moved Amendment No. 26:
Page 83, line 21, at end insert-
"( ) After subsection (3) there is inserted-
"(3A) In discharging its functions under subsection 6(1) above, a police authority shall monitor the performance of the police force maintained for its area in carrying out any policing priorities and shall make arrangements to secure continuous improvements in the performance of that force.""
My Lords, this amendment describes a function of police authorities that is so important that it should be in primary legislation: the job of monitoring the performance of a force to ensure that it is carrying out its duties to deliver the policing priorities and objectives that have been set for it. The amendment also includes wording that would ensure that police authorities were responsible for ensuring improvements in force performance. It is particularly important that this should be in primary legislation as it is proposed in the Bill that police authorities are to lose many of their best value powers. I will speak about best value under later amendments. For now, I commend this as an alternative to those provisions. It would enable police authorities to secure improvement, which is what best value does, without the bureaucracy that best value involves.
A police authority is there to ensure that local police are accountable to local people. A key element of that is ensuring that the local force is delivering against the priorities that are important to local communities. The ability to provide a level of independent monitoring of performance is vital to reassuring communities about their own safety, and demonstrating that they have a voice in deciding what their police should focus on and also ensuring that the police are tackling the issues that are of most concern to them. It is a function that underpins the relationship between the police authority and the people that it serves, and it deserves to be in primary legislation. I beg to move.
My Lords, this is an interesting amendment which, as the noble Baroness set out, would confer an additional duty on police authorities; that is what it is. In principle, we would have no objection to the proposition, but our question is simply whether the provision as set out in the amendment is at all necessary, given that the ground is already covered elsewhere. Schedule 2(9) amends Section 6 of the Police Act to give police authorities an express function of holding the chief constable to account for the exercise of his or her functions. This is no more than a statement of what happens already, but it is as well to make such a function explicit.
The amendment would place a new two-part duty on police authorities. The first part requires a police authority to monitor the performance of the police force in carrying out any policing priorities. No one can argue with the aims of the amendment, but such monitoring is in effect a subset of the new function of holding the chief constable to account. No police authority will be able effectively to discharge this function without monitoring performance. Such monitoring is a means to an end, not an end in itself. As such, we are not persuaded that we need to write such a duty into the legislation.
The second part of the new duty would require police authorities to make arrangements to secure continuous improvements in the performance of their force. Again, while I entirely understand and could wholeheartedly endorse the appropriateness of such a duty, it is our contention that there is no need to write this into the Police Act 1996. To do so would be no more than to repeat what we see as the overarching best value duty contained in Part I of the Local Government Act 1999, which I am sure the noble Baroness will be well aware of. Police authorities are, of course, already subject to the best value duty. While Clause 5 will be revising the application of the best value regime to police authorities, the overarching duty will be retained. In short, we see merit in the sentiments behind the amendment, but I put it to the noble Baroness that the ground is already more than adequately covered. I invite her to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, predictably, having listened to the Minister's response, I am slightly disappointed. We may well have to come back to this at a later stage. I will hear what he has to say on my later amendment on best value, which may echo what he has said now. I will carefully read what he has said, but, for the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 28:
Page 84, line 11, leave out from beginning to end of line 8 on page 85 and insert-
(1) Before the beginning of each financial year every police authority shall issue a plan (a "policing plan") setting out-
(a) the authority's objectives ("policing objectives") for the policing of its area during that year; and (b) the proposed arrangements for the policing of that area for the period of three years beginning with that year.
(2) Policing objectives shall be so framed as to be consistent with any strategic priorities determined under section 37A.
(3) Before determining policing objectives, a police authority shall-
(a) consult the relevant chief officer of police, and (b) consider any views obtained by the authority in accordance with arrangements made under section 96.
(4) A draft of a policing plan required to be issued by a police authority under this section shall be prepared by the relevant chief officer of police and submitted by him to the authority for it to consider.
The authority shall consult the relevant chief officer of police before issuing a policing plan which differs from the draft submitted by him under this subsection.
(5) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision supplementing that made by this section.
(6) The regulations may make provision (further to that made by subsection (3)) as to persons who are to be consulted, and matters that are to be considered, before determining policing objectives.
(7) The regulations may contain provision as to-
(a) matters to be dealt with in policing plans (in addition to those mentioned in subsection (1)); (b) persons who are to be consulted, and matters that are to be considered, in preparing policing plans; (c) modification of policing plans; (d) persons to whom copies of policing plans are to be sent.
(8) Before making regulations under this section the Secretary of State must consult-
(9) Regulations under this section may make different provision for different police authorities.
(10) A statutory instrument containing regulations under this section shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.
(11) In this section "the relevant chief officer of police", in relation to a police authority, means the chief officer of police of the police force maintained by that authority.
6ZC REPORTS BY POLICE AUTHORITIES
(1) The Secretary of State may by order require police authorities to issue reports concerning the policing of their areas.
(2) An order under this section may contain provision as to-
(a) the periods to be covered by reports, and, as regards each period, the date by which reports are to be issued; (b) the matters to be dealt with in reports; (c) persons to whom copies of reports are to be sent.
(3) Before making an order under this section the Secretary of State must consult-
(a) the Association of Police Authorities, (b) the Association of Chief Police Officers, and (c) such other persons as he thinks fit.
(4) An order under this section may make different provision for different police authorities.
(5) A statutory instrument containing an order under this section shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.""
My Lords, government Amendments Nos. 28, 30, 31, 32, 49, 147 and 150 respond to the concerns voiced in Committee about the extent to which established functions of police authorities are moved from primary to secondary legislation. The Association of Police Authorities has made representations to us on this issue. In addition, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee has recommended that, due to the wide nature of the regulation-making power in relation to police authority plans and reports, it should be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure.
We accept the spirit of the committee's recommendation, but opted for a slightly different solution. These government amendments go a step further and restore to the Police Act 1996 core requirements in respect of the planning process and in relation to consultation with local communities. We will now provide in primary legislation for police authorities to issue before the beginning of the financial year a rolling three-year policing plan. It will set out the proposed arrangements for policing the authority's area during the three years that it covers. It must include a statement of objectives determined by the authority, following consultation with the chief constable, for policing the authority's area for the period of the first year covered by that plan.
As the core provisions relating to policing plans will now be in primary legislation and the regulation-making power is much more tightly focused, we do not propose to make it subject to the affirmative procedure. ACPO and the APA will of course be consulted on any regulations made under the order. We will use the regulation-making power to stipulate what other matters should be included in policing plans. It would be our intention, and we certainly envisage, that the regulations would require, as now, the policing plan to include any performance targets set by the authority and a statement of the resources available.
Amendment No. 29 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, seeks to incorporate these requirements in primary legislation. Undoubtedly, these are important matters that should be included in the policing plan, but our argument is this: they are secondary details that can safely be left to regulations.
Amendment No. 49 also restores to the Police Act the duty on police authorities to obtain the views of their local communities. This will be supplemented by a power to make regulations covering review arrangements, persons whom the police authority should consult and reports to be made by the Home Secretary where arrangements are not adequate.
I recognise the importance of preserving key points of detail in primary legislation and, as we have made plain previously, the primary functions of maintaining an efficient and effective police force and of holding the chief officer to account for the way in which they discharge their functions will remain in the Police Act 1996—and now, on the basis of these government amendments, so will the functions relating to the issuing of plans and consultation with the community.
I hope that noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat Benches will be reassured by those comments and agree not to press Amendment No. 29. I commend the amendments to the House.
My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment No. 29, to which the noble Lord has already responded, unfortunately.
First, I welcome the spirit of the amendments put forward on behalf of the Government. The ability of police authorities to determine and issue local policing plans has now been put back into the Bill. That represents real progress, but it does not go quite far enough. Two key elements of what is currently in the law have been omitted from the government amendment. Our amendment aims to put those back into the Bill. I acknowledge my debt to the Front Benches, as I have borrowed heavily from their wording in this amendment, except in the elements they have omitted.
The first is the ability of an authority to establish performance targets for its force. The second is the ability to include in the plan a statement setting out the resources available and the proposed allocation of those resources against policing priorities. I am sure the Minister will agree that these are important functions of police authorities, but will tell me that it is more satisfactory that they should be placed in secondary legislation, which he has already intimated, to keep things simple and to increase flexibility. I shall see whether I can convince him and the House that these two elements are important enough to be in primary legislation.
First, on setting targets, the government amendment acknowledges that it is the job of an authority to set objectives for policing its area. But how does an authority know whether those objectives are being met unless it sets targets to measure them? Police authorities have duties under primary legislation to report back to local people on how well their local police force is performing. How can a police authority reassure the public that issues of concern to them are being addressed if it is not setting targets to measure that? Given that the duty of authorities to report on meeting performance targets is in primary legislation, it is inconsistent that the ability to set those targets is not.
Secondly, including a statement of resources available and the way in which they will be allocated to priorities is key because it impacts on funding and that goes to the heart of accountability. Police authorities hold the budgets for police forces and receive funds from central government towards those budgets, but some elements of the budgets come from local taxation. It is the duty of police authorities to raise those funds through the police element of council tax. Police authorities are accountable to local communities for how that money is spent, so is it not right that they should be able to ensure that policing funds are allocated appropriately in line with priorities? After all, those priorities are set after consulting the public, who fund police forces, to find out what most concerns them. This is not a matter of constraining the operational independence of chief officers but of accounting to the public for money that is collected from them and demonstrating that their money is being spent on addressing issues that concern them. This is a significant and important responsibility that should be in primary legislation. It has been for many years, and I see no reason to change that.
My Lords, I listened carefully to what the noble Baroness said on this matter, not for the first time, and I conclude that, while this is an interesting debate, it is a debate about means and the ends are shared. We all want to see standards raised and plans actively pursued and fulfilled. I do not think it is essential to have this provision in the Bill. In fact, by putting it there, we may be constraining ourselves and removing an important and necessary element of flexibility to reflect and change priorities over time. I heard what the noble Baroness said on this issue, but I am not persuaded and I have to insist on the Government's amendment.
moved Amendment No. 29:
Page 84, line 11, leave out from beginning to end of line 13 on page 85 and insert-
""6ZB Policing objectives and policing plans
(1) Before the beginning of each financial year every police authority shall issue a plan (a "policing plan") setting out-
(a) the authority's objectives ("policing objectives") for the policing of its area during that year; (b) any performance targets established by the authority; (c) a statement of the financial resources expected to be available and the proposed allocation of those resources against the policing objectives established by the authority; and (d) the proposed arrangements for the policing of that area for a period of 3 years beginning with that year.
(2) Policing objectives shall be so framed as to be consistent with any strategic priorities determined under section 37A.
(3) Before determining policing objectives, a police authority shall-
(a) consult the relevant chief officer of police; and (b) consider any views obtained by the authority in accordance with arrangements made under section 96.""
On Question, amendment negatived.
moved Amendments Nos. 30 to 32:
Page 85, leave out lines 19 to 22 and insert-
"(b) the policing plan issued by the Metropolitan Police Authority under section 6ZB.""
Page 85, leave out lines 27 to 30 and insert-
"(b) the policing plan issued by the police authority for his area under section 6ZB.""
Page 85, line 31, leave out paragraph 15 and insert-
"15 (1) Section 96B (national and international functions: application of requirements relating to reports etc) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (2), for "section 7(1) shall have effect as if the reference" there is substituted "section 6ZB(1) shall have effect as if a reference".
(3) Subsection (3) is repealed.
(4) In subsection (4), for "section 9(1)" there is substituted "section 6ZC(1)"."
On Question, amendments agreed to.
moved Amendment No. 33:
Page 86, leave out lines 22 to 25 and insert-
"(1B) The police authority responsible for maintaining a force that has more than one deputy chief officer shall, after consulting with the chief officer, designate the deputy chief officers in order of seniority for the purpose of subsection (1A)(B)."
My Lords, in moving this amendment, I am simply seeking to reinstate the existing provisions of the Police Act 1996 after allowing for the possibility that there may be more than one deputy chief constable and, in particular, that the police authority appoints the deputy or deputies.
Earlier today, your Lordships listened to an impassioned argument from my noble friend Lady Scotland in which she said that if the Mayor of London appointed the chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority, just as the deputy chair or chairs of the police authority would act in the absence of the chair, it followed inexorably that the Mayor of London should appoint the deputy chairs. I think that there are differences in substance between the police authority in London and other police authorities under the Bill, but the substance of my noble friend's argument seemed to be clearly that as the deputy acts in place of the chair, then the same person who appoints the chair should appoint the deputy chairs. Given the logic put forward by my noble friend just a few minutes ago, it follows that if the police authority appoints the chief officer and deputy chief officers and decides the order in which they deputise, then the police authority should determine which of the assistant chief constables will act on behalf of the chief constable. That is what is proposed in the amendment.
Currently the police authority and not the chief constable determines which senior officer should act in place of the chief constable during his or her absence. The Bill would change that arrangement to make it the responsibility of the chief officer. Frankly, I do not believe that a satisfactory case has been made for why that should be so. Indeed, your Lordships will recall that at an earlier stage of the Bill I argued that the police authority should explicitly be responsible for appointments right down to operational command unit level. That is still my view but, given the enormous progress that has been made on the Bill, I am not proposing to press that today. However, it seems to me that this very simple change in the provision of the deputy goes to the heart of the issue. If the police authority appoints the chief constable, then logically, as my noble friend has already conceded on related points, the authority should decide who acts in his or her place.
I make it clear to your Lordships that I do not believe that this is an operational decision. It is a matter of the strategic oversight of the capacity of a force. As such, it is a responsibility that falls to the authority. This is where my careful analogy with the Mayor appointing the deputy chairs of the police authority in London breaks down. The argument here does not apply so far as concerns the police authority in London because nowhere is the Mayor of London given a strategic oversight of the operations of the police authority, whereas under the Police Act the police authority is given that strategic oversight. Accordingly, while my noble friend's argument that those who appoint the chief officer or the chair should automatically appoint the deputies still applies, there is an additional argument in this case because of the authority's role in strategic oversight. This is about strategic oversight of a force, which is why the deputy should be appointed by the authority.
Finally and perhaps most importantly, my proposal would ensure that there was adequate resilience and flexibility in the arrangement at senior level where the absence of the chief constable was long-term or even permanent but such resilience would be owned and supported by the police authority. I beg to move.
My Lords, it should remain the responsibility of the police authority, otherwise the force, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, said, potentially lacks resilience, depth and flexibility. It is perfectly conceivable that both the chief and the deputy might for different reasons be absent—retirement, illness, secondment elsewhere, and so on. It is much less likely that all 17 members of the police authority might be similarly indisposed.
The police authority appoints the chief officer, so it is right that they should also decide who acts up as chief officer. This is a decision about strategic capacity, not an operational decision. I wonder whether a couple of examples might be helpful. The first is from the West Midlands, which prompted a change in the law in the first place, so that it became the responsibility of the police authority, through the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001. The chief retires; the designated deputy is taken into hospital; and there is no one to decide who should act as chief. The result is a state of inaction and limbo. Example number two is from Thames Valley. The chief is seconded effectively permanently to the NPIA and is absent for more than a year. The deputy is appointed acting chief. What happens if she is taken ill? That is not a problem under the current arrangements but it would be under the proposals. Who is there to decide which of the ACCs will act up? I support Amendment No. 33 wholeheartedly.
My Lords, Amendments Nos. 33 and 34 make arrangements for the designation of deputy chief constables and assistant chief constables to exercise the functions of chief constables in their absence. As we made clear when we considered similar amendments in Committee, 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 their absence. That is how we see it. We see it as being part of the chief constable's general direction of the senior management team, and appropriately we feel that it is important to protect the constitutional position of chief officers in having operational direction and control of their force, including their senior management team. I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Harris, said. He did not see it as being part of an operational matter but we take a different view, and I invite the noble Lord to consider his view. We see it operating in that way.
The noble Baroness, Lady Harris, said that she thought that the Bill's provisions changed the appointment arrangements for ACPO ranks. We do not see that in the same way. The police authority will continue to appoint the deputy chief constable and assistant chief constables, and the Bill does nothing to interfere with those arrangements. In any event, in the absence of mergers, it is very unlikely that any force will have more than one deputy, so it is unlikely to be an issue of concern in the future, although I take careful note of the noble Baroness's examples.
The Bill would enable the chief constable to identify which assistant chief constable would act in the absence of both the chief constable and the deputy chief constable. The problems that the noble Baroness has identified will not arise in effect and practice. It is a difference of view; we take one and the noble Lord and Baroness another. I therefore cannot agree with these amendments.
My Lords, are the Government therefore moving away from the position they held so forcefully only an hour or so ago—that where somebody appoints the most senior person, they should also appoint the person who deputises for them? If so, that would be helpful for our earlier arguments. I hope the Minister is not trying to have it both ways. Clearly, if it applies to the police authority in London, the same argument must apply to the appointment of chief officers of police.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, was transferring his logic from one argument to the other. I was impressed by the adept transference of logic, but I am not drawn to support it. We therefore simply disagree on the operational importance and stature of the chief constable, and the fact that they are there to direct, manage and control the police service—in practice, in consultation with the police authority. I understand the nature of the noble Lord's argument; I simply disagree with him.
My Lords, I suppose I am deeply grateful to the Minister for highlighting this possible area of inconsistency in government thinking. I urge the Government to consider carefully the responses they have given me on both this amendment and one an hour or so ago. It seems to me that you cannot apply completely different logic to the two cases. If the Government are saying that the person appointing the chairman of a police authority must also appoint the deputies because they might act as chair in the chair's absence, the same logic must surely apply for the appointments of chief officers of police.
The Minister says, with a look of regret and sorrow, that he begs to differ on the fundamental point of principle that this is an operational matter, an issue of direction and control, rather than one of strategy. We surely recognise the central leadership role of chief officers of police. How they exercise it is very much about the strategic direction of the force. Parliament explicitly gave police authorities the right to appoint not only the chief officer of police but also the deputy chief officer of police in the 1996 Act because that strategic role is so fundamental.
I am not quite sure what attracts the Minister to the 1994 Act rather than the 1996 Act, let alone whether it is related to the sad disagreement on the point of principle he has referred to. However, I urge my noble friends to consider how they make coherent their logical arguments in the various answers I have received this afternoon and, while they do so, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 35:
Page 87, line 27, at end insert-
"Clerks to police authorities renamed chief executives
19A (1) Section 16 (appointment of clerk by police authority) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsections (1) and (2), for "clerk to" there is substituted "chief executive of".
(3) In the heading, for "clerk" there is substituted "chief executive".
19B In Schedule 6 (appeals to police appeal tribunals), in paragraph 6(2), for "clerk" there is substituted "chief executive".
19C (1) A reference in subordinate legislation (within the meaning of the Interpretation Act 1978 (c. 30)) to the clerk to a police authority has effect as a reference to the chief executive of the authority.
(2) A person holding office as clerk to a police authority on the commencement of paragraph 19A continues in that office as chief executive of the authority.
(3) In this paragraph "police authority" means-
My Lords, I think that we have a measure of agreement with this amendment in principle. Before I get stuck into the meat of the subject, I should like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, once again for tabling her amendment in Committee to change the title of the "clerk to the authority" to "chief executive" of the police authority. We made clear at the time that we supported the amendment but had some concerns about the proposed wording. I am therefore pleased that we can bring forward these amendments which implement the changes proposed by the Liberal Democrat Benches.
The proposed change in terminology derives from Review of the Selection and Appointment Process of Independent Members of Police Authorities conducted by Kenneth Hamer. The relevant recommendation was:
"I recommend that the title Clerk to the Police Authority should be replaced with a more modern business title such as Chief Executive, or Executive Director, and that section 16 of the Police Act 1996 which requires police authorities to appoint 'a Clerk' is a barrier to modernisation".
We agree with that sentiment. Indeed, I recognise that, in practice, the new terminology is in place and that a number of clerks have already adopted the chief executive title.
It is of course preferable for the relevant legislation to be updated in accordance with that change. For that reason, I beg to move.
My Lords, clerks of police authorities up and down the land are cheering and celebrating the Government's acceptance of the amendment we tabled in Committee, albeit in their own inimitable legalese, and now they are all chief executives. I very much thank the Government for making them so, and warmly welcome the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 36:
Page 87, line 39, at end insert-
"Cost benefit analysis of alterations of police areas
( ) In section 32 (power to alter police areas by order), after subsection (3) there is inserted-
"(3A) The Secretary of State shall not lay a statutory instrument containing an order made under this section before Parliament unless it is accompanied by a cost-benefit analysis commissioned from an independent body, which shall include the financial cost and benefits of each proposed alteration proposed by the order laid.""
My Lords, Amendment No. 36 would ensure that the Secretary of State could not lay a statutory instrument containing an order regarding alteration or merging of police areas unless it was accompanied by a cost benefit analysis commissioned from an independent body, which included the financial cost and benefits of each and every suggested alteration.
In Committee, on
We had a detailed debate in Committee, to which I certainly shall not return because on Report it would not be appropriate to do so, when we considered the Government's assessment of the costs of the proposed mergers, an assessment that was not recognised by the police authorities and police forces as being anywhere near the real figure.
Over the summer it has emerged that £6.1 million has been spent on preparing for the Government's failed merger scheme by just 27 out of 43 forces. The total financial cost to police forces alone could be well over £10 million, and many have made claims to the Home Office for the funds that could have meant 271 extra police employed on the beat. It is a staggering waste of taxpayers' hard-earned money, all for a programme of merger that Moira Wallace, the director-general of crime, policing and counter-terrorism at the Home Office, admitted two weeks ago when she spoke at the Police Superintendents Association conference was "not well enough planned" and,
"was not well enough managed".
We certainly agree with that.
With the Home Office budget effectively frozen by the Chancellor of the Exchequer from 2008 onwards, we on these Benches remain concerned that forced mergers would put pressure on other parts of police expenditure. I believe that the revelations over the summer have only highlighted what a disaster police regionalisation would be and have shown that the preparation costs have already dented local policing capability. It is important for the Minister to bring the House up to date with the Government's policy regarding forced mergers.
There have been many press reports over the summer saying that Ministers have scrapped the plans to force mergers. There have been reports of speeches by Ministers in which they have allegedly given commitments that they will not require forces to merge unless they have demonstrated positively that they wish to do so. Yet the language in Parliament has been less clear, until today perhaps. It has been couched in terms that imply that Ministers will return to the fray when they think that attention has been diverted away from this matter.
Earlier this evening we heard of a little progress. The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, said that it was not just a matter of these plans being kicked into the long grass but that—he used the words—they are in the deep freeze. Are the Government going to bring a blow torch to that deep freeze in the near future and let loose on the enforced mergers again? I made it clear to the Minister when we met to discuss these matters about a month ago that I would table this amendment, not to press it today but to give the Government the opportunity to put on the record, in as clear terms as any government Minister is able, what their plans are regarding police mergers. My colleagues in another place can then properly reflect on the Minister's answer when the matter on which we won a Division earlier this year returns shortly to another place for debate. I beg to move.
My Lords, we most definitely support this amendment. It is absolutely essential that we never again get into the ridiculous state of affairs we were pressed into which ensure that police officers and police authority members spend ludicrous amounts of time trying to work through the Government's proposals. The cost of all this ill thought-out enforced activity has been enormous, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, has so rightly pointed out. In my own force alone it amounts to hundreds of thousands of pounds. In future whenever any government feel the need to be radical it should be imperative that a cost benefit analysis is undertaken before proposals are brought before Parliament. We support very strongly this amendment.
My Lords, the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, are very helpful. I recollect a considerable amount of time being spent by noble Lords on all sides of the House trying to work out what precisely the Government had in mind when police mergers were being discussed. At one stage there was not adequate time for consultation. People were crying out for a timescale within which the decision should be taken. We were told that certain police forces up north were likely to be merged. A new Minister was then appointed who has come along and said that the matter has been put in the long grass or the deep freeze—or whatever expression one wants to use.
Considerable time has been wasted on this matter, not only by Ministers and others, but there has been pressure on a number of noble Lords with police authorities making representations and wanting a clear answer. It would be very helpful if the Minister were clearly to indicate whether the merger plans will still be enacted at some stage. If not, what went wrong and why were the plans stopped?
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, for giving me this opportunity to clarify the situation. Her generosity beggars belief on occasion.
That is not to say that the issues in Denis O'Connor's report, Closing the Gap have gone away; far from it. There is a widespread recognition that the status quo is not an option. We need to make progress in enhancing forces' capacity and capability to protect the public from the threats posed by terrorism, serious and organised crime and civil emergencies. We now need to focus more on the outcomes that we want to achieve and less on structural questions. Earlier today, the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, gave us an example of her local force working energetically with other forces in the locality to address some of those issues. Collaboration and co-operation are obligatory for all of us.
We want to work with police forces and police authorities to see how best we can deliver the required improvements in protective services while preserving neighbourhood policing. To this end, the Minister for policing and security, my honourable friend Tony McNulty, has written to all chief constables and police authorities seeking their views on how best to narrow the protective services gap in the absence of mergers. He has followed up that letter with a series of meetings with forces and authorities to listen to their views at first hand. As part of that dialogue with the service, we have made it clear that we are open to all possibilities ranging from collaboration to federation and to the lead force model. We are ready to do what we can to facilitate any innovative solutions to the issue.
What matters is what works and what delivers real improvement in the quality of level 2 policing while protecting neighbourhood policing, rather than details of structure. The public want their local force to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour. They also want and deserve to be properly protected from threats posed by serious organised crime and terrorism. We are no longer looking to mergers to deal with that issue, but the merger option must remain available as a last resort. We cannot say that we will never have to use it. No responsible Minister and no responsible Government could ever give a guarantee such as that, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, referred. But I reiterate that enforced mergers are off the agenda. We shall return to that only if it is clear that none of the other options being considered could produce worthwhile results.
As in all our debates, there did not seem to be any disagreement between us that we had to improve; the question is simply how. How do we deliver the change that everyone has identified as needed? It is for that reason that we must preserve the existing provisions in the Police Act 1996 which enable the Home Secretary of the day to initiate mergers where that would be in the interests of policing and protecting the public. Such a provision has been on the statute book for many decades and was retained and, indeed, updated, by the previous Conservative Administration in 1994. That is why we shall invite the other place to reject the amendment made by this House in Committee.
I turn briefly to the amendment. Its effect would be to outsource decisions about whether to alter police areas to an unidentified and unaccountable independent body. Any merger needs to be supported by a well founded business case, but it is ultimately for those who advocate change to put the case for it. In the case of initiating police mergers, Section 33 of the Police Act already effectively provides for that by requiring that the Home Secretary of the day must set out his or her reasons for the proposed alteration of police areas.
I hope that the House will be satisfied that the Home Secretary's decision to withdraw the merger notices issued in the spring has settled the issue. What matters now is how we work with the police service to strengthen the protection of the public against the threat posed by terrorism and organised crime. All the conversations that we have had have addressed that issue with a degree of urgency. That is the debate that we need to have now. The provisions for amalgamating police force areas in the 1996 Act are perfectly adequate as they stand and should be left on the statute book as a back-stop but, as mergers are no longer on the agenda, it is time for us to move on.
On that basis, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, will be content to withdraw her amendment, having given me a delightful opportunity better to explain where we now find ourselves concerning force mergers.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. My colleagues in another place will study her words carefully. I certainly agree with her, as we always have, that the outcome of better and strengthened policing, supported by Government and police authorities, is something that we are all trying to achieve at a time when level 2 policing is under severe strain. We all seek to assist the police better to serve the public—that is what the police wish to do themselves.
I was pleased to hear the Minister say that the Government would not seek to return to forced mergers until all the other viable options had been tried and had been shown not to deliver worthwhile results. That implies a lack of haste in returning to mergers and a willingness at least to try alternative methods.
One problem was that we and, I know, the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, felt that the Government had been proceeding with forced mergers without giving the federated model or the other alternative routes to improvement an opportunity to operate first. I accept that the Minister does not agree with the result of the Division and the will of the House earlier this year, but she will not be surprised to hear that I rather expect that the Government might try to overturn our victory when the Bill returns to another place. It will be for another place to consider her words, not for me to pre-empt the decision of another place. For the moment, the amendment was tabled to elicit her statement rather than to force it to a Division. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 38:
Page 88, line 31, leave out paragraphs 26 to 28.
My Lords, in moving the amendment, I first welcome the amendments moved by the Minister. They go some way towards limiting the powers of the Secretary of State to intervene in police forces, so that the inspectorate will be involved in deciding whether a force is failing. Unfortunately, they do not deal with the underlying problem with this part. I shall explain that. It is the power of the Secretary of State to give directions to chief officers of police. That is completely unconstitutional and represents a radical unbalancing of the tripartite relationship. It is also potentially a very dangerous weapon in the wrong hands. In fairness, the Minister's amendments suggest that in most circumstances the Secretary of State's directions should be made through the police authority, but there is a sting in the tail of the amendments, which renders them almost meaningless. The Secretary of State may direct the chief officer where he deems that the authority is failing. There is no independent judgment built into the process. It is the Secretary of State who decides what "failing" means. It is widely drawn, covering any functions of an authority whether generally or in a particular respect.
In theory, that means that if, say, a police force was not very good at clearing dead dogs off a motorway or a police authority was not very good at keeping hard-copy archived records—which, I understand, have to be bound on green paper of a particular quality—going back for ever, the Secretary of State could give directions to the chief officer. I do not suggest that the current Secretary of State would use such a power injudiciously or unfairly; I merely observe that it would be easy for a Secretary of State whose motives may be more questionable to misuse such a wide power at some point in the future.
In addition, the government amendments do nothing to ameliorate the concerns expressed in Committee about the Secretary of State being blessed with foreknowledge about when a force or authority will fail. Again, this could be open to misuse. I accept that a role envisaged for the inspectorate with regard to forces should provide some comfort in this respect, but there is silence about any equivalent role with regard to authorities. This is the key issue in the direction of chief officers. Amendment No. 38, which would leave out paragraphs 26 to 28 on "Power to give directions to police authority or chief officer", would dispense altogether with what could be a dangerous part of the Bill. That would be my preference. However, I am a realist and I recognise that it is always sensible to have a plan B. The other amendments would provide an alternative that would prevent the Secretary of State giving directions to chief officers but would allow him some intervention powers through the authority. Crucially, however, it would place sensible limitations on what "failing" means. This is an important matter that goes to the heart of the balance between central and local powers and between chief officers, police authorities and the Secretary of State—the tripartite balance. The other centralising measures in the Bill are a grave cause for concern, but these proposals must be where the line is drawn.
I also ask the Minister to say how the Government think they will find the capacity and the expertise to intervene in police authorities. To date, the Home Office's policing support unit has used a few civil servants in its intervention work with forces, but it has relied mostly on seconded police officers. Given that most police authorities run an extremely tight ship, it is unlikely that they will be able to find some spare people to undertake these duties.
Finally, I return to the nub of my concerns: if the Secretary of State can tell chief officers what to do, all the other arguments about exactly how the balance will be shared between the tripartite partners are simply whistling in the wind. I beg to move.
My Lords, I strongly support all the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia; indeed, I have added my name to them. We on these Benches believe that the Bill would give Ministers greater powers to interfere in operational policing matters than is acceptable. Policing should not be politicised. The police must be able to investigate crime independently and to apply the laws passed by Parliament free from party-political pressure. The amendments tabled by the noble Baroness reflect the deep concern expressed about the powers to be conferred on the Secretary of State to direct the chief officers of the police. ACPO put it concisely:
"This is an unprecedented and seismic shift in the balance of roles and responsibilities within the tri-partite relationship and must be withdrawn".
We believe that the Home Secretary should not have the power to intervene in a way that interferes in failing police forces and police authorities, as it so clearly would under the Bill. That is where the difficulty lies. It looks as though the Government are trying to get through the back door the provisions that they failed to get through the front door in our debates on the Police Reform Act 2002. What was important at that stage was that the Government agreed to think again. They stepped back from the position that they had taken on the intervention powers of the Secretary of State in policing matters, and they were right to do so. The Home Secretary is mistaken in seeking to go forward now.
In our debate on these matters on
I should say in passing that, when I read the government amendments last week, I noted that Amendment No. 45 refers to a chief inspector for custody, among other things. I merely put on record the fact that I have noticed the reference to that. I do not seek to debate whether it is appropriate for that reference to be in the amendment, because we will have a substantive debate on that tomorrow.
The problem remains that, despite the Government's amendments, a Secretary of State who is determined to issue directions and extend his authority over the police could do so in a manner that would distort the tripartite relationship that we all hold so dear. My colleagues in another place and I have looked very carefully at the Government's proposals, and they believe that we should stick by our principles on this matter—principles that were tested in Divisions on the Police Reform Act in 2002 when the Government agreed to withdraw their plans. I hope that they are prepared to think again today. I support the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond.
My Lords, before my noble friend replies, I should say that the matter has already been referred to; indeed, I raised it in Committee. I was extremely concerned about these issues and I welcome the fact that my noble friend has tried to narrow down the basis of intervention, in a way that I welcome.
I hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, says about police authorities. Both she and I know that some police authorities, although probably only one or two, might well have problems and be in some disarray. She and I have had experience of that. There is a way through the point that she makes: we know that police authorities will be inspected in the near future, and I take her point that the Secretary of State should not take his decisions on any grounds other than established fact and objective assessment. It seems that if police authorities are to be inspected, as indeed they are under the legislation, there will be an objective basis on which to categorise them. Therefore at least that objective could be met, because there will be ways in which one can determine where the police authorities are doing their job and where they are not. To that extent, the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, could be addressed through police inspections, and the Secretary of State could reasonably take note of those inspections when coming to a view about police authorities. As I say, although I recognise the anxieties that have been expressed, I feel that the Government have made progress on trying to narrow the basis on which direct intervention would be made, which I welcome.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Harris of Richmond and Lady Anelay of St Johns, and my noble friend Lady Henig for welcoming the government amendments to the extent to which they each did. Perhaps I may ask for a little more generous welcome from the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, for the following reasons. We understood the import of the concern expressed. In our previous debates, it was clear that Members of this House wished these powers to be used as a matter of last resort and that the direction to the police force or the police authority would be given when they failed to provide the standard of service that we all expect. I do not think that there was any dissent on that. I appreciate that the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, and my noble friend Lady Henig were particularly concerned that there should be no inappropriate, improper, heavy-handed, not-thought-through interference, and we agree.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, has made plain, we have worked very hard to think of how we could accommodate this concern, which we not only accept but want to allay because it was not our intention. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, was right to raise the concerns expressed by ACPO and the Association of Police Authorities. In all fairness, I must tell your Lordships that the two government amendments in this group provide those associations with considerable and significant reassurance. They are now both in a position to welcome the Government's amendments.
Perhaps I may explore why they have welcomed them. Beyond choosing where to live, local people have no effective choice about the police service that they receive. The intervention powers therefore need to be in place to ensure that the Government have a means of driving performance improvement in cases where policing has fallen below an acceptable level. As I said, intervention powers are powers of last resort. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, gave exciting examples, but I think that even as she said them she did not suggest that they were really convincing as a basis on which a Home Secretary was likely to intervene. Her smile gave that away, as enchanting as it always is.
Our experience of last resort is borne out by the first five years or so of these powers being available to the Home Secretary. He has not needed to use them, as other non-statutory resolutions to performance issues have proved sufficient. A situation will require formal intervention only if results are not forthcoming or police forces or police authorities are unwilling to engage. The rationale for the Government's revisions to existing powers is based on experience of dealing with performance failings gained since the inception of the original powers. The revisions are about framing the powers to provide the most focused and effective response to performance failings in police forces and police authorities.
Amendment No. 38, tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, seeks to remove all the changes introduced in the Bill. We believe that the changes are necessary to better reflect how we work in practice with forces and authorities, and to ensure that they serve as an effective lever of continuous performance improvement. The Government have been concerned about the length of time that forces and authorities can take to put effective improvement plans into operation. Effective powers need to be available if performance improvements are not forthcoming. The changes to be provided by this Bill are merely intended to make the process more efficient and more in line with how they may be used in practice.
Amendments Nos. 39 and 46 propose a definition for the level of performance failing that would lead to intervention as "serious and permanent" failure. Furthermore, the intervention will occur exceptionally, only if there is no alternative. We realise that to clarify or define the type or level of failing may provide some comfort, although we are not convinced that it would be helpful to add such wording. Intervention powers are intended to be used only in the most serious cases, but it would be illogical to wait for any failing to become permanent before action was taken. It is worth reminding the House that there is no such test in the existing intervention powers approved by this House in 2002, which has not inured to our disadvantage.
There are a number of safeguards to ensure that the powers of intervention are used in only the most exceptional cases and when all other methods of achieving the necessary improvements in performance have been attempted. Most importantly, intervention will not take place unless the police force or police authority had previously been made aware of the performance failings and had been given the opportunity to remedy those failings. There is also the option of non-statutory engagement with the Police Standards Unit, which in practice is most likely to occur before any intervention is considered.
We have listened to the previous debate on the definition of a threshold that must be met before intervention powers are utilised. Moreover, we are aware that the removal of the inspectorate as the only trigger for the intervention powers has also raised concern. That is why government Amendment No. 45 places an obligation on the Secretary of State to consult the new Inspectorate for Justice, Community Safety and Custody—I hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, says about that—in all cases where it is proposed that the powers are used, and to publish the inspectorate's opinion on the evidence which has led to that proposed course of action. That is intended to ensure that the inspectorate's professional, independent advice is available to the Secretary of State on whether the use of the powers is, in its opinion, the right course of action.
I listened carefully to what the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, said about police authorities. I agree that the new requirement on the Home Secretary to seek the views of the Chief Inspector for Justice, Community Safety and Custody before issuing a direction in relation to the police force should also apply before any direction is issued in relation to a police authority. That makes sense, and I can see why the noble Baroness makes that suggestion. I can therefore assure the noble Baroness that we will bring forward an appropriate amendment at Third Reading. I endorse what my noble friend Lady Henig said. Inspecting police authorities and their function gives us a good avenue through which to ensure that we respond proportionately and appropriately.
The noble Baroness, Lady Harris, also said that the Home Office basically has the skills and knowledge to intervene in this way. I of course accept that this is new territory, but that should not stop us from doing the right thing. Elsewhere this Bill provides, for the first time, for police authorities to be inspected. These amendments go hand in glove with that change.
Amendments Nos. 41 and 42 would remove the ability of the Secretary of State to intervene directly with a chief officer of a failing force rather than via the police authority. Learning through our non-statutory work with police forces has demonstrated that the best way to deal with performance problems is to go straight to those, such as the chief officer, who can implement the changes necessary to turn around performance. That is more easily achieved if direct contact is made from the start. The same is true of initial direct contact with the police authority. The change we are making in the Bill is not intended to bypass the police authority or its critical role in holding the force to account for its performance. It has always been our intention that the usual route for intervention would be through the police authority, but we recognise that there might be some occasions when the police authority may not feel able or be able to take the necessary steps.
We are, however, sensitive to the concerns that this direct intervention has raised during the passage of the Bill. Government Amendment No. 43 makes our intentions clearer and will hopefully reassure the House. The amendment provides that the powers are routed directly to the chief officer only in two specific instances: first, where the police authority has also been shown to be failing; and, secondly, where the police authority has specifically requested intervention by the Home Secretary as the most effective way to rectify the problems.
Finally, Amendment No. 44 seeks to remove the Secretary of State's ability to intervene without delay when he is satisfied that the chief officer or the police authority have, in respect of the police force or police authority, failings, having been given sufficient information and time to remedy those failings. Again, these revisions to the Police Act are not about removing safeguards, but reflect our experience of working with underperforming forces and what is needed to enable us to get to the heart of the problem quickly. Where a new performance issue arises, of course the expectation is that the force and the authority will be given the time and opportunity to address it, and we would work to help them were such a request for assistance to be made. However, when the force or authority has failed to address problems it has been made aware of and on which it has been given ample time to act, for example via an engagement with the Police Standards Unit or an earlier inspection report, a different solution would need to apply. We feel that it would be illogical, where a longstanding and known performance issue had persisted and gone unresolved, for our response at that point to be to hand back the problem to the force or authority without any stronger and more immediate requirement for its resolution. These provisions will ensure that the necessary action can be taken to address serious failings which have gone unattended.
In conclusion, we have listened very carefully to the concerns about these provisions and we believe that the government amendments meet them. We believe, too, that we have satisfied the concerns raised by the Association of Police Authorities and the Association of Chief Police Officers, both of which have welcomed our amendments. In those circumstances, we invite noble Lords also to welcome them and ask the noble Baroness not to press her amendments.
My Lords, first I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and Members on the Conservative Benches for their support. I have listened carefully to the Minister and I am grateful for her long clarification. I acknowledge that she has given some reassurance about the role of HMIC in determining whether a force is failing. I also acknowledge that an authority must be failing before the Secretary of State can intervene in a force, or that the authority must first request such an intervention. Again, I agree that that is a significant step forward. However, having considered this carefully, and given the constitutional importance of this part of the Bill, I think that more is needed.
I have already rehearsed my fundamental objections to these proposals so I shall not dwell on them again, but these are matters of significant constitutional importance that, if implemented as they stand, could unbalance the tripartite relationship through which our policing in this country is governed. They also go to the core of the balance that needs to be achieved between central prescription and local determination in order to safeguard the interests of our communities. In this Bill, and especially in this schedule, we have seen clause after clause giving additional powers to the Secretary of State to determine through regulation many aspects which until now have been set out in primary legislation, particularly in respect of the role of police authorities. I am delighted that, as a result of our arguments and debates in this House, at least some of these provisions will now be put back into primary legislation, but much is left which represents a charter to micromanage significant elements of policing if the Secretary of State is so minded. Does he not have enough to do at the moment?
We all want to ensure that the policing of this country is the most effective we can make it, but driving a cart and horse through key constitutional safeguards is not the way to go about it. I believe that this is a step too far in the direction of central prescription and direction. I wish to test the opinion of the House.
moved Amendment No. 49:
Page 92, line 7, leave out paragraph 29 and insert-
"29 (1) Section 96 (arrangements for obtaining the views of the community on policing) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (1)(b), after "crime" there is inserted "and anti-social behaviour".
(3) In subsection (2), for "subsection (6)" there is substituted "provision made by virtue of subsection (6)(b)".
(4) For subsections (6) to (10) there is substituted-
"(6) The Secretary of State may by regulations-
(a) make provision supplementing that made by this section (or by regulations under paragraph (b)); (b) make provision applying in place of subsection (2) in relation to the City of London police area.
(7) Regulations under subsection (6)(a) may contain-
(a) provision requiring a police authority to review arrangements made under this section from time to time; (b) provision (further to that made by subsection (2) or by regulations under subsection (6)(b)) as to persons whom a police authority is to consult in making or reviewing the arrangements; (c) provision as to matters to which a police authority is to have regard in making or reviewing the arrangements; (d) provision for the Secretary of State, if not satisfied with the adequacy of arrangements made under this section by a police authority, to require the authority- (i) to submit reports to him concerning the arrangements; (ii) to review the arrangements.
(8) Before making regulations under this section the Secretary of State must consult-
(9) Regulations under this section may make different provision for different police authorities.
(10) A statutory instrument containing regulations under this section shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.""
On Question, amendment agreed to.
[Amendment No. 50 not moved.]
moved Amendment No. 51:
After Schedule 2, insert the following new schedule-
1 In this Schedule-
"the 1976 Act" means the Police Pensions Act 1976; "1976 Act scheme" means a pension scheme established by regulations under section 1 of the 1976 Act (pensions for police in Great Britain); "the 1998 Act" means the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998; "1998 Act scheme" means a pension scheme established by regulations under section 25(2)(k) of the 1998 Act (pensions for members of Police Service of Northern Ireland) or section 26(2)(g) of that Act (pensions for members of Police Service of Northern Ireland Reserve); "police pension scheme" means a 1976 Act scheme or a 1998 Act scheme; "police pensions regulations" means- (a) regulations under section 1 of the 1976 Act; (b) regulations under section 25(2)(k) or 26(2)(g) of the 1998 Act. Power to merge police pension schemes
2 (1) Regulations may-
(a) revoke those provisions of the police pensions regulations that apply to persons who became members of a police pension scheme before 6th April 2006, and (b) make equivalent provision establishing a single pension scheme for the benefit of those persons.
(2) In sub-paragraph (1)(b) "equivalent provision" means, subject to sub-paragraph (3), provision having the same effect as the provisions revoked.
(3) The regulations may make changes to the effect of the provisions revoked if the changes-
(a) are made as a result of consolidating the provisions of the different police pensions regulations into a single pension scheme, and (b) do not make the scheme less beneficial to any member of it than the police pension scheme of which he was previously a member. Exercise of power to establish merged scheme
3 (1) This paragraph applies to the first regulations under this Schedule.
(2) The power to make the regulations is exercisable by the Secretary of State with the consent of the Treasury.
(4) The regulations may be framed so as to have effect as from a date before the making of the regulations.
Exercise of power to amend merged scheme
4 (1) The power to make amending regulations is exercisable as if-
(a) any provision of the 1976 Act applying to regulations under section 1 of that Act, (b) any provision of Northern Ireland legislation applying to regulations under section 25(2)(k) of the 1998 Act, and (c) any provision of Northern Ireland legislation applying to regulations under section 26(2)(g) of that Act, applied also to the amending regulations.
(2) In this paragraph "amending regulations" means regulations amending regulations previously made under this Schedule.
Application of provisions of other Acts
5 (1) The provisions of-
(a) section 8A of the 1976 Act (information in connection with police pensions etc), (b) section 9 of that Act (assignment etc of pension to be void), and (c) section 10 of that Act (obtaining pension by self-inflicted injury etc), apply to regulations under this Schedule, so far as relating to persons who are former members of a 1976 Act Scheme, as they apply to regulations under section 1 of the 1976 Act.
(2) The Pensions (Increase) Act 1971 has effect as if a reference in paragraph 15 or 43 of Schedule 2 to a pension payable under the Police Pensions Act 1976 included a reference to a pension payable under regulations under this Schedule to a person who is a former member of a 1976 Act Scheme.
6 A reference, however expressed, in any document (including an enactment) to-
(a) regulations under section 1 of the 1976 Act, (b) regulations under section 25(2)(k) of the 1998 Act, or (c) regulations under section 26(2)(g) of that Act, is to be read, where the context allows, as including a reference to regulations under this Schedule. Continuity of schemes for tax purposes
7 A pension scheme established under this Schedule is to be regarded for the purposes of Part 4 of the Finance Act 2004 (taxation of pension schemes etc) as a continuation of each police pension scheme that it replaces, and not as a different scheme."
My Lords, the Finance Act 2004 brought in new rules relating to pension benefits and to formally register pension schemes. At the same time, new police pension schemes were opened and the existing police pension scheme for the police in Great Britain and the almost identical scheme for members of the Police Service of Northern Ireland were closed to new entrants. These changes do not affect officers who are members of the old scheme transferring from one police force to another within Great Britain, but police officers transferring permanently between Northern Ireland and Great Britain in either direction would be obliged to join the new pension scheme on transfer.
The Government are keen for officers to join the new scheme and are giving all serving officers across the United Kingdom the opportunity to do so during a comprehensive options exercise. It was not our intention to compel police officers to do so on transferring between home department forces within the United Kingdom. These amendments would give the Secretary of State the power to merge the old pension schemes, thus removing this unintended consequence of the recent changes in pensions policy. The merging of the schemes will bring no disadvantage to officers and is essentially an administrative measure designed to facilitate the transfer of police officers from the Police Service of Northern Ireland to forces in Great Britain and vice versa. Such transfers are particularly important for the Police Service of Northern Ireland so that it can draw on the skills and experience of senior officers from Great British forces. This move is widely supported by the police, including the Police Federation, the Police Negotiating Board and the Northern Ireland Policing Board.
I understand that this is a riveting subject for most Members of your Lordships' House. With that comment and observation, I beg to move.
My Lords, the amendment relates also to Northern Ireland and the pensions of police officers there. There is nothing we cannot support in it but we must ask the Government specifically to confirm that no police officer in Northern Ireland will be worse off under the new arrangements.
My Lords, we support the amendments and are grateful to the Government for taking the care in advance to send to noble Lords taking part in these debates the Statement to be made by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in another place, and placing it in the Library. It alerted outside organisations to this issue and made it possible, I hope, for these amendments to go through very quickly.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, for her support. I am pleased that the Statement made by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has been carefully studied and welcomed. I can confirm that no serving police officer will be any worse off as a consequence of the amendments that we have brought before your Lordships' House this evening. I hope that that satisfies the noble Baroness, Lady Harris.
moved Amendment No. 52:
After Schedule 2, insert the following new schedule-
1 In section 67 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (supplementary provisions about codes), for paragraphs (a) and (b) of subsection (4) there is substituted-
2 In section 8A of the Police Act 1996 (local policing summaries), for paragraphs (a) and (b) of subsection (6) there is substituted-
"(a) the Association of Police Authorities; (b) the Association of Chief Police Officers; and".
3 In section 39A of that Act (codes of practice for chief officers), for paragraphs (a) and (b) of subsection (4) there is substituted-
"(a) the Association of Police Authorities; (b) the Association of Chief Police Officers; and".
4 In section 42A of that Act (procedure in relation to removal of senior officers), for paragraphs (a) and (b) of subsection (2) there is substituted-
"(a) the Association of Police Authorities; (b) the Association of Chief Police Officers; and".
5 In section 53 of that Act (regulations as to standard of equipment), for paragraphs (a) and (b) of subsection (2) there is substituted-
"(a) the Association of Police Authorities; (b) the Association of Chief Police Officers; and".
6 (1) Section 53A of that Act (regulation of procedures and practices) is amended as follows.
(2) For paragraphs (a) and (b) of subsection (3) there is substituted-
"(a) the Association of Police Authorities; and (b) the Association of Chief Police Officers."
(3) For paragraphs (a) and (b) of subsection (5) there is substituted-
"(a) the Association of Police Authorities; and (b) the Association of Chief Police Officers; and".
7 In section 57 of that Act (common services), for paragraphs (a) and (b) of subsection (4) there is substituted-
"(a) the Association of Police Authorities; (b) the Association of Chief Police Officers; and".
8 In section 101 of that Act (interpretation), at the beginning of the list of definitions in subsection (1) there is inserted-
""the Association of Chief Police Officers" means the Association of Chief Police Officers of England, Wales and Northern Ireland;". Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996 (c. 25)
9 In section 21A of the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996 (code of practice for police interviews of certain witnesses), in subsection (4)-
(a) before paragraph (a) there is inserted- "(za) the Association of Chief Police Officers of England, Wales and Northern Ireland;"; (b) sub-paragraph (i) of paragraph (a) is omitted. Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 (c. 16)
10 In section 97 of the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 (regulations for police forces), for paragraphs (c) and (d) of subsection (4) there is substituted-
"(c) the Association of Police Authorities; and (d) the Association of Chief Police Officers of England, Wales and Northern Ireland." Police Reform Act 2002 (c. 30)
11 In section 22 of the Police Reform Act 2002 (power of Independent Police Complaints Commission to issue guidance), for paragraphs (a) and (b) of subsection (3) there is substituted-
"(a) the Association of Police Authorities; (b) the Association of Chief Police Officers; and".
12 In section 24 of that Act (consultation on regulations), for paragraphs (b) and (c) there is substituted-
"(b) the Association of Police Authorities; (c) the Association of Chief Police Officers; and".
13 In section 39 of that Act (police powers for contracted-out staff), for paragraphs (a) and (b) of subsection (11) there is substituted-
"(a) the Association of Police Authorities; (b) the Association of Chief Police Officers;".
14 In section 43 of that Act (railway safety accreditation scheme), in subsection (9)-
(a) for paragraph (a) there is substituted- "(a) the Association of Chief Police Officers;"; (b) for paragraph (c) there is substituted- "(c) the Association of Police Authorities;".
15 In section 45 of that Act (code of practice relating to chief officers' powers under Chapter 1 of Part 4), in subsection (3)-
(a) for paragraph (c) there is substituted- "(c) the Association of Police Authorities;"; (b) for paragraph (f) there is substituted- "(f) the Association of Chief Police Officers;".
16 In section 51 of that Act (independent custody visitors for places of detention), for paragraphs (a) and (b) of subsection (7) there is substituted-
"(a) the Association of Police Authorities; (b) the Association of Chief Police Officers; and".
17 In section 96 of that Act (president of ACPO), the words "of England, Wales and Northern Ireland" are omitted.
18 In section 106 of that Act (general interpretation), at the appropriate place there is inserted-
"the Association of Chief Police Officers" means the Association of Chief Police Officers of England, Wales and Northern Ireland;"."
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Clause 5 [Police authorities as best value authorities]:
My Lords, we are back to best value once more. I make no bones about the fact that the amendment would disapply best value legislation to police authorities.
It seems to me that the proposals in the Bill leave police authorities with all the responsibilities to secure best value but none of the powers to make sure that it happens. This is an impossible situation. Subsequent letters between the Government and myself have failed to find a meeting of minds, so I will plod on and expand once again on why I do not like what the Government are proposing.
Best value effectively does two things: it adds the word "economic" to police authorities' responsibilities to ensure an efficient and an effective police service for their area and it gives them a responsibility for ensuring continuous improvement in their force. But to make sure that these things happen, the legislation says that an authority must commission a best value review to assess what is working and what is not. Where it is not working, an improvement plan must be put in place to remedy the situation.
The Bill proposes to remove this power to commission reviews. If a police authority cannot do reviews, it cannot do best value because it has lost the ability to assess what is working and what is not. It is as simple as that. The Government believe that this can be replaced by the existing power of authorities to require reports from chief officers. But that is not the same at all. It lacks the crucial element of assessment, particularly the requirement to look at what is now called contestability—in other words, competition.
I think we all accept that best value as applied by what was formerly the ODPM—now the DCLG—became a classic example of red tape and bureaucracy gone mad. Sometimes it tied up far more resources than it ever saved, despite its intentions of greater economy and efficiency. The sensible way to remove this red tape is to remove the legislation, not tinker with it so that some bits apply and some do not, particularly when the bits that have been removed carry a meaningful purpose.
If the overarching aim of best value is still required, it would be easy enough to add "economic" to the requirement on police authorities to be "efficient" and "effective" and to include a duty to secure improvements as a specific function of police authorities. But let us be clear that keeping the duties without the powers is an iniquitous and impossible task. It would be better, I suggest, to disapply best value altogether and be rid of this obsolete requirement. I beg to move.
My Lords, I return to this issue feeling rather perplexed and not a little confused as to what Liberal Democrat politicians are really about when it comes to best value. I thought that I would feel rather more enlightened after listening to the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, but as she went on I became, if not confused, more concerned about the illogical thread on which the argument was based.
It is right that Clause 5 removes the bureaucracy associated with best value reviews. I thought I heard the noble Baroness agree that the best value regime needed to be less bureaucratic. Having heard that statement, I thought that the noble Baroness would then have agreed with the Government's position.
It may be worth reminding the House what the overarching duty amounts to. It is a duty on police authorities to make arrangements to secure continuous improvement in the way in which police functions are exercised. Amendment No. 53 would remove that duty from police authorities, at least in the context of the Local Government Act 1999.
In the debate on Amendment No. 26, the noble Baroness sought to re-enact the overarching duty in the Police Act 1996. She argues that it is unreasonable to leave police authorities with the best value duty without the tools to discharge it. That is not an argument I can accept. Police authorities will have the necessary tools at their disposal—they have them now. They will still be able to conduct reviews and call on the chief constable to submit reports. I do not recall hearing the noble Baroness say that police authorities do not have the wherewithal, knowledge or ability to discharge their other statutory functions without having express powers to go with each and every one of them. If that were the case, we would have a very cumbersome statutory process indeed.
It has also been argued that the residual best value duty is redundant as it overlaps with the police authorities' duty under the Police Act to maintain an efficient and effective police force. I can accept that there is some overlap, but a duty to secure continuous improvement in the delivery of service goes a step further and, as such, is well worth retaining in its own terms.
I genuinely believe that there is little in practice between what the Government are seeking to do and what the noble Baroness wishes to achieve. I think that we both believe in continuous improvement and that police forces should be run in an effective and efficient manner, but we have tried to lighten the bureaucratic burden. Having listened to Liberal Democrat politicians, I thought for a long time that they adhered to that part of the Government's philosophy.
Perhaps that is no longer the case. Perhaps over the summer the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, decided that she would rather have more bureaucracy and more precision in the way in which a statutory objective is deemed to work. If that is so, I regret it, because I do not think that that is what police authorities want or that it is necessarily in the best interests of the service.
I hope that having heard what I have had to say and reflected more on some of the illogicality of her argument, the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment, which would actually change very little.
My Lords, I have listened again to a rather disappointing response from the Minister. He accuses my party of wanting more bureaucracy. Of course we do not—that is a ludicrous idea. Perhaps the noble Lord will look more carefully at what I have said. We will definitely come back to this at Third Reading.
I simply want to ask whether it is the Home Office that is running this agenda, because it is not entirely within its remit. If it is the case, could it put its foot down and explain to whoever is running it how this is going to affect police authorities? The whole best value area needs to be sorted out. As I said, we will come back to it at Third Reading, but, for the moment, I will withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendments Nos. 54 and 55:
After Clause 5, insert the following new clause-
"Police pension schemes
Schedule (Power to merge police pension schemes) has effect."
After Clause 5, insert the following new clause-
"Statutory consultation requirements
(1) Schedule (Consultation with APA and ACPO) (which amends provisions requiring consultation with persons representing the interests of police authorities or chief officers of police so that they require consultation with the Association of Police Authorities or the Association of Chief Police Officers) has effect.
(2) If it is appears to the Secretary of State that, by reason of a change of name or otherwise-
(a) the interests of police authorities are represented by a body that is not called the Association of Police Authorities, or (b) the interests of chief officers of police are represented by a body that is not called the Association of Chief Police Officers of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, he may by order make the appropriate consequential amendments to any statutory provision (including this subsection) containing a reference to the association in question.
(3) In subsection (2) "statutory provision" means provision contained in, or in any instrument made under, any Act."
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Clause 6 [Standard powers and duties of community support officers]:
My Lords, I have received some excellent briefings on this amendment from the APA, the Metropolitan Police Service and HMIC. The amendment would limit the minimum powers of police community support officers to those which are below detention level. The Government are keen to standardise the powers of police community support officers so that people across the country know what common set of duties will be carried out by them and understand what to expect from them. This is a reasonable aim. The difficulty with the Government's approach is that they are leaving themselves complete flexibility in what they might centrally prescribe by way of community support duties through secondary legislation. I expect the Minister will tell me that this flexibility is necessary to future-proof the legislation, but this is not standardisation, but centralisation. There are other practical difficulties with this approach.
At present, it is the job of the chief officer of police to decide what range of duties PCSOs within his force will carry out. This means that their duties can be tailored to local policing style and that there is some variation between forces in what tasks they carry out, but that is the whole point of having local forces accountable to local people.
The key roles that PCSOs play in all areas are: offering increased visibility to provide greater reassurance to the public, improving community engagement through getting to know communities and the issues that concern them, and gathering intelligence from local people about what is going on in their neighbourhoods. It is precisely because they are not quite police that they are more trusted by the sections of the community which react badly to the more authoritarian image of fully sworn police officers, yet standardising their powers in the way suggested by the Government will simply make them more like sworn officers. They risk losing these advantages and there is no clear distinction.
If we are to give PCSOs standard powers, this standard should represent a set of minimum powers, with flexibility for chief officers to increase them if it is appropriate to their area. This means drawing a line in the sand about the limit of standard powers, which should be set below detention level for a number of reasons. First, if community support officers are to take on the more confrontational roles which detention powers would imply, their training will be very much longer and consequently more expensive. Secondly, if their role is expanded to include additional tasks, PCSOs could quite reasonably expect to be paid more. Both of these could add a significant additional burden to police budgets, which we know will already be under great pressure over the next few years. Thirdly, the distinction between community support officers and police officers will become more blurred, potentially leading to a loss of the trust they currently enjoy among sections of the population which feel alienated from the mainstream. This would be extremely unhelpful in the troubled times in which we live. Fourthly, having detention powers would mean that they would have to start completing more paperwork, making court appearances and so on. Time spent on this would be time they would not be on the front line providing a greater level of reassurance to, and engagement with, the public. Fifthly, expanding their role is likely to give the impression that forces are trying to recruit police on the cheap. This could have unwelcome implications both for public perception generally and for relationships with sworn officers and the organisations that represent them. Finally, we must ask what kind of people will be attracted to becoming community support officers if it is seen not to be a community-based post, but one that carries rather more authoritarian powers.
Taken together, these represent a compelling set of arguments for ensuring that any standard powers are minimum powers, with the line drawn as I have described. Chief police officers will still have the ability to increase those powers if and when they feel it is necessary. For the reasons that I have outlined, it is unhelpful to prescribe greater powers for all areas. This is important for the confidence of the public in policing and deserves to be in primary legislation. I beg to move.
My Lords, I understand the anxiety of the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, but I do not accept that it is merited on this occasion. Perhaps I may explain to her why. The key question is the intention of the Bill in relation to the powers of the police community support officers and whether the amendment improves it.
The Bill's intention is to bring clarity to the policing powers currently designated to community support officers. I welcomed the noble Baroness's acceptance at the beginning of her speech that this was a reasonable aim, because if we are to have the benefit of using community support officers, we should know the ambit of what they are likely to do in any given area.
There is great variation among forces, a fact with which the noble Baroness is all too familiar. Clause 6 allows the Secretary of State to propose to both Houses which of the existing powers available in the legislation should be designated as standard for all community support officers. The amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, would preclude from the consideration of the Home Secretary, this House and another place one specific power. We cannot accept that this is how we should frame the legislation. If the principle that a standard set of powers may be drawn up is accepted, we would not at this stage interpose our personal views into primary legislation and prejudge or preclude the consultation which the Bill requires, or the debate and the vote on the draft order.
I reiterate that this Bill does not prescribe what the standard set of powers should be; it sets out a statutory process for determining the standard set—and it is a comprehensive process. If, after debate on a draft order, this House thinks that we have got it wrong, it may then reject the draft order, but we do not think that the Bill is the place to debate the individual existing powers or skewer the Bill's intention.
I am reluctant to discuss the merit of exercising the power or the reasoning for including it in a standard set because the key point is to safeguard the integrity of the existing clause. All policing powers, whoever exercises them, are coercive—that is their nature. CSOs are appropriately trained and recruited to a task from a wider and more diverse background than are police officers. Some 15 per cent come from minority ethnic groups, for example. Their nature is that they are local, immediate and known by people. It is quite clear that we want to retain that distinct and valuable flavour. Not everyone welcomed CSOs initially, but we all welcome them now as being a thoroughly good thing. They are not only to engage and to reassure, but they solve problems about anti-social behaviour that people face, and we should dispel the myth that they are not up to the job of doing that—because we know that they are.
Noble Lords will be aware that we did a pilot study on the use of the power to require someone to remain for 30 minutes. The result was really favourable. It is an important sanction when a CSO is dissatisfied with the response given to a request for a name and address. Whether to exercise that power is at the discretion of the CSO and on the basis of local operational instructions. It is then for a constable to resolve the situation, not the CSO. The CSO may not restrain someone; that requires the designation of a separate power.
We are having discussions with the police service on the shape of a list of standard powers and debating with it the merits and the composition of such a list. We are seeking to reach an agreement with the service on this and we will pursue this aim, if necessary, through formal consultation required by the Bill. For transparency's sake, we published the previous Home Secretary's proposal for a standard list in the annexe of the Explanatory Notes to the Bill, but it was never intended to be the final word. There is a lot of debate about what that core should be, where the dividing line should be and what should be left for local determination. That is a debate that we need to have. All the Bill proposes to do is to enable us to have a standard; it does not determine what that standard will be. The standard will depend on the consultation and on the iterative process through which we have to try to craft something.
I hope that on that basis I can urge the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment. There will be scope for us to have this debate in due course after those consultations have come to fruition.
My Lords, would the Minister explain whether, when the standard powers have been discussed and the police authorities and forces have been consulted, they will come before Parliament again?
My Lords, the proposal is that they would then go into a list, which this House and another place would have an opportunity to debate and which we would review. All that we are doing at this stage is setting a framework to say that there should be a standard and that this is the process that we are going to use to develop that standard and the process through which the Houses will be able to review what the standard should be. We are in agreement that it would be a good thing to have a standard set of core things that CSOs can do, but at this stage it would be arbitrary to pick out one issue and say that it is outwith what CSOs should do. That would be precipitate. The one pilot that we have had so far indicates that allowing the CSOs to stay for half an hour is a good idea.
My Lords, I have listened carefully to the Minister and I am very grateful to her for—
My Lords, I think that by implication I made it clear that this would be done by the affirmative not the negative resolution procedure, but I shall put that on the record so that there is no ambiguity about it.
My Lords, I am grateful. I listened carefully to what the Minister said. It is slightly cart-before-horse to bring in a standard at this stage if at a later stage we will be talking about it. However, as the Minister put some things on record, I shall also put on the record the concerns of Sir Ian Blair, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, who in writing to the Home Secretary said that he believed that the powers could be,
"potentially coercive, or more confrontational than those that exist at present, or have a more significant investigative requirement than current training supports".
Sir Ian asked for a shorter list of standard powers, which he said would be preferable, and expressed concerns,
"over the widening of the list of offences which can be dealt with by way of a Fixed Penalty Notice. These include offences of common assault, possession of Class C Drugs and possession of an offensive weapon".
He believes that all those are unsuitable for PCSOs and, as set out in the attachment to the letter, has concerns as to their use by police officers in some circumstances. I hope that the Government take very seriously all the concerns expressed by the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. If I can be assured that that will be the case—and the noble Baroness is nodding in assent—I would be happy to withdraw my amendment.
My Lords, I am happy to confirm that. I have tried to indicate that we are in discussions with chief police officers to discuss with them what the standards should be, so we will have ample opportunity to review these issues and to talk with the police about how best to go forward.
moved Amendment No. 58:
Page 96, line 18, at end insert-
"( ) Conditions of the bail imposed under subsection (3B) shall expire on either—
(a) the time at which the person attends at a police station; and (b) seven days from the time at which the person was released on bail."
My Lords, this was a revised version of the amendment that we discussed in Committee. It would restrict the maximum duration of conditions on street bail, specifying that the conditions would expire either seven days after the person was released or when he or she attended a police station, whichever was earlier. The amendment would not remove the power to impose a condition on street bail; that is not the purpose. It would merely impose generous limits on the duration of this condition.
Street bail can be beneficial for both police and suspect. We know of an example of street bail being used in the case of a mother who, while out with her three young children, was arrested for shoplifting. She was given street bail to attend a police station at a later date so that she could arrange care for her children. In such circumstances, unnecessary inconvenience was avoided. We do not wish to see people being taken to a police station at times that are inconvenient for them and the police. That is the purpose behind the amendment and I hope that the Minister can respond to it. I beg to move.
My Lords, I should say straight away that I acknowledge the sentiment behind the amendment, which is to minimise the potential for a suspected person to be placed for an undue period of time on conditions that are disproportionate to the offence or the offender. The noble Lord gave a graphic example of where the provision works incredibly well and is a sensible way forward. That is a sentiment that we absolutely share, but the effect of the amendment, for three reasons, would be to achieve the opposite.
First, under the Bill, the person granted street bail has an immediate right to appeal to the custody officer and then to a magistrate. A person granted bail pre-charge at the police station can apply to the magistrate for those conditions to be changed.
Secondly, an officer setting conditions of bail will do so on the basis of a risk assessment, taking into account the condition of the victim, the circumstances of the offender, the nature of the offence and the needs of the investigation. Automatic expiry of conditions after seven days does not mean automatic expiry of the risk. If the noble Lord's amendment was enacted, the almost certain outcome is that suspects would be required to return to the police station at the end of a completely arbitrary period of seven days. The officers could consider whether to issue a further period of bail with conditions attached if the investigation was still in progress.
Let us take the example that the noble Lord gave of a mother who has real difficulties with childcare because her mother is away and she has no one else. That mother can say, "I can come back—there is no urgency—if you give me 10 days". If there was an obligation for that to happen in seven days, there would not be that flexibility; it would mean prescribing a strict timetable that would be disadvantageous to the mother, time-consuming and unnecessary, because it would prescribe an arbitrary time, which might not meet the needs or the risk assessment done by the police officer, who might think that it was not necessary. We believe that this would not only be disruptive to the suspect but create a bureaucratic and time-consuming process for the police. We cannot see the benefits of that and I do not believe that it is what the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, wants either. The Bill currently provides the officer with the ability to determine the period of bail that best suits the needs of the investigation. That has to be the driver and not a bureaucratic and arbitrary process.
Thirdly, one of the aims of bail is to ensure that people spend as little time as possible in police detention. We are looking to encourage officers to make effective use of bail and to do so in an environment that recognises the needs and concerns of the victim. The application of conditions proportionate to the offence should both help to protect the victim and minimise the time that the person needs to spend in a police cell. I recognise the concern that a person might be subject to almost indefinite conditions or periods of bail. I am sure that the noble Lord has that anxiety about the provision. In Committee, I indicated that it was mentioned in Committee in the other place that we had anticipated that potential when we introduced the street bail provisions in 2003. The Home Office guidance that accompanied the provisions made it clear that a period of more than six weeks to respond to bail should be considered only in exceptional circumstances. We repeat the same guidance for both street and pre-charge bail, but we do not envisage placing such a time limit in the Bill. Instead, we wish to allow officers to retain the operational flexibility to best meet the needs of the investigation.
The 2003 circular requires the monitoring by supervisory management of the use of street bail, particularly regarding disproportionality—another issue about which the noble Lord and I are anxious. We would extend that requirement to the conditions attached to bail and to the periods to which those conditions are attached. Police officers are accountable for their actions but are also answerable to their communities regarding tackling and investigating crime. We believe that these proposals will help to achieve both objectives. We want police officers to behave safely but compassionately and sensitively, if the need arises. We believe that the measure enables them to do that. I hope that the noble Lord is reassured. He and I believe that the way in which these matters are tackled has worked well, and that we need to replicate that.
Government Amendment No. 142 corrects the reference in Section 142(3) of the 1988 Act. For some time—given the date of the legislation—it has incorrectly referred to conditions as set out in Section 142(1)(b). That provision does not contain any conditions; the relevant subsection is (1)(c). Accordingly, the amendment will require a justice of the peace to consider conditions that must be satisfied to authorise entry and search of premises for offensive weapons. A justice of the peace would already take those matters into account. In any event, the conditions reflect the framework set out in PACE in relation to authorising entry to the premises. I hope that I shall satisfy the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, that he and I, as always, want the same thing, but that we have found a good way of doing it for him.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that explanation. On future occasions we shall have plenty of opportunities to monitor how the provision affects individuals. I have no doubt that in the coming months we shall have a plethora of criminal justice legislation that will provide further opportunities to deal with the matter. I am grateful to the Minister and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 59:
After Clause 11, insert the following new clause-
If a police constable has reason to believe that a person or persons in a particular area may be carrying firearms, he may arrange—
(a) for that area to be sealed off; and (b) for the searching for firearms of any people or vehicles in that particular area, by whatever means he considers appropriate."
My Lords, this simple amendment would provide a clear power to help the police to get guns off the streets before they are used. The situation on gun crime has become considerably worse since we previously discussed it, which was on
I should like briefly to quote Kevin Davis, who, as the head of Scotland Yard's Operation Trident, is one of the most senior law enforcement officers in the United Kingdom. He has pointed out that a minority of young people think that it is,
"socially and morally acceptable to carry guns".
"Offenders are using firearms over trivial disputes like arguments over spilt drinks, bumping into one another or minor road collisions".
Two-thirds of the shootings investigated by Trident officers occurred in just six of the capital's poorest boroughs. Three-quarters of the victims are black. Intimidation is rife and Davis admits that protecting the entire extended family of a witness is impossible.
After terrorism, firearms crime is perhaps the most serious challenge to law and order that we face. Luckily, I believe that we can do something about it. Unlike searching for drugs or collecting drugs, which is extremely difficult, finding a firearm with a hand-held metal detector is very simple. My amendment seeks to give the police powers to use that means when they wish to do so.
In previous debates, the Minister has said that there are already many powers in relation to firearms. She is absolutely right. I refer to Section 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. I shall not go on, but suffice it to say that the Home Office's firearms website emphasises that firearms law is very complicated. Complicated law is not good law. Simple law is needed, which is understood by both the public and the police.
Do the police want the measure? In July, I said that the part of ACPO responsible for gun crime was anxious to have it. Since that time, the Home Office has lent on ACPO and ACPO has suggested that its different sections—the police section and the section dealing with community relations—
My Lords, I cannot let it stand that we have lent on ACPO. We asked for ACPO's view because we were worried that it might have concerns about the matter. We wanted to hear from ACPO whether there was a gap and what the gap was so that we could assist. Nothing would give me more pleasure than to come back to the House and say to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, "You're right and there is something more that we can do". I reassure the noble Lord that we asked ACPO about the matter, but it was certainly not lent on.
My Lords, of course I shall withdraw the words "lent on". The discussions were useful and constructive. ACPO decided that it would like to have intra-ACPO discussions. All I say is, "Well done, Sir Humphrey".
Of course the police need to consider carefully how they would use a power such as the one that we are discussing. They need to use their judgment. They have to consider carefully the range of issues involved, whether that be removing guns or community relations. But that does not mean that they should not have an instrument that enables them to remove guns. It is for Parliament to give that instrument to the police and it is for the police to use their judgment appropriately and properly to apply the measure as and where they feel that it would be helpful.
I want to send a clear message to the criminal fraternity that it will become extremely risky for anyone to carry an illegal gun. That would also send a clear message to the public that the police now have a clear and simple statement of legislative power to take guns off the streets before they are used. I beg to move.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, has always been persistent on this issue. I have often supported him on this during Questions to the Minister, and today will be no exception.
An unacceptable gun culture has obviously developed in this country during recent times. Shootings in the streets or in fast food restaurants are often reflected in newspaper headlines. Gun crime has grown at an alarming rate in this country, with overall gun crime doubling since 1997. Crimes involving imitation firearms have quadrupled. When this matter was brought forward in Committee, I was somewhat concerned about the very wide nature of the amendment. Since then, in our discussions with the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, it has been tightened by the use of the word "that" in paragraph (a). We are now happy to support the amendment.
The vast majority of people who own guns legally use them responsibly. The aim of further changes to the law must be to tackle the threat from weapons that are held or used illegally. Gun crime is a complex problem, and tackling it requires a holistic approach. We need to use intelligence-led policing to attack the organised criminal gangs that are responsible for many shootings. In order to achieve a better rate of conviction, we need to encourage more people to come forward by improving the protection offered to vulnerable witnesses. It is also important that the Government support the community groups working with those young people who are at risk of becoming involved in drugs and gun crime. We hope that the amendment will send a signal that more needs to be done to tackle this problem. I support the intention behind the amendment.
My Lords, I strongly support my noble friend, and I have added my name to his amendment. He is right to bring this matter before the House again, and I hope that it may be resolved in his favour tonight—I hope by the Minister being able to agree with my noble friend. It is also right, as the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, said, that the majority of firearms are legally held and responsibly used. None of us is trying to target legislation at those who behave responsibly. The fear of gun crime is strong, and the risk of gun crime is real in some parts of the country. The illegal use of guns on some of our streets brings injury to some and misery to many; it is the scourge of a generation in some parts of our society. The considerable merit of my noble friend's amendment is in the simplicity of the description of the powers that he seeks to confer on the police. I am aware, of course, that powers already exist to enable the police in certain circumstances to search people, but those powers are to be extracted from a myriad legislative instruments.
Since Committee, my noble friend has carefully considered the drafting of his amendment, and he has made one small change which should meet the concerns of those who felt that the power might appear to go more widely than my noble friend intended. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, for indicating that the change has helped him to support my noble friend. If the Government wish to give a clear message about their commitment to reducing the level of gun crime, they have the opportunity to do so tonight by accepting my noble friend's amendment.
My Lords, I say straight away that the Government agree with the sentiment expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, agreed by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. The recent tragic shootings have highlighted once again that the fight against gun crime is far from over. We have already put in place legislation to support that fight; for example the five year minimum sentence for those adults convicted of unlawful possession of prohibited firearms.
The Government take gun crime extremely seriously. That is why I was grateful for the opportunity to discuss the issue with the noble Lord in our telephone conversation last week. There was nothing on which we disagreed about the nature of the crime and the need to face it with all possible tools. There is legislation in place that provides a range of enforcement powers to the police under Section 47 of the Firearms Act 1968. I realise that I am repeating what has been said on this issue, but the facts remain the same. For example, in the circumstances specified in the legislation, a constable can require a firearm or ammunition to be handed over for examination; the person can be searched and detained for the purpose of the search; if a vehicle is involved, the vehicle may be searched and the person driving or in control of it can be required to stop it; and, furthermore, for the purpose of exercising these powers a constable may enter any place.
The Government have made clear their commitment to tackling gun crime and to ensuring that the police have sufficient and proportionate powers to help make communities safe. The existing legislation helps meet those objectives, and no purpose would be served by duplicating the powers available under existing legislation. The police agree with that view. The Association of Chief Police Officers' lead on stop and search, Deputy Chief Constable Craig Mackay of Gloucestershire, said that he was not aware from his portfolio of the service asking for this power or identifying a gap in current legislation that requires a new power and that, as drafted, the amendment is a major extension to police powers and raises some real issues of interpretation that could cause community concerns. The ACPO's lead on the criminal use of firearms, Chief Constable Keith Bristow of Warwickshire, concluded that this might be a step too far, due to the complexities stated by DCC Mackay. He confirmed that while appreciating the support of the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, for the police, ACPO is unable to support his amendment.
Further, I cannot accept that the inclusion of the amendment in the Bill would serve as a declaratory statement either to the police or to the general public. The police are well aware of the high priority that we place on the fight against gun crime and are already fully trained in the use of their powers under existing legislation. The introduction of powers that duplicate existing provisions could only serve to confuse them, and I know that is not something the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, would wish.
The House will be aware that, lamentably, the general public are not in the habit of reading Bills or Hansard. Indeed, rumour has it that following the deliberations of this House late at night does not cull from the public the interest that it might otherwise deserve, which is much to be lamented. Therefore, I cannot agree that the amendment would raise the profile of gun crime in the public's consciousness in the way that the noble Lord suggests. We have run a number of public information campaigns about the issue, and we will continue to do so in the future. I respectfully suggest that those are more likely to have the effect that the noble Lord is seeking to achieve than a declaratory amendment to the Bill. The noble Lord does not suggest that the amendment adds anything to the legislation that we already have; it simply adds a new complex arrangement that police officers would be burdened to have to learn in addition to all the others. It adds very little.
Given that we now have a clear view from the Association of Chief Police Officers that the new power is not needed, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment. He is to be commended for his persistence on this important issue. He is right to raise it, but may I suggest that the benefit of so doing has already been delivered and we should press the matter no further? It has now had five outings and it is perhaps time to put the amendment to bed. I ask the noble Lord not to press the amendment this evening.
My Lords, the telephone conversation that I had with the noble Baroness was of course immensely agreeable, as is any conversation with her either on the telephone or face to face. Her speech was exactly what I thought it would be; it was largely what she had said previously. I offer my humble congratulations to Sir Humphrey in these matters. I am aware that the Home Office is opposed to ideas that do not come from itself; I have had the long experience of the requirement for the firearms register being on the statute book for nine years and nothing being done because the Home Office did not like it.
I am not concerned at all as to whether there would be some duplication. This clear statement of the law would quickly get through to the public; not by reading Hansard—of course not—but the media do a good job sometimes and they are taking a great interest in gun crime at present, and rightly so. If I had been given the opportunity of talking to her right honourable friend the Home Secretary, he might well have been pretty much in favour of this amendment. If I were a politician in the Government, I would see this as an opportunity to take action, rather than using words and setting up further consultations for the long term. The long term is too long because, as Keynes notably, or rather, lamentably, said—sadly, in this case, with accuracy—people are dead.
We need to take guns off the streets now. It is possible to do so. My amendment would help that to happen, which is why I would like to test the opinion of the House.
moved Amendment No. 61:
Page 7, line 7, at end insert-
"( ) In section 32 (police powers to gather information relating to flights and voyages to or from the United Kingdom) after subsection (1) insert-
"(1A) A circuit judge may on the application of a constable of the rank of inspector or above issue a warrant in relation to specified passenger or service information under this section if he is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that there are likely to be circumstances in which it can be required under subsection (2)."
( ) In subsection (2) for the words "imposed by a constable of the rank of superintendent or above" substitute "of a warrant".
( ) In subsection (4) for the words "only if he thinks it necessary" substitute "and a warrant may be issued under subsection (3) only if both are satisfied that is necessary"."
My Lords, Amendment No. 61 is grouped with Amendment No. 62, which was tabled in Committee but not debated. These amendments address the extension of powers granted in the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 to reveal passenger lists to the law agencies. Those powers will be extended under the Bill to domestic flights—that is, to flights starting from and ending in this country. Our concern, and the reason for the amendment, is the increase in surveillance. We want to support the Government in disrupting terrorism and preventing crime, but, as ever, doing that leads to tensions over people's civil liberties and their right to a private life.
How effective will the measures be? There will not be equal surveillance on the roads or the railways. A terrorist who is creating a pattern for police officers to observe might well choose different forms of transport, so we are not sure that such powers are an effective tool for disruption. However, they could be, so we should consider them seriously. We need to consider appropriate safeguards to protect the individual's right to privacy.
There is also the question of whether a circuit judge is at the appropriate level for this measure. In some ways, a magistrate might be more appropriate because the Government propose that a superintendent makes the request for information and a magistrate is at an equivalent level. There is a belief on these Benches that some judicial oversight is needed because there is a principle in common law that a decision that has been made by law should be able to be reviewed later. We understand from the Home Office that the purpose of these measures is to spot developing patterns and to track such things so that crimes can be prevented and terrorism disrupted.
At the heart of this amendment is the right to privacy, and that is its purpose. I beg to move.
My Lords, again I understand the purport of the noble Lord's amendment. However, requiring a police officer to obtain a warrant from a circuit judge each time he wants to submit a request for data would be a huge burden on the police and the courts. It would have a significant impact on police operations by adding a delay into the system for making requests. That could potentially have serious consequences if the police receive intelligence that needs to be acted upon immediately. It would also increase police bureaucracy, as requests would have to be submitted twice: once to the circuit judge and, if a warrant were issued, once to the carrier. That would apply equally if the request were made to a magistrate rather than a circuit judge, although applying to a circuit judge would be even more cumbersome.
If the purpose of this amendment is to introduce a safeguard, I assure the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, that a number of safeguards are already built into the process; I shall outline them. It will be lawful under Section 32(4) of the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 for a police constable at the rank of superintendent or above to request information only if it is necessary for police purposes. Any request must specify the period during which it has effect, up to a maximum period of six months. The police and all public authorities are under a duty pursuant to Section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998 to ensure that they comply with convention rights. The use of personal data will also be compliant with the obligations under the Data Protection Act 1998. We do not consider that this amendment is necessary or practicable.
However, I thank the noble Lord for giving me an opportunity to outline the safeguards because I know that people have concerns about how this procedure will operate, how we will make sure that personal and private data are properly protected and whether the Data Protection Act applies. I understand that those concerns have been in circulation and therefore I am pleased to have an opportunity to state on the record that the safeguards are there and we do not think that the anxiety that people properly have is founded in fact. I hope that with that reassurance the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, this amendment was debated in Committee. We do not object to Clause 14, which gives trading standards inspectors the power to impose fixed penalties on people who sell alcohol to children. Our objection is to Clause 15, which gives the Secretary of State a delegated power to specify unlimited categories of people whom chief police officers would be able to accredit with the power to give fixed penalty notices. There would be no restriction on the groups of people who could be specified. The Government could use this power to give punitive powers to wholly inappropriate groups of people: for example, dinner ladies could be allowed to fine children for fighting in the playground; bouncers could be allowed to fine pub-goers for being drunk and disorderly or supermarket check-out staff could be allowed to fine shoplifters. I say these things because Liberty has given me examples that are quite amusing. In recent years, we have heard of ridiculous uses of on-the-spot fines: an Oxford student was given a fixed penalty notice for a drunken joke about a policeman's horse being gay and pro-hunting campaigners were fined for selling T-shirts bearing uncomplimentary remarks about the Prime Minister. Most recently, we have heard a proposal to use fixed penalty notices against people who drop cigarette butts in the street or put their rubbish out on the wrong day of the week. It is to restrict the extent to which further people are given such powers that I beg to move.
My Lords, Clause 15 gives the Secretary of State an order-making power to specify unlimited categories of people to whom chief officers of police could give the power to give fixed penalty notices. That is a clear, straightforward and wide-ranging power and it is right that we should look carefully at the potential it has to change the way in which our courts work.
Earlier this summer, there were stories in the press that the Government intended to extend dramatically the number of offences that could be dealt with by way of a fixed penalty notice rather than the person having his case disposed of in court. The story returned to the headlines on
But then the very next day the Times carried another story reporting that the Home Secretary had ruled out on-the-spot fines for violent assaults. What did he mean by that? A spokesman for the Home Office said that Ministers had not been consulted about the proposals. How extraordinary that proposals for changes to legislation can get that far and apparently not be on a Minister's radar, especially as the Prime Minister appeared to be trumpeting exactly those changes in his own speech at the party conference earlier that week. I know that we may not necessarily take everything that the Prime Minister says in his conference speech as gospel. For example, he asked the conference to celebrate with him the fact that the Labour Government had been the first to appoint a female as Leader of this House, thereby forgetting yet again, as he had forgotten in a press release a few years ago, the appointment of Lady Young. I give way to the noble Baroness.
My Lords, I think that the Prime Minister said—and I believe he was right—that this party was the first to appoint a black woman as Leader of this House. There is a tonal difference.
My Lords, a tonal difference I will accept. It was not reported as that, and so perhaps the noble Baroness will tell me that the rest of the Times reports about fixed penalties are also incorrect. I should certainly welcome that because a lot of what the Prime Minister seemed to celebrate in that speech was in cloud cuckoo land. However, we all like to applaud our leader's speeches at whichever party conference we enjoy ourselves during the Recess.
With regard to fixed penalty notices, what is going on in government circles if they have not had prior notice of the consultation about whole swathes of offences being delegated to others to implement as fixed penalty fines?
Before we let the clause remain in the Bill, we need to hear from the Minister what plans the Government have to extend the range of fixed penalty notices. What offences could come within their range in the future? If the Home Secretary is now ruling out violent offences, what will be on the list? Will it include possession of cannabis, illegal hunting or all types of theft up to a value of £100? What will we see and when will Parliament see those plans? Is it to be in primary or secondary legislation? The Times report implied that it would be introduced swiftly this autumn in secondary legislation with implementation early next year. Is that SI winging its way towards us as we speak? We need to know that before we can proceed to extend the powers before us today in Clause 15. Who would be given the delegated powers to issue the fines for any extended range of offences? The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, posed some questions on that.
I was not overly worried about Clause 15 when this matter came up in Committee and therefore I kept silent. But developments since then have made me concerned. The combination of the potential impact of this clause, the conditional cautions and extension to punitive methods in Clause 16, plus the rumours of wholesale extensions of the use of on-the-spot fines now make me concerned about allowing Clause 15 to slide into the Bill without more rigorous attention.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, for bringing this matter forward and I certainly look forward to the Minister's response. We have come to the crucial part of the Bill. I realise that we will be concluding our deliberations on the Bill after this amendment, which I think is the appropriate place to do so. We shall need to listen very carefully to the noble Baroness and consider these matters before we reach Third Reading.
My Lords, I understand the anxieties and I hope that I shall be able to lay them to rest. I should say in passing that often things are considered by others—for example, police chiefs—and suggestions are made which the press may or may not get into the public domain and which may or may not have come before others. It is very important for us to look at what is before us.
Everyone believes—that is why the noble Baroness was not worried about it—that the penalty notice for disorder scheme is currently being used to excellent effect by the police and the wider police family, such as community support officers and persons accredited under the community safety accreditation schemes. The use of fixed penalty notices to tackle nuisance and anti-social offending in local communities has proved very successful. If, like me, the noble Baroness has spoken to a number of area officers, she will know that they see this as one of the most effective ways that we have yet been able to devise of changing anti-social behaviour in an area. Punishment can be administered on the spot, driving home the Government's message that such behaviour is unacceptable. We believe that it is right to deal with simple, straightforward cases in this prompt and effective way, reserving the courts for disputed and more complex cases. I know that that is something about which the noble Baroness and her party have agreed in the past. Clause 14 specifically extends the range of those who may be accredited to issue penalty notices for disorder to trading standards officers. I am very grateful for the noble Lord's indication that he is comfortable with any such extension.
We believe that there are other such classes of enforcement officer to whom it may prove similarly advantageous to give the power to issue notices in this way and thus widen the scope of the fixed penalty notice scheme. The PND scheme will help to deliver the aims of the Government's respect agenda to tackle anti-social and nuisance behaviour in local communities. As noble Lords may know, numerous safeguards are attached to the use of this power.
First, it will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. Parliament will be able to debate the issues fully before voting on the extension of accreditation to another class of people. Secondly, as with trading standards officers, accreditation is under the control of the chief officers of police. Thirdly, the only penalty offences that our new class of accredited person would be able to enforce would be those specified in their accreditation, so it would be strictly controlled. We believe that this power will be a helpful tool in enabling penalty notices for disorder to be used by the wider police family for more cases of minor nuisance offending. For those reasons, I hope that the noble Lord will be prepared to withdraw his amendment.
I shall deal with some of the issues raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. She said that she was surprised that Ministers were not consulted. I say to her that the press account was not entirely accurate. I was given to understand that most of the proposals alluded to came from police chiefs. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary will not approve any lessening of punishment for violent crime. It is not proposed that the list of offences should be extended to include, for example, robbery, mugging or other serious offences. I understand the anxiety that has been raised by such speculation, but I assure the noble Baroness that her first response to these amendments was correct and any excitement caused outside this House can be left there. We are looking at the most proportionate and effective way of dealing with a problem which is common to all.
It is interesting how our joint positions have developed. I think that both the Liberal Democrats and Her Majesty's loyal Opposition now agree with us that anti-social behaviour is a matter that we can address effectively and that penalty notices for disorder are an appropriate way forward. I hope that the noble Lord will feel content with that response and that he will not press his amendment.
My Lords, as I said, we will read what the noble Baroness said very carefully but I have a question with regard to her assurances about an affirmative order. I do not go down the line of pointing out the difficulties that we have in this House with our rather cautious approach to dealing with affirmative orders. However, she referred to an affirmative order that the Government might bring forward. Can she give an assurance that, in nominating offences or classes of people with the power to impose on-the-spot fines for particular offences, the order would specify only one offence or one class of people at a time and that the Government would not seek to bring forward, as a kind of curate's egg, a job lot of offences for consideration by the House?
My Lords, I do not think that I can properly give that assurance for the following reason. As the noble Baroness will know, in looking at the extensions that we make, we look at which individual agencies or entities may advantageously have this extension. It would be far too burdensome if we had a debate or consultation. She knows that we tend to go out and consult people, so we try to get it right before we put anything in. If we were all in agreement that four or five identified groups could be included in one audit, it would be too burdensome for me to suggest that we have a series of orders with only one group in it.
I cannot give the noble Baroness the assurance that she seeks in that regard, but I can certainly assure her that every extension will be well presented and argued so that we have a proper understanding on why we are extending it, to give everyone an opportunity. Indeed, I think that this House has become increasingly vigorous, not only in its scrutiny but almost in its informal pre-legislative scrutiny, which does not happen in the normal pre-legislative way, but we have our discussions and debates. It has been one of the joys of this House that we have often been able to come to a consensual view on how to move these orders forward, particularly when talking about an affirmative and not a negative resolution. The House has indicated on occasions when it is minded not to affirm. The curate's egg goes for both of us, not just for one party.
My Lords, I thank the Minister, but I stress the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. One of the difficulties with an affirmative order is that if everybody is bunched together it will be very difficult to single out individuals from within that list, other than by a prayer against that order. I do not think that that would be appropriate. At this stage, I will take the Minister's assurance that the matter will come before the House as part of the affirmative order, and at that stage we will look at the appropriateness of the people to whom the power has been given. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I beg to move that consideration on Report be now adjourned.