Clause 5

– in a Public Bill Committee at 6:15 pm on 3rd February 2009.

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Police collaboration

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

I beg to move amendment 2, in clause 5, page 6, line 3, at end insert—

‘( ) A police authority may not make an agreement which includes provision about employees who are under the direction and control of a chief officer.’.

Our clauses allow for separate collaboration agreements for police forces and authorities, an arrangement carried over from current legislation that preserves the important distinction between the functions of police forces and police authorities. The amendment further clarifies the position by ensuring that when police authorities make collaboration agreements, the agreements will not capture staff under the direction and control of a chief officer. To do otherwise would lead to an intrusion from the police authority on a chief constable’s operational independence: in other words, the independent control that he exercises over his staff. The amendment seeks to make that distinction clear.

Amendment 2 agreed to.

Photo of Paul Holmes Paul Holmes Liberal Democrat, Chesterfield

I beg to move amendment 56, in clause 5, page 6, leave out lines 32 and 33.

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley NATO Parliamentary Assembly UK Delegation

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: amendment 57, in clause 5, page 7, leave out from line 31 to line 8 on page 8.

Amendment 58, in clause 5, page 8, leave out lines 9 to 13.

Amendment 55, in clause 5, page 8, line 11, at end insert

‘, the period of notice shall be such as the Secretary of State sees fit.’.

Photo of Paul Holmes Paul Holmes Liberal Democrat, Chesterfield

The logic and rationale for amendments 56 to 58 can be taken as read from the detail of this morning’s debate. They are all part of the same principle. On amendment 56, for example, we do not see why the Secretary of State should have to be consulted if more  than six police forces decide to collaborate. I am not quite sure why the arbitrary figure of six was chosen. Why not four or eight? Why is it felt to be necessary that the Home Secretary should have the power to say, “Yes, we can have six police forces, or seven, or eight, collaborating.” It seems to be a completely unnecessary degree of central control in a system that we would prefer to be devolved completely to directly elected, responsible and powerful local police authorities.

The same point arises in amendment 57. We do not see why the Secretary of State should have the power to direct the police authorities in collaboration arrangements. It is the same for amendment 58.

In response to amendment 57, the Minister might talk about the need to get authorities to collaborate on terrorism issues. However, in July 2007, when there was the terrorism issue, the Metropolitan Police Service worked very closely with the police force in Leeds, for example, without the need for prescribed direction from the centre. At the time of the tube bombings, police forces all over the country worked very closely with the Metropolitan police—regular and ad hoc collaboration—because of that emergency. The following year, a friend of mine, whose is a detective in Chesterfield, spent a lot of time in London on a semi-permanent basis working with the Metropolitan police to swell the ranks of the Criminal Investigation Department and to investigate that major act of terrorism.

Collaboration, therefore, can and does take place, without the need for the Secretary of State to make directions—to say yes, to say no and so on. That is all part of this morning’s debate on new clauses 2 and 4 and, more recently, new clause 3. I do not see the rationale for central Government having that degree of control over every decision and action taken by police authorities around the country.

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley NATO Parliamentary Assembly UK Delegation

Before I call the next speaker, I should say that I have received indications that colleagues want to move fairly quickly through the remaining three groups of amendments to clause 5, which are largely technical in nature, in order to have a stand part debate to discuss the general principles of collaboration.

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

Thank you for that clarification, Mr. Bayley, of the order of business. I rise briefly to speak to amendment 55 in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch. It would spell out that, in circumstances where the Secretary of State might wish to terminate a collaboration agreement, the length of

“the period of notice shall be such as the Secretary of State sees fit”.

In some circumstances—perhaps not a national emergency —a collaboration agreement might be wholly inadequate. I am thinking perhaps of pressing serious organised crime problems or concerns. If the Secretary of State wished to terminate an agreement, one would not want it to drag on for an unnecessarily long time. The Opposition would not want the Secretary of State to be tied to onerously long notice periods, which would fetter his ability to take action in the face of an immediate problem, perhaps of a regional or even a national kind. The wording in the amendment is for the avoidance of doubt.

Proposed new section 23H(1) reads:

The Secretary of State may terminate a collaboration agreement by notice to the parties to the agreement.”

One could construe those words to mean that the notice period should be determined by the Secretary of State. In the circumstances that I have outlined, that would seem to provide for the proper discretion that Ministers will seek in responding to short-term and pressing problems. I hope that those do not occur, but the unforeseen sometimes does—if that is not self-contradictory. In that spirit of clarification and enhancing the drafting of the clause, I offer my amendment.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Home Office) (Policing, Crime & Security) 6:30 pm, 3rd February 2009

I shall run quickly through the amendments, bearing it in mind that people have asked to get to the clause stand part debate. Amendment 55 adds detail to the Secretary of State’s power to terminate an agreement. That detail, should the scenario arise, would help to ensure that the Secretary of State makes clear to those collaborating the time frame within which the joint arrangements should cease. There is something in that amendment, but I ask for it to be withdrawn. I will have a look at the issue and come back to it on Report, if necessary. It is a reasonable amendment to have made, however, and it might add something to the clause.

Amendment 56 would remove the requirement for a chief constable or police authority to consult the Secretary of State when making a collaboration agreement involving six or more forces. Six is the biggest number in a police force region. We are not saying that such an agreement should not happen; but if a limit is not established, we could be talking about something almost the size of the north of England. We therefore think it necessary for there to be a limit above which the Secretary of State should be consulted. That does not mean that such a thing should not happen or that we would say no, but if it starts to get beyond that size, it is appropriate that the Secretary of State should have a role and be consulted.

I oppose the idea of removing all the Secretary of State’s direction-making powers or her ability to terminate an agreement; that is not the right way to proceed. The ability to direct agreements or to terminate those that have gone wrong is not something that one necessarily wants, but we cannot have a situation in which the Secretary of State does not have that power.

Paul Holmesrose—

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

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, but I know the point that he is going to make. When he is Home Secretary, I will get someone to sit on the Committee of the relevant Bill and ask him whether he thinks he should give up that power. I honestly do not believe that he would.

Photo of Paul Holmes Paul Holmes Liberal Democrat, Chesterfield

I appreciate that we are talking about a whole culture change. It would be a huge culture shock for any Minister—be it policing, education, or health—to give up micro-managing all these aspects of life. The Minister said that it could not happen and it could not work, but it does in most western democratic countries, where central Governments do not have power over  decisions on local health provision, the police force, education and so forth. It is a culture shock that one day, hopefully, the British Government will get to grips with.

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

I am interested in the hon. Gentleman’s local decision making. If I may digress slightly, the next time he has a debate and he goes on about postcode provision, I shall come back to him about local delivery of services. Again, when he is Home Secretary, he will get not only what I have just said, but the demand for the local services that I have just asked for. When it comes to postcode provision, with one thing being available in one area and not available in the next, he will then get a demand for him not to give local democracy out, but to take it back, because people do not always like difference. Perhaps that is also something for him to think about.

Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns Opposition Whip (Commons)

The Minister said that amendment 55 could possibly have merit and gave the Committee the commitment that he would look at it again to see whether it should be incorporated into the Bill, without giving any commitment that that would happen. Given that he is a decent and honourable man, if, on reflection, he comes to the conclusion that amendment 55 has merit and should be included, will he be kind enough on Report to table the amendment, standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds, who dreamt it up?

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

I am not sure that I can go that far, if I am really honest. It is a kind offer and I know that the hon. Member for West Chelmsford is only trying to save me a good deal of work. Should that not be possible—I have reservations about whether it will be—but should I, on reflection, find it appropriate for the Government to table an amendment similar if not identical to amendment 55, I shall be profuse in my praise. Perhaps that would help.

Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns Opposition Whip (Commons)

It would be a good step forward.

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

Especially if the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell was present in the Chamber—would that be helpful?

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

I am sorry, Mr. Bayley. We have been at it a long time and I know that we are due to finish. The serious point is that amendment 55 is something we need to look at; it is an important point. I do not see how we could remove any requirement for the Secretary of State to be consulted. There is a need for the Secretary of State to be consulted above six forces or more, which is the size of the biggest region. It is important for the Secretary of State to retain powers to direct where necessary and to terminate an agreement where necessary.

With those comments, I ask that the amendment be withdrawn. If it is not withdrawn, I am afraid we shall have to vote against it.

Photo of Paul Holmes Paul Holmes Liberal Democrat, Chesterfield

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

I beg to move amendment 53, in clause 5, page 6, line 41, at end insert

‘and such agreement shall include procedures for achieving a settlement of all outstanding financial and legal liabilities between parties upon a party terminating its contractual obligations under a collaboration agreement.’.

I am conscious that we need to whip through the amendments, but I would like to take a little more than a minute to speak to my amendment, which is of a technical nature. I want to spend a bit of time saying why it is important. I hope that the Minister will humour me with this amendment as much as he did with the last. If he takes my earlier amendment on board, and gives me credit for it, it will be his personal contribution to my personal development review process. I would be hugely grateful.

Amendment 53 is important because we all believe, whichever political party we represent, in the critical importance of partnership working in tackling and fighting crime. As we have said before, and as everyone knows and understands, the police cannot solve, prevent and detect crime on their own, but require co-operative efforts with parts of the health service, local government and so on. Delivering greater partnership working—this would be true no matter which Government were in office—requires a certain amount of pooling of budgets. The issue of pooling of budgets is the same with police authorities and police forces.

Alongside the concept of putting money into a pot, as Sir Norman Bettison last week and many others have indicated, is the issue of what he called the net donor problem. When different forces and authorities in policing come together in a collaboration agreement, there will be winners and losers—different authorities have different cost bases, and his net donor point was well set out in his evidence.

Let us look at how pooling arrangements operate outside a police collaboration set-up—I am arguing by analogy here. Crime fighting partners might be a drug action team, a local authority or a parish council that has earmarked money for crime fighting from its parish council precept. There are now pooling arrangements or agreements under which different partners come together and put their money into the crime fighting pot to achieve an objective.

However, anyone who has looked at the pooling of crime fighting budgets—I know that the Minister has—will understand that it is pretty much a hit-and-miss affair. It can be shambolic if the pooling arrangements are not set down clearly in a contract and, crucially—this is what the amendment is about—unless there are clear procedures for what happens on exit. If any one partner that brings x to the pot wants to go away with that money halfway through the arrangement, it can be a mess. That is the experience of those in local government and those involved with crime and disorder reduction partnership arrangements to whom I have spoken. There will be legal arguments about who owes what to whom and so on.

This is an argument by analogy: in the Children Act 2004, there are clear arrangements that encourage and support local authorities and their partners to pool budgets when that will improve delivery, especially of health care. However, the arrangements pursuant to that Act have shown us that it is absolutely critical to write down the arrangements for pooling up front.

People in the Local Government Association have advised me that best practice would involve a written, up-front agreement. The agreement should say to all signatory partners that there should be a clear objective, a clear set of service standards, an agreed performance framework and a clear statement of the expected life of the pooling arrangements.

The agreement should also say how any underspend or overspend in the pool will be dealt with, how accountability and responsibility will operate in relation to the pool and how to work with the differing VAT and charging arrangements and different budgetary cycles that might apply to each partner. It should deal with the use and disposal of fixed assets that are brought to the pool by partners who wish to co-operate in a pooling arrangement. Those arrangements should all be written down.

The agreement should also include the delegation of financial responsibility and say whose standing orders should be used. It should set out in advance human resources arrangements for transferring staff and whether TUPE—the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981 and 2006—applies. It should say how to build staff time and capacity into spending the pooled budget.

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

My hon. Friend makes a clear case for certainty, but does he agree that we should consider not only the legal challenge, but the performance target challenge? Various organisations seek to pool services and budgets at local level have told me that they find it quite difficult because, in essence, a budget that one partner agency—for example, a primary care trust—might wish to use could be used externally to satisfy a different performance target. It is almost as if a partner is brought into the pool in a hidden way: even if it wants to join to achieve a wider end, it is a question of ticking the right box to achieve it.

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

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, because the burden of my argument, in a different context, is that pooling throws up all sorts of issues—he has added one to the list that I was enumerating.

The experience of parts of public service outwith policing is that many bodies think that they are operating a proper, formal pooling arrangement in partnership. We applaud and embrace such collaborative working and cross-cutting departmental efforts. To repeat: we do not believe that the police should be the only people tasked with delivering crime reduction and crime fighting. However, in contexts outwith law and order, those who have no formal arrangements or agreements—if they do not have an up-front, written agreement about what happens on exit or withdrawal—can suddenly find that they have let themselves in for all sorts of liabilities.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that disagreements can be difficult to resolve, but, in addition, arguing over compromises about what should happen if one partner prematurely, for unforeseen reasons, wants to exit can take up a lot of management time.

Arguing by analogy, then, it seems that the same problem might be in the offing if we have more and more collaborative agreements involving police authorities,  chief constables and their forces. That is why my amendment 53 says that any such collaboration agreement

“shall include procedures for achieving a settlement of all outstanding financial and legal liabilities between parties upon a party terminating its contractual obligations under a collaboration agreement.”

Rather like my earlier amendment, this amendment seeks to strengthen, improve and build on the thrust of the clause, rather than to undermine it. We need that clarification about collaboration arrangements, of which I hope there will be many more, whether under this Government or a future Government of whatever stripe.

We must ensure that such agreements are carried out in a wholly professional way, and we should not rely on good will or that things will be alright on the night. As I have said, too many co-operation and partnership agreements fall foul of the highest standards of planning and governance. While one would not want to be bureaucratic, my amendment signals that collaboration agreements will be written—we will get on to this in the clause stand part debate—that they will be very detailed and that they will have to cover as many eventualities as possible. That is why clear procedures should be written into contractual arrangements.

I know of individuals who have been on one side of contractual negotiations in private finance initiative contracts, though not in relation to the Home Office. In one PFI contract, the most obvious, boilerplate clause was seen to be so blindingly obvious that neither the legal advisers to the financiers on one side of the negotiations nor the civil servants on the Whitehall side of negotiations thought of putting it in, and there were problems as a result. When push came to shove and the unforeseen happened, there was disagreement and argument with the attendant waste of management time in working out what was to be done. In the spirit of tightening arrangements for collaboration agreements, I proffer this amendment in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Home Office) (Policing, Crime & Security) 6:45 pm, 3rd February 2009

Having received my orders from two separate sources, I shall be brief. Without wishing to carry on the love-in, I accept what the hon. Gentleman has just said and that he seeks to add value to the clause, but there is an issue with the amendment. I accept that financial and legal liabilities might be issues, but there might be other areas to be sorted out, such as staffing and equipment. I draw his attention to proposed new section 23F in clause 5, which is on page 7. It refers to guidance with respect to collaboration agreements, which is something that I will emphasise in the clause stand part debate. Regarding the amendment, I make a commitment to include some of the points he made in the guidance, because that is important.

I also stress the importance of the second part of proposed new section 23F, which states:

“In discharging their functions, chief officers and police authorities must have regard to the guidance.”

I hope that that answers the hon. Gentleman’s point and with that I ask him to withdraw his amendment.

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

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

I beg to move amendment 54, in clause 5, page 7, line 21, leave out paragraph (b). I will be brief. We seek to firm up the obligation for the collaboration agreement to be published. The amendment deletes what I consider a weakening of that overriding obligation to publish the agreement because the sub-clause that I seek to delete states that the alternative to full publication would be to

“publish the fact that the agreement has been made and such other details about it as the person thinks appropriate.”

In the world of transparency in which we all say we believe and want to work towards, there should be a straightforward commitment and duty to publish the agreement, not to state the fact that an agreement exists. Again, in the spirit of honest and probing inquiry, I rest my remarks.

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

I understand the point that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds is trying to make about transparency with respect to collaboration agreements. However, the Bill as drafted does balance the need for transparency and operational effectiveness and I believe that the balance as currently constructed in the Bill is right. I know that this is not his intention, but I am concerned that if his amendment were accepted and the argument was taken to the logical conclusion of saying that collaboration agreements carte blanche have to be published, there might be a case in which the location of firearms units, firearms officers and other sensitive policing matters might have to be put into the public domain. I do not think that it is his intention to compromise operational integrity, but it might be an unintended consequence of his amendment. I hope that he will withdraw the amendment. It is my intention, because I believe it is important, that as much as possible should be published without compromising the operational effectiveness of those police forces that have put together that agreement.

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

Having regard to the Minister’s comments, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Mr. Austin.)

Adjourned till Thursday 4 February at Nine o’clock.