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Association Of Chief Police Officers

Volume 591: debated on Thursday 9 July 1998

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3.23 p.m.

To what form of accountability they consider the Association of Chief Police Officers' resolutions relating to matters of public interest should be subject.

My Lords, the Association of Chief Police Officers is not part of the Home Office. It is not accountable to the Secretary of State for the Home Department or any other government department. As I have explained previously, the association is a provider of professional policing policy advice. It is a useful source and has a very constructive relationship with the Home Office. It is only one source to which the Government turn for advice. Policy determined by ACPO is not binding on individual chief constables.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. ACPO Limited passes resolutions which affect potentially every man, woman and child in the country and I should like to draw the Minister's attention—

My Lords, I apologise. May I draw the Minister's attention to a policy adopted by police forces concerning the insurance industry, with which I have a connection? With the leave of the House, I shall read that policy. On 12th January 1978—20 years ago—ACPO's policy recommendation was that the supply of routine information relating to theft, loss and burglary would no longer be given to insurance companies and that that co-operation would be discontinued. Does the Minister think that that is in the public interest?

My Lords, there may have been such a resolution 20 years ago. I am not aware of whether that is still ACPO's policy. I repeat what I have already said: if ACPO comes to a certain conclusion, that is a matter for ACPO. It is entitled to its views. Whether we all agree with every one of those views is another question. I repeat that ACPO's policies are not binding on individual chief constables, who remain locally accountable under the existing arrangements.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that some of us are puzzled by this Question? Is it not obvious that it is highly desirable that the Home Office and, for that matter, the public deserve the frank opinion of the leaders of the police service and that anything that is done to inhibit chief officers from giving their advice would be extremely injurious to the national interest?

My Lords, I am a little puzzled about this Question—and I am even more puzzled by many other Written Questions which are answered at substantial public expense and at considerable official inconvenience, but I answer them. I cannot alter my Answer from day to day because it remains the same: ACPO is a body with substantial, independent, informed expertise. We value its co-operative assistance, as do many other bodies.

My Lords, is it not a fact that ACPO receives considerable funds from the Government to the tune of nearly £0.5 million, in addition to receiving further funds of nearly £1 million from police authorities throughout the country, and that, as it is a limited company, those funds do not appear in ACPO's books?

My Lords, as I have said previously, the Home Office allocated £458,000 to the costs of running the secretariat and the local authorities provided £330,000 in 1996–97 and £669,000 in 1997–98. Those sums did not appear in ACPO Limited's accounts because ACPO Limited was not then constituted. For the future, ACPO Limited, now being a public limited company, will have to produce its accounts in the format required by the companies legislation. That is what I said on the last occasion that this Question was put to me in the past few weeks.

My Lords, further to his answer to the noble Lord, Lord Harris, does not my noble friend agree that the Association of Chief Police Officers makes extremely interesting and important announcements and comments on some of the major social issues facing Britain at the moment and, by its comments and insights, informs the whole process of policy formulation to a very valuable extent?

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. There are important public debates, some of which are reflected in your Lordships' House, and ACPO plainly has a proper, important and central role to play in the conduct of those debates. It adds value to the public debate.

My Lords, given the comparatively large sums of money which the Minister mentioned, can noble Lords and Members of the other place see the advice which has been given by ACPO? Is the Home Office ever in a position to ask ACPO for advice on particular issues, and, if so, will the Minister ask ACPO to give advice on the policing of gypsy sites, which has been a matter of considerable complaint recently, particularly after the incident in which a six year-old boy was killed during an eviction on a site in Enfield last October?

My Lords, the advice given is often published. I refer, for instance, to the excellent Home Office report on intimidation and vulnerable witnesses, into which ACPO had an input. If one wants to read such reports, one can generally see what ACPO's policies have been. If there is any specific question about police misbehaviour, that should be directed to the chief constable or the police authority concerned. If the noble Lord has no satisfaction, I shall then be perfectly happy to take up the matter myself. However, I do not believe that the relationship between ACPO and the Home Office is at all secretive.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that one of the reasons for the continued line of questioning by noble Lords on the Floor of the House and in Written Questions is his failure to provide me and other noble Lords with any details of the activities of ACPO beyond a two-item breakdown of an annual Home Office allocation of £458,000? Does the Minister agree that that does not amount to transparency or accountability?

My Lords, the last time I answered this Question I said that the sum of £458,000 contributed to the cost of staff salaries and other administrative costs, such as stationery, cleaning and communications. We do not give that as a global sum to ACPO but pay specific invoices. I am content that that is proper accountability of public funds.