor them? They may need help from the specialist forces, and so far they have received that help. It is called mutual aid; and it has benefited all the forces in our country on many important occasions without us having to merge into huge regional forces.

When necessary, the National Crime Squad has been called in to deal with those large and time consuming operations and been highly successful, which I hope will be the same for SOCA. But the crime that affects the majority of our communities is local volume crime, which is what police officers have to deal with day in, day out. Neighbourhood policing is rightly popular with the public, but there must be a danger that redirecting focus and resources into mergers means that neighbourhood policing will suffer and that public confidence will be lost. That is doubly so if public expectations are raised, and the new proposals seem to encourage everyone to assume that neighbourhood policing will solve all our problems. But we know that if regional forces, or even amalgamations of forces, do not have a good local accountability base, they will simply not function properly.

I maintain that should North Yorkshire police be forced into regionalisation between all the forces in Yorkshire, the focus will be on the huge conurbations of Leeds, Sheffield and Hull. My guess is that officers will be pulled out into those areas, thereby denuding the vast number of small villages and towns that go to make up the geography of my region, which will be paying a great deal for a level of policing that they could only wish for. Why can we not build on the already excellent exchange of information, training, procurement, air cover and so on that goes on now between forces? Why do we need to throw everything up in the air at huge cost to us all without considering possible alternatives?

Why cannot some forces merge, if that is what they want, and leave others to work out the best way that they can deal with capacity and provide better value for money? What about a federation of forces, as prescribed by the Police Federation of England and Wales? The Home Office argues that new structures of accountability can be built around basic command units, but that is not the point. Using BCUs as the basic unit of accountability would be too distant from local communities to provide meaningful discussion of neighbourhood priorities, and too fragmented to provide meaningful scrutiny of decisions taken at force level. Loss of force level accountability equals increased centralisation, a problem highlighted further in the new Police and Justice Bill. That Bill proposed powers for the Secretary of State to prescribe by order or regulation nearly all the main elements relating to the membership and functions of police authorities. Currently that is enshrined in primary legislation, which sets out the balance of power between the Home Secretary, chief police officers and police authorities. That is known as the tripartite relationship, and its purpose is to ensure that there is equilibrium between central and local power. The Bill will undermine that balance and lead to a greater concentration of power at the centre, as surely will restructuring.

Of course we recognise that policing has changed because of the terrorist threat, but that will not be dealt with by local police forces, which will still be expected to shoulder the responsibility for the vast number of crimes, petty and otherwise, that will be committed day in and day out by local criminals. It is simply unacceptable for the Government to use the threat of terrorism as an argument for dispensing with open and democratic debate about such a fundamental change in police delivery. The debate should be informed by an independent peer review of the HMIC paper, together with a full risk assessment of the benefits and drawbacks of any mergers, and an assessment of the consequences for other agencies. There must be an opportunity for academic input and a resolution of genuine concerns about the solidity of HMIC's arguments.

I too pay tribute to the thousands of men and women who look after us and who often put their lives in danger to protect our democracy. We owe them more than we can say. During my years of involvement in policing matters, I have come across the most harrowing incidents, dealt with in a professional and calm manner by police men and women who should never have to witness such carnage. It is the front-line troops who take the flak and who have the most difficult jobs to do. We must not let them down by siphoning off valuable resources to implement a restructuring so vast that no one will know to whom they are ultimately responsible. The real answer to that lies with the people of this country. If we ask them, they will tell us loudly and clearly, "Don't mess with our policing structures".

12:31 pm
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Lord Imbert (Crossbench)

My Lords, like other Members of your Lordships' House, I am grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, for putting down this most important and timely Motion for debate and for setting the scene in his comprehensive opening address. It is timely for two reasons. The first is the proposal, as has already been mentioned, that some of the smaller forces should amalgamate with others to make fewer, but larger police areas. The second reason, as already mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, is that Sir Ian Blair called in his recent Dimbleby address for a public debate on what sort of police service we want. That question is apposite to all citizens: those who are policed in this country.

I realise that I follow most erudite and experienced speakers and I shall attempt not to go over their ground again. The noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, is a former senior police officer; the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, is a former Home Secretary; and the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, has experience as a member of a police authority and the vice-chairman of the Association of Police Authorities. As a simple bobby, I wonder how I can follow such erudite and experienced speakers, but I shall do my best and try not to go over their ground.

Regarding amalgamations, big is not always beautiful. I pray that size is not the only criterion by which the future structure of the police is to be decided. That would be unwise. Although some amalgamations are inevitable in the quest for better value for money and enhanced efficiency and effectiveness in the delivery of service, I hope that any changes will be decided on a case-by-case basis and in consultation with the communities and the police authorities of the areas concerned.

I fully support an examination of the structure and role of the police in this country. I hope therefore that the debate will contribute in some way not only to the question, "What sort of police service do we want?" but also to the question, "What kind of police service do we need?"

Since Sir Ian called for the debate, the Independent Police Research Foundation, the think-tank of policing, together with the Oxford University Centre for Criminology, has picked up the gauntlet and organised a forthcoming conference to try to identify what the Government and the police themselves think they ought to be doing and how they should be doing it. Any national debate must examine the use of lethal force by a largely unarmed service in a liberal democracy, balancing the question of how the police should deal with suicide bombers and armed criminals against our long-held tradition of civil liberties. Most importantly, the debate should take note of what the public expect the police to do on their behalf.

Ben Whitaker, a lawyer and erstwhile Member of another place, asked in his study, The Police in Society, what we want the police for. He wrote:

"Only by resolving the conflict in values between liberty and law enforcement can we determine the paradox of the police's position in the future".

Those are very wise words.

So far as the role of the police is concerned, the first two Commissioners of the Metropolitan Police, Rowan and Mayne, set out the objectives and role of the new police as follows:

"The primary object of an efficient police is the prevention of crime"—

that is absolutely right so far—

"the next that of detection and punishment of offenders if crime is committed".

Punishment of offenders is not the responsibility of police.

In the late 1980s, when the police of London also were asking the question, "What sort of policing do you want?", a capital-wide survey was commissioned to find out what the London public expected police to do and how they wanted them to do it. The public's unequivocal response was that they wanted firm policing for those who broke the law, but fair and friendly policing for the law-abiding: firm, fair and friendly.

Further London-wide consultation resulted in a new mission statement—we called it a Statement of Our Common Purpose and Values—which explained the role, objectives and style of policing sought by modern-day Londoners. In September 1989, in response to public demand, the ethos of the Metropolitan Police was changed from force to service, but, as has already been mentioned today, times have again changed dramatically since then, when the suicide bomber had yet to appear here. The modern mission statement of the Metropolitan Police now begins with the words:

"The purpose of the Metropolitan Police Service is . . . to prevent crime; to pursue and bring to justice those who break the law".

The final paragraph includes the exhortation:

"We must strive to reduce the fears of the public, and, so far as we can, to reflect their priorities in the action we take".

Their priorities are good neighbourhood policing.

Just one or two officers out of a workforce of more than 30,000 described the concept of service as opposed to force as "a soft option", initially failing to see that to arrest an armed and dangerous criminal is to provide a service to the law-abiding public, and that it is just as much the job of police to facilitate peaceful protest by accompanying marchers, even though one may have found their views odious, as it is to quell a violent demonstration.

The police are the servants of the public and not their masters. Policing the area between liberty and licence has never been easy. This year, hundreds of officers have already been assaulted and injured while on duty. Many have been women officers, of whom one was shot dead and two are still in intensive care. Like many thousands of members of the general public, I pay tribute to those ordinary men and women who are doing an extraordinary and, not infrequently, life-threatening job. As has already been mentioned, police will sometimes get it wrong and, because of the nature of the job we give them, often dramatically so. That understandably becomes headline news.

It was Pascal who said:

"The problem of the human race is that it consists of human beings . . . The makers of the law, the breakers and keepers of the law all have one thing in common: they are all human beings".

The police, albeit as human beings, must continue to serve the public within the laws, as enacted by Parliament. I make a plea to the legislators to make such laws understandable and acceptable to the public, so that they will want to live within them, and, indeed to refrain from making too many.

I listened with interest to what the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, said about his definition of heaven. I have a similar, but slightly different, definition:

"Heaven is where the cooks are French, the lovers are Italian"—

that must be why my wife is going on holiday to Italy soon—

"the engineers are German, the police are British and it is all organised by the Swiss. Hell is where the cooks are British, the engineers are French, the police are German, the lovers are Swiss and it is all organised by the Italians".

In case anyone should think that is racist, it comes to me from the owner of an Italian restaurant, who has it pinned up on a board. The moral of the story and definition is that, although there must be changes, do not rush to make them without careful thought and genuine, meaningful consultation. To put it another way, we must be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

12:41 pm
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Viscount Simon (Labour)

My Lords, this absolutely fascinating debate was introduced by the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby. I feel somewhat reticent to speak, given that my knowledge is confined to only one area. I will stray only very briefly from that area, which is road policing, something that is generally swept under the carpet and ignored by both police and public, until they become involved. I took my class one police certificate in the early 1960s. I still go out on traffic patrol on a regular basis. I still take advanced driving courses. Last weekend I was invited to a specific course for senior investigating officers; unfortunately, I could not attend.

In the report on police force amalgamations, Closing the Gap by Denis O'Connor, roads policing is considered, briefly but importantly, as a key and protected police service. Such observations seem to be at odds with the general attitude the Government and ACPO have shown to this vital policing role in recent times, which I shall touch upon later. I would not wish this debate to exclude careful consideration of how to ensure that roads policing is given proper recognition under the overall impact proposed by these amalgamations.

Last Wednesday I went out on patrol from 6am to 5pm. It was a very quiet day, but the previous day there had been two fatal collisions. Had those people died in a railway or aeroplane crash, they would have made newspaper headlines, but these were mere road deaths, so nothing was reported.

Chief police officers have systematically stripped the roads policing structure of resources in order to meet other government objectives and targets. Sadly, road safety and maintenance of the rule of law on our roads is not one of those priorities, except perhaps when death and serious injury are at issue. Am I being controversial if I say that enforcement cameras only catch motorists exceeding the speed limit and do nothing about the driver with excess alcohol in his system, dangerous driving, or the driver wanted for offences that could range from the mundane to the serious?

We witness more and more resources being poured into neighbourhood policing teams, to the exclusion of other key protected services, for which road policing is an ever-tempting source of officer supply. There is a clear parallel here with community policing, which fell into decline in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, precisely because only a snapshot of the broader spectrum of the tasks undertaken by officers was recognised and valued. There are concerns from RoSPA, PACTS, RoadPeace and others about the future and direction of roads policing.

The ACPO vision document for workforce modernisation alludes to Asda accomplishing recent success through a complete programme of organisational change of both their workforce and business structures, highlighting an eightfold increase in share value between 1991 and 1999. Does this presuppose that ACPO wishes to model the future of the police force on the operations of a major retailer? It seems absurd that policing should be compared with buying and selling such commodities as tins of beans. If Asda has a line that does not work or make a profit, or is too costly to sell, it can ditch it; does the same rationale apply to roads policing?

How will the Government provide assurances that roads policing is delivered as a protected service under the new system of amalgamated forces? If, following mergers, some chief constables are not persuaded that roads policing is important, or believe that the role can be carried out by other agencies, will they, under financial pressure, be compelled to shed the task completely? I wonder, idly, if the Department for Transport is being set up to take greater ownership of road traffic enforcement. As they have invested £800 million in HATOs over a 10-year period, are these people going to be given further powers on the basis that police officers should focus on the strategic aim of denying the criminal the use of the road? That is significantly different from delivering the road safety message, or traffic law enforcement.

The motorway network now benefits from the overt operation of these highway traffic officers. What is the policy when HATOs identify breaches of traffic law? Do they summon the assistance of other agencies, such as the police or VOSA? Is it envisaged that they will ever enforce road law with powers to stop similar to those currently available only to constables in uniform and certain authorised staff of VOSA? There is much confusion in the eyes of motorists as to what HATOs can and cannot do, and the apparent communication overlaps and underlaps—if such a word exists—between other agencies. Due to an enabling clause in the Traffic Management Act, more power could be extended to HATOs. Could my noble friend confirm that the Government have no such intention?

About 18 months ago, Caroline Flint, then Minister in the other place, said HATOs would release a number of roads policing officers for other posts and, in any event,

"any operational police officer can enforce traffic legislation, as appropriate, when an offence is being committed. The increased number of officers on any general beat duties will enable increased and swifter action against breaches of roads law".

I would love to see an officer on foot patrol, chasing along a street, trying to stop a vehicle being dangerously driven at 70 miles per hour. To be serious, such comments fail to understand the sheer weight of demand on operational officers and the lack of training in order to enforce such laws. Those police officers providing roads policing in England and Wales are highly trained, dedicated, professional people with a vast range of abilities and skills. The general public respect them and regard them as effective. Enforcement of traffic laws, apart from speeding offences, is in decline. Driving under the influence of drink or drugs is becoming more commonplace and a real cause for concern. We must ask ourselves how effective the roads policing officer is who randomly and spontaneously pulls over a vehicle, almost by instinct, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Mackenzie, for something a non-traffic trained officer would not necessarily notice. This might lead to an arrest that otherwise would not have been made.

ACPO and the Government might argue that ANPR is the panacea to these problems, but it still will not detect drink and drug-related driving offences, construction and use offences, seatbelt-wearing offences, provide a visible presence, or, indeed, just assist and advise the motoring public.

A roads policing officer is a police officer first and a roads policing officer second; he is there to uphold the law in so many ways that will be encountered.

I should like to provide some food for thought for my noble friend. First, the new powers of arrest exclude those disqualified from driving. While that in some cases is surmountable, the police no longer have the power to enter property to effect arrest, which includes vehicles. Secondly, evidence is rising on the problem of drug driving, and there is a need for legal clarity and simplicity in enforcement. Please consider removing the requirement to prove impairment. Thirdly, roads policing enforcement relies so much on safety camera funding. It is vital that the police have access to that funding under the new arrangements. Local authorities are already eyeing those funds which, if successful, would have a detrimental effect on roads policing.

Finally, ask an astute criminal whether he would drive a vehicle known to be of interest to the police on ANPR. The reply would be, "I wouldn't be that stupid".

12:51 pm
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Baroness Shephard of Northwold (Conservative)

My Lords, in my turn I congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, on securing and so ably introducing this highly topical debate. I also feel very privileged to take part in a debate in which so many experts have already spoken. The debate is topical because matters of law and order are always at the forefront of the public's mind, and topical because only a month ago there was an extremely lively Opposition day debate on police restructuring. It is topical, too, because the Home Secretary is about to begin laying forced orders for mergers in certain areas of the country. But it is also topical in that the reaction to the Government's chosen methods of achieving a changed police organisation are surfacing in the week that we see the publication of the Power report, under the chairmanship of the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws—a report whose leitmotif is that people feel that they have no say or part in the democratic process.

There must be broad consensus that a new look at the structure and organisation of policing is due. It is some 30 years since the last major reorganisation and, since then, crime has become more organised, more mobile and more international. There is self-evidently an increased threat of terrorist attacks, and there have been huge changes in society. There is broad agreement within this House and among the public that the ability of the police to provide the so-called protective services dealing with murder, terrorism and cross-border crime needs to be strengthened. There seems disagreement about whether that strengthening should be achieved by merger—indeed in some cases it seems to be forced merger—or by federation, as seems to be the view of the Association of Police Authorities.

There is certainly anxiety that larger forces will be less accountable and less accessible. What cannot be denied, however—and there seems to be a consensus on this matter, in this House today—is that the way in which the Government have gone about achieving this change, in haste and with scant regard to local views, has been counter-productive to say the least. Instead of arriving at useful and locally acceptable solutions by consensus, the Government's approach has caused local upset, given the impression that they do not know how things work currently and, in the words of the Power report, has reinforced the view of people that their,

"disquiet is about having no say".

No one would pretend that the current pattern of 43 separate forces owes its existence to logic, rather than to historical accident and the consequences of a number of local government reorganisations. But neither should anyone pretend that the process of achieving change, so far anyway, has been in the best tradition of involving communities in decisions about their future. The Home Secretary received the HMIC report on 16 September last year, and within three days he had written to authorities and forces saying that he accepted the findings, giving them three months—in other words, a deadline of 23 December 2005—in which to submit a business case. He gave them three months in which to plan changes to a 30 year-old system. Of course, events proved the initial reaction right: no authority or force was able to submit a final business case, or to volunteer to merge by that date. We have been told that there has been extensive consultation, but I am not sure with whom that consultation has taken place. I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to enlighten the House on that matter.

During this debate, we have had many vivid examples from around the country about the effects of restructuring. I add an example from East Anglia. In our case, the Home Secretary made no secret of his preference for a merged force based on the current "East of England" so-called region, which encompasses Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, and Bedfordshire. Those of your Lordships familiar with that part of the world will immediately grasp the difficulty of policing an area which stretches from Epping in the south to Wells-next-the-Sea in the north, and of embedding credibility, accountability and accessibility in such a force.

The Home Secretary's preference found no favour but, eventually, the following attitudes emerged. Norfolk would accept a merger with Cambridgeshire and Suffolk. Cambridgeshire, on the other hand, did not want a merger, but a looser federation retaining its own cap badge and county allegiance. To prove the point, it has just appointed a new chief constable. Suffolk, on the other hand, would prefer to merge with Norfolk and Essex; unkind tongues suggest that that might be because Suffolk would lie in the middle and thus attract the smart new super-police headquarters that would ensue—obviously there would have to be one. Essex, on the other hand, has rejected any idea of a merger, as it considers itself large enough to go it alone. Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire seek other alliances. So far, Suffolk, but not the others, has published a business plan. I suppose that, with all those things considered, it is not surprising that the deadline of 23 December was missed.

There is a host of other, practical considerations which, if they had been thought out and properly presented by the Government in making these proposals, might have helped their case. Not least are the financial implications. Norfolk will not be the only police authority this year to have had to break official guidelines by imposing a precept—in its case, an increase of 5.9 per cent—thus attracting the possibility of capping. Not far from the authority's mind, no doubt, will have been the financial implications of a merger, if that is what is finally achieved. According to the Association of Police Authorities, there will be a gap of some £400 million between the set-up costs of the new arrangements as the association calculates them, and the funding that the Government seem prepared to offer. I realise that that always happens with local government and police authorities, and so on. But it is clear that the public will be a touch reluctant to foot the bill for a reorganisation which many will see as making policing more remote and less accessible than it is now.

Also, newly merged authorities will encompass areas which hitherto have paid a lower police precept than they will have to pay under an equalised precept. To anyone seeking to explain this to the losers, rather than the gainers, in any area, I would say, "Don't even think about trying". It would also be a waste of time to advance the argument that savings accrue from mergers. That flies in the face of all local and national government experience over at least the past 50 years, and possibly for centuries. If the purpose of the whole reorganisation is to strengthen the role of the protective services, how much of the money to be spent on the exercise itself would be better spent on extra policing? I hope that the Minister will be able to give the House more detail on the financial implications than she was able to do, understandably, in the House on Tuesday.

I am bound to say, on accountability, that it is a fairly difficult concept even with the way in which police authorities are organised now, but at least people can identify with a county or a slightly larger organisation than they would be able to in the case of the south-west, for example, where there might be an authority spreading from north Gloucestershire, which is closer to Scotland than to the tip of Cornwall.

The whole episode has a number of regrettable aspects, not least that the Government, by their handling of the matter, have missed the opportunity to have the involvement and the interest of the public—not to mention the police establishment—in the need to regroup and modernise police organisation to meet the new crime challenges that the country faces. With less haste and more concern for local circumstances, the Home Secretary might have had co-operation from police authorities instead of the deep reluctance that he now faces, not to mention the muddle and uncertainty. He would have been in a position to give more financial detail, reassuring authorities at the precise moment that they set their precepts. Had he been prepared to involve the public a little more, the hands of the authorities themselves would have been strengthened.

The Government's aims, in their desire to make a police structure fit for the challenges of the 21st century, should be supported by everyone. Yet in their approach, alas, they have missed the opportunity to involve our citizens, to whom these matters are of consuming interest—and for which, of course, they pay. However, it may still not be too late.

I feel sure that Ministers will have read carefully the Power report, published earlier this week. That independent report seeks to explain how it is that, when people have more politicians than ever before in this country's history—and more opportunities to vote than ever before, what with devolution and the development of the EU—they still feel that they have no say. The report states,

"It is about a belief that even Members of Parliament have little say because all the decisions are made by a handful of people at the centre and then driven through the system".

It is still not too late for the Government and the Minister to indicate that this is not the impression they wish to leave in the minds of the public about how they have handled this important reorganisation, which is vital for the future of our country.

1:02 pm
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The Earl of Rosslyn (Crossbench)

My Lords, in thanking my noble friend for introducing this debate I should declare an interest as a serving officer in the Metropolitan Police, where I have responsibility for royalty and diplomatic protection. It was also a pleasure to hear one of my former commissioners speak today. While my future career prospects no longer depend upon agreeing with him, I did so in almost every respect.

Few mission statements survive contact with 200 years of organisational development, and rare is the corporate performance indicator that seems as relevant in the 21st century as it did in the 19th. Thus, when the first commissioner defined the primary role of police as preventing crime, and the protection of life and property and public tranquillity as measures of success, he showed acute and enduring insight. But while those principles guide us still, the operating context of policing has changed profoundly and today is more complex than ever, with the risks to operational officers painfully self-evident. Part of that complexity derives from the relationship between national, regional and local policing, how it is to be delivered and by whom. This, I believe, is today's greatest challenge for my service. How do we respond to serious organised crime and terrorism while retaining the spirit of localism in policing, so greatly valued and so fundamental to its overall success?

Organised crime groups increasingly dominate the criminality most threatening to our national interest. Sophisticated, well resourced and operating across force boundaries, they have a growing understanding of law enforcement techniques and use elaborate counter-surveillance techniques themselves and complex money-laundering arrangements. The scope of their criminality and capacity for extreme violence and intimidation made the case for the Serious Organised Crime Agency, soon to be operational, which will link intelligence investigation and intervention and provide a single point of contact for international partners.

However, that national response to organised crime cannot be detached from other aspects of law enforcement and must link effectively with local policing. Organised criminality has loose structures with its roots in local crime where criminals learn from dysfunctional role models. Even when operating at a national or international level such criminals are, as another noble Lord mentioned, still based in local communities. Recognising these interdependencies and managing relationships with local police and neighbourhood communities will be a key determinant of the new agency's success.

A parallel challenge exists in counter-terrorism. With its indifference to mass casualties, its international capability, unconventional structures, disinterest in negotiation—and with suicide as a feature of attack planning—the UK today faces what is perhaps the first truly global terrorist threat. While, in scale and complexity, the threat is still revealing itself we have already seen offenders entering this country from abroad to commit attacks, UK citizens involved in terrorist offences overseas, and now British citizens conspiring to commit acts of terrorism here. We have seen alongside that, in the efforts of the emergency services and the public, an inspiring contradiction to the prevailing cynicism which assumes that people always act out of their narrow, short-term interest.

With intelligence often fragmentary and hard to interpret, those investigating such offences must carefully balance public safety, community confidence and evidence gathering. Moreover, while the level of collaboration between international agencies is unprecedented—and co-operation between the police and intelligence services is unique internationally—we need to consider how police capability can further be improved. In particular, we need to question honestly whether we have sufficient resilience if faced with sustained demand on the scale of July last year.

At present, New Scotland Yard has the only substantial capability for terrorist investigation; yet it is clear that we face a threat not uniquely metropolitan in nature. While the Association of Chief Police Officers sets strategic direction for counter-terrorism policing, we do not presently have a national structure for investigation linked to regional investigative capability, which can in turn connect with local communities. Nor are police lines of accountability perhaps as clear as they might be. Does the Minister agree that further progress needs to be made in that area?

Finally, I turn to the proposed restructuring. If larger strategic forces are to be created—and there is a case for some change—people may, instinctively at least, feel a greater sense of detachment unless some compensating measure exists to make them feel otherwise. Now, I accept that a community's strongest affinity lies with its local police commander, but some of these new force areas could be very large with, for example, Avon and Somerset—as the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, mentioned—potentially becoming part of a force whose northernmost point is nearer to Scotland than to the Cornish coast. That is a striking example, as nobody wishes policing to be seen as the agency of a distant power.

That compensating measure to which I referred could, I believe, come from the development of neighbourhood policing models which provide greater responsiveness and accessibility. In London there are already over 250 of these safer neighbourhood teams—as they are called here—aligned to ward boundaries, working with partner agencies and with guidelines preventing their abstraction for other duties. Early results are promising with evidence of environmental, economic and social gains as well as reductions in crime. But nothing will deliver effective neighbourhood policing if public engagement is absent at the design stage. If, therefore, in the context of force reorganisation, neighbourhood policing is to be an effective compensating measure, local communities need to understand the bargain that they are being invited to strike. We need to be really confident, in more than an aspirational sense, that police and partners can deliver.

This is the most radical proposed reorganisation of the police for decades, with—albeit latterly—a developing and quite proper level of scrutiny at a professional level about cost benefits and arrangements for governance and accountability. I hope that collaborative arrangements short of force mergers will not be discounted if the balance of interest recommends it, and that final judgments will be the product of critical analysis rather than the application of some rigid formula.

But long-term success, together with sustainable progress against terrorism and organised crime, depend on a public who understand the case for change and do not feel disengaged or misled. I feel that more needs to be done at all levels to involve them—a point made by a number of noble Lords. For if larger, seemingly remote forces neglect the diverse context in which policing takes place, public confidence will erode and policing at all three levels will be diminished.

1:10 pm
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Lord Elton (Conservative)

My Lords, although I was for a year Minister for police at the Home Office, I am the least-qualified person here to speak, because the Home Secretary at the time was Willie Whitelaw. He made certain that I had so much other responsibility to discharge that he could carry on doing it himself. It took the arrival of my noble friend Lord Hurd at the Home Office to begin to change that attitude.

The police live in difficult times, not only for all the reasons that have been deployed, but because it is now 30 years since the great recruiting bulge took place in the mid-1970s. Consequently, a considerable turnover of personnel is in process. The Centrex prediction of the recruitment necessary to maintain a national level of 136,000 to 138,000 policemen runs at around 9,500 per annum until 2012. That throws great responsibility on those who train the recruited policemen. In passing, I should say a word of commendation, to the extent that the police have managed to absorb that considerable turnover of new blood into the system without weakening it.

However, one must look at how training is carried out and that is being changed. The principal agent is Centrex. I was startled to discover that in 2004–05, its budget was cut by 17 per cent—in real terms it was 26 per cent, because apparently they lost the ability to reclaim VAT in that year. I apologise for not giving the Minister warning, but can she say what the budget is now and what it is projected to be for the next financial year?

Training is changing. It used to be centred at places such as Hendon and Cwmbran. I cannot resist saying that it is exactly 23 years to the day that, in my temporary position as Minister for the police, I visited Cwmbran. I was impressed by what was going on there, but more by what happened when I was about to leave. I was detained by the officer in charge, who asked if I could wait for a minute or two more—I had finished my sandwiches—because they were not quite ready for the next thing. I wondered what that might be. Suddenly the double doors burst open and a great column of singing Welshmen came in bearing a cake and singing, "Happy birthday to you, Lord Elton". The coincidence of dates was such that I could not forbear from mentioning it. I still tingle with gratitude.

What surprises me about Centrex is that it is not a validated teaching organisation, which means that, first, it does not have an academic institution overseeing the way that it carries out its instruction, which could be valuable to it; secondly, those who receive qualifications through Centrex do not have accredited qualifications that, if they change careers, they can wave in the face of a future employer. That needs urgent attention and is recommended in the HMIC report on Centrex—recommendation 6.2, I think.

As training is brought into local police forces, the difficulty of obtaining an equal standard throughout the country increases and may be relevant to the present hunger to enlarge police forces. I would have thought that a Centrex is needed that can deliver in every force a standard unit of training and interoperability between police forces. I know that in his contribution to the Politea report, the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said that one need for an overall, national force of some sort arose from the difficulty of pursuing criminals from one area to another where the equipment and the training were not interoperable. The Army manages to be interoperable between all arms. Any regiment can fight next to any other regiment, or be interpolated with it without difficulty, because they have common equipment, training and language. That should be achievable without amalgamation.

Whatever the merits of amalgamation, I share the affront felt by my noble friends and others throughout the House at the rapidity with which, and the manner in which, the current proposed amalgamations are being carried forward. I asked the noble Baroness a Starred Question, just a couple of days ago, regarding what consultation had been carried out. Her reply was:

"My right honourable friend Hazel Blears, the Minister who has led on the matter, has consulted widely up and down the country to try to ensure that we properly understand people's needs".—[Hansard, 28/2/06; col. 128.]

My noble friend Lord Rotherwick asked her for more on that. She repeated, that,

"my right honourable friend Hazel Blears undertook a series of consultations with stakeholders and others".—[Hansard, 28/2/06; col. 129.]

The Minister said that she was happy to write, and I hope that she will. I do not take exception to not yet having received a letter, but I look forward to it. But that is not the way to consult—sending the Minister out to obtain information. The noble Baroness will correct me if I am wrong, but I understand that the Minister spoke almost exclusively to police forces and police authorities. We live in a democracy. As has been said again and again, "The police are the servants of the community"—those are the words of the noble Lord, Lord Imbert—not of the state and not of the Government. That is desperately important. It touches the whole fabric of our nation. I and most noble Lords here are old enough—although I congratulate the Minister on not being anything like old enough—to remember how Europe went under a series of dictatorships; in Spain, Italy, Germany, the Russian Federation, Austria, not Portugal, and France when it was overrun. The agency of despotism was always the police, the Gestapo, OGPU or whoever. Once a government get control of a police force, it is a lethal weapon against democracy.

From 1688 and beyond we have realised that that must not happen. At one time we would not have a standing army. That is now under control. It is an instinct in the British people that the policemen are there to protect them, not to keep them in order on behalf of a great central power. Every increase in the size of forces is an incremental step towards the bogey that we all instinctively fear. If you then set beside that fear, which already has our antennae quivering, the Police and Justice Bill that will come from the other place, which devolves from Parliament to Secretaries of State the detail of not merely the composition but the responsibilities of police authorities, you begin to see that the hand of the state is reaching right down into the policing system.

We already have examples where the police apparently—and it may be coincidental—have started behaving in a political way on certain issues such as homosexuality. My noble friend Lord Waddington quoted another quite different example of the ladies who read out names on the Cenotaph war memorial in Whitehall. We suddenly have people springing to the defence of No. 10 against two, not quite middle-aged women.

What my noble friends say in distrust of what is being done is well founded in instinct. It is also well founded in democratic politics. It would seem elementary sense to take to individual voters a decision such as this, which affects so many of them, to get their opinion and to win their support. This has not been done and that is a great pity.

Turning from amalgamation, because it is a subject much better discussed by others already, I ask the Minister one other question. I see that Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary has, over the past two years, changed the basis of annual inspection to what is now called "baseline assessment", which works on a three-year cycle. That is pretty important, and I would hope that we might hear at least her initial views on whether the change is resulting in a more effective inspection, and clearer insight into what is going on in Government and the Home Office. I ask the Minister and her colleagues to be aware of civil servants, who are in power always and who regard Parliament as an obstacle to legislation. They are urging that bigger is better and units of policing should be closer to the hand of the Home Secretary. They should not.

1:22 pm
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Viscount Bledisloe (Crossbench)

My Lords, I join all of your Lordships in expressing gratitude to my noble friend Lord Tenby for introducing this debate and for doing so with his customary skill and wisdom. Like him, I find it surprising that it is so long since this topic has been debated in your Lordships' House, especially as the role and the position of the police have changed, and are changing, so much.

Although it is as I gather his birthday, I must start by contradicting the noble Lord, Lord Elton, absolutely. I, and nobody else, am the person by far the least qualified to speak in this debate. I have absolutely no specialist knowledge of the topic and I speak as an ordinary member of the public with, no doubt, many misconceptions shared by members of the public. From this position of outside ignorance, what are the changes in the roles of the police which seem to be the most significant? First, as many noble Lords have said, the nature of much of major crime has become vastly more complicated. Furthermore, much of major crime is international and, as my noble friend Lord Tenby said, it knows no boundaries. Much of it is also highly technical and complicated, involving sophisticated use, or indeed misuse, of modern technology. Fortunately, as a corollary, many of the methods of detecting crime and proving it are now highly sophisticated. Surely, top-class criminal brains, with their inventive ingenuity, require top-class police brains and skill to match the opposition.

Secondly, it seems to me and to many others that a much higher proportion of police time is spent on desk work and form filling. Again, my noble friend gave figures to demonstrate the truth of that proposition. There are no doubt many reasons for this. There is the increasing insistence, both in legislation and in the courts, that the police must go through lengthy procedures and must be able to demonstrate that they have done so. Then, almost as a corollary, there seems to be an ever-increasing demand within the police organisation, and from those with responsibility for it, that forms should be filled in and records kept to show what every policeman has done and why he did it. This is, I suspect—the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate, made the point—because of an ever-growing fear of claims and complaints that lead people to go through procedures to avert those complaints or be able to answer them.

These requirements are no doubt devised with the best of intentions and to protect the public from unfairness or malpractices. But, as with so much form-filling requirements devised by government or by authorities, it seems to me highly dubious whether these requirements achieve their end and certainly whether the benefits of them outweigh the very considerable time spent upon them. Those who impose these kinds of requirements, whether upon the police or upon people in every other walk of life, seem to fail to recognise that rules of these kinds do not deter those who are bent upon malpractice. Such people merely tick the required boxes and ignore the substance of the requirements. Where they do bear heavily is upon your normal, reasonably conscientious police officer or citizen who regards form filling as a waste of their time and a distraction from the real functions which they hope to perform when they join the police.

Thirdly, there is the creeping expansion of the police role from law enforcement into what one might call social services and nanny-state good works. Fourthly, there is the unfortunate widening gap, almost alienation, between the police and those whom they should be seeking to serve. The public nowadays has a strong feeling of "them" and "us", which did not previously exist and which is highly undesirable. There are no doubt many reasons for this and various individuals who would give differing reasons. But I have little doubt that almost everyone shares my perception on this, and equally that almost everyone feels that it is a serious and indeed sad change, which it would be highly desirable to reverse.

The other side of this Motion is in the organisation of the police. My gut feeling is that the changes in the organisation over the past years have not been such as to keep up with the changing role and the ever more complicated and difficult task of the police, or to give police management the skills needed to cope with the new problems and to overcome them. On this issue, I want to raise with much diffidence the question of the quality of those in the upper, although not necessarily the top, levels of the police hierarchy. Many years ago I took a humble part in a lengthy inquiry conducted by Mr Justice Mars-Jones into a particular incident in a police station and into the defects of the subsequent investigation by the police hierarchy of that incident. In the course of that inquiry we heard evidence from all the senior officers involved in the chain of command. Our unanimous feeling—our team was headed by Lord Lane, who became the Lord Chief Justice—was that virtually everyone in that chain of command had been promoted beyond his level of competence.

I do not know, but I suspect, that this would still be the case. My main reason for this feeling is that, as a general rule, you do not get enough talented natural leaders in any organisation if the sole or main route to the top is by steady promotions from the very bottom. In business, commerce and industry, as well as in the armed services, people are taken in expressly to be leaders and to manage. It may be true that every private soldier has a field marshal's baton in his knapsack, but none the less the majority of our generals, admirals and so on did not start as private soldiers or able seamen. Of course in any organisation there will be some who rise to the top and perform magnificently—and we have in this House living proof of that fact—but that does not mean that the average occupant of a second-tier leadership post has the talent, the breadth of vision and the mental scope required nowadays in a top-class police force needing to cope with the great technical difficulties of modern policing.

I am well aware that these tentative views may sound horribly elitist, but we need to consider carefully why it is that the police have a system of breeding their managers that is totally different from anything that occurs in private business or in the armed services, and which they find best, indeed essential, to get leaders without whom nothing can go right.

1:31 pm
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Lord Bradshaw (Spokesperson in the Lords, Transport; Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, on securing this debate at what is obviously an extremely important time for the police service. I declare my interest as a member of the Thames Valley Police Authority since 1993, save for a couple of years. I have served, and still do, on the Association of Police Authorities. I am the chairman of the basic command unit in Oxfordshire and a member of the Police Performance group there, which perhaps gives the lie to the fact that there is a separation between operational policing and the role of police authorities. I am a member of the Crime and Disorder Partnership in the Vale; I belong to the Local Strategic Partnership and Public Services Board in Oxfordshire; and I am a member of our local area policing board.

So I have comprehensive knowledge of the way policing is conducted and of the Government's attempts, following the Green Paper in 2003 and the 2004 White Paper, to—in their view—bring policing closer to people and involve them in the process. However, the Government's proposals in their Closing the gap paper and the subsequent Police and Justice Bill are thoroughly insensitive, impatient, illiberal, uncosted, and likely to increase bureaucracy and weaken substantially the democratic accountability of, and local involvement in, policing. I say "impatient" because many changes have been and are being made in policing following the reforms initiated by Mr Blunkett when he was Home Secretary. Those reforms have not even been completely implemented, and we are faced immediately with another series of reforms before those of the former Home Secretary have been put into place.

Much improvement in policing is taking place as a result of the previous series of reforms. We have reduced the number of basic command units in my authority, Thames Valley, by half, and we have made their boundaries coterminous with the local authorities in our areas. We have set up the crime and disorder reduction partnerships. Where they work, they are comprehensive bodies involving local authorities, health authorities, the police, those responsible for housing, who are now mostly outside local authorities, those responsible for dealing with drugs and alcohol abuse, and those responsible for tackling domestic violence. All those people are being brought together and we are beginning to make progress, but we have only just started. We have had about three full meetings of the CDRP, and already someone is trying to change the procedures.

Our local area policing board is only just getting its people. Some of them are coming to their first meeting in May next year, because it has taken that length of time for the whole process to go through. There are plans to strengthen the protective services. We have relied rather heavily on mutual aid between forces, but that aid has been forthcoming.

I quote now from West Mercia, a police force that is efficient by any measure. It is the cheapest police force, and almost one of the best police forces in the country. It has just agreed, following the review of protective services, to have more staff involved: 21 more people on major crime; 20 additional posts dealing with serious and organised crime; and 19 new posts on intelligence. It will gladden the heart of the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, to see that there are 21 new posts in road policing in West Mercia, backed up by automatic number plate recognition, which considerably enhances their capability. There are six new posts for civil contingencies and eight new posts for critical incidents. I give those examples to show that people are not complacent. They have taken on board what the Home Office has said about the need to strengthen protective services. All of that is being added in West Mercia without additional cost, because that force is extremely efficient and has made considerable savings elsewhere.

We have been mindful of the criticism of the response of the public inquiry centres. The criticism was that we had established the single non-emergency number but we were slow to answer, and the answers were not followed through by police. Both issues have been addressed in Thames Valley and the authority has committed substantial extra resources to ensuring that the phone is answered very quickly and each incident is followed through until we have had some satisfaction from the users. All of that has been achieved against some very tight financial settlements. Our sanction detection rate has gone up in the past 15 months from 16 per cent to 30 per cent. The Minister may acknowledge that we have almost choked the Crown Prosecution Service and the Court Service with the work we have rendered to them to take through the criminal justice system. So the police force, in terms of actually arresting criminals, is very efficient, but it needs the Court Service and other people to see that those people get their just deserts.

That is a result of a huge focused effort by people, and it is all being put at risk by what I can only describe as an ill-researched, uncosted plan of enforced mergers of police authorities, which in my view is bound to lead to a complete diversion of effort to organisational issues. Those issues have to be addressed; you have to make large parts of the workforce redundant and then offer them posts in any new emerging organisation. It creates huge uncertainty and will take away the focus from catching criminals and delivering local services.

I turn to the issue of democratic deficit. At present we have one representative of each council—except Oxfordshire, which has two—on the police authority. If we expand as proposed, it will not be possible to provide the essential democratic link to elected authorities unless they are made unacceptably large, which would be inefficient. It is no use saying that accountability can be delivered at basic command unit level, at crime and disorder reduction partnership level, or through community scrutiny committees because none of them will be able to see the strategic picture or have an influence on such vital areas as training, call handling, property services, and so on. Those are necessarily delivered at force level and through the medium of the Association of Police Authorities.

The most objectionable and illiberal aspect of the Police and Justice Bill is the power that is transferred to the Home Secretary in respect of police authorities. Enacted by negative instrument, in which Parliament has no say, particularly objectionable is the power to appoint the chair and vice-chair of police authorities. The privilege of appointment rests with fellow members who make such judgments based on their experience of the competence of people rather than the whim of the Home Secretary of the day.

What of the people? The West Mercia force is efficient and cost-effective. The authority has already made so much by way of plans to strengthen its protective service. In a consultation exercise 123 out of the 126 organisations consulted supported the present structure and unambiguously said that large-scale reorganisation such as that envisaged would not realise the cost savings and efficiencies, and that large organisations soon lose touch with their customers. What professional research was done that has given such compelling evidence to the Home Secretary that only such a monstrous upheaval will deliver what is needed. We see no sign of such evidence and conclude that this is a hasty and ill-judged attempt at reorganisation without thought of its effect, the economics and purpose of police forces, and the way in which they interlink with local communities and democracy.

Obviously some mergers are welcome. We volunteered at Thames Valley to merge with Bedfordshire, which volunteered to merge with us. But, because we go across a regional boundary, which is a sort of line in the sand, that rules it out. The Government's expansion plans for Milton Keynes go between the two counties, and it makes absolute sense to merge them, but that has been ruled out by the Home Secretary without considering the effects.

I want to say a final word about the British Transport Police, which has a long and historic association with the railways. It is a specialist force which concentrates its efforts on keeping the railway open, minimising delay and disruption, protecting passengers and staff and reducing vandalism or other forms of anti-social behaviour. It has transformed itself under its present chief constable, and following recent terrorist outrages, is now equipped to get to incidents quickly and safely because it gives them a high priority.

When incidents occur involving the Metropolitan Police on railway property, they clear them within 126 minutes; the British Transport Police do it in 64 minutes. They are focused, and because of that the railway is kept open. Although it is not the Minister's responsibility—I know that the issue rests with the Department for Transport—there seems to be no valid reason for burying that highly professional specialist force, which is the policy that the Government have hastily concocted.

1:45 pm
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Viscount Bridgeman (Deputy Chief Whip, Whips; Conservative)

My Lords, I, too, add my thanks to the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, for securing the debate. As always in your Lordships' House, a debate of this nature shows the extraordinary range of ability and expertise that it commands. It is interesting that we have had not only speeches on the strategic issues of policing, but interesting insights into specialist policing from the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, and the British Transport Police from the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw. Were I not speaking from the Front Bench, I would be inviting your Lordships to assess where I stand in the post for which the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, and my noble friend Lord Elton are vying.

The debate has provoked an interesting discussion, with valuable contributions from all sides of the House, and it is clear that it is time for a fundamental review of policing in this country. However, we on these Benches disagree with the current proposals that are, in the words of my noble friend Lord Waddington, though not in this debate,

"a gigantic step towards a national police force".—[Hansard, 7/2/06; col. 503.]

We must all bear that in mind.

Issues have been raised with which we wholeheartedly agree. Our police forces have been subjected to an increasing weight of bureaucracy amid growing concerns over the future of the office of chief constable and the political independence of the police service as a whole. Reference has been made to the new Police and Justice Bill, which has had a very rough ride from all my noble friends behind me, and from the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw. My noble friend Lord Waddington said with cold logic that the fewer police forces there are, the greater the ability of the Home Secretary to control them. We wish police forces to be professional, flexible and to have incentives to do their job with real accountability to local people. We need time to consider how best to achieve that, in a way that will strengthen the bond of trust between the police and the public. That is, again, a point made by my noble friend.

I hope that the Minister will outline the Government's response to the IPCC report, and how they intend to help the IPCC to encourage confidence among the more vulnerable and minority sections of society.

We all wish to find a better way of dealing with serious crime, as the Police Federation has highlighted. The challenges facing the service have never been greater, from tackling anti-social behaviour to combating international terrorism; from yobs to bombers. We want to improve the ability of our police to deliver their services in the light of those challenges. We need to ensure that they have the training, skills and resources to do so to the best of their ability, and where possible to build up their expertise and experience.

We acknowledge the need for reform. Nevertheless, we do not support the changes suggested, and the hasty amalgamation programme planned by the Government is not justified, which is a strand that has run through the whole debate. My noble friend Lord Waddington referred to the Welsh Affairs Select Committee report on the proposed restructuring, highlighting that short timetables limit the scope for debate and impede consultation with all stakeholders. It is vital that change should not be achieved at the expense of doing it properly.

The Home Secretary decreed that all forces should produce business plans for amalgamation before Christmas—the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, gave us that timetable—but none did so. Only seven signed up to the full regional mergers, and none has the unanimous approval of the forces concerned, save for Lancashire and Cumbria. West Mercia has become the high-profile leader in the objections, as we have heard, in detail, from the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw. My own county of Hampshire is faced with three options: one, to remain on its own, which I understand is the preferred option of the force; two, to amalgamate with Wiltshire and Dorset; and, three, to amalgamate with Thames Valley. I understand that the second option has been ruled out as, once again, it crosses Mr Prescott's regional boundaries. One can starkly see the impact of this regionalisation by stealth. In the case of Hampshire, the Minister will also have to deal with a very concerned judiciary; it is concerned about the break-up of the Crown Courts organisation in Wessex.

My noble friend Lord Waddington and I, and no doubt others, have had a go at the Minister about this, and, ever the optimist, I hope that she can enlighten us further. I have a further question for the Minister: will these amalgamations lead to the enforced retirement of a number of assistant chief constables and, if so, why are a number still being appointed to that rank?

Efficiency and effectiveness have been key considerations in the debate. I share the view that the Government's proposals have too often been viewed solely through the lens of economies of scale. Quality of service delivery in conjunction with financial efficiency must be the key. We propose that some police forces could increase their efficiency by sharing services, if they choose to do so. That would enable economies of scale on cross-border issues but also enable constabularies to retain independence and be accountable to local people. The noble Earl, Lord Rosslyn, provided an interesting suggestion about collaboration rather than amalgamation.

My noble friend Lady Shephard has given us a vivid illustration of the thoughts and aspirations of the very disparate police forces in East Anglia. There is an overwhelming argument for a local approach to policing. Indeed, the Police Federation itself remains unconvinced that,

"larger police forces will not be more remote and thus separated from the very communities they have in recent years done so much to re-engage with".

Each area has its own requirements. The organisation best suited to deal with terrorism is not necessarily the best suited to deal with shoplifting. Moreover, there are serious concerns that amalgamations will drain resources from rural areas, a point highlighted by the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, as regards Yorkshire.

The prime example of too much haste is the cost of the proposed changes, which has been very thoroughly dealt with by your Lordships today. My right honourable friend David Davis observed in another place that the O'Connor report, Closing the Gap, said that the cost,

"far from closing the gap, will open a gaping black hole in the finances of our local police forces".—[Hansard, Commons, 1/2/06; col. 327.]

The APA's estimate of the cost of this operation of £0.5 billion has, I know, been disputed by the Minister. Be that as it may, the Government have belatedly offered £125 million, which, we understand, would be raided from the capital budget for the police, but it still leaves a huge gap. Even having to find a generously low figure of a net £350 million means that average increases in council tax band D across the whole of England and Wales, excluding London, will be £23.

For a moment I would like to dwell in more detail on the modernisation of police pay and work conditions. At the start of this speech I mentioned the need for the police to have incentives in their work. Police officers are relatively well paid—better than teachers or nurses. Their levels of pay reflect the value that society places on them and the nature of their work, which is often difficult and dangerous. We should never forget the risks that police officers run for us. However, officers tend to be paid according to length of service or seniority. We would wish to see pay in relation to skills, competence, performance and professionalism and an increasing regard given to rewarding merit. What discussions has the Home Office had with the Police Federation and the Association of Police Authorities regarding the modernisation of police pay? Has she addressed the vexed question of "working the sickie", which, unfortunately, is rife in some forces?

In a speech in January, my right honourable friend David Cameron referred to the necessity of attracting recruits of the highest calibre. The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, has also mentioned this. From time to time, it is asked why the service does not introduce Sandhurst-type officer cadet training, which works so well in the Armed Forces. A senior police officer explained to me why a similar system in the police will not work. She outlined to me, in persuasive terms, the feeling of being "on your own", often in conditions of great danger, which a police constable will inevitably experience from time to time and which, on the whole, has no counterpart in the Army, for example, where a soldier would normally be part of the unit, however small, be it a section or a platoon. She went on to argue that a token period spent on the beat would be a wholly insufficient experience. Noble Lords will be aware that the Trenchard Officer Cadet Scheme, introduced between the wars, was very unpopular with the police service and was abandoned after the second world war. Interestingly, Sir Ian Blair, the current Police Commissioner, in his remarkable Dimbleby lecture, said:

"I have lost count of the number of times I have been told by people that they had thought of joining the police but hadn't had the courage to do so. What they actually mean, by and large, is that they thought that, interesting as it was, they were of too superior a class or educational background".

I am told that the so-called fast-track schemes are not really effective. That was obliquely referred to by the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby. Are the Home Office and the police service addressing the problem of creating a really effective scheme, whereby men and women, whose qualities of intellect and leadership may be recognised at an early stage, may be able to rise rapidly up the ladder, without sacrificing the irreplaceable experience of the police constable, which is so much the backbone of policing in this country and about which my informant felt so strongly?

The noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, referred to the small number of minority ethnic officers in the national police force. Last month, at a reception held in another place, Sir Ian Blair gave us a statistic—I hope I quote him correctly—that 50 per cent of current recruits to the Metropolitan Police are from a minority ethnic background. If that is so, it is a very encouraging trend.

It has been well said that every country has the police that it deserves. In this country, where Sir Robert Peel invented the concept of the community policeman, we are proud to have a force that, despite the threats of 21st-century terrorism and criminality, remains, for the greater part, unarmed. However, with the increasing sophistication and resources available to terrorists and criminals, the police must keep ahead of them. In view of the quality of members of the police service in this country, I hope that all sides of the House will share my confidence that they will. But they require every assistance from the Government to enable them to fulfil their purpose: serving their local communities, as the noble Lord, Lord Imbert, has said with such eloquence.

I hope that the Minister will use her very considerable influence in the Home Office to convey to her right honourable friend the Home Secretary the unanimous sentiments of this debate in urging him to think again, particularly on the programming of the proposed timetable. I shall be very interested to hear her comments.

1:58 pm
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Baroness Scotland of Asthal (Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office; Labour)

My Lords, I join all those who have commended the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, for instigating this excellent debate, led by his exemplary introductory speech. As the Minister responding, I am given a certain difficulty because of the breadth of the issues covered, but I very much welcome them. I also welcome the very kind words of welcome home that I have received during the debate.

I say to the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, that I fear that his long experience in this House and his position as Front-Bench spokesman is likely to mean that he will never win the competition in which he wishes to engage with the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe. Indeed, those two will fare no better. I think that they should desist from trying to enter a competition that they are not fitted for and cannot win.

The issues with which we have dealt this morning are of the utmost importance and I wish to reassure noble Lords on a number of matters. Through active engagement, talking to our stakeholders and listening directly to communities, we have made substantial progress in enhancing the police service, very much in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, set out—I thank him for his compliments to the Government on the strides that we have taken and I agree with him. We have strengthened local accountability, introduced measures to monitor confidence levels within communities, instilled a new culture of proactive intelligence-led policing and significantly improved partnership arrangements with criminal justice service agencies. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, was right to refer to the crime reduction partnerships, the local strategic partnerships and the local criminal justice partnerships. That working together has brought amazing benefits to the criminal justice system as a whole.

We must look at the new provisions in that context of reform. We have a shared five-year vision for improving criminal justice services, as set out in our strategic plan, Cutting Crime, Delivering Justice. We have established a means to achieve enhanced performance, which is why we have been able to meet our target of bringing 1.25 million criminal cases to justice two years earlier than the target date of 2008. These are significant improvements.

I very much commend the comments made by the noble Earl, Lord Rosslyn, in his quite exceptional speech. He outlined how dramatically issues have changed. The context and nature of the problems that we face now are significantly different from those that we have faced historically. I have been comforted by the fact that, in each speech, noble Lords have accepted that the current structure of 43 forces needs to be changed. We cannot continue with that structure if we are to meet the real challenges with which we are jointly faced today.

I understand the comments made about the speed with which the change has been undertaken, but I think it only right to remind noble Lords that Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary did not just write one report; as many noble Lords have remembered, there were in fact two. The first, which was called Mind the Level 2 Gap, came to my right honourable friend Hazel Blears in early 2005. It very much set out the direction of travel in identifying that there was a big problem in the lack of police service capacity to deal with level 2 crime. It recommended that there should be another report by HMIC, which turned out to be Closing the Gap. It is that second report that has recently been received. The issue of police restructuring therefore arose at least six months before the publication of the current report in September 2005; the discussions had really been going on all that year.

The noble Lord, Lord Elton, is right about the separation between the Government's role and the independent role of the police and the police authorities to operate and protect us. However, that separation meant that, in consulting them, we relied on their fulfilling their proper function of consulting stakeholders and the public, which they did. I commend the work that the police and the police authorities did in that regard. I am confident that both noble Lords who have spoken from the Liberal Democrat Benches will have been engaged in those public consultations with others in their areas to ensure that the public understood what was being talked about. This debate must therefore be considered in the context of the substantial consultation on these matters that has been continuing for a long time.

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Lord Elton (Conservative)

My Lords, the noble Baroness says that the consultations were undertaken with the police authorities only, as I understand it. However, West Mercia consulted 126 bodies, according to the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, of which 123 came out against the proposals. Did any of that opposition come through to the consultation that her right honourable friend had?

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Baroness Scotland of Asthal (Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office; Labour)

My Lords, I am happy to write to noble Lords about the detail of the consultation that we had with the authorities. The noble Lord will be aware that the primary responsibility for this would have been with my right honourable friend Hazel Blears. I do not today have the details of exactly how the consultation was carried out, but I would be happy to write to noble Lords about that, so that there can be a better understanding.

One has to understand the context in which consultation takes place in these circumstances. One does not want improperly to interfere in the way in which the police authority operates. The police may want to consult the public in that regard. We can make suggestions, but it would be invidious if we were to be prescriptive. My impression—I make it clear that it is an impression—is that there was an informed and constructive debate, which is the key to the success of a reform programme of this scale.

We also have to put this against the background of the enormous investment that has been made into policing in this country since 1997. On a like-for-like basis, expenditure on policing supported by government grant across England and Wales has increased since 1997 by 27 per cent in real terms and by 53 per cent in cash terms, or by over £3.7 billion. We have seen a 35 per cent reduction in overall crime since 1997 and the fact that the chances of being a victim of crime are at their lowest since the British Crime Survey began in 1981 is an indication of the hard work that has been invested by all in the system to deliver those results, which have been achieved through partnership.

I want to touch on one of the issues raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, in relation to how the police operate with the Crown Prosecution Service and what we are doing about training. One of the consequences of the partnership working is that the CPS is now responsible for charging, which means that the police have available to them some quite expert legal advice on a continuing basis. The whole idea of learning together and sharing information is becoming embedded in the way in which we work, because we have discovered that in that way lies success. I want to reassure noble Lords about that.

I add in response to the pertinent point that the noble Viscount made that the service should reflect the people whom it serves. We have invested considerable effort in trying to make sure that that occurs. I give an absolute assurance to the noble Viscount that the energy that we have invested in that will continue. We wish to see a better representation—the 7 per cent, which would better reflect the communities that are being served.

Under the current 43-force structure, the police service has made significant strides, as everybody has identified, in dealing with level 1 volume crime. Success at this level has been driven by strengthening local policing, which is structured around the basic command unit and which will be preserved. My noble friend Lord Mackenzie is absolutely right in saying that the basic command unit will deliver the face-to-face local policing with which ordinary members of the community are likely to interface. He is also right to say that the strategic overview is not likely to be something that the individual citizen on the street will be too exercised about, provided that the quality of the policing is there. Therefore, because of our commitment to build on achievements at the local level, as demonstrated by a commitment to provide dedicated, visible, accessible and responsive neighbourhood policing to all areas by 2008, the public will get the advantage referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Rosslyn, when he said that if you take something away, you have to make sure that people get back something real, positive and effective. We are absolutely determined to do that.

Notwithstanding the success that we have all celebrated this afternoon, attained through our overall reform programme, we are committed to further improvements to develop a police service fit to tackle the complexities of 21st-century crime. We understand that the criminal landscape has changed significantly over the 30 years of the current policing structure. There is a clear professional acknowledgement of the need to address the changing landscape by addressing gaps in level 2 protective services.

As noble Lords know, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary highlighted those, but the findings were stark; it is easy to forget how stark. The noble Baroness, Lady Harris, rightly spoke about that from her experience, but we need to take those findings seriously. They indicated that less than 6 per cent of more than 1,500 big, organised crime gangs are targeted by police in a year. The majority of forces did not have fully resourced specialist murder units, and only seven out of the 43 forces deploy Special Branch alongside neighbourhood teams and capture community intelligence. These are all due to the lack of capacity and capability within the current police force structure to tackle effectively level 2 crime.

To address this, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary has recommended the development of strategic forces in order to equip the police service to provide effective level 2 protective services, which include serious and organised crime, counter-terrorism, domestic extremism, civil contingency and emergency planning, critical incident management, major crime, homicide, public order and strategic roads policing. I am pleased to be able to say that because I know how passionate my noble friend Lord Simon is about those issues, and rightly so.

The strategic forces across England and Wales must possess the necessary capacity and resilience to respond effectively to serious crime or public disorder incidents when they happen. Equally importantly, they are to be more proactive in countering organised criminal networks by gathering the intelligence needed to understand and pre-empt their activities. This reform will lead to significant change in the 43-force structure in England and Wales. However, HMIC has demonstrated that this can be achieved with minimal impact on the local national network of 248 basic command units. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, that our commitment to local accountability—local delivery—through those 248 basic command units remains resolute and unchanged.

We believe that this reform is necessary to preserve and strengthen achievements made in neighbourhood policing. Local people will experience an improvement to their local policing. The creation of strategic forces with sufficient capacity and resilience to deal with major investigations or public order incidents will help safeguard local policing by reducing the need to abstract officers and staff from neighbourhood policing teams. Indeed, we hope that by 2008 every neighbourhood will benefit from a dedicated team. Every resident will know the name of their local bobby, see them on their streets and will have their telephone number and e-mail address. The noble Lord, Lord Imbert, who I do not see in his place, will be able to rejoice, we hope, in seeing the local bobby back in his place, notwithstanding the changes that we have had to make to the structure over time, as my noble friend Lord Mackenzie.

The ongoing consultation process and today's debate have been useful in raising a number of key issues, notably timescale and consultation, a theme that ran through a number of contributions. I will also try quickly to touch upon collaboration and federation; strategic and local accountability, precepts, start-up costs and the use of resources.

I have already said a little on timescales and consultation. I invite your Lordships to consider that we believe this challenging timescale necessary if we are not to subject the service to prolonged uncertainty, which could lead to loss of morale and a distraction from its core task of protecting the public. We cannot allow that to happen, so we need to press ahead as quickly as it is sensible to do so.

Many of us have talked about collaboration and federation for a long time. We also need to bear in mind what Sir Ronnie Flanagan, the head of HMIC, said. He describes the existing collaborative arrangements as woefully inadequate and notes that they fail to deliver sustained resourcing for preventive or developmental work. A comprehensive step change is now required in the way level 2 is policed. This will be demonstrated in the years to come by the creation of strategic forces.

We take advice given to us by HMIC very seriously indeed, because it is the foundation or cornerstone upon which we rely for so much. It must also be the case that some level of federalism would be valuable, but this cannot be a substitute for strategic forces. Federation as proposed would be an added layer of bureaucracy. It would avoid some of the real issues of clarity of responsibility and accountability which have to be resolved on a day-to-day basis. Any federated or collaborative option would have to demonstrate that it could overcome these obstacles and deliver the same or greater gains of efficiency and effectiveness as the strategic force option. Both federation and collaboration would also undoubtedly incur costs, which have not as yet been explored. The restructuring will not lead to the eradication of borders. There will still be a need for strategic forces to collaborate with each other to tackle level 2 crime. That will be fundamental.

I am aware of the concerns raised that a move to strategic forces will lead to a loss of public accountability. We have been working with the Association of Police Authorities, the Association of Chief Police Officers and others to address this issue by strengthening the governance and accountability arrangements, both at force level and at basic command unit level. We will continue to do that with ever greater energy.

The Police and Justice Bill, contrary to what has been said in this debate, will not inure to the disadvantage of the independence of the service. We think it will assist to a large degree.

Much has been said on precepts and I know that there is concern. I must reassure noble Lords. We have been working very hard on those issues. The example given by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington—that there had been a 40 per cent increase anticipated in the precept cost as changed—is not accurate. The truth is that that authority is one of those minded to change. The noble Lord referred to Northumbria. It would involve a small increase for Northumbria, but a reduction for Cleveland and Durham. Notwithstanding that, Northumbria still thought that it was a very good thing to do. We thought that that was an accurate assessment.

Noble Lords mentioned start-up costs. We recognise that they may cause difficulties, which is why we came forward with £125 million to support it. Of course, resources will be important.

I have a plethora of very detailed answers to all the other questions raised. If I had another 20 minutes I would doubtless be able to delight your Lordships with a full explanation of each and every one of them. I apologise for not having the advantage of doing so. I will certainly write on all those issues that I have not had an opportunity to explore.

This is an important point in our development and we have to reform. That reform has to take place now because we need a service that is fit for purpose, fit for the 21st century and fit for the people whom we are privileged to serve.

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Viscount Tenby (Crossbench)

My Lords, I may take the Minister up on her offer and ask her to speak for another 20 minutes, so much do we like listening to her. I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. It may have been a select list in terms of numbers but, to turn an old adage on its head, never mind the width, feel the quality. That has been evident in the contributions made today.

Inevitably, our attention has focused on the amalgamations. Accordingly, my forecast that they are a time bomb that is ticking under the Government may prove prescient. However, as the Minister said, many other important topics were raised, from HATOs to form-filling. I am quite sure that, with her customary conscientiousness, the Minister, together with her colleagues and advisers, will look at the important concerns that have been raised. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.