Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a further sum, not exceeding £259,162,000 be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund to defray the charges which will come in course of payment during the year ending on 31st March 1990 for expenditure by the Home Office on court services, other services related to crime, probation and after-care, police, fire, civil defence, control of immigration and nationality, issue of passports, etc., other protective and community services, certain broadcasting services, data protection and other miscellaneous services including grants in aid and international subscriptions; and on administration (excluding prisons).
§ 4.9 pm
§ Mr. John Wheeler (Westminster, North)
I welcome this opportunity to introduce a debate on common police services and, in so doing, to discuss three of the reports of my Select Committee on Home Affairs this Session. My Committee has reported on the forensic science service and the police staff college, both of which are paid for from the common police services fund and has devoted part of our report on Home Office expenditure to common police services.
The common police services fund is used as a means of paying for those centrally organised police activities which individual forces could not finance on their own. These services so funded have been described as the infrastructure of the police service. Under the provisions of the Police Act 1964, the Secretary of State is empowered to contribute to these services as a means of promoting the efficiency of the police. Although small in monetary terms and in relation to overall expenditure on the police, common police services currently include a variety of activities essential to the effectiveness of the police service as a whole.
Because the police service is based upon a tripartite structure dating from Victorian times, it is difficult, if not impossible, for the Government to introduce new techniques in policing or to achieve standard practice across all 43 police forces in England and Wales. It has been a feature of all three of our Committee reports that we have proposed ways of creating greater unity of purpose and common approaches to policing, without which the present police structure might fail to meet the needs of the 1990s.
484 Our first report, made in February of this year, was on the forensic science service. The Committee discovered that the service has been under-funded. Its resources had not increased in line with the increasing volume of recorded crime and the enhanced capacity of the laboratories for forensic analysis. The shortfall in funding had led to the demoralisation of staff and general dissatisfaction with the services provided by forensic science laboratories to individual police forces.
The under-funding was the more serious, in the view of the Committee, because we had evidence that in particular cases the use of forensic science could lead to great savings in police resources by quickly confirming the guilt or establishing the innocence of a subject. Forensic science analysis can have a direct bearing on the use of expensive police resources by enabling them to be better directed. Moreover, we also had evidence that, in some cases giving rise to major public anxiety, forensic analysis has contributed to a speedy solution of the crime and the allaying of much disquiet.
The usefulness of forensic science is nowhere more clearly demonstrated than in the development of the DNA profiling test, which will match the DNA structure of a person to any blood, hair or other body fluids left at the scene of a crime. Because of the unique structure of each individual's DNA and the increasingly sophisticated and accurate results obtained from such tests, we made a special recommendation that pending the establishment of a register of DNA profiles or "fingerprints", for which the technology is not yet available, records of all those convicted of appropriate offences should be retained for future reference.
To overcome the problem of under-funding, we proposed that the laboratories should institute a system of charging police forces for work done. The evident value of forensic analysis to police inquiries in our view would ensure adequate funding. In any event, we proposed additional safeguards to ensure that the service should not be run down for short-sighted and short-term budgetary reasons.
The Home Office has reacted positively to our report. Under the new director general, it is proposed that the forensic science service will expand to meet the currently unmet demand for forensic science. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to inform the House that the essential short-term increases in staffing have now been agreed by the Treasury. Our proposal that individual forces should take direct financial responsibility for the work done by the forensic science service has also been accepted in principle and a detailed study is to be made into the feasibility of establishing the service as an executive agency. We welcome these steps, but wish to be reassured that the implementation of the practice of charging is not being held up by the failure to obtain the agreement of the Association of Chief Police Officers.
Our third report of this Session was on higher police training and the police staff college. Following our earlier inquiries, we were convinced that a key factor in making the fragmented police structure work was an efficient and coherent system of higher police training. Given the enormous cost of the police service in England and Wales —£3.7 billion in the current year, with 122,000 police officers and 40,000 civilian staff and a variety of other expensive resources—it is vital that senior officers are trained to maximise the use of those resources and manage them effectively to the benefit of the whole police service.
485 We were most impressed by the police staff college at Bramshill. Under the leadership of the present commandant, Mr. Bunyard, it has improved its command courses in terms of quality and content so as to equip those in command at all levels to fulfil their responsibilities. Because we recognise the importance of the skills and qualities available at the police staff college, we propose that its resouces should be used more widely in police management consultancy, in the research enterprise and as a venue for seminars and conferences.
From our visits to the college and the evidence we received, it became clear that the location of the college at Bramshill was an essential ingredient of its success. Bramshill house has become a symbol throughout the world of all that is best in the British police tradition. Sadly, Bramshill house is in a poor state of repair and will need urgent expenditure if it is to be preserved, but I believe that the investment that has already been made in the current site makes it inconceivable that the college should move. I would ask my hon. Friend the Minister if he is yet in a position to commit the Home Office to the future of Bramshill house as the venue of the police staff college and to the investment which this will require.
If the excellent training provided at Bramshill is to contribute fully towards a more effectively managed police service, it must be accompanied by appropriate arrangements for recruitment, career development and appointment to senior police posts. Sadly, at present, such arrangements appear to be lacking. We found that the special course, which provides an avenue for accelerated promotion for the most able young officers, has been seriously under-subscribed.
We do not believe that this under-subscription derives from the current method for selection of candidates for the special course and the senior command course by extended interview procedure, which we strongly support. Rather, it appears to follow from difficulties in the recruitment process and in the career development process within forces. It was suggested by Mr. Roger Birch, chief constable of Sussex and director of police extended interviews, that some smaller forces lacked the capacity to select the future leaders of the service.
As a solution to this perceived difficulty, we recommend that the Home Office should investigate the establishment of a professional method of nationally directed and regionally organised recruitment into the police service of England and Wales. To ensure that the most able young officers are motivated to attend the special course, we further recommend that the special course should include a greater element of assessment so that it becomes the principal means for identifying the future leaders and senior officers of the service.
Similar difficulties were also apparent in the case of the senior command course. The Committee was deeply disturbed to learn of the number of officers at ACPO rank who had not attended the senior command course, including 47 per cent. of all assistant chief constables. In addition, a considerable number of those who, after vigorous selection procedures, undertake the senior command course, fail to go on to achieve assistant chief constable rank. This represents an appalling waste of training on the one hand, and a lack of professional training for those in post on the other. The Committee 486 recommends the adoption of a policy whereby, from 1993 onwards, attendance on the senior command course should be a compulsory requirement for all officers applying for posts at the ranks of chief constable and deputy chief constable and Metropolitan and City of London police equivalent rank.
We were also greatly concerned about the wider matter of career development at ACPO rank—in other words, how the leaders of the police service are chosen. The current system of appointment was described by Mr. Birch as an "unprofessional lottery". There is little or no scope for career planning in these grades, and there is a positive disincentive to secondment to undertake essential central service jobs. This must be changed if senior officers are to be given similar opportunities to civil servants to broaden their experience and to deepen their professional knowledge.
The Committee came to the conclusion that the current method of appointment to and within ACPO rank is haphazard and amateurish in the extreme. To overcome the problem for this small career group, which comprises 249 posts, of which 63 are in the Metropolitan police, our report recommends that the ACPO ranks of the police service should be established as a central service grade within the Home Office as a cadre of professional officers holding the historic rank of constable, but available for appointment to the developing tasks of a modern police service both in central services posts and in existing constabularies.
In addition to the nine ACPO rank central service posts, there are currently 600 officers on central service duties within the police service—a number almost equivalent to a smaller police force. The growing importance of such posts is evident from the passage of the Police Officers (Central Services) Act 1989, which received Royal Assent only this week, and which granted to officers on such duties the historic office of constable.
A common thread in our reports on the forensic science service and higher police training is that the Home Office has found it difficult to determine the amount of resources to be devoted to services funded initially by the Home Office, partially paid for by local authorities and used by forces directed by chief constables.
We have therefore proposed in our report on Home Office expenditure that the Home Office should take full financial charge of those services necessarily provided centrally and recommend that, from the financial year 1991–92, the Home Office should pay the full cost of these services and that an appropriate adjustment should be made in the police or rate support grant to leave central and local government contributions to police expenditure in the same proportion as in the current financial year. Such a change would give those responsible for the services a direct incentive to maximise their efficiency and proper use.
In our report on Home Office expenditure, we review three other areas of police activity falling on common police services. For example, we examine the proposal that the secretariat of the Association of Chief Police Officers, should be strengthened. ACPO is increasingly looked to by the Home Office for advice and, in the case of the mutual aid co-ordination centre, it undertakes a quasi-executive role.
We therefore support the enhancement of ACPO's secretariat, provided that it is accompanied by a fundamental examination of the association's statutory 487 responsibility and accountability. Until the questions concerning the current organisation of the police are resolved, it appears that ACPO is to be the unifying factor in the present fragmented police structure. It is important, therefore, that this is acknowledged and its accountability established.
Our Committee has also been concerned at the limited expenditure on police recruitment, in view of the looming demographic problem which will occur as the pool of young people diminishes in the 1990s. We have therefore proposed that the Home Office and the Police Advisory Board give urgent consideration to an advertising campaign to market the police service as an attractive career to the ablest young people in the future. We re-emphasise the importance of a recommendation in our report on higher police training that there should be national direction of recruitment policy and procedures. These should be directly funded by the Home Office.
The Committee welcomed the appointment by the Home Office of a professional procurement adviser to assist police forces to secure the benefits of bulk purchase of vehicles, while maintaining the freedom of individual forces to procure vehicles best suited to their operational needs and budgetary considerations. We conclude that the Home Office should play an active role in ensuring that all forces achieve the most efficient standards in the purchase and management of vehicle fleets. Our recommendation fits in well with a recent report of the Audit Commission which clearly demonstrated the scope for financial savings. I hope that the Minister will say what progress has been made in this sphere.
I conclude with a few words about the essential provision of central services for the police. My views on the inadequacy of a system with 43 independent police forces in England and Wales are well known. Indeed, there are eight more forces in Scotland and a considerable number of departmental police forces, such as the British Transport police force, the Royal Parks constabulary, the Ministry of Defence police and so on. One means of making this system work is to ensure that services which are vital to successful police work, but which are beyond the scope of individual forces to provide, should be provided centrally.
The current method of provision is through common police services. This arrangement fudges responsibility and obscures accountability between Government, local authorities and chief constables. We have proposed that the Home Office should be free to take decisions on such matters without requiring to justify them in financial terms to local authorities, many of which have varied and possibly conflicting priorities.
No example of a matter in which a speedy decision is required is more important than that relating to the greater co-ordination of the regional crime squads for the whole of England and Wales, which has been suggested in our current inquiry into drug trafficking. If Government are to take decisive action in the provision of a vital national service such as this, they must be able to ensure that it is provided on a scale and at a speed which meets the urgency of the problem. This, above all, is the justification for the change we have proposed in the funding of the common police services.
This is an important debate, in which I hope other members of the Committee and hon. Members will find the opportunity to contribute. I very much look forward to the reply of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to my 488 comments on the work of the Select Committee and the proposals that we make for the improvement of the police system in England and Wales.
§ Mr. Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie)
I am pleased to speak immediately after the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler), under whose chairmanship the Select Committee on Home Affairs has put together a series of valuable reports, which I hope will guide the work of the Home Office.
I shall restrict my comments to the forensic science report, although I am sure that other hon. Members will cover the wide range of other reports. It is especially important to put the spotlight on the forensic science service, because we produced a report which was highly critical of the way in which forensic science has been administered in recent years. Although the Government's response to the forensic science report seems to accept many of our points, I hope that the Minister will be able to flesh out that response to show us that the Government genuinely recognise that there have been some wrong turnings in recent years and that we need to make it clear, not just with words but with deeds, that the forensic science service is now esteemed and is moving forward.
When we examined the service, we found a disturbing scene. Our reports are written in very modest and moderate terms, but in this report we said that the service had fallen on hard times and that morale was at rock bottom. Those are harsh words, but I believe that it was the unanimous view of the Committee that they were justified, and that radical improvement was needed.
Basically, we thought that the fault lay with the failure of the Home Office and its Ministers to understand the function of the forensic science service. It might be that the forensic science service failed to persuade the Treasury that it had problems, but the fault must remain with the Home Office having inadequate persuasive powers. In recent years there has not been any lack of concern in terms of the number of investigations of the forensic science service, but the situation has been one of paralysis by analysis. No sooner had one group come along to examine the forensic science service than another one came along. We were fearful that we would be yet another burden on that service, in that we might also be the cause of some delay.
We found it disturbing that the reviews, such as the Chepstow review, seemed fundamentally to misunderstand what the forensic science service involved. While Lord Rayner might be highly effective within Marks and Spencer, his impact on the forensic science service has been nothing short of disastrous. It is necessary to understand the contribution of the forensic scientist in other than accounting and administration terms. It takes many years to produce a good forensic scientist. Not only is there a prolonged stage of initial training, involving a first and usually a second degree in the person's own specialism, but there is then a long period of work to develop the skills needed to be fully valuable to the forensic science service.
The competent forensic scientist undergoes a unique test when the most adept and agile legal brains of the country subject every aspect of his work to intense investigation. Not many people face such a test.
In recent years there has been a lack of effective leadership in the forensic science service, but more 489 particularly a lack of leadership from the Home Office. We found that morale was low within the service, and that that had been exacerbated by its pay and conditions.
One of the things that most disturbed me was the way in which vacancies are filled. That is done by the Civil Service Commission and I believe that if one wants to lower morale in any service one need only bring in that commission. Someone may apply for a job and hear only many months later that he has got it. What is also disturbing is the lack of involvement of regional directors in appointments. When there are vacancies in a forensic science laboratory a person turns up at the door many moons after the need for an appointment was realised. Such practice is not the way to build up the balance and the quality of service available within a forensic science laboratory.
In the report we urge that the regional laboratories should be involved in choosing those to be appointed as forensic scientists. I hope that that recommendation is accepted. We also urge that vacant posts should be filled more rapidly.
Discontent about appointments is also linked to discontent about pay and conditions within the forensic science service. In the south-east the service has been unable to compete effectively for scarce resources. Forensic scientists have not only seen their salaries fall in comparison to those earned by scientists in the outside world, but they are extremely mortified when they discover that they are paid less than the police constable working on the same case. That must be put right. Following the Rayner review, cuts were imposed which resulted in the worst of all worlds—numbers in the service were reduced at the same time as those remaining in the service realised that others in the law and order business were valued higher than they.
We are faced with a strange situation. We have a law and order Government who have put great stock on the need to bring crime under control. They have recognised that the number of police should be increased, but they have not recognised that the forensic science service, which is a valuable tool for the police, should also have its numbers increased. It has, instead, been subject to cuts. In recent years the forensic science service has not expanded as it should and, therefore, morale has collapsed. Such a collapse is not inevitable. In our valuable visits we also saw the Metropolitan police and the Strathclyde police forensic science laboratories and neither of those places offers the same chronicle of collapsing morale and lack of contact with the management.
It is worth pointing out that the reductions in the forensic science service, run by the Home Office, have occurred alongside two other important events. The first is the massive expansion in the crime rate since the Government came to office. If the service is not expanded, inevitably there will be a diminution in the contribution that the forensic science service can make to the cause. It also emerged that more and more sophisticated techniques, developed by the forensic science service and others, could be applied to crime. Those techniques tend to be expensive in terms of labour and equipment. There was a consciousness of what could be done in relation to forensic science and a realisation that not all that could be done was being done. The most dramatic and 490 sophisticated of those techniques is the development of the DNA service. However, that is merely the most glamorous of the developments that have occurred in forensic science.
What issues face the forensic science service at present? I disagree with the rest of the Committee on the issue of charging. At present, as the hon. Member for Westminster, North said, the forensic science service is funded from the common police services budget. The majority of the Committee suggested that in future, the forensic science service should, at least in part, be supplied to individual forces on a piece rate basis. If forces asked for a particular job to be done, they would be charged for it on a piece rate basis.
I disagree with that suggestion because it seems that the central reason for embracing that method of funding is that those involved will do anything to escape the Home Office clutches. It was interesting that the Metropolitan police and the Strathclyde forensic science laboratories made no request for a charging service. Somewhat surprisingly, the trade unionists were in favour of charging, and when I asked them whether that was because the system would enable them to elude the Home Office's clutches, they as good as admitted that that was a factor.
§ Mr. Wheeler
It is very good of the hon. Gentleman to give way. He has fairly described the Committee's debate on charging, but I think that he will allow that the Committee was able to observe that the Strathclyde and the Metropolitan police forensic science services were both peculiar and the creatures of the two constabulary services. Therefore, they faced quite different problems from those which exist for the 42 police forces of England and Wales, which have to dip in to the Home Office forensic science service. The smaller forces certainly, and perhaps all the forces, would be unable to establish their own service in the way that the much larger Metropolitan and Strathclyde forces have, of course, been able to do.
§ Mr. Worthington
I accept that there is a closer relationship between a single force and its laboratory than between regional laboratories and a multiplicity of forces. It is interesting that this simple idea of charging for services on a piece rate basis had not been proposed in the past, but was the product of several years of decline within the forensic science service.
The problem with charging is that it assumes that chief constables make rational decisions. It may seem extraordinary for me to challenge the rationality of chief constables, but at present with a free service—the contribution has been decided according to the common police services budget—they do not make rational decisions. The report referred to one force that referred 6.7 cases per 1,000 crimes and another that referred 1.5 cases per 1,000 crimes. At the moment, there is no price, yet the forces seem to make highly varied decisions. If rationality is to be applied within the charging system, we would have expected that rationality already to exist under the present system, which does not seem to be the case.
We know very little about whether our police forces are efficient or rational, because we have chosen to exclude them from scrutiny for far too long. We make assumptions about their efficiency which we cannot back up because public expenditure on police forces is an under-explored subject. That problem has been partly due to the system of local police forces, in which the operational control is 491 given solely to the chief constable. Therefore, it has been extremely difficult for local police authorities to judge how expenditure is incurred.
While I agree to some extent with the Chairman of the Select Committee about the excessive number of police forces in England and Wales, I would be dubious about remote police forces which would exacerbate our present lack of knowledge about police operations. Our system of local accountability is undeveloped and under-resourced. We have not developed an adequate means of assessing the efficiency of police forces.
One of the points in the forensic science report about which we were most critical was that, after 50 years of the forensic science service, we are still no closer to knowing whether the level of that service is adequate. Precious little research has been done about whether we use our forensic science services in a cost-effective way. Some work, including the Ramsey report, was done in about 1986, but it did not take us any further. Touche Ross, an outside consultant, was commissioned to produce a report that would enable us to judge whether we were receiving an adequate level of service. However, Touche Ross flunked that task and simply produced a recommendation about charging, believing that the market mechanism would settle the proper standard of forensic science services. The report showed that police forces were far too little aware of the resources which could be given by the forensic science service, and that communication from the service to the police was inadequate.
I have an important question to ask the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, and if he can stop resting his eyes, he may be able to answer it. Has anything specific been done by the Home Office to commission research that would enable us to tell whether the funding of the forensic science service was adequate? We constantly heard from people about how many hundreds of man hours were saved by the timely introduction of the forensic science service.
One often felt that the staff of the forensic science service talked about their most glamorous cases—about their contribution to the Yorkshire Ripper case, for example. But we need to know what forensic science can contribute to the humdrum cases. People whose houses are burgled are frequently very upset about the perfunctory work done by the police service when following through what has been an extremely significant event in their lives. The police would say that they cannot devote much time to investigating those crimes because of their lack of resources. Given the techniques available to forensic science, it is a great pity that adequate research into whether it would be cost-effective for more forensic scientists to work in police investigative teams has not been done. We were also made aware of the extent to which evidence is destroyed or insufficiently dealt with if no forensic scientist is present.
I ask the Under-Secretary to go beyond the Home Office's response, which is once again that the matter is being looked into. Has a decision been made to conduct the—admittedly extremely sophisticated—research to enable us to judge on cost-effective grounds whether we are properly staffing our forensic science service? At the moment it is just guesswork: we deserve something better.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
I ask the hon. Gentleman in a spirit of inquiry whether during his and the Committee's considerations they 492 became aware of any great difference in the attitude of the various client police forces to the effectiveness and value of the forensic services. Would such a difference show up under the proposed methods of financing?
§ Mr. Worthington
I am grateful for that intervention, I referred earlier to how forces vary in their use of forensic science service, and there are many reasons for that. For example, the Kent force told us that it has to use the Aldermaston service. Travelling from Maidstone to Aldermaston constitutes a formidable disincentive to using the service, given that it involves travelling past the Metropolitan police forensic science laboratory. I suspect that individual officers' knowledge is often a reason for variations in use, too.
§ Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)
My hon. Friend has put his finger on something. Deficiencies in the training of our police forces, and hence in their knowledge of forensic services and how to use them, are deeply embedded in their education procedures at every stage, particularly in the training procedures for officers who go on to criminal detection.
§ Mr. Worthington
That is right. That is why I am asking for more research. Remote regional laboratories may not be the most effective way of building up links with the police forces. Earlier, I mentioned the necessity of involving forensic scientists more routinely at the scenes of crime. That would go against the trend of recent years, when scientists seem to have been more and more laboratory-bound. They have waited for the work to come in rather than going to the scene of the crime.
§ Mr. David Ashby (Leicestershire, North-West)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that a better management of resources might be the key, and that that takes us straight into higher police training? Could not the best use he made of forensic science in that way?
§ Mr Worthington
The general thrust of our report was that we did not believe that there had been coherent management of the service. The first step is to try to find a way to assess the appropriate forensic service for the differing case loads of the police forces. Such research is immensely difficult, but it has not been attempted. Our report seems to suggest allowing it to be done by charging—if a force wants the service, it will pay for it, so we will know whether the service is adequate.
That response is not good enough, given the imperfect nature of the market, which depends on people's knowledge of what forensic science can do. It also depends on geographical factors. If we are ever to use charging, the time to introduce it is after scientific research has established the proper level of a forensic science service in the first place; otherwise, we shall try charging for a few years and then people will ask how we know it is working. We cannot assume that it works. The only way to check is to commission research into whether the service provided is appropriate for the case load of the police.
§ Mr. Sheerman
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way again. I share his misgivings. The Select Committee report will help to get the forensic service right, but to begin charging now might lead an investigating officer, under pressure from above, to ask how much a forensic 493 investigation would cost and to reject it in order to cut costs. His chief constable may be looking over his shoulder.
§ Mr. Worthington
That is right. A chief constable is under pressure from many directions. He is concerned not only with forensic science and the detection of crime; he is under pressure to spend more from what is available—his force may be demanding overtime, he has to deal with traffic matters and with whatever worries his neighbourhood. An invisible and distant regional laboratory will tend to be forgotten. Forensic science offers no certain pay-off. A chief constable may invest in it as a way of finally nailing an offender with a missing piece of proof, but he may not invest in the speculative forensic science work which may be necessary at the early stages of an inquiry but may not seem to offer a certain return at that stage.
I look forward to the Under-Secretary's response to the report. It is a critical report, and the response has assured us that our criticisms have been taken seriously into account, although it has come across in rather a bland way. I hope that the Minister will be able to assure us that the forensic science service will have a much happier time during the next 10 years than it has had during the past 10 years.
§ 5 pm
§ Dame Janet Fookes (Plymouth, Drake)
I suggest to the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) that he has missed the main point which the majority of the members of the Committee felt important in relation to charging for the forensic science service. Surely the important consideration is that chief constables and those below them should have as much freedom as possible to dispose of resources as they believe right. In some instances, the careful use of forensic science techniques can save overtime and all manner of other uses of the police so that they can get to the point with the aid of forensic science. With proper management by chief constables and those immediately under them, it will be possible to make that choice. It is not as though the services of the forensic science laboratories are now available ad lib. We are aware that the laboratories are able to take on only a certain amount of work. In these circumstances, the arrangements that we are suggesting would be far more practical.
It has been valuable for the Select Committee on Home Affairs, of which I am a member, to have examined closely various features of the police service in the past few months. I say that for two reasons. We are well aware that our constituents, the public generally and the media are preoccupied with and concerned about ever-increasing levels of crime. Members of the public are especially concerned about crime that can affect them, such as attacks on them by others and the possibility of burglary and robbery.
We are aware also that crime in its more sophisticated sense is reaching out in a way that is terrifying. This is not the occasion to deal with the Committee's current inquiry into drug trafficking, but it is clear that the trafficking goes beyond the remit of regional arrangements. It is international in scale, and on such a scale that it almost beggars belief. In the circumstances, we are surely right to 494 concentrate on our first line of defence—the police—to ensure that it is as well geared as possible to deal with the immense problems facing it now and in future.
The police service is costing an immense amount each year, and that is particularly relevant when we are considering Estimates. It is costing about £3.5 billion a year now, and the cost is likely to rise in the next year or two to well over £4 billion. We have a duty as hon. Members to ensure that that colossal sum each year is spent wisely. That brings me to my concern about higher police training and the staff college. Given the scale of crime and the scale of the resources that we devote to the police service, it is essential that the training of those who are the leaders of the police, in the jargon of the ranks of the Association of Chief Police Officers, is as good as possible. That must apply to what might be called their professional expertise and to the management of their resources, whether that is in terms of manpower or the various expertise that is available to them.
The Committee was fortunate in seeing not only the staff college at Bramshill but the training college in Scotland. Some members of the Committee were also fortunate enough to see the FBI academy at Quantico, Virginia, from which some of us returned only a short while ago. It has been possible for us to make some comparisons with our own training college. I was delighted on overseas visits to learn how well regarded the Bramshill college is and what a role it has to play in the international sphere as well as in providing training for our police force in England and Wales.
There is a particular difficulty, however, which I was staggered to find. The Chairman of the Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler), has already spoken of it, but it is one which needs to be stressed. It is possible to reach the ACPO ranks without ever attending the staff college at Bramshill. The figures are alarming. No fewer than three chief constables, 11 deputy chief constables and 67 assistant chief constables have managed to dodge, as it were, senior command courses. Some of those who have taken the trouble to participate in the courses have not received a reward commensurate with their expectations. I gather that 33 officers have attended the courses and have not received preferment.
I warmly endorse the recommendation that by 1993 it should be compulsory for all officers in the higher ranks to have completed a senior command course. I hope that by the end of the century that principle will have been extended by younger members of the police force taking the special course for high flyers first. I suppose that I am now looking ahead to the next century. The present under-subscription is disturbing and it is something that needs to be remedied.
I shall devote a little attention now to the problems that the members of the Bramshill staff encounter. One might have assumed and hoped that any officer who takes time out of his normal career to go to the Bramshill college to make his expertise available would find subsequently that his career prospects are enhanced. The exact opposite appears to be, and is, the case. Officers forfeit opportunities by going to the college. It is hardly surprising that it is difficult to attract individuals of the right calibre. I believe that I am right in saying that the post of assistant commandant was vacant from January to 495 about April. It appears that no one had even nibbled at the post, let alone there being a group of applicants from which to choose.
In these circumstances, we have as a nation been singularly fortunate in having so outstanding a commandant as Mr. Bunyard, who I think impressed all members of the Committee by the immense initiative that he has taken to bring all the courses up to date and to give them real vitality in the face of the changing problems in crime and policing. Shall we be so lucky again unless urgent steps are taken to ensure that no one suffers in his or her individual career pattern'? I do not know why I said "her", as there seems to be a marked absence of women at that level in the police force. I shall not pursue that hobby horse now.
It is clear that some changes must be made. My hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North has already touched upon one of the difficulties under the present system, which is the absolute right of police authorities to choose whom they will for entry into the higher ranks. There is no particular slot available for those who have done their stint at Bramshill. I warmly welcome the Committee's suggestion that they should become part of the special cadre at Home Office level, from which the various police authorities must choose to fill their appointments. That is vital if the staff college is to occupy the central place, as it should, in the education of the higher police service.
It was interesting to note that the overseas course run by the staff college is highly popular with people from many Commonwealth and other countries. During our recent trip to the United States, we met one or two people who had attended the staff college and they spoke highly of it. The course should be extended because, apart from spreading good practice to other countries, it is of immense value in forging intimate links, which are not otherwise available, with countries that send their police officers to Bramshill. It is paralleled with the higher education that we give to young students from Commonwealth and, in particular, Third-world countries. It is one of the most valuable ways in which we can help the Third world. I very much hope that my hon. Friend, when he replies, will encourage our hope that the overseas course might be allowed to expand.
It is clear that more money is needed to keep open the staff college. For example, the library is housed in bits and pieces all over the place. it is an excellent library and an important resource, but it is difficult for students to use it effectively. I urge my hon. Friend to ensure the provision of new accommodation. Indeed, there should be new accommodation for the students. We must remember that many of them are highly placed police officers who do not want to occupy third-rate 1950s and 1960s-type accommodation, which was never very good in its heyday and is now well past it. We were allowed to see a sample of the accommodation, and it was not worthy of the position that the staff college holds.
While there is some doubt about the staff college remaining on the Bramshill site, I can understand the case for being cautious about improvements, because they would be extremely expensive. I hope that my hon. Friend will take on board the Committee's recommendation that a decision should be made soon on whether the site should continue to be used, as we hope it will. The house provides a fascinating centrepiece that attracts all who go into it. We must never under-estimate the effect of symbols. It is 496 rather like the military bands attached to the armed forces; they have an importance and a value far beyond just providing music or an attractive aesthetic environment.
We are aware that the Home Office is considering whether any of the money confiscated under the Drug Trafficking Offences Act 1986 should be used for the police service. We are also aware that that is not likely to be attractive to the Treasury, which always holds the firm policy of taking in any money, spare or otherwise, to dispose of as it wishes.
§ Dame Janet Fookes
My hon. Friend makes an interesting intervention.
It is not likely to be popular if we suggest that money should be diverted from the greedy clutches of the Treasury. It does not matter which Government are in office because the Treasury attitude remains the same. There is a case for allowing the police service to retain some, if not all, of the money confiscated under the Act. In what better way could we spend some of that money than on the upkeep and an increase in the work of the staff college? Indeed, the report recommends that, and I hope that it will be taken seriously. It has the merit of not picking out one police force as against another; it is common to all. It is especially appropriate that the money should be used in that way.
I wish to discuss one or two of the wider issues arising from our inquiries. They have been touched on in the remarks about the forensic science service, and they apply equally to the training of the police. There are grave weaknesses in the way in which our police service is organised and split between the 43 police forces of England and Wales, coupled with the separate police service in Scotland. At a time when there is an increasing need to pool resources and to act not only nationally but internationally, there must be some doubt about whether the current tripartite system should be allowed to continue. That point does not arise out of the report's recommendations; I make it simply as a personal view.
The more we study the police service, the more we find weaknesses arising from that pattern of arrangements. I shall not he so bold as to say how I think it should be organised, and in any case, it is probably beyond the scope of the debate. I simply state that urgent questions should be asked, not only by our Committee but by Home Office Ministers. The problems of crime are likely to increase, as will the costs of dealing with them. In the 1990s there will be difficulties in recruiting sufficient police because of the downturn in the birth rate.
In all those circumstances, I believe that the Home Office should take a hard look at the problems, and not take too long about doing so, because we must ensure that the police service is geared for the turn of the century and beyond.
§ Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)
My association with the police service over many years is well known. I had the privilege of serving as a policeman in London for five years during the 1960s. More recently, I served as vice-chairman of the North Yorkshire police authority. I am now greatly enjoying a third bite at the cherry of police activity by 497 working with the Home Affairs Select Committee under the very able chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler).
Some important facts have already come out of tonight's debate. There is a great deal of agreement among hon. Members on both sides of the House about the problems that face our police service in society's fight against crime. We are not looking to answer those problems with ideological solutions. Nevertheless, there are one or two different remedies, which the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) has mentioned.
It is important to say at the outset that there has been an unprecedented increase in crime, not just under this Government, but over the past two or three decades. There is grave public anxiety about how we should tackle the crime rate and how we should best respond to society's anxieties. The main purpose of the Select Committee's inquiries into police matters is to make the policing of Britain more effective so that the public will feel more reassured and, in particular, have their confidence in the police restored. It is a great tragedy that, for a variety of reasons, that confidence has been eroded in recent years.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) is not in his place, but I understand that he hopes to take part in the debate. However, it is important whenever possible to pay tribute to the dedication of our police service. The comments that have been made tonight and in the Select Committee's report are a reflection not on the dedication of our policemen but on the archaic structures that are increasingly coming under strain and stress.
There has been a notable recurrence of several common themes in our recent inquiries into police activity. They include the problems of funding and whether we are funding our police services adequately, despite the record resources that the Government have made available to the police service and to increasing manpower. There is the need for more central direction and co-ordination of police services, to which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary referred recently in a major speech about policing Britain.
There is the potential benefit to the community of consistency in policing policy and performance. Working with the North Yorkshire police authority, I found that crime is no longer the province of local villains. It is a mobile problem. In north Yorkshire, many burglaries are committed by gangs who can be 50 or 60 miles away within half an hour using fast motor cars. That emphasises the need for more consistency and greater co-operation and co-ordination.
There is the problem of the under-utilisation of specialist support services, particularly in training and in the forensic science service, which was dealt with in two of our reports. Finally, there are the strains and stresses of the existing structure, to which I have already referred.
In our reports, we have offered markedly different solutions to the problems of various aspects of the police service as we felt was appropriate. For example, on funding and direction—matters that have already been outlined—we looked for greater direct responsibility in police forces in the use of the forensic science service and perhaps even greater responsibility in carousel training 498 courses on particularly topical isues at the police college at Bramshill. They could be accommodated at force level, but we look for more central funding and co-ordination, higher police training, police recruitment, the installation of telecommunications equipment and—without preempting the report that we shall lay before the House later this year on drug trafficking—national co-ordination and effort in the war against the scourge of drug abuse.
The procedures for funding common police services are protracted and cumbersome given the amount of money involved in relation to the overall costs of policing and local government expenditure. The Home Office acknowledged that during our inquiry, suggesting in its memorandum that local authorities may be faced with a bill for services on which they have not been fully consulted, although both parties have sought to make the system work as well as it can. But the Home Office memorandum discussed only the cost arrangements and did not deal in detail with the discussions between the Home Office, police authorities and local government agencies—the Association of County Councils and the Association of Metropolitan Authorities.
I do not want to dwell on that matter at length, but I refer my hon. Friend to an interesting exchange of views which took place during the evidence given by the head of the finance and technology group at the Home Office, when the conflict that that creates was clearly admitted. In his final comments, the head of the finance and technology group said:I would not want to have a Common Police Services Committee made up of the members of every one of the subsidiary services. That would be unmanageable. What the local authorities therefore have is a group of representatives who are, after all, empowered by the local authority associations to take decisions which commit members to spend money. This really is where the buck ends, because at that stage they are talking about a figure, they have to agree a figure, or the Home Secretary in the end has to decide on a figure on the basis of their evidence, which ratepayers will have to meet. So there is bound to be a conflict of interest between those who want more training or more forensic science and those who have got to meet the bill.It was the strains and stresses of that conflict which caused the Select Committee to suggest in its recent report that the common police services budget should be a centrally funded item in the way in which my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North has already outlined. That conflict creates difficulties for chief constables, police committees, police authorities and local authorities. It also raises questions of accountability.
Chief constables have difficulty in exercising judgments about how a chief constable should best police his force. There are difficulties for local authorities in balancing the need to maintain and develop an effective police service without which other more substantial expenditure on manpower, to which they have gladly committed themselves, may not be put to best use. At the same time, there is a need to control expenditure for ratepayers.
Those local authority representatives who assist in controlling the common police services expenditure are seldom in a position to decide on policing priorities. In addition, chief constables are already facing detailed local negotiations with their council treasurers or leaders or chairmen of policy resources committees over the cost to the local authorities of the chief constable's own plans at force level, which may also involve detailed representations to the Home Office for approval. Matters of equipment, police house repairs or the standard of police 499 stations and accommodation are discussed for many hours by local police chiefs and their police committees, but a discussion of what is in the common police services budget seldom, if ever, takes place. That is one reason why we considered direct charging for forensic science as a way forward.
Our report recommends that the ACPO secretariat should be strengthened in order to improve the central co-ordinating force within the police service. That seemed to be the only sensible way forward within the present structure.
However, chief constables have only a limited accountability to their police authorities. They are not accountable for operational matters. No one should seek to change that essential absence of political interference in police operations. Nevertheless, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary looks to ACPO to provide more central co-ordination and to assume additional functions on a national basis. It is not clear what line of accountability such arrangements would create for my right hon. Friend and for the House, particularly given that the only line of accountability for chief constables is to the 43 police authorities—and even that is limited.
That all suggests a need for change. The Committee's report recommends that the ACPO ranks become a centrally directed force. That would be one way of achieving better accountability and co-ordination, but I wonder whether we should consider a further opportunity. When members of the Committee visited the police college in Holland and spoke to officials of the Dutch criminal justice department, it became clear that that country has a completely different arrangement for chief police officer representation. Holland has a separate body to deal with the requirements of chief police officers' professional associations, and another for central co-ordination of police services.
The structural stresses and strains in our police service require serious consideration of that arrangement, and I should like to see formed a new, central support committee, drawing on only a small number of police constables but involving also inspectors of constabulary, a handful of representative police authority chairmen, and Home Office officials—all under the formal chairmanship of the Home Secretary, and thereby accountable to this House.
In that way, the role of ACPO as a professional association could be kept separate, and would avoid the difficulty of securing agreement from 43 chief constables, let alone that of all the deputy chief constables and assistant chief constables—who together constitute the 249 members of ACPO. Getting them all to agree on policy is far from easy. We must break through that barrier and instead get heads together to arrive at solutions to improving the effectiveness of our police service and making better use of the substantial resources we commit to it.
The objectives are only too clear. We must continue to improve the professional standard of policing, for only in that way can confidence be restored. We must ensure that police have access to the finest training, and that those who provide it are of the highest calibre and have up-to-date practical experience. They should include, as my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Dame J. Fookes) pointed out, officers who will subsequently achieve higher rank in the service, so that the time they 500 spend at Bramshill as training officers will be part of their career development, rather than an avenue at the end of a distinguished police career.
We must ensure that resources are used to best effect. It is not just a matter of ensuring value for money from forensic science or police overtime but of reordering priorities. It is about ensuring not only that the value and benefit of forensic science, for example, is better appreciated but that that service is given every opportunity and encouragement to achieve its potential.
Structures are under pressure not only because of financial constraints, though it would be wrong to under-estimate the difficulties that such constraints create. Structures are under pressure because centrally provided facilities have been unable to develop their full potential and to provide the quality of service needed to convince chief constables, seniour police officers and police authorities of the benefits that such professional help can bring to the fight against crime. There is no doubting that chief constables are fully aware of the value of forensic science, but given the inadequate facilities to be found at some laboratories, it is difficult to see how chief constables would be encouraged to refer cases to a forensic science laboratory, when they want a much quicker solution to a particular criminal investigation.
There is much anecdotal evidence of the savings in police resources through more skilful use of forensic science, and the Committee recommended that there be more investigation of that aspect. Even so, an expanded forensic service along the lines suggested by the Committee would make a major contribution, if implemented over the three years that the report suggests. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department can give the Committee and the House information about the progress of discussions and negotiations with the Treasury.
The question has already been asked whether direct funding of forensic science would provide a suitable solution. In my view, it would. Direct funding would highlight for police authorities the value of forensic science. Most police authority members are unaware of the behind-the-scenes arguments, but would become aware of activities within the forensic science service if it was an item in the budget, to be considered in the same way as other heads of expenditure.
The hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie asked how one would know that direct charging was working. The answer is that we must give it a try. How do we know that committing hundreds of thousands of pounds—or, in larger forces, millions of pounds—to police overtime works?
As to the structure of 43 police forces, I know that there are differences among the members of the Committee, and I take the point made by the chief constable of north Wales, and chairman of the association's crime committee, who clearly drew the Committee's attention to the undesirability of wholesale changes of structure because it would divert and erode police effort. Nevertheless, if we believe in a local management system that does not interfere in operational matters but which would give a chief constable and his force the financial and managerial support that they require, I see no reason why we should not trust the police authorities to deal sensibly and properly with forensic science services on a direct charging basis. It would be an insult to the forces' integrity and professionalism to suggest that they would do otherwise.
501 The Committee suggested that the Home Office and the inspectors of constabulary should issue guidance on the use of forensic science, and recommended—as did Touche Ross—that more scientific support managers should be appointed to help police forces make greater use of it. Central co-ordination and funding of DNA profiling will be essential if this major opportunity to improve detection of offenders and to eliminate suspects—DNA profiling will be particularly relevant—is to be realised.
My hon. Friend the Member for Drake spoke at some length about Bramshill college, so I shall refer to it only briefly. I strongly support the comments that have been made about the method of selection and appointment of senior police officers. It is haphazard and amateurish. The chief constable of Sussex police, Mr. Roger Birch, described it as an unprofessional lottery.
Chief superintendents do not have a sufficient incentive to take the next step up in the ACPO ranks. Many factors dissuade and discourage them from taking that step, quite apart from the major domestic upheaval that is caused because people have settled into particular areas. There are changed pension arrangements and little additional remuneration for a chief superintendent who becomes an assistant chief constable. It is astonishing that 47 per cent. of assisted chief constables have not attended a senior command course, but that must be balanced with the more damning evidence that many police officers who have been on senior command courses have not taken the step beyond chief superintendent rank into the ranks for which they were selected and trained.
As the Home Affairs Committee recommended, funding of the common police services should become a centrally directed arrangement. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Drake and the recommendation in our report that it would be no bad thing if drug profit confiscations were committed to a trust, with the police college as a major beneficiary. My hon. Friend referred to a good band and to images. The reputation throughout the world of Bramshill college is based upon its skill in training senior police officers. It is not a reflection of the quality of accommodation available for them.
Higher professionalism is the key to retaining and restoring confidence in the police. Such professionalism demands up-to-date practice and high-quality training. Great strides have been made, but much more could be done if priorities were reassessed and reordered. I am sure that the Committee will look forward to hearing the Minister's response.
§ Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)
In discussing common police services, I want to refer to the problems associated with disaster planning. I am interested in that issue because of my constituency concerns.
The police are involved in two aspects of disaster planning. First, problems can arise in designated works, such as Staveley Chemicals in my constituency. If a disaster occurred, the population nearby would be seriously affected. Obviously, the emergency services must have plans to handle a disaster, and the police are at the forefront in triggering action. It is essential that the latest 502 technology is available and that police methods are correct, and that involves the police training college and other back-ups.
Secondly, there are general disasters for which there is no specific contingency plan but only a general plan. That general plan must be adapted to handle railway emergencies, air disasters—such as the east midlands disaster, in which Derbyshire county police provided assistance—toxic and hazardous waste problems and the nuclear transhipments that travel up the M1 and clip the end of my constituency at Heath. Any such disaster could hit anywhere and must be handled carefully.
The police engage in periodic exercises to handle potential disasters such as air crashes. The backing that they are given is essential. They often suffer from inadequate training and have difficulty in releasing manpower to provide common services and appropriate training. The Home Office has wide powers. Paragraph 12 of the fourth report of the Home Affairs Committee states that, underthe Police Act 1964, the Secretary of State 'may provide and maintain or may contribute towards the provision or maintenance of a police college, district police training centres, forensic science laboratories, wireless depots and such other organisations and services as he considers necessary or expedient for promoting the efficiency of the police'.The Home Office bears 51 per cent. of the costs. This presents great difficulties when local authorities are involved with the police authorities. There have been a number of years of Government cuts in financial assistance and now local government funding is to be transformed with the introduction of the poll tax.
More funding should come centrally to develop effective disaster planning. The difficulty is in deciding who controls what happens—central police forces or local police forces. It is essential for the police to have adequate resources. They are expected to show the right susceptibilities in handling problems. Considerable training and provision are required in respect of not only disasters but general policing matters. Police officers may not be aware of what to do in an accident involving hazardous or toxic waste. The most that even a senior policeman is given is a short course, when he merely examines a video for an afternoon, and he is then expected to act. The answer is to provide considerable resources to enable the police to release the appropriate training manpower.
The fourth report also deals with the role of the secretariat of the Association of Chief Police Officers. I have just come down from the Committee on the Football Spectators Bill. My connection with ACPO is its statistics on arrests in or around football grounds. The Minister for Sport gave those statistics to the House and they became known, incorrectly, as the "League of Shame". My investigations into the figures show that there were errors in the statistics and that ACPO was unable to supply details to explain which arrests were inside the grounds and which were outside, the reasons for the arrests and the categories of offence involved. Were the arrests for the carrying of a klaxon horn, for example, which occurred at one club, or for theft? How many arrests were of street traders outside football grounds?
The secretariat clearly needs some organisation so that it can present adequate information in matters in which the police are involved, especially in matters that relate back to the Hillsborough disaster. It seems that police forces throughout the country collect information which 503 varies according to local experience. That information is then stuck together by the central organisation which clearly lacks the expertise and time to put information together effectively and in a way that would allow the House to judge properly an issue which is of concern and which could have a considerable impact on the work of the police.
That issue also has an effect on the way in which disasters are dealt with. I understand from a parliamentary question that the Home Office is concerned about disaster legislation. America, France, Australia and several other countries have contingency planning and centralised co-ordination to handle disasters. That is not dealt with adequately in this country. We should ensure that there are proper centralised services to assist the police, because they are at the forefront of co-ordinating and organising the different authorities, such as the fire service, that have to be brought together to pick up the pieces when a disaster occurs. Some of that could be achieved by careful planning. There must be greater understanding and education so that people can adapt and make adjustments according to the circumstances.
When the east midlands air disaster occurred, for example, the mountain rescue organisation was of great value. That organisation automatically dug steps into the embankment, which meant that rescue arrangements could he handled easily. Such information could be spread by a central organisation, but that does not happen automatically at present. We must ensure that the correct groups of personnel are involved in dealing with disasters and are able to respond effectively.
§ Mr. Ashby
As the hon. Gentleman knows, Kegworth, where the air disaster occurred, is in my constituency. One fact that emerged crystal clear from the disaster was that all the many years of training for just such a disaster fell into place perfectly. The co-ordination required was there because the planning was there. The rescue services had thought long and hard about every eventuality. One cannot pay anything but the highest tribute to the rescue services in Leicestershire on that day.
§ Mr. Barnes
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. My own local knowledge of the services operating in Derbyshire which assisted at that disaster tells me that the hon. Gentleman is correct. However, it is important that, as well as having trained and dedicated people to help, we should ensure that they have the right materials and understanding to handle disasters. A common-sense approach needs to be developed. When dealing with hazardous and toxic waste, for example, what is needed is not only the ability to turn to the relevant information, but for the police to have a good pair of binoculars so that they can pick out the information at a distance, rather than placing themselves in great difficulties. The spread of training, the sharing of training exercises and the building up of national policies for handling disasters will lead to applied common sense and dedication being able to work effectively.
§ Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)
I must first delcare an interest as the parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation. I must also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) on the great clarity with which he presented the recommendations 504 of his Committee. It was especially interesting to listen to my hon. Friend explaining exactly what was proposed and how the Committee had arrived at its conclusions.
I want to deal with the future of the forensic science service. Paragraph 93 of the report recommends that the Home Office should plan to transfer direct financial responsibility for the regional forensic laboratories from central support services to individual police forces. That proposal is of major importance and of legitimate interest to the Police Federation. The Touche Ross report made the point that one does not appreciate a service unless one pays for it, but I am told that, due to a shortage of staff, the forensic service has not always been able to respond as fully as it would like to police requirements. Staffing is obviously of vital importance.
The Police Federation believes that many of the report's conclusions and recommendations are based fairly on the evidence given to the Committee, but there are several matters of concern about the proposed change in funding arrangements, which I will highlight. The Police Federation believes that such a change could have a serious effect on the investigation of serious offences, especially by smaller forces. Following the Brighton bomb murders, for example, 1,200 dustbins of rubble and material were sent for forensic examination. One cannot help wondering whether a force would be prepared to meet such costs, especially if the victim were a vagrant or someone of lesser public importance than those who were unhappily involved in that tragedy.
There is also the question whether a smaller force would be able to finance a large-scale DNA screening exercise, espcially if the people to be screened were from the area of an adjoining large force. Those costs would be the smaller force's responsibility, simply because the murder victim was found within its force area. I shall give the House a hypothetical example. Let us take the case of a serious murder which must be investigated by the local force. If a Londoner were found murdered in, say, Bedfordshire—which has a comparatively small force—Bedfordshire would have to assume responsibility for the forensic costs involved in that investigation. That point is causing the federation some concern and, like me, it will be interested to hear what my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department has to say about that aspect when he replies to the debate.
Another aspect of the forensic service which is of great importance is the quality of the service. It is widely agreed both in the House and outside that it is vital to maintain that quality, because so much depends on it in the detection of crime.
The Select Committee on Home Affairs recognises that the service should seek to appoint and train about 40 new staff per year for each of the next three years. Allowing for natural wastage, the Committee states that that would leave the service 10 per cent. larger than is currently planned. In its reply to the Committee's recommendations, the Home Office has stated that it is actively considering the case for further increases in staff for the forensic service. It then points out that in the light of the Select Committee's recommendations and other information, it is already committed to bringing the service up to complement. At present it is 23 members of staff below complement. The additional staff proposed by the Select Committee exclude those staff.
Therefore, on the assumption that wastage will continue at about 20 per cent. per year, the Home Office 505 pointed out that the Committee's proposals amount to a net increase of 60 posts by the end of March 1992, roughly 10 per cent. over and above the 51 posts already planned.
The Government's reply then contains a sentence which I view with concern:The implications of this, and the costs and benefits of the additional staff, will be covered in the assessment the Home Office is making.I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North and his colleagues will wish to see that matter pursued and to be certain that the additional staff that they recommend are provided. Having said that, one recognises the Home Office's difficulties in funding such an operation.
§ Mr. Wheeler
It is good of my hon. Friend to allow this brief intervention and I assure him that the important point that he has raised will be pursued. It may be helpful for my hon. Friend and the House to know more generally that it is the practice of the Select Committee on Home Affairs to review its reports regularly, to look back to the recommendations that it has made and to assess the progress that has been made with them. Therefore, there is the opportunity to measure those points once again—that is, apart from the value of the comments made by my hon. Friend in this debate.
§ Mr. Shersby
It is reassuring to know that my hon. Friend's Committee follows up its recommendations. Indeed, one would expect nothing less from a Committee of such excellence.
I turn now to the issue whether the work of the service should be entrusted in the future to a body with executive agency status. That is an important aspect of the report. One must consider how the executive agencies which have already been set up are working. So far the experiment—or rather, the change—has been a good one, and positive results are already flowing from the change of status. I hope that the Home Office will follow that up and that the change to executive agency status will be carried out in the not-too-distant future.
I welcome especially the comments in the report on relations with the police. I should like to put on record how much the federation welcomes those paragraphs in the Committee's report and in the Government's response to it.
DNA profiles are a move of the utmost importance in the detection of crime. The costs involved in carrying out that type of research are probably not yet fully appreciated. They may well increase considerably in the years ahead, and clearly that factor will have to be taken into account in a change in funding levels.
In conclusion, paragraph 20 of the Government's response, which deals with forensic pathology, states:The final meeting of the Working Party on Forensic Pathology took place in April 1989 and their report is now being submitted to the Home Secretary.I understand that that working party has been in existence for four years. I should be grateful if my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary would say something about when the working party's report will be published, because it is a matter of considerable interest to all those who are interested in forensic pathology, and not least to the members of the Police Federation.
506 I am grateful for the opportunity to have made these brief comments on these serious, interesting and excellent reports, and I look forward to hearing my hon. Friend's reply.
§ 6.6 pm
§ Mr. Gareth Wardell (Gower)
I shall refer briefly to the forensic science service. The work of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler), was a great public service to the people of this country.
The test of how well the Government have responded to the Select Committee's report will depend to a great degree on whether they take on board the point that the chief constable of Kent made in his evidence to the Select Committee, when questioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington).
It is vital that the House remembers the critical comments of paragraph 108, which state:Following the Rayner Review, 'Selectivity' was the expression which came along and cases were extremely carefully sorted out before they were sent off to the laboratory. They were not sorted out necessarily so that you were going to get the best result from the laboratory, full stop, but because the investigating officers knew that the manpower resources available at the laboratory were not such as to do more than a fraction of what investigating officers wanted them to do. As a result, a lot of stuff that you would have expected to have been forensically examined was not and still is not. It is not right, but that is the truth of the matter. The spinoff from that, of course, is that there is less confidence by officers who do not necessarily understand the problem but understand the result in the Forensic Science Service, and that will go on to people not being as careful or as enthusiastic at the scene of the crime as they should be, because they do not anticipate that they are going to send anything to the laboratory in any event.That will be one of the crucial tests that the Home Office and the Government will have to pass. They will have to justify themselves and tell the people of this country that justice does not come cheap and that it is vital that resources are made available. The pay must be good enough to attract people into the laboratories. It is nonsense that police officers cannot send exhibits that they find at the scene of the crime to the laboratory. That is a terrible indictment of the present situation, and people are no longer prepared to accept it. I hope that the Government will come up with the goods.
The chief constable of Kent did an excellent service by sending the Committee a letter—it is printed on pages 61 to 63 of the report—continuing examples of the excellent work that the forensic science service does. I shall not list all those examples now but let me give the House one of them. It concerns a murder in Shifnal in 1984. The forensic science laboratory was able to identify a single imprint of a shoe outside a particular property as the imprint of one of only 90 pairs of shoes imported into the United Kingdom from an Italian manufacturer. All the people who had purchased the shoes were traced, and a conviction was made. It is critical, not only in serious cases such as that but in far less serious cases, that the facilities are available to police officers to enable them to send all the scientific exhibits that they wish to send to be properly examined and to receive the necessary treatment.
§ Mr. Sheerman
Is not one aspect of the Select Committee's deliberations rather worrying? I refer to the evidence from senior people in the police force and, 507 indeed, chief police officers, who said that charging for the service might mean that the investigating officer would consider the cost to his force first and only then whether the evidence might be useful in apprehending a criminal somewhere down the line.
§ Mr. Wardell
I share my hon. Friend's concern. If cash limits in the police force are such that an officer cannot submit exhibits to the forensic service because of cost considerations, that will have serious implications for justice.
My second point concerns the availability of forensic pathologists. I shall rely heavily in my remarks on the comments of the president of the Forensic Science Society, who is professor of forensic pathology at the university of Wales college of medicine in Cardiff. In evidence to the Select Committee, which appears on page 159, in paragraph 421, Professor Bernard Knight says:The basic problem is that the core of forensic pathology, which is university based, has declined so much that it is now ineffective in really training sufficient future pathologists and also training those from the hospital service who are newly appointed and who actually numerically now markedly outnumbers us in the Home Office appointed list. This central core is shrinking rapidly and one wonders what is going to happen when it reaches vanishing point, which is not very far away. That is the basic problem: the contraction of what you might call the full-time professionals who not only provide a service themselves but are responsible for teaching, research and the training of more peripheral part-time pathologists who are currently in the majority. I have to say that I think the standards are beginning to decline because of this general wind-down.We must address that problem. If we do not have high-quality, highly trained forensic pathologists, the quality of the service available to the police will be much reduced.
Finally let me deal with the whole question of what Professor Knight calls "waiting for Wasserman". In paragraph 427, Professor Knight says:It has got to the point where I would not say it is funny but "Waiting for Wasserman' is like 'Waiting for Godot', it has become a phrase in our sub-culture.Mr. Wasserman is the chairman of a Home Office committee which, according to Professor Knight, had already been considering the matter for four and a half years when he gave his evidence on 4 December 1988. It is a little worrying when Governments use terms such as "shortly", "in the near future", "soon" and "this year." They use the worst possible excuses for the inadequacy of their response. An eminent professor of forensic pathology has pointed a finger at the chairman of the committee on which he serves. Surely, when that happens, it is high time that the Government looked into the matter.
The Government's response to the comment about the Committee chaired by Mr. Wasserman was wonderful.
The recommendation was clear:We recommend that the Working Party on Forensic Pathology should set a deadline for the production of its report to resolve without delay the short-term difficulties of the forensic pathology service".That was a kind response to four and a half years of delay.
The rest of the Committee's response makes wonderful reading:The final meeting of the Working Party on Forensic Pathology took place in April 1989 and their report is now being submitted to the Home Secretary."Is being" is a wonderful phrase. The Home Office does not say "It has been submitted" or "It will be submitted", but "It is being submitted." That implies an endless chain of events and it is impossible to know what stage the 508 process has reached. It is high time that we knew. I know that the Minister knows, and I am sure that he will tell us, when the report will be published. It is to be hoped that it will be before the end of this year—before the five and a half years have elapsed.
We are talking about an extremely important aspect of the ability of the police to ensure that the public have confidence in their ability to identify causes and find those responsible for crime. Without proper staffing, training and funding, the service will never be able to do the job that we so desperately need doing.
§ Mr. David Ashby (Leicestershire, North-West)
It was a delight to be on the Select Committee that examined forensic science services. Its report was virtually unanimous, apart from one point about charging for services. Tht showed the great philosophical divide between Conservative and Opposition Members. Conservative Members believe that cost controls and cost management are essential tools of management. Everyone in management understands that point. If there are two companies in similar areas, both producing similar goods, but one producing them at a greater cost, in management terms it is right to be able to inquire into the reasons for it. Charging for forensic science services would help to do that.
Charging for the service, and applying cost controls and cost management, do not mean cutting the service. That applies to the National Health Service and various other services. Opposition Members believe in providing services without management finding out what services cost and how they can be more efficient. That is the great divide between us. The Committee's recommendations should be followed.
One cannot help thinking that the police force, which was founded in the 19th century, is still in the 19th century in management terms. It should be looking towards the 21st century. Our investigations revealed that we should have a unified police force or, perhaps, a force divided on the basis of no more than four regions. The chief constable of Leicestershire, my own chief constable, has said that he thinks there should be no more than 10 regions.
Why are we playing the numbers game? Mr. Birch, the chief constable of Sussex, suggested larger regions. Why 10? Why four? We are looking for a unified force. With the 43 local police authorities, we have seen a dissipation of resources, problems with promotion, resources, management teams, and a lack of co-ordination. When we point that out, we hear the reply, "We have a committee." It is wonderful to have committees, but they are not a substitute for a properly co-ordinated national police force.
Our report on higher police training at the police staff college at Bramshill highlighted a lack of clear direction about what we should do in the 21st century, in terms not only of a unified police force but of management. There seems to be no real direction for providing proper management in the police force. Management requires a high degree of expertise. Every organisation, both major and minor, trains its managers from an early age. The police force trains people in the best use of available resources, and how to make proper management decisions about priorities not only in their own service but in other aspects such as investigation. People are trained in the use 509 of the forensic science service and in the necessary financial priorities. Why should the police force lack proper financial management in the forensic science service and other services? It is a proper tool of management.
When the Committee investigated the management structure of the police, it was surprised to find how deficient it was. We went to the Netherlands and saw that the future leaders of the police service were trained at an early age and in a positive manner. They are being taken on at about 21 years old, and even younger, and they are doing a four or five-year training course. I met a police officer who had been in the force for about 10 years. He was aged 29. I asked him what he felt about going to the special training course and training in management skills. He said, "I am too old. I am set in my ways. Yes, I will benefit and I will be able to achieve certain things, but I know that I am too old. I should have done this at a younger age."
One cannot help but think that we are doing too little too late in training police officers. We have police on a special course at Bramshill. That course is designed to identify those who have the potential to achieve the rank of chief inspector and to accelerate their promotions. It is a sandwich course over two or three periods with seven months' training at the college. That college training is also divided into two periods. The course focuses on the foundations of management skills, but it does not carry them through. An interesting point about the course is to be found at paragraph 75 to 78 of the report. Mr. Birch, who was also the director of the police extended interviews, identifies those who should go on the course. He said that there was misunderstanding and suspicion about the course and a failure adequately to promote it within the police service. It is vastly under-subscribed. Last year, of 3,196 provincial officers qualified to apply for the special course, only 463 chose to do so.
The problem is that there is a little of the "us and them" approach to the course. There is perhaps a sneering approach—"He has been on a special course," or, "He is very uppity. He is going on that special course." There is a failure to recognise that special courses provide rapid acceleration for someone who is capable of management skills and of making full use of his potential thereafter. Much of the problem is caused simply because we have 43 police authorities. Possibly, some authorities have individual approaches to the people who have been on such courses. Some do not appreciate the nature of those courses and the valuable contribution that people who have been on them are able to make.
Mr. Birch considered that recruiting officers sometimes failed to identify those officers with the potential to move to the senior ranks in the service. He said that there were variations in policies between forces and that that led to bewilderment amongst potential recruits and to a perception of the police service as unprofessional. That highlights the problems that result from having a number of different police forces, a problem which perhaps a uniform police service could take on board.
Mr. Birch also suggested that there was a need to examine ways of ensuring the selection of a sufficient proportion of recruits of higher than average calibre to provide a pool of talent for rapid promotion. He went on to suggest that the solution to the problem was the 510 creation of regional police assessment centres from which chief constables would meet their recruiting needs. I do not know why he wants regional police assessment centres when he could have a central one which would do the job properly and better than centres in individual regions or areas.
Other hon. Members have pointed out that in Britain we have chief constables who are supposed to be in charge of large forces and that they require great management skills. Yet many chief constables have not attended senior command courses, some have not been on other courses and I dread to think that some might not even have been on a special course. Indeed, that is probably the case because of the special course timetable and the time at which it started.
A worrying aspect of our policing is that we have such an enormous organisation, taking the police as a whole, and that none of those top men have been on a course on which any large body would insist. Nobody in Shell or ICI would be at the top of such an organisation without having been on a type of Harvard school of management course.
But the police, who are in management—they are managing huge resources and large numbers of people in an organisation of great importance to the nation—do not go on any substantial management course designed to give their forces the managerial skill that is required. In that sense we are still in the 19th century.
We were impressed when we went to the Netherlands and saw them coping with this problem. We saw them training their managers at an early age for the great duties in their police forces that they would have to undertake. We saw that they realised the importance of that training. We must have a radical rethink of our police force if we are to bring it into the 21st century and make it the great force that we want and need.
§ Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)
At the start of a debate such as this, as one listens to the excellent contributions that are made, one is not sure what major themes will emerge at later stages and, indeed, whether there will be a thematic balance to the deliberations. Taken with the debate on policing in London that we had last week, it is clear that some common themes have been emerging.
It has been refreshing to hear the comments on those themes because if one can describe this Chamber as a state of the art debating chamber—perhaps we will become that in November—we have today witnessed the state of the art pointed towards certain themes. We on the Opposition Benches warmly welcome many of the proposals that the Select Committee have made. The Committee did an excellent job in pinpointing some of the problems that prevent us achieving the police force that the nation needs and deserves.
Having said that, it will come as no surprise to Conservative Members to learn that I shall make some comments of a somewhat more partisan nature. I promise that they will not be too partisan. Many comments have been made on topics that are familiar to us—about efficiency, effectiveness and management—and the hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby) made some good points about the training of managers in the police force and the need for good management.
511 Comments have been made about the need for greater centralisation. That theme is touted a great deal when we talk of police matters. Although it is important to speak of efficiency and effectiveness—rather in the way people speak of motherhood and apple pie—when talking of efficiency and good management, I am not sure about the need for centralisation. Indeed, my hon. Friends and I prefer to dwell on some of the underlying themes, such as accountability and the tripartism that we believe has worked to a considerable degree in our police forces over many years. That healthy tripartism has brought the police authorities—that democratic element with an important role to play in keeping the police in touch with their grassroots—to focus on local opinion.
While my hon. Friends and I are pragmatic about having a degree of centralisation and about considering whether we should have this or that number of police forces, we are greatly against having a national police force, and we would not go down such a road with the hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West.
Part of our review process has included the structure of regional government. It would be foolish not to consider the structure of police forces in relation to changing the nature of regional government. Accordingly, we would wish to consider the number of police forces at the same time as examining the regional structure. But no road that we went down would leave out the notion of strong democratic accountability about which we talked in the debate last week. Tripartism has served our police forces well, and we should not ignore that fact.
I have a mild criticism of the work of the Select Committee. As I read its report, there seems to be some neglect of the local authority point of view. Local authorities have a firm view and one would have expected the Committee to say more about local accountability and full participation. In other words, more notice should have been taken of evidence from the local authority angle. If that is not done, we can be out of balance in the evidence to which we listen, and our conclusions can, of course, be swayed by the evidence. That is a mild criticism, and I do not want to get it out of proportion.
One must bring the Home Office into the discussion when considering the common services of the police. One is in the position, as it were, of picking up a large stone in the garden and finding common police services beneath it. When one heard members of the Committee giving eloquent testimony to the appalling state of the higher police training centres and the police staff colleges, one was tempted to intervene and ask if they were still slopping out in those establishments.
§ Mr. Sheerman
The hon. Gentleman says, "Not quite," but it sounded as if the Home Office was responsible for rather genteel slums where it expected senior policemen to spend much time. If those establishments are not up to standard, it is the Home Office's responsibility. It should get its act together and provide centres of which the police can be proud and which give the right impression to the public. I believe that people react in a positive way to the right environment. It is possible that we behave in such a ritualistic way in the Chamber because, basically, we work in a museum. If we worked within a nice modern atmosphere, perhaps we would behave like civilised human beings most of the time.
512 The forensic science service is another stone that I must congratulate the Select Committee on turning up. It has said that the forensic science service is pretty awful in terms of the morale of its staff and its expenditure keeping abreast of other expenditure in the police service. Many hon. Members will have learnt today that the forensic science service does not suffuse the whole of the police system. I am one of those people old enough to remember Marius Goring. I cannot remember the title of the show, but he played a forensic scientist who solved every case that came into his laboratory. I believe we still live in the days when we think that someone like Marius Goring will sort everything out. The Select Committee has shown that that is an out-of-date image. The fact is that the forensic dimension is not included in every stage of the training and retraining of our police force. Like many members of the Select Committee, I believe that forensic science must be built into police training.
My hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) said that he believed that the forensic science service should be at the sharp end of police investigations. Forensic scientists should be working at the scene of the crime with the police and not waiting in their laboratories for samples and evidence to be sent to them.
I believe that we have done the great service of reminding the Home Office that it is in an indefensible position in that it has presided over a forensic science service with a lack of morale and expenditure—a disastrous combination. Some evidence has suggested that the police service and criminal detection are only as good as the forensic service. If that is the case, we have a great deal of ground to make up. I hope that the Minister will put on record his determination to make this top priority for expenditure. I hope that he will fight his corner with the Treasury and ensure that the expenditure comes through. After all, we are talking about £77 million for the whole of the common services, which is a tiny amount when the overall expenditure on the police is £3.5 billion.
The other aspect that I want to highlight is that common police services are and must be accountable. I was impressed by the Select Committee's report, especially on the ACOP secretariat, which is something about which the Opposition have been concerned. To some extent there has been a misrepresentation of what we disliked at the time of the miners' strike. I am perhaps striking a discordant note, but it is one that must be struck.
What the Opposition did not like about the ACPO secretariat—it was then called the national reporting centre, and is now called the mutual aid co-ordination centre—during the miners' strike was that there was no accountability. It was obvious to everyone that it was a national police effort—a national police force—that in many senses dealt with the miners' strike. If there had been accountability, the position would have been different. However, there was no accountability. The House could not ask questions of the Home Secretary because he was not responsible.
I know that I cannot have my cake and eat it, but I do not want a police system which is too centralised. Implicit in that is the building up of the ACPO role, but I want to build up that role with an accountability dimension, for which the Select Committee has come out strongly. I hope that the Minister will respond positively to that, because it goes to the heart of the good things proposed by the Select Committee.
513 I do not agree with everything that has been suggested by the Select Committee. One or two of the proposals have some dangers. There are certainly dangers in setting up the new agency under which services can be charged—for example, telecommunications and forensic science services. I have said in my two interventions that I believe that there will be real problems if a charging mechanism is established before we have the forensic science service functioning correctly. After all, the Home Office has a very powerful research arm.
I have the greatest respect for the Home Office research unit. Select Committees are generators of ideas, good practice and recommendations, but they do not have all the answers. Select Committees, like any other committees, are subject to fashion and fad. However, it is the job of the Select Committee to make recommendations. It is then the job of the Home Office to take on board those recommendations and have them monitored. We must be pragmatic, but we must get the forensic science service in place and monitor how good it is before we think about ways of changing the structure and perhaps having a new kind of agency. The next task—the bread and butter task—of taking the forensic science service much more seriously, funding it properly and suffusing it with police services is a priority.
The move to strengthening ACPO must be made by improving its effectiveness. It may be that strengthening ACPO is not the right answer and that the common services must be strengthened in some other way. However, I support the move to try to strengthen ACPO first.
I welcome the Select Committee reports. They are a little bland in places, but by and large they are not bad. However, I urge the Government to recognise that they have turned over a couple of rather large stones in the garden with some nasty things underneath which need to be sorted out.
I urge the Minister to be cautious in taking any steps towards centralisation, a national police force or too small a number of police forces.
We believe that accountability is absolutely essential. As I said in last week's debate on the Metropolitan police, we want a police force that is efficient, effective and incorrupt. In a modern democracy, however, the police force must be accountable. If we could combine such efficiency with accountability and retain some form of tripartism, we would be much happier than we are now.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hogg)
I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) would like, with the leave of the House, to make some concluding remarks, and for that reason I propose to confine my remarks to approximately 15 minutes. That means that I will be unable to take an overview of what has been said; I hope that the House will forgive me for that. I shall seek to reply to a number of specific points that have been raised by hon. Members, but I hope that hon. Members will forgive me if I fail to reply to them all; certainly no discourtesy is intended.
I echo what has been said by the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman). The House is grateful for 514 the reports before us, for the careful work that the Select Committee has put into its inquiries and for the careful way in which its recommendations and comments have been marshalled. Most certainly valuable work has been done and valuable recommendations have been brought forward. The attention of the House and of the Home Office have been focused on issues to which, perhaps, we have not always given sufficient attention in the past.
I want to refer to a number of specific questions about the police college at Bramshill, the status of ACPO and related matters. I agree with the view expressed by the Select Committee that the police college should remain at Bramshill. The House may remember that, some time ago, I had departmental responsibility for the police service. I no longer have that responsibility, but when I did I visited Bramshill on several occasions and I was greatly impressed by the fabric of the building and by the work done. It would be a pity for the police college to move from Bramshill. I can reassure the Select Committee about its location.
Two issues flow from our discussion of Bramshill, one of which is accommodation. It is true that, in some respects, the accommodation is deficient, and clearly we need to contemplate a programme for upgrading the accommodation for staff and for students.
My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Dame J. Fookes) asked whether it would be possible to enhance the provision made at Bramshill for overseas students. That suggestion will be considered, but it is important to remember that, the college is primarily for this country's police service. Any increase in the provision for overseas students should not be at the expense of the provision made for our country's police service.
A further point that has been raised in a number of different contexts is whether it would be sensible or possible to use proceeds from the Drug Trafficking Offences Act 1986 to finance any of the police service, in particular Bramshill. My hon. Friends the Members for Drake and for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) also raised that point. I have responsibility for drugs policy in the Home Office and that question is raised more directly in the context of that policy. We have not yet come to a concluded view upon this matter.
The House may recall that about three weeks ago we had a debate on drugs. I then raised the possibility of setting up a central fund, not financed directly from the proceeds of drug trafficking, which could be used by individual police forces in certain circumstances. We have not come to a final conclusion, but that fund is an aspect of the debate about this matter. There is a reluctance, I think rightly, to use the proceeds of a specific source of income for specific purposes. Historically, that has been the attitude of the Treasury and it is one with which I have some sympathy. The Government and the Home Office are, however, considering whether any part of police expenses could be met, at least in part, from the proceeds of the 1986 Act. We have come to no conclusion, but in the context of our consideration I shall take into account the comments that have been made today and the recommendations of the Select Committee.
Some interesting comments have been made on the status of Bramshill in the context of a police career and on the status of ACPO. It is undoubtedly true that a number of senior officers of ACPO rank have reached that position 515 without having gone through the senior command course. As a general proposition, I believe that that is a pity, as all officers would benefit from participation in that course.
My hon. Friends the Members for Drake, for Westminster, North and for Ryedale suggested that participation in the senior command course should be a condition precedent of appointment to ACPO rank. We do not have a concluded view on that matter and we would certainly wish to undertake discussions. We are, however, giving it consideration and we shall consider it further against the background of what has been said today and against the recommendations of the Select Committee.
My hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North, among others, suggested that the ACPO secretariat should be strengthened. The Government have accepted that Select Committee proposal in principle and we are now considering the financial questions that flow from such a decision. My hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North also suggested that ACPO ranks should be a Home Office central grade—that suggestion was supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale. It is an interesting proposal, which would represent a major change of policy.
§ Mr. Hogg
Because it requires careful consideration and discussion. We shall, however, consider that proposal against the background of today's debate.
The Select Committee recommended two things regarding the status of ACPO and in particular of its committees: first, that it should be given formal status, and secondly, that it should be made accountable. Such accountability would be different from the existing accountability to which the officers are subject. The component officers of ACPO are already accountable, although they are accountable not to some central agency but to the individual forces from which they come and the police authorities that preside——
§ Mr. Worthington
I find it difficult to see how they are accountable, when each chief constable is a law unto himself and is responsible for the operational policing of his area. In that respect, there is no accountability.
§ Mr. Hogg
The hon. Gentleman takes too narrow a view. ACPO contains not only chief constables, but deputy chief constables and assistant chief constables, and those lesser ACPO ranks—if I may so describe them in shorthand—are accountable to the chief constable. In a broad sense, the chief constable is accountable to the police authority. He is not accountable in a detailed, operational sense, but in a broad sense he is, because the authority—subject to certain provisions, checks and balances of which the hon. Gentleman knows—has the power to dismiss him.
516 Officers in ACPO are accountable to a variety of different authorities, and the question is whether that accountability is adequate. That question must be considered and that was recommended by the Select Committee. However, the proposed change—that we should recognise what is now a staff association as a formal body, and make its component parts responsible and accountable to a central agency—is a dramatic one, upon which we have not yet come to a concluded view.
When I was involved in the police service in the Home Office, I was troubled by the fact that participation in Bramshill did not always advance a police officer's career. I sometimes felt that there was a reluctance on the part of officers within forces to come to Bramshill, either to participate in courses or as instructors, because they feared that doing so would not receive sufficient recognition from their sponsoring force, and particularly from their sponsoring chief constable. We must come to terms with this matter, and police authorities, particularly chief constables, must recognise that the experience of Bramshill plays an important part in a police officer's career development. I attach a high importance to Bramshill.
The forensic service, quite rightly, figured largely in the debate. Charging has been the subject of much debate. The Committee recommended that the funding of the forensic service should be switched from common police services to a charge on individual police forces, based partly on capitation and partly on direct charging. The arguments for that were eloquently put by my hon. Friend the Member for Drake. I recognise that the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) does not wholly subscribe to them, but, on the whole, I find them persuasive.
Charging is a better way of determining the allocation of resources, both financial resources and the forensic facilities available. In addition, a chief constable who, under the revised system, would have to fund the process of charging, should have that discipline imposed upon him when he has to decide how best to conduct an inquiry. However, I also realise that there are a range of problems involved; accordingly, work is now in hand to discover to what extent, and how, we may carry the plan forward. We intend that any new funding arrangement should be in place within the next three years, if possible by April 1991.
Manpower is a subject which has been much debated this evening. As the House will know, we are already committed to bringing the service up to complement. It is now about 23 under complement, and over the next two years we shall recruit an additional 28 officers. The Committee took the view that a greater expansion in manpower was required. We shall certainly consider that recommendation. We need to come to an assessment based on cost benefit and the financial implications.
On the subject of agency status, the House will know—
§ Mr. Hogg
I am anxious to complete my speech, as I would like to let the Chairman of the Committee make some final remarks.
The House will know that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has announced that the service is a suitable candidate for agency status.
I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) raised the issue of the working part) report 517 on pathology. I am pleased to say that it will be produced later this month—I think that phraseology will be acceptable to the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell).
I am conscious that I have not answered all the questions raised, and apologise for that. However, it was not possible to do so because I, and I am sure the House, would like to let the final word rest with the Chairman of the Committee, who has presided over such a valuable series of reports.
§ 7.7 pm
§ Mr. Wheeler
With the leave of the House, I would like to bring this important debate to a conclusion. May I say on behalf of the Home Affairs Committee that this has been a valuable three hours which has enabled us to explore in greater detail on the Floor of the House some important issues and to discover the consensus which exists in the Chamber as a whole.
The Committee fully understands that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State was unable to be definitive in his reply to some of the points raised in this debate and to many of the recommendations that the Committee has presented to the House and the Home Secretary. We fully appreciate that some of those recommendations are substantial—even controversial—.and require careful consideration. But we are grateful to the Home Secretary and to the Home Office for the work which they are doing in analysing our recommendations and the evidence which supports them.
In this debate this afternoon, no fewer than five Committee members have had the opportunity to present their own points of view and to discuss the Committee's reports. Three other hon. Members, whom I might describe as outsiders to the work of the Committee, have been able to make a very worthwhile contribution, for which the Committee as a whole is most grateful.
In the one or two moments which I have left, I shall simply touch upon some of the key points. I imagine that for us all, the central theme of this afternoon's debate has been effectiveness, efficiency and accountability. It is common to both sides of the House that we wish to see those three cardinal principles in our police system in the United Kingdom and, particularly in England and Wales. Therefore, I share many of the views of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) who spoke for the official Opposition. We found that there is much in common, although there are differences—perhaps about the nature of the structure of the police service in England 518 and Wales. As is well known, I tend to favour central services through the common police services which are accountable and well organised, and I see the development of a regionalised police system in England and Wales. There may be differences here, but there are also common strands.
I thought that the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington), who is such a fine ornament upon the Committee, made a splendid comment when he suggested that research was essential to analysing the value of the forensic science service, which is a point that the Committee has made.
My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Dame. J. Fookes) made an admirable contribution about charging for the forensic science service and put that case in a nutshell, for which I was most grateful to her. She also emphasised the value of Bramshill to overseas students. This is of particular importance in our fight against international drug trafficking, because we are able to bring people from other police services into our police college to understand our philosophy and the advantages that go with it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) made a memorable contribution when he analysed the role of ACPO and its work. He raised the interesting proposition of a central support committee—something to which I am sure we would wish to give further consideration.
The hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) raised the issue of disaster planning for emergency services. It is possible that the Committee may want to give further thought to that, too.
On the whole, this has been a valuable debate and the House has greatly profited from it.
§ It being three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MADAM DEPUTY SPEAKER interrupted the proceedings.
§ The Question necessary to dispose of the proceedings was deferred, pursuant to paragraph (4) of Standing Order No. 52 (Consideration of Estimates).