Clause 87 - Functions of the authority

Criminal Justice and Police Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:00 pm on 8th March 2001.

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Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 6:00 pm, 8th March 2001

I beg to move amendment No. 295, in page 73, line 5, at end insert—

`(aa) to determine the curriculum for police training;'.

The amendment would add to the functions of the authority the determination of the curriculum for police training. The Government consulted on a mandatory core curriculum for police training and the response to the consultation exercise concluded that there was support for the general idea. It was thought that a mandatory core curriculum should not prescribe every conceivable aspect of police training, but there was general support for a core curriculum to be phased in over a period, although some respondents thought that it might not be necessary. The Government intend to introduce a core curriculum for personnel in various ranks. It will be devised incrementally by the Central Police college, which we can now refer to as the authority, in consultation with the other principal stakeholders, such as the national training organisation, and will be approved by the Police Training Council and then prescribed by the Home Secretary. It is intended that the Central Police college--the authority--will devise the curriculum.

One reason for the first group of amendments to this part of the Bill was to work out what the Government have in mind for the institution. If it is to be an independent, genuinely non-departmental public body and if it is intended that the authority will devise the curriculum incrementally, why should it not determine what the curriculum should be? I always worry that when such matters are left to the Home Secretary we end up with things being added, as happened with the core curriculum for education under a different Government, I am sorry to say. I am anxious that the core curriculum should not be motivated by specific issues that arise, or be overloaded. It is right that subjects such as how to approach people from different cultural backgrounds—to which the Lawrence inquiry referred—first aid, basic skills for policing, analysis and so on should form part of the curriculum. However, when I read the document that the Minister helpfully produced--``Police Training: Core curriculum and qualifications framework''--I began to worry that we would end up with a curriculum that is overloaded with various subjects. Even the words, ``devising something incrementally'', suggests that the curriculum will be continually added to.

The groups involved in bringing together the proposals for a core curriculum have some of the features of the approach that was adopted in education. Various worthy committees and bodies grouped together to produce the curriculum and we ended up with something that was far too substantial and rather unworkable. Paragraph 4 of the document refers to many groups being involved in the Police Training Council implementation steering group. I welcome that, but I want to test with the Minister why he believes that the Home Secretary should make such decisions.

The document also states:

``Core curricula could be devised in a number of areas to reduce costs and improve standards.''

There are 10 initial core curriculum subjects, all of which seem sensible, followed by 12 possible subjects. Is the Minister satisfied that we will not end up with some of the problems that can arise when a committee devises a curriculum? It would always add worthy items to the curriculum, and it would end up without the core functions being slimmed down to their essential agenda.

Police officers regularly say to me that there are great geographical differences in what is involved in policing. In some rural areas, fighting illegal hare coursing is the main topic. It is quite a specialism in itself, because the law is complicated on that matter. In some areas, police activities are concentrated on burglaries on suburban estates, while in others it is late-night violence in towns. It is important that the core curriculum relates to the training that all police officers need rather than it bolting on too many specialisms.

Under the Macpherson recommendations, officers should learn about community race relations. Let us imagine an area with a high ethnic population where there are racial difficulties in the community. In such circumstances, extra training would be necessary to ensure that all sensitivities were fully understood. However, in an area where there were few people from ethnic minority backgrounds and good race relations, different training might be needed. I should be grateful if the Minister would give us some assurances that the core curriculum will be streamlined to cover what is genuinely needed and that we shall not get too much committee-itis.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I can help the hon. Gentleman with the assurances that he seeks. The purpose of the centrally agreed curriculum is to help address some of the main criticisms of police training that have been made in recent years, such as inconsistency of standards, uneven quality of training and greater accountability. The curriculum will cover aspects of training that are delivered at both national and force level. Currently, 87 per cent. of police training is delivered locally by forces and only 13 per cent. is delivered nationally. At all stages, we shall consult key stakeholders. The curriculum will be agreed with the national training organisation, when it is established, and the Police Training Council to incorporate all the main stakeholders before it is submitted to the Home Secretary for his agreement.

The amendment would remove from the Home Secretary the power to prescribe a core curriculum for the police. It is important to emphasise that that is a fundamental part of the modernisation agenda that is published in ``Police Training: The Way Forward''. It has been agreed after considerable consultation with stakeholders. I know that the hon. Gentleman is not seeking to disrupt that process, but I wanted to place such facts on the record.

The Police Federation has recently written to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary expressing concern that the introduction of a core curriculum and mandatory qualifications would allow the introduction of differential rates of pay without proper consultation through the right channels, the Police Negotiating Board and so on. I wish to take the opportunity to place on record that is not the intention of the Bill. Its powers could not have any impact on pay rates. Those rates would have to be determined through the normal statutory arrangements.

The hon. Gentleman's key worry follows on from some of the experiences of the national curriculum in schools of an over-weighty, over-bureaucratic and perhaps over-prescriptive core curriculum. That is not our intention. It is important to distinguish between the establishment of the core curriculum and the responsibility of the national training organisation to provide the training.

As for hare coursing, local forces will be free to supplement the mandatory curriculum by carrying out additional training to support local needs. The process will help police officers and support staff by making clear what training development they should expect to receive upon undertaking a particular role.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I realise that the Home Secretary will be consulted on the matter, but if the body that the Minister describes will be non-departmental, why should the Home Secretary determine what the curriculum is? If the body is composed of stakeholders in the police—the Association of Police Authorities, the Association of Chief Police Officers and possibly the Police Superintendents Association—why should the Home Secretary say what the curriculum is?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

First, the role of setting the curriculum is different from that of providing the training. Secondly, the core curriculum will be established by the Home Secretary on the basis of advice from the service as a whole, from across the range. Thirdly—this is not a criticism of the existing state of affairs or that which we inherited—to achieve the ambition, stated by the hon. Gentleman, of having an entrepreneurial, active and non-committee-driven approach to the provision of training. Giving that role to the Home Secretary will strengthen and develop that approach.

With that, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will consider withdrawing his amendment, and that the Committee will agree that the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The Minister has gone a good way towards satisfying my concerns. I want to think over some of the points that he has made. He may also wish to reflect on exactly what kind of body he is setting up. If the body is designed to represent the interests of police authorities, ACPO and so forth, if police forces are independent bodies and the training organisation will be independent, it is odd that the Home Secretary should intervene. It is good that there will be plenty of consultation, but I hope that the Minister will reflect on the matter and ensure, should the police training authority go ahead, that the training authority is the body that makes decisions.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I make a small point, which may help. The new chief executive was appointed through the tripartite structure, not directly by the Home Secretary, although he finally approved the appointment. Since then, a number of events have introduced the new chief executive to all sections of the service, including the Police Federation. The whole way in which we intend to conduct the matter is in precisely the spirit that the hon. Gentleman describes.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am grateful to the Minister. Basically, if an operation is entrepreneurial, one would normally expect those involved to say what needs to be learned. The Minister may have gone far enough to satisfy me. I will think about that, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The Police Federation has raised a question that is slightly different to the point made by the Minister. It says:

``Subsection (7) allows `the authority' to provide training and `opportunities for professional development''' to private sector bodies

``that is bodies outside those listed in Clause 87(8). We would question the financial benefits open to an `authority' in offering such training in a prioritised situation against Police Officers. Such is the requirement in the present recruitment campaign that the system is unable to cope with basic training—should `private' training be given priority on an income basis, this will make the situation worse. Adequate safeguards must therefore be considered within this section.''

The points that are being made are that basic police training of probationers is a priority, that police officers and police training are centred on that, and that nothing in the Bill should encourage subcontracting to other bodies at the expense of the basic functions that are the core of police training. I should be grateful for any assurances that the Minister can give Mr. Moseley.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I agree, and there is no intention of doing that. However, training for the many civilians in the police service is important. Once the Private Security Industry Bill receives Royal Assent, as I hope it will once it comes here from the other place, I imagine that such services will be developed.

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the priority of the organisation is proper training for the police. A personal preoccupation of mine is the importance of developing police training side by side with that of members of other professions, such as lawyers and social workers. A weakness of current training systems is that different professionals work in similar areas but have different training, and in some areas, joint training is important.

The authority is required to provide training to officers; other trainees are provided for on a business-case basis. That requirement provides the priority to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

That is helpful. Are joint qualifications for joint training proposed for particular professions? The structure involved is much greater than we have discussed so far. The proposals suggest particular qualifications for police officers, including basic skills and academic qualifications. Three are proposed. Is that package of three qualifications to be jointly worked with other professions? Is the Minister saying that academic training might be combined with that for the CPS, for example? It is hard to envisage who might jointly train for some of the core curriculum subjects detailed in the briefing note, but civilian staff and the police could work together on some issues. Perhaps the Minister could explain what is meant.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office 6:15 pm, 8th March 2001

I just want to confirm the priorities for the police. It will take a long time, but developing joint training has benefits. However, joint qualifications are rather more complicated and would require a lot of consultation and consent. Nevertheless, I would not rule them out, as they would be positive. However, the first requirement is to put in place a framework that will work, and that is what the Bill will do.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The Minister provided some assurance on the point made by the Police Federation, and we do not intend to vote against the clause. However, perhaps he would consider Mr. Moseley's point—he may want to write to me about the matter in detail—about ensuring that basic training takes priority over anything additional and exciting from the private sector.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 87 ordered to stand part of the Bill.