New clause 8 - Economy in functions of the Board

Police (Northern Ireland) Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:30 pm on 11th March 2003.

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No. NC8, to move the following Clause:—

'.—In section 3(2) of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 (function of the Board to secure efficiency and effectiveness) omit ''and effective'' and insert '', effective and economic with their use of public funds''.'.—[Mr. Wilshire.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

This debate need not take us anything like as long as the debate on new clause 7. Section 3 of the 2000 Act deals with what appears to be an uncontentious issue. It states:

''The Board shall secure the maintenance of the police in Northern Ireland . . . The Board shall secure that—

(a) the police,

(b) the police support staff, and

(c) traffic wardens appointed by the Board under section 71, are efficient and effective.''

Any hon. Members, and certainly any members of the Committee, who have been round the local government course over the years will have had drummed into them the three Es: efficiency, effectiveness and economicness. [Laughter.] I accept that it is not economicness, but Hansard will put it right for me. It is late in the day. Economy is the word that I wanted. I am grateful to the lawyers who can keep me on the straight and narrow. Irrespective of what the words were, there were three of them, and they all began with E. I hope that the Minister will readily accept that we want an efficient and effective police service, not one that is free to waste money. Under the 2000 Act, there is no requirement on the NIPS to be efficient and effective in the cheapest way. It can do things in any way and still comply with the legislation. All I seek to do is to remember the taxpayers of Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom, and to suggest that there should be no tax increase in the forthcoming Budget to hammer on to the British public the cost for everything that the Government want to be done and for the uneconomic way of running the PSNI.

Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

Again, this is one of those occasions when I can say that we do not support the new clause, but not because we disagree with its sentiments. Of course the board should have regard to the need to make economic use of public funds, but another part of the Act already deals with that obligation. Members of the Committee will know from our discussions on other matters in the first sitting that part 5 of the 2000 Act contains provisions that relate to the three Es—economy, efficiency and effectiveness. It states:

''The Board shall make arrangements to secure continuous improvement in the way in which its functions, and those of the Chief Constable, are exercised, having regard to a combination of economy, efficiency and effectiveness.''

That is done through the board's performance plan, which is published annually.

Sections 29 to 31 set out the arrangements for auditing and enforcing the duty. I see a distinction between that important procedural duty—it applies to the board but obviously has great implications for the Chief Constable, too—and the obligation on the board in section 3(2). The latter section deals primarily with the board's obligation to ensure that a body of people are in place who can undertake their operational duties efficiently and effectively. In the operational context, the duty to make the best use of public funds is encompassed in the word ''efficient''. There are only two key words in the relevant phrase. The board's concern as part of its general function is to ensure that the police operate efficiently and effectively. Its functions under part 5 of the 2000 Act are additional to, not inconsistent with, the general functions.

It may be worth noting in passing that the equivalent provisions for England and Wales, which are set out in section 6(1) of the Police Act 1996, also refer to a duty to ensure

''the maintenance of an efficient and effective police force''.

Police authorities in England and Wales are already subject to the best value provisions like those in part 5.

The new clause is unnecessary. The board is already required, under section 28 of the 2000 Act, to have regard to the economic use of public funds in both its and the Chief Constable's functions. Its general function under section 3 is consistent with that, but is focused primarily on the operational role of the police.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

I know when I am beaten. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.