Schedule 1 - Powers of the Secretary of State in relation to NCIS and NCS

Police Reform Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:30 pm on 11th June 2002.

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Photo of John Denham John Denham Minister (Home Office) (Police and Crime Reduction) 4:30 pm, 11th June 2002

I beg to move amendment No. 131, in page 91, line 41, at end insert—

'Directions to Directors General

3A (1) After section 31 there shall be inserted—

''31A Power to give directions to Director General of NCIS

(1) This section applies where the Secretary of State (whether in consequence of an inspection report or otherwise) is satisfied—

(a) that the whole or any part of NCIS is, whether generally or in particular respects, not efficient or not effective; or

(b) that the whole or a part of NCIS will cease to be efficient or effective, whether generally or in particular respects, unless remedial measures are taken.

(2) The Secretary of State may, after consultation with the Scottish Ministers, direct the Director General of NCIS to prepare and submit to the Secretary of State a plan ('an action plan') for taking remedial measures in relation to anything that the Secretary of State considers relevant to the matters as to which he is satisfied as mentioned in subsection (1).

(3) An action plan prepared in accordance of a direction under this section shall not relate to any matters other than those in relation to which functions fall to be discharged by the Director General of NCIS.

(4) On considering an action plan submitted to him in accordance with a direction under this section, the Secretary of State may, after consultation with the Scottish Ministers, direct the Director General of NCIS—

(a) to revise that plan in accordance with the directions of the Secretary of State; and

(b) to resubmit the plan to him with the required revisions;

and this subsection applies to a plan resubmitted to the Secretary of State as it applies to the plan initially submitted to him.

(5) On giving a direction under this section to the Director General of NCIS, the Secretary of State shall notify the NCIS Service Authority that he has given that direction.

(6) A direction under this section may impose time limits as to the submission or resubmission of an action plan to the Secretary of State.

(7) The provision that a direction under this section may require to be included in an action plan to be submitted or resubmitted to the Secretary of State includes—

(a) provision for the taking of such steps, and for the imposition of such performance targets, as may be specified by the Secretary of State;

(b) provision for the time limits so specified to be applied to the taking of those steps and to the meeting of those targets;

(c) provision for the making of progress reports about the implementation of the action plan to the Secretary of State and to the NCIS Service Authority;

(d) provision as to the times at which, and the manner in which, any progress report is to be made; and

(e) provision for the duration of the plan and for it to cease to apply in the circumstances determined by the Secretary of State.

(8) Nothing in this section shall authorise the Secretary of State to direct the inclusion in an action plan of any requirement to do or not to do anything in a particular case identified for the purposes of the requirement, or in relation to a particular person so identified.

(9) Before submitting or resubmitting an action plan to the Secretary of State in accordance with a direction under this section, the Director General of NCIS shall consult the NCIS Service Authority.

(10) In this section references, in relation to a case in which there is already an action plan in force, to the submission or resubmission of a plan to the Secretary of State include references to the submission or resubmission or revisions of the existing plan; and the preceding provisions of this section shall have effect accordingly.

(11) The Director General of NCIS shall comply with any direction given to him under this section.

(12) If the Secretary of State exercises his power to give a direction under this section—

(a) he shall prepare a report on his exercise of that power;

(b) he shall lay a copy of that report before Parliament; and

(c) he shall send a copy of that report to the Scottish Ministers.

(13) The Scottish Ministers shall lay any copy of a report sent to them under subsection (12) before the Scottish Parliament.

(14) A report under subsection (12)—

(a) shall be prepared at such time as the Secretary of State considers appropriate; and

(b) may relate to more than one exercise of the power mentioned in that subsection.

(15) In this section 'an inspection report' means a report under section 54 of the Police Act 1996 (c.16), section 33 of the Police (Scotland) Act 1967 (c.77) or section 41 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 (c.32).''

(2) After section 76 there shall be inserted—

''76A Power to give directions to Director General of NCS

(1) This section applies where the Secretary of State (whether in consequence of a report under section 54 of the Police Act 1996 (c.16) or otherwise) is satisfied—

(a) that the whole or any part of the National Crime Squad is, whether generally or in particular respects, not efficient or not effective; or

(b) that the whole or a part of the National Crime Squad will cease to be efficient or effective, whether generally or in particular respects, unless remedial measures are taken.

(2) The Secretary of State may direct the Director General of the National Crime Squad to prepare and submit to the Secretary of State a plan ('an action plan') for taking remedial measures in relation to anything that the Secretary of State considers relevant to the matters as to which he is satisfied as mentioned in subsection (1).

(3) An action plan prepared in accordance of a direction under this section shall not relate to any matters other than those in relation to which functions fall to be discharged by the Director General of the National Crime Squad.

(4) On considering an action plan submitted to him in accordance with a direction under this section, the Secretary of State may direct the Director General of the National Crime Squad—

(a) to revise that plan in accordance with the directions of the Secretary of State; and

(b) to resubmit the plan to him with the required revisions;

and this subsection applies to a plan resubmitted to the Secretary of State as it applies to the plan initially submitted to him.

(5) On giving a direction under this section to the Director General of the National Crime Squad, the Secretary of State shall notify the NCS Service Authority that he has given that direction.

(6) A direction under this section may impose time limits as to the submission or resubmission of an action plan to the Secretary of State.

(7) The provision that a direction under this section may require to be included in an action plan to be submitted or resubmitted to the Secretary of State includes—

(a) provision for the taking of such steps, and for the imposition of such performance targets, as may be specified by the Secretary of State;

(b) provision for the time limits so specified to be applied to the taking of those steps and to the meeting of those targets;

(c) provision for the making of progress reports about the implementation of the action plan to the Secretary of State and to the NCS Service Authority;

(d) provision as to the times at which, and the manner in which, any progress report is to be made; and

(e) provision for the duration of the plan and for it to cease to apply in the circumstances determined by the Secretary of State.

(8) Nothing in this section shall authorise the Secretary of State to direct the inclusion in an action of plan of any requirement to do or not to do anything in a particular case identified for the purposes of the requirement, or in relation to a particular person so identified.

(9) Before submitting or resubmitting an action plan to the Secretary of State in accordance with a direction under this section, the Director General of the National Crime Squad shall consult the NCS Service Authority.

(10) In this section references, in relation to a case in which there is already an action plan in force, to the submission or resubmission of a plan to the Secretary of State include references to the submission or resubmission or revisions of the existing plan; and the preceding provisions of this section shall have effect accordingly.

(11) The Director General of the National Crime Squad shall comply with any direction given to him under this section.

(12) If the Secretary of State exercises his power to give a direction under this section—

(a) he shall prepare a report on his exercise of that power; and

(b) he shall lay that report before Parliament.

(13) A report under subsection (12)—

(a) shall be prepared at such time as the Secretary of State considers appropriate; and

(b) may relate to more than one exercise of the power mentioned in that subsection.''

Procedure for giving directions

3B (1) After section 31A (which is inserted by paragraph 3A(1)) there shall be inserted—

''31B Procedure for giving directions by the Secretary of State

(1) The Secretary of State shall not give a direction under section 30 or 31A unless—

(a) the NCIS Service Authority and the Director General of NCIS have each been given such information about the Secretary of State's grounds for proposing to give that direction as he considers appropriate for enabling them to make representations or proposals under the following paragraphs of this subsection;

(b) the NCIS Service Authority and the Director General of NCIS have each been given an opportunity of making representations about those grounds;

(c) the NCIS Service Authority, in the case of a proposal for the giving of a direction under section 30, has had an opportunity

of making proposals for the taking of remedial measures that would make the giving of the direction unnecessary;

(d) the Director General of NCIS, in the case of a proposal for the giving of a direction under section 31A, has had an opportunity of making proposals for the taking of remedial measures that would make the giving of the direction unnecessary; and

(e) the Secretary of State has considered any such representations and any such proposals.

(2) The Secretary of State may by regulations make further provision as to the procedure to be followed in cases where a proposal is made for the giving of a direction by him under section 30 or 31A.

(3) Before making any regulations under this section, the Secretary of State shall consult with—

(a) the Scottish Ministers;

(b) the NCIS Service Authority;

(c) the Director General of NCIS;

(d) persons whom he considers to represent the interests of police authorities in England and Wales;

(e) persons whom he considers to represent the interests of chief officers of police of police forces in England and Wales; and

(f) such other persons as he thinks fit.

(4) Regulations under this section may make different provision for different cases and circumstances.

(5) A statutory instrument containing regulations under this section shall not be made unless a draft of the regulations has been laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House.

31C Procedure for giving directions by the Scottish Ministers

(1) The Scottish Ministers shall not give a direction under section 30 unless—

(a) the NCIS Service Authority and the Director General of NCIS have each been given such information about the Scottish Ministers' grounds for proposing to give that direction as they consider appropriate for enabling them to make representations or proposals under the following paragraphs of this subsection;

(b) the NCIS Service Authority and the Director General of NCIS have each been given an opportunity of making representations about those grounds;

(c) the NCIS Service Authority has had an opportunity of making proposals for the taking of remedial measures that would make the giving of the direction unnecessary; and

(d) the Scottish Ministers have considered any such representations and any such proposals.

(2) The Scottish Ministers may by regulations make further provision as to the procedure to be followed in cases where a proposal is made for the giving of a direction by them under section 30.

(3) Before making any regulations under this section, the Scottish Ministers shall consult with—

(a) the Secretary of State;

(b) the NCIS Service Authority;

(c) the Director General of NCIS;

(d) persons whom they consider to represent the interests of police authorities in Scotland;

(e) persons whom they consider to represent the interests of chief constables of police forces in Scotland; and

(f) such other persons as they think fit.

(4) Regulations under this section may make different provision for different cases and circumstances.

(5) A statutory instrument containing regulations under this section shall not be made unless a draft of the regulations has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, the Scottish Parliament.''

(2) In section 45 (orders and regulations under Part 1), after ''Part'' there shall be inserted ''or of the Scottish Ministers to make regulations under this Part''.

(3) After section 76A (which is inserted by paragraph 3A(2)), there shall be inserted—

''76B Procedure for giving directions under sections 75 and 76A

(1) The Secretary of State shall not give a direction under section 75 or 76A unless—

(a) the NCS Service Authority and the Director General of the National Crime Squad have each been given such information about the Secretary of State's grounds for proposing to give that direction as he considers appropriate for enabling them to make representations or proposals under the following paragraphs of this subsection;

(b) the NCS Service Authority and the Director General of the National Crime Squad have each been given an opportunity of making representations about those grounds;

(c) the NCS Service Authority, in the case of a proposal for the giving of a direction under section 75, has had an opportunity of making proposals for the taking of remedial measures that would make the giving of the direction unnecessary;

(d) the Director General of the National Crime Squad, in the case of a proposal for the giving of a direction under section 76A, has had an opportunity of making proposals for the taking of remedial measures that would make the giving of the direction unnecessary; and

(e) the Secretary of State has considered any such representations and any such proposals.

(2) The Secretary of State may by regulations make further provision as to the procedure to be followed in cases where a proposal is made for the giving of a direction by him under section 75 or 76A.

(3) Before making any regulations under this section, the Secretary of State shall consult with—

(a) the NCS Service Authority;

(b) the Director General of the National Crime Squad;

(c) persons whom he considers to represent the interests of police authorities;

(d) persons whom he considers to represent the interests of chief officers of police; and

(e) such other persons as he thinks fit.

(4) Regulations under this section may make different provision for different cases and circumstances.

(5) A statutory instrument containing regulations under this section shall not be made unless a draft of the regulations has been laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House.''.'.

Photo of Mr George Stevenson Mr George Stevenson Labour, Stoke-on-Trent South

With this it will be convenient to take new clause 4—Directions to chief officers.

Photo of John Denham John Denham Minister (Home Office) (Police and Crime Reduction)

My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Heppell) has taken over the duty of Whip to the Department and the Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth), the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, has joined us today for the first time in Committee to take through some business. Without wishing to curry favour, Mr. Stevenson, I wish to say how pleased I was to visit your constituency last Thursday. I was impressed by what I saw there.

The whole purpose of the Bill is to drive up standards of policing across the board in England and Wales. It is fundamentally about doing what is necessary to ensure that all local communities receive the best quality service, as they have a right to expect. Members of the Committee will know that the amendment and new clause would reintroduce what

was originally clause 5—which was removed by the Opposition in another place—and to add to it some amendments that were tabled in another place to the original clause 5. The new clause, in common with the rest of the Bill, is about improving the quality of service provided by the police.

The police reform process is putting in place a significant series of measures that are intended to raise policing standards and to bring the policing standard of all forces up to the standards of the best. Many of the measures are non-legislative, such as the establishment of the police standards unit, or use existing machinery, such as the inspectorate. They involve the investment in the development and codification of best practice that will result in the national centre for policing excellence and raise professional leadership and training standards through the new organisation, Centrex, and so on. In no way are the Government saying that we are wholly or even largely dependent on the powers that are set out in the new clause to raise policing standards. Many other aspects are involved, including the work of the police service itself and the police authorities that we look to in the first instance to raise policing standards.

The issue that the Committee must deal with is what action, if any, should be taken when a force is failing to provide an adequate service and when, despite that, the police authority and the chief officer responsible have failed, or have been unable or unwilling to deal with the under-performance. In those circumstances, it is unacceptable that the third element in the tripartite structure that governs policing—the Home Secretary—is prevented from stepping in to require the necessary improvements. It leaves the Home Secretary in a position in which the public and possibly Parliament would demand action that he is unable to take. That is not satisfactory. The new clause will give the Home Secretary that power, although in constrained circumstances, which I shall explain in a moment.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

The Minister explained why the new clause is necessary, but can he give any examples in the past 20 to 25 years of the chief officer of a police force and the police authority failing in such a way that would cause the Government, if they had such a power, to use it?

Photo of John Denham John Denham Minister (Home Office) (Police and Crime Reduction)

It would not be fair to pretend that we could go back to the time of a previous Administration. Given the rudimentary system of performance measurement that existed in the past—which we are currently working to overhaul—it would be inappropriate to say that, in a particular circumstance, the power should have been used against a named force or part of a named force.

Clearly, there are wide variations in the performance of the police service from one part of the country to another even when allowance is made for the different social demographic nature of an area—as has been confirmed by the Audit Commission. Those differences are difficult to explain in any other way than suggesting variations in police performance. Against that background, because we have a more determined drive to bring the standard of forces up to the best and want a

sharper focus on poor performance wherever it exists, ultimately, we need the power to take action if all else fails. That is what the measure proposes.

In the past, it may have been thought that Governments should not concern themselves with the overall performance of police forces or variations in performances. We definitely believe that the Government should be concerned, because, at the end of the day, the public look to the Government—as well as the police service itself and the police authorities—to deal with problems of poor performance.

The power to direct chief officers will give the Home Secretary the power to require the chief officer to prepare and submit an action plan setting out the remedial action to be taken to correct under-performance. Directions under the new clause and plans produced by chief officers can cover only those matters for which the chief officer is properly responsible. I reiterate that the power to direct chief officers is intended as a power of last resort. The amendments that we first introduced in another place, and which have been incorporated in the Government amendments, make that clear. They contain significant safeguards against the inappropriate use of such powers—safeguards that were implicitly rejected by the other place. A clearly defined procedure has been set out that includes the chief officer and the police authority, at each stage of the process, specifically addressing the concerns expressed at Committee stage in the other place.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

The Minister lays great stress on the amendments introduced by the Government in another place, saying that they produce sufficient safeguards. How does he react to the fact that, even with those safeguards, what the Government propose is entirely rejected by the Association of Police Authorities as undermining the tripartite relationship?

Photo of John Denham John Denham Minister (Home Office) (Police and Crime Reduction)

The answer is that I disagree with the APA on the matter—the tripartite relationship is not undermined. Both the Government amendments and the direction power that we discussed when we debated clause 4 seek to involve the police authority. If anything, that makes our expectations of police authorities and their responsibility to take action more explicit than ever. I totally reject the idea that we are undermining the tripartite relationship.

The new clause is not about undermining that relationship, but about dealing with a situation in which the other two legs of the tripartite relationship have failed to deliver. The police authorities are reluctant to accept that such a thing could occur with regard to their own members. I am not so sanguine, and believe that it is necessary for the Home Secretary to have powers to act in those circumstances.

Photo of George Osborne George Osborne Conservative, Tatton

But if two parts of a tripartite relationship believe that the Bill will undermine the tripartite arrangement, do they not have a point? After all, two thirds of the relationship

believe that it will. It is only the Minister's one part of the tripartite relationship that does not.

Photo of John Denham John Denham Minister (Home Office) (Police and Crime Reduction)

This part of the tripartite relationship is the one that tends to be held accountable by both the media and Parliament for the performance of the police service. We may return to that later.

We have listened to those views, and we accept that the APA and the Association of Chief Police Officers do not believe that the clause is necessary. Equally, however, when we introduced in another place the amendments that we have now incorporated into the new clause, ACPO said that they went a good way towards limiting the potential for arbitrary powers of intervention. Although those organisations are debating the necessity of the clauses, it has been recognised that we have listened to debates about constraints on the powers and incorporated them into the new clause.

Photo of Patrick Mercer Patrick Mercer Conservative, Newark

The police authority must be consulted on the remedial action plan, not approve it. How will that affect the tripartite agreement? Surely the tripartite relationship will be entirely annulled if a part of it is not even consulted.

Photo of John Denham John Denham Minister (Home Office) (Police and Crime Reduction)

It is important to remember that this, like all processes, I suppose, is a sequential process. A series of stages must be passed in implementing the measures in the new clause—assuming that the earlier clause, clause 4, has not previously been used in an attempt to direct the police authority. Before dealing with action plans, the Secretary of State will have to inform both the chief officer and the police authority of the grounds on which he believes that there may be a basis for him to intervene, as I shall explain more formally in a moment.

The circumstances in which an action plan is drafted on which the police authority is invited to comment can come only after clear notice has been given of the Home Secretary's concern and an explicit statement has been made about why he is concerned and believes that there may be a need to act. It would be wrong to give the impression, as the hon. Gentleman may have inadvertently done, that the first that the police authority will know about the matter is when an action plan is kicking around. In fact, there is plenty of opportunity for action to be taken to tackle the problems about which concern has been expressed before that stage is reached.

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I urge the Minister to reconsider his words, because he will find that he is wrong. He said that the provision could be used only following directions to police authorities—if, as he said earlier, that had already failed. However, there is a fundamental difference. Clause 4—''Directions to police authorities''—does not include two words that are very significant in new clause 4—old clause 5—''or otherwise''. In clause 4, directions can be made to a police authority only as a result of a report by the inspectorate, whereas under new clause 4 the Secretary of State will have powers to require an improvement plan to be developed—

Photo of Mr George Stevenson Mr George Stevenson Labour, Stoke-on-Trent South

Order. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will catch my eye, but he needs to ask his question.

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I was in the middle of my question—

Photo of Mr George Stevenson Mr George Stevenson Labour, Stoke-on-Trent South

Order. That is what bothered me. The question was going on rather a long time.

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Why is clause 4 different from new clause 4? Why are two words—''or otherwise''—included in new clause 4 that are not in clause 4? The powers to direct chief officers are distinct and different from those for a police authority.

Photo of John Denham John Denham Minister (Home Office) (Police and Crime Reduction)

Let us try to separate the two issues. When the hon. Gentleman looks back at the record, he will find that I did not say that in all circumstances clause 4—the power to direct police authorities—will be used before the powers in the new clause. I said that that was clearly a possibility. On the point that I was making to the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer), even if the Secretary of State uses the powers in new clause 4 from the outset, the police authority will be notified of the basis for the Secretary of State's concern before there is any question of drafting an action plan. We must be able to address any problem identified, and we have built that into the safeguards. We must separate those two issues.

The hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) raised the question of the difference in drafting between the powers to direct police authorities and the powers to direct chief officers—that is, the difference between the new and the old clause 4, and the tests that apply. I shall not forget that point, but I should like to make some progress and get more of the Government's case for the new clause on the record. I shall come back to that issue, as it is obviously substantive.

As I believe that I was saying before I took the interventions, the new clause contains significant safeguards against the inappropriate use of the powers to direct chief officers. A clearly defined procedure has been set out that includes, at each stage, the chief officer and the police authority specifically addressing the concerns expressed in Committee in another place. Once the Home Secretary decides to invoke his powers under the new clause, he must inform chief officers and the police authority of his intentions. He must provide them with evidence that the force, or part of it, is failing, and he must afford them the opportunity to make representations. That is an inescapable first part of the procedure.

Such evidence as might be used by the Home Secretary could be contained in a report from Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary or another source, such as the police standards unit or the Audit Commission. The procedure reflected in the new clause would allow the police authority and the chief officer either to refute the evidence that the force is not efficient or effective or to argue that the situation has changed and that the identifiable failings have been addressed.

The Home Secretary would be under the duty to have regard to such representations. In other words, if the police authority, the chief officer or both said to the Home Secretary, ''Your information and analysis

are factually wrong, and you should think again,'' or ''We recognise the point that was raised. It is being addressed; we've got it in hand,'' the Home Secretary would have the duty to take those representations into account. The intention is that he would do so, and would not plough on regardless.

The Government amendments will further require us to afford the chief officer the opportunity to put in place his own remedial measures before he is directed to do so. Our intention is that if such remedial measures fully address the concern, there will be no need for the Home Secretary to issue a formal direction. If the response to the Home Secretary's initial case is, ''Well, actually, you've got a point. We've got a failing here; it needs to be addressed,'' before the Home Secretary requires the drafting of a direction, the chief officer should be offered the opportunity to show that that problem is being addressed.

Photo of Mr Paul Stinchcombe Mr Paul Stinchcombe Labour, Wellingborough 4:45 pm, 11th June 2002

If there is a disagreement about the procedure between the police authority, the chief constable and the Secretary of State, or any of the relevant players, is there any prospect of the issue ending up in court as a matter for judicial review?

Photo of John Denham John Denham Minister (Home Office) (Police and Crime Reduction)

My hon. Friend makes a fair point. The Home Secretary, when making decisions under the clause, would recognise that his decisions would be open to challenge at judicial review. He would therefore be under a general duty to act reasonably when publishing evidence, responding to representations or assessing the adequacy of responses. That is in addition to the safeguards built into the new clause. None of us regard this as a legally untrammelled power, because judicial review would always be in the background.

The new clause also includes a requirement that the Home Secretary must report the use of this power to Parliament. It has always been the case—from the first draft of the Bill onwards—that the Home Secretary is to be prevented from issuing a direction in relation either to a particular individual or case. Nobody wants politicians trying to run police forces: we do not want the power to direct a chief constable to take action with regard to a particular case or individual, which is why the Bill specifically excludes that.

These are important and significant safeguards. They were remarked upon by the Home Affairs Committee, in its report on the Bill. It stated:

''We welcome the safeguards proposed by the Government and hope that it is clearly understood that these powers should only be used as a last resort''.

On Second Reading, the Chairman of the Committee, the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), reiterated the Committee's view. He said:

''The Select Committee believes that it would be acceptable for the original clause 5 on directions to chief officers to be reinstated, together with the inclusion of the additional safeguards in Lords amendment No. 42. However, we shall watch carefully the way in which the powers are exercised.''—[Official Report, 7 May 2002; Vol. 385, c. 73.]

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Opposition Whip (Commons)

Much depends on how one reads that sentence

from the Home Affairs Committee's report. The fact that the Committee said that it hoped

''that it is clearly understood that these powers should only be used as a last resort''

makes me concerned. Is the Minister concerned that there appears to be a depth of view that these powers can be wide-ranging, and that there are fears about them? If that were not the case, that Committee would not have expressed a hope with regard to them?

Photo of John Denham John Denham Minister (Home Office) (Police and Crime Reduction)

This is a semantic exercise, but I, and other Ministers who have spoken about the matter, have described this as a power of last resort, not as a power for general or routine use. We and the Home Affairs Committee are at one in our understanding of what this clause is for. The safeguards—if I can describe them in that way—that we have incorporated into the new clause go a long way towards ensuring that this power, because of the way that it has to be used, could be used only in circumstances where all else had failed and action needed to be taken.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

Will the Minister spell out the powers that the Government wish to have that they do not already have? The Minister—doubtless unintentionally—has given the impression that he does not already have intervention powers. He does have such powers; there are extensive powers to intervene under section 40 of the Police Act 1996 and under section 15 of the Local Government Act 1999. What does the Minister want to do that he cannot already do?

Photo of John Denham John Denham Minister (Home Office) (Police and Crime Reduction)

The powers that exist to direct police authorities do not enable the Government to address directly, through the chief officer, a significant, persistent and deep-rooted failure in the performance of the police service itself, and nor do police authorities directly have the power to do that. Therefore, this measure addresses a gap in the intervention powers that are currently available to the Secretary of State.

I agree with the feeling around the Committee that these powers should be used only as a last resort; that is common ground among us. However, there is a gap in the intervention powers that are currently available, and these powers seek to address that.

Out of fairness, before I deal with Government amendment No. 131, which relates to the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the National Crime Squad, I wish to address the point raised by the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire, in an intervention. He was unable to elaborate at length about it, but his point was that the power to direct police authorities relies exclusively on a report received from HMIC, whereas this clause would allow the Secretary of State to introduce evidence from another source, in addition to, or instead of, that from HMIC.

The hon. Gentleman knows that the clause that relates to intervention with regard to police authorities is based on previous legislation. Indeed, we argued during the Committee's previous sitting that it improves previous legislation. It relates simply to the role of HMIC. That is appropriate given the legal

responsibility of police authorities to maintain an effective and efficient police service but not to be involved in the strategic policing issues that I said are required in the new clause.

When we drafted the new clause, we had to consider carefully whether there could be circumstances in which information would become available to the Secretary of State on which he believed that he should act but which had not come directly from HMIC. Asking HMIC to go in and effectively repeat the gathering of the same information would be a duplication of effort and information.

There are several potential sources of information on which the Secretary of State might consider that he should act, such as information from the Audit Commission or the Crown Prosecution Service inspectorate. Further information could come from an organisation such as the police standards unit, which I recognise is internal to the Home Office. There was quite a debate but we reached the view that it would be acceptable and, indeed, might be necessary for the Secretary of State to use such information to intervene provided that there was a reasonable test to stop him using an arbitrary source of information in an arbitrary way. In practice, the fact that the Secretary of State must make public the basis on which he intervenes provides a test that means that information must be as good, credible and reliable as any information that might be received from the inspectorate in order for the process to proceed. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Stinchcombe) pointed out, the Secretary of State's actions under the Bill might be subject to judicial review. The safeguard is that the Secretary of State could not say, ''I read something in the Daily Mail today. I'm not very happy about it so I'll give direction.'' The Secretary of State would have to demonstrate from where the information came, the basis of it, and be prepared to defend its credibility.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

I am slightly alarmed by the Minister's train of thought. He is discussing a report from the Audit Commission or the CPS that could justify intervention. That seems to be a first resort rather than a last resort. The last resort would be after the matter had gone through HMIC and been dealt with properly. We now discover that the Secretary of State is willing to jump the gun after receiving an adverse report from the Audit Commission.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

The hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) was pursuing a similar issue to me. The Minister described a situation in which any chief officer and his police authority will feel that under the tripartite relationship, big brother—the Home Secretary—is watching. That is far from a longstop to a longstop, as the Minister's noble Friend Lord Rooker said. As the hon. Member for Lewes said, the provision is a first resort, not a last resort.

Photo of John Denham John Denham Minister (Home Office) (Police and Crime Reduction)

The same constraints apply because a problem would have to be deep-seated and resistant to change, and other attempts to change it would have to have failed. Nothing that I said detracts from that test.

The power will be used only as a last resort and the support of HMIC is likely to be relied on by a sensible Secretary of State in the vast majority of cases. The question that must be asked is whether we should limit the power exclusively to HMIC advice or whether, given the safeguards in the clause, the Secretary of State should be able to draw on further sources of information without duplicating inspections through HMIC. The clause allows that, but the Committee must recognise the safeguards that have been built into the clause to prevent it from being used arbitrarily, as described by hon. Members.

Photo of George Osborne George Osborne Conservative, Tatton

When the clause was debated in the other place, the noble Lord Rooker said that he understood the particular concerns about it. He said:

''It probably requires more clarity and precision in the trigger mechanism which is used before such a clause would operate.''—[Official Report, House of Lords, 5 March 2002; Vol. 632, c. 165.]

The Government have amended the process but not the trigger mechanism, which remains as vague as the Minister just spelt out.

Photo of John Denham John Denham Minister (Home Office) (Police and Crime Reduction) 5:00 pm, 11th June 2002

The clause is adequate as we have presented it. We have introduced a series of procedure safeguards that were not in the original clause that was debated in another place. That is a significant change, which has been welcomed by both the Home Affairs Committee and—although we acknowledge that it would prefer not to have the clause at all—ACPO, which recognised that it significantly limited the scope of the legislation. I do not accept that in the face of parliamentary scrutiny, which I am always prepared to praise, we have not made significant and beneficial changes to the original clause. It provides the protection that Committee members want.

Government amendment No. 131 will introduce the same powers, procedures and safeguards for use in relation to the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the National Crime Squad. During our second sitting on 25 May, we debated amendments Nos. 134 to 136, which were moved by the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Mrs. Brooke). Those amendments would have required the Secretary of State to consult with the relevant service authority about the remedial measures needed. I refer the hon. Lady to new sections 31B and 76B of the Police Act 1997, which will be inserted by amendment No. 131. I hope she will accept that the two new sections provide for prior consultation with the service authorities and make her amendments unnecessary.

As I have already said, the provisions are a key part of the police reform process. Most members of the public would be surprised that the Home Secretary does not already have the power in the new clause, because it involves only a last resort ability to require forces to provide an acceptable quality of service to their local communities. It is an important power that should be in the Bill and the alternative, which Opposition Members must address, could be to tolerate failure and condemn communities to live with the consequences of such failure. We are not prepared to abandon communities to inadequate police services, and it is for those who oppose the

power to direct officers at the last resort to justify why they appear ready to do so.

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

As the Minister has implied, we are now debating one of the major issues of the Bill, if not the major issue. He has presented new clause 4 in a favourable light—probably a better light than he is in from where I sit. I apologise if I have been squinting at him this afternoon, but to me he is just a silhouette against the window. However, closer scrutiny of his new clause would illustrate that it is not quite as white as he would try to make us believe.

At the heart of the debate is the point that has been raised by several Committee members from all parties, which is the tripartite arrangement. The Police Act 1996 clearly provides that it is the function of the police authority to secure the maintenance of an effective and efficient police force, that the force should be under the direction and control of the chief constable, and that the Secretary of State shall exercise his powers in order to promote the effectiveness and efficiency of the police. Other parts of the Act provide the Secretary of State with widespread powers for carrying out his function, and I shall return to that point.

Paragraph 17 of the Select Committee's report, before the quotation to which the Minister referred, clearly states:

''We believe that the tripartite structure and operational independence of police forces are essential safeguards against politicisation and centralisation of the police.''

As my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) clearly implied, if two legs of the tripartite arrangement are unhappy with a procedure, it calls into question whether the tripartite arrangement is as strong and robust as the Minister would have us believe. Every organisation refers to the tripartite structure and endorses it, but the Minister's proposals will undermine it.

The 1996 Act already gives the Home Secretary significant powers. For example, he has powers to determine objectives and to direct police authorities on performance targets. Section 40, to which the hon. Member for Lewes referred earlier, contains powers to direct authorities, but it is yet to be used by a Home Secretary of any Government. Several other powers have not been used, yet the Government want to have even more. Clause 4 has already been passed and that gives the power to give directions to police authorities. The Bill also contains measures for codes of practice, which will create much power.

The amendment and, more particularly, new clause 4 go much further, and the reason we are debating them now is that there was a cross-party consensus in the other place that such measures were wrong, as a result of which old clause 5 was removed. Not only Conservative peers, but a large number of Liberal Democrat peers and non-aligned Cross-Benchers, and, indeed, a bishop voted against the Government on the clause. They did so in the full knowledge of the safeguards to which the Minister has referred. Such measures were before the other place when the debate took place and he has now included them in new clause 4 as proposed new section 41B.

The so-called safeguards were also considered by the Select Committee. The Minister has referred to that Committee, but as the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole said, its comments could hardly be described as a fulsome endorsement of the safeguards. It moved matters from an unacceptable situation to an arrangement that must be monitored closely.

Photo of Bridget Prentice Bridget Prentice Labour, Lewisham East

I did not intervene on my right hon. Friend the Minister when he referred to what the Select Committee said because he clearly expounded our views, but I am becoming a little bored with the views of the Select Committee being distorted by Opposition Members. We tend not to use ''hope'' in our reports. It is a lightweight word. The fact that we used it on the occasion to which reference has been made shows that we accept the Government's amendments and new clauses.

Photo of Mr George Stevenson Mr George Stevenson Labour, Stoke-on-Trent South

Order. I require interventions to be questions. Perhaps the hon. Lady will ask a question.

Photo of Bridget Prentice Bridget Prentice Labour, Lewisham East

I beg your pardon, Mr. Stevenson.

The Select Committee fully endorses the Government's actions and it is time that the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire and others stopped trying to read something other into its comments.

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Every hon. Member who is not a member of the Select Committee can only go by what it puts in writing. There is clearly no fulsome endorsement of the provisions in the Select Committee's report, as the hon. Lady has suggested. I shall repeat the quotation:

''As originally proposed, this clause . . . was unacceptable. If it is eventually restored to the Bill with the additional safeguards on consultation, we will watch carefully to see how these powers are exercised.''

In no way is that the support that the hon. Lady has just described. The report does not even say, ''We support the safeguards.'' It simply says that the powers will have to be watched carefully to see how they are exercised.

The matter goes beyond that, as I have said. The Association of Police Authorities—the Minister conceded that he has a different view to that body, but that does not lessen the importance of its view—says:

''We remain fundamentally opposed to these provisions, even with the package of safeguards contained in new section 41B.''

The reasons that it gives, which are worth repeating, are that

''the provisions fundamentally alter the accountability of chief officers to local police authorities . . . They extend the powers of the Home Secretary to intervene directly with forces/BCUs . . . They undermine the tripartite relationship by making the chief officer directly answerable to the Home Secretary—the police authority only has to be consulted on the remedial action plan—it does not have to approve it . . . they give the Home Secretary powers to set improvement targets for the force/BCU without reference to the police authority . . . Performance monitoring and management of progress against the action plan will be done by the Home Secretary, sidestepping the police authority.''

ACPO, too, has clearly stated that, despite the safeguards, it

''will continue to press its position . . . the Association will continue to defend the tripartite structure of policing, especially the right of the police to carry out policing . . . the Association continues to take the view that it does not and cannot endorse the provisions in clauses 4 and 5.''

It also says:

''Even with the safeguards the means for arbitrary intervention remain.''

Even the Metropolitan police service does not accept the proposals fulsomely.

The Minister kept using the term ''last resort'', and the hon. Member for Lewes, rightly endorsed by my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins), pointed out that the Minister's answer to my intervention about the interpretation of the words ''or otherwise'' clearly smacked of first resort rather than last. I can only endorse what was said earlier; if the power is to be a last resort, every other option must be exhausted before it is used. It is not the clause, but the power to require the resignation or retirement of the chief officer that is the last resort, and that falls later in the Bill. The penultimate resort, let us say, if that is what is intended here, is not what is detailed in the words of the new clause.

Let us consider the new clause and compare it with the protestations of not just the Minister but the Home Secretary. Yesterday, in answer to a question of mine on the Floor of the House yesterday, the Home Secretary said:

''We are asking police chiefs to draw up action plans—we make no apology for that, nor for the fact that we shall be able to comment on the plans.'

'

As far as that goes, I have no disagreements. He went on to say:

''We make no apology for asking the police to consider readjusting their plans in the context of the overall national plan''.

If he were asking the police only to consider readjusting them, I should be happy. However, he then said:

''We are not seeking powers to dictate the action plans''.—[Official Report, 10 June 2002; Vol. 386, c. 588.]

Any study of what is proposed belies that statement. That is the fundamental nub of our concern, which incidentally applies to the Government amendment as well as to the new clause. The problem is not just the words ''or otherwise'', which are included near the beginning of the new clause. The Minister explained why the words were included in proposed new clause 4 by talking about drafting something completely new, but clause 4 is new as well, and there was nothing to stop him from putting it in there if he wanted to. The words give the Home Secretary carte blanche to use any pretext at all—yes, subject to the safeguards, but he still has the opportunity to require a remedial plan. If we consider subsections (4) and (6) of proposed new section 41A in new clause 4, we get to the heart of my concerns.

Subsection (4) states that

''the Secretary of State may direct the chief officer of police of the force in question—

(a) to revise that plan in accordance with the directions of the Secretary of State''.

That is unequivocal; it has to be revised in accordance with the directions—and it is also necessary

''to resubmit the plan to him with the required revisions''.

The proposed new section goes on to say that that can happen again, and subsection (6) states that time limits could be imposed.

Therefore, it is not the case that the Home Secretary is—to borrow his words of yesterday—not seeking powers to dictate the action plan: in fact, he is taking powers.

Photo of John Denham John Denham Minister (Home Office) (Police and Crime Reduction) 5:15 pm, 11th June 2002

Several hon. Members on both sides of the Committee will have heard yesterday's exchange in the Chamber. Without asking my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to address the Committee on it, we can only speculate about whether the dialogue was at cross purposes. I listened to yesterday's exchange, and I thought that the question and the response related not to this clause, but to the general policing strategies that are addressed elsewhere in the Bill, and where the Secretary of State has the ability to point out where a policing strategy is not in line with the national policing plan, but where he does not have the power to rewrite that plan. I understood yesterday's exchange to be about those overall policing plans, rather than the specific action plan on identified major weaknesses, which is the subject of this clause.

Before we spend too much time on this, we should at least give credence to the fact that two types of plans are covered in the Bill, which have different processes.

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

In the question, the Home Secretary's answer to which I have just given, I referred to action plans for improvement. Although I did not use the word ''remedial'', it is pretty clear what I was referring to, and it seems to me that the Home Secretary's response referred to that. However, be that as it may, I am referring to the proposals of the Home Secretary and the Minister in subsection (4), where powers to direct are being taken.

Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Labour, Ogmore

I am struggling to follow the logic of the hon. Gentleman's overall argument with regard to the new clause. Is it his intention to direct or guide his colleagues on the Opposition Benches in the Chamber not to hurl invective in future at the Secretary of State when something is going wrong with the police force? If he is not going to do that, when all the rules and the guidance and the directives have been issued but we still have failing police forces—some of them, heaven forbid, in the constituencies of Opposition Members—the Secretary of State must have the power to intervene.

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman is falling into the trap of looking at the generality, but the job of our Committee is to look at the detail of what is in the Bill.

We have no problem with the Home Secretary being accountable and having some means of exercising that accountability to Parliament. We have all sat in Parliament and seen successive Home Secretaries—and Ministers in every other

Department—being challenged over the efficiency of the delivery of the services for which they accept some responsibility. However, as I have stated, the Home Secretary has considerable powers, which were given to the holder of that office by the last Conservative Government in the 1996 Act, and some of which have not yet been used or tried. Therefore, it is my contention, not that they should not have any powers at all, but that the powers that are being proposed in this new clause are unnecessary and excessive, and that that is especially the case with regard to the bits of those powers that I am referring to at present.

To answer the hon. Gentleman's question, I shall be urging my hon. Friends to continue to oppose this new clause, because this element of direction is wrong. If the Minister had come forward with a new clause that said, ''If there is an inspectorate report that says that there is a weakness in a force or a part of a force, the Home Secretary should be able to ask the chief officer of that force to come forward with an action plan to improve it,'' that would have been fine. However, he takes powers in the clause to direct not just that a remedial plan should be produced, but every word that should be in it. It is like a teacher telling a child whose homework is wrong that he must do it again and again until he gets it right. That is the only interpretation that can be given to subsection (4) of the proposed new section 41A. They are excessive powers.

I turn briefly to the safeguards that the Minister has added and which were before the other place when they debated the matter. The safeguards as they stand are welcome. I would not contest that they are step forward, but they do not go anything like far enough to over-ride that fundamental concern that the Secretary of State is taking powers to go over the head of a police authority and direct a chief officer. Nothing in those safeguards does away with that direction. I therefore remain of the view that this is a clause too far in terms of powers for the Home Secretary. It should be resisted, not just in Committee but at all other times. Not only do I intend to seek to divide the Committee on the new clause, but I hope that we shall debate it when it returns to the Floor of the House, as it is a matter of major significance to the Bill.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

I refer hon. Members to the debate in Committee in the House of Lords. Lord Phillips of Sudbury started by saying:

''It is worth quickly reminding ourselves what the clause will do. First, a direction does not have to be laid before Parliament. Secondly, it can be issued by the Home Secretary on his or her initiative. Thirdly, it is not dependent on any third party or adverse finding. Fourthly, it is a direction with which the chief constable must comply. Fifthly, it completely bypasses the existing tripartite balance and leaves the police authority totally out of the calculation, except in so far as the Home Secretary has to tell the police authority that a direction has been issued when one is issued.''—[Official Report, House of Lords, 5 March 2002; Vol. 632, c. 158.]

That was the position when the Bill was introduced in the House of Lords. The Government have given some ground since then to ameliorate matters but the position is not substantially different.

What is the justification for that extraordinary power that the Government wish to give themselves? It

is presumably failure in the police force, yet when I intervened on the Minister he could not give me a single example of where this power would have been necessary in the last 25 years. He could not give a single example of a police authority or a police force where that would have been required. His answer was that there are ''wide variations'' across the country. So there are in all sorts of things. There are wide variations in how people talk and their attitudes to life. We are not an amorphous country. We have variations and the idea that they should be ironed out by the Government seems a rather worrying development.

The Minister referred to social demographic differences. Of course those should be taken into account and they will lead to variations in apparent performance. I suspect that, rather than looking at how well in the round a police force or a police authority is performing, the Government are getting hung up on their idea of performance indicators, which are a useful tool but a bad master if relied on unduly. There are variations at present in how crimes are recorded. I support the Government's measures to eradicate them so that we can get some sort of picture. But democratic decisions are taken differently by police authorities and operationally by chief constables. An experiment is being carried out in Lambeth, apparently with the approval of the Home Office, on ways of dealing with street crime and cannabis. That is entirely right, but what if a Home Secretary decides that such initiatives are inappropriate and should not be followed? Will the Home Secretary of the day give a direction to the chief constable under proposed new subsection (4)(a) and (b) that certain experiments are inappropriate because they are not catching those committing crimes, whereas other police forces around the country are catching criminals who are committing crimes? Is that the level of intervention that the provisions will allow? Intervention at basic command level is permitted for the proposed changes. No examples of failure are provided, just a confirmation that people are different across the country and that that applies to police authorities and forces as it does to individuals.

The Minister referred to a gap in intervention powers as another justification. When I examined section 40 of the 1996 Act, it seemed pretty comprehensive. As the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire said, it has hardly been rattling around the country. It has not been used at all, but the power in section 40 is clear, as

''the Secretary of State may direct the police authority responsible for maintaining the force to take such measures as may be specified in the direction.''

That is pretty comprehensive, conferring wide powers on the Home Secretary, yet it is not enough for the present one and his Ministers who are hungry for even more powers.

Section 15 of the Local Government Act 1999 provides a further example. If a police authority is failing to secure best value—that is, continuous improvements in efficiency, effectiveness or

economy—the Secretary of State can direct the police authority to undertake a best value review of that function, set up a local inquiry into the force, take over the running of that function, or put someone else into the post to take over that function.

Far-reaching powers are clearly already in place in the 1999 Act. What do the Home Secretary and his Ministers want to do that cannot already be done under the Police Act 1996 or the Local Government Act 1999? Where is the gap in intervention powers to which the Minister referred? I suggest that there is no gap: the only logical conclusion is that the Minister wants to bypass the police authority. The powers are already in place; it is a question of whose directions govern them.

That amounts to a fundamental weakening of the traditional tripartite arrangement on which policing in this country has been based for a long time. The tripartite arrangement may have developed organically and somewhat haphazardly, but it has worked to deliver good policing across the country, to allow democratic accountability and to allow the Secretary of State to intervene in police activities under existing legislation. All that is possible and the system has public support throughout the country. The Minister challenges it at his peril. He is removing, or severely weakening, one of the tripod's legs, which of course makes it fall over.

Photo of Ian Lucas Ian Lucas Labour, Wrexham

My constituents tell me that they are dissatisfied with the present level and quality of policing. What are the hon. Gentleman's constituents telling him? Something has to be done about the present position.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

That brings me to my next point. The Minister said that the whole purpose of the legislation was to drive up standards. Who can deny that that is a laudable aim? Every member of the Committee agrees with that objective. However, in answer to the intervention, we face a fundamental problem. Why is it assumed that if only the Home Secretary, his officials in the Home Office and Whitehall had more power and London could more directly control the affairs of Bristol, Durham and elsewhere, everything would be so much better? It is a false premise that undermines the Minister's whole case. What proof can he provide that if only Whitehall could intervene more, matters would somehow be improved out there in the country?

Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Labour, Ogmore 5:30 pm, 11th June 2002

The hon. Gentleman's comments about the tripartite arrangement are right. We all appreciate that it works effectively in many parts of the country, but his argument falls down with regard to consistency. That is the fundamental problem: the same standards do not apply. The point is not that we have a bell-shaped curve with a heap of authorities performing well, but that there are aberrations at the extremes. That is what the measure is designed to tackle.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

What we have are variations, which are often regionally based and should not necessarily be eradicated. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that there are problems, why do the Government not use

the existing powers in the Police Act 1996 and the Local Government Act 1999? Why do police authorities not act? Actually, they do. It is a false premise that powers are lacking; they are not. It is a false premise that if Whitehall had more powers—it does not use its powers anyway—everything would somehow be better. That is not the answer; we are starting at the wrong end. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman talk to his local police authority more, because it could perhaps make more efforts and achieve more than the Home Secretary could with the powers that he wants to give himself.

The Minister talked about the Government being in the spotlight—he did not use that exact phrase, but that is what he meant. He suggested that when the media were unhappy, the Government got the blame, ergo the Government should take more power to themselves. However, the logical consequence is that they will get even more of the blame than they have done up to now. The fact is that Whitehall does not know best.

If the Minister considers what happens in other countries—our EU partners, for a start—he will see that, by and large, power in those countries is far more devolved from the centre. However, he is bringing more power to the centre. It is no coincidence that, in a range of public services in other countries, power is devolved far more to local and regional level than is the case in this country. That power is devolved not because there has been huge political power that the centre has been unable to hold off, but because it works. When services are brought down to local level, and local people determine what happens, the services tend to be better, because there is more accountability. People get more involved and have more say.

The Minister, however, is proposing the opposite. Police authorities are to some degree accountable—they include elected councillors as well as local magistrates. They are closer to problems and know far more about what is happening in, say, Lewes than someone in Whitehall who thinks that Lewes is an island off the coast of Scotland. [Hon. Members: ''It is.''] Even Government Members are unaware of where my constituency is, so what hope will Whitehall officials have?

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham

The hon. Gentleman's line of argument fascinates me. Is he talking about a situation—a Liberal nightmare rather than dream—in which individual police authorities are separate from the centre, there is no control at all and the centre—Whitehall or the Government—has no role in upholding standards? Are the Liberal Democrats saying that we should have independent police forces at local level, with their own standards and no—[Interruption.]

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

That intervention is hardly worth answering. It is a grotesque distortion of what I said, and none of my colleagues has ever said what the hon. Gentleman suggested. We have continually said that we support a tripartite structure, which has power vested in chief officers, police authorities and the Home Secretary. Up to now, that system has worked. I am actually arguing that we should not tinker too

much with the existing arrangement, but that the Government are tinkering too much.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham

On what basis, then, would it be appropriate for the Home Secretary or, as the hon. Gentleman says, Whitehall, to use the powers that he has outlined to intervene in a local police authority? Is he saying that, in the Liberal wonderland, there would never be circumstances in which the Home Secretary or Whitehall would intervene?

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

I am tempted to say, ''As a matter of last resort'', which is the Minister's phrase, but successive Governments—the last Conservative Government and this one—have clearly never found a reason to intervene because they have never used their powers to do so. They have had difficulty finding a reason to intervene, yet they still want to give themselves more powers.

The Government want to centralise the powers, and that is fundamentally wrong. There is a basic misunderstanding that policing will somehow be better as a result. Ministers are in the spotlight, and are driven far more by tabloid headlines than are the police authorities. When faced with a barrage of tabloid coverage, Home Secretaries will have to be strong and determined to do what is right, rather than what the papers want them to do. By drawing more powers to the centre, the Minister is making it more likely that the media feast to which he rightly objects will put pressure on the Home Secretary to take those powers. He is making policing more political, not less. It is arrogant of Ministers to say that we need the police standards unit, the ombudsman and regulation. There is no ministerial standards unit, but perhaps we should examine Ministers' wrong decisions. Where is the independent check on them? The argument is wrong that neither Ministers nor Home Office officials ever make a mistake and are the fount of all knowledge.

The Minister has used the phrase ''last resort'' at least half a dozen times in the debate. However, this ''last resort'' is nothing of the sort. He said that it was likely that the power would be used after the HMIC had become involved and produced its report. In other words, there may be occasions on which the HMIC has not produced a critical report, but nevertheless the Minister would want to use the power. He also talked about reports from the Audit Commission and others. He was not painting an image of a ''last resort'', but several scenarios in which the Minister may want to intervene and use the power. There may be a protocol, but no one can hold a Home Secretary to it. These are merely words, and are not worth holding on to. They ring alarm bells among hon. Members on both sides of the Committee who do not want the power to be used other than sparingly.

According to the Government's thinking, the power will have to be set out in the clause for the police standards unit to be effective. It is difficult to see what the Government can require of chief constables and others without it. The unit is already up and running, so the Minister and his colleagues have jumped the gun. Kevin Bond is already in post with a huge annual salary of £200,000 for a four-day week—lucky him. Will the Minister say whether the police standards unit

will recommend hit squads going into basic command units up and down the country? The Home Secretary seemed to adopt a similar tactic in his previous incarnation as Education Secretary when he was unhappy with badly performing schools. The police standards unit looks like a replica of that with a crucial difference. Whether we liked them or not—and I did not—hit squads going into schools did not have the same constitutional implication. Taking powers to send hit squads into parts of the police force is entirely different, and undermines the idea of a tripartite structure that deliberately resisted giving power to the centre in order to avoid politicising the police.

I took careful note of what the Minister said. I always listen to him carefully, as he is a most entertaining fellow. His exact phrase was that no one wants politicians running police forces. Three cheers for that. However, as the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire pointed out, how does that square with new subsection (4)(a) and (b) in which action plans are required. If the action plan is not to the Home Secretary's liking, he can send it back with corrections and the comment, ''chief constable must do better.'' It then goes back and forth until the Home Secretary is certain that every t is crossed and every i is dotted to his satisfaction. All the bits that he wants removed are removed, and all the bits that he wants to be inserted are inserted. I do not know why he bothers asking chief constables to produce an action plan. He could simply send the chief constable an action plan with the comment, ''Here you are, that's what you've got.'' That would cut out some of the stages in between.

The power would have politicians interfering in operational matters. The Minister may have taken out the phrase ''operational matters'' or whatever phrase was used in another place, but the impact is still in the new clause. There is a potential for micro-management of the police, which we should all resist.

The Minister said that it was unlikely that the power would be utilised, and used the phrase ''last resort'' yet again. He also said that there would be discussions with police constables in advance so that they knew which way the wind was blowing—my phrase rather than the Minister's. They would take action and produce the required result before the direction was issued—how convenient. That means that the Minister, his colleagues and his successors would still have the ability to micromanage the police. They could still tell police constables what they wanted. They could say, ''If you don't produce what we want, we will issue a direction and all the unfavourable publicity will be on your head and about your police force and police authority''.

Under such circumstances, most chief constables would cave in before the direction was issued. That would allow Ministers—whoever they might be—to do two things. First, they could say to Parliament, ''Look, we're not interfering. No directions have been issued. We are completely hands off. We are not interfering in micro-management of the police.'' Secondly, it would also allow micro-management behind closed doors,

without anyone knowing what had taken place and what requirements Ministers had made of chief constables because, whether or not it is used, the threat of direction will hang over the heads of the chief constables. That is what is so insidious about the clause.

No justification has been made for the clause or for suggesting that the Home Office can do any better than anyone else. There is clear evidence that the tripartite arrangement will be undermined and that micro-management of the police will be permitted. For that reason, my Liberal Democrat colleagues and I remain implacably opposed to the clause. We will certainly vote against it in Committee and do everything possible, here and in another place, if necessary, to ensure that is does not become law.

Photo of George Osborne George Osborne Conservative, Tatton

I too visited your constituency last week, Mr. Stevenson, as I do every week when I drive to my constituency—I go through Stoke on Trent on my way to Cheshire.

I support my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire and the hon. Member for Lewes in their opposition to new clause 4. It is the most centralist, interventionist and prescriptive clause in a Bill that was described by my local chief constable in Cheshire as centralist, interventionist and prescriptive. In the view of almost every organisation—I am covering my back by saying almost, because I have found not a single organisation apart from the Home Office that supports it—the power to issue directions to chief officers undermines the tripartite relationship that has worked so well to guard the independence of the police force from the politicians of today.

I remind the Committee of the strength of opposition to the clause from organisations. The Association of Police Authorities, to which my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire referred, said:

''We urge MPs not to reinstate these provisions which fundamentally undermine local accountability for local policing.''

In response to the Select Committee on which the hon. Member for Lewisham East (Bridget Prentice) served, the former Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Lord Condon, said:

''The tripartite structure for the governance of policing . . . has provided the checks and balances that underpin our policing system . . . the cumulative impact of the clauses in the Bill which give the Secretary of State new powers to direct and control policing will dramatically alter that balance of power in favour of the Secretary of State.''—[Official Report, House of Lords, 5 February 2002; Vol. 631, c. 524.]

Even the chairman of the Metropolitan police authority, who is, I believe, a member of the Labour party, said in the other place:

''Why do the Government need to intervene directly in forces rather than work with and through local police authorities?''—[Official Report, House of Lords, 28 February 2002; Vol. 631 c. 1624.]

In conjunction with the chief constable, my own police authority in Cheshire wrote to all the MPs representing Cheshire constituencies, saying:

''The provisions of the Police Bill would radically shift the current balance of responsibility for policing away from local people and local accountability, towards greater central direction and control by the Home Secretary.

Such a step would in our view damage local policing and make policing more remote from the local communities it serves.''

Labour Members must wonder why, apart from the Home Office, almost every organisation involved seems to believe that the Bill will achieve that.

Over the very enjoyable recess, I decided to look back at Hansard. When such powers were being given by previous Governments, the Labour party was the first to jump up. In 1994, at the time of the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill, which gave powers to direct police authorities that are far superseded by the Bill, the Opposition spokesman said that

''the Bill represents the most determined and least popular attempt ever made to centralise policing in Britain, to give Ministers unprecedented control over the way that the police do their work, and to undermine police independence . . . an ideology that resents local freedom''.

He continued by saying that

''crime is fought most successfully locally, where police and the local community work together. Every measure that ruptures or weakens that link diminishes our primary purpose which is to fight crime.''—[Official Report, 26 April 1994; Vol. 242, c. 122–23.]

That spokesman was the Prime Minister. What has changed? First, Labour Members are in government and have started to listen to their civil servants, who want more power. Secondly—I refer to the interventions on the hon. Member for Lewes—they have been in power for five years, nothing seems to be improving and public services do not seem to be getting any better, so they start to blame the police, nurses and teachers and suggest that if only Whitehall had a bit more power, everything would be fine and the reasons why the country supported new Labour would become apparent.

The Bill represents the Government's authoritarian streak. They have a deep instinct for centralisation. Labour Members may think that the Conservatives were no better. However, the Bill goes far beyond what we did. We did not take those powers. No such powers were ever proposed by any Conservative Government.

Photo of Bridget Prentice Bridget Prentice Labour, Lewisham East 5:45 pm, 11th June 2002

Fascinating though that is, can the hon. Gentleman tell us why, in 1994 or 1996, the Government whom he supported did not uphold the wonderful tripartite system in London by separating the powers of the Home Secretary from those of a police authority for London?

Photo of George Osborne George Osborne Conservative, Tatton

Those Bills, in 1994 and 1996, did not take the same sort of powers that the hon. Lady will no doubt support in Committee. She talks about undermining the tripartite relationship of the police because the Home Secretary took powers to direct police authorities with the provisos that my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire mentioned. This Home Secretary is now taking a power to intervene directly with chief constables in a way that the chairman of the Metropolitan police authority, a Labour party member—

Photo of George Osborne George Osborne Conservative, Tatton

The hon. Lady says from a sedentary position, ''which we set up''. If you set up the thing, should you not listen to the person you put in charge—I apologise for using the term ''you'', Mr. Stevenson—

who objects to the Bill and says that it is wrong? The hon. Lady cannot have it both ways. The Government set it up and put in charge a Labour party member, who has said in the House of Lords that the Bill is over-prescriptive and too centralising and that the powers are unnecessary. The Government are ignoring that.

Last week, I met my local chief constable. The Minister and the Home Secretary always say that the buck stops with the Home Secretary, who is held to account in the Daily Mail, of which we know he is an avid reader. In fact, in almost all circumstances, the legal buck, as I understand it—and as the chief constable told me—stops with the chief constable, as he is responsible for local policing.

My chief constable wanted me to ask the Minister how the Bill will affect that position. If a chief constable acts under direction from the Home Secretary, will he continue to remain legally responsible for the action he takes under the plan, or will legal responsibility pass to the Home Secretary? He gave me an example that relates to another clause but is pertinent to this one, too.

Let us suppose that, under the powers to direct the use of equipment, the Home Office directs the use of a pepper spray instead of a CS spray, against the wishes of the local police service, and legal cases are brought against the local police. Who would carry the can in such circumstances? [Laughter.] Indeed, ''can'' is appropriate—hopefully, the police officer would still have it. If charges were brought or accusations were made, where would the legal buck stop? Although the Minister is right to the extent that we and the press hold the Home Secretary accountable for the overall law and order of the country, it is clear that legal responsibilities actually stop with the chief constable. Will the Minister address my specific point on the aptly named new clause 4—if one were to pick a name for a clause that sums up everything one needs to know about the new Labour party, it would have to be new clause 4? Does he accept the judgment of almost every organisation on the new clause? If the Minister can name an organisation that supports the measure, I shall be happy to listen. The almost universal judgment of organisations and people involved in policing and the Labour party when the Prime Minister was shadow Home Secretary is that the powers are over-prescriptive, unnecessary and not needed.

Photo of Patrick Mercer Patrick Mercer Conservative, Newark

I shall not detain the Committee for long. I make a point to Labour Members. My constituency is semi-rural and has a dearth of police officers. It has a problem with policing and that is the subject of 60 per cent. of my postbag. However, not one of my constituents has said that what is wrong is the Home Secretary's powers. Not one has had an intellectual argument with me to say that the administration, bureaucracy and empowerment of the authorities are what is wrong with the police. I hear every day that the problems are police numbers and police response times. I have no doubt that the Bill is designed—it is well designed in parts—to improve the powers of the police and to reduce the problems

that hon. Members and I face daily, but I do not believe that new clause 4 is the way to proceed.

I have spent considerable time with the police. I have been on patrol and I have talked about the ins and outs of the Bill with officers. However, my police authority is more pertinent to the new clause. It considers that it is wrong and it feels sidelined by it.

Hon. Members have made the point better than I that the measure will almost certainly threaten the tripartite relationship. A police authority must be consulted only on a remedial action plan that it has no need to approve. I take the point that the Minister made earlier but I reiterate the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton by saying that that leaves a chief constable and a police authority feeling that they are constantly watched and that the Home Secretary can step in to take powers out of their hands with no recourse to the other two legs of the tripod.

Similarly, the provision will extend the powers of the Home Secretary to intervene on tactical matters at force level. That smacks of involvement at too high a level with matters that should not involve the Home Secretary from day to day. He will be allowed to set improvement targets for forces without reference, yet again, to the police authority.

The ladies and gentlemen in the Nottinghamshire police authority to whom I have spoken dedicate much time and effort to ensuring that the relationship of the police and the constabulary is well evolved and practical. They resent deeply the provision and the idea that the Home Secretary may rob them of the powers that they have worked for many hours, days and weeks to make effective. The performance monitoring and assessment of progress against the action plan may be done directly by the Home Secretary, which, again, undermines the police authority.

The Association of Chief Police Officers said:

''There are no difficulties with the concept of tackling inefficiencies and ineffectiveness robustly but the powers currently available to the Secretary of State and the 'best value' regime already enable that.''

There are already extensive and adequate powers to intervene. Clause 4 empowers the Home Secretary to direct police authorities. Section 15 of the Local Government Act 1999 allows best value to be secured and includes powers to take over or nominate someone else to take over police functions that are not achieving best value.

With those powers in place and the chief constables empowered as they are, why does the Home Secretary need further power? Why should he be allowed to interfere and meddle at tactical level? Why should police officers on the beat feel that the police authority is no longer in a position to mediate? Why should they be looking over their shoulders all the time at the Home Secretary? The move smacks of meddling and micro-management, and is wholly unnecessary.

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Conservative, Henley

It is a great pleasure to speak for the first time under your chairmanship, Mr. Stevenson, and in the presence of so many former

comrades from the Proceeds of Crime Bill, in whose salt mines I had the honour of serving for 36 glorious Committee sittings. I see many veterans of those disputations, including the hon. Lady for 2 Fountain court, the hon. and learned Member for Redcar (Vera Baird), the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas), and the Hammurabi and great lawgiver, the hon. Member for Wellingborough. It is a great pleasure to see them, and I am sure that we will hear more from them. Of course, it is also good to see my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath who will speak in a moment and has contributed so much to the Committee's deliberations.

It must be a tribute to our collective forensic brilliance that the Whips have decided that we should serve again on Committee, and I must say that the Opposition have had the better of the argument. You may call me partisan, Mr. Stevenson, but that is my impartial opinion of the debate so far. The Government are seeking to reintroduce a clause that was happily removed by Lord Rooker, who has since been removed from his position in the Home Office. We are told that it is all right to reintroduce the clause with lots of safeguards to prevent the meddling to which the Opposition object, but I have an elegant solution for the Government. They should not bring back the clause with the safeguards; they should get rid of the clause altogether and save themselves a great deal of ink in the printing of the Bill. It would be neater, and less invasive, bossy and meddlesome.

The Minister made a good point about responsibility and how Ministers in Whitehall must ultimately carry the can. Another Labour Member made the point that it is no good to expect Ministers in Whitehall to be abused by the Opposition for failings in policing if they cannot direct or have some way of controlling it. However, they have fantastic powers already, and that has been demonstrated time and again by Conservative Members. With the new clause, the Government are seeking to micro-manage to an extent that is unhealthy for not only policing but the Ministers themselves. They want to be able to revise plans in accordance with the direction of the Secretary of State and force chief constables to resubmit plans with the required revisions. That is far too invasive and prescriptive.

I should like to make a psychological point about how senior policemen will respond to such direction if it is carried out top-down from Whitehall. Not only will it lead to a deterioration in good policing, but there is a secondary risk. If Ministers intervene and prescribe in this way, they will not only impede policemen, break up the tripartite structure about which we have heard much, and excessively fetter chief constables, but give chief constables and senior police officers the perfect excuse not to carry out their performances properly and for not achieving the results that we all want them to achieve. They will always be able to say, ''It wasn't me, guv. It was Whitehall. They festooned me with bureaucracy. It's all these directives; it's all these diktats. What can I do?'' I say that because I care about the Ministers. I want them to be protected.

Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Labour, Ogmore 6:00 pm, 11th June 2002

I care deeply about the Ministers and their performance, too. I want to reassure the hon. Gentleman about micro-management. I suspect that it will not reach to every police force each minute of every day, because Ministers may have other things to get on with.

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Conservative, Henley

I am so grateful for that perspicacious intervention. If there is to be no interference and if the new clause will not be used, let us get rid of it. Let us follow the action of Lord Rooker and abandon it, and get rid of the saving clauses, too. I agreed strongly with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire, the hon. Member for Lewes and others. The measure is too prescriptive. It will take away the power of local police constables and authorities to set their own priorities.

I shall conclude with a quotation that has been thrust into my hand by my brilliant and learned colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton. While in Opposition, a Labour Member of Parliament said:

''The difference between the two of us is that, while the Home Secretary wants objectives to be set centrally by central Government, the police, the Opposition and virtually everyone else believes that they should be set by local people.''—[Official Report, 5 July 1994; Vol. 246, c. 272.]

The Committee will be amazed to discover that that speaker was—again—the Prime Minister. I make such points not only in the interests of good policing, but to address the matter of responsibility. If Ministers want to protect themselves against the charge from senior policemen that they have unnecessarily fettered them and hedged them about with excessive diktats from Whitehall, they must do as Lord Rooker obligingly suggested and drop the new clause.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

I echo the concerns that have been expressed by not only my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire, but my hon. Friends the Members for Henley, for Newark and for Tatton. Worries have been expressed to me about the Bill from those in my constituency of Surrey and the surrounding area. I also want to speak more widely about the general principles that were discussed at length by some experienced people in another place when considering what was originally clause 5, which was wisely defeated and removed.

I start with the worries of my local police federation. Reference has already been made to the views of the Association of Police Authorities—which Conservative Members share—and those of ACPO, and to concerns that have been expressed by others. Not much reference has yet been made to the views of rank-and-file officers on the Government's attempt to reintroduce the proposals. I am always worried when local organisers of the Police Federation in my area say that their rank-and-file members are as concerned about such issues as the senior people in organisations such as the Association of Police Authorities.

I am delighted that the Minister of State is back in Committee to hear my point. Each part of the police service from the Association of Police Authorities through to ACPO and the Police Federation are all

saying that the Government's proposals are wrong and far too draconian, and that they will lead to all sorts of difficulties. John Miskelly, who I know personally, and who does a tremendous job as chairman of the joint branch board of the Police Federation for Surrey, said that the Home Secretary

''appears to be seeking the power to regulate and impose on chief officers working procedures and practices that they must adopt. Given the diverse nature of the country, it is difficult to see how a working practice can be imposed on every force and expected to yield the same results. What may be a highly successful and useful procedure in a large metropolitan force may be of limited value, if any, in a provincial rural force and vice versa. The Home Secretary also appears to be seeking powers so as to circumvent the Police Advisory Board when issuing codes of practice and regulations on equipment.

The consequences for the current tripartite arrangements and the impact on 'local accountability' that such a change would have, are issues that must not be ignored or overlooked. As such, I would urge you to question these powers, and whether the same effect could be better and more sensible achieved through recommendations by the HMIC''.

Photo of John Denham John Denham Minister (Home Office) (Police and Crime Reduction)

I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the official response to the Government's White Paper ''Policing a New Century'' on 18 January in which the Police Federation said that it believed that it was necessary for the Home Secretary to have that power. I understand that to be the position of the Police Federation nationally, notwithstanding the views of the hon. Gentleman's local branch.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

The Minister is somewhat out of date. As my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire says sotto voce, it has moved on a lot since then. I urge the Minister and his officials to go back and talk to the Police Federation at every level. Perhaps to reinforce the point that the matter has moved on, it is not just the Surrey joint branch board that has written to me and I am sure that joint branch boards all around the country will be saying similar things. Les Allen, the deputy chairman of the joint branch board for Thames Valley, which is not far from my constituency, says:

''There is considerable concern that the Secretary of State will be given powers within the Bill to regulate that all forces adopt specified operational procedures and practices, and that the Secretary of State is not required to consult the Police Advisory Board for England and Wales . . . before issuing codes of practice or regulating equipment. It is felt that the power to standardise operational procedures and practices would undermine the local accountability of forces and stifle initiative. There is a view, which I subscribe to, that a much better solution would be provided by the Secretary of State using his power to issue codes of practice on operational procedure and practices which chief officers 'shall have regard to', but which allow for local variation.''

Those are concerns expressed by experienced senior officers of Police Federation joint branch boards in different parts of the county. The view of Mr. Miskelly in my own county is clearly not isolated.

In response to the Government's suggestion that Whitehall always knows best, I urge the two Ministers and their officials to consider carefully the comments made by my noble Friend Lord Dixon-Smith in another place. He speaks from his great experience and expertise in public life; I know of his work over many years in Essex. He said:

''A second concern is that the Bill takes the Secretary of State into the micro-management of the police service. I have two

problems with that. I have spent a long time in public life and I am not yet wholly convinced that Whitehall knows best when it comes to administering services to the public. My experience suggests that, on balance, Whitehall probably does not know best and that it is better to let the people who are dealing with the problems on the ground get on with running those services, to encourage them in doing so and, of course, to steer them''.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 28 February 2002; Vol. 631, c. 1543.]

The Government already have the powers to steer, as my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire pointed out, and those powers have never been used. They were introduced in the first instance by the Conservative Government in 1996 and further extended by the present Government in the Local Government Act 1999. The existing powers have not been tried and found wanting: they have either never been needed or have been found difficult and not tried. The Government acknowledge that they have not used their existing powers and that they have not even tried them out to see how they work, yet they want to take even more powers. That is why the Opposition are so suspicious that the Government have a not terribly well hidden agenda to be draconian, centralising and like Big Brother. That is why police authorities are so worried and we think that they are right to be worried.

My noble friend Lord Renton spoke in another place on 5 March 2002. He is one of the most experienced Members of the other place and he said:

''I was responsible for police matters in the Home Office, where, for four and a half years, I was Under-Secretary and Minister of State. My noble friend Lord Carlisle and other noble friends have had those responsibilities in more recent years. In my time, we simply did not have the staff, expertise or experience to exercise such control over the police. I do not know—it is right that none of us knows—whether the Home Office now has officials with such responsibility and expertise. However, even if the situation has improved, such bureaucratic control over chief constables would not help them to do their work more effectively and put matters right. It would be time-consuming and tiresome for them and direct their attention from their true responsibility of keeping order. I hope that the Government agree to withdraw the clause altogether.''—[Official Report, House of Lords, 5 March 2002; Vol. 632, c. 157–58.]

That is the point to which my hon. Friend the Member for Henley referred. A great deal of interference will lead to bureaucratic arguments. The hon. Member for Lewes rightly referred to Lord Phillips of Sudbury who spoke for the Liberal Democrats in another place about the arguments that might occur if micro-management powers are allowed to remain.

It is pretty clear, not least given the size of the majority against the clause in another place, that the Government would be unwise to insist on putting it back because the other place will insist on taking it out again. The Minister will not win the argument. He lost the intellectual argument and he has lost the argument with every level of the police force, police officers at every level and ACPO. He cannot convince people that the powers are necessary.

I referred to a not terribly well hidden agenda. As my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) said on Second Reading, we think that quite a bit of the reasoning behind the measure is that the Government want to be able to exert influence to try to make police forces use several of the Government's

ideas that they might not be especially keen on, such as community support officers, which we shall debate later. On Second Reading, my hon. Friend challenged the Minister to say firmly that the power that the Government are trying to put back in the Bill would never be used to force police authorities and chief constables to use specific weapons in their armoury, such as community support officers. The Minister gave a half-hearted reply and said that he was not prepared to rule anything out. That gives the game away, and we have divined what the Government are up to.

If the Home Office—under any Government—had an unblemished record for fantastic efficiency and success in its entire works, that might be a different matter. In that case, we might be able to say, ''Although we have some concerns, okay. A Home Secretary with a really effective Department is able to do this.'' However, my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset pointed out on Second Reading that we are discussing the Home Office that brought us the asylum crisis, the passport shambles and, most recently, the complete disaster of the Criminal Records Bureau's information technology system. The Government have even decided that they must have an extra, unpaid Minister in charge of IT because that is such a disaster. If there were a Department that one would not want to be given extra powers because of arguments that would be caused in micromanagement, I submit that that would be the Home Office.

Given not only the Government's badly hidden agenda, Big Brother powers replacing those that have not been needed and their failure to convince any part of the police service, the Government are incredibly unwise to try to put back the measure. It is not sensible and, worse, it is draconian and wrong.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Opposition Whip (Commons) 6:15 pm, 11th June 2002

Having listened to all the debate, I do not understand why the additional powers in new clause 4 are needed. Like my colleagues, I think that a certain amount of local variation in policing is a good thing, as are local solutions to local problems.

Photo of George Osborne George Osborne Conservative, Tatton

Does the hon. Lady think that we would have a greater understanding of why the Government want to introduce the clause if a Labour Back Bencher spoke on the subject?

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Opposition Whip (Commons)

I am sure that that would add to the interest of the debate.

Starting from the premise that local solutions are a good thing, I am perfectly content with the idea of a national strategic framework. I can understand the role of the centre in that respect. However, what concerns me is the feeling that I get from Labour Members who have spoken that there is something terribly bad somewhere, so bad that it is not specified. I am beginning to have an image of a monster lurking out there that is so bad that we need those excessive powers, even though existing powers have never been used.

We have had the idea of a spectrum rather than a bell shape, and the implication that some authorities are very good, but some are very bad indeed.

However, we are not sure about the scale on which they are really bad. That is what makes it so difficult to get a handle on the matter. We have all said that we want the best policing standards that we can possibly get; it is not a problem for us to work together to achieve that. With all the representations that we have had, I am convinced that working together, rather than an imposition from above, is the solution. We all know that trying to impose something is not the best way of getting results.

At the end of the day, there must be a good working relationship if we are all to achieve what we want. I should like to ask the Minister a small question. If there really is something so bad lurking, why is the only solution to give the Home Secretary more powers? Perhaps the police authority should be made more directly accountable to the electorate. If there was something dreadful out there, and I was suffering because of my police authority—although I would not, as I am sure that it does admirably on its resources, even though we certainly have a resource problem—there might be other ways of considering the matter.

I conclude by asking whether we should think about all dimensions of the tripartite system.

Photo of Ian Lucas Ian Lucas Labour, Wrexham

Does the hon. Lady support local political control of police forces?

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Opposition Whip (Commons)

I support the tripartite system; that is what we are all saying, and I do not think that I have deviated from that. However, at the moment, there is no direct link to the local police authority. I certainly think that it is important that local police authorities make decisions on our behalf. I am asking the Minister whether that might be another way round the problem that he is trying to address, although I do not know what it is because he has not told us or given us any evidence that the additional power is needed. That is the point to which we all keep coming back. The provision gives extreme power and centralisation, but is it needed, and if so, for what? Is that the only way to achieve the change that is perceived to be needed?

Photo of John Denham John Denham Minister (Home Office) (Police and Crime Reduction)

Let me deal with some of the issues that have been raised. The debate was wide-ranging—as is entirely in order, of course—in the sense that many of those contributing showed scant knowledge of the existing law and the powers of police authorities or Home Secretaries. That is quite apart from the conspiracy theories.

As I mentioned earlier, the Police Federation response to our White Paper, ''Policing a New Century: A Blueprint for Reform'', said, in relation to the proposed power:

''We believe that it is necessary for the Home Secretary to have this power''.

The Police Federation response was circulated to all Committee members in advance of this debate. It also said:

''In regard to the Secretary of State's powers to give directions to chief officers and directors general, we believe these should be tempered by a condition that the Secretary of State should only exercise such powers consequent to a recommendation by HMIC or the Police Standards Unit.''

That is in line with what I have said.

Mr. Paice rose—

Photo of John Denham John Denham Minister (Home Office) (Police and Crime Reduction)

I must finish the quote. It continues:

''These would then be a firm basis for the Secretary of State's intervention.''

As I have said, the Secretary of State would have to state clearly the reasons for his intervention. He would have to publish the basis for that, and therefore it would need to come, if not from the HMIC, from a body such as the police standards unit, which is capable of providing comparable evidence.

The hon. Member for Tatton asked me which organisation supports this clause; the Police Federation does. Also, the hon. Member for Surrey Heath misrepresented the national position of the Police Federation. Now that I have shown that there is support for this power, I am happy to give way.

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The quotation that the Minister has read to us referred to ''a recommendation by'' the inspectorate or the standards unit. That does not tally with his earlier comments about the interpretation of those words, when he listed a raft of other reasons why they might interfere.

Photo of John Denham John Denham Minister (Home Office) (Police and Crime Reduction)

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the police standards unit does not have a legal basis. It is part of the Home Office, and I am sure that the Police Federation is aware of that and is therefore saying that there should be a solid basis for evidence, and that that could include evidence coming from a part of the Home Office.

The key test is the fact that the Home Secretary must make clear the evidence on which his intervention is based. That point must be reiterated because, unsurprisingly, some hon. Members who have contributed to this debate have consistently ignored that crucial test, which is a part of this clause.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

The Minister talked about the crucial test; his crucial test is as follows—if one bit of the Home Office, which is under ministerial control, recommends some action, that is sufficiently independent for the Home Secretary to take action himself.

Photo of John Denham John Denham Minister (Home Office) (Police and Crime Reduction)

One always knows when one is winning arguments. The hon. Gentleman knows that the test is not what the Home Secretary receives. It is the information that the Home Secretary has to make available, wherever he receives it from, in the first place to justify alerting police authorities or chief officers to the problem, and then to consider whether the response to that is adequate. Therefore, it is not the case that the Home Secretary can direct a police authority or a chief officer on the basis of having received some information from the Home Office. He has to justify that in an open way.

The fact that the hon. Gentleman has so often this afternoon had to distort both what the clause says and what we have said, in his pursuit of a political argument, shows the weakness of the positions that he has put forward.

Photo of John Denham John Denham Minister (Home Office) (Police and Crime Reduction)

No. I wish to make some progress.

The argument about variations that was put forward by the hon. Member for Lewes goes to the

crux of the debate. He argued that variations were merely the same as people speaking in different accents. He gave a number of reasons why there might be variations in performance, but at no point did he concede the possibility that the variation in police performance could be down to the quality of the policing itself. Yet the detection rate for burglary in two very similar areas can vary between 5.6 and 35.5 per cent.—to offer examples that were given in the White Paper.

The hon. Gentleman sought to trivialise those differences. The crucial difference between the Government and the Opposition is that we believe that members of the public who live in an area in which the detection rate is not just low, but low compared with the detection rate achieved by police forces in other areas, have a right to expect something to be done about it. The hon. Gentleman said that nothing should be done about it, except by people at local level and that, if people happen to be in a certain area, that is their bad luck. That is not the view taken by the Government.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

I have already accepted that the Home Secretary has powers under different legislation. So it is a gross distortion to say that I am suggesting that nothing can be done except at local level. The point that I was making was that not all local variations are wrong; they do not all have to be screened by the state.

Photo of John Denham John Denham Minister (Home Office) (Police and Crime Reduction)

My hon. Friends will have noticed the significant change to the argument of half an hour ago.

Let me move on to the existing powers of intervention and the reasons why the new clause is justified. The powers of intervention under clause 40 are powers of direction to police authorities. Two issues are involved, which I do not wish to disguise from the Committee. First, we believe that those powers of direction have a breadth of test that has proven to be too broad. It is not possible to use them without the force as a whole failing in its efficiency or effectiveness. As we argued during our previous sitting, when justifying the redrafting of the clause, it may be possible that part of a force—perhaps a basic command unit or a particular function—is failing to be efficient and effective, while the force as a whole may not be failing. That is the first test.

Secondly, it is important to understand the limits of the powers of a police authority to take action in response to failure. As the tripartite structure has evolved, the police authority has limited powers in some areas. I know that no member of the Committee will rush out a press release because it is not the Government's fault, but the HMIC is producing a report tomorrow that does not give the best report that can be imagined on the way in which police forces have geared themselves up to make use of the substantial investment in DNA testing that has taken place. It is critical in several regards of the training of officers, the procedures, the investment at force level and so on. That measure of poor performance is not directed at individual forces, but at several. The problem needs to be addressed.

A police authority could reasonably discuss the problem with the chief constable. We may expect it to do so, but it is not possible under an existing power to require the chief constable to deal with it. If a force were failing to catch criminals or to reduce crime because it had no coherent strategy for identifying and dealing with persistent offenders, the police authority could discuss that with the chief officer, but could not require any action to be taken.

The hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole asked whether the police authority should be given the power to direct the chief officer. For several years, it has been the traditional view of all parties that giving that power to police authorities, whether directly elected or indirectly constituted, would be a more significant break in the operational independence of chief officers and the relationship between the officers and police authorities than anything that is proposed under the Bill. We do not wish to take such a step. In the last resort, when it may be necessary to give directions to chief officers about such matters, that is something that the Home Secretary should do, be seen to be doing and be required to report to Parliament. That is why we have dealt with the matter.

There is a gap in the ability of not only the Home Secretary to give directions, but of police authorities to involve themselves directly in some of the areas in which persistent poor performance might take place. It is because of that problem that we have sought such a power. I accept that there is a legitimate debate on whether the Home Secretary should have the power, but we can put on one side the point that there is no credible argument for the Home Secretary taking it. Indeed, there is a sound argument, supported by reasons of openness and transparency, that if there are any circumstances in which there is a power to direct a chief officer, the Home Secretary should do that in an open and accountable way that is reported to Parliament rather than that power being used in myriad ways throughout 43 police authorities that would never be subject to such accountability. That is the Government's preference, and it is important to set that out for the Committee.

Does that mean, however, that the police authority has had its powers undermined and been bypassed and kept out of the loop? No, it does not. As I said, we are discussing a power that is not available to a police authority. Nonetheless, we have inserted a significant series of measures in the new clause to ensure that the police authority is involved in the process rather than bypassed and left out of the loop. We always intended that police authorities should be part of the process because the White Paper—''Policing a New Century: A Blueprint for Reform''—said that a protocol would govern the use of the power. We put the elements of that protocol in the Bill in another place.

The new clause requires evidence that a force is failing to be put to the chief officer and the police authority. Both will be allowed to make representations to the Home Secretary to say either that the evidence is wrong or that the problem has been addressed. Before a chief officer submits an action plan to the Secretary of State, he must consult

the police authority on it. That is as much power as the police authority ever has on a plan of policing action taken by the chief officer so there is no diminution of the power of the police authority. Progress reports on the implementation of the action plan must be made to both the Secretary of State and the police authority. I do not believe that we are sidestepping the police authority because they will both be fully engaged if the powers are used.

Photo of Mr Paul Stinchcombe Mr Paul Stinchcombe Labour, Wellingborough 6:30 pm, 11th June 2002

Do I understand new clause 4 to give police authorities the additional power to ask the Secretary of State to intervene and give directions?

Photo of John Denham John Denham Minister (Home Office) (Police and Crime Reduction)

There is the aim to enable the Secretary of State to set in motion the process that could lead to the last resort of making directions when in receipt of information from different sources. It might be possible for the Secretary of State to respond to information that was received from a police authority. However, it would have to pass the same tests of credibility and quality as information from another source and would have to be made available. It is a little difficult to imagine circumstances in which a police authority was so seized of a problem that it had failed to make any impact on it or to use other powers. However, I can envisage the legal possibility that my hon. Friend proposed, and it is worthy of reflection.

I hope that I have addressed the main issues. I hope that I addressed the points of the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire, although he made a remark that I have not heard from an Opposition Front-Bench spokesman—perhaps my reading of debates in another place was inadequate—saying that he objected not to the idea that a remedial plan be produced, but to the idea that the Secretary of State has the power to write it—I hope that I wrote his words correctly. That is, at least, a step forward to recognising that there might be a basis in legislation for the Secretary of State to require that an action plan is produced in response to an identifiable problem. Perhaps I am over-optimistic about the possibility of closing the gap, even at this stage of the Bill.

Photo of George Osborne George Osborne Conservative, Tatton

I sense that the Minister is beginning his winding-up speech, but could he deal with the point that I made on behalf of my chief constable? When a chief constable acts under direction from the Home Secretary, where would the legal responsibility lie and the legal buck stop?

Photo of John Denham John Denham Minister (Home Office) (Police and Crime Reduction)

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman because he raised that issue quite specifically. The chief constable—[Interruption.]

Photo of Mr George Stevenson Mr George Stevenson Labour, Stoke-on-Trent South

Order. I understand that there has to be some discussion, but perhaps it should take place outside the Room.

Photo of John Denham John Denham Minister (Home Office) (Police and Crime Reduction)

The chief constable is legally responsible for the direction and control of the force under section 10 of the Police Act 1996. That will remain the case while he is implementing an action plan, even if the terms had been set under new clause 4 by the Secretary of State. I hope that I have dealt with all the points made by Opposition Members.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 14, Noes 9.

Division number 4 Adults Abused in Childhood — Schedule 1 - Powers of the Secretary of State in relation to NCIS and NCS

Aye: 14 MPs

No: 9 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly agreed to.

Schedule 1, as amended, agreed to.