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Clause 111 - Staff custody officers: designation

Part of Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:00 pm on 18th January 2005.

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Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Minister of State (Home Office) (Policing, Security and Community Safety), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee 5:00 pm, 18th January 2005

Indeed, and I seek to explore the areas of agreement before I delineate the areas in which we can take those steps. Let me assure the Committee that I do not consider that the role of custody officer covers simply administration and process. It involves significant matters of judgment and serious decisions. It is not our intention to dilute either that key role or the ability of the custody officer to act independently of the investigative process.

Several hon. Members have talked about the need for the custody officer—the custody sergeant as it is now—to be independent, to have status and to be able to question the decisions of officers who turn up with people whom they have arrested, whether or not the charge is correct. That is right; the authority comes from legislation—the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which provides that the custody officer has the right to question such decisions and to have that independence, integrity and status. It also provides that, if the custody sergeant's decision is questioned, he or she can immediately refer the matter to a superintendent. The power will remain exactly the same for civilian custody staff officers. Under the terms of the legislation, if their decisions are questioned or there is any question of their integrity or independence being compromised, they will be able to refer to a superintendent. That is an important consideration.

It has been argued that the Government are pursuing the role as a way of providing policing on the cheap—I think that that was the phrase that the hon. Member for Cotswold used. Let me dispel that impression at the outset. This is not about policing on the cheap; it is about identifying the functions that   need to be carried out and the most appropriate people to do that, and about giving chief officers the flexibility to deploy their resources in the most effective and efficient way. I make no apology for that. We spend a lot of money—more than £10 billion—on the police force, and I am determined to get best value out of that investment. That means giving chief officers the ability to say, ''These are our resources, and these are the tasks that face us. How do we put the right people with the right skills in the right place at the right time?''

There are parallels to be drawn with some of the work force modernisation that has occurred in the health service, through which we have sought to change people's roles and jobs. Now people in the health service are doing things that they would never have dreamed of doing five years ago, never mind 10 years ago. Similarly, across the public services, as part of our reform programme, we are trying to create flexibility in the work force, and I hope that hon. Member for Cotswold would support that as a way of getting maximum value out of the investment that we make.

That is a very important role for the police service. Tackling change is important. It is always comfortable and attractive to cleave to the things that we know, to carry on doing them in a traditional way because it has worked well and to feel that we cannot make any improvements. I understand that position. However, sometimes it is necessary to think ahead, to be more innovative and to find new ways of doing things that benefit the service as a whole.