Clause 7 - Performance summaries

Police (Northern Ireland) Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 25th February 2003.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne 3:15 pm, 25th February 2003

I beg to move amendment No. 18, in

clause 7, page 4, line 31, leave out '(2)' and insert '(1A)'.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Amendment No. 19, in

clause 7, page 4, line 32, at end insert—

'(1A) In subsection (2) after ''intervals specified in the arrangements'', insert ''(provided the intervals between reviews shall not be greater than one year)''.'.

Amendment No. 20, in

clause 7, page 4, line 32, at end insert—

'(1B) In subsection (3)(a) after ''Constable'', leave out ''involve him in'' and insert ''obtain his agreement to''.'

Amendment No. 16, in

clause 7, page 4, line 39, at end insert

'set by the Board and the Chief Constable'.

Amendment No. 17, in

clause 7, page 4, line 41, at end insert—

'(c) the reasons why any performance standard was not met'.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

There are five amendments standing in my name. I do not wish to pursue the matters covered by amendments Nos. 16 and 17, so I shall not speak to them. I hope that amendments Nos. 18, 19 and 20 can be disposed of relatively quickly.

Amendment No. 18 relates to section 28(5) of the 2000 Act, which describes various aspects of the performance plan. Subsection (5)(c) states that it shall

''include a summary of the Board's assessment of'',

essentially, the performance during the year—I am abbreviating a subsection that goes on in some detail. At present, the 2000 Act says that the performance plan shall include an assessment of the past. Amendment No. 18 would delete a change introduced by the Bill that says that, instead of including a summary in the performance plan, there shall be a separate performance summary. I understand the logic of that provision, but I wonder why the Government think that it is necessary to make such a pedantic change.

When I spot a pedantic change, I always wonder what it is really about, because I cannot believe that anyone would waste their time making such a change simply to make the legislation look tidier. I would be grateful if the Under-Secretary told us what motivated the change made in the clause. Amendment No. 18, which would delete that part of the clause, is intended to focus the Committee's attention on the matter.

Section 28(2) of the 2000 Act states:

''The arrangements shall require the Board to conduct, at intervals specified in the arrangements, reviews of the way in which its functions are exercised.''

I agree with that very sensible provision. There is no problem with it at all, except that it does not say how often the review shall be carried out. Amendment No. 19 would require that the review be carried out annually. I have no wish to go to the stake for an annual review; I simply use it to make my point. The Under-Secretary might wish to specify a review every two years or every six months. I really do not mind

how often it happens, but if there is a requirement to carry out a review, we should make it clear how often, at a minimum, we expect it to happen.

Amendment No. 20 is more substantial than amendments Nos. 18 and 19. Section 28 of the 2000 Act states that

''The Board shall, in making arrangements which relate to the functions of the Chief Constable, involve him in the making of those arrangements.''

It worries me if all that is needed is the involvement of the Chief Constable. The amendment suggests that, when making arrangements that relate to the functions of the Chief Constable, the board should not only involve him in making those arrangements, but should obtain his agreement to them. If he does not agree to them, we have further undermined the independence of the Chief Constable of a United Kingdom police force, which would be regrettable.

I shall listen with care to the Government's reasons. They might want to make my day by accepting my amendment, and they should accept it, but I do not have much hope that they will. Let them prove me wrong, and I shall be the first to apologise.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Liberal Democrat, Montgomeryshire 3:30 pm, 25th February 2003

Amendments Nos. 18 and 19 are covered by new section 28(5A) of the 2000 Act. Nevertheless, I will be interested to hear the Minister's response to amendment No. 20 and to the interesting argument made by the hon. Member for Spelthorne.

Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Northern Ireland Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Northern Ireland Office)

The clause amends section 28 of the 2000 Act to provide the Policing Board with greater flexibility in the timing of the publication of the summary of past performance required under section 28(5)(c), and was drafted at the express request of the board. With effect from the next financial year, it will be at the board's discretion whether to publish a retrospective assessment and performance summary, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, with the annual report required under section 57 or with the rest of the performance plan. The substance of what has to be produced—an account of the police's performance against the efficiency target that it set itself—has not changed. The only change is to allow flexibility for when it is published and the context in which it is published.

The hon. Member for Spelthorne stressed that amendments Nos. 18 and 19 were particularly important to him. I appreciate his point about an annual review, but it is for the board to determine when it reviews the arrangements and to decide which arrangements are necessary to meet its duty to secure continuous improvement. It would be wrong of us to restrict its flexibility in that respect.

Amendment No. 20 would require the Chief Constable's agreement to those arrangements to be sought. I understand the hon. Gentleman's reason for tabling it, but it would run contrary to the commitment that the Government gave during consideration of the 2000 Act to give the board a central role in delivering efficiency and effectiveness. It is not to hamper the Chief Constable in operational matters.

Section 28 of the 2000 Act places the duty to make arrangements to make continuous improvements in the exercise of the functions of the board and the police squarely on the board. It is the board's responsibility, and the board and the Chief Constable are required to review their functions as part of those arrangements. The board is required to produce a single performance plan for itself and the police on how best value is to be delivered. It is also required to set targets and benchmarks against which performance can be judged.

In all those arrangements, the Government's intention is that the board and Chief Constable should work together to deliver best value. In particular, the board will be required to work closely with the police in drawing up targets and producing performance plans. I know that this is happening, and that the police are gearing up to their own internal continuous improvement plans. In view of my explanation that responsibility lies with the board, I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

I listened to the Minister with care. I was fascinated by her argument against my amendment, which would require that we specify how often the review took place. She said that it was wrong of us to seek to restrict the power of the board to make its own decisions. I think that the Minister's argument is that it should be free to decide how often it carries out the review. I find it curious to hear that argument used against me so soon after being told that it is entirely proper to determine the number of times in a year that the board ''shall'' meet. That does not seem to leave it free to make up its own mind.

It is confusing to find that it if it suits the Government's purpose, they will tell the board what to do, and when it does not suit their purpose to do so, they will use the argument that the board should be free to make up its own mind. That is a curious way to proceed. I would have expected the Government to seek consistency in legislation. I understand the point that is being made. The right hon. Member for Upper Bann said that the matter could go into a code of practice, and I am sure it could—indeed, between the two of us, Mr. Gale, we could keep a list of such things and publish a draft code on Report to see whether the Government might find it acceptable.

Amendment No. 20 raises a matter of serious substance. The Minister said that the board should have a central role, and no one disputes that. But the Chief Constable, too, should have a central role—I hope that the Minister does not dispute that. The fact that matters of economy, efficiency and effectiveness are involved and that those are matters for the board is not an adequate justification for saying that the Chief Constable should not have some sort of veto.

A classic way of pursuing the three Es in management is to introduce performance targets. The Government know all about performance targets and how to use them for party political ends rather than management ends. If we leave the Bill in its present form, the board will be able to set performance targets for the Chief Constable. He will be able to comment on them, but he will not be able to defend himself against targets being introduced for political

ends. That would upset the balance of power by transferring too much power into the hands of the board. If a board decided that it wanted to undermine the independence of the Chief Constable and to hound him out of office, it would be easy enough to set performance targets that he simply could not meet, and although he might protest, he would still be held responsible.

Photo of Mr John Taylor Mr John Taylor Conservative, Solihull

Is not my hon. Friend's point all the more forceful because the Police Service of Northern Ireland is severely under-established?

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

Exactly so. That is the sort of practical reason that the Chief Constable could pray in aid for his failure to be as efficient, effective and economic as he should be. The point remains, however, that the Bill ought to provide some means whereby the Chief Constable can keep his central role—a role that the Minister says is important—alongside an enhanced role for the Policing Board.

I hear what the Minister says, but it does not satisfy me. It is a greater matter than we can deal with this afternoon. I therefore suspect that I and, I hope, my hon. Friends will return to the matter on Report. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.