Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Clause 111 - Staff custody officers: designation

Part of Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:30 pm on 18th January 2005.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 5:30 pm, 18th January 2005

I am grateful to the Minister for her comprehensive reply. I understand her intentions and the fact that she believes that the change should not occasion the alarm that it causes to some. However, she has not yet persuaded me, and I shall amplify a little the reasons why.

The Minister mentioned some of the members of ACPO and some of the forces that have expressed an interest. She will readily acknowledge, however, that other chief constables have said ''Over my dead body will I have this happening in my force at this time,'' because they do not believe that it is the right way forward. Those chief constables are not necessarily against the principle of civilianisation. I place on record again the fact that I am not against a critical examination of the roles of police officers or of a finding that a task could be performed by civilians in a way that released police officers to quintessential policing duties. That is not a problem. Indeed, when I was involved with a police authority, we took the lead in many such areas, including the civilianisation of the work of scenes of crime officers, who do not need to be serving police officers in order to perform their functions. In fact, the civilianised SOCOs were largely retired police officers with the training, confidence and experience to do the job. That brings me back to the amendment.

I want to say a few words in response to the debate. We underestimate and undervalue the rank of sergeant in the police force. One thing that we could do to greatly increase the effectiveness of the police is understand the role that sergeants can play and cherish it. Too often, it is seen as a rank that people pass through on the way to greater things, but I deplore that attitude, because officers who are prepared to work in that area and use their experience in the front line—an expression that is often used—are crucial to the success   of the police service. The role is seen as crucial to other organisations, but it is particularly so to uniformed bodies.

I part company with the Minister on one thing: I believe that the custody sergeant is, crucially, a front-line role. I did not have a problem with the Northumbria pilot scheme because it dealt with those in ancillary roles, and I have no difficulty today with her statement that she is going to roll out the Northumbria pilot across the country to see whether it is possible to take out some police officers working in subordinate roles to the custody sergeant, because those roles could be performed instead by civilians.

I come back to the point that the custody sergeant's specific role, as set out in legislation, requires particular authority. The Minister said that that authority comes from legislation. I disagree entirely. It does not come from legislation; the powers—the duties and responsibilities—come from legislation, but the authority comes from having worked for 20 years in the roles of constable and sergeant and from the experience that comes from having worked in those roles. That is the authority that matters.

I want the Minister to understand that I do not doubt her good intentions. I have said it before, but I share many of her aspirations for the police service, and I recognise many of the problems. The danger is, first, that the Government sometimes give the impression that they are not wedded to the office of constable and would be happy to see that role diminished in the policing family, at least for the attested constable or officer. Secondly, they are prepared to undermine the provisions of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which I believe has been remarkably successful and is a bulwark against which practice can be measured. Both impressions, if true, are unfortunate, and she should take great pains to resist them.

I shall not press the amendment, although I still think that it has some merit. It would at least ensure that the right people are in the right job and that they have the authority to back it up. The Minister has yet to convince me of the merits of her case, and the debate will clearly continue. As we intend to vote against the clause, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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