My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
After the previous excitement, the Committee will be pleased to know that this is a probing amendment.
Clause 1 and Schedule 1 establish the National Policing Improvement Agency, which will replace Centrex and PITO. My amendment would add the Police Standards Unit to the list of bodies to be abolished by Clause 1(2), organisations which are, in practice, to be absorbed by the proposed National Policing Improvement Agency.
I am well aware that as the PSU is not a statutory body it cannot technically be abolished in the fashion my amendment would suggest—hence it is a probing amendment. However, I hope my amendment will provide us with an opportunity to discuss the role of the PSU and whether it should be included within the new agency, and to consider the plethora of other bodies that will continue to direct and give guidance to police forces and authorities despite the creation of the new agency.
The proposed establishment of the new agency has, of course, received broad support from many quarters. This support, however, is not free from caveats. The Minister informed us at Second Reading that the agency would help to rationalise the national policing landscape and inject new dynamism into support for operational policing, predominantly by subsuming some of the complex web of agencies that are currently supporting the service. It plans to bring together not only functions currently undertaken by PITO and Centrex but aspects of the work of the Home Office and ACPO—the Association of Chief Police Officers—in an aim to support and drive policing improvement. Sometimes when I look at the language so far used at the various stages of this Bill, both in this House and another place, and see the myriad titles of organisations, I wonder how on earth people keep abreast of them when they read our deliberations later.
There are numerous organisations that assess police performance which are excluded from the agency. As well as the PSU, there is also the Audit Commission, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and local and regional government. As the Police Federation has highlighted:
"all of these organisations require their own unique set of figures and information which creates a bureaucratic strain on forces, moreover there is a considerable degree of overlap between them which can lead to costly duplication of effort".
Members of the Committee will recall that the Home Affairs Committee in another place noted that,
"overlapping remits can paradoxically create holes through which important work may fall".
"whether we should not bring more of these functions together to ensure that all the levers are available for an agency that was designed to improve policing practice".—[Hansard, 5/6/06; col. 1061.]
I agree with him on that. I do not discount the valuable work that the PSU has achieved, but we need to ask ourselves whether we need a separate standards unit and an improvement agency at the same time.
The PSU measures and compares police performance, identifying and disseminating good practice across the country. Meanwhile, one of the stated aims of the new agency, in addition to driving police improvement, is to,
"ensure that national policing best practice is identified, evaluated and understood by police officers and police staff".
That is a clear duplication of objectives and effort.
How are the two bodies supposed to carry out these very similar functions without overlap? If, by chance, they produced work on the same issue, whose recommendations should be seen as paramount? Whose should be preferred? It is not unknown for there to be confusion about who is responsible for certain matters—the very problem that this part of the Bill is trying to address.
If the PSU is not to be subsumed by the agency, then what of the suggestion of the Home Affairs Committee in another place that it would be desirable, even inevitable, that the inspectorate and the standards unit should eventually be merged in the continued rationalising of the tangled web of agencies? No doubt we will return to the inspectorate later in the Bill.
The debate in another place only highlighted to me that we need further to address the extent to which the agency, the PSU and HMIC—within the new joint inspectorate that the Government plan—will overlap. Indeed, there seems to be some confusion between the former and current director of the PSU about the role and positioning of the organisation. Dr Kevin Bond, the former director, stated that the unit was created to act as a catalyst in the police service and that the proposal to merge the unit and the HMIC made sense. Yet the current director, Paul Evans, has said that the unit works out of the Home Office and that the inspectorate is independent.
I should be grateful if the Minister could outline how these various organisations plan to work together in practice. Will there be formal memorandums of understanding and monthly meetings to co-ordinate the work? Will they be allowed to share work or set up joint ventures? How will there be effort without duplication of effort and ability? I beg to move.
There is very little to add to what the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, has said, other than that we support the amendment. The police are overburdened with inspection from a range of bodies. I thought it was the Government's intention to rationalise some of that, but we see that the Police Standards Unit will carry on regardless. Will the new National Policing Improvement Agency be able to take on some of its work? Where will their functions overlap, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, asked? Why was it not considered alongside the NPIA?
Intervention in forces is being overseen by at least four organisations; the recipe for confusion is overwhelming. ACPO, the APA and the Police Federation all agree that duplication of effort is costly and that timely regulatory impact assessment before the NPIA would have been very helpful, but as yet we have not seen it. This is a very sensible amendment and I look forward to the Minister's response.
This may be a probing amendment, but it is none the worse for that. I was certainly glad to see it on the Marshalled List because, during my Second Reading speech, I had a few words to say about the Police Standards Unit. We are entitled to know a little more about what it is up to. I gather that it produced the booklet Hate Crime: Delivering a Quality Service. I would quite like to have a better idea about what that booklet says.
Does the Home Office generally and the Police Standards Unit in particular accept any responsibility for the series of ridiculous investigations following complaints about allegedly homophobic and racist language? Members of my party are not the only ones to be concerned about too much attention being paid to politically correct causes. I direct the Minister to an article in the Guardian on
Is the Home Office encouraging the police in this area? Does this error arise from bad advice given by the Police Standards Unit in the booklet to which I have referred? If it does not arise as a result of bad advice emanating from the Home Office, will the Government please explain and justify not only one or two cases where the police seem to have wasted their time on completely frivolous investigations, but a whole course of conduct which seems to extend to police forces all over the country?
I remind the Minister that we have every right to be concerned about the questioning of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester after he made perfectly reasonable comments on the Church's teaching regarding homosexual acts. We are entitled to hear how it came about that Anne Robinson was questioned about allegedly anti-Welsh remarks as if she were about to commit some dreadful racist crime and start killing people because she had anti-Welsh motives in her make-up. We are entitled to ask how it came about that a respectable person such as Lynette Burrows was questioned by the police as if she were a common criminal after her comments on gay adoption on BBC Radio Five Live. We are entitled to ask how it came about that Sir Iqbal Sacranie, head of the Muslim Council of Britain, was investigated by the police after he had told the "Today" programme that homosexuality was not acceptable and should be viewed as a medical problem. Why was he treated like a common criminal about to use violence against people because he did not like their sexual orientation? It is almost too crazy to believe that it could have happened in this country.
What about the journeying of officers from north Wales to investigate whether Lance Price had witnessed a hate crime committed by the Prime Minister as if the Prime Minister himself, shouting at the TV screen at the time of the Welsh Assembly elections, was a threat to public order? It is almost too crazy to believe that any chief officer of police would have directed officers to come down from Wales to carry out an investigation into the conduct of the Prime Minister. How has it happened? Is this the result of bad advice from the Home Office? If it is not as a result of that, how is it happening? Has the Police Standards Unit anything to account for in its behaviour?
Then there was the gay horse incident at Oxford, when an undergraduate who said to a police officer, "Do you realise your horse is gay?", found himself arrested under Section 5 of the Public Order Act for making homophobic remarks and spent the night in the cells. We can smile at that and think that it is funny, but any police officer who has learnt anything about the law must have known that that undergraduate had not committed any offence at all. He was not threatening people with violence; all that he was doing was making what they took to be a tasteless remark about homosexuality.
Lastly there was the case of the couple in Fleetwood who put in a call to the Wyre Borough Council to ask if they could display evangelical Christian literature in council buildings to counteract what they regarded as an abundance of gay rights material. They finished up being investigated by the police.
When you look at all those incidents together and add up the police time wasted, you really are forced to the conclusion that chief officers of police throughout the land seem to have got completely the wrong end of the stick with hate crimes. Why have they got the wrong end of the stick? You have all these units in the Home Office that are supposed to be advising them which is the right end of the stick, yet they get the wrong end of the stick. I suggest that it is about time we looked at what sort of advice is coming out of the Home Office and the Police Standards Unit.
It is clearly an insult to the public that time should be spent on these matters when some forces are saying that they have no time to investigate shoplifting. It really is an insult to the public when one reads of the police in Hull screening out theft, criminal damage, common assault, harassment and non-domestic burglary because they have to meet Home Office targets. The question is, when behaving in this ridiculous fashion, were the police trying to implement what they thought were government policies and priorities? Were they following advice given by the Police Standards Unit in its booklet Hate Crime: Delivering a Quality Service? If so, the sooner that the unit is dissolved the better.
Perhaps in her closing remarks the Minister will say whether I have got the wrong end of the stick or the police have got the wrong end of the stick and what the explanation is for these bizarre investigations and the complete waste of police time involved.
I support the amendment, as my noble friend Lady Harris, said, but I do not necessarily subscribe to the examples given by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington. I am aware of the extent to which police have taken a very high profile on hate crimes. There are bound to be occasions from time to time when things will not necessarily work out, but it is to the credit of the police and other agencies that this has now been highlighted as a successful example in which there have been more and more prosecutions.
My main concern, in which I support the noble Viscount and the noble Baroness, is whether we need so many organisations to monitor, inspect and audit. It would be helpful if the Minister could indicate whether there is co-ordination between different agencies and whether regulatory impact statements are available to see how successful they have been. Overall, any Government and any Minister would welcome abolition of a particular body, as it would save them the resources that they are always complaining about. So I certainly support the amendment.
The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, said he disagreed with the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, and thought there was some merit in continuing to work against hate crimes. No doubt, but none of the examples the noble Lord cited was actually a crime. They may have been offensive to someone, but none of them would have had the slightest chance of being taken to court. The police were intimidating people in the knowledge, I am sure, that they could not prosecute them successfully.
I do not dispute what the noble Lord has said. The point I was trying to make is that you can take examples of the police taking action that do not necessarily fit within the overall ambit of racial crime, but they have undertaken to give race hate crimes a very high profile, which is reflected in the large number of such cases now being prosecuted.
I shall deal first with the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington. It is a wonderful privilege to give advice. Whether that advice is taken and used judiciously with skill and judgment is something else. If we had a recipe for imparting and applying judgment with consistency, I can promise the noble Lord that I would be first in the queue to acquire it so it could be shared among all.
The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, is right when he says that the high profile that has been given to hate crime—I know that is not directly involved with this question, but it is right that I address it—has been very important. Although the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, highlights issues that may need correction, I am confident that he accepts that there have been the most distressing and quite disgusting cases where individuals have been pilloried, abused or threatened as a result of hate, and I know that those are things that the noble Lord, as a former Home Secretary, cannot but abhor. I would not like anyone to misunderstand the way these matters are proceeded with.
I say to the noble Baronesses, Lady Anelay and Lady Harris, and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, that I am grateful that there is an understanding. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, clearly said that this was an exploratory amendment. As she says, the Police Standards Unit is not a statutory body in the way that Centrex or PITO are, and therefore cannot be abolished in the same way; nor do we think there is any justification for doing so.
The NPIA is about creating a police-owned and police-led organisation that strongly supports self-improvement in front-line policing. As such, the NPIA will not take direct control of the mechanisms for monitoring police performance, nor will the agency be responsible for police performance management at the national level. Those functions should remain firmly with the Police Standards Unit at the Home Office, though there will of course need to be a very close working relationship between the two bodies. The distinction between monitoring and improving standards is an important one for us to acknowledge, because while we would expect the unit to work closely with the NPIA in its work to drive improvement in service delivery, the Police Standards Unit continues to have a key role to play in providing my right honourable friend the Home Secretary and his successors in title with the means to identify performance variations across the service, as well as the capacity to respond to help reduce those variations and work towards parity of police service provision across England and Wales.
Since its creation in 2002 the Police Standards Unit has demonstrably proven the value that it has added both to public access to information on policing performance and identification of performance issues and in improving performance through targeted engagement. The PSU has led on the creation of the policing performance assessment framework, which for the first time provides a more balanced view of policing performance and allows comparative assessment of forces. This has meant that we are now able to publish annual assessments of policing performance. The PSU has also driven through the Government's commitment to provide local policing performance summaries to every household in England and Wales, which started in April.
The PSU's work on assessment underpins the ability of the Home Office to spot performance variations in areas of priority, and the unit has a unique capacity to respond in a targeted way to help drive performance improvement where necessary. For example, in 2004–05, the eight forces that the PSU worked with reduced crime twice as much as the average of other forces—11.4 per cent versus 4.6 per cent—and five of the nine largest reductions in crime over the past 12 months have taken place in forces which have been engaged with the PSU. Latterly, the unit has also worked intensively with around a quarter of forces to help them improve their performance on sanction detection rates, and again the average performance improvement in these forces has been around double that of the average of other forces—4.4 percentage points versus 2.3 percentage points—between September 2004 and November 2005. The Police Standards Unit also played a key role in the recent highly effective alcohol misuse enforcement campaigns and co-ordinated work across all forces which has helped address alcohol-related violent crime.
There are elements of the Police Standards Unit's current work that may sit better with the NPIA in the future, in particular some of its remit to identify and disseminate good practice; for example, the work it is doing around development of automatic number plate recognition—ANPR—and video identification. As the Police Standards Unit already works with some of the NPIA precursor bodies on good practice issues, it will continue to work with the NPIA proper to ensure the appropriate home for the relevant functions.
However, the obvious benefits to policing in this country of addressing crime appropriately and having the Police Standards Unit as a central resource able to respond rapidly to performance priorities clearly outweigh any case for its removal. We hope that the NPIA will start in April next year.
I understand the concern that Members of the Committee have raised about duplication. I reassure them that we are conscious of that and can address it. So we have the synergy. I say gently that we have learnt that working in partnership in a unified way in a common structure and framework has greatly assisted performance. We shall continue to work in a collaborative way for that purpose. We have indicated in the other place that it might be helpful to provide a note to Members of the differences between the two, where the overlaps are perceived to be and how that would be managed. If the Committee thinks that it would assist, I should be very happy to make a note available so that there is a greater degree of clarity on the issue.
Does the noble Baroness agree with Jonathan Freedland that it is of great importance that the police should recognise the difference between a hate crime, a conventional crime of, say, violence motivated by bigotry, and an incident in which language is used which somebody or other thinks is racist or homophobic? If the police do not recognise that distinction, we are in a mess. Does the booklet containing advice from the Home Office point out to the police that there is a world of difference between those two situations? I fear it cannot do so, or we would not have had the very many incidents to which I have referred.
It is my belief—I do not have the document in front of me, so I am subject to correction—that the document provides practitioners with an accurate review of dealing with hate crime. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, remembers all too well from his time in office the real challenge of ensuring that every police constable and every practitioner has a clear understanding of their duty. I assure the noble Lord that we are doing all in our power to make sure that the correct level of advice and information exists so that appropriate prosecutions are taken up. I remind him that the changes we have made which make the Crown Prosecution Service responsible for charging serious offences should help us to better sift. I cannot comment on each and every one of the cases raised by the noble Lord and it would be invidious for me to do so. Not least, I have found from my experience that the recitation of facts in the newspapers does not always bear direct correlation to the truth.
As we are in Committee, I confess that I was a Minister of State in the Home Office when the Public Order Act 1986 went through the House. I have a clear recollection of the discussions on what the outcome might be and how useful the legislation would be. I assure the noble Baroness that we never had stupid cases like these in my time in the Home Office, so something must have happened to change the general climate.
My Lords, I do not know whether to rise; perhaps I should. I do not know whether the noble Lord is throwing down the gauntlet, because I think that some of us may be able to think of a few such cases.
I am grateful to all noble Lords who took part in this short debate. It was intended to be a gentle, probing amendment to open the discussions. As ever, I can rely on my noble friend Lord Waddington to put us on the right track very early on.
I am grateful for the way in which the noble Baroness responded; she has given my noble friend Lord Waddington the opportunity to consider further and perhaps return to this at a future Committee sitting. I point out to my noble friend that he might wish at some stage to look at an amendment after Clause 20, Amendment No. 115. It is an admirable amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, to which I have added my name. It was proposed by the organisation for guide dogs and requires a new clause on the collection of data. It states:
"The Secretary of State shall collect and interpret data on reporting of offences which manifest prejudice based on race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity or other group characteristic."
That is an important matter to which we will need to return in a constructive manner.
I also accept with alacrity the Minister's offer to provide us with the note setting out the relative activities and roles that are played by the organisations; that would be helpful. As the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, said earlier, colleagues in another place were promised a detailed regulatory impact assessment on this part of the Bill. I direct the Minister's attention to that, because we still have not had it. I hope that the Government might think further and provide that by the time we get to Report. We have only a very limited RIA at the moment.
I take on board what the noble Baroness said about there being two overall different approaches between the organisations. One, the agency, will be looking at improving standards, and the other will be looking more at monitoring. I agree with my noble friend, the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, that there is a recipe for confusion. None of us wants that, let alone the new agency. It is something that we will need to consider further as the agency picks up its new role and, we hope, operates successfully. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 2:
Page 1, line 9, at end insert—
"( ) 15 per cent of the Agency's funding shall be provided by police authorities."
I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 3 to 11. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, for their support for Amendments Nos. 2, 10 and 11. It is a fairly substantial group. I put the amendments together because they probe the accountability and governance of the new National Policing Improvement Agency.
Amendment No. 2 inserts a new subsection after Clause 1(2). As we have discussed, Clause 1 sets out provision for the creation of the new agency. My new subsection sets out that the police authorities should provide 15 per cent of its funding. Amendment No. 11 inserts the same principle into Schedule 1; it is merely consequential. Fifteen per cent is no magic figure to which I am necessarily wedded. It is simply put forward to ask the Government to justify the manner in which they have established the governance of their new agency. Throughout the progress of the Bill in the other place, the Government stated that:
"Police service buy-in will be fundamental and critical to the success of the new Agency" and it has been repeatedly stated that the agency should be police-owned and led; in our first debate, the Minister alluded to that.
My amendment would hope to cement that principle into the Bill. It was a recommendation made by the agency steering group and was particularly supported by the Association of Police Authorities. At Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey—he is no longer in his place; I am sure it is only momentary—made the criticism that:
"The proposed arrangements for the ownership of the new agency are also deficient".—[Hansard, 5/6/06; col. 1061.]
To date the Government have rejected the proposal. In correspondence to the Association of Police Authorities, they stated that:
"Ministers rejected the recommendation on the ground that although the Government will provide 100 per cent of the Agency's funding, we want the APA and ACPO to have full say, through their representation on the Board and more widely, in how the entire budget is spent to deliver the agency's priorities. A proportion of direct funding from the APA, or indeed other stakeholders, would only allow influence over an arbitrary portion of the budget and would detract from, rather than enhance, the police's collective 'ownership' and leadership of the agency".
Those comments miss the point. The aim of the suggestion in the amendment is not to imply ownership over a defined 15 per cent of the budget; it really means that the 15 per cent contribution would show a commensurate level of influence over the running of the whole agency. It would give an opportunity to show collective ownership. While that aspect of what the Government are doing easily feeds into a central theme of more government control, I hope that they will step back from that. It is important that local accountability is shown to have a real role by having local contribution to the budget.
The Association of Police Authorities also recommends that the agency and not the Home Secretary should appoint and determine the remuneration of the chief executive, subject of course to agreement afterwards by the Secretary of State. My Amendment No. 10 proposes such an arrangement. If the agency is to be truly owned by the police forces, which is what the Government say that they envisage, it would make good sense to allow the expression of that ownership by letting the board appoint the chief executive.
Amendment No. 9 would ensure that a majority of members of the agency were non-executive. That is perfectly sensible and in tune with the principles of corporate governance. The Government have said that they intend there always to be a majority of non-executive members, but that they do not want to put that into the Bill. If that is the intention, why not simply achieve it now?
Amendments Nos. 7 and 8 simply change the number of members to be appointed under paragraph 7(4) of Schedule 1 from a minimum of one to a minimum of two. Again, there is no virtue in the number; it is simply there to ask the Government to explain what size of board they anticipate should be appointed, and what they consider the optimum working size to be. The interests to be represented on the board as listed in the Bill are police authorities, chief officers of police and the Home Civil Service. My amendments increase the minimum for the first two categories but leave the Civil Service minimum at one. I do not intend to antagonise the Civil Service; this is just a device to stimulate discussion. One person who is broadly representative of the police authorities will, of course, sit on the board, but does that really amount to a proper role in the agency's governance?
The remaining four amendments in the group are intended to ask the Government to explain why they have selected certain groups as statutory consultees but not others. Thus, Amendment No. 6 raises a question about the procedure for appointing the chairman of the agency. Paragraph 7(2) of Part 2 of the schedule requires the Secretary of State to consult,
"persons whom he considers to represent the interests of chief officers of police", and of police authorities, before he appoints a chairman. Why is there no reference to consultation with those who represent the interests of ordinary police officers? Amendments Nos. 3, 4 and 5 examine the consultation process that surrounds the production of the agency's annual plan. Before finalising the plan, the agency is required to consult the Home Secretary, the police authority for the relevant area and those who represent the interests of the chief officers of police. Again, why leave out those who represent the interests of ordinary police officers?
Finally, Amendment No. 4 would require consultation of the Police Federation and the Police Superintendents' Association in that group. ACPO's briefing points out that the Bill does not recognise it, in particular, since it states that the Home Secretary, in determining the strategic priorities for the agency, will consult,
"persons whom he considers to represent . . . chief officers of police".
While I recognise that that has usually meant ACPO, I understand that the former Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, agreed that the national role of ACPO was too important to allow that potential ambiguity to remain. ACPO understands that Mr Clarke was supportive of amending the Bill to recognise it by name as a statutory consultee. That is what my Amendment No. 6 does. ACPO believes that the rationale for that has, if anything, been strengthened by recent events and it asks that the verbal commitment given by Charles Clarke should be honoured by the current Home Secretary, Dr John Reid. I beg to move.
We support these amendments and I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 2, 10 and 11 in particular, to which we have added our names. I shall also say a few words about Amendments Nos. 3, 6, 7, 8 and 9.
On Amendments Nos. 2 and 11, it is absolutely right to put some of the responsibility for payment towards the new agency on to police authorities and forces. They, after all, will be the recipients of the agency's work. It is intended that the NPIA provides assistance and advice to forces in a variety of areas, but will primarily be focused on good practice and improvement. The Association of Police Authorities has always argued that the agency should be owned by the service and be radically different from the two agencies, Centrex and PITO, that will be abolished when the Bill comes into force. Allowing police authorities to part-fund the NPIA would demonstrate that they had some stake in and ownership of the agency. Their input would also act as a balance to central direction and control.
On Amendment No. 3, I am sure that we will have further considered debate about the Secretary of State's ability to make directions—in this case, to set the NPIA's priorities. Why shouldn't the agency be able to come up with its own priorities? What flexibility will it be given? As it is a new police agency, it is important not to be so prescriptive at the beginning of its life, otherwise it becomes a political tool of government. Does that not fly very much in the face of good governance, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, has remarked? I would be interested to hear the Minister's views on that amendment in particular.
On Amendment No. 6, it is probably good practice to put on the face of the Bill those agencies involved in professional policing. The chief officers already have a locus and are recognised as such. Therefore, it would be a good idea to add the Police Superintendents' Association and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, suggested, the Police Federation of England and Wales. The federation has been consulted on all policing matters since 1919. It would be invidious not to put that consultation down formally, as the work of the NPIA will impact on the frontline troops more than on anyone else.
We support Amendments Nos. 7 and 8. When the national service authorities—the NCS and the NCIS—were constructed, their membership from police authorities was much larger, and proper representation from people who have day-to-day knowledge of what is needed will be vital if the NPIA is to deliver to communities.
Amendment No. 9 very much concerns a government matter. I hope that the Government will feel able to support it—if not today then at a later stage of the Bill. Perhaps they will come forward with their own suitably worded amendment to recognise the issue. This matter is very important to us all.
We added our names to Amendment No. 10 because of the fundamental principle that it addresses. The safeguard for the Secretary of State, should it be needed, is set out in proposed subsection (2). It is a very important principle that a chief executive is not imposed on the agency. It would set the wrong tone of centralisation, with the possibility of the Secretary of State choosing someone who was not necessarily knowledgeable about the whole business of policing, if I may put it in that way. It is a matter of delivery or culture and issues of that kind. I hope that the Minister will consider carefully the message that the amendment is trying to deliver. We support the amendments.
Before I get into the body of the response to this very wide group of amendments, I should advise your Lordships about the regulatory impact assessment, particularly as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, raised the question in our previous discussion. I understand that it has been published and posted on the Home Office website.
I wonder whether that is the full, over-arching one. I was certainly aware that there was an RIA—I obtained it from the Printed Paper Office—but I am not sure whether it was the one that was expected in another place. It may well be possible for the Government to produce it. The noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, is nodding, so, if that is the case, we will look at it and come back if we feel that we need to ask any other questions.
My understanding is that it is the full-blown works, but we had better check and be absolutely certain. If the noble Baroness and other participants in the debate want a paper copy, I am sure that we can undertake to provide one.
As I said, this is a very wide-ranging group of amendments and it is also a very well intentioned one. I entirely understand the spirit in which the amendments have been tabled and also the thinking behind them. I should say at the outset that I do not necessarily agree with the conclusions that the noble Baronesses have drawn, but we certainly understand the spirit behind the amendments.
We are determined that the National Policing Improvement Agency will be a police-owned and police-led body for the entire police service. As such, we do not believe that there is a need to segment funding and to have a separate revenue stream from police authorities. The Association of Police Authorities has been part of the steering group that has driven the development of the agency and it has also been part of the discussion and subsequent agreement around how the agency should be funded.
Looking at Amendment No. 3, I find it hard to accept that the priorities determined annually by the NPIA should not be consistent with the Home Secretary's strategic priorities for the agency. It is an entirely proper function of the Home Secretary to set the strategic priorities for the police service as a whole and for national agencies, such as the Serious Organised Crime Agency and the NPIA. That, after all, is what governments are elected to do. Having set the strategic priorities for the NPIA after full consultation with ACPO, the APA and the agency itself, it would be absurd for the agency then to set its own priorities without reference to the Home Secretary's strategic priorities. It is critical that we approach the strategy for policing in a joined-up way, and that the Home Office, ACPO, the NPIA and the rest of the service are working for the same priorities. Importantly, having set the strategic priorities for the agency, it will of course then be for the NPIA board and chief executive to determine how to give effect to them.
Amendment No. 4 seeks to add the Police Federation and the Police Superintendents' Association as statutory consultees before the agency's annual plan is finalised. I am happy to place on record my expectation—the Government's expectation—that both organisations will be fully consulted as part of the development of the NPIA's annual plan. But I do not think that the amendment is appropriate. We are already committed in the legislation to consult ACPO and the APA as representative organisations of the other two tripartite partners. There is a precedent for limiting consultation in this way within the Police Act 1996.
I hope that the noble Baroness will take comfort from the fact that I know that the chief executive designate, chief constable Peter Neyroud, will be consulting all the staff associations and representative bodies, including the Chief Police Officers' Staff Association, SPOSA, UNISON, the National Black Police Association and the British Association for Women in Policing. It is perfectly proper that he should. The purpose of the Bill, as drafted, will enable him to consult who the agency thinks fit, and I am satisfied that a flexible approach is the right way forward.
Crucially, the NPIA will also consult communities, which is a vital requirement if the agency is to be genuinely focused on customers and supporting the police service in providing the kind of policing for which we and communities strive together.
Amendment No. 5 is about the appointment of the NPIA chair. It would place a statutory duty on the Home Secretary to consult the Police Federation and the Police Superintendents' Association before making the appointment. I do not accept that that should happen. Under the legislation, the Home Secretary is already obliged to consult ACPO and the APA. That is right and proper, as it reflects the unique tripartite relationship that underpins policing in this country. However, to extend the duty to consult to police staff associations would be mistaken, as it is not a matter with which they should be directly engaged. The NPIA will be the engine that supports the tripartite relationship and drives policing improvement. As such, it should be for the tripartite partners to inform the decision-making that leads to the chair's appointment. It will then be for the Home Secretary finally to make the appointment because the Secretary of State will be ultimately accountable to Parliament for the effective leadership and operation of the agency.
Amendment No. 6 addresses a different issue. In accordance with the standard drafting convention, paragraph 5(7)(c) of Schedule 1 would require the NPIA, before finalising its annual plan, to consult
"persons whom the Agency considers to represent the interests of chief officers of police".
In practice, that will mean that the agency consults the Association of Chief Police Officers—ACPO. The amendment is otiose.
I have some sympathy for the amendment of the noble Baroness. The president of ACPO, Ken Jones, has pressed the case for the association to be recognised as a statutory consultee, reflecting its position as a professional leader of the police service, and as one pillar of the tripartite framework. That point was also made in ACPO's briefing to Peers in advance of Second Reading.
We are ready to give this proposal further consideration, but a number of questions will need to be resolved before we come to a final view. If we refer by name to ACPO, the question would then be: why not also to the Association of Police Authorities? What should the legislation say when the issue in hand concerns the conditions of service of chief officers? ACPO is not a staff association. That role is taken by the Chief Police Officers' Staff Association, which in some cases will be the appropriate consultee. More significantly, is it enough simply to provide for ACPO to be a statutory consultee? Is there a case for putting the association on a statutory footing? In asking these questions, I make it clear that the Government have no particular answer or conclusion in mind. We will need to discuss the issue with ACPO further before deciding on the best way forward. So, while this amendment is well intentioned, I suggest to the noble Baroness that it would be premature to push the point today. I therefore ask her to withdraw the amendment in the knowledge that we will at least continue to explore the options with the Association of Chief Police Officers.
Amendments Nos. 7 and 8 seek to ensure that ACPO and the APA will have a minimum of two representatives each on the NPIA's board. It is only right and proper that ACPO and the APA are guaranteed representation on the board. After all, the NPIA will, as I said at the outset, be a police-owned and led organisation, and ACPO and APA membership is integral to ensuring that. It is not, however, necessary to stipulate the minimum number of representatives each organisation should have, above one.
In practice, we are trying to achieve a streamlined, dynamic and responsive board that will effectively steer the agency at a strategic level. In establishing the first appointed board, it is likely that there will be two members each from ACPO and the APA. But we do not want to be overly prescriptive about its final size and membership, both of which should be kept constantly under review, and should be flexible and responsive to change, if necessary, to ensure greater effectiveness.
On Amendment No. 9, consistent with the commitment the then Minister for policing gave in Committee in another place, it is our intention that there will be a non-executive majority on the board of the NPIA. This will bring a wider perspective and diverse input to the oversight and governance of the agency. The Bill provides that the chief executive should be a member of the board, consistent with guidance by the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments. At this stage, we do not intend that any other executives shall be members of the board. Other members will include the non-executive chair and members appointed by the Secretary of State, including the tripartite representatives. I would like to think that the noble Baroness will accept my assurance that non-executive members will be in the majority, as this will be the best way of holding senior staff to account and taking difficult decisions about organisational priorities.
On Amendment No. 10, the chief executive of the NPIA is a critical appointment for policing in this country. As such, it should fall to the Home Secretary ultimately to make that appointment. Moreover, ensuring a successful relationship with the right balance of skills and experiences between the chair of the NPIA board and the chief executive of the agency will be crucial to the NPIA's success. This adds further weight to the importance of the appointment and, in turn, the need for the Secretary of State ultimately to make it. That said, the Home Secretary will not make this appointment in isolation. He will, of course, fully consult the tripartite partners and the chair of the board in making the chief executive appointment. Additionally, the tripartite partners will be entirely consulted on the chair appointment.
The NPIA will be the authorities' and forces' agency. We will establish the NPIA board so that it is fully representative of the whole service. Flowing from this, we will seek collective service-wide "buy-in" to expenditure and commissioning arrangements for the entire NPIA budget through the agency's board and its appropriate committees, sub-committees and consultative groups. These decisions will need to factor in the strategic priorities that the agency is tasked with achieving. But, again, while these will ultimately be set by the Home Secretary, they will, of course, be decided upon in full partnership with our tripartite partners and the police service more widely. Rather than have one of those tripartite partners deciding on 15 per cent of the NPIA's funding, we want to give the APA and ACPO, through their representatives directly on the board, the power collectively to decide, after consultation with stakeholders and customers, how 100 per cent of the agency's budget is spent. We also want to achieve collective agreement to the NPIA's spending and, more widely, to the NPIA's overarching strategic direction and purpose.
I believe that I have addressed most of the issues raised by the amendments, but I am conscious that, I think, noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, asked about the size of the board. The figure is not fixed, but we intend to have a board of a size that we think would work well, probably of about 12 people. The board will be more streamlined than the larger boards that have overseen Centrex and PITO. We think that a membership of 12 is about right and will work best, but there may be some flexibility at the edges. I trust that noble Lords who have participated in the debate on this amendment will read into my encouraging comments our desire to ensure that consultation is continued on all those issues. I look forward to the responses of both Front Benches on these matters.
Will the Minister elaborate further on the role of the Home Secretary in the appointment of the chief executive? I well understand the appointment of the chairman and members of the board, including the representatives of the professional bodies, but does that fall comfortably within the recommendations of the Nolan committee on making such appointments? The Home Secretary is not going to be a member of the board and the chairman and members of the board will be running the organisation, so will it not be a recipe for disaster to impose a chief executive without the adequate involvement of other people?
I do not share the pessimistic view of these matters held by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. This is a national agency, and the Home Secretary is ultimately accountable for its development, work, strength and success. It is clearly right that he makes his view about the overall strategic direction clear. The chief executive post is an important part of ensuring that the agency works in a way that is consistent with the Home Secretary's view, for which he is held to account. I explained earlier that the chief executive will be a member of the board and that that is consistent with the guidance offered by the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments. These arrangements are workable and right. They take us in the right direction. They are not uncommon in organisations that have been set up by statute where the strategic direction is set by Secretaries of State. I am content with the arrangements that we have established. It is also worth saying that Peter Neyroud was appointed on the advice of a selection panel that included APA and ACPO members. Both organisations were involved in the process. While the Secretary of State ultimately carries the can and takes responsibility, the process was not conducted without wider involvement and participation.
I want to pursue the point about the chief executive raised by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. The Minister seems to present a much stronger case for the body at its outset, when it is entirely new. However, as the years go by and a new chief executive is required—for example, because his term has come to an end or because of an unfortunate death—surely it is a prime responsibility of the chairman and the other members of the agency to appoint someone who they are absolutely satisfied will work with them and towards the objectives of the agency. Does my noble friend accept that? Surely, as long as there is consultation with the Minister, for which the amendment provides, it seems more usual that the appointment should be made by the agency itself. I am not sure that I have heard any argument against that once the years have gone by and the agency is up and running.
I understand my noble friend's point. He is very experienced in the public service and will know from that experience how such appointments are best organised and managed. It may well be that, over time, this matter is reviewed further but, at this stage, it is right that we have the process that we have set in train. As ever, we are committed to ensuring that we have proper and effective consultation in place. As I explained earlier, that is exactly how we have approached this appointment. In the longer term, his point is one on which the Government may want to reflect.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, for his response to a large group of amendments tabled with one main objective, which was to explore whether there would be good governance of the new agency. The last intervention by the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, took us to the heart of the issue. It is important to get things right from the beginning. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, that when you start an agency, it is not living and breathing, it has not established its credentials, so it seems understandable that the Home Secretary would be the driving force for appointments. Indeed, as we know, there is now a chief executive-designate. We do not complain about that. Far from it, we want to ensure that the future development of the agency is effective. I should certainly like to consider that matter further at a later stage.
We will also need to consider what the Minister said about the size of the board, which he thinks will be about 12, and whether the two members each from ACPO and the police authorities is the right proportion. It may well be that it is.
Before the noble Baroness concludes on that point, I should like to make a further point to drive the business of chief executive appointments home. This is the first occasion; in future appointments we would expect the NPIA chairman to be on the selection panel and tasked with recruiting any future chief executive. I made clear that we do not see this as set in stone. As I said earlier, as the organisation develops, relationships will change.
That intervention from the Minister was very helpful. We are all trying to get the same result. It is just that, as the Bill is drafted, it will not necessarily get us there. It may not need very much improvement. That is something that we can discuss during the rather long Summer Recess—at least I hope that it will be a nice, long Summer Recess; we all do, especially after this barrage of Home Office Bills.
The Minister also responded on the method of consultation and who would be consulted. As ever, the Government want flexibility. I understand the difficulty of naming in the Bill statutory consultees—not least for the practical reason that the Minister gives that if they change their name or go out of business, how do we amend the Bill other than by new legislation? I am grateful to him for saying that the Government will consider further the point made by Ken Jones of ACPO about naming the association as a statutory consultee in a limited case within the Bill. It will be interesting to see whether discussion with ACPO bears fruit.
Disappointingly, the Minister repeated the Government's response about the 15 per cent contribution idea. They seem to think that if one gives 15 per cent of the budget, one only ever has 15 per cent control over what is going on. That, however, was not the indication; the indication was to try to adopt the Government's preferred use of having stakeholders here, there and everywhere. I can see that I will get nowhere with this, and I shall chew on it for another day. It may never return.
There are issues here. We will need to think about good governance to ensure that the tripartite relationship is strengthened and not unbalanced or weakened. At this stage, however, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
This is a technical amendment. It is already a criminal offence to stir up disaffection among members of police forces and constables of the British Transport Police and the Civil Nuclear Constabulary. The Bill extends this liability to include constables of the NPIA. However, as some constables on the staff of the agency may be employees, there is also the possibility of civil action where they are induced to withhold their services. Paragraph 71(3) of Schedule 1 therefore inserts new Section 91(3) to make it clear that, for agency constables, criminal liability under Section 91 is in addition to any civil liability. The amendment simply extends that to include the Civil Nuclear Constabulary and the British Transport Police. I beg to move.
Amendment No. 14 focuses on the Government's plans to compel police forces to merge. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, for their support for the amendment.
The Government say that they are in favour of neighbourhood policing and local accountability. We support them in that. They say they want a police service that is fit for purpose in the 21st century. We support them in that. Those are both laudable objectives. But then the Government career off on the wrong course, which cannot achieve those objectives. They insist that police forces should be merged even where local opinion is firmly against that, even where the results could be damaging for effective policing and even when they have not given the federal alternative the opportunity to prove itself. We cannot support the Government in that.
My amendment focuses on the importance of the Secretary of State going ahead with the merger of police forces only when he has the consent of the relevant police authorities. The report of Denis O'Connor, of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary, on which the Government are relying to press ahead with their forced merger, said:
"The constitutional implications . . . are significant".
In the 1960s, when police force amalgamations were last considered, a royal commission was established that took two years to report. Legislation was introduced a year later. It was recognised that the structure of police forces is a fundamental issue on which the public, the forces themselves and their police authorities need to be properly consulted. We believe that the way in which the Government are proceeding could not be more different. The previous Home Secretary's proposals to amalgamate forces were announced last September, when he gave them just four months to respond. He attempted, in the words of the Labour chairman of the Association of Police Authorities, to "bully and bribe" authorities to agree to his proposals and to meet the deadline—a tactic that backfired spectacularly when not one authority submitted to it. In February, the Home Secretary again gave police authorities an ultimatum—this time to submit proposals for voluntary mergers within just three weeks. Again, almost all the authorities concerned refused. But the Home Secretary announced that he would proceed with compulsory amalgamations regardless.
The basis of the general restructuring is founded on the report Closing the Gap. It has been shown that the methodology of that report is in some respects fundamentally flawed. Several academic analyses have questioned the methodology and conclusions, one of the most recent being Barry Loveday's Policy Exchange report, Size Isn't Everything. The Police Act 1996 already provides that the Secretary of State can require police forces to collaborate in the interests of efficiency and effectiveness. That renders amalgamations unnecessary, yet the Home Secretary has not used those powers. It would surely be appropriate to use them now as a more cost-effective alternative to amalgamations. Yet the Government have rejected the alternative proposals for a federated model, which were put forward by police and police authorities.
If the Government are truly more interested in addressing an alleged inadequacy in the protective services and are less interested in moving towards a national police force, I hope that they will give alternative options the opportunity to prove their worth. The Government claim that they have rejected the idea of a national police force, but their reorganisations are moving us steadily towards that model. There would be 12 police chiefs, rather than 43, who would effectively answer to the Home Secretary and not their local communities.
There has been no accurate costing of any of these amalgamations. But police authorities are convinced that the impact will be the loss of a significant number of police officers. I am aware that yesterday the Home Secretary in another place made it clear that the 25,000 figure quoted in the press as a potential loss of numbers was the worst-case scenario, but he did not deny that there would be losses, which was interesting.
The financial basis of the exercise is deeply flawed. Like most reorganisations, this is likely to cost more and save less than the proponents of the plan would have us believe. The federal approach would allow greater collaboration between forces on protective services. Services such as air support, firearms training and clothing and vehicle procurement, to name but a few, could be done effectively through collaboration on a formal footing. That would have the advantage of enabling individual forces to maintain their independence and local accountability to their communities.
I am very grateful to Surrey County Council for sending me today a copy of a speech made there on behalf of a police authority, which clearly states the commitment that Surrey has to making a federal model work. It feels that it has the resources and the ability to make it work well.
Yesterday, in another place, the Home Secretary said that he would not lay an order for enforced police mergers before the Summer Recess. He said that he would go ahead only with those where there had been a voluntary agreement. He also stressed time and again that he believes that the destination of mergers across the country should remain the same. He said:
"The destination that has been outlined . . . is the correct one . . . I repeat that the strategic direction and the ultimate destination . . . are correct . . . the destination that we want to end up at, which was identified by my predecessor as Secretary of State, is the right one . . . I do not seek another destination".—[Hansard, Commons, 19/6/06; cols. 1058-60.]
It is vital today to try to persuade the Government to think again. Amendment No. 14 would amend Section 32 of the Police Act 1996, so that mergers can still go ahead, but only in circumstances where the police authorities make a request to the Secretary of State for a merger and the Secretary of State believes that such a merger would be right and in the interests of the efficiency or effectiveness of policing in those areas. It has the benefit of allowing mergers to proceed where it is right that they should do so, while protecting policing from enforced mergers at the will of the Secretary of State where local opinion is firmly against his direction and local requirements would not benefit from those mergers. That must be the right way forward. I beg to move.
Most of the debate at Second Reading, both in this House and in another place, focused on the reorganisation of police authorities. This new clause seeks to ensure that the Secretary of State will not exercise his power arbitrarily or inappropriately.
"The Secretary of State shall not exercise his power under this section to make alterations unless either—
(a) he has received a request to make the alterations from the police authority for each of the areas . . . affected by them, or
(b) it appears to him to be expedient to make the alterations in the interests of efficiency or effectiveness".
The amendment would ensure that amalgamations were driven primarily by the police authorities themselves.
"Policing is possible only with the consent of communities".—[Hansard, 5/6/06; col. 1055.]
That is worth repeating again today in Committee. Artificially structured policing areas with vast geographic boundaries entirely remove the concept of communities. I disagree wholeheartedly with the Government's view that making basic command units, or BCUs, more important and embedding neighbourhood policing—which, incidentally, I support—will be all that is needed to bring policing closer to the people. Having a remote chief constable whom hardly anyone will ever see, and senior officers who will be for ever driving cars around a region as big as mine unable to make contact with BCU commanders on any meaningful eye-to-eye level very often, will only harbour the resentment already felt by many that this idea is absolutely preposterous.
It may be appropriate for some mergers to take place—I do not dispute that—but there are other ways of forging partnerships and ensuring best practice than going hell for leather, if that is not an unparliamentary term, down the merger route. I beg the Government to look again at cross-border alliances. Geographically they can make much more sense. There is not a magic number for a strategic force size. We have seen how big forces can fail. There is much excellence in smaller forces, which can outperform their big brothers in many areas. Will the Government look at the possibility of allowing flexibility for forces to come together naturally, as federations, so that they can overcome the gap in protective services? I have to say, however, that mutual aid was always there in the past to address those very problems, as were the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the National Crime Squad.
A real debate on policing, rather than the tinkering of successive Acts to bring us up to date, needs to take place and all the players need to be involved. Using one inadequate report to kick-start a huge and costly reorganisation is not the best way of getting the changes that the Government require. This new clause would encourage the Secretary of State to stop, think and ruminate on how best that could be achieved.
I was very privileged at lunchtime today to sit with a number of the most senior police officers from the United States of America, who have very carefully looked at what the Government are proposing here. They were absolutely adamant that we are going in the wrong direction. Please listen to what people are saying and make sure that we look again at this proposal.
I am delighted to add my name to the amendment. It is a cleverly crafted amendment which meets the concerns of all those who spoke on Second Reading against the hastily devised police mergers. This is not a wrecking amendment; it would help to tighten the criteria by which the Secretary of State could merge police forces. In other words, we are not saying that the Home Secretary cannot proceed to merge; we are saying that there are better ways of doing so.
There was the undue haste to merge police areas without adequate consultation. Then there was the threat by the previous Home Secretary that he would proceed to merge in any case. The amendment proposes that we place the matter firmly in the hands of police authorities to make such a request and that the Home Secretary decides if it is necessary in the interests of efficiency and effectiveness.
A statement was issued yesterday, which the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, quoted, saying that plans have been delayed until the autumn. I cannot understand why something that was so important and urgent a few weeks ago that the Home Secretary was not even prepared to wait has suddenly been put on the back-burner. But there has been a public outcry about the mergers. There are legal challenges in the courts and there is a lack of a proper response to alternative arrangements, such as a federal structure.
I thank the Minister for arranging a briefing meeting last week. I am sure we all benefited from the contribution of Sir Ronnie Flanagan. The question remains: are the Government ultimately proceeding to create a national police force, where the ultimate control remains with the Secretary of State? We have again and again seen centrally directed executive action to tackle local problems. Policing is essentially a local matter. The further away the decision-making process is, the more difficult it is to resolve the situation. I suspect that to achieve the best possible performance, which we all aspire to, the Government have gone overboard in demanding powers that are best left to the police authorities.
The case for better performance through wider powers for the Home Secretary has not been proved. I received a letter today—I am sure that many other noble Lords also had it—from the West Mercia Police Authority. The chair of the authority, Paul Deneen JP, has this to say:
"The Home Secretary's proposals are predicated on the need to improve Protective Services following a report entitled 'Closing the Gap' by Denis O'Connor, HMIC. The methodology and analysis of this report has been repeatedly questioned and criticised by many commentators, including Professor Tony Lawrence of Warwick University.
The report identifies an ideal minimum overall size for Police Forces of 4000 officers or 6000 officers and staff in total. Yet West Mercia Police Authority which has 2500 officers and a little over 4000 officers and staff overall has continued to be identified as a top performing force. The performance of Protective Services, which in the main rely on the establishment of relatively small, highly specialised teams, appears to have little relationship to the overall size of the force".
There goes the Home Office's argument for efficiency.
It is time now, rather than waiting until late summer, for the Home Office to come up with further proposals. I suggest that the best way to proceed is to give the police authority the power to determine whether mergers are necessary and let the Home Secretary decide whether, in the interests of efficiency and effectiveness, that is an appropriate course of action. That is why we support the amendment.
This is a very important amendment. I support the noble Baronesses, Lady Anelay and Lady Harris of Richmond, in what they were saying about having a federal model of police forces and services together with specialised agencies. In the context of specialised agencies, have the Government given any thought to having the control and supervision of whole motorways under a particular body, on the analogy of the British Transport Police, who control the whole railway system?
I am sure that my noble friend Lord Tenby would have wished to be here for this debate. All I can say on my own behalf is that April 2007 is far too soon for the beginning of police mergers, particularly if they are to be compulsory. I fear that, where that happens, there will be disorganisation and demoralisation and a less effective police service.
I am not at all sure that the Government have appreciated that the risks facing us now from terrorism, national disasters or major civil emergencies are variable from one place to another. Obviously, they are most concentrated in the Greater London neighbourhood and are not the same in the rest of the country for very obvious reasons.
Finally, is it still intended that there should be just one police service for the whole of Wales rather than two as at present?
I fully appreciate that this is an issue that, although not addressed in the Bill for the purposes of this amendment, has greatly exercised a lot of attention. I therefore understand why the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, tabled the amendment—so that we can more comprehensively tease out the issue. This is the first of three separate groups of amendments that relate to police force amalgamations. Before I get into the detailed response to the comments on the amendment, it may assist the Committee if I say a few words about where we are on restructuring.
The Committee will be aware that, following publication of the Closing the Gap report by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, the previous Home Secretary announced proposals to establish strategic forces in Wales and seven of the English regions. I am sure that many Members of the Committee are aware that a great deal of work was done prior to that report and indeed after it was issued. I know that the process has not been easy. Many of our county forces have long histories and are rightly a source of great pride. Therefore, I can understand the local attachment to these forces. Members of this House and of another place are properly raising issues around the funding of mergers, the equalisation of precepts and the governance of the new strategic police force.
The new Home Secretary and the Minister with responsibility for the police rightly want to take time to consider these issues before deciding how best to proceed. Before doing so, my honourable friend Tony McNulty has been taking the opportunity to speak with many police authorities and chief constables throughout the country. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, that it is a little hard when the Government take time to listen and to respond, and then are criticised for having done so.
I respectfully suggest that it was right for my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, coming newly to this post, being seized of a new brief, to take a moment or two to consult those who had been most closely connected and to take the temperature as to the speed and nature of change. My right honourable friend has made it clear that strategic mergers are the right way in which to improve protective services, but he acknowledged in a Statement in another place yesterday that more time was needed for discussion and dialogue on the best way of getting to that destination. As a consequence of this decision, no strategic forces—other than the voluntary merger in Cumbria and Lancashire—will come into existence on
We know that there are continuing concerns about a number of issues, including cost, council tax and local accountability. We touched on all those when we discussed this matter at Second Reading. These issues need to be properly resolved. That is what my right honourable friend the Home Secretary and my honourable friend Tony McNulty are working towards. To allow time for this, the period of formal objections to the proposals already announced will be extended. We want to ensure that people are given a proper opportunity to comment and raise objections once all the outstanding issues of relevance are resolved and communicated. That will now determine the deadline by which objections have to be lodged.
The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, spoke about reductions in numbers of police officers. I am sure that I do not have to remind her that since this Government came into office, police numbers have gone up substantially. We currently stand at 141,270 police officers, as of
Our absolute commitment is to ensure that we have a police force that is visible, accessible and focused on the needs of the community that they are set to serve. I think there is total agreement around the Committee that the neighbourhood policing model is one with which we all are content and would wholeheartedly support.
Amendment No. 14, with Amendments Nos. 60 and 61, which we will come on to later, seek in different ways to alter the process for making changes to police force areas. There are already perfectly adequate provisions in the Police Act for amalgamating police areas. Indeed, those very provisions were substantially revised by the last Administration in the Police and Magistrates' Courts Act 1994. Under the 1996 Act, which was part of the last Administration's work, a merger may take place either if the police authorities concerned have volunteered, as in the case of Cumbria and Lancashire, or if the Home Secretary considers that a merger would be in the interests of the efficiency or effectiveness of policing. It was understood by the last Tory Government that that was a necessary tool for the Home Secretary to have because of the need to secure long-term security for the people of this country and, quite frankly, because the final responsibility for these issues always lies with the Home Secretary. We know the cost of what happens when others get it wrong. The Home Secretary pays the price.
In the latter case the Home Secretary must give notice of his intention to merge forces to the affected police and local authorities, and give them a minimum of four months to submit any objections. He must then consider those objections and respond to them before an order is made. Moreover, with the mergers initiated by the Home Secretary, the necessary order is subject to the affirmative procedure, so there must be a debate and a vote in both Houses. That accountability is embedded in the process. The period for submitting objections ensures that police authorities have plenty of time to consult their local communities and take their views before deciding whether to submit any objections.
The new clause to be inserted by Amendment No. 14 would remove both those routes, voluntary and initiated by the Home Secretary. There would not be an opportunity to make those changes. They are the two routes by which police areas can be changed. Instead, the amendment would require both that the police authorities volunteered and that the Home Secretary considered it in the interests of efficiency or effectiveness. I have no difficulty with the proposition that the Home Secretary must be satisfied that the voluntary merger will promote the efficient or effective policing of the affected area, but this new clause would also remove the ability of the Home Secretary to initiate changes to police areas where the authorities concerned have not requested them. The Home Secretary would be impotent to introduce any change, notwithstanding the fact that that change may be deemed the most appropriate for the safety and security of this country.
It is the function of the Home Secretary to take strategic decisions about policing. That is his traditional role in the tripartite relationship. Decisions about the extent of police areas are clearly strategic in nature, and it is therefore right that the Home Secretary is able, after proper consultation and parliamentary scrutiny, to make those decisions. The Home Secretary has stressed the need for proper discussion and dialogue. Of course it would be preferable if all mergers could go through on a voluntary basis, but provision for mergers initiated by the Home Secretary has been on the statute books going back to the Police Act 1964, and indeed before that. There remains a place for such provision. I therefore invite the noble Baroness to consider whether it would be appropriate to proceed with this in any way.
There are some specific issues—the noble Baroness raised the issue of federation—and aspersions have been cast on the quality of the report, Closing the Gap, which was undertaken by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary. I disagree with the criticisms of that report. It is important to recognise that this is the first time HMIC's report has been criticised in this way. In a short time I am sure I will have the reports of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of any description praised to the skies as being unimpeachable. We would say that this report is sound and has real resonance. Although a small number of forces below the 4,000 threshold score relatively well for their size, that does not guarantee future resilience, especially against the increasingly sophisticated nature of criminality. None of those forces currently meets the acceptable standard for protective services.
In answer to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, I assure him that we have looked very carefully to ensure that we can meet the needs that have been identified regarding both terrorism and the other issues—maintenance of neighbourhood and appropriate frontline policing—at the same time as responding to strategic needs. Historically, collaboration has not on the whole been effective enough. Sir Ronnie Flanagan, head of HMIC, describes existing collaborative arrangements as "woefully inadequate" and notes that they fail to deliver sustained resourcing for preventive or development work. That is the advice that we are given by Her Majesty's Inspectorate and we take it very seriously indeed. The real risk of federation or collaboration is that these solutions would merely create additional layers of bureaucracy and lines of accountability with no appreciable benefit to the public, and potentially considerable extra expense. Any federation or collaboration option must demonstrate that it can overcome those obstacles and deliver the same or greater gains in efficiency and effectiveness.
It is worth quoting Sir Ronnie Flanagan's full comment as Members of the Committee have prayed in aid Professor Lawrence's work. Sir Ronnie says:
"Professor Lawrence argues that smaller forces could overcome a lack of resources by collaborating with neighbouring forces. This logical conclusion was investigated in Closing the Gap, but we found such arrangements, where they existed, were woefully inadequate. Experience has shown that neighbouring forces will provide short-term support to deal with critical incidents but collaboration fails to deliver sustained resourcing for preventative or developmental work which is a particular gap we need to address. Collaboration also raises questions about governance arrangements and the additional costs which are imposed by collaboration are not met by compensating savings".
That is trenchant advice which any Home Secretary would be ill advised to ignore. I should make it plain that the current Home Secretary does not propose so to do.
Strategic roads policing is one of the protective services considered by HMIC in its report, Closing the Gap. Roads policing cannot be detached from the wider day-to-day policing. Therefore, we have no proposal for a separate police force along the lines of the British Transport Police. In the case of Wales—another issue that I believe the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, raised—we have put forward proposals for a single all-Wales force. We will want to consider carefully the objections received to those proposals before deciding how best to proceed. I understand the anxiety about this issue, but I respectfully suggest that this is not the moment for us to consider the restructuring of these forces, because there is other legislation which was produced by Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition. On this occasion we are content to say that they were right, and we are content for that to be the legislation which holds sway.
I am grateful to Members of the Committee who have supported my amendment. Naturally, I am grateful to the Minister who, as ever, has given careful and, from the Government's point of view, extremely fair attention to both the merits of her stance and, as she sees it, the demerits of mine
I must agree to differ with the Minister's reasons for considering that my amendment is defective. She referred in particular to the problems of the federal approach and the advice that has been given to Her Majesty's Government. I have also taken advice from a wide range of constabularies around the country. Their concern for the future of policing is not the jobsworth kind of saying, "My particular constabulary is going to disappear". They are concerned about the future of this country, its safety, local accountability and effective neighbourhood policing. They should be given the opportunity to show that a formal federal option is workable and cost effective. After all, as the noble Baroness will have to accept, there are considerable costs in the forced mergers the Government have sought to adopt.
The noble Baroness teases me—as she likes to do now and again—about the Government's record on increasing the number of police and police support officers, all of whom perform a valuable role. The overall increase is 14,000. On the worst case scenario that the Home Secretary had to recognise yesterday, we would lose 25,000 and be down by a net 9,000. He did not care to enlighten another place on what the best case scenario would be about the number that would be lost.
There is a reasonable alternative. The Minister said that this issue is not in the Bill. As she closed her remarks, she said that there would be another time and another place to consider this and that the Government were perfectly satisfied with our legislation of 1996 and its precursor of 1994. As I said, my amendment would not prevent voluntary mergers going ahead. It is intriguing that the Government are so wedded to our legislation. The difficulty is that we did not have the plans to abuse that legislation which the Government now have by enforcing mergers.
Looking back into history and the mists of time, I can see that on
"There are no current plans to amalgamate police forces. Amalgamations will only happen when the time is right".
He was right; that is exactly what we said, and that is what we meant. But then he went on to say, pouring scorn upon us:
"Many people in the police service and elsewhere believe that the time will be right when the Bill and its problems are out of the way. There will then be a wholesale amalgamation of the smaller police services. That will remove local policing further from local people".—[Hansard, Commons, 5/7/94; col. 273.]
Well, by golly, he was right; but it is not us but Mr Blair who is doing precisely that.
The noble Baroness says, "Give us time. We should not be accused of being an unlistening, uncaring Government; don't take us into problems because of that. We are damned if we do and damned if we don't". The difficulty is as I described in my opening remarks. Yesterday, Mr Reid, trying to be at his most cuddly self, said, "I want to have time over the summer to consider. I am going to listen. I am going to consult". But at the same time—five times in all; I spared the Committee the fifth time—he said: "The destination remains the same". Well, that destination is not the right one.
We all want to ensure that we have the best systems in place for the most effective policing that is right for all areas of our country. We simply question whether the Government's fixation with mergers is the right way forward. This is the right place and the right time to do the right thing and ask the Government to think again about their destination of enforced mergers. I wish to test the opinion of the Committee.
Amendment No. 15 stands in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Dholakia. I also speak in support of Amendments Nos. 18, 19 and 21. Some important players have been left out of the Bill. Earlier, we discussed the superintendents' association and the Police Federation. It is therefore difficult for me to see the Government's reasoning behind ensuring that BCUs are separate statutory constructs. BCUs are certainly important, but to deliberately put them into the Bill is unnecessary. If the intention is only to make them coterminous with local authority boundaries, I am not convinced that that needs legislation.
Is the Minister able to help me? Wanting to put BCUs on a statutory footing rather gives the impression of preparing them for future developments. Perhaps the Secretary of State has it in mind to eventually fund BCUs directly from central Government. That would be most unwelcome, as it would undermine the already fragile tripartite relationship, which I spoke about at Second Reading. It would also undermine accountability to the public through their police authorities, and to chief officers by their BCU commanders, who could almost do what they liked with directly funded moneys. I use that as an example. It could be the beginning of an unacceptable series of events, and we do not like that idea at all. I beg to move.
I support Amendments Nos. 15 and 19 and shall speak to my Amendments Nos. 16 to 18, which are grouped with them. My amendments ask the Government to justify the proposals for, first, placing BCUs on a statutory basis and, secondly, setting out the number and operation of BCUs. I tabled the amendments in response to comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, on Second Reading—credit where it is due; I see him in his place. He made some pertinent remarks at col. 1062. Last Friday, he tabled some helpful amendments to this part of the Bill which essentially address the same points that I wish to raise. I know from private conversations that he has wondered whether he is going to survive my supporting him. Perhaps that works for me as well. I am not used to finding myself in such radical company, but it is an interesting time of life.
BCUs are operational constructs, and the vast majority are already coterminous with local authority boundaries. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, I am concerned about the intention behind putting BCUs on a statutory basis and its consequences. In its briefing, ACPO said that it saw the proposal as part of the hollowing-out of the chief constable's direction and control of his or her police force that the Bill advances in general. It points out that, as ever, there is an order-making power for the Secretary of State to amend the schedule. If BCUs have a statutory basis, it surely is possible that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whoever that might be at the time of the next Budget, might announce an allocation of budget to specific BCUs for specific services. Whereas we will certainly not object to more funds being passed to BCUs, we are concerned about the Chancellor of the Exchequer having a route by which the tripartite balance of influence and direction of the police service could be upset. If the commanders of certain BCUs are given specific sums of money for which they are personally accountable as statutory bodies, that is bound to alter their relationship with chief constables and the overall responsibility for the delivery of services.
When the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, responded at Second Reading—and I note that the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, is to respond today—she stated that there was only one reason why the Government were putting BCUs on to a statutory footing, which was,
"to mandate coterminosity with local authority boundaries".—[Hansard, 5/6/06; col. 1104.]
Even if that is the only reason for the Government's proposal in Schedule 2, a by-product of that proposal is the potential to disrupt the relationship between a BCU and its chief constable. It could have a detrimental effect on local accountability if BCU commanders have to account only to central Government for how that funding is used.
I note that the Association of Police Authorities recommends that, to help to ensure that accountability remains local, there should be a provision by which chief officers should consult police authorities before appointing BCU commanders. I have tabled Amendment No. 18 to achieve just that. I agree with the association that this should not interfere with direct managerial accountability between BCU commanders and chief officers, but it should help authorities to maintain an oversight of policing style at that level, particularly that of neighbourhood policing.
Whatever happens as a result of the Division a few minutes ago on the Police Act 1996, it is likely that there will be some new strategic forces as a result of voluntary mergers. Also, I would hope that some forces would act in a formal federation, at least until the Government have determined the way forward. Therefore, it is likely that the public will increasingly see the local BCU commanders, rather than chief officers of police, as the figureheads of local policing. To ensure that the views of local people are represented, it would be helpful if authorities had a voice in appointing local police leaders.
Amendments Nos. 16 and 17 simply replace a "shall" with a "may"; as a result, police areas could be divided for operational purposes into two or more BCUs, but that would not be compulsory. BCUs could be coterminous with local authority areas, as provided for by paragraph 1(1) of new Schedule 1A, but, again, that would not be compulsory.
The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, has tabled amendments. I added my name in support of Amendment No. 19, because, I assume, it is a probing amendment. I was intrigued by his first sub-paragraph, which gives the police authority a role in appointing the officer who is to be in command of the BCU. I look forward to hearing what discussions the noble Lord has had on this with the APA and, perhaps, ACPO. When the Minister responds, I would be grateful if he indicated whether he believes that that is an appropriate role for the police authority to play and whether the Government believe that the measure would go too far in interfering in a chief officer's operational duties in deciding how to deploy his resources.
Amendment No. 21 refers to the distribution of resources for each BCU. I wonder what the noble Lord, Lord Harris, intends to be the basis on which police authorities would expect allocations to be made. Would it be by size of population, special needs—and, if so, what would they be?—existing levels of crime or an assessment of future levels of crime as it may occur?
All of us in our amendments refer repeatedly to "councils". I have been reminded today by my own county council in Surrey that we have not always been particularly clear whether, by "local councils", we mean to include county councils, because, as they say robustly, county council work is all about local accountability. Perhaps we should bear that in mind in our own amendments, but, in particular, it should be made clear in the Government's response. It is important that the Government justify their proposals in this part of the Bill.
I will speak to Amendments Nos. 19, 21 and 57 in my name. On Amendment No. 21, which relates to BCU resources, I do not know whether I automatically subscribe to the conspiracy theory that the noble Baronesses, Lady Harris of Richmond and Lady Anelay, have put forward about what may or may not be in the next Chancellor's Budget. However, I have noticed that in previous Chancellors' Budgets, the direct allocation of resources—
As we are in a teasing mode, I cannot help but say that I hope that the Official Report does not change the order of the noble Lord's words. He talked about the "next Chancellor", rather than the "next Budget". Perhaps he knows more than I do about the future of the Labour leadership.
I doubt that. I have to say that it is slightly concerning to have been described as "radical" by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and I am not quite sure whether I should be flattered or worried by such a comparison.
In previous Budgets, the present Chancellor, who may or may not be the next Chancellor or Chancellor for life, has made it clear that he has been keen to allocate resources directly to basic units—in some cases to schools and in some cases to hospitals—so as to be seen to deliver particular elements of government policy. I understand the reason why central Government would wish to do that, but it raises some difficult issues when it is applied to policing, particularly given the views that many of us hold about the importance of the tripartite relationship—the balance—between the Home Office, local accountability through the police authority and the responsibility of the chief officer in respect of operational matters. The purpose of Amendment No. 21 is to ensure that, if BCUs are statutory, the Home Office's allocation of resources will not be able substantially to distort the plans and allocations that would otherwise have been the case.
The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, asked how I would envisage the allocation of resources for each basic command unit being determined and what factors might be included in that. Due to the risk of boring your Lordships—and I am keen to make progress for a variety of reasons—I shall not go into the lengthy process that the Metropolitan Police Authority has on two previous occasions, to my certain knowledge, engaged in, in terms of consulting on the allocation of resources, and in particular the number of police officers, to the London boroughs. On those occasions, a number of different factors were taken into account. I certainly would not suggest that the process was perfect, but it was intended to balance population, physical area, size of area and some of the social and crime factors that applied in particular areas. So, it is possible to do that. It is not a simple process, but I—and this is the purpose of Amendment No. 21—would not want to see something that would be seen clearly as overriding local and force priorities as a result of a change in the status of BCUs.
Amendments Nos. 19 and 57 essentially say the same thing as each other, but are alternatives which depend on what happens to other amendments before the Committee. The point of these amendments is to ensure not only that the appointment of BCU commanders is very much influenced by the views of the police authority, but that the views of the local councils in the areas concerned are taken into account. This is important because the basic command units, particularly those with responsibility for a locality, are the public face of policing in those areas; they are the key policing commanders in respect of those areas. How they relate to all the other agencies, such as local authorities and health services, will be critical to the way in which partnerships will operate in those areas. Because BCU commanders are such public-facing individuals, it is important that the police authority, which will set the overall tone, has a role in appointing them. It is also right and proper that there should be some consultation with the relevant local councils. I shall not get into the question of precisely which ones will be relevant in each case.
During my period as chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority, some small steps were made in this direction, in that, when it was known that there was to be a vacancy for a borough commander, the commissioner would write to local Members of Parliament, to the local authority chief executive and to the local authority council leader to seek views on the required nature of the post holder, given the tasks that those individuals saw as being faced by the police commander in that area. When that happened—sometimes people forgot to send such letters, which was perhaps unfortunate—I know that the local authorities and the Members of Parliament welcomed the opportunity to say what they saw as being priorities. That was helpful in influencing the decision ultimately made by the commissioner on who would take on basic command responsibilities in those areas. That is why I proposed Amendments Nos. 19 and 57, and I commend them to the Committee.
When I moved Amendment No. 15, I indicated that I would speak to Amendments Nos. 18, 19 and 21. Now that those amendments have been spoken to by others, I shall finish my points on each of them.
Amendment No. 18 is very important. Police authority members know their areas best and are therefore best placed to advise the chief constable on the skills and personality needed in the crucial role of a BCU commander in a particular area. Speaking as a former chair of a police authority, I can say that successive chief constables consulted me and, as a good democrat, I consulted my colleagues on the suitability of a particular officer to a BCU post. On occasion, we both got it wrong, but the principle was upheld and we took the responsibility jointly and seriously. I am glad to say that the "getting it wrong" bit did not happen very often.
The proposals in Amendment No. 19 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Harris, are, again, good practice and in the spirit of wider consultation with various local government partners. BCU commanders are seen as mini chief constables in their areas, and it is to them that local authorities turn when devising their community safety strategies.
Finally, I turn to Amendment No. 21. As previously suggested, we are concerned that accountability at BCU level should be of the highest standard. To achieve that, it is vital that police authorities play a full part in the arrangements surrounding the strategic priorities to be set for the BCUs. In the past, these have been set by the chief constable and the police authority together, and the amendment lays down the importance of the roles of the police authority and chief constable in ensuring that it is they, not the BCU commander, who allocate resources and determine the BCU's plans and objectives.
This is an interesting group of amendments. In a sense, they draw very heavily on the experience of two very distinguished former—current in the case of my noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey—members of police bodies.
The amendments all relate to paragraphs 1 and 2 of Schedule 2 to the Bill, which seek to place basic command units on a statutory footing. Before I get to the substance of the amendments, it may help the Committee if I explain the rationale for this provision. The changes being proposed for basic command units are designed solely to enshrine in law the principle of coterminosity with local authorities. So I argue that, at this point, all other conspiracy theories about this provision fall away.
Tackling crime and anti-social behaviour is not the exclusive responsibility of the police. A wide range of partners have a key role to play, but the central partnership is that between the police and local authorities. I think that there is now general agreement that this partnership will work best if the two agencies work within common boundaries. That is already the case with the great majority of basic command units, but it is open to any newly appointed chief constable to redraw the map as he or she thinks fit. These provisions will ensure that there is proper consultation with crime and disorder reduction partnerships and local criminal justice board partners and will establish the presumption that BCU and local authority boundaries must be coterminous. We have absolutely no other motive in bringing forward these provisions. They are not a Trojan horse that will some day lead to BCUs unilaterally declaring themselves independent from their forces. So far as we are concerned, BCUs are an integral part of a force and, as such, must be managed by the chief constable.
It is against that background that I turn to the detail of the amendments. Amendments Nos. 15 and 16 would remove the obligation for each police area to be divided into BCUs. It is essential that there is an effective command structure beneath the force level, and the BCU structure provides precisely that. Given many of the concerns expressed in the context of restructuring about strategic forces being remote from the communities that they serve, I am sure that it is not the intention of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, the noble Baronesses, Lady Harris and Lady Anelay, or my noble friend Lord Harris that the entire policing of an existing county force, let alone one of the new strategic forces, should be controlled out of the force headquarters rather than through the medium of a number of BCUs.
Similarly, I cannot support Amendment No. 17. This would drive a massive hole through the provision, as it would leave it to the discretion of the chief constable to decide whether to draw the force's BCU boundaries to match those of the local authorities in the area. I spent a lot of time in local government as a local authority leader. We were for ever dealing with these boundary issues with regard to our local authority area and trying to work as closely as we could with others. I think that the provision to have BCUs aligned in the way that we seek makes good sense in local government management terms and in tackling crime and disorder issues.
I am intrigued by Amendments Nos. 18, 19, 21 and 57, which have all been spoken to. I now understand better than I did before his explanation what my noble friend Lord Harris is intending to achieve. Amendments Nos. 18 and 19 relate to the appointment of BCU commanders. One would require chief constables to consult local authorities before their appointment; the other would provide for joint appointments after consultation with local authorities. Amendment No. 21 gets us into the territory of the setting of BCU objectives and resources.
I know that concerns have been expressed about this provision in the Bill by the Association of Police Authorities and others, not because they disagree with the principle of coterminosity but because of concerns about where statutory BCUs may lead. The APA briefing that noble Lords received before Second Reading said as much. It stated:
"We are . . . not persuaded that it is necessary to legislate for this. We are concerned that the real purpose in putting BCUs on a statutory footing is to enable unwelcome developments, such as direct funding".
That is not the direction of travel. In our view, Amendments Nos. 18, 19 and 21 are unwelcome developments.
We have purposefully avoided making provision in the Bill for the appointment of BCU commanders. Under the Police Act 1996, responsibility for appointing the chief constable, deputy chief constable and assistant chief constables of a force properly rests with the police authority. Other appointments further down the management chain, including those of BCU commanders, are rightly the operational responsibility of the chief constable. I heard what the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, and my noble friend Lord Harris said about these matters. That may well be acceptable practice and desirable in getting the right calibre of appointment but, in terms of the chain of command and overall responsibility, it is right that operationally the appointments rest with the chief constable.
These amendments begin to encroach on that responsibility. We are all for having a debate about the proper balance between the roles and responsibilities of chief constables and police authorities and, for that matter, the Home Secretary, but we should not disturb that balance lightly, and certainly not without full consultation with the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Chief Police Officers' Staff Association. For those reasons, we cannot support the amendments.
I make the same point in relation to Amendment No. 21. It is for the chief constable to determine the allocation of resources between the operational commands in his or her force. There may be a case for expanding the policing plan, drafted by the chief constable but issued in the name of the police authority, to include information about the policing objectives at the BCU level. It is perhaps worth reminding ourselves that new Section 6ZB of the Police Act already gives sufficient scope to enable that to be carried out, so good-quality liaison consultation and the passing of information about broader objectives at a lower level can already happen without Amendment No. 21, which takes us rather further.
We would clearly want to consult carefully both ACPO and the APA before taking a definitive and final view on these matters. For the reasons that we have set out, I urge the Benches opposite and my noble friend not to press their amendments. We understand entirely the debate that they are trying to stimulate, but we think that the current arrangements are fit for purpose and will serve us well, notwithstanding other areas of good practice that have been developed and incorporated by police authorities.
Notwithstanding the Minister's suggestion that we have conspiracy theories—perish the thought—I am not entirely convinced by his argument. As far as I am aware, it is still the case that money to run police forces goes through police authorities. The Minister said that chief constables allocate resources. That is done in conjunction with police authorities.
Indeed, it is very much the responsibility of police authorities to make sure that the force is being run properly. To enable that to happen, it is a very good idea that police authorities should have some locus in choosing the very BCU commanders who will be using up most of the resources of the force.
I am still not entirely convinced that putting BCUs on the face of the Bill is necessary. We shall come back to that on Report. The chain of command is understandable. I understand exactly what the Minister said. The chief constable must direct; he has direction and control of the force. But it is wise for the chief constable to take cognisance of what police authorities have to say about the abilities of the various commanders who he decides will sit on BCUs.
This was an interesting trawl through some of the amendments. As I have said, we will come back to that matter and maybe others on Report. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
I should explain as a matter of courtesy to the Committee that a short while ago I gave notice to the Front Benches and to the Deputy Chairman that I would not be moving Amendment No. 20. When listening to the Minister's response to the previous group of amendments, I thought that it would be precipitate to discuss the amendment at that stage. I want to make progress for exactly the same reasons as the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, and perhaps a substantial number of your Lordships because I will not have the opportunity to watch the match tonight between England and Sweden, which I understand others may be able to do in another part of this building on a big screen—lucky them. I hope that my colleagues will let me know if there is a change to the score throughout any part of that occasion. But I am keen to make progress.
In moving Amendment No. 22, I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 24 to 30 and Amendment No. 32, all of which stand in my name. A large number of amendments in this group have also been tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, and the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey. I welcome them all. They are all extremely useful amendments, particularly because they focus in far more detail on some of the issues that I hope to raise. I shall listen carefully when those amendments are presented, and may come back later and ask one or two questions if they have raised new issues that I have not considered when drafting my own speaking notes. This group of amendments will be one of the most crucial in Part 1. I say one of the most crucial because there are some important ones on police directions, too.
My amendments are intended to probe the serious issues raised in Schedule 2 regarding the Government's intentions in shaping the membership of police authorities. Their role is to represent the interests of all local people, businesses and communities working with the police to secure the maintenance of an efficient, effective and locally accountable police force. That definition must be right because I took it from my own Surrey police authority's website.
My amendments fall into six sub-groups. First, to question the extension of the Secretary of State's powers generally and whether it is appropriate to place all matters regarding membership of police authorities into secondary legislation. Indeed, I note that the report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee concluded at paragraph 20 that it considered it inappropriate for the Bill to leave so much to subordinate legislation.
Secondly, who should decide membership of the police authorities—the Secretary of State, direct election, councils? Who should it be? Thirdly, should magistrates retain their place as of right or be cast into the melting pot of selection among all-comers? Fourthly, should the chairman and vice-chairman be appointed by the Secretary of State or elected by the police authority? Fifthly, what allowances should be paid to members? Finally, the amendment argues that the regulations on this section should be by an affirmative, not a negative statutory instrument.
The concern that underpins all my amendments is that the provisions of this part of Schedule 2 represent a constitutional change. The Secretary of State is extending his powers so far that there could be a significant shift in favour of the Home Secretary in the balance of power within the tripartite relationship between the Home Secretary, chief officers, and police authorities.
Amendment No. 22 would delete paragraph 3, which amends the 1996 Act such that the detailed provisions for the composition of police authorities, the selection and appointment of members, the choice of a chairman and the payment of members will be set down in regulations instead of being on the face of the Act as they are now. The flexibility that that gives the Secretary of State means in effect that he can extend his control as and when he pleases by way of statutory instrument to shape police authorities. We do not accept that that is appropriate. The Home Office has suggested that secondary legislation will stipulate that police authorities will still be able to elect their own chair and vice chairs subject to a competency test and that the remaining provisions are designed to make appointments more flexible and less cumbersome.
When the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, replied to our Second Reading debate, she said that outside London, the chairmen of police authorities would continue to be appointed by members of the authorities. Why then make the changes in this Bill? Why not leave well alone and put the appointment clearly in the hands of the police authority? The noble Baroness's assurance does not answer the fundamental objection that the balance of power is altered in the statute in favour of the Home Secretary. Future Home Secretaries might be inclined to use these powers differently. After all, there have been so many Home Secretaries appointed by the Government in the past few years that I am losing count. Who knows who the next one will be? Perhaps it will be the noble Baroness, the Minister. I am sure that we in this House would welcome that. We would trust her to carry out her assurances but we cannot necessarily say the same of others.
Amendments Nos. 29, 30 and 32 would ensure that police authorities continued to elect their own chairmen and vice chairmen. I note that the Delegated Powers Committee report at paragraph 20 recommended in particular that the Bill should specify by whom the members and chairman should be appointed. Will the Government accept that recommendation, even if they do not accept the basic proposal that this should be in primary, not secondary legislation?
Why should the Secretary of State impose the competency test? Would it not be better for him to leave it to police authorities to ensure that appropriate competency-based appointments and selection arrangements are in place before any member is appointed to an authority? There is then a built-in guarantee that any person elected by the authority would already have passed a competency test.
Amendments Nos. 25 to 27 draw attention to the question of who should be members of a police authority. At one stage, the Government said that they were considering introducing direct election of all members. Will the Minister say why that idea was abandoned? Paragraph 3 provides that there will be only two categories of members: councillors and other persons. What balance will there be between the appointment of councillors and other members? How will the membership be allocated by area? In what proportion? Surely this will be of great importance after any mergers take place.
How will the Secretary of State make decisions on how the long list of potential appointees is whittled down to a short list? Will he give his reasons for rejecting people from the short list? If not, why not? Although this is a large group of amendments, which is taking me some time to spell out—for which I apologise—I ought to insert a big thank you to the Association of Police Authorities, which took the time and care to come and brief me recently. This is one of the very points it raised in its comprehensive briefing.
The Government are removing the current category of magistrate members. While the Home Office suggests that magistrates can continue to sit on police authorities as independent members, the Association of Police Authorities has briefed noble Lords that it strongly considers that magistrates should remain as a category of membership in their own right, not least because of the valuable expertise they bring to authorities, particularly their links to the criminal justice system. Magistrates have invaluable local knowledge, too—otherwise they would not have been appointed to their local bench in the first place. If the Government are keeping the appointments system rather than introducing a system of direct election, why throw away the guarantee of effective magisterial members? Why abandon a system that has worked well?
Cantering towards the end, Amendment No. 24 would ensure that magistrates would therefore remain members of police authorities in their own right. Amendment No. 28 probes whether the Secretary of State should have the power by regulation to set the payment of allowances and expenses to members. Why does he wish to put control of this into central hands by secondary legislation? Surely it would be better to leave these matters to local decision-making, to reflect local conditions?
Finally, the changes that can be affected by paragraph 3 have sufficient constitutional importance that they should only be made by the affirmative resolution procedure. I see that the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee's report agrees with that at paragraph 20, where it says,
"if the number of members is to be left to subordinate legislation, any regulations specifying a number for police authorities generally should be subject to affirmative procedure".
Can the Minister say whether the Government intend to accept that recommendation? I beg to move.
I speak to all the amendments standing in my name, in particular Amendments Nos. 23, 31 and 40. I am quite new to this stage of proceedings, so I hope that Members will bear with me if I do not get the technicalities correct. I start by asking whether, with the permission of the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, I can elect not to move Amendment No. 35. I see that the noble Baroness is agreeable.
Like the previous speaker, I am alarmed by clauses which move key constitutional measures from primary to secondary legislation so that they become subject to regulations made by the Secretary of State. I am particularly concerned about proposals to deal in this way with the membership of police authorities. In general terms, however, key principles, powers and functions which guarantee the continuation of the tripartite relationship should remain in primary legislation. That is one of my key points in speaking to these amendments.
Amendment No. 23 is intended to spell out, in primary legislation, how a police authority should be constituted. Some key principles here are based on the successful operation of police authorities in the past 11 years. I tabled this amendment in the sure knowledge that police authorities have been effective, one of the reasons for which is that they have been more focused bodies. The reason for limiting membership from 13 to 23 is that I genuinely believe that the larger a police authority becomes, the more difficult it is to have the strategic focus which has stood police authorities in such great stead. They have operated more and more like non-executive boards of directors, holding chief constables to account. That model is appropriate for police authorities, and something I want primary legislation to underline.
I draw your Lordships' attention to subsection (2)(a), which is fundamental to the success achieved by police authorities in the past 10 or 11 years. It has meant that they have to be constituted along the lines of proportionality to the political make-up of their areas and sub-regions. That has meant that police authorities have operated on consensual lines, operating politically but not party-politically. That was one of the great changes intended when new legislation was passed in the early 1990s. It has turned out to be correct: party politics have played no part in police authority operations. In passing—it is nothing to do with my amendment—we must stand against anything that would politicise policing, and I have some worries about direct elections in that respect. Subsection (2)(a) has been one of the major subsections underlining how police authorities have matured and become effective as organisations. It ought to be in primary legislation.
On subsection (2)(b), police authorities have operated on the basis that they need to be as diverse as possible. It has been noticeable that the more diverse the authority and the more communities they have represented, the more successful they have been. It is absolutely essential that that should be spelt out in the Bill. I think that what I am trying to achieve in Amendment No. 23 is fairly clear.
Amendment No. 31 follows my theme that we all want to uphold the tripartite relationship. But it is no use just saying that: we must act in accordance with our words. One of the major factors underpinning local accountability is a police authority being able to appoint its own chair and vice-chair. I cannot believe that that should have anything to do with Secretary of State level. It must be dealt with at local level; it gives ownership to local people and Amendment No. 31 therefore spells out that a police authority should elect its chair and vice-chair. Even if the Minister were to stand up and say, "That is not the intention; the intention is to have flexibility", it may be the intention in five or 10 years' time. We cannot say what the intentions of future governments might be. Home Secretaries should be in no way involved in the election of the chair and vice-chair of a local police authority. Echoing the previous speaker, appropriate competency-based appointment and selection arrangements should be in place before members are appointed to authorities. That is how to deal with competence. My amendment should be read as endorsing that principle.
There is a parallel provision to Amendment No. 31, reflecting arrangements in the Metropolitan Police Authority. I will not speak to that at any length, because I obviously have no experience of that authority, but it is to duplicate the provisions for authorities operating outside London.
The amendments in this large group deal with membership of police authorities. I listened carefully and attentively to what the noble Baronesses, Lady Anelay and Lady Henig, said in support of their amendments. I particularly support Amendment No. 22, but I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 23, 24 and 31 which are also tabled in my name.
Amendment No. 22 deals with a dangerous concept: some future Secretary of State can by a stroke of a pen irrevocably change the carefully constructed make-up of police authorities. We face the spectre of the Secretary of State taking totally unnecessary powers. What will happen if we get the larger police authorities envisaged by the amalgamations that we so vehemently oppose? They will be unrepresentative of local communities, yet, under the Bill, the Secretary of State can add, subtract or otherwise amend the membership of police authorities. That is a very dangerous concept. Alterations in authority numbers should not be made without a reasoned debate in both Houses.
Why should the Secretary of State be able to appoint members of selection panels? How much more work does he need? He has enough on his plate at the moment and does not need to start meddling with selection panels. Every member of the selection panels that I chaired over a number of years was carefully and appropriately chosen from among their colleagues and thoroughly trained to the same standard. They knew their law. I pay tribute to the enormous help given to all police authorities in this matter by the Association of Police Authorities. Therefore, there is no need for the Secretary of State to do something that is the responsibility of the police authority.
It is the responsibility of the members of police authorities to choose their chair and vice chair. At Second Reading, I spoke of the long battle I had when stand-alone police authorities were constructed. We had to persuade the Secretary of State that it was wrong for him to tell police authorities who should be their chair. I strongly oppose any power to change that sensible way of going about the selection of chairs of police authorities. I strongly support what the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, said on that point.
Amendment No. 23 covers the appointment of police authority members. It specifies where they should come from and the number of members needed to fulfil the police authority's statutory duties. It is necessary to ensure that police authorities for large, amalgamated forces—should they ever come into being—have a sufficient number of members to cover a wide geographic area and do what the Government want them to do. The Government have promised that there will be places for local authorities at district level as well as at county or unitary level. I do not believe that even 23 members will be enough. Police authorities have been successful in making sure that their members are fully representative of their diverse communities. I hope that Amendment No. 23 eventually finds favour with the Government.
I was very fortunate in the magistrates who sat on my police authority. Their varied experience and commitment were enormously helpful, and when we had difficult times—there were some—the magistrates encouraged, enthused and played a totally non-political part in our decision-making. They played a full part in all our deliberations, and I valued their presence enormously, which is why I put my name to Amendment No. 24.
I have already spoken to Amendment No. 31, which provides for the election of the chair. It is fundamental for police authorities.
I intend to speak briefly in support of Amendments Nos. 23, 31, 33, 36 and 38, to which I put my name, and to Amendment No. 37—to which, if I did not put my name to it, I meant to.
The principle has been made extremely clear. There is an importance in having these matters in primary legislation, not because we have any doubts at all about the present Home Secretary's benign intent in how police authorities operate, but because, several successors down the road, if these matters are dealt with in secondary legislation, it will be that much easier to make changes that could seriously disrupt the tripartite arrangements and the balance of membership of the police authorities.
On Amendment No. 23, it is important that there is political proportionality among the elected members—those who are councillors or, in the case of the Metropolitan Police Authority, who are members of the London Assembly. People need to understand that there is a choice between having political balance and representing areas, and guaranteeing that every district or local authority will have a seat on a police authority. You cannot do both without having enormous police authorities that are far larger than anything we are contemplating here. If each one has one representative, then that representative would be from the majority party there, and that is likely to mean that the smaller parties are not fully represented. Furthermore, sizes may differ greatly. In the West Midlands, for example, some authorities are very much larger than others.
This is a serious dilemma and a choice has to be made about whether we are looking for political balance or for every local authority to have a representative. Simply providing for every local authority to have a representative will make it more difficult for the authority to take a strategic overview of the direction of the force and will not improve matters. There is a choice. I think that Amendment No. 23 goes correctly in the direction of political balance. The other part of the provision is also critical. It ensures that there is some representation of the diversity of the communities and the range of people who need to be represented on a police authority. It is largely through the independent members on police authorities that the vast majority of black and minority ethnic members of police authorities have been appointed. That is not universally so, but it is largely so.
The points have all been made about the importance of police authorities owning the election of their own chair.
I shall refer briefly to Amendments Nos. 33 and 38, which require that if there are changes in any of these provisions, the Association of Police Authorities should be one of the bodies consulted. Other than that, I think that all the points have been made on these amendments.
I support the principle set out in Amendments Nos. 29 and 31 that authorities should elect their own chairmen and vice chairmen.
I should, however, like to say slightly more about Amendment No. 24. I have never been a magistrate myself. On the other hand, my late father was a magistrate for about half his life, and my noble friend Lord Tenby is probably the longest serving magistrate in your Lordships' House. It is important to have magistrates on these authorities because they are as much aware as most people, perhaps more, of the types of crime that are happening and reaching the prosecution stage. Magistrates also have the benefit of seeing how police constables and other police officers actually function as witnesses when cases come to court. So, for all those reasons, I very much hope that Amendment No. 24 will commend itself to the Government.
May I say what a wide-ranging and important consensual debate this series of amendments has brought about? Some of the Government's responses have already been foreshadowed in our discussion about flexibility. I endorse the comment by my noble friend Lady Henig that one of the wonderful things about police authorities has been that they have been non-party political, in the main. We greatly value that. All the amendments relate to the police authorities and their membership.
Amendment No. 22 would entirely remove the provisions relating to police authority membership, although I understand why the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, pushes the point. The measures provide for greater flexibility in the appointment process by repealing the complex and cumbersome arrangements set out in the Police Act 1996. In past discussions with your Lordships, there seemed to be an understanding that there was unnecessary complexity in the 1996 Act and that it would greatly benefit from change. I do not think that what the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, said about that today detracts from that general belief.
The regulation-making powers specify that police authorities should be made up of independent members and councillor members, and that councillor members should be in the majority. It is important to remember that that is not being changed. Aside from this, they allow flexibility in the size of individual police authorities. I wholeheartedly agree with the comments made by my noble friend Lady Henig that police authorities cannot operate effectively if the membership is too large. In the longer term, we envisage that strategic police authorities will have about 23 members. We must accept, however, that the membership will vary from police area to police area and is subject to the outcome of the review of force structures, because we must reflect the needs of the particular area. I assure the Committee that the minimum number of police authority members will be 17, as now, so there will be no change in that respect.
Our approach in paragraphs 3 and 5 of Schedule 2 is wholly consistent with the more general move to make primary legislation more flexible. As the Delegated Powers Committee has acknowledged, there are many precedents for matters relating to the constitution of statutory bodies to be left to regulations. Just in case someone thinks that we did not read the whole report properly and that we are being selective, and in order to be fair, I also refer to the next passage. It says:
"However, a police authority has a key role to play in the delicate constitutional balance between the Secretary of State, the police authority and the Chief Constable. The composition of the authority therefore is more significant than that of many other statutory bodies".
I wholly endorse those sentiments.
The Committee went on to make specific recommendations. It recommended that the Bill should specify by whom the members and the chairman shall be appointed, a matter raised by noble Lords. It further recommended that if—I emphasise "if"—the number of members is to be left to subordinate legislation, any regulations specifying a number of police authorities generally should be subject to the affirmative procedure. I reassure noble Lords—and, I hope, give all noble Lords who have spoken pleasure when I say—that the Government are ready to give these recommendations favourable consideration.
I hesitate to interrupt the Minister when she is trying to give us something we like, but when she says that the Government are minded to accept the recommendations of the Delegated Powers Committee, I am reminded of its first recommendation, in which it considers it,
"inappropriate for the bill to leave so much to subordinate legislation".
The rest of its recommendations are based on the idea that the Government would do that if they were in doubt, as it is the "least worst" option. Are the Government minded to consider between now and the next stage of the Bill whether so much should be shifted to subordinate legislation?
We think that the balance is about right at the moment, particularly if we use the affirmative procedure as I have indicated in those matters. However, I also reassure noble Lords that we pay the closest attention to the debate and discussions that we have in this House about these matters, particularly bearing in mind that so many who speak have real practical experience; I am thinking of the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, and my noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey—almost a brother Member of the House by name, if in no other way—and my noble friend Lady Henig.
I cannot say from the Dispatch Box that there will be change, but I can say that we will listen very carefully to what has been said. We think the balance is about right and that it is right to move from the negative procedure to the affirmative procedure on several of the issues highlighted by the amendments. I anticipate that that will deliver some comfort to all those taking part in this debate. Obviously we will continue to consider what has been said. I think it would be wrong to suggest to the noble Baroness that there will be more movement, but I certainly assure the Committee that we continue to consider these issues.
Amendments Nos. 23, 29 to 32 and 34—I appreciate that Amendment No. 35 has been withdrawn—and Amendment No. 36 all touch on the issues raised by the Delegated Powers Committee. If the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and my noble friend Lady Henig will agree not to press them, I would hope that we could move in the direction of the committee's proposals in time for Report. I cannot offer the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, as much comfort on these amendments as I can on other amendments in the group—several noble Lords have spoken to Amendment No. 24, for instance, which the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, has supported in view of the valuable contribution made by magistrates—but we are not convinced that retaining the separate category of magistrate members is necessary. The decision to remove this category was not taken lightly, but it allows the flexibility to broaden the skills and experience base of the membership. Ring-fencing a number of seats on police authorities for magistrates inevitably limits the scope to appoint non-councillor members with the widest possible range of relevant skills and experience.
Magistrates will still be able to apply for appointment to police authorities as independent members, as I hope I made clear at Second Reading, and I hope that a proportion of the current magistrate members will choose to do so. Magistrate members have made a very positive contribution to the work of police authorities over the past few years, which we celebrate and value. Our decision to remove the separate category of magistrate members is in no way a reflection on the contribution that they make. We believe that there is no longer any justification for dedicated magistrate members. I accept that they bring a wider criminal justice perspective to the work of the police authorities, but on that basis a case could be made for the chief Crown prosecutor or members of the judiciary to sit on the public authority.
The core functions of a police authority are to maintain an efficient and effective force and to hold the chief constable to account for the exercise of his or her functions—a point made very powerfully by the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond. Magistrates do not necessarily have the skill sets and competences to carry out these functions, although many magistrates have precisely those skills. They are better able to make a contribution through other fora. They are strongly encouraged to participate in crime and disorder reduction partnerships. This is the most appropriate forum to ensure that magistrates are regularly informed about the plans of local agencies in areas which impact on criminal justice and about initiatives that are being taken. By the same token, magistrates' knowledge and experience of the criminal justice system provides a useful input into the community safety strategies prepared by the crime and disorder reduction partnerships. These partnerships are the natural place to ensure the input of the magistracy to local decisions about crime and disorder priorities and initiatives.
Amendments Nos. 25, 26 and 27 provide that, instead of police authorities composed of councillor and independent members, there should be directly elected members or a single directly elected police commissioner or sheriff. We consulted on the option of directly elected police authorities in the November 2003 consultation paper, Policing: Building Safer Communities Together. I have to tell Members of the Committee that there was an almost unanimous rejection of that option.
A number of objections were raised, including, first, the danger of extremist groups obtaining representation, particularly if there was a low turnout. If we needed that underscored, one has only to look at certain elections that have taken place in certain parts of London where extremist groups, with which no one in this House would feel entirely comfortable, are a presence. It is a real problem. Secondly, there is also potential for single issue groups to dominate. Thirdly, there could be a move to a more short-term approach. Fourthly, there is potential for the politicisation of accountability bodies. If there is one thing on which everyone in this debate seems to have agreed—although I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, has remained silent on it—it is that police authorities should not become the party-political football of any party in delivering safety and security. Knowing the noble Baroness's strong views on these sorts of issues, I cannot believe that she could possibly disagree with the good sense of that comment.
The amendments are also short on detail. How would these police commissioners be elected? Will it be by the first-past-the-post system, the alternative vote, or some other method? How long will be the term of office? How will their functions differ from those of existing police authorities? Looking at the list of elections we have already, I know that some people think that we can never have too much of a good thing. We have elections for MPs, county councillors, district community councillors, parish councillors, MEPs, mayors, the Greater London Assembly, the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, parent governors on school governing bodies and so on. There is a strong question about what the case is for elections in this instance. I say to the noble Baroness that this is one area where there are no empirical data to suggest that this would be a sound way to proceed. I agree that there is a need for strong local accountability but direct elections are not the answer in this context. Police authorities need to work closely with local authorities in their areas in tackling local community safety issues. Having councillors on police authorities embeds that link. We know that this partnership working has delivered real results and improvements to the people about whom we all care.
When we reach other provisions in the Bill, I will set out in detail how we are strengthening accountability at a local level. In brief, however, we are strengthening the effectiveness of crime and disorder reduction partnerships. In particular, we will ensure that the elected local authority members responsible for community safety issues play a full part in setting community safety priorities. Those priorities will be determined only after full consultation with local communities. The CDRPs will also be subject to periodic scrutiny by local authority scrutiny committees and inspection by the new inspectorate for justice, community safety and custody. We also propose that the basic command unit commanders and other senior representatives of the local authority hold regular public briefing sessions to respond to issues raised by local residents.
Finally, the Bill establishes the community call for action to trigger intervention by the local authority scrutiny committee if community safety issues have not been adequately addressed by the police or their partners. These measures, taken together, provide for a significant strengthening of accountability to local communities. I believe that they will be far more effective than the politicisation of policing through directly elected police commissioners.
On an issue that the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, highlighted as of concern, we will provide for all higher tier local authorities—that is, county councils and unitary councils—to have at least one seat on police authorities. For some strategic police authorities, that may result in slightly larger authorities than would otherwise be the case. We are discussing with the existing police authorities the appropriate level of representation on the new strategic authorities. We think that that is the right way forward. I absolutely understand why the issue has been raised and why the noble Baroness wanted an assurance on it.
I turn to Amendment No. 28. Under the provisions of Schedules 2 and 2A to the Police Act 1996, the payment of allowances to, and the reimbursement of the expenses of members of a police authority is left to the authority to determine. We do not propose to change that approach. In keeping with our general approach to introduce greater flexibility into the legislation governing the membership and functions of police authorities, we are repealing the whole of Schedules 2 and 2A to the 1996 Act.
We therefore need to include in the new Section 4 regulation-making powers to provide for the payment of expenses and allowances to the members of a police authority and to the members of an authority's standards committee. Without such regulation-making powers, police authorities would be precluded from paying any allowances or expenses not only to their own members but also to standards committee members. I know that that is not what Members of the Committee would have wanted. I see the quizzical look from the noble Baroness, Lady Harris. That is why I am confident that she wishes people to receive appropriate payment. That would be an unintended consequence, which I am sure that we can avoid.
I assure the Committee that when we come to make the regulations, they will provide that it will be for a police authority to determine the allowances and expenses to be paid to its members and those of the authority's committee. I wholly agree that there is no need for the Home Office to be involved in such matters. However, we need the regulation-making power to give effect to the approach that I have set out. I know that conspiracy theories abound, but I assure the noble Baroness that I am looking out for her erstwhile members in terms of the moneys that they are justly entitled to receive.
It is entirely appropriate that we should use the opportunity provided by the Bill to explore the accountability arrangements for policing. Of course there are other models, but the Government believe that, with some refinement, the police authority structure we have now is broadly the right one. It has been proven and tested. We really want to retain its essence to ensure that we can consolidate that. As I indicated, we will look again at the provisions in the schedule to see whether more detail can be put in the Bill.
Finally, Amendments Nos. 33 and 38, tabled by my noble friend Lady Henig, require that, when making regulations on the composition of police authorities, the Home Secretary consult the Association of Police Authorities in addition to the police authorities affected. We can see a case for this. I am happy to accept these amendments in principle. I see that I have given delight to the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, which always gives me pleasure. Arguably, if we make such a change to subsection (9) of revised Section 4 of the Police Act, we should also include a requirement to consult the Local Government Association—a point made by a number of Members of the Committee, not least the noble Baroness, Lady Harris.
I hope that I have given sufficient comfort to the Front Bench opposite and to my noble friend to persuade them not to press their amendments. I commend them on their unity of purpose.
The noble Baroness gave crumb of comfort at the end, but she will understand that a meal of discontent came before it. I was very interested in the way in which she discarded the idea of direct election of people to authorities on the basis that there were elections enough. Has she spoken to her colleague, Mr Jack Straw, to explain that perhaps there should not be elections to this House as well? Perhaps that would be one election too many. One never knows.
I meant to this House as well. But the list could have gone on and on.
As ever, the noble Baroness has managed to say something that almost makes us all roll over and say, "Well, she is absolutely right on that so she must be right on the rest"—but not quite.
We have had a long debate on core issues, but there are some simple principles involved here. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for saying that on some issues she will look again at the detail, but I am still very concerned about some of the matters that remain unresolved. There remains the core matter of how much should be in primary and how much in secondary legislation. The noble Baroness has said that she is prepared to listen but that the Government think that the balance is right. I think that it is important that all of us should be able between now and Report to look in detail at whether there should be any shifting of this information into secondary legislation. I still remain deeply concerned about that happening.
Certainly there was a great deal of agreement around the Committee that too much was being shifted. That was backed up by the report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. The noble Baroness quoted from the first half of paragraph 20; the second half—the recommendation—makes it clear that the committee's first choice would be for these matters to remain in primary legislation. We have a long way to go before Report if we are to achieve a measure of unanimity.
The noble Baroness rightly referred to the important way in which police authorities have worked on a consensual basis. I certainly recognise that and I congratulate them on the way in which they have done so. The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, was right to point out that there is a genuine dilemma about how you appoint people. Should it be on a geographical basis so that every area feels that it has its person there, or is it a matter of achieving a political balance? The political balance appears to have worked well. There has not been any party political in-fighting and each organisation has worked for the best of its community.
I think that a great many of the difficulties that we are about to face with the size of police authorities and how they function in the future with the new type of membership will be due to the Government's determination to merge police forces. Police authorities will cover much larger areas and therefore, automatically, there will be smaller areas which feel, "Excuse me, we are being left out"—divisiveness may arise as a result of a geographical feeling of being omitted. So there is a genuine dilemma about how appointments should be made.
I certainly agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, that, overall, one has to look at how the organisation will function effectively. The amendments that she has brought forward today were especially helpful. Amendments Nos. 23 and 31 were particularly helpful in teasing out the detail of what we need to look at between now and Report.
Of course, the Minister said what I expected with regard to magistrates. I will say what she expects: I have listened to the Magistrates' Association, with which, as a long past magistrate myself, I have great sympathy. I shall not test the opinion of the House today—even though the match has not yet begun and there is still time, I will not do that—because, as ever, when I bring forward amendments that are in response to specific requests from organisations, I refer back to them to seek their advice before I take any further action. But I feel that they have an expertise on which it would be wrong for police authorities to lose out as of right.
I feel that there is an overwhelming need for these matters to remain in primary legislation but—picking up from Dr Reid yesterday—I am prepared to listen. However, I think that my destination will remain the same. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment No. 39 probes further another aspect of the extension of the Secretary of State's power to supervise police authorities. As with the previous group of amendments, we have grouped with our amendment a series of amendments from the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, and the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, which are very useful in teasing out the detail of the principles to which I hope to refer.
As I mentioned a moment ago, I remain extremely concerned about the extent to which the Secretary of State is moving into secondary legislation matters that were previously—and I think properly—governed by statute.
Amendment No. 39 would remove paragraphs 9 and 10 from the schedule. Paragraph 9 adds to the general functions of a police authority that are set out in Section 6 of the Police Act 1996. The primary duty under existing legislation is to secure an efficient and effective police force for the police authority's area. The change introduced in paragraph 9 makes it clear that it is the job of police authorities to hold the chief officer of police to account in the exercise of his functions and those of persons under his control and direction. This change has been welcomed by the Association of Police Authorities but ACPO is concerned about it.
What is the Minister's response to the view expressed by ACPO that this new provision, when taken together with other changes that are currently taking place to the way in which the personal performance of the chief officer is assessed, will create a linear relationship between police authorities and chief officers? The Association of Police Authorities, of course, believes that this change could improve local accountability. What arguments have the Government put forward to ACPO to demonstrate that it should bring greater local accountability without harming the chief officer's line of control over his or her force? How can they guarantee that there will be no politicisation of policing functions if this schedule goes through unamended and the membership loses magistrates and, of course, becomes dominated by councillors? The Minister has just said that magistrates will not be there as of right.
The remainder of paragraphs 9 and 10 broadly states that the Secretary of State shall determine the other police authority functions by secondary legislation. We question why these functions should be set out in secondary legislation rather than in primary legislation. If the matters in paragraph 9 were in primary legislation, the role of police authorities in representing the interests of local communities would be firmly established on the face of the legislation, thus guaranteeing that the constitutional balance between local and central interests is maintained.
Does the Minister agree with the Association of Police Authorities in its briefing that the general list of functions should run as follows: a duty to ensure that communities are consulted in setting policing priorities; powers to set the strategic direction and objectives of the force within a national framework; a duty to promote diversity and good community relations; a duty on chief officers to provide information to police authorities and a power for police authorities to require chief officers to appear before the police authority; a duty to monitor the performance of the force for its area; and a duty to ensure that the force for the area should co-operate with other forces and other partners where appropriate? That is the list that the Association of Police Authorities briefed us would be appropriate. Should any of the matters on that list be excluded? Should any other matters be added? If there is no change, why not simply put that list into primary legislation? I beg to move.
I shall speak to the amendments in my name—Amendments Nos. 40 to 46, 48, 50 and 52. Amendment No. 40 is the key amendment that I wish to speak to and I am encouraged by the fact that my noble friend is listening to the argument. I have accepted all along that flexibility is important and that we do not want to enshrine provisions in primary legislation that might make it difficult to make changes in the future. I understand those arguments, but it is important to ensure that the role of the police authorities in representing the interests of local communities is firmly established in the legislation and that the constitutional balance between local and central interests is maintained.
Although I welcome the fact that the Bill gives a new function to police authorities of holding the chief constable to account for the performance of the force, I would like to add some specific functions to that in light of the experience of the past few years, because the police authorities have been carrying out a number of functions that underline their role in terms of local accountability. One very important one is making arrangements to consult and seek the views of people in the area. That should be spelt out.
Setting strategic direction and priorities is again absolutely essential. Like the last speaker, I have listed the sorts of issues that need to be spelt out to give the police authority its clear mandate in terms of local arrangements and its role in terms of local accountability. That is an essential part of the tripartite relationship, which is why I would very much like this to be spelt out in primary legislation. I do want to prolong arguments, because we have already heard plenty about the motives behind some of these amendments.
I will speak briefly to Amendment No. 40 in this group, to which I have added my name. As the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, said, the amendment places key principles in primary legislation. We spoke about this matter at Second Reading when my concern was to ensure that only the details that appropriately and genuinely needed to be in secondary legislation should be there.
I wish to speak to Amendments Nos. 40 to 46, 48, and 50 to 52, which are in my name. Since Amendment No. 51 is a companion to Amendment No. 49, it may be helpful if I speak to that now even though it is in a later group. Amendments Nos. 53 to 56 and 58 all relate to the responsibilities of police authorities, so it may also be helpful if I speak to those at the same time. Clearly, we have already had the debate about what should be in primary or secondary legislation. Just as fundamental as issues around membership, chairs and vice-chairs is the question of police authority powers and responsibilities, which is the core of many of the amendments in this group.
Amendment No. 40 clearly set outs in primary legislation the responsibilities of police authorities. Amendments Nos. 46, 48, 50 and 52 try to move away from what seems to be a rather strange process in the Bill whereby the Secretary of State is given rather more power to specify the nature of the police authority plans and strategic plans and how they should be consulted on, which I am not convinced is necessary.
Amendment No. 51 is a companion to Amendment No. 49 and relates to the powers that are, in essence, lost if best value is wholly or partially disapplied. It places an obligation on the chief officer of police to provide to the police authority relevant information to enable it to discharge its general functions. That is the principal part and consequence of accountability.
Amendments Nos. 53 to 56 and 58 relate to the position of the senior officer team immediately under the position of chief constable. It reinstates the position in the Police Act 1996, whereby it is the police authority and not the chief constable that should determine which senior officer should act in the place of the chief constable during his or her absence. It would also place on police authorities the responsibility to ensure that both the structure and skills available within the senior officer team are robust and resilient, something that is currently done with police authorities making those appointments. Similarly, there should be a parallel arrangement in the allocation of portfolios between the senior officer team, and the precise number of senior police staff posts should be determined in the same way. That is consistent with current practice and it would be helpful if it were reflected in the Bill rather than being diluted, which would otherwise be the consequence.
I lend my support to Amendment No. 40. I am delighted that there is mention under paragraph (f) of monitoring,
"the performance of the force in complying with any duty imposed on the force by or under this Act, the Human Rights Act 1998 . . . or any other enactment".
I would have thought that the Minister would want to take back with her the need to look very seriously at the duty imposed on the police under the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000. We have been talking about who should make the appointment, how the appointment should be made, whether there should be geographical or political balances and so forth. However, the crucial need is to have an equality audit so that a diverse range of people are not in any way discouraged or disadvantaged, as is mentioned in paragraph (g). All these factors must be taken into account. They must be on the face of the Bill so that authorities and others will know their obligations under this very important legislation.
I now have to respond to a rather larger group of amendments than I originally intended, because the noble Lord, Lord Harris, has brought into the debate, quite understandably, Amendment No. 49 and those that follow on from Amendment No. 53. The amendments tabled by the noble Baroness opposite relate to the functions of police authorities. The noble Baronesses, Lady Anelay and Lady Harris, referred to our approach to these issues. In essence, there is a lot of agreement throughout the Committee as to the general direction in which we wish to travel and how we see police authorities working. In the end, we probably differ only about the means of achieving that end.
It is worth reminding the Committee that in the White Paper Building Communities, Beating Crime we clearly set out proposals for strengthening the effectiveness of police authorities, including by conferring on them additional responsibilities. Paragraph 9 of Schedule 2 to the Bill confers a new responsibility on police authorities to hold the chief officer,
"to account for the exercise of his", or her functions. That is already an implicit function, but is not stated in legislation. The Bill provides for this function to be made explicit. Paragraph 10 of Schedule 2 will enable the Secretary of State to confer other functions on police authorities by order. These include monitoring the performance of their police force in complying with duties imposed by the Police Act, the Human Rights Act and other legislation; securing arrangements for their force to co-operate with other forces whenever necessary or expedient; and promoting diversity within the force and within the authority itself.
I am conscious that concerns have been raised that much of the detail of the functions will be in secondary legislation. I know that ACPO in particular has concerns about moving the provisions relating to policy plans to secondary legislation. However, we want to make it clear that chief constables retain responsibility for drafting the local policing plan. The plan would as now be the authority's plan but the authority would need to consult the chief constable before making any major changes. But we are prepared to look at that issue in particular, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, raised it, in time for Report. In respect of the provisions on the composition of police authorities, this approach is consistent with the more general move to make primary legislation more flexible. That is the benefit of using the secondary legislation route.
Placing police authority functions in secondary legislation does not affect the balance of the tripartite framework, which we greatly respect and whose effectiveness over the past few decades we acknowledge. The primary functions of maintaining an efficient and effective police force and holding the chief officer to account for the way in which he or she discharges his functions will remain on the face of the Police Act 1996.
As I said before, there is not a great deal between us. My noble friend Lady Henig has accepted in her Amendment No. 43 the principle that additional functions could be conferred on police authorities by secondary legislation. That makes good sense because new situations arise and other issues may well come to light; it is important at all times to retain some flexibility in how the legislation works. Her Amendment No. 40, which seeks to write the proposed new functions on to the face of the 1996 Act, has much the same practical effect as the Government's new Section 6ZA. I offer her an assurance that we will exercise the various new delegated powers so that police authorities will continue to be required to publish policing plans and policing objectives, to ensure that their communities are properly consulted and to exercise the new functions specified in subsection (2) of new Section 6ZA.
It is worth noting that, in its report on the Bill, the Delegated Powers Committee did not pass comment on the order-making power in paragraph 10, in contrast to the power in paragraph 11. We can take it from the committee's silence that it did not view either the order-making power or the level of parliamentary scrutiny as objectionable.
Amendment No. 49, which was proposed by my noble friend Lord Harris, seeks to place a new duty on the Metropolitan Police Commissioner to provide the Metropolitan Police Authority with such information as it considers necessary to enable it to discharge its core functions. I do not dispute—who would?—that police authorities need access to information held by their chief constable so that they can properly discharge their functions. In most cases, such information will readily be provided without recourse to formal statutory mechanisms. When a police authority needs to resort to such formal legal mechanisms, Section 22 of the Police Act 1996 already gives it a power to require the chief constable to submit a report on those matters connected with the policing of the force area as the authority may specify.
We would need to see a compelling case that the existing informal and formal mechanisms are not working as they should before we would be ready to concede that additional powers for police authorities are needed in this area. I would want to test such a case with both the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Association of Police Authorities. I acknowledge that concerns have been expressed about the impact of the Bill on the balance of the tripartite framework. But a number of the amendments that we have debated today, when taken together, would fundamentally alter the balance of the relationship, particularly between chief constables and police authorities. We should not rush into such changes without very careful and detailed examination of the longer-term implications. I therefore ask my noble friend, Lord Harris, to reflect on his amendment and not to move it.
Amendments Nos. 53 and 54 relate to the arrangements for the designation of deputy chief constables and assistant chief constables to exercise the functions of chief constable in his or her absence. We consider such arrangements to be a direction and control matter, and therefore properly the primary responsibility of the chief constable. In providing for the chief constable to make such designations, after consultation with the police authority, we are simply reverting to the position that existed under the Police and Magistrates' Courts Act 1994. Deputising for the chief constable is but one of the duties of a deputy chief constable or assistant chief constable. Given that the chief constable is responsible for allocating portfolios to his or her senior management team, it is logical that he or she should also determine which of his or her senior officers should deputise in his or her absence.
Amendments Nos. 55 and 56 relate to the appointment of chief officers. Police authorities already have the statutory responsibility for the appointment of chief officers. It is already the case that the police authority determines the number of assistant chief constables and the Bill extends this to deputy chief constable posts, subject to the consent of the Home Secretary. In advertising these posts, the police authority will need to consider, in consultation with the chief constable, the expertise required. The current arrangements work well, so again we see no particular need to add to statutory provision in that respect.
Finally, Amendment No. 58 relates to the appointment of senior police staff. While the appointment of senior police staff, such as the directors of finance, human resources and IT, is the responsibility of the chief constable, and the appointment of chief officers is primarily the responsibility of the police authority, we are aware of successful arrangements whereby authorities and chief constables work together on these appointments. This is good practice, we commend it and see no need to entrench it in a legislative change. All the issues raised in these amendments relate to the balance of responsibilities of police authorities and chief constables. I am sure that my noble friend will agree that we should not seek to alter that balance without the dialogue with ACPO and APA that I talked of earlier. I appreciate that my noble friend speaks with a great deal of authority with regard to those two organisations.
This has been a very helpful and welcome debate on this range of issues. We are all searching to make the legislation relevant to where we are in the development of the police service. We need to get the balance of the legislation right between having things on the face of the Bill, with its necessary inflexibility and precision, and expressing them in secondary legislation, which enables a degree of flexibility as service develops, conditions change and new demands and pressures arise that require a more flexible approach to issues of management structure and organisation. Having heard many of the arguments, I am grateful for the points of view that have been offered on these issues but hope that the amendments will not be pressed.
After that veritable tour de force by the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, I will be mercifully brief. I see that time presses on for a variety of reasons. There are those who are ready to continue work into the dinner break, whereas the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, with his expertise in political matters—I am sure that he runs Haringey authority exceptionally well—has managed to bring forward future groups of his amendments expertly into this one group. Perish the thought if he found it convenient to watch a particular football match; his colleague, the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, is in no such position, because she still has some amendments left for debate after the dinner break, as do we. So there are those upon whom we look with envy.
I cannot resist this. I would love to watch some of the football match, and no doubt I will get the chance to see the opening section. However, having watched some of the tortuous games that our great players have indulged in on occasion in recent tournaments, perhaps missing it is in part a blessed relief.
Follow that. I have been trying to avoid saying something like "Wayne Rooney" all day, but never mind.
My major problem with this remains my concern about the Government moving so much into secondary legislation and away from primary legislation. I thought that Amendment No. 40, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, was particularly adept at ensuring that there was another way of clearly setting out what the Government rightly want to set out—that is, the functions of the police authority—but doing so in primary legislation, without having to go down the secondary route. Her amendment has the advantage of enabling other functions to be added later through secondary legislation. Here we have a clear statement of what I believe the functions of a good police authority should be.
I hear what the Minister says about some possibility of movement on some other issues and the Government's readiness to talk between now and Report. We will be doing a lot of talking, but we are going to need a lot of action, too. At this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 47:
Page 79, line 20, leave out from "section" to "House" in line 21 and insert "may not be made unless a draft of that order has been laid before, and approved by, a resolution of each"
The DPRRC's report states that paragraph 11 of Schedule 2 replaces provisions in the 1996 Act with a power for the Secretary of State by regulation, subject to the negative procedure, to require authorities to determine objectives and issue plans and reports concerning the policing of their areas. The Government's justification for this change given in the memorandum is that,
"the arrangements for planning, etc".
It will indeed do that, but it will also enable the Secretary of State to impose significantly different requirements on police authorities from those sanctioned by Parliament in the 1996 Act. The recommendation goes as follows:
"Provision which can increase central government control over police authorities has considerable capacity to be controversial, and we consider that regulations made under the provisions inserted by paragraph 11 should be subject to the affirmative procedure".
That is what my Amendment No. 47 will do if the Government accept it. I beg to move.
The noble Baroness has anticipated wonderfully what I was going to say. I can be brief. She says the amendment seeks to give effect to one of the DPRRC's recommendations. We are quite happy to accept that recommendation as we usually do. However, we think the wording of Amendment No. 47 is inconsistent with that used elsewhere in the Police Act 1996. There is an error there. I seek this from the noble Baroness: if she would agree simply to withdraw the amendment, the Government will table, as one would expect, an amendment that is appropriately worded and ensure that it is there in time for Report, accurately reflecting what the DPRRC seeks and what the noble Baroness now seeks too.
This is a little confusing. While Amendment No. 53 has been spoken to, we still have other amendments grouped with it.
In view of the hour, I beg to move that the House be now resumed, and, in moving that, I suggest that the Committee recommence not before 8.35 pm.