Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:45 am on 20th January 2005.
In a previous political incarnation, I was chairman of Westminster city council's environment committee. In that capacity, I had regular meetings with the management of the royal parks. An important part of those meetings was the security of the parks, and an important part of that was the role played by the Royal Parks constabulary, which the clause will abolish. I am not saying that that is necessarily the wrong thing to do, but certain questions arise.
We cannot underestimate how important the royal parks are to the capital; they cater to tourists, and provide a green lung and a little environmental space for Londoners. One aspect that we often take for granted, however, is the security, which I saw at first hand. The Royal Parks constabulary, as cuddly and friendly as its officers may have looked, was very effective at running the parks and maintaining a sense of security. If there were a spate of crimes, however, that trust and confidence could be lost very quickly.
Has the Minister had consultations with the Metropolitan police to ensure that the officers who will replace the Royal Parks constabulary are dedicated and have the same desire to be involved with the local community? Will they be dedicated to the parks, so that they will not be pulled away if there is an emergency in another part of the capital? One idea might be to have a force of dedicated community support officers for the royal parks, but I do not know. The important point is to address such issues, because if confidence is lost, things could go very badly, very quickly.
Following on from the remarks by the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly), I may say that this is an organisational, rather than a statutory matter. However, is it the Minister's intention that some of the officers in the Royal Parks constabulary will be absorbed by the Metropolitan police as constables? I gather that some may become CSOs attached to the Met. Will they form a distinct district in the Met or will they be absorbed into the districts in which the parks are situated?
I am delighted that hon. Members hold the policing of the royal parks in such esteem and affection. The parks are an important asset to the country, as has been said, for residents and workers in London as well as for tourists, and we all appreciate them.
In recent years, however, because the Royal Parks constabulary has been separate from the rest of the policing service, it has sometimes not been as attractive a place to work as the mainstream service. Moving the Royal Parks constabulary into the organisational framework of the Metropolitan police will make the job more attractive.
The proposal also has elements to do with community policing in our parks, which is important. In the past year, as we have worked up to the change, there has been a co-policing arrangement with the Met whereby PCSOs have been introduced alongside the Royal Parks constabulary. The skills and attitude of the PCSOs—the guidance, relationship building, directing of tourists to where they want to go and so on—have been exactly what hon. Members have wanted. The proposal will be an improvement for parks policing, because there will be access to the full range of the Met's ability yet that important neighbourhood attitude will be retained.
How things will be organised is an operational matter for the commissioner rather than a matter for me, but I am sure that he is acutely aware of the need to provide an appropriate service and ensure that the parks remain safe and attractive places for tourists and residents to visit.
Many of the current officers will transfer as constables. Some will become PCSOs and some will become other employees of the Met. I assure hon. Members that the policing of the parks will remain a priority because of their importance to the community.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 138 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Schedule 13 agreed to.
Clause 139 ordered to stand part of the Bill.