Police

– in the House of Lords at 2:58 pm on 22 November 2005.

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Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Spokesperson in the Lords, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs 2:58, 22 November 2005

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, following the remarks of the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in the Dimbleby lecture, they will support a wide-ranging review of the police force.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, I welcome the Metropolitan Police Commissioner's call for a wide-ranging public debate about the kind of police service that we want in this country. What is not required, however, is a wide-ranging review. The Government already have in place an ambitious programme of reform for the police service to ensure that it is fit for purpose in the 21st century.

Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Spokesperson in the Lords, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

My Lords, after I tabled this Question on Friday, we heard the appalling news from Bradford, the city where I grew up, in Yorkshire, of the shooting of Police Constable Sharon Beshenivsky. The sympathy of the whole House goes out to her family and everybody who knew her on that shocking and appalling event. The event has perhaps acted as a catalyst for much more debate about the police and the future of the police than Sir Ian Blair expected when he gave his Dimbleby lecture. Does the Minister agree that, if lots of police routinely carried guns, inevitably more people, including more police officers and other innocent people, would get shot? Will the Government give a lead in the debate on the matter?

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, the Government, as I am sure that the House will appreciate, are greatly saddened by the tragic death of PC Sharon Beshenivsky. It was a shocking and senseless crime, which serves to remind us all of just what a difficult and dangerous job our serving police officers fulfil every day. That said, the policy in this country has long been that the police should not be armed, which gives a character to our policing that we should not readily give up. Those words and views were echoed by Sir Ian Blair when he spoke last week.

We do not want to see wholesale arming of the police. Clearly, there are discussions and debates to be had about the level of arms and training which police officers should have. Of course, there will need to be continued debate about other equipment that police officers will need to ensure their adequate, proper and full protection.

Photo of Lord Waddington Lord Waddington Conservative

My Lords, why are the Government hell bent on making decision-making less local and further from the people? Will not that be the effect of reducing the number of police forces from 43 to about 15, just as it would have been the effect of their plans for regional government? What about a bit of democracy for a change?

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, the noble Lord is referring to the Government's view that we need to look at the size and structure of our police forces. In a sense, it comes back to Sir Ian Blair's Dimbleby lecture, asking what sort of police service we want; how we make decisions about the shape of the police service; and who should decide. The move to consider restructuring the police forces in this country has come from within the police service. We await their views on the size and capacity that they feel local police services should have and hold to retain their effectiveness in this century.

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Labour

My Lords, there is a huge amount in the commissioner's speech with which everyone can agree, but will my noble friend confirm that the Government have no plans to absorb the British Transport Police into the metropolitan force? He will recall that on many occasions in this House the work of the BTP has been widely praised, particularly after the terrorist outrages. Does my noble friend agree that the case for keeping a separate police force responsible for the Underground and overground transport policing is still very strong?

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, the Government certainly pay tribute to the work of the British Transport Police, but we are also aware that a debate is going on about the value of its current independence—certainly in the capital—from the Met and the City forces. Currently, we do not have plans to restructure in the way in which the noble Lord suggests, but no doubt that debate will continue as part of the generalised debate about the structure and shape of organisation for police forces up and down the country.

Photo of Lord Thomas of Gresford Lord Thomas of Gresford Shadow Attorney General, Law Officers (Constitutional Affairs), Advisory Team On Legal Matters, Non-Departmental & Cross Departmental Responsibilities

My Lords, what comment does the Minister have on Sir Ian Blair's suggestion that better paid police officers should have summary powers to impose driving disqualifications and anti-social behaviour orders on the spot?

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, I have not looked at that in detail in preparing for this Question. I think that the Government's view is that it is an interesting suggestion and something that we should look at along with a range of other ideas that Sir Ian Blair offered up in what I thought was an extremely interesting and thoughtful lecture.

Photo of Viscount Bridgeman Viscount Bridgeman Spokespersons In the Lords, (Assisted By Shadow Law Officers), Spokespersons In the Lords, Northern Ireland, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips

My Lords, given the tragic death of Jean Charles de Menezes and the recent appalling shooting of PC Sharon Beshenivsky, what steps is the Minister taking to ensure that any further debate on matters such as shoot to kill and the arming of some officers takes place in an open and transparent way?

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, I accept the invitation, in a sense, that the noble Lord makes. This is part of a very important continuing debate about the nature of modern policing. Sir Ian Blair has done the nation a great service in offering ideas and refreshed thinking on that subject. That debate needs to continue. It is certainly our desire in the Government to make sure that it is a vigorous debate because we need to engender further public support for our continuing reform process.

Photo of Baroness Henig Baroness Henig Labour

My Lords, does not my noble friend agree that modern police forces need to be large enough to have the strategic capacity both to deal with level 2 crime and to build strong links with their neighbourhoods? It is important that both of these aspects are properly covered.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, I strongly identify with that sentiment. The HMIC report concluded that the 43-force structure is no longer fit for purpose and that in the interests of the efficiency and effectiveness of policing it should change. For that reason, we have invited police forces up and down the country to bring forward their ideas on how we might better restructure the forces so that they can deal with cross-boundary crime, which confronts our police service with many major challenges.

Photo of Lord Pearson of Rannoch Lord Pearson of Rannoch Conservative Independent

My Lords, in view of the recent analyses which have been carried out, are the Government entirely satisfied with the academic attainment of those entering the police force, and with their training thereafter?

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, having visited several police training colleges in my time, I am always extremely impressed by the level of educational attainment by police recruits. They are a very fair reflection of our society. They do an extremely important job, they work hard and train hard, and of course the police service itself is always looking to improve quality and raise standards. I hope that the noble Lord supports that aspiration.