Clause 4

– in a Public Bill Committee at 6:00 pm on 3rd February 2009.

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Metropolitan police force appointments

Photo of Paul Holmes Paul Holmes Liberal Democrat, Chesterfield

I beg to move amendment 59, in clause 4, page 4, leave out line 22.

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley NATO Parliamentary Assembly UK Delegation

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment 60, in clause 4, page 4, leave out line 31.

Amendment 61, in clause 4, page 4, leave out line 40.

New clause 3—Appointment of chief constables and assistant chief constables

‘(1) The Police Act 1996 is amended as follows.

(2) In section 11(1) (appointment and removal of chief constables) leave out “but subject to the approval of the Secretary of State”.

(3) In section 11(2) leave out “acting with the approval of the Secretary of State”.

(4) In section 11(3), leave out “ Before seeking the approval of the Secretary of State under subsection (2),”.

(5) In section 12(2) (assistant chief constables) leave out “and subject to the approval of the Secretary of State”.

(6) In section 12(5) leave out “ Secretary of State” and insert “relevant police authority”.

(7) For section 2 (removal of chief constables etc) substitute—

“(1) A police authority may exercise its power under section 11 to call upon the chief constable to retire in the interests of efficiency or effectiveness.

(2) Before requiring the exercise or the similar power exercisable with respect to an assistant chief constable, the police authority shall give the chief constable or assistant chief constable an opportunity to make representations to him and shall consider any representations so made.”’.

Photo of Paul Holmes Paul Holmes Liberal Democrat, Chesterfield

With a mind to what Sir Nicholas said at this morning’s sitting about the fact that we had had an extensive debate and that we wanted to make some progress on the Bill, and with a view to the fact that in most Committees of which I have been a member in the past eight years, all too often, we only get through the first two thirds of the Bill and do not reach the important parts, I shall be brief about the amendments and new clause 3. We went through all the arguments that lie behind those provisions this morning and there is no point in repeating them in detail two or three hours later given that anyone can read the record of our proceedings.

In a nutshell, amendments 59, 60 and 61 would remove the power for the Secretary of State to oversee and have the final say over approval of the appointment of assistant commissioners of the Metropolitan police. New clause 3 would do the same, in effect, in respect of the Secretary of State’s power to have the final say about the appointment of chief constables and assistant  chief constables the length and breadth of England and Wales. Our argument is the same as it was in respect of new clauses 2 and 4, which is that that there should be a major devolution of power away from the centre—from London and central Government—to local authorities and local communities. It is hard therefore to understand why there should be a need for the Secretary of State to exercise power over the appointment of the most senior police officers, whether in Derbyshire, Northumberland, Wales or London. All the arguments about decentralising power that were made this morning apply to the amendments under discussion.

I am sure that the Minister will explain in a minute why he disagrees with my argument. I shall not press the amendment to a Division because we know that the Labour party and the Conservative party would oppose it, albeit for different reasons. Before the Minister explains why I am completely wrong, which we can take as read from this morning’s debate, will he pick up on a couple of points about the existing powers of the Secretary of State with regard to senior police officers and chief constables? We recently had a debate about the position in London with the Metropolitan police. There is a slightly strange situation, as both the Secretary of State and the Mayor of London are supposed to make the decisions about the final appointment of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and the dismissal of the person in that post. We had a two-way debate and hoo-hah about exactly who should be pulling the plug on Sir Ian Blair, for example. The Mayor took the initiative on that.

What exactly does the Minister see as the role of the Secretary of State in deciding who should be the most senior police officer in London? I accept that that is complicated by the fact that, unusually, all chief constables in London are automatically heads of the Government’s anti-terrorist strategy for the whole nation. With regard to chief constables throughout England and Wales in general, in the other 42 police authority areas, will the Minister explain why the Secretary of State needs that power? Why does a central Government Minister need to decide, yes or no, whether someone should be the chief constable?

There is also the power to dismiss chief constables. I believe that that was last used in Derbyshire in 1990, nearly 20 years ago. The power is not widely used at all, and I am not sure when it was last used before 1990. I would be interested to know why the Government believe that the Secretary of State should be the person to exercise that power, rather than the local police authority which, by whatever process—its members are elected or appointed at the moment—represents its local community and does the interviews for that senior post, yet can then be gainsaid and overruled by the Secretary of State from London.

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

Why in the amendment and in the clause do Liberal Democrat Members and the Minister not see fit to refer to the Mayor of London in relation to the appointments? This relates particularly to the appointments below that of Metropolitan Police Commissioner. I mention it only for highly topical reasons, which I am sure the Minister will want to reflect on in his remarks.

Constitutionally, the appointment of a new Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis is, under British law as it is currently extant, a matter solely for the Home Secretary—in this case, the right hon. Member  for Redditch (Jacqui Smith). Of course, that was the case until the current Mayor of London cleverly and brilliantly in many ways kicked the door down and got a seat at the table at which the Home Secretary interviewed candidates for the post of Metropolitan Police Commissioner. Even though he had no constitutional basis for being involved, he was involved by the Home Secretary. I think that she was right to do that. Almost in defiance of what statute says, she indicated that as a pragmatic move it would be unhelpful if any Metropolitan Police Commissioner whom she appointed did not get on with the Mayor of London, so what we have is an extremely interesting constitutional grey area. The facts are manifest. It is clearly the case that there has been some derogation of the power of the Home Secretary solely to appoint the Metropolitan Police Commissioner; and if there is an interesting grey area in relation to that post, the Metropolitan police force appointments that are the subject of clause 4 might equally well be at issue.

Has the Minister given any thought to putting the matter on a proper statutory footing so that there is devastating clarity on the issue of Metropolitan police force appointments? I am referring to the appointments below Metropolitan Police Commissioner under clause 4, but equally, for the avoidance of doubt, will the Minister say what the position is now, so far as this Home Secretary is concerned, when it comes to making an appointment to the position of Metropolitan Police Commissioner? In the light of those topical events, it would be useful to hear the Minister’s views on the way in which what happened in that case impacts on the other, more junior appointments that are the subject of the clause.

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

The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. I point out to him that Boris Johnson would not be Mayor were it not for the Government’s reforms, which included making him chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority.

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley NATO Parliamentary Assembly UK Delegation

Order. I am drawing a line under the discussion of the role of the Mayor of London. I ask hon. Members to return to the amendments.

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

The point that I was trying to make, tongue-in-cheek, was that, of course, the Metropolitan Police Authority is responsible for the Metropolitan police. Furthermore, on the issue of Metropolitan police appointments, I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman welcomed the fact that we have ensured in legislation that the Mayor of London, whoever they are, chairs the Metropolitan Police Authority.

At the nub of the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Chesterfield is the fact that they would remove any provision to consult the Secretary of State. They are good amendments in the sense that they would, for the first time, give the Metropolitan Police Commissioner a role in the appointment of some ranks in which he—or she, sometime in the future, I hope—has not been involved before. With due respect to the hon. Gentleman, his amendment misses this point: the three ranks of the Metropolitan Police Service—  commander, deputy assistant commissioner and assistant commissioner—to which the amendment refers, are equivalent to chief constable, deputy chief constable and so on. The hon. Gentleman does not need me to go through all that—they are ACPO-ranked officers.

The Met is important, because it comprises one quarter of the police service, but many Met officers, and other senior police officers in the rest of the country, hold responsibilities not only in the Metropolitan Police Service, important as that is, or in their own force, but in ACPO for a number of different things. For example, they have responsibilities for knife crime and gangs, and national responsibilities for a range of different things. That point also relates to the national responsibilities of the commissioner and the deputy commissioner. I have said this to the hon. Gentleman before, and I do not mean it pejoratively or nastily, but if he, or the hon. Members for Hornchurch and for Bury St. Edmunds, were in power and people were appointed to positions that were not only important to the individual force but had national implications, they would want to ensure that they had some role in the appointment.

Photo of Paul Holmes Paul Holmes Liberal Democrat, Chesterfield 6:15 pm, 3rd February 2009

I have still not heard an explanation why the Government feel they have to micro-manage the appointment of senior police officers, whether they are senior officers in the Metropolitan police, or assistant chief constables and chief constables throughout the country, as in new clause 3. If professional people are to go for the posts, having come up through the grooming process of the senior appointments panel, and they are to be interviewed and appointed by the relevant police authorities, whether in London or elsewhere, why do the Government feel that they must micro-manage and second-guess the process, saying, “No, you’ve made a bad appointment. We’re not going to accept that person”? It may, or may not, have happened with Sir Ian Blair recently, with the Mayor moving in on that appointment, but the last time that it had happened in the country was 1990 in Derbyshire. Why do the Government feel that they must micro-manage these individual personnel appointments?

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

In the vast majority—in fact, in almost all—cases, there is no micro-management, because the recommendations of the police authority, or whoever it is, are approved. However, as I have said, the hon. Gentleman’s amendments would remove any role for the Secretary of State, and many of these people play important national strategic roles in serious and organised crime, counter-terrorism and such things. The issue is not about micro-management, but about ensuring that the Secretary of State has a reserve power for the employment of those people. It is not about their appointment to an individual police force. Given the seniority of the role, it is about reflecting on the contribution that they would make to the national policing agenda. That is a point of difference between us. It is certainly not about trying to ensure that we are involved in every single appointment of a senior police officer in this country; it is about trying to ensure that we have the opportunity to be involved where necessary.

In certain circumstances, it may be necessary for the Home Secretary to take action directly to secure the removal of a chief officer under section 42 of the Police Act 1996. The hon. Gentleman made that point, and I  want to put this on record: there are cases where efficiency and effectiveness questions are so severe that the Home Secretary needs the power to act in the public interest, notwithstanding the actions of the police authority. Examples of cases where that could have been required include the need to restore confidence in Humberside police after the Soham murders and in Sussex police after the shooting of James Ashley.

Although the amendment would not necessarily affect the power in section 42, it is clear for the reasons that I have given that the Secretary of State has a role in relation to the removal of chief officers. That role should be retained. With those comments, I urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendments.

Photo of Paul Holmes Paul Holmes Liberal Democrat, Chesterfield

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.