Amendment No. 318 continues a line of debate that we began at an early stage in the Bill. Again, I do not believe that I need to go into too much detail. But, given the obligation on police authorities to take guidance into account, the way that the clause is drafted is tantamount to dictating the contents of the local strategy. We do not believe that that is right. We entirely accept that the Home Secretary has every right to have a say in what the Home Office's priorities are and should be. No one has any difficulty with that. It is absolutely right that local police authorities should have to take that into account in large manner, and their three-year strategies should be consistent with it.
But the fact is that in the 40-odd police authorities across the length and breadth of the country, some of which are in charming and relatively rural and remote areas, some of the problems of the more metropolitan areas do not exist. In many of the far-flung regions of this country—if anywhere in this country is far-flung; I doubt that it is—the problems of London and the South East are totally alien. It seems to us that the powers that are given in the Bill are a little over-restrictive and perhaps are not sufficiently likely to recognise the differences that exist in different parts of the country. Those differences should properly permit priorities which are more different than might be implied by the Bill as it is worded at present. I beg to move.
I rise to support this group of amendments. I shall not reiterate what the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, said, although I very much agree with him. We consider the suggested form to be over-prescriptive. We believe that we shall find a different form in different places—that is the essence of local policing. We hope that the Minister will allow more laxity in what is submitted. We also hope that this measure is not being introduced only for the benefit of the officials in the Home Office rather than for the benefit of the people who are being policed.
One amendment in the group relates to a matter that we discussed previously. If the Secretary of State is to issue modified or revised guidance, we believe that it should be issued by, we suggest, 30th June in the year preceding the beginning of the relevant three-year plan. That time is needed in order to carry out proper consultation and prepare the plan for presentation. Every month taken in excess of that will mean that the plan must somehow be rushed through the process. But in the end—the objectives of the Home Secretary have come very late this year—it is inevitable that parts of the plan will already have been put together.
We believe that it should be mentioned on the face of the Bill that police authorities, persons who represent chief officers in the police force which is maintained by those authorities, together with other people thought fit, should be consulted. Therefore, we support all the amendments. We hope that the Minister will give consideration both to the prescription and to the date, in particular.
The one amendment which neither noble Lord mentioned by number is Amendment No. 321. I shall be happy to take away that matter for consideration and return to it. I thought that I should place that on the record at the start.
We believe that the amendment is unnecessary. We have always consulted widely but, as I said, I shall take away the matter and reflect on what has been said, which is nothing! It is true that the theme of consultation was present throughout the debate but, in fact, no one mentioned Amendment No. 321.
We debated the issue of timing in the early stages of the Bill. We understand the restrictions on timing and somehow we must ensure that guidance on the content and form of the plans is issued in good time; otherwise, we shall not receive good reports. It is as simple as that. The police authorities would rightly put the Home Office in the dock if it were not realistic in relation to timing. I fully understand that there would be a breakdown of the tripartite arrangements. As I have said repeatedly, the Government want to support police authorities and chief police officers. We cannot do that if they cannot do their job properly; and they cannot do their job properly if we do not work to a decent and reasonable timetable in issuing them with the guidance.
The guidance should not be seen as threatening; it is intended to be helpful. I know that it does not work if one says, "I'm the man from the Government. I've come to help you". That will not be accepted. But the guidance is not intended to be threatening; it is intended to be useful to chief officers and police authorities. We want to be confident that the local plans are being shared with the local committees—a key element of the plans—and we want the local plans to be consistent with the national plan. But it is true that we must get our act together with regard to the timing. In relation to consultation, to which Amendment No. 321 relates, we shall consider the matter to see whether we can place something concrete in the Bill by Report stage.
I am very grateful to the Minister. I wish that I could agree with him that guidance should not be threatening. The difficulty is that I have seen guidance in, one might say, an earlier metamorphosis with a different department. There was a great deal of guidance and it was, in fact, obligatory to comply with it. It went into the most amazing detail. In the end, it was, in my view, completely unreasonable.
I hear what the Minister has to say. I am encouraged by it because I have great faith and belief in what he says. But I constantly remind the Committee that we must consider what might happen if this legislation, as drafted, were in the hands of less reasonable people. It may seem to some that that is a quibble, but in my experience it is not. It is a very serious matter. We shall study the explanation, but in the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
At this point we may have some difficulty with the detail of the Bill. Subsections (8) and (10) to (15) fundamentally alter the nature of the proposals and, in our view, represent unwarranted central control over local planning. We agree that we should have three-year strategies and that they should be consistent with the national policing plan, but we do not agree that police authorities should have to submit their three-year plans for the approval of the Home Secretary before they are published. That is like a child being told to submit his homework for marking by the Home Secretary or by officials after which it is returned to the child and he is asked to amend it before resubmitting it.
The proposals cause considerable offence. They demonstrate a lack of trust by the Government in police authorities and police forces; they undermine the tripartite relationship; and they seek to turn police authorities into little more than agents of Government rather than proper bodies carrying out a proper job on behalf of local communities.
We recognise that the Bill does not refer to the three-year plans having to be approved by the Home Secretary, but that is the cumulative effect of subsections (8) and (10) to (15). We have no objection to police authorities sending a copy of their three-year plans to the Home Secretary, as currently they send their annual plans, but we believe that the Government are going for over-elaboration. Subsection (3) makes it a statutory duty on police authorities to ensure that their three-year plans are consistent with the national policing plan and failure to do so will mean that the authority is in breach of that statutory duty. That alone should provide the safeguard that the Government seek.
We see no reason why the Home Secretary needs to go any further and interfere with the content of the plans. There is no evidence that in producing their annual plans, policing authorities disregard the priorities set by Ministers. If I am wrong, I shall be more than happy for the Minister to offer a correction to that assumption. I believe that it is true to say that most authorities go to considerable lengths to reflect the Government's priorities. I ask the Minister to give further thought to those provisions. I believe that they will irreparably damage the nature of the tripartite relationship. I am sure that we shall return to this issue on Report. I beg to move.
Amendment No. 323 is grouped with this amendment and contains a delicious irony. We consider that this part of the clause should be left out, although to a certain extent that is against what I am about to say. My amendment proposes leaving out subsections (10) and (11) of Clause 66. Those subsections state:
"(10) If the Secretary of State considers that there are grounds for thinking that—
(a) a police authority's three-year strategy plan . . . may not be consistent with any National Policing Plan applicable . . . he shall, before informing the police authority of his conclusions on whether or not it is in fact so inconsistent, consult with the persons mentioned in subsection (11),
(11) Those persons are—
(a) the police authority in question;
(b) the chief officer of police of the police force maintained by that authority;
(c) persons whom the Secretary of State considers to represent the interests of police authorities; and
(d) persons whom the Secretary of State considers to represent the interests of chief officers of police".
There is a glorious inconsistency in those words compared with almost all the rest of the Bill. We consider that the subsections allow the Home Secretary to tell a police authority what to do. In debating such matters we have said that our difference with the Government is not about ends but means. We believe that the Government are wrong as to the means and consider that those subsections are not appropriate. I support the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, in his remarks and our amendment supports the position he has taken.
I am unsure whether the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, is complaining that there is too much consultation. If the Home Secretary believes that the three-year plan of a police authority is inconsistent with the national plan he will consult the police authority, the chief police officer, ACPO and the Association of Police Authorities. Perhaps that is a consultation too far.
This clause is long and I want to make it absolutely clear that it does not give the Secretary of State a power of veto over the three-year strategy plans. To listen to the tenor of the debate one would think that it does. The police authority has to decide whether to take the views of the Home Secretary on board. There is no power of veto by the Home Secretary. As we said in relation to the amendments grouped with Amendment No. 316, the three-year plans are required to be consistent with the national policing plan to demonstrate that all the forces are working to a common goal. It seems sensible that someone should ensure that they are consistent with each other.
The Home Secretary has an overall responsibility, as part of the tripartite arrangement, for policing in England and Wales, so it is entirely appropriate that he should check the plans for consistency with the national policing plan and inform police authorities if he concludes that they are not. I believe that it is appropriate for the Home Secretary to do that. We do not believe that that undermines the tripartite relationship of the authorities. It raises the profile of police authorities.
The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, and his mates and "matesses" on the police authorities will be in front of cameras and on the wireless when their turn comes to submit their strategy plans. People will say, "Hey, I didn't know we had police authorities; I thought it was just David Blunkett and the chief constable". The role of police authorities will be elevated, which is important and consistent with our dedication to the tripartite arrangement. If the Home Secretary is not convinced, as the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, said, he will consult. The clause does not give the Home Secretary a veto over the plans. That point has to be clearly made. Noble Lords are free to return to this matter at a later stage, but I hope that they will not press their amendments tonight.
I hear what the Minister says, but I am afraid that the propensity of the Home Office to interfere in matters is large indeed. Plans may be held up for comment and they will be delayed because those comments will be late in coming, as they always are. I hope that these amendments will be given serious consideration. It will be necessary to refer back to them. It is extremely difficult to get the local press to come to a policy authority meeting. They are extremely dull meetings. In the nine years that I have been a member of the police authority, we have never had the luxury of having the television medium present. We have had junior reporters from the local press who usually get everything wrong because they cannot understand what is going on. However, it is a far cry from reality to talk about the interests of the local press. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment. I hope that the Minister takes what I say seriously.
moved Amendment No. 329A:
After Clause 67, insert the following new clause—
If a person who holds the office of constable becomes the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, he shall, while he is the president of that Association—
(a) continue to hold the office of constable; and
(b) hold that office with the rank of chief constable."
In moving the amendment, I speak also to Amendments Nos. 340B and 341A. It is a straightforward group of amendments. ACPO wishes to move from a part-time one-year presidency to a full-time three-year presidency. The ACPO president currently remains in charge of his force while he serves as ACPO president for one year. Following his or her election, the president of ACPO will need to resign from his force or retire in order to take up full-time office. ACPO believes that the president needs to retain the rank of chief constable. The amendment will have the effect of ensuring that, while he holds office, the ACPO president will continue to have full police powers and the rank of chief constable. I am advised that ACPO and the APA are content with that approach. The amendment reflects that desire and makes good sense in terms of the general direction in which ACPO wishes to take its presidency. I beg to move.
I do not agree with the Minister that it is a straightforward amendment. I think that it is bizarre. I shall be interested to know in how many other places in statutes a company limited by guarantee (or whatever applies to ACPO) is referred to specifically. I shall be interested to know why such a provision is offered to ACPO but not to, let us say, the Police Superintendents' Association or the Police Federation which might wish to do something similar. I assume that the implication is that the person would have his or her salary paid by ACPO; that there is no implication that the Crown or anyone else would find the salary. But that means that the cost is spread more generally.
Why does it have to be assumed that the person will have the rank of chief constable? I understand that ACPO offers membership to people of assistant chief constable rank upwards. Does it mean that an assistant chief constable who becomes president of ACPO will receive automatically a pay rise and be treated as a chief constable? I find it a strange amendment.
If someone wants to be president of ACPO it is a career choice which he or she makes for three years. If there were a provision for chief constables to dip in and out of being chief constables in order perhaps to serve as representatives on other public bodies and then be engaged as chief constables elsewhere, it might be a suitable amendment. However, to specify an organisation in this way I find somewhat surprising.
I understand the noble Lord's desire for more information. I am happy to answer his questions. However, he ignores the special position that ACPO holds within the structure of UK policing. The ACPO president currently holds office for one year while continuing to exercise control and direction over his or her force. The view has been formed that that is less than ideal. As the demands on ACPO and its expertise have increased—that has happened not just under this Government but successive governments—the president of ACPO, who occupies a unique position in terms of leadership, spends less and less time running his own force. The full-time presidency will allow the president to contribute more effectively to policy development and implementation.
If one seeks parallels, the chief executive of CPTDA and the directors-general of NCS and NCIS continue to hold the rank of chief constable and the office once they take office. In a sense, the provision is parallel to those existing arrangements. It will enable the ACPO president to maintain his standing within the police service, enabling him to represent chief officers in an effective and timely fashion.
I appreciate the noble Lord's desire for more information. However, those are the reasons that the amendment has been brought forward. There is agreement with ACPO and APA for the amendment to be made to the Bill.
In referring to the ACPO president, the point has been raised about whether similar arrangements would exist for the Police Federation and the Police Superintendents' Association. Is there any reason why those bodies have been excluded? Do they not play a part with regard to policy issues and the Home Office?
The equivalent posts in the Police Superintendents' Association and the Police Federation are already full-time posts providing continuity for a number of years. I understand that the amendment seeks to put ACPO in a similar position to the Police Superintendents' Association and the Police Federation.
I am grateful for the noble Lord's clarification of that point. I am still confused by my noble friend's answer. When one refers to an association in legislation, one normally refers to an association which represents chief officers of police—or some reference of that nature. Why is a specific organisation reflected in the legislation? For example, if in the future a majority of chief constables no longer had confidence in the way ACPO was organised and set up a rival organisation, would we be left with this piece of legislation relating to a specific organisation which perhaps contained fewer and fewer chief constables?
The provision could be drafted so that it did not refer to a specific organisation but achieved the laudable aim—I support it—that a force area should not be deprived of its chief constable, or whichever senior officer it is, while he fulfils the important role of president of ACPO. It seems a strange way of tackling what I accept is a problem that needs to be solved.
It is a fact that ACPO is already referred to in statutes. If the noble Lord reads Section 127 of the Criminal Justice and Police Act he will see that. I do not find it extraordinary. ACPO occupies a unique place in the structure of the UK policing network.
The president will be paid by ACPO. The Police Federation is a statutory body under the provisions of the Police Act 1996, so police organisations do have a statutory reference point. It is for that reason that to effect a change we need to address it in statute. That is why the amendment has been brought forward.
In moving Amendment No. 330, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 331, which is consequential on Amendment No. 330. The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 established local Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships in each district. These partnerships must undertake an audit of local crime and disorder problems and produce a three-year strategy for tackling them.
The 1998 Act made chief officers and local authorities the "responsible authorities" for the partnerships. Police authorities were required to co-operate with the local partnerships. That has had an unfortunate effect. In some areas, police authorities have been excluded from playing a full role in the work of local partnerships.
The local partnerships have now been in existence for nearly four years. Although there has been some good progress, a recent Home Office report recognised that many "challenges remain".
Our proposals seek to make the partnerships more effective by giving police authorities equal statutory status. We believe that this is even more important if we are to achieve coherence between police authorities' three-year plans and the three-year district crime reduction strategies.
One of the key findings of the recent Home Office report was that local partnerships missed key opportunities to integrate their consultation with wider consultation efforts by police authorities. We believe that our amendment will help to tackle this problem and that police authorities' involvement can bring far greater strategic oversight and co-ordination to the work of the various partnerships within the force area.
The Minister's letter said that the Government was actively considering this proposal. I hope that he will be able to give us good news today by accepting the amendment. I beg to move.
My speaking note says that police authorities have a key role to play in local partnerships structures. It is for that reason that I can tell the noble Lord that we are giving active consideration to the amendment on whether police authorities should become responsible authorities for the purposes of Section 5 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. I hope that the noble Lord will find that a welcoming and acceptable comment. Having given the matter active consideration and consulted further, no doubt we shall bring something back on Report.
We are back on the Secretary of State's functions—possibly in his alias as the National Assembly for Wales. We are dealing with the Secretary of State's powers. The Bill says that he, "may, by order, require" strategies in relation to crime reduction,
"to include, in particular, provision for the reduction of—
(i) crime of a description specified in the order; or (ii) disorder of a description so specified", and so on.
This again is Whitehall seeking to dictate the detail of what might be in a local crime reduction plan. I entirely accept what I may call "its benign intentions", but the clause presumes that the Home Secretary, if he makes orders of this nature, will be au fait with every local situation in the country. All my experience suggests that Whitehall departments, let alone Secretaries of State, who after all are guided by their departments, have that omniscient breadth of vision of knowing everything that goes on across the country.
This is a well-rehearsed discussion. We have been over this ground on numerous occasions. I need not say any more. I beg to move.
The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, is right to say that we have been around this course several times. But it is worth going over some of this ground. Responsible authorities are required to deal with crime and disorder problems and, under Clause 68 of the Bill, misuse of drugs, which affect their area. These should be a reflection of both local and national priorities as these are often the same. Clause 69 allows the Secretary of State to require partnerships to take account in their local strategy of areas of crime and disorder that reflect national priorities. To take account; that is, to reflect upon, think about, develop and work at.
A recent review of the crime and disorder reduction strategies published in 1999 showed that in some partnership areas the strategies did not contain crime reduction targets which reflected either local or even national priorities. That is why we seek to take things that stage further, so that they do reflect those matters.
There needs to be development of partnerships. There needs to be active co-operation. There needs to be a working between the centre and the locality to ensure that those priorities match up. That is what this clause seeks to establish.
It is essential that we focus on the main areas of crime and disorder that affect our local communities. I do not think that it is an arguable case that issues such as strategies to combat the misuse of drugs fail to be a local priority fairly much everywhere. If one talks to a police officer, in the main he will say that much of the burglary committed in his locality is fuelled by drugs and drug addiction and the need to feed a habit. That is a universal case. It must be right to give some extra leverage to ensure that there is proper focus on something which is a national issue and also patently a local issue.
If we remove the clause, as the noble Lord suggests, that strategy, that ability to develop that partnership locally and nationally is damaged. This is about identifying national priorities in achieving and sustaining reductions in crime and for the setting and achieving of targets to be determined locally. That is what we seek to achieve.
We have been over this argument many times. I think that we have the balance about right. I think that the noble Lord is not necessarily persuaded that this is the heavy hand of the centre impacting upon the important level of local independence. We are trying to develop that joint strategy, which means that national and local priorities are well matched. I invite the noble Lord to examine the 1999 report, because it reflects on the need to make those elements work together, rather than out of kilter and contrary to people's priorities in tackling those aspects of crime.
The Minister has given me the words that I wanted. He said that the purpose of the clauses is to ensure that those who prepare the local plans take account of the national priorities. The Bill does not say "take account"; it says "require"—there is a huge difference of emphasis between those two phrases.
I should be delighted to withdraw Amendment No. 332. I shall table an amendment on Report, quoting the Minister's words, and we shall see what happens. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 333:
After Clause 72, insert the following new clause—
"PROVISION OF SPECIAL SERVICES
In section 25 of the 1996 Act (provision of special services), after subsection (1) there shall be inserted—
"(1A) Such services may include provision of an escort service for the movement of abnormal loads in any locality in the police area for which the force is maintained, subject to subsections (1A) and (1B) below if—
(a) the load cannot be moved under a general order made under section 44 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (c. 52) by reason of its gross weight or overall dimensions, or
(b) it is necessary to move the load at a time when suitable police resources would not normally be available and, in the opinion of the chief officer or the operator, it is essential that the load is escorted by the police because— (i) the load is particularly awkward, or (ii) the agreed route is particularly hazardous in view of the nature of the load.
(1B) Provision of services in accordance with subsection (2) is subject to the payment to the police authority of such charges as may be determined by the authority, provided that—
(a) on request of an operator, a fixed charge for the escort of the load is quoted in advance and the same quotation is offered to any other operator who appears to be planning the movement of the same or a similar load, and
(b) when a fixed charge for the escort of the load is quoted in advance, the charge is reasonable but may have an allowance for contingencies.
(1C) In this section—
"operator" means the person operating the vehicle carrying or drawing the abnormal load,
"abnormal load" means a load, including the carrying vehicle, whose weights or dimensions— (a) exceed those within regulations made under section 41 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, or (b) are such that regulations made under section 41 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 require movement of the load to be notified to the chief officer of police.""
Amendment No. 333 stands in my name. I remind the Committee that I am president of the Heavy Transport Association, and that I operate an abnormal-load vehicle.
Although Amendment No. 334 also deals with abnormal loads, it is important to understand that the two issues are separate. Amendment No. 334 deals with the question of who will escort abnormal loads, while Amendment No. 333 seeks to specify when the police may charge for providing an escort. I suspect that the Minister will have more difficulty with this amendment, but we shall see.
It is important that the Committee understands that there is no legislation on the provision of police escorts for abnormal loads. In the past, the police have done so on a non-statutory basis, for perfectly sensible and obvious reasons. However, a police escort is not viewed as a core activity, and some police forces, such as Norfolk, have started to charge for providing one. In some cases, police forces resort to questionable tactics to enforce payment.
"on request of any person".
That is fine when applied to the organiser of a football match, but it is not effective if a person moving an abnormal load is told by a chief constable that he must have an escort, because that person has not requested it. It needs to be remembered that the escort is provided largely for the convenience of other road users. It is not only my interpretation that creates this uncertainty. Some counsels for police authorities advise that charges can be made, while others advise that they cannot. Can the Minister say who is right?
My amendment is designed to allow the police to make a charge in either of two circumstances. The first is if the load is abnormal to the extent that its gross weight is over 150 tonnes or its dimensions are in excess of around 27 metres long and 6 metres wide, with the result that the specific authority of the Secretary of State, in the form of a "special order", is required. Secondly, a charge can be made if it is desired to move the load at a time when a police escort would not normally be available. An example might be the movement of a piece of engineering equipment during the night. A further qualification to the second circumstance applies if, in the opinion of the chief officer or the operator, a police escort is necessary because the load or the route is particularly awkward. That is, I admit, a subjective test. However, if the amendment were agreed to, the situation would still be much better.
Furthermore, the new Section 1B provides for fixed charges to be agreed in advance. The more difficult loads tend to be moved by specialist contractors. They do not mind paying for special facilities if the cost can be built into their quotation and if all other operators bidding for the job have the same costs.
A final observation is that if the principles behind Amendment No. 334 find favour, charging for police escorts will become less problematic because the activity will be less of a drain on police resources. I beg to move.
The noble Earl made copious references to Amendment No. 334 when moving Amendment No. 333. My response to Amendment No. 333 is exactly the same as my response to Amendment No. 334.
As I indicated last Thursday, we are in broad sympathy with the intention behind the various amendments tabled by the noble Earl, and he has discussed the matter with my right honourable friend the Minister of State. Like him, and with ACPO, we should like to see a reduction in police involvement in such work.
We are actively considering how to bring that about and how to ensure that the best arrangements are organised for escorting abnormal loads. John Denham pursued this matter further in a meeting with ACPO representatives on 7th March. It would be counterproductive and unhelpful if I were to go any further. Some concerns arise, and the noble Earl understands what they are. But basically we agree with him and want to find a solution to the two issues which satisfies ourselves, the police and of course the industry. In the circumstances I hope that the noble Earl will not press either of his amendments.
moved Amendment No. 334:
After Clause 72, insert the following new clause—
"ESCORT FOR ABNORMAL LOADS
"The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision requiring all police forces in England and Wales to provide a police escort for abnormal loads moved under the provisions of section 44 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (c. 52) (authorisation of use on roads of special vehicles not complying with section 41 regulations) only if—
(a) the driver of the load is likely to have to contravene traffic regulations;
(b) the load cannot be moved under a general order made under section 44 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 by reason of its gross weight or overall dimensions;
(c) in the opinion of the chief constable or the operator, the load is particularly awkward; or
(d) in the opinion of the chief constable or the operator, the agreed route is particularly hazardous in view of the nature of the load""
In view of what the Minister said, I shall truncate some of my comments.
The proposal behind Amendment No. 334 is that when an operator makes his statutory abnormal load notification, when appropriate and in particular on motorways and dual carriageways, the chief officer says, "Yes, you can move the load at this time but you must provide an escort in accordance with ACPO guidelines", or some other guidelines produced by the Home Office. The guidelines will be non-statutory but cover such matters as the experience of the escort driver, warning signs, communications both with the load and the police, and other technical details.
In short, we are talking about self-escorting. Perhaps the term "private escorting" has connotations that are not helpful. We are not talking about privatising or "contractorising" a police function. There will not be an opportunity for a cosy cartel to develop with obscure lines of responsibility between the escort, the operator and the police. If something goes wrong, say an unnecessary obstruction or an accident, the police will be able to investigate without fear or favour. The operator will be in control, but he will also be responsible.
It is important to understand that the escort will not be able to stop the traffic or authorise the driver of the abnormal load to break traffic regulations. The police or traffic wardens will still be required for that purpose. The escort will have only two functions; the first to warn oncoming or following traffic of the abnormal load by means of flashing lights and clear signs; the second is, in certain circumstances, to block off completely lane two of a three-lane motorway or dual carriageway.
I made a more detailed speech at Second Reading, and more importantly on 2nd May last year from the Opposition Dispatch Box. Perhaps my noble friend on the Front Bench will confirm that this is still the extant policy of Her Majesty's Opposition. If we go down this route, we will make more effective use of police resources; we will save industry significant costs that are incurred in waiting for a police escort; the escort task will be better undertaken technically; and the motoring public will be saved much inconvenience because loads can be moved at unsociable hours on our most congested roads. I beg to move.
Like the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, I should perhaps declare that I am a civilian holder of the police class 1 driving certificate; that I go out on traffic patrol numerous times each year with various constabularies; and that in fact my next full police driving course is booked for June of this year.
It is my belief, shared by many front-line officers and I believe some within the transport industry, that the power to stop and control traffic, and to allow the contravention of road traffic legislation, should only be used by a uniformed police officer. Clause 37 of the Bill allows for those powers to be devolved to traffic wardens and the amendments are intended formally to set up private escorting.
I have three concerns on this matter: safety, security and insurance. If a private organisation is escorting an abnormal load and another motorist ignores all warning signs and subsequently causes a crash, who will foot the bill? Who will be liable? Will it be the insurer of the car, or will it be down to the escorting company's inability to stop following or approaching traffic? In either case I suspect that it will be the private motorist or the insurance companies who will foot the bill, and thus insurance rates will rise.
With car and lorry-related crime and lorry hijacking on the increase, the issue of security is of growing significance. Drivers of all types of vehicle must have every confidence that the person requiring them to stop for any purpose, be it for an abnormal load or any other reason, is a genuine police officer. Uniforms are worn by police officers to give confidence to the public, who are aware that the wearer is a physical manifestation of the law and is the protector of the public. That confidence must not be eroded by allowing some other person, in effect, to impersonate a police officer.
In the same way, the driver of the abnormal load needs to know that the person overseeing that activity is fully empowered by the law to allow the breaching of various pieces of legislation and to take the appropriate action, based on their judgment, should other road users fail to act responsibly when confronted by the load.
That leads me to my concerns about safety. When I was last with police officers escorting an abnormal load on the motorway, there were motorists trying to pass where it was dangerous to do so, despite the fact that the marked police vehicle was appropriately positioned and was displaying a blue light. Under the noble Earl's plans, private operators would use a flashing orange light. That may alert drivers to the danger of the load, but, if they fail to behave sensibly where there is a full police escort, how can we expect drivers to act any better if the escort is provided by people who do not have the full weight of the law?
It would not surprise me to learn that the proposals had been brought about by a shortage of police resources. I understand and appreciate that, but, with about 3,500 people killed on our roads each year, the safety and security of the transport industry and other motorists must be of paramount importance. It is for that reason—and those that I have already given—that I would not wish there to be any privatisation of the escorting of abnormal loads.
My final point does not necessarily relate to the amendment, but is more a matter of academic interest. Who would determine which roadside furniture might have to be temporarily removed to allow an abnormal load to proceed in an urban area?
I am extremely grateful for the noble Viscount's contribution. I have no notes about roadside furniture, so I shall answer that question first. If roadside furniture needs to be removed, it is a matter for the local council. It would not matter whether there was a police escort, whether any escort was required at all or whether it was a special order; it would be for the council—the local authority—to decide on moving street furniture.
The noble Viscount raised what I call the "blue light" argument. I get the same argument from a personal friend who is involved in moving abnormal loads. I have escorted abnormal loads for some time, using an amber flashing beacon light, and I have experienced no problems. Furthermore, an ACPO study was done several years ago, during which two loads were moved. One was moved conventionally, with a police escort, and one was moved by police officers masquerading as civilians, if the noble Lord understands me. There was no difficulty, which is why ACPO is happy with the proposals.
It is also suggested that the police had special skills in escorting abnormal loads. They may have had, in the past. I hope that I will not upset the noble Lord, Lord Condon, by what I am about to say. However, Kent police do not have a special traffic police force any more and use ordinary area cars for escorting abnormal loads. Last summer, I was escorted by them. They did a satisfactory job, but they did baulk me, which stopped me racing down the hill in order to "fly" up the other side, so I moved the load a little more slowly than I could otherwise have done. They were not experienced in moving abnormal loads.
Another advantage of using private escorts is the use of signs. At the moment, the police car goes along but has no special signs. Under these proposals, the escort vehicles will have special signs.
I also expect that the guidelines will pay special attention to the experience of the escort driver. We do not want to have a 17 year-old boy escorting an abnormal load. Often, the person driving the escort vehicle will himself be a low-loader driver.
The noble Viscount mentioned insurance. If there is an accident, the police will, as I said, investigate without fear or favour. What happens if there is no police escort, as often happens, even though the load is very big?
I agree that the police or traffic wardens should be the only persons to stop the traffic or allow for special facilities. That is well understood and the Minister has addressed the matter. I am extremely grateful for the comments of the noble Viscount, Lord Simon. I am sure that the Minister will speak briefly because he has already spoken to my amendments.
That is absolutely bang to rights. My noble friend Lord McIntosh questioned whether anyone would ever have thought that on both sides of the House we have experts in moving abnormal loads. One never ceases to be amazed about this place. We heard thoroughly professional speeches, also drawing on experience.
I repeat what I have said. However, the most important consideration is that the amendment would not be helpful to constrain the detailed consideration of all the issues that is currently taking place.
moved Amendment No. 335:
After Clause 72, insert the following new clause—
In section 99 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 (c. 27) (removal of vehicles etc.), after subsection (2)(c) there shall be inserted—
(e) any regulations for a scheme under subsection (2)(d) shall provide that— (i) all appointed recovery operators are accredited to an International Standards Organisation standard; (ii) a person whose vehicle falls within subsection (1) is, subject to sub-paragraph (iii) or (iv), given the opportunity to arrange removal himself; (iii) sub-paragraph (ii) shall not apply if a constable believes safety of other road users would be compromised and the customer is unlikely to be able to arrange for the vehicle's removal before the appointed recovery operator; (iv) sub-paragraph (ii) shall not apply if the road on which the vehicle is permitted to rest is a special road and the customer is unlikely to be able to arrange for the vehicle's removal within a time specified in the regulations or one hour, whichever is the greater; (v) if a person whose vehicle falls within subsection (1) arranges removal of the vehicle himself and his choice of recovery operator arrives before the appointed recovery operator, he shall be under no obligation to the appointed recovery operator or the authority; (vi) neither the authority, the chief police officer or the police authority may benefit from a preferential scale of charges or free services from an appointed recovery operator; (vii) when a vehicle has been abandoned by the owner or registered keeper the authority shall pay the appointed recovery operator the charges prescribed under section 102 of this Act; (viii) an appointed recovery operator shall not be required to give any financial or other consideration for being appointed; (ix) the police authority may make a financial charge, as prescribed, against the person whose vehicle falls within subsection (1), for despatching the appointed recovery operator, and such a charge may be collected by the appointed recovery operator; (x) any scheme must allow for competition, new operators joining the scheme, and aim to have operators no further than a prescribed distance from each other; (xi) no person shall be appointed under a police contracted recovery scheme if he is not of good repute as defined in sub-paragraph (xii); (xii) a person is of good repute if he meets similar requirements to paragraphs 1 to 6 of Schedule 3 to the Goods Vehicle (Licensing of Operators) Act 1995 (c. 23); (xiii) appointed recovery operators shall not charge more than the amount prescribed under section 102 for removing a vehicle weighing no more than 3500 kilograms unless approved by the chief officer of police on each occasion; (xiv) appointed recovery operators shall not charge more than the amount prescribed under section 102 for removing a vehicle weighing more than 3500 kilograms unless there are unusual difficulties requiring extra facilities, but rates shall not exceed those published under sub-paragraph (xv); and (xv) appointed recovery operators shall publish their scale of charges in such form as may be prescribed in one or more local papers;
(f) before making any regulations under subsection (2)(d) the Secretary of State shall consult such organisations as he considers necessary and in particular the authorities empowered by regulations under section 99(1).""
The hour is late and I do not intend to give a detailed explanation of my amendment. The reason for tabling it is that there is considerable concern about police vehicle recovery schemes.
There have been court cases challenging their legality. In South Wales the nominated police recovery operator was charging extortionate rates to captive customers. In several areas the police have been telling motorists that they must use the police contractor when they have no power to do so. In other cases the customer's choice of recovery operator turned up before the police contractor but was turned away by the police using questionable procedures.
The Committee may be interested to hear that operators have to pay the police authority as much as £6,000 to buy a "patch". In addition, they are obliged to provide free—I repeat, free—storage and recovery services to the police. If it is necessary to return to this issue at Report I shall have to consider whether the word "corruption" is too strong. Ordinary motorists will be paying for these free services given to the police on the back of the recovery schemes.
Turning to the amendment itself, paragraph (e) is largely self-explanatory as it deals with all the concerns of motorists and trade associations. I do not intend to weary the Committee by going through it in detail tonight. However, I believe that the Minister will have to say whether he believes the principles in paragraph (e) are right or wrong. Does he believe there to be a general problem and, if so, what is he doing about it? I beg to move.
There is a serious issue here which has to be addressed. That is not easy to do. I did not say this in my original speech because it would have been wrong to link all three amendments together. This matter is part of an issue that we are currently looking at as well as those concerning other amendments which the noble Earl proposed. People may believe that they can make their own arrangements more cheaply. The Freight Transport Association and the Road Haulage Association would like guidelines. There is concern that currently owners of stolen vehicles recovered by the police have to pay police removal and storage costs. We are looking at these issues. I am not making a commitment that we shall return to them at Report stage, but they are under active discussion in government at present. Whether we can bring anything forward as regards this Bill in this House or in another place remains to be seen. There may even be another Bill. I am not making any commitment. I can assure the noble Earl that various government departments, and not just the Home Office, are actively discussing these issues.
I am extremely grateful to the Minister for regarding it as a serious problem and not simply telling me why my amendment was unworkable. I was surprised that he did not raise the issue of the need to move broken down vehicles from certain roads very quickly. That is an issue which concerns the police. We know that the hard shoulder is an extremely dangerous place on the motorway. I am grateful for the noble Lord's response. I would like to use the normal caveat, but in the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment
moved Amendment No. 335A:
Page 66, leave out lines 21 to 24 and insert "Each of the enactments specified in subsection (1A) shall be amended as follows—"
At this stage of the Bill, and at this time of night, I hope that noble Lords will take my word when I say that the amendments in this group are, essentially, technical amendments to Clause 73. I could make lengthy speeches on each amendment, if required. However, as I said, they are technical and not substantive policy amendments. I beg to move.
moved Amendments Nos. 335B to 335D:
Page 66, line 28, at end insert—
"(1A) The enactments are—
(a) section 88(1) of the 1996 Act (liability of chief officers);
(b) section 97(9) of that Act (liability of the Secretary of State);
(d) section 86(1) of that Act (liability of the Director General of the National Crime Squad);
(e) section 27(8) of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 (c.32) (liability of the Secretary of State);
(f) section 29(1) of that Act (liability of the chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland);
(a) for "a tort committed by" there shall be substituted "any unlawful conduct of";
(b) for "torts committed by" there shall be substituted "any unlawful conduct of"; and
(c) for "in respect of any such tort" there shall be substituted ", in the case of a tort,"."
Page 66, line 29, leave out from beginning to second "for" in line 31 and insert "In each of the enactments specified in subsection (3), "
Page 66, line 32, at end insert—
"(3) The enactments are—
(a) section 88(4)(a) of the 1996 Act (payments in respect of tort proceedings against constables and special constables);
(b) section 42(4)(a) of the 1997 Act (payments in respect of tort proceedings against members of, and constables serving with, NCIS);
(c) section 86(4)(a) of that Act (payments in respect of tort proceedings against members of, and constables serving with, the National Crime Squad);
(d) section 29(3)(a) of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 (c.32) (payments in respect of tort proceedings against police officers in Northern Ireland); and
(e) paragraph 7(4)(a) of Schedule 3 to that Act (payment in respect of tort proceedings against police officers serving with, or assisting, the Police Ombudsman).
(4) In section 42(6) of the 1997 Act (application to Scotland), paragraph (a) shall be omitted.
(5) In section 39 (1) of the Police (Scotland) Act 1967 (c. 77) (liability for wrongful acts of constables)—
(a) for "in reparation in respect of any wrongful act or omission" there shall be substituted "for any unlawful conduct"; and
(b) for "in respect of a wrongful act or omission" there shall be substituted "for any unlawful conduct".
(6) In section 39(4) of that Act, for "wrongful act or omission" there shall be substituted "unlawful conduct"."
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Clause 73, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 74 [Liability in respect of members of teams]:
In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 335E to 335S. This group contains essentially minor amendments; they are not amendments of major substance. However, as my briefing does not refer to them as being "technical", perhaps I should put this on the record and speak to them briefly. I would not like to be accused later of misleading the Committee.
Clause 74 provides a legal basis for civil liabilities arising from operations of joint investigation teams set up under international agreements to which the United Kingdom is a party. As drafted, the clause envisages such teams involving police officers from England, Wales and Scotland, and law enforcement officers from abroad. Amendments Nos. 335I, 335J, 335L and 335M are counterpart provisions for Northern Ireland, envisaging that such teams could also include Northern Ireland police officers.
Amendments Nos. 335G and 335H reflect that international agreements are likely to include both reserved and devolved matters and, therefore, involve the Secretary of State, as well as the Scottish Ministers and this Parliament. Amendments Nos. 335E, 335F and 335N are minor drafting amendments in relation to the legislation for Scotland.
Amendment No. 335L, which amends subsection (5) of this clause, reflects the possibility that, with the agreement of the competent authorities of the countries setting up the joint investigation team, it could include members of international organisations such as Europol. Reimbursements might therefore be received from such organisations, as well as from other countries and territories.
Clause 75 provides that members of joint investigation teams set up under international agreements to which the United Kingdom is a party are to be treated in the same way as constables while in England, Wales and Scotland with regard to offences committed against them. Amendment No. 335S amends counterpart legislation for Northern Ireland to provide similar treatment for officers from abroad when in Northern Ireland as members of joint investigation teams.
Amendments Nos. 335Q and 335R reflect that international agreements are likely to include both reserved and transferred matters, and therefore involve the Secretary of State, as well as the Scottish Ministers and this Parliament. Amendment No. 335P is a minor drafting amendment in relation to the legislation for Scotland. I beg to move.
moved Amendments Nos. 335F to 335N:
Page 68, line 34, leave out "officer of police" and insert "constable"
Page 68, line 49, after "by" insert "the Secretary of State with the consent of"
Page 69, line 3, at end insert—
"( ) In section 29 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 (c. 32) (liability for wrongful acts of constables), after subsection (5) there shall be inserted—
"(6) This section shall have effect where an international joint investigation team has been formed under the leadership of a constable who is a member of the Police Service of Northern Ireland as if any unlawful conduct, in the performance or purported performance of his functions as such, of any member of that team who is neither—
(a) a constable, nor
(b) an employee of the Board, were unlawful conduct of a constable under the direction and control of the Chief Constable.
(7) In this section "international joint investigation team" means any investigation team formed in accordance with—
(a) any framework decision on joint investigation teams adopted under Article 34 of the Treaty on European Union;
(b) the Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters between the Member States of the European Union, and the Protocol to that Convention, established in accordance with that Article of that Treaty; or
(c) any international agreement to which the United Kingdom is a party and which is specified for the purposes of this section in an order made by the Secretary of State.
(8) A statutory instrument containing an order under subsection (7) shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament."
Page 69, line 6, after second "fund" insert "or by the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland"
Page 69, line 8, leave out "from the authorities of another country or territory"
Page 69, line 10, at end insert "or by that Chief Constable"
Page 69, line 11, after "fund" insert "or (as the case may be) to that Chief Constable"
Page 69, line 12, at end insert—
"( ) In Scotland, where—
(a) any sums are paid by virtue of this section by a police authority or a joint police board, and
(b) in pursuance of an international obligation, the Secretary of State receives any sum by way of reimbursement, in whole or in part, of the sums so paid, the Secretary of State shall pay the sum received by him by way of reimbursement to the Scottish Ministers who shall pay it to that authority or board."
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Clause 74, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 75 [Assaults on members of teams]:
moved Amendments Nos. 335P to 335S:
Page 69, line 44, leave out first "member" and insert "constable"
Page 70, line 11, after "by" insert "the Secretary of State with the consent of"
Page 70, line 14, at end insert—
"( ) In section 66 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 (c. 32) (assaults on constables), after subsection (3) there shall be inserted—
"(4) In this section references to a person assisting a constable in the execution of his duty include references to any person who is neither a constable nor in the company of a constable but who—
(a) is a member of an international joint investigation team that is led by a member of the Police Service of Northern Ireland; and
(b) is carrying out his functions as a member of that team.
(5) In this section "international joint investigation team" means any investigation team formed in accordance with—
(a) any framework decision on joint investigation teams adopted under Article 34 of the Treaty on European Union;
(b) the Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters between the Member States of the European Union, and the Protocol to that Convention, established in accordance with that Article of that Treaty; or
(c) any international agreement to which the United Kingdom is a party and which is specified for the purposes of this section in an order made by the Secretary of State.
(6) A statutory instrument containing an order under subsection (5) shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.""
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Clause 75, as amended, agreed to.
moved Amendment No. 335T:
After Clause 75, insert the following new clause—
( ) The Police Pensions Act 1976 (c. 35) shall be repealed with effect from 31st March 2005.
( ) By 31st March 2003, the Secretary of State shall bring forward proposals for debate in both Houses of Parliament for the introduction, by 31st March 2005, of new pension arrangements for police officers, including arrangements to ensure the full and on-going costs of the new arrangements are met from a pension fund established from the Consolidated Fund."
In moving Amendment No. 335T, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 335TA, 337A and 340AA, which are grouped together on the yellow sheet. They address two issues of considerable importance. We have been debating a large Bill about police reform but one key issue which is in need of desperate reform has been dumped again and again by governments of both parties. It is the issue of police pensions. I would couple with that—although it is not the subject today—fire service pensions.
The cost of police pensions is not a new issue for this House. The problem with the current police pension scheme is that it is under-funded. It means that the ongoing pension costs must be met by police authorities from the normal revenue account. Those costs are offset to an extent by the contributions made by serving police officers who pay from their monthly salaries 11 per cent, but that does not come close to meeting the existing pensions burden.
I thank the noble Lord for giving way. In opening, he referred to four amendments in the group. Amendments Nos. 335TA and 340AA cover a subject other than pensions; they cover the Riot (Damages) Act. My understanding is that those issues have been separated, so perhaps for the convenience of the Committee the noble Lord might first concentrate on the issue of pensions. When we have got that out of the way we can move on to the other.
I shall finish the subject of pensions and then turn to the Riot (Damages) Act.
Current expenditure has risen from 7 per cent in 1991-92 to 13.3 per cent overall in 2000-01. More than £1 billion of police budgets are now spent on pensions. That will increase and in some authorities it is as much as 25 per cent of their costs. It varies from place to place.
The Minister may be assured that we are doing all we can to keep a cap on early and ill-health retirements, but the ongoing costs of pensions are unavoidable. The Government makes a grant but it must cover many items besides pensions. This year, many authorities are having to dig into their own reserves or to increase the council tax by large amounts in order to meet their deficit on pension funds.
In 1998, the Government consulted stakeholders on this exercise and a great deal of time and effort was put into it. The amendment we propose is simple. It proposes that at some point in the future we say that the existing pension scheme will stop and a new pension scheme which is properly funded will start. It is quite simple. In time, it will ensure that pensions do not impact on front-line policing.
The amendment would bring a great deal of transparency to the issue of police funding and the cost of pensions. It would enable Parliament, police authorities, chief officers and members of the public to know much more clearly how their money is being spent. I shall stop there because that is the end of what I want to say about pensions. I beg to move.
It is one of the ironies of life that I was one of the officials on the other side, in local government, who prepared a briefing about this problem more than a dozen years ago. The issue has certainly not gone away.
I do not know whether it is the intention of the noble Lord, but the effect of Amendment No. 335T would be to replace the current statutory scheme with an approved funded scheme similar—perhaps almost exactly the same—to those in the private sector. A public sector scheme such as the police pension scheme can have its benefits guaranteed by statute, but the existence of a fund does not necessarily make an expensive scheme affordable. We need to think long and hard about that. While we understand the concern of police authorities over the increasing burden of funding pensions, we have to consider the solution to this problem very carefully.
The cost of setting up a funded scheme as proposed by the noble Lord would be somewhere in the region of £35 billion. This is a massive sum to divert away from other more immediate—some may say "front line"—issues and uses. We are giving careful consideration to the detailed options but, in broad terms, we think that the better way forward is likely to be a twin-track approach, first, by introducing a better system of financing police pensions—I am sure that the noble Lord will welcome that—and, secondly, by introducing a more affordable scheme for future entrants.
We hope to meet the requirements of police authorities and chief officers for a system which gives a greater certainty about pensions obligations on individual forces. We shall be announcing our conclusions in the very near future. We are also soon due to consider options for modernising the police pension scheme to make it more flexible and affordable, both for the officers and for police authorities.
As to Amendment No. 337A, under the present arrangements the police grant is indivisible. It is calculated from various elements, most of which are related to policing activity with only a relatively small part set aside for pensions. The total grant for each police authority is unhypothecated. We do not attempt to ensure that authorities "break even" on each component. There are swings and roundabouts in this issue to give an overall general fairness.
If we were to split off a piece of the grant for pensions, it would be logical to break the whole provision into its several components. No doubt at that stage someone would accuse us of control freakery at the centre, but that is a debate for another day. We argue—I think we are right—that this would benefit no one and would limit the scope for police authorities and chief officers to be flexible in the disposition of their carefully managed resources.
As I mentioned in my observations on Amendment No. 335T, we hope to bring forward proposals shortly that will provide greater certainty to police pension costs. We feel that these will meet the main concerns expressed in the noble Lord's amendment. Undoubtedly there will be detailed and careful discussions with the APA and the chief officers on this issue. With those assurances, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
I thank the Minister for that reply. At this time of night, I do not want to protract the discussions.
The scheme that we propose would draw a line under the present scheme, which would stop on a certain date. A new funded scheme would come into effect from that date. So the new funded scheme, which the Minister has said might cost £35 billion, would in fact be invented at a date in the future and would be funded for officers joining after that date. The problem would at least be capped at some time in the future.
I believe that this is the only way out of the difficulty. The alternative is to spend £35 billion, which I cannot see any government doing. Although the police grant is indivisible, we have to meet the police pension. Police authorities regard that as their first obligation. As I have said, some authorities—I believe Merseyside is one—are now spending 25 per cent of their money on this issue.
I think I follow the noble Lord's drift. But would not the proposal lead to two separate pension schemes being offered? Where would the equity in those two schemes exist? How would the second, the funded scheme, have sufficient funds to pay out pensions from day one? That is what the noble Lord's scheme would envisage. Those are exactly the kinds of questions that worry me. This is exactly why we are concerned about the costs.
The scheme would not pay out pensions from day one, because the second scheme would apply only to new entrants, who would build up their pensions for a good while in the future. It is only by drawing a line between the two schemes that we can go forward.
I am not an actuary. I do not know how pension funds work; but I do know that they are an incredible burden. Every authority is having to go to its ratepayers for considerably more money to pay for pensions than it otherwise would. I intend to return to the matter. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The amendment seeks to repeal the Riot (Damages) Act 1886. The Act provides that, where a police authority declares under the terms of the Public Order Act that a riot has taken place, we become liable to pay for any damages to buildings and their contents arising from the riot.
The legislation is widely viewed as archaic. The subject was discussed during a debate in this House in 1986 on the Public Order Bill. It has come back into the public eye following the claim against the Bedfordshire police authority for £40 million arising from the fire at the Yarl's Wood detention centre.
The provisions of the Act apply even when there has been no negligence or default on the part of the police. In fact, the mobile support unit from Thames Valley went to Yarl's Wood, and the following day I was present when the chief constable commended officers for their actions. They certainly had no part in any of the damage, only in containing it. The claim was made on the basis that the riots were somehow the result of a failure to provide adequate policing, although I do not believe that that was the case at Yarl's Wood.
I do not believe that there is any justification for these claims being met on the basis of being local disturbances. Claims may fall to be met by insurance companies, but I do not believe that they should fall on the local police authority. Ruth Henig, the chairman of the Association of Police Authorities, has written to John Denham calling on the Government urgently to review the Act. Although she wrote in November last year, no reply has been received from the Minister—which is extremely disappointing, and perhaps underlines the fact that we have very little confidence that the Home Office will meet the deadlines which it sets itself in the Bill. I beg to move.
I am sorry if Ruth Henig has not had anything in writing. However, following the riots in Bradford, Burnley and Oldham last summer, the Government set up an urgent review of the Riot (Damages) Act. That review is going on at the moment. I suspect that that would have been announced before Ruth Henig wrote her letter—or possibly just after, I do not know. Either way, she deserves a reply, even if it is only an acknowledgement, because it is now March.
The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, mentioned 1986. It is worth pointing out that the police were not free-standing authorities at that time, but were parts of county councils and always had the council reserves to draw on. In 1985, there was a riot in Handsworth, which affected my constituency and Small Heath, so I am familiar with the operation of the Riot (Damages) Act as it affects small businesses.
I am reluctant to say anything about Yarl's Wood. I was almost going to say that a spiv insurance company is trying to get the police to pay for its liabilities, but that would be an unfair description. I am sure that the insurance company is a bona fide operation that is not seeking to boost its profits at the expense of the public purse—although that is how it looks to an ordinary person from outside.
There are three inquiries going on. I called in to Yarl's Wood unannounced on Saturday afternoon on my way to Home Office business in Bedford. It would be wrong of me to say anything about Yarl's Wood and the issues of Bedford police in advance of the reports that we shall receive from the various inquiries, because of the implications for those who are making claims and those who are seeking to rebut them.
The Government are pursuing an urgent review of the Riot (Damages) Act 1886. When we have pursued our urgent review, we shall report back to Parliament. However, I cannot guarantee that that will be in time for Report stage.
moved Amendment No. 335U:
After Clause 75, insert the following new clause—
(1) References to the Secretary of State in Part II of the Police Act 1996 and in Part I of this Act shall, in relation to the Police Areas in Wales, have effect as references to the National Assembly for Wales and references to England and Wales shall, where appropriate, have effect as references to England or Wales.
(2) Every power conferred upon the National Assembly for Wales by this Act shall be exercised in accordance with the Government of Wales Act 1998 (c. 38)."
I understand the resentment that may be felt by those of your Lordships who have spent four days debating various matters in Committee and then find that I have come to interfere at nearly ten o'clock at night. That is not because I do not have an interest in police reform. I spent the first five years of my life living in a police station, where my father was a sergeant in the small Denbighshire Constabulary. Coming from a police family, I have seen the situation from the roots up.
Scotland has eight territorial police forces under the jurisdiction of the Scottish Parliament. They have maintained their tripartite arrangement. It is alive and well in Scotland and supported by our Government—a combination of Labour and Liberal Democrat Members of the Scottish Parliament. The police authorities determine the budget and resources. The chief constable is concerned with operational decisions about police deployment. The Scottish Executive has policy responsibility for law and order in Scotland and is answerable to the Scottish Parliament for those responsibilities.
We in Wales think that it is time that the National Assembly for Wales took on those same responsibilities. It is fortunate that the Government of Wales Act gave power to transfer the existing functions of the Secretary of State for Wales to the Welsh Assembly but also gave power for functions to be transferred under any other Act. Therefore, I seek to amend the Long Title to make that possible in this Bill.
When the Government of Wales Bill went through Parliament, Mr Ron Davies said that devolution was a process and not an event. It is a continuing process. When I see the prescriptive powers that the Bill gives to the Secretary of State and how it distorts the tripartite arrangement which has operated so well over many years, I realise that the provisions of any Bill dealing with the police require to be focused and directed at the needs of a particular area. We in Wales do not want a national policing plan in which the Secretary of State sets out strategic policing priorities for all police forces. I refer to Clause 1.
I give another example. Clause 6 concerns the regulation of equipment and provides that,
(i) the equipment which is specified in the regulations . . . approved by the Secretary of State".
Flak jackets and guns may be important for police forces on Merseyside, in Greater Manchester or in London. However, in Gwynedd we are much more concerned about the provision of proper mountaineering equipment. In other more pastoral parts of Wales, people are more concerned about the quality of the sheep dip which police forces have to examine. Different areas have different concerns. I speak from experience. I recall terrorism cases in Wales among elements of the population which do not occur elsewhere in the UK. The coastline is a feature of Wales. I remember the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, prosecuting in a case involving drugs that were shipped on to a deserted beach in Wales. He said that the defendants had failed only in one respect in that they had underestimated the inquisitiveness of the native people of Pembrokeshire. I refer also to fraud. Most fraud cases in Wales seem to relate to livestock. Rustling is a big issue there. It used to be a hanging offence and is still so regarded.
I am trying to explain that different priorities and different issues arise in different parts of the United Kingdom. For the Secretary of State on his own—save for his political advisers and his civil servants in Whitehall—to have a prescriptive power to put forward a measure for the whole of the country will result in such measures being not properly focused and not properly directed.
We have devolved power to Wales in the National Assembly for Wales. We have put in place in Wales a system of secondary legislation which, unlike the system of secondary legislation at Westminster, is open to scrutiny. One of the total failures of this Chamber is that we are incapable of amending secondary legislation that is brought before us. That is not the case with secondary legislation that is brought forward in Wales. It can be properly debated and amended, and consensus can be achieved. It is a better system for dealing with the needs of Wales. I do not speak from a particularly nationalistic point of view. I do not say that everything has to be different in Wales. I say that, from a practical point of view, it would be sensible for the government of Wales in the National Assembly to take over the functions of the Secretary of State in relation to Part 1 of the Bill and to Part II of the Police Act 1996. I beg to move.
I welcome the noble Lord to our debate at the 11th hour of our fourth day. That is not a criticism. I have not seen him since the passage of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act before Christmas.
The noble Lord has obviously been in this House a lot longer than I have and he is learned in the law, but I have a feeling that he has no comprehension whatever of the momentousness of his proposal. I shall explain why.
Well, I have a few questions for the noble Lord, but he need not answer them tonight.
The noble Lord proposes a major revision of the devolution settlement that was enacted by the Government of Wales Act 1998. He said that he was a leading participant in the passage of that Act. That statute and the current settlement, so recently won, were offered to the electorate in our manifesto of 1997. Those proposals were endorsed in a referendum, albeit very narrowly, I accept; I remember waiting, with everyone else, for the final result.
For good reason, the Government oppose the amendment. The Home Secretary's role in policing is predicated on a single criminal justice system. For example, while ministerial priorities for policing in England and Wales have their basis in Section 37 of the Police Act 1996, they are not drawn up in isolation from wider policies on crime reduction and prosecution. That is because the priorities and indicators that are set require certain actions to be taken and results to be demonstrated that do not depend solely on the police.
If the noble Lord is serious about devolution—he clearly is; I do not say that in a pejorative way—and the proposal to devolve the Secretary of State's responsibilities for policing to the National Assembly, frankly, he must, at the same time, be a little more thorough. He must devolve the criminal justice system. He should not forget that prisons and the probation service are Home Office matters. He must advocate splitting the Court Service and the Crown Prosecution Service. He should also ask himself how Wales would benefit from breaking up the Forensic Science Service. If you are going to do the job, you should do it properly and not at half cock.
The noble Lord mentioned Scotland. That is a fair point and I understand why he raised it. Colleagues of mine in both Houses make such comparisons. One has to look at the history. Responsibility for policing in Scotland is not for the Home Secretary but for the Secretary of State for Scotland. It has never been the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Wales. That is obviously part of Scotland's history of a separate criminal justice system. England and Wales have long shared a common criminal justice system. I have no doubt that the noble Lord could put a date on that; I cannot, but I know that it happened a long time ago. If anything, therefore, the example of Scotland supports the current arrangement south of the Border, by which I mean England and Wales.
The Bill contains a major programme of police reform, but we also need to consider the White Paper aspects—those parts of the reform that are not part of the legislation. It will do the hopes for the further reduction of crime in Wales no good to have Welsh policing taken out of the scope of the reform agenda. The amendment does not deal with the Police Act 1997. What would happen to the National Crime Squad, the National Criminal Intelligence Service, the Police Information Technology Organisation and the codes of practice in respect of interfering with property?
The noble Lord chose an example which arose in an earlier debate on the Bill concerning equipment. I believe that we raised that issue ourselves. We have the crazy situation in which some police forces cannot communicate with each other because they insist that they are not being given the equipment to do so. It is absolutely preposterous that they cannot share the intelligence that they gather. Therefore, the idea of Wales opting out concerns not only a question of language—far from it; they are entitled to that. The fact is that criminals do not recognise the English/Welsh border. They do not recognise the English/Scottish one either, before anyone gets up to say that—I am not going to get myself into any sheep dip over that one!
The noble Lord does not deal with the Secretary of State's role in respect of best value. I am not knocking that and saying that it is a technically deficient point. I am saying that, if there is a serious attempt, which noble Lords and others are entitled to mount, to have full devolution in which Wales is separated from England in respect of the police and criminal justice system—we should bear in mind that in Scotland it was always separate; it was not part of the mainstream following the active settlement—then they are embarking on a momentous operation of massive proportions and, probably, dislocation for police services in Wales. I cannot prove that. However, it will be a massive upheaval.
Therefore, our principal objections are that policing cannot be divorced from the administration of the criminal justice system. The costs of such radical surgery may be prohibitive, although I do not have a figure for it. The amendment does not take account of the other statutory enactments in respect of policing. And, perhaps most importantly, it cuts across the devolution settlement, which is literally only ink-dry on the paper in the grand scale of history. It is but a blip, from 1998 to 2002. That is not a criticism, but it has hardly had time to get started. Embarking on the major upheaval that this would cause would mean that the present system does not have time to bed down. One assumes that it was endorsed in last year's general election, by the referendum and by both Houses of Parliament.
If the noble Lord wants to return on Report with an amendment which covers all the issues that I have raised tonight then, frankly—I was going to say that he may not find me here—he will have to return with an amendment which is probably as big as the Police Reform Bill itself. It is that momentous. It is right that the matter has been raised. In the context of policing in England and Wales, this is the only occasion during our debates over the past four days of the Committee stage when the issue has been raised.
I am pleased to hear the Minister support the devolution settlement, which we on these Benches accepted and promoted with even greater fervour than those on his own side.
The noble Lord should look a little more closely at Scotland. I made the point that the eight territorial police forces fall under Scottish jurisdiction. But the British Transport Police, the Ministry of Defence Police, the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority Constabulary and the National Criminal Intelligence Service—bodies which he mentioned in his reply—all come under the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom Government. That is the settlement that has been achieved in Scotland. I do not seek to change that; nor did I suggest it. I simply say that Wales has police forces which should come under the territorial police forces, which should come under a far more democratic jurisdiction than that of the Secretary of State for whom the noble Lord speaks when he replies in this debate.
Therefore, this is not as momentous as the noble Lord thinks. If it helps him, it was in 1453 that the Grand Court of Wales and the Marches was abolished by a Welsh-speaking Welsh king by the name of Henry VIII. We talk about Henry VIII clauses, but in fact he put together the two jurisdictions of that time. Although in earlier proposals that I drafted for a parliament for Wales I proposed the resurrection of that court, we have not quite gone that far. It is perfectly possible for the police forces in Wales to co-operate with all the police forces in England and with the bodies to which the noble Lord referred—particularly with the scientific bodies which serve not only England and Wales but much wider areas—and for the tripartite arrangement, as exists in Scotland, to apply in Wales as well.
He invites me to return to the matter on Report in order to pursue this point. I accept that invitation. I shall consider the amendment as he suggests and I shall try to put it into a more succinct compass. We shall discuss the matter further. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 336:
Page 130, line 40, at end insert—
"In section 6 of the 1996 Act (general functions of police authorities), after subsection (5) there shall be inserted—
"(6) A police authority for any police area shall have power to call for information or reports from Her Majesty's Inspectors of Constabulary, the Audit Commission or any relevant council for that authority.""
This is a minor amendment. Unlike the previous amendment, it has no major implications. I hope that the Government will have no difficulty in accepting it. It is prompted by the desire of the police authorities to enhance their capacity to do an effective job to secure the best possible policing for their communities. I know that police authorities are committed to working with the Government to achieve a fundamental and radical improvement in policing. They fully support the aims of the Government. However, there is disagreement on the way in which the Government have chosen to secure those aims, but not with the aims themselves.
Unlike the Government, police authorities do not have ready access to independent objective advice on the work of their forces. HMIC carries out a valuable job in providing inspection reports but currently sees its role as reporting primarily to the Home Secretary or to the chief constable. This amendment would enable police authorities to be pro-active and to call in HMIC or local auditors where they have concerns about a particular aspect of local policing, or where they would find it helpful to have independent, professional advice on a particular issue.
We believe that self-improvement is always more effective than intervention imposed from outside. Rather than having to wait to be told that things are going wrong, police authorities want to take pre-emptive action locally. I hope that that is an attitude and an approach that the Government want to encourage and that I shall receive a positive response from the Minister. I beg to move.
This amendment would allow any police authority to require Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary, the Audit Commission, and the local authority within the relevant police area to disclose any information or to make a report. I presume that the intention is to cover information or reports relevant to the policing of the area, but as the amendment is drafted it does not state that. The effect would be much wider.
I have some difficulty with the amendment because it appears that the noble Lord is seeking to achieve through legislation something that would be better achieved by voluntary co-operation and through the spirit of mutual good working practices. The noble Lord made the point that in many instances it is better to achieve co-operation and good working practices to raise standards. This amendment appears to force the issue through legislation. Is this the right way to proceed when there is such good co-operation already? I wonder whether the Local Government Association, to which the APA is aligned, would be concerned—I am sure that it would be—about the proposed power to direct information or reports from local authorities.
We are unaware of any instance which would merit the extensive power provided in the amendment. I can see the benefit of reports and information being shared. We all share a common understanding of the need for that. However, I am not sure that to force the measure through by this approach adds to the existing provisions. I suspect that it may set up some suspicions, particularly where there is a requirement on local authorities to direct information or reports.
The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, asked why the British Transport Police and other parties have not been included. We were concerned by the representations made to us by the police authorities. That is why we included them in the amendment. However, when talking about good practice there is no reason why others should not be involved.
The Minister's answer is most unhelpful. We are talking about best practice. We have not seen evidence of local co-operation working effectively as it would if there were the power to call in HMIC auditors to help in terms of better policing. We shall reconsider the matter and, if necessary, return to it on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 337:
Page 131, line 5, at end insert—
"In section 15 of the 1996 Act (civilian employees), for subsection (3) there shall be substituted—
"(3) Subsection (2) shall not apply to such persons employed by the authority for its own support as may be determined by that authority.""
Like the previous amendment, this amendment is about enabling police authorities to do their job effectively.
The amendment would mean that police authorities could decide their own staffing levels rather than having to seek the agreement of the chief officer. It may seem peculiar, but although the police authority holds the police budget and decides how to allocate resources, it has to seek the chief officer's consent to increase its own staff even by one. Such a restriction is inappropriate and has led to difficulties in some areas—difficulties which have arisen only because of the way in which the legislation is currently framed.
The Government should recognise that police authorities are responsible enough bodies to decide their own staffing levels. Most authorities have only a handful of staff. They are always reluctant to devote resources to their own support staff if this will detract in any way from the front line policing services provided to their communities. However, it is important that police authorities are properly resourced and have the tools to carry out their duties effectively. If they need an officer to undertake research or analysis they should be able to employ one without needing the chief officer's agreement.
This Bill is about modernising and improving policing. This small amendment will contribute to that by helping police authorities secure improvements in local policing by doing their job more effectively. I beg to move.
Again, I can see where the noble Lord comes from on this issue. I understand some of the force of the argument underlying the amendment. However, we cannot see a self-evident problem that needs to be addressed in the way the noble Lord suggests. It is obviously right that police authorities are appropriately resourced to carry out their functions in setting a budget, the appointment of senior officers, local policing plans, best value and so on. But I am not sure that the proposition that the noble Lord makes deals with that problem. Nor are we convinced that there are conflicts or difficulties which give rise to this solution.
In the absence of any evidence that it is a major issue for police authorities and chief officers, it is not an amendment we can support. The noble Lord may wish to reflect on that point and suggest that the APA makes representations on the issue, perhaps to officials in the Home Office to see whether there is some other way in which the issue can be teased out without the need to legislate. I do not think that legislating on the issue is the way to solve the problem—if there is a problem.
I am grateful to the Minister. One of my concerns is that often he speaks on a particular amendment on the basis of advice that he has received. There are three Members on this side of the House with direct police authority experience, including myself. Anyone who has served on a police authority knows of the number of discussions, conflicts and internal difficulties that take place between it and the chief officers. I should have thought that the right way to try to resolve the matter would be to give a responsible police authority the ability to make the appointments they consider appropriate.
I wish only to say to the Minister that we shall certainly get in touch with the police authorities to see whether they can make direct representation to the Home Office in order to see whether there are other means by which this matter can be resolved. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment No. 338 is grouped with Amendment No. 339. These are minor amendments but ones which I hope that the Government will have little difficulty in accepting. They provide for the police authorities to determine for themselves the levels of expenses for travel and subsistence to be paid to their members.
In the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001, the Government fulfilled a long-standing commitment to police authorities to deregulate allowances paid to their members. The Home Secretary finally gave up control over the level of allowances and police authorities were given the scope—long available to local authorities—to decide their own allowances. However, because the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions had not then deregulated travel expenses for local councillors, the Home Secretary felt unable to take that further small step.
I understand that the DTLR is now deregulating expenses for local authority members. The Bill provides an opportunity to do likewise for police authority members. I hope that the Government recognise that police authorities are responsible bodies which can be trusted to behave reasonably.
Perhaps I may quickly mention how police authorities have responded to their new freedom to set up their own allowance levels. They have done so responsibly. The Association of Police Authorities set up an independent panel to produce guidance for all authorities on appropriate allowance levels. The panel linked those allowances to clear job profiles for members and appropriate time commitments. Indeed, I understand that the panel's report has been cited as good practice and is widely drawn on by other local government bodies in producing their own allowance schemes. All police authorities are currently implementing the panel's recommendations, which will be reviewed in due course.
I believe that this shows that police authorities could and should be entrusted by the Government to manage their affairs sensibly without needing to be told by the Home Secretary that they should pay, for example, £6.57 per day subsistence to their members. I hope that the Minister feels able to accept this small but further rationalisation of the current arrangements. I beg to move.
The noble Lord will be happy when I say that I am about to raise the white flag on this matter. I fully acknowledge that there are differing approaches in legislation for police authorities and local authorities. If the noble Lord is content to withdraw his amendment, which does not actually do what it perhaps seeks to do, we will give fair consideration to the proposition and will undertake some reasonably swift consultation and perhaps bring forward an amendment at a later stage.
The noble Lord has a point here. We are quite happy to give it active consideration.
moved Amendment No. 340A:
Page 134, line 38, column 2, at beginning insert—
"In section 1— (a) the words after paragraph (b) of subsection (1); and (b) subsection (2)."
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Schedule 8, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 79 [Short title, commencement and extent]:
[Amendment No. 340AA not moved.]
With the leave of the Committee I shall move Amendments Nos. 340B to 341A en bloc. I beg to move.