Clause 2

– in a Public Bill Committee at 4:45 pm on 3rd February 2009.

Alert me about debates like this

Police senior appointments panel

Photo of David Ruffley David Ruffley Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I beg to move amendment 50, in clause 2, page 2, line 12, after ‘of’, insert

‘up to ten persons nominated by the Secretary of State after consultation with the Association of Police Authorities and the Association of Chief Police Officers.’.

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley NATO Parliamentary Assembly UK Delegation

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 49, in clause 2, page 2, leave out lines 13 to 16

Photo of David Ruffley David Ruffley Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

The amendments relate to a clause whose general purpose we support. As many hon. Members will be aware, under the current appointments system, senior chief officer roles, covering the posts of chief constable, assistant chief constable and deputy chief constable and their equivalents in London, are advertised by police authorities. Eligible candidates then choose for which posts they wish to apply and the successful candidate is appointed by the relevant police authority, subject to approval by the Home Secretary.

That ministerial approval follows advice from the senior appointments panel, which currently operates on a non-statutory basis. It is made up of people drawn from the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Association of Police Authorities, the Metropolitan Police Service and the Home Office. In addition, there is one independent member. Until December last, the chairman was Sir Ronnie Flanagan in his role as Her  Majesty’s chief inspector of constabulary, although my understanding is that the Home Office has indicated that he has agreed to continue chairing the SAP in an independent capacity since stepping down from that post.

The thrust of the clause that we are seeking to amend, and the reason why we like it, is that the current system needs reform. That is argued for across the police community on the grounds that, under the current regime, there is insufficient career management and succession management to get the right individuals with the right skills into the right jobs in the right forces at the right time. The system also lacks true transparency, which most of the public service reform debate is tasked to deliver.

HMIC and some police authorities argue that reform needs to ensure a better supply of chief officers to match the posts to be filled. I do not agree with all that ACPO says on this subject, but its response to the Green Paper states that the

“chief officer appointments system needs to be looked at”, especially in relation to

“succession planning, especially for the most important posts”, and talks about

“building a national cadre of top police” officers.

The APA makes a separate point, which I believe is correct, that

“police authorities do not always set the best possible lists of candidates for the posts that authorities are advertising, that

“many good superintendents are not selected as eligible to become chief officers”, and that

“there is wide agreement that we need better talent management.”

That was in the APA’s response to the Green Paper published in the autumn.

To bring this alive with real-world examples, one has only to look at a report in The Times of 19 June 2007 on the difficulties that police authorities said they encountered under the existing SAP regime, which the clause seeks to reform, when trying to fill senior vacancies. It states:

“The vacancy for Chief Constable of Lincolnshire attracted just one candidate, despite being advertised twice. In Dyfed-Powys, where the police chief resigned” in interesting circumstances,

“only two people applied for the job”.

The article also observed that only four people applied for the post of chief constable of the Greater Manchester force. The understanding was that the police authority had hoped for a longer shortlist for what is a key strategic role.

I hasten to add that, in my experience—I have met and spoken to them—the individuals who took up the roles were very good candidates, but the point is that there is insufficient competition when there are so few applications for vacancies, as the report made clear. To give another example: although the current chief constable, Sara Thornton, is excellent, when the post of chief constable of Thames Valley police was advertised while she was acting chief constable, she was unopposed for that full-time role. Those are observations of police authority members to whom one speaks and to whom ACPO speaks—they think that there is a problem with how SAP operates at the moment.

Tacking towards amendments 50 and 49, the first amendment, in seeking to limit the number of members of the SAP to “up to 10 persons” is designed to tease out from the Minister how he sees the new, improved, reformed SAP operating in practice. In a minute I shall get to some of things that the new SAP will need to do and what his views are on the new roles, but let us stick with the amendments for the time being, working out the cost and how top-heavy the management will be.

The regulatory impact assessment published in conjunction with the Bill says of the clause:

“The Home Office will require four staff which is expected to cost £0.8m per annum. These staff will support the panel”.

We are talking not about the panel itself, but about the Home Office secretariat. It continues:

“The independent chair and independents will receive allowances totalling approximately £0.1m per annum.”

In other words, the four members of staff are expected to cost £800,000. Is that figure to be reviewed in the light of any public expenditure survey round or efficiency savings that the Home Secretary will be conducting across her Department? I am rather interested in those figures in the impact assessment and in the arrangements for the new panel and for the secretariat that, we are told in the notes, is necessary to support it.

The second amendment in the group relates to something entirely different: the status of those whom the clause seeks to include on a statutory basis as members of the panel, both the APA and, in particular, ACPO. Amendment 49, which would delete a statutory membership for ACPO and others on the new reformed panel, is a probing amendment.

That goes to the heart of something that my hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), the vigorous and hugely impressive new shadow Home Secretary, said. I do not say that because I am a lickspittle jobsworth, but because in his very first outing, within hours of being made shadow Home Secretary on 19 January—the Minister will remember—and in his opening speech on Second Reading, my hon. Friend said something that bears repetition in relation to the clause, which seeks to put ACPO’s membership of the new, reformed SAP on a statutory basis. Asking who should be on this new panel on a statutory basis, he said:

“The principle of an appointments panel is sensible, but it is strange that it gives the Association of Chief Police Officers a statutory position in advising on appointments when the status of ACPO itself remains undefined.”

Liberty made the same point to the Committee in the evidence session last week and in its written evidence. I hasten to add that I think that it is a question for us to reflect on and for the Minister to give us his views on; I still ponder myself what the definition of ACPO is. As my hon. Friend went on to say:

“Is it an external reference group for Home Office Ministers, or a professional association protecting senior officers’ interests? Is it a national policing agency, or is it a pressure group arguing for greater police powers?”—[Official Report, 19 January 2009; Vol. 486, c. 528.]

For those of us who have looked at it and those of us who are boring ex-lawyers, I was also struck by the fact that ACPO is not governed by any statute. It is instead a company limited by guarantee, which is a little known  but interesting fact. In addition, the Freedom of Information Act 2000 does not apply to that interesting, important body.

I wish to place it clearly on the record that the current head of ACPO, Sir Ken Jones, is someone for whom I have a great deal of respect. The ACPO leads with whom I have occasion to come into contact weekly and continually are men and women of calibre. I do not seek to criticise much of the excellent work done by ACPO to improve advice not just to Ministers but to members of the Opposition, including me, but we must go to first principles and look at the structure of what ACPO is. As my hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell pointed out, there are interesting questions.

My hon. Friend went on to say:

“Unless ACPO’s status is sorted out, we shall have some doubts over whether it should have this role”— that is, sitting on the SAP—

“on a statutory basis. I hope that Ministers will be able to provide more information about that in Committee, and that we shall have more opportunities to debate it then.”—[Official Report, 19 January 2009; Vol. 486, c. 529.]

Amendment 49 should be taken in the spirit of probing and honest inquiry eloquently set out by my hon. Friend on Second Reading. As I pointed out, similar questions about the constitutional position of ACPO were raised by Liberty, to take just one example.

Before I conclude, because we might not have the opportunity for a debate on clause stand part, the Conservatives have one or two questions for the Minister. Having granted that the SAP needs reform and that we give general support to the thrust of the clause, we need to understand what the SAP, in its reformed guise, will do that is new. My amendments make serious reservations about the composition of the panel. The Government and ACPO believe that not enough emphasis is always placed on chief officers contributing to national work, so the SAP will certainly have a weather eye on that.

The Government acknowledge that the Association of Police Authorities has a point when it says that it is essential to retain the centrality of the police authority role in chief officer appointments, but it will not be quite as central as formerly, will it, if the new SAP will exercise a more strategic view for certain posts? There will be an inherent tension between the greater—I use the word advisedly—centralised powers that the clause will bring forth and the pure or relative autonomy enjoyed now by police authorities.

We also need to pay advertence to something mentioned in the Green Paper. It is not in the Bill, but it is an interesting idea, and I should be grateful if the Minister shed some light on it: the creation of a national college of police leadership. Presumably, it would build on the police college at Bramshill. How might that operate in conjunction with the SAP? It would be interesting to hear what the timeline is for creating the new national college, branding it and consulting on how it might work. This is an apposite moment to hear from the Minister.

We also need to pay advertence to what Sir Norman Bettison said in evidence to the Committee last week when responding to one of my questions, because it is really important if we are to get a handle on the SAP’s new activities. Sir Norman said that

“unless the intention is to mimic the military approach of moving people”— senior officers—

“to posts around the country against their will”, he was sceptical about whether the clause would have the effect that we in Committee hope it will, which is to improve the flow and numbers of applicants to the top jobs in policing. He went on to say that

“unless talent management is taken to the extent of directing who applies for which jobs—there are personal and domestic barriers against doing so—it is not clear that the senior appointments panel arrangements” in the clause

“will affect the number of people applying for particular posts.”

And, he concluded his response to me by saying:

“It will not deal with the problem that we are all interested in solving.”——[Official Report, Policing and Crime Public Bill Committee, 27 January 2009; c. 9, Q5-6.]

I wondered what the Minister thought the SAP might do on directing individuals, because Sir Norman used the words “direction” and “military approach”. Is that on the end of spectrum at which the new SAP will operate? I do not know the answer, and I am not even sure that I agree with it, but, conceptually, we need the Minister to be clear about it. Will the SAP have anything like that power to direct?

I conclude my remarks by citing the Home Office’s impact assessment of the SAP reforms:

“Currently, the system is one in which police authorities exercise one of their relatively few powers—of chief officer appointment—in a context which is in practice very lightly managed from the centre. Many police authorities are likely to see the changes to a much more managed system”— that is what the clause will do—

“as encroaching heavily on a core role and protest accordingly.”

It went on to state:

“Likewise, currently individual aspiring chief officers are fairly lightly managed. The new system would be more directive—but also more supportive and transparent.”

The new arrangements should be more directive, which is why we support the clause, and the amendments, which would be supportive, certainly would not undermine the purport and force of the clause in any way. However, the impact assessment is also correct to state that the new arrangements will be more supportive and transparent. The critical issue is not whether the new system will be more directive, but the extent to which it will be so, and on that I seek the Minister’s views.

Photo of Paul Holmes Paul Holmes Liberal Democrat, Chesterfield 5:00 pm, 3rd February 2009

I have two or three brief observations and questions. We all know that there are great difficulties in getting enough people for the post of chief constable. The problem is related not only to the police; it applies to head teachers’ jobs throughout the country, too. However, I am not quite clear how amendments 50 and 49 relate to improving the flow of applicants. The Association of Police Authorities and Liberty separately raised the same concern about making the senior appointments panel a statutory body, rather than non-statutory. I should welcome the Minister’s comments on why the Government feel the need to make it into a statutory body and how that would improve its performance, as opposed to what has happened so far. The Bill states that the panel should consist of representative members made up of three groups of people: those  nominated by the Secretary of State, by ACPO and by the APA, although it does not go into detail about actual numbers and relative balances. I would also welcome the comments of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds on that.

Amendments 50 and 49 go down the road of giving more central power to the Secretary of State by saying that the senior appointments panel would have 10 representatives. Unlike the Bill, they define the figure and say that the members would definitely be appointed by the Secretary of State, rather than a mixture of sources.

Photo of David Ruffley David Ruffley Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

If it assists the Committee and the hon. Gentleman, I want to explain that the amendments are probing in nature. The purpose of the amendment concerned with 10 persons is to tease out the cost and manpower implications. I was at pains to explain that the purpose of amendment 49 was to tease out the statutory basis of the membership.

Photo of Paul Holmes Paul Holmes Liberal Democrat, Chesterfield

I accept that, as probing amendments, they will not be put to the vote, but I remain alarmed by provisions that would give more direct power to the Secretary of State, and alarmed that she would have the sole power to appoint the representatives—10 persons, under the amendment—to the senior appointments panel. It is a movement of power in the opposite direction from the one for which we have been arguing: we should be devolving and decentralising power, and creating more independence within the police force and police authorities. Under the amendment, the power would be centralising and that would be in the wrong direction.

How does the Minister regard the number of representatives from the three different bodies mentioned in the Bill? How would that turn out in numbers, and what would be the balance between the three groups? What is the Government’s reasoning for saying that we need to move the senior appointments panel on to a statutory basis, as opposed to the current, non-statutory basis?

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Home Office) (Policing, Crime & Security)

I start by thanking the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds for his general welcome and support for the clause. It is important to clarify that point. I am not sure whether the hon. Member for Chesterfield took the same approach, but I shall respond to a couple of the points that he made. The reform is important. Mr. Bayley, is it all right if I curtail my remarks a little? We are having a clause stand part debate later, so I shall keep some of what I want to say generally until that debate, while answering some of the questions asked by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds. Would that be appropriate and helpful? I shall make a few remarks before turning to amendments 50 and 49 and the next set of amendments before the clause stand part debate.

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley NATO Parliamentary Assembly UK Delegation

We could have a separate debate on such matters.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Home Office) (Policing, Crime & Security)

Absolutely. I welcome the support of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds. I am a big supporter of the Association of Chief Police Officers. I appreciate his point, so I preface my remarks by saying that I am not arguing that he is not a big supporter of ACPO. No  doubt people will say that it is a body limited by guarantee and that that makes a big difference. Since I have been in my post, it has acted in the most professional way; again, I know that the hon. Gentleman agrees. ACPO has given advice and told us its thoughts on policy. It has challenged the Government. It has said what it thinks, and we have asked it for help. At times, it has been difficult—in the proper sense of the word—because it thinks that we are perhaps not going in the right direction. It will do exactly the same if the Government change at the next election. If there is a Liberal Democrat Government or whatever kind of Government, it will do exactly the same. It recognises that its role is to reflect the interests, as it sees them, of ACPO and policing in general, but it also recognises, quite properly, that irrespective of which party is in power, it is for Governments to govern and Governments will make decisions about what they believe is the appropriate policy to pursue.

Sir Ken Jones, as ACPO president, has done an excellent job, as have the other ACPO officers who advise me on a range of issues, as well as the general body known as ACPO. It works exceedingly well. What also works well is the tripartite governance of policing, which is part of the debate that we started to have before. I am referring to the balance between the Home Office, ACPO and the APA. That tripartite policing governance structure, despite its difficulties and the criticisms that people make of it, works pretty well. We have tried to reflect that—I will come on to this in more detail—in the structure of the clause relating to the reformed senior appointments panel. Those elements are an important part of the existing SAP, which is on a voluntary basis, and the new enhanced statutory set-up for the SAP should reflect that as well. Some of the detail will have to be set out in various arrangements. Hon. Members can read the Bill as well as I can. It sets out that we will do just that.

May I update the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds? I am told that the estimate for the cost is now £500,000. We will keep that under review. He is absolutely right. Sometimes, we spend two or three hours on clause 1, which is a very important debate. This clause is extremely important. If we get it right, no one will disagree when they read the functions, and we shall discuss that.

To answer the hon. Member for Chesterfield, the reason why we have put the SAP on a statutory basis is to try to ensure that we put down exactly what we want it to do and that we help it to be more effective at delivering the things that we all want. We all talk about the need for a greater pool of candidates. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds was right to point out that, notwithstanding the ability of some people who have been appointed to the position of chief constable in this country—Sara Thornton, whom he cited as an example, is an excellent chief constable—we want more people to come forward. We hope that a strengthened SAP is one way in which we can achieve that.

Photo of David Ruffley David Ruffley Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 5:15 pm, 3rd February 2009

The Minister was kind enough to say that my question about the cost was pertinent and he helpfully said that the cost estimate had been reviewed downwards from £800 million to £500 million. [Interruption.] Perhaps he could repeat the figures.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Home Office) (Policing, Crime & Security)

The estimate has gone from £800,000 to £500,000, not £800 million to £500 million.

Photo of David Ruffley David Ruffley Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I am most grateful to the Minister. On what basis has the figure gone from £800,000 to £500,000? It seems to be a very recent renewal of the figure since the impact assessment was published.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Home Office) (Policing, Crime & Security)

That has been done on the basis of an up-to-date assessment of what we think will be appropriate, but I will keep that figure under review and to ensure that it is appropriate in terms of ensuring that the SAP has the resources to deal with the important functions that we are setting out for it. I should like to reassure anyone reading our proceedings that the Home Office will absorb those costs. I want to be clear about that. We will keep the matter under review.

Let me respond to the hon. Member for Chesterfield’s points. We all agree that these matters are important, and we are trying to ensure that we will have a strengthened, improved and more independent SAP, instead of it simply being a sift for senior appointments. We want it to be a more dynamic organisation that can help to drive forward change and other things that we want. That will help to make a difference.

Photo of Paul Holmes Paul Holmes Liberal Democrat, Chesterfield

The Minister might be coming to this point, but let me ask him about the more independent, dynamic panel that he has mentioned. I have asked exactly what proportion of the representatives it is envisaged will be drawn from the three groupings that are listed. The APA has said:

The Home Secretary appointees on the panel should not be capable of outnumbering police community appointees. To have credibility it needs to be seen to be a genuine tripartite body.”

How many will come from each of the three legs?

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Home Office) (Policing, Crime & Security)

We want a proper balance among the various people who are nominated to the panel.

A significant and important change that has generated debate is the independence of the panel’s chair. The hon. Gentleman alluded to that. One reason why we have asked Ronnie Flanagan to be the interim chair, as we move from the current system to the system that we want, which is subject to the passage of this Bill, is to assuage concerns about the current system.

The hon. Gentleman asked about functions, which are laid out in the Bill. We can debate which are the most important, but he will know that I have been particularly interested in trying to increase the pool of candidates—he rightly raised that issue—as well as the number from different ethnic backgrounds. We are trying to deal with that, and it will be an important part of the work that the panel tries to do. The police service is working hard to change that, and the SAP might look at that work to see what advice it could give to move that issue forward. The hon. Gentleman will note that the Bill contains an important power, under proposed new section 53D, to confer additional functions should that be necessary.

The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds asked about the national college of police leadership. We expect it to have started by March of this year. The college will be at Bramshill and will work through the National Policing Improvement Agency; it is about training people, giving  them the skills that they need, and helping them to develop and move forward. The system adopted by the national college for school leadership has been successful, and we think that the new college will be a successful innovation. It will bring together leadership programmes in the NPIA, and it will be headed by a deputy chief constable, with the board chaired by ACPO from March this year.

The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of helping people to consider moving around the country. I do not want to get into semantics or dance on the head of a pin, because I think that I agree with him. We should not be about directing people, but we should be about ensuring that they are aware of all the opportunities and possible advantages that are available to them. If we are not careful, we may get into semantics. I do not think that people should be able to say, “You have to go here or there,” but an important role for the new, involved SAP could be to make people more aware of available opportunities and advantages. The SAP will not necessarily have the power to direct, but it will be able to advise the Secretary of State on any particular matter that it thinks is relevant. Of course, let us remember—the hon. Member for Chesterfield needs to remember this—that the current process is that we have the assessment and strategic command calls, the police authority advertises, then the senior appointments panel looks at that and determines whether they are the appropriate people for the position they have applied for. Then it goes back to the police authority. The fact is, at the end of the day, it is still the police authority that will actually select who they want for the job. The new, reformed SAP process is simply about trying to ensure that there is a greater number of candidates for the posts on offer.

The purpose of amendment 49 is to make the senior appointments panel wholly appointed by the Secretary of State. The ability of the APA and ACPO to nominate members to the panel reflects the tripartite leadership of policing and the balance to be struck in oversight of the senior leadership pool between the national interest of Government, the interests of senior officers themselves, and the interests of police authorities seeking strong leadership of their force. APA and ACPO membership is a key basis of the non-statutory panel which currently exists. Leadership at all levels of the service is crucial to delivering for the public. There is important work for the new panel to undertake in taking a strategic approach to senior leadership, to help ensure that all senior officer posts have an appropriate range of candidates and to provide clarity to potential candidates about the skills and needs of the service. The centralisation implied by the amendment would not, in my view—and I appreciate that this is a probing amendment—command the confidence of candidates considering progression to the senior ranks or police authorities seeking the best candidates.

The purpose of amendment 50 is to limit the number of representative members on the senior appointments panel to 10, and for the Secretary of State to consult with ACPO and APA before making these appointments. We do not envisage a large panel—it is difficult to say exactly what number—but we do not see a particular need to define an upper limit of representative numbers in legislation, especially as the amendment does not define an upper limit for the independent members. We need more flexibility than that. More importantly, the amendment, when taken together with amendment 49,  also in the name of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds, would have the effect of centralising the appointments process. Again, I do not think that would command the confidence of candidates considering progression to the senior ranks, or police authorities seeking the best candidates. Nor do I believe that it recognises the proper role of police authorities and chief officers in the appointments system.

With the remarks I made before, but more formally at the end, I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley NATO Parliamentary Assembly UK Delegation

I am minded to have a clause stand part debate when we get to the appropriate point, and with that assurance, I wonder whether the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds could indicate briefly whether he wishes to press his amendment.

Mr. Ruffleyindicated assent.

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley NATO Parliamentary Assembly UK Delegation

The hon. Gentleman has indicated that he wishes to withdraw his amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of David Ruffley David Ruffley Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I beg to move amendment 51, in clause 2, page 2, line 22, at end insert

‘which shall be published and laid before Parliament.’.

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley NATO Parliamentary Assembly UK Delegation

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 52, in clause 2, page 3, line 6, at end insert

‘and Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Constabulary shall submit an annual report to the Secretary of State on the operation of the Senior Appointments process in each police force area.’.

Photo of David Ruffley David Ruffley Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 5:30 pm, 3rd February 2009

These two amendments go to the question of how the new arrangements will be inspected and assessed. The whole question of independent inspection is one that the Opposition have been looking at for some time. In the Government’s green paper, they discussed a more independent HMIC, reporting to Parliament in a way it does not do at the moment. The concept of having an MPC-style committee as part of the HMIC regime was floated. All those things go to the heart of independence, and the amendments probe how we will independently assess the operation of this new regime. Will there be more people suited to certain jobs applying for key jobs? Will the object of the new regime be delivered and how will we measure its success?

To answer that question we need to go back to one or two of ACPO’s concerns about the change that is proposed in the clause. In relation to the SAP changes outlined in the Green Paper, ACPO said that there should be a key role for HMIC in many aspects of career development of senior officers, in particular the performance development review process. It also said that

“The continuation of SAP under the chairmanship of HMCIC” is something that it wants to be continued. The clause deals with an independent chairman under the new regime. However, ACPO and others say that it should continue to be a sworn officer, and that the head of the inspectorate—HMCIC—should chair SAP. Its argument is interesting because it says that

“HMIC should continue to lead on PDR completion utilising their professional judgement borne from practical experience and knowledge of the challenges that are faced everyday by Chief Officers within the police service.”

This goes to the heart of my amendments. In relation to the Green Paper, ACPO said that the suggestion that there would be a conflict of interest for HMIC in a new role is spurious. That is to say that the Government believe—as do I—that if HMIC is involved in the PDR process and appointments, it might look a bit odd perhaps for the inspectorate to be inspecting some of the appointments and PDRs for which it was largely responsible. The Government thought that that might be a conflict of interest, and ACPO said that that was spurious.

To use its own analogy, ACPO wants more of a parallel with GP assessments. It says that in the health service, assessments are always done by clinicians rather than those governing the service. ACPO likes the idea of sworn officers of HMIC doing the inspecting. My amendments would have HMIC inspecting the new regime, but not chairing the panel. My understanding is that Ministers want an independent chair so that the alleged conflict of interests to which I have referred does not arise.

We need to have inspection without fear or favour. The Minister might say that it is implied in the clauses, but these two amendments—particularly amendment 52 —spell out that

Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Constabulary shall submit an annual report to the Secretary of State on the operation of the Senior Appointments process in each police force area.”

In other words, through the amendment, HMIC would not chair the panel, but could go in and inspect what the panel does without fear or favour. That inspection should be published and submitted to the Secretary of State. We also suggest that reports are explicitly laid before Parliament.

The role of HMIC will be strengthened anyway. The non-statutory changes—the HMIC reform that I referred to at the start of my remarks—do not require primary legislation, which is why they are not in the Bill, but I understand that they will take place this year. What might this inspectorate be inspecting force by force? There are a couple of things that it might want to focus on. How is the fixed term appointment regime operating? We have heard from Sir Norman Bettison, and others, that the fixed term appointment regime is not an unalloyed benefit for senior appointments. Clause 3 says that new arrangements have to be made for senior officers who want to terminate their service before the end of a fixed term appointment. There is a lot of debate about the fixed term appointment regime. I proffer no particular view myself; it seems to work quite well.

However, suppose that fixed-term appointments of five years were seen to be a bar to flexible movement. Sir Norman said in his evidence last week that that was true in some cases. To paraphrase, he said that a five-year window might not be appropriate for certain high flyers. The implication was that it might be a bit of a straitjacket. The reports that I propose would tackle such issues, so that there is a clear examination of how the regime is working, perhaps even probing current assumptions. It is certainly my assumption that the fixed-term appointment regime is here to stay, but others in the wider policing community say that that is not so.

There are other things that these reports and inspections will need to lay bare. In its response to the policing Green Paper in October 2008, the APA said:

“The concept of fixed-term contracts should be reviewed in order to better reflect those used in other public service organisations.”

That supports what I have just argued. Once again, let us hear ACPO’s response:

“The Green Paper raises the question of constraints upon the development of sufficient numbers of Chief Officers of good quality. However, the Green Paper fails to acknowledge the impact and influence of Fixed Term Appointments (FTAs) of a maximum of five years. FTAs have increased the turnover of Chief Constables so that there is a constant churn of leadership, which ACPO considers to be detrimental to organisational development and partnership building. FTAs, more than any other factor, put a strain on the pipeline of talent.”

I do not necessarily agree with that. Being an honest kind of fellow, I openly admit that I need to reflect on that more, but there certainly seems to be evidence from ACPO that the FTA is not an unalloyed benefit. Surely, the reports, laid bare for everyone to see, could tackle some of the big structural of issues that are being talked about in terms of getting better talent management, better succession planning and the right high-calibre people in the right jobs at the right time, which is what the new panel is supposed to do.

We disagree with ACPO, which believes that the head of the panel should be HMCIC. We believe that the inspectorate should be more independent, and we would achieve that by having a chair of the panel who is not HMCIC. We would also like a force-by-force report to be produced to assess ruthlessly how succession planning is working, year on year, force by force, not just in relation to the chief and deputy chief constable, but in relation to the other senior ranks, too. On that non-probing basis, I end my remarks on amendments Nos. 51 and 52.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Home Office) (Policing, Crime & Security)

I thank the hon. Gentleman again for his support for the independence of the chair of SAP. I agree that it is important. As I said, I tend to agree with ACPO a lot, but not always. I was trying to make the point in the previous debate that it will sometimes in the end say, “This is our view, but you are the Government and you govern.” That is a sensible, grown-up approach.

It would not be appropriate for HMCIC to hold the role under the new system, as it takes on its strengthened role of performance improvement. That changes the situation. Of course, it does not mean that HMIC, and the chief inspector in particular, will not play an important part in the senior appointments process and how all of this will work. The hon. Gentleman is right, however, about the chair of the panel.

As always, the difficulty is moving from one system to another. As we all know, that is often where the greatest difficulty occurs, even when people agree with the changes. That is why we have tried, in the interim, to use the high regard that everyone has for Sir Ronnie Flanagan and put him into that position to help us move to where we want to be. That seems to have helped somewhat.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s support for the greater independence of HMIC from the Government. It is not only a case of it being independent so that it can hold the police to account, and help the police to improve by inspecting them. It is also about us saying to  HMIC, “You have that new strengthened independent role from us.” It is beneficial to have that set out much more clearly.

The hon. Gentleman asked about fixed-term appointments. No evidence has come to me in the Home Office to say that that is a particular problem. It sometimes gets raised, but people have not said that it is a real issue that is causing problems. Other aspects of the appointments process—how we encourage and develop it—are much more of a problem. Of course, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the five-year term can be extended should the police authority wish to do so. Although I understand the sentiment of what he is trying say with respect to publicising the work of SAP, part of the way in which he is trying to do that could give rise to an unnecessary level of bureaucracy.

The purpose of amendment 51 is to ensure that the reports of the senior appointments panel are published and laid before Parliament. I do not think that I will assuage all of the hon. Gentleman’s doubts, but it was always our intention to publish its reports to increase the transparency of the senior appointments process. I am happy to put on the record our commitment to doing that. The requirement will be set out in SAP’s constitutional arrangements, which will be made under clause 2. Although the theme of the amendment is in line with that transparency, requiring a report to be made to Parliament is not the appropriate mechanism to achieve it. The Home Office annual report will make appropriate reference to the work of the senior appointments panel in future.

In keeping with the theme of probing for transparency in the senior appointments panel, amendment 52 would place a duty on HMIC to provide an annual report to the Secretary of State on the operation of the senior appointments process in every police force area. In my view, it is the panel itself that will publicly report on the functioning of the appointments system and the strategic challenges to address, taking into account the views of APA, ACPO and others, as well as the professional input of the inspectorate. Moreover, the Secretary of State already has the power—an important point, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows—under section 54 of the Police Act 1996 to require HMIC to prepare reports on particular functions of a police authority, which could include, where the Home Secretary felt it was appropriate, the workings of the senior appointments process in that force.

In the light of my comments, and my commitment to publish the senior appointments panel’s reports, I hope that the hon. Gentleman can see that, although I have some support for his amendments, they are unnecessary and, potentially, overly bureaucratic.

Photo of David Ruffley David Ruffley Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 5:45 pm, 3rd February 2009

Having heard the Minister’s remarks and his commitment to publication and airing of such important matters, and to not doing so in a bureaucratic way, I am satisfied that he has met the points of Her Majesty’s Opposition. Therefore, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of David Ruffley David Ruffley Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Having regard to your earlier ruling or indication that you would allow a clause stand part debate, Mr. Bayley, I point out that I raised all the issues of a clause stand part nature that I wished to raise in my speeches to the two groups of amendments that we have just debated. The Minister indicated in his speeches that he wanted to pick up in the clause stand part debate on some of the things that he did not cover in reply to me during the amendment debates. I am happy to reiterate that there is broad support on the Opposition Benches for reform and enhancement of the SAP, but I would be grateful if the Minister fleshed out in a bit more detail what the nature of the new directive powers will be and whether he can describe how this greater direction will operate. In short, does it go as far as the militaristic-style direction of individuals into certain posts at certain times that Sir Norman Bettison indicated?

If it is not that—I imagine that the Minister will say, “It is not” and I agree that it should not be—in what way will the clause deliver more directive power than the existing regime that the clause seeks to reform? I am unclear how the new regime will enhance things. Sir Norman, wearing his ACPO hat, suggested that he is not clear how the clause will improve things. I repeat: short of militaristic-style direction—his words, not mine—it is difficult to see how the new regime can make a significant difference. I would be grateful to hear the Minister’s views.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Home Office) (Policing, Crime & Security)

I try very hard to answer the questions put. I recognise that I do not always answer them to the satisfaction of hon. Members, so I apologise profusely for not specifically answering that question about militaristic-style direction. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We do not believe that the measures should lead to militaristic-style direction in which people are ordered to go to different parts of the country in order to take up various positions. I hope that that is clear.

I thought that the hon. Member for Chesterfield was going to make a couple of remarks. The clause is extremely important. There is no doubt that everybody accepts that there is a need to increase the number of candidates putting themselves forward for senior positions and to encourage greater diversity among candidates. How do we deliver that? It must be said that the response, given that we do not have and would not want the ability to order people around, can often appear almost weak. It sounds good, but what difference will it make?

One of the reasons why we are saying that we should move from the current basis to a statutory basis is that we can then start to influence the work of the senior appointments panel and give it greater clout, greater credibility and a greater sense of importance. I think that that is what it will do. The current membership of the SAP is seven. They are important and good people, but we want to have a much broader membership than is currently the case.

Currently, we have an independent chair, representatives from ACPO and APA, independent members, somebody from the Home Office, a representative of Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and somebody from the Metropolitan Police Authority. When there is something that the SAP particularly wants to discuss, other people  are invited along. However, we are saying—we can all read the clause for ourselves—that the panel will consist of

“a chair and other members appointed by the Secretary of State”.

That could include people with particular expertise, judgment or points of view to bring. They will not represent any body in particular, but they might have a particular opinion or skill that makes a difference.

The panel will also include representative members. They will be nominated by the tripartite Government system that I mentioned earlier, consisting of the Home Office, APA and ACPO. To answer the hon. Members for Chesterfield and for Bury St. Edmunds, the SAP will have much broader membership, bringing together people with a much greater diversity of views and opinions, and it will be tasked specifically with certain things to do, rather than sifting appointments as its primary function.

I point out to the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds that, importantly, although the SAP does an admirable job sifting through appointments, members of police authorities consider appointments to senior police positions in their own area and then give them to the SAP to look at. Instead, the SAP will take a much more proactive role. Rather than reacting to the people sent to it, the SAP will be charged with increasing the number of people that police authorities consider in the first place. That is a significant and fundamental change in how the new body will operate. Instead of being a passive organisation—I must be careful, because I do not want people to read this and think that I am having a go—it will be a proactive, dynamic body charged with doing something to make a difference.

If the Home Secretary is concerned about something, she could refer it to the new body, so that matters relating to the training needs of senior officers could be considered. People would be considered not only on the basis of whether they were any good for a job, but on the basis of what would need to happen for their training needs to be improved, developed and supported, so that the pool increases.

I am surprised that police officers have not been saying for decades, “Why don’t we have what is regarded as good practice in other professions, so that we are helped to develop?” Perhaps they have been saying that, but they have not been heard. I was a teacher—I think some other members of the Committee were too—but I have worked in different professions. The first thing that a person wants in their profession is to be supported in developing the talents, abilities and skills that they need to progress. That happens to a certain extent within the police force, but charging a body with the function, aim and objective of increasing the number of people who come forward for senior appointments is fundamentally different from what happens now.

There are lots of papers on black and minority ethnic recruitment, including one that I helped to put together. We should tell people to support that work—I am not saying there has been no progress—so that, instead of our being surprised when somebody from an ethnic minority is appointed, the surprise will be when there is no ethnic minority candidate. Getting to such a position would be a significant change. Surely a new, high-profile SAP is part of delivering that.

Photo of Paul Holmes Paul Holmes Liberal Democrat, Chesterfield

I have listened with great interest to the Minister. He has thrown more light on what I said earlier—I was not sure how having an SAP of 10, 15, 20 or however many people would solve the problem of the lack of people coming forward for positions such as chief constable. He referred to his background in education. I, too, was a teacher, and there was a much more decentralised system. All the way through schools, middle management were encouraged to develop people’s skills. The Government set up the National College for School Leadership in Nottingham, which was very effective, but things are more decentralised now. There are 3,000 secondary schools, whereas there are only 43 chief constables and police authorities, but to what extent is relying on one small panel of people, rather than embedding career development all the way through the system, the answer?

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Home Office) (Policing, Crime & Security)

Change has taken place in the police service in this country, and it is trying to embed career development. We can see that if we look at the training and development that is taking place in forces up and down the country. The police service is trying to do many of the things that I am talking about from a national perspective through the SAP. We are attempting to give development a strategic direction. If I were to sum up what it is about, I would say that we always need something to be the catalyst for change. Things will not necessarily happen if people simply wish for them to happen. If we want something to happen, we must create a mechanism and some sort of process to drive it.

To be fair to the hon. Members for Chesterfield and for Bury St. Edmunds, they have supported the SAP. If we get it right—there will be tension about that—it will act as a dynamo, or as a catalyst for change. It cannot change things from the centre, but it can create momentum from the centre to support the work of individual forces. That and the power to confer additional functions, should it prove necessary, are important parts of the reform programme that is taking place.

Notwithstanding some of the debate about the independence of the chair and the role of this or that, the police service should sometimes take more credit for the way in which it is trying to embrace some of the reforms. The service is not the always the last bastion of resistance to proposals; rather, it embraces change. However, sometimes, rightly, it asks us to reflect on what a proposal will mean.

We had a great debate about clause 1, but clause 2 is a hugely significant change. If the SAP works, which I believe it will, it will support the police in bringing about the changes with respect to senior officers that they, we and the communities of this country want.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 2 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.