Police (Northern Ireland) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:45 pm on 8th November 2000.

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Photo of Baroness Harris of Richmond Baroness Harris of Richmond Liberal Democrat 8:45 pm, 8th November 2000

My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 35, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 37 and 38. Amendments No. 35 and 38 stand also in the name of other noble Lords. I very much welcome the Government's recognition of the board's primary responsibility for best value. I can see that the Government have listened and tried to respond to the concerns which I and other noble Lords on all sides of your Lordships' House raised at Committee stage.

I have looked carefully at the amendment in the name of the noble and learned Lord the Minister. May I say that I fully understand the reasoning behind the Government's amendments. Therefore, I have tabled Amendment No. 37, which departs from the existing best value model elsewhere, but which seeks to provide the reassurance which may be needed.

I do not believe that anyone in the country, let alone in your Lordships' House, would claim to be an expert on best value. But I have some experience as chairman of a police authority, albeit in England, of the operation. I hope that I can help your Lordships by sharing some of that experience. Best value helps police authorities to focus on corporate priorities and monitor the performance of the police force against them by asking meaningful questions. To do that, the police authority members need to understand the way that the service is structured and how in broad terms departments operate, while at the same time recognising the sensitive role it must play in appreciating the chief constable's operational responsibilities.

That does not mean that police authorities should not question whether the chief constable is carrying out those functions in an effective and efficient way. Mutual co-operation and dialogue are the only way to achieve that and to make progress towards a properly accountable police service in which the whole community can have confidence. I assure your Lordships that best value reviews are not about reviewing or scrutinising decisions in individual cases; nor are they about investigating the chief constable's operational decisions.

Best value reviews involve rigorously examining broad functions such as procurement, estates management, people management and relationships with partner organisations, training, core management and so on. They are about asking questions such as: what does one do; how do we do it; and how can we give the community a better service? That is what best value is all about. Clarity of responsibility is absolutely essential. We must not create the possibility that there is a stalemate where there is no agreement on the way ahead. I fear that that could happen if we adopt the Government's proposed amendments. That could only damage the credibility of both the board and the police service in the eyes of the community.

My amendment adopts the approach and wording used throughout the Bill. Our aim is to achieve a compromise and strike the right balance. I beg to move.