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We have devoted a good deal of time in this Session to discussing crime and disorder. Earlier in the year we debated the Bill establishing a new National Crime Agency, and more recently we debated the Government’s decision to opt out of all the police and criminal justice measures agreed to prior to the Lisbon treaty—and, incidentally, to opt back into a number of them. However, these debates focused on only one aspect of our crime problem—namely, serious and organised crime.
For most people, what matters most is not the fight against international drug and human trafficking but the quality of their everyday lives. For those who do not live in houses as grand and isolated as Downton Abbey, the quality of their lives depends largely on the behaviour of their neighbours. When those neighbours engage in vandalism, graffiti, street drug dealing, drinking in public or worse, the lives of everyone in those communities become almost unbearable. Parts 1 to 6 of the Bill aim to deal with this kind of anti-social behaviour. It is clear from tonight’s speeches that we are to have some very lively debates about these proposals, but I am not going to anticipate them now—I merely commend the Government for addressing this subject and for making time for it in their legislative programme.
I also commend the Government for giving our police and crime commissioners a key role in their strategy for tackling anti-social behaviour. It is less than a year since the 41 PCCs took office, but already we are seeing signs of a more holistic approach to crime prevention and public safety at the local level. Giving PCCs power to provide or commission services, particularly support services for victims and witnesses of crime and anti-social behaviour, as the Bill proposes in Clause 129, is very much to be welcomed. I hope that in due course the Government will go much further along this road of giving PCCs more responsibility for local criminal justice and emergency service systems. For further reading on this subject, I recommend that the Minister get hold of the recent Policy Exchange pamphlet entitled
Power Down: A Plan for a Cheaper, More Effective Justice System
; there are plenty of ideas in that.
I am also delighted to see that the British Transport Police have found a place in the Bill. It is a first-class force which does a great job in keeping us safe and secure on our rail and underground networks. Putting that force on the same footing as the 43 Home Office forces in respect of firearms is long overdue, and recognises that the BTP supplies the same standards as those forces when it comes to selection, training and assessment. I have long thought that it would be sensible to make more use of the specialist skills and unique national coverage of this force by extending their responsibilities beyond our rail system to our airports and motorways, thus freeing up local forces to concentrate on neighbourhood policing, including tackling anti-social behaviour.
Noble Lords may not be surprised to hear that I welcome the provision in Clause 126, which makes it possible for someone who has not served as a constable in a UK force to be appointed to lead a Home Office force. I also welcome the support for this clause from the noble Lords, Lord Condon and Lord Dear, both of whom have held very senior posts in our local policing system with great distinction. Therefore, both may be assumed to know a thing or two about the role of the chief constable and what it takes to be good at it. However, I wonder why this clause specifies appointment as a chief constable rather than as a chief officer. Might it not sometimes be useful to be able to appoint someone from abroad as a deputy chief constable or an assistant? Perhaps I have missed something here; if I have, I would be grateful if the Minister would put me right when he winds up this debate.
Finally, I want to say a few words about the new College of Policing, which features prominently in Part 11. Among its other responsibilities, the college is responsible for identifying, developing and promoting ethics, values and standards of integrity for the police service. It is in this context that the college is preparing the code of ethics for police officers which attracted so much media attention last week. In answer to a question about this code on “The Andrew Marr Show” last Sunday, noble Lords may have heard the president of ACPO describe the college as follows:
“We have a new College of Policing, led by a very senior chief constable, Alex Marshall, who’s driving this agenda forward on behalf of a leadership which I have the privilege to represent this morning”.
I understand why Sir Hugh described the college in these terms. As one of the members of the college’s board of directors, he is used to sitting around a table with 13 others, four of whom are either serving or retired chief constables; two are serving police officers of other ranks; and another two, both appointed as independent members, have worked closely with police forces for many years. Of the remaining five members, three are PCCs and one is Millie Banerjee, the chair of the British Transport Police Authority. Only one member of that board, the distinguished academic who chairs it, is truly independent in the sense that she had no professional dealings with the police before her appointment.
If the college is to be given statutory backing as proposed in Part 11, it cannot be, nor be seen to be, a subsidiary of ACPO. It cannot be led by a senior chief constable on behalf of other chief constables. The college has to be led by its independent chair on behalf of the public. It is the public, after all, whom the police are employed to serve. If there is a principal customer for the work of the college, it must surely be our police and crime commissioners and their equivalents in London. It is they who have statutory responsibility for keeping us safe by maintaining efficient and effective police forces. It is they, therefore, who have the most direct interest in the success of the college as an institution devoted to improving the professional and ethical skills of our police officers and ensuring that these higher standards are maintained.
It seems clear on the basis of what the president of ACPO has said, what I have read in the media and what I have heard, that if the college wants to establish public confidence in its role of,
“identifying, developing and promoting ethics, values and standards of integrity”,
it needs to expand its board of directors to include many more truly independent members. I am sure that there is no shortage of individuals of outstanding character from the worlds of business, the church, the military, the Civil Service and the voluntary sector, who would be willing to serve. With these few suggestions, I commend this Bill to the House.