Police Reform Bill [HL]
Lord Rooker (Minister of State (Asylum and Immigration), Home Office; Labour)
My Lords, I am in a quandary. I do not know what the precedent is for this House effectively overturning a settled recommendation of the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform. Obviously, the House is master, not the committee. However, it will not wash the next time a Minister has to tell his or her department that the committee's recommendations on a Bill should be observed. Why on earth should anyone listen? The implication will be that the committee is not particularly powerful, because we cannot guarantee that the House will agree to implement its recommendations.
In the past, the Government have accepted the Select Committee's recommendations and have amended and changed legislation at its request. They have acceded to the views of the committee. To the best of my knowledge, they have accepted its recommendations without qualification where it has believed that powers being exercised by negative resolution should be exercised by affirmative resolution; or where powers were being operated in such a way that in the view of the committee the House ought to have more control. So it simply will not wash in future if the House decides to overturn the recommendation in paragraph 7 of the committee's report relating to this clause—which was Clause 38 in the Bill as originally drafted.
It is true that this is a Henry VIII clause. The Secretary of State may modify Schedule 4 and other enactments to facilitate the exercise of powers. It makes it clear that we consider that the affirmative power is appropriate. So, for the future, we must make our minds up. There is no reason why Ministers in other departments should acquiesce in future to the recommendations of the Delegated Powers Committee if they are minded not to. It simply will not work for Ministers in this House to explain to Ministers in the other place, who may not fully understand the position here, that this is how this House works. To the best of my knowledge, to remove Clause 40 would be to tear up the rulebook.
Furthermore, any recognition whatever that this is enabling legislation has been absent from the debate. The clause is not prescriptive. There is reference to pilot schemes. Of course there will be pilots. There are 43 police authorities—and they will not all choose to operate the legislation. It is for the chief constables to decide whether to include such provision in their policing plans. It is not up to the Home Secretary. This is purely enabling legislation for chief constables. There is nothing prescriptive about it. So I cannot understand some of the arguments that have been made repeatedly at different stages.
It is not as though Clause 40 contains no safeguards, or checks and balances, to prevent the provision from being used inappropriately. Any changes under the terms of the clause are subject to affirmative resolution—a fact dismissed by the noble Earl. I do not dismiss it, and I do not accept his dismissal.
Noble Lords will appreciate that the clause contains a significant safeguard. A future Home Secretary will not be able to extend the range of powers available under this part of the Bill at the drop of a hat. That is important. Secondly, while the clause would allow the Secretary of State to give chief officers a greater range of powers to make available to designated and accredited persons—