Clause 28 - Extent, commencement and short title

Part of Public Order Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 16 June 2022.

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Photo of Wendy Chamberlain Wendy Chamberlain Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Wales), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Work and Pensions) 3:15, 16 June 2022

Amendment 28 is consequential on amendment 27. We may not have found much to agree on so far in Committee, but what we have all agreed on is how hard our police officers work, how challenging the job is, and how difficult it can be to fulfil their variety of functions. The amendments would place a duty on the Government to report to Parliament on the police’s ability to meet their obligations under the Bill before it comes into force.

I am asking for an assessment that includes an analysis of current capability, how many officers would need to be trained to fulfil the requirements, and how many officers would be diverted from day-to-day policing. We all care about local policing and local services, and ensuring that when somebody does contact the police, they have a timeous response that deals with their complaint. We need police officers in our communities, we need them on the streets, and we need them to respond to the public and investigate crimes.

We heard in evidence last week that responding to protest activity already overstretches the police. Chief Constable Noble told us that Staffordshire police has two or three officers at gold standard and a dozen at bronze. Those courses—gold, silver and bronze levels—are accredited by the College of Policing, so I suggest that people cannot undertake those roles without having completed that training and having had it accredited.

What Chief Constable Noble was not able to tell us, and what we have no way of knowing at the moment, is whether that will be enough to meet the obligations under the Bill. Although I have talked about the accredited courses, there will be a number of other trainings with no accreditation, particularly at constable level. There are additional stop-and-search powers in the Bill, as well as the new offence of being equipped to lock on and the processes for applying for and monitoring SDPOs. That will take up time for police forces that are already overstretched.

Prior to October 2019, it was well documented that police forces in England and Wales were suffering from a lack of numbers. While the Government have since announced the recruitment of 20,000 officers, that simply reverses the previous cuts. Recent reports into the state of policing by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services found that recruitment is slow and retention rates are unclear. We also know that the McCloud judgment in relation to pensions will potentially impact officers at the ranks of chief inspector, superintendent and above, so the capability that Chief Constable Noble talked about could also be impacted as those people leave the service.

If there are not enough police officers trained to properly respond to protests and apply these new laws, that means that more people must be trained—training that costs thousands of pounds and means that officers are potentially in classrooms, not out on the street. Chief Constable Noble estimated that the most basic training for an officer takes a few days each year; for a command officer, training takes a week; and the most specialist roles must undertake two to three weeks of training. I know from my own experience how onerous that training commitment is for public order officers. Sir Peter Fahy agreed with him, saying

“There is no time in policing for training. Again, those officers who are going to be on training courses have to be taken away from other duties”.––[Official Report, Public Order Public Bill Committee, 9 June 2022; c. 54, Q116.]

How are police supposed to train with all the day-to-day of policing?

With new laws, such as the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 and this Bill, training is potentially going to get longer and more complicated. Sir Peter went on to tell the Committee that police officers

“with due respect to them, do not have the sort of professional background on how to interpret legislation”.—[Official Report, Public Order Public Bill Committee, 9 June 2022; c. 54, Q116.]

I am pretty sure that Sir Peter did not mean, as it was suggested the shadow Minister meant earlier, that police officers are not capable of interpreting legislation. It absolutely does not mean that, but the job of a police officer is a little bit like the job we do as MPs, in that we are generalists. We have to know lots about everything. If we are very lucky, we get to specialise in a particular area, but we know a lot about a number of things so that we can respond appropriately to our constituents and to legislation.