Clause 114

Part of Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 8:30 pm on 27 November 2007.

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Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 8:30, 27 November 2007

I beg to move amendment No. 340, in clause 114, page 78, line 6, at end add—

‘(2AA) In carrying out an inspection of a police authority under subsection (2A), the inspectors of constabulary may request one or more other police authorities (or their representatives) to assess any aspect of performance and to make a report.”’.

I ought to declare my “previous” at the beginning: I was formerly chair of a police authority and a member of the Audit Commission, so I have seen the process from both ends.

There is a general view among police authorities that they have no problem with the sort of joint inspection procedure that the Government have mind. Indeed, they see advantages in Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary joining forces with the Audit Commission to look at how a police authority discharges its duties.

The reasons for that are fairly clear: a police authority does not fall into the normal category of local authorities that are the subject of Audit Commission work. It is a form of local authority, but it is a very specialist one that deals with areas that are beyond the normal range of matters considered by the Audit Commission because of its policing element. We have an inspectorate—Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary—that is specifically charged with looking at policing issues, but nevertheless has little understanding of the issues relating to local authorities. So, putting the two together would produce an inspection regime that would cover all aspects of a police authority’s role.

This has been a long-term objective of the Government. They intended to create the joint procedure in the context of the Police and Justice Act 2006, but the proposal was dropped when there was a substantial change in that Bill on criminal justice inspections and, save for section 29 of that Bill, the matter was put on the back burner, albeit, I believe, with the intention of bringing it back at the first opportunity. This Bill is that opportunity.

I am going to argue against not the principle of the proposal, but the detail in the Bill, because the drafting is somewhat obscure. It relies on people putting together several different enactments in order to see exactly what is proposed. Indeed, if one were to read the Bill without looking at other enactments, one would assume that Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary was taking over the role of the Audit Commission and excluding it from the inspection role.

I do not believe that that is what the Government intend. My understanding is that they are relying on section 10 of the Local Government Act 1999 to give the Audit Commission the power to inspect police authorities, and on section 29 of the Police and Justice Act 2006 to enable Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary to act jointly with a public authority—in this instance, the Audit Commission. That forms the structure around which the joint inspections will take place. It would have been better to have expressed that  explicitly in the Bill, rather than people having to hunt around three different enactments to find out what the situation is.

My amendment deals with something that is, to the Association of Police Authorities, a specific omission: peer review. I hope that the Minister will accept that I constructed the amendment myself to provide an opportunity to discuss the matter. The amendment might not be perfect, so I will accept any drafting amendments that he wishes to make, if he accepts the principle.

The peer review element is important. The Association of Police Authorities thought that it had secured the agreement of the Home Office that peer review would form part of the inspection process. It was extremely pleased about that because it had pressed for it for a long time. It felt that if there was to be a robust investigation process putting together HMIC and the Audit Commission, while at the same time giving other police authorities that face the same problems a role in assessing the performance of a police authority, that would give the best guarantee of a successful outcome.

The association is very disappointed that the Bill does not reflect what it thought had been agreed with the Home Office. It might still be the Government’s intention that a peer review should take place, but the statutory basis on which it would be constructed is not clear. It would be better if that were made explicit in the clause, which is why I have tabled the amendment.

I hope that the Minister will accept the amendment or, if he accepts the principle of it, come back with a proposal with an alternative wording. If he feels that that is not necessary because the objective can be secured by other means, it would still be helpful if he were to make it clear to the Committee that it is the Government’s view that peer review should form an essential part of the inspection process. If he were to do that, I would not press my amendment to a Division.