Richard Rosser on the good in parts, bad in others Policing and Crime Bill
The police service is an emergency service under pressure. Overstretched forces are struggling to tackle the challenges of policing modern day Britain, while rates of the most serious and violent crimes are soaring.
Labour supports a number of measures in the government’s Policing and Crime Bill, including plans to strengthen the Independent Police Complaints Commission and the regulation of the police in general. We also back various measures to close the loophole that allows former officers to avoid disciplinary proceedings, change the rules governing how police deal with people suffering a mental health crisis, and safeguard children and young people from sexual exploitation. And along with reviewing the licensing regime for private hire vehicles, much of what is now in the Bill has been improved and strengthened as a result of the efforts of our colleagues in the Commons.
There remain however, two major proposals in this curate’s egg of a Bill to which we are opposed.
First, the Bill allows Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) to be able to take over Fire and Rescue Services where there is local demand. But it seems that the very definition of that ‘local demand’ will be where the local PCC wants to take on that role, subject to the agreement of the Home Secretary. This will be irrespective of the views of the local authorities, fire and rescue services and the communities affected.
No proper case has been made for such change on operational grounds, and it runs the risk of the fire and rescue services becoming a Cinderella service under the control of a police-orientated Commissioner and a single chief officer from the police service. In reality, fire and rescue has more involvement with the ambulance service. Firefighters don’t face the same kind of hostility as the police will fear that takeover could not only diminish their operational expertise but undermine the public’s view of their neutrality and independence.
Second, the Bill allows chief police officers to designate many police powers to civilian volunteers. The government is not proposing to expand the use of Special Constables or increase the use of civilian staff, but rather replace police with volunteers. A knock on effect no doubt of the 18,000 reduction in officers since 2010.
We are extremely concerned about the prospect of overstretched forces relying on volunteers to carry out roles that should only be performed by a trained, accountable police officer, PCSO or Special Constable. There is a stark difference between volunteers bringing additionality to the workforce and them acting as replacements or substitutes. It is vital that ministers start funding police forces properly.
Alongside these two areas of opposition, we want to see further progress in other areas of the Bill. For example, bereaved families should be given parity of funding for legal representation when the police are represented at inquests. An issue highlighted so powerfully and painfully by Hillsborough.
We also want the implementation of the David Cameron’s promise to the victims of press abuse and intrusion that there would be a second stage of the Leveson Inquiry into the relationship between police and press. Something the government declined to accept at Report stage in the Commons.
On the issue of people in a mental health crisis not being detained in police cells, we need a firm commitment from ministers that there will be a commissioning strategy in the NHS to guarantee alternative places of safety.
As we seek to build further on the good work done by colleagues in the Commons, Labour Peers will be challenging the government on all of these fronts, starting with today’s Second Reading debate.
Lord Richard Rosser is Shadow Home Office Minister in the House of Lords
Published 18th July 2016