Police Reform Bill [HL]
Lord Dholakia (Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, we set out our arguments on Report as to why we oppose Clause 40. The clause contains draconian powers by which the Secretary may, by order, amend the provisions of Schedules 4 and 5—as was rightly pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Borrie.
On Report, we were told by the Minister that this is a long long-stop, and that the Home Secretary cannot make an order unless the draft has been laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of both Houses.
The question we must ask is: why does the Secretary of State require such wide-ranging powers? On Report, this House was not prepared to give powers to the Secretary of State in Clause 5. I know that the amendment does not relate directly to that provision, but the power in that clause would give the Home Secretary the ultimate authority, bypassing the duties and obligations of police authorities across the country, thus enabling him to control police functions centrally. A strong impression is given of the degree to which the Home Secretary wishes to exercise these powers, bypassing many of the functions of the local police authority.
The police authorities have local accountability. They are the ones who should be exercising powers, without interference from the Secretary of State. But we know the Minister's view of police authorities. I am delighted that he met members of some of them today. Perhaps he will have a change of heart.
There is ample Home Office involvement in the composition of police authorities. The 1994 Act introduced by the then Conservative administration ensures that, out of 17 members—nine of whom are councillors and three of whom are magistrates—five independent members are appointed from a shortlist referred by the Home Secretary. Again, he has considerable leeway within which to convince those at local level about what is required and what is appropriate.
Even at present, the Home Secretary has wide powers. He can make regulations and issue codes of practice and good practice guidelines which police authorities follow. To empower the Secretary of State further, as envisaged in Clause 40, bypasses one of the fundamental principles of local policing. Section 96 of the Police Act 1996 requires police authorities, not the Home Secretary, to make arrangements for local consultation. The purpose is to obtain people's consent as regards policing in their area and to obtain the co-operation of local people in preventing crime.
The Secretary of State does not require the additional powers laid down in Clause 40. This is another measure which shows how far the Government are prepared to go to control some police functions centrally.