Welcome back to the Chair, Sir Roger. I was in the middle of a lengthy intervention, which I shall continue in as short a manner as possible. I was asking the Minister about forensics, where staff may well be contractors or civilian staff, but they are not public-facing. Why is there a differentiation in the current draft of clause 107?
Welcome back to the Chair, Sir Roger. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman intervened, because it enables me to remind him of the role of the forensic science regulator, which is responsible for ensuring that the provision of forensic science services right across the criminal justice system is subject to an appropriate regime of scientific quality standards, including identifying the requirements for new or improved standards, leading on the development of new standards and, where necessary, providing advice and guidance so that providers of forensic science services can demonstrate compliance. As I said this morning, the College of Policing should not duplicate the work of other professional bodies. In this instance, I would expect that standards for forensic scientists will continue to be set by the forensic science regulator.
Amendment 59 would also take the college into territory that the Government do not believe it should enter. Not only would the amendment give the college the power to specify which roles should be carried out by police staff, it would also allow the college to say which functions are suitable for outsourcing to the private sector. The Government have made it clear that they have no intention to allow private companies to carry out police activities that require warranted powers, except to the extent that that has already been done for detention and escort officers by legislation passed by the previous Government. Otherwise, the use of private contractors is a matter for local decision.
The power that the amendment would create would limit the scope of local decisions about how and where to use police staff and how and where to use the private sector. These decisions need to be taken by the police and crime commissioner together with his or her chief constable. The power would constrain the ability of chief constables and police and crime commissioners to think imaginatively about the structure of their work force. They will need to account locally for their decisions about the use of police staff or the use of the private sector. There may be a variety of reasons why a police and crime commissioner uses police staff to carry out a particular role or engages the private sector. They might want to save money, to improve service, to bring in new expertise or to increase efficiency, for example. Hon. Members will agree that few, if any, parts of policing should be immune from challenge about whether they could be delivered more cost-effectively, would benefit from new expertise, could be made more efficient or could give an improved service to the public.
Parliament has spent considerable time debating the introduction of police and crime commissioners and their freedoms. Our intention is to give them as much flexibility as possible. We do not want to influence or curtail that flexibility in the way that the amendment proposes. That is important. It is the cornerstone of the accountability that police and crime commissioners have to their electorate. They need the freedom to take the decisions they believe necessary in order to provide an effective service to the public.
For the reasons that I have set out, I do not believe that the college needs the powers that the amendments would bestow and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to withdraw the amendment.
The Minister’s response has made me even more worried than I was before I tabled the amendments. The amendment’s whole purpose was not to say that the private sector is bad and the public sector is good. Indeed, when a Minister, I signed contracts and supported discussions with the private sector about the delivery of services. The amendment’s purpose was to ensure that some guidance is issued by the College of Policing on contracts, profit margins, surplus, transparency, scope—a whole range of things. According to clause 105, the Secretary of State has the power to change, amend, veto or do all sorts with the guidance if it was not to their liking.
Based on my understanding of what the Minister has said, it is a laissez-faire situation. It says to police and crime commissioners, “Do what you will anywhere you want to with no guidance from the centre whatsoever.” I do not find that at all acceptable. I am tempted to press the amendment to a Division—I was not going to do so; I was going to let this one lie—because the Minister has just told me that the Government’s laissez-faire approach to police and crime commissioners is essentially to say, “Do what you will, get on with it, and you are accountable to your local electorate.” I think that there should be some guidance and overarching examination from the College of Policing and the Home Office. Given what the Minister has said, I would like potentially to test the will of the Committee on amendment 59.