Committee (1st Day)
Clause 1 : Duty of police authorities in relation to public accountability
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 8, at end insert—
“( ) In section 6 of the Police Act 1996 (c. 16) (general functions of police authorities) after subsection (2) insert—
“(2A) Every police authority must make arrangements to obtain the views of children and young people in their area about policing in that area.””
I declare an interest at the start as a former chair of the North Yorkshire Police Authority and as a former deputy chair and now vice-president of the Association of Police Authorities, as well as having other police authority roles over a 25-year period.
Clause 1 inserts into the Police Act 1996 a requirement for police authorities, when discharging any of their functions, to have regard to the views of the public concerning policing. This duty is intended to complement the duty of police authorities under Section 96 of the Police Act 1996, again, to obtain the views of the public concerning policing. The Standing Committee for Youth Justice, to which I am indebted for its amendment, is concerned about how this proposal may impact on children and young people. The Children’s Commissioner for England has referred to a widely held fear of children within our society and to the negative portrayal of young people in the media. Children and young people are too often portrayed solely as perpetrators of crime, and the latest concluding observations from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, published in October 2008, note the very negative coverage on youth issues and recommend that the UK Government,
“take urgent measures to address the intolerance and inappropriate characterisation of children, especially adolescents, within society, including the media”.
Negative media and the raft of legislative measures to deal with youth crime and anti-social behaviour have created a climate in society where any children’s activity may be seen as anti-social. For example, the Standing Committee for Youth Justice is aware of a number of cases in which complaints about anti-social behaviour have turned out to be about young people playing football in the park. In this context, there is a significant risk that public opinion based on negative stereotypes of young people, as distinct from informed public judgment, could result in policing priorities that are skewed against the interests of this group. This could seriously undermine the approach of existing multi-agency partnerships, both within and without the criminal justice sector, to tackling youth crime. The Government’s recent youth crime action plan, the YCAP, recognised the high incidence of children and young people as victims of crime, and this must also be reflected in these provisions.
Evidence submitted to the Good Childhood Inquiry, commissioned by the Children’s Society, illustrated that children and young people have strong views about crime and anti-social behaviour in their local communities. An 11 year-old boy said, “When I go out and I see so many teenagers swearing and littering, it makes me ask myself if the Government realise what goes on”. To this end, I believe that it is vital that consideration is given to the question of how police will ensure that they obtain the views of children and young people. In the past, many crime and disorder partnerships failed to take into account the views of children and young people in their planning processes. Children and young people are important members of the community and their views and ideas can make a positive contribution to improving community safety. I ask the Minister how the police will canvass public opinion about what policing should focus on and, specifically, how this will include the views of children and young people. I beg to move.
It may be convenient if I speak to Amendment 2 now so that we can debate the whole group together. Before I do so, and because it will be relevant during the course of the Bill, though not necessarily on this aspect of it, I declare two interests—one as a sitting magistrate in both the adult and family courts, the second as an elected member of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, which will be relevant when local government issues become pertinent to the discussion.
The matters raised by the noble Baroness have shown how important it is to ensure that there is increased public involvement at all levels of local policing, and that this is done in a sensible way. We agree strongly that the police must become more accountable to the public—our policies on police reform, which I will not go into today, go much further than this modest amendment.
The danger with adding “just one more” matter that a police authority must have regard to is that there is no clarification of how the new matter will interact with the existing priorities, and what will actually change. Will the police authority continue much as before, but now take note of when an initiative is particularly popular or unpopular? Or will it seek to integrate a concern for public views into policing priorities?
In a very helpful brief that the Minister sent to me, for which I thank him very much, he says that Section 96 duties require police authorities to obtain information for consultation, but that, except when drawing up their priorities, they are not required to do anything with the information. That is clearly the reason why these amendments on consultation have been tabled. The new duty means that police authorities must consider information whenever they exercise their functions, which will ensure that the views of the public are a core part of any and all work that the police authority does. That is a direct lift from what the Minister said to me, and clearly underscores the reason why these amendments on consultation have been tabled.
Local communities have a valuable contribution to make to effective policing and we do not want to see the provisions watered down to the point that they become just a PR exercise. As the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, highlighted when moving Amendment 1, if attention is not paid to implementing this clause properly, that could be counterproductive. Without an impartial process that analyses the public’s views, there is a danger that the police will end up selectively listening to those who agree with established priorities while disregarding those that seek a new focus. Together with the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, I would be grateful if the Minister will give us more detail about how the police will seek out the public’s views. How will that consultation be undertaken? As my amendment suggests, I would like to know whether they will rely on those with a strong opinion writing in or whether they will prioritise any sector’s views above another. If the police rely on the public to come to them with concerns, there is a great danger that only the most vocal views, and probably those that are the widest apart, will be heard. Many sectors of the community lack any form of representative body, while others have numerous organisations that are accustomed to making representations.
The noble Baroness’s amendment quite rightly deals with the concern that the perception that has developed significantly in the past 10 years of children and young people as a threat will or might colour police attitudes to criminal behaviour and further isolate young people from the institutions and organisations that are there to protect them. I take her point that if children and young people are involved in the consultation, their views are being expressed in a way. We have had young people’s parliaments, we have young people’s citizens’ juries, and it is amazing how adult they can be when they are asked to put those views forward. That is an important aspect.
Perhaps equally important is the fact that we know that we are in the middle of an outbreak of violent crime that is flourishing around the knife culture, which has become rife, and that young people do seem to be involved in crime. As we may not quite understand why that is happening, perhaps a consultation that included young people would be helpful.
My honourable friend in another place asked whether the police take enough account of the impact that crime and disorder have on businesses, so I have included them in the list of sectors that I suggest should be listened to and whose views would be sought under this amendment. The British Chambers of Commerce highlighted the fact that the police response to business communities’ concerns is inconsistent across authorities and fails to appreciate the growing cost of damage that crime inflicts on businesses. Therefore, it is essential that business is included.
Will the Minister say whether there is any intention of reviving the national Commercial Victimisation Survey, or whether the Government are making any effort to assess what help can be given to the business sector to protect it against the damage that crime can inflict on it?
The other bodies included in my amendment are local authorities and the voluntary sector, which has an enormous role to play in preventing crime and supporting various people in the community. As this Bill goes ahead, it will also have a role to play in the judicial process. We therefore seek a clear understanding of this consultation. We recognise that there is already a requirement on the police authorities to consult, but that does not seem to have a huge impact. Will the consultations be published, and will there be meetings—if so, how will they take place—to improve enormously on what is there already?
I have a great deal of sympathy for the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, about the stereotyping of the young in relation to offences of various kinds and the way in which that stereotyping may unduly influence the police and others in power, such as magistrates. However, I must express a certain doubt about the desirability of imposing a statutory duty on police authorities to consult children and young persons specifically. The noble Baroness did not define “children” and “young persons”, and I assume from other parts of the law, such as employment law, that “young persons” normally means those between 16 and 18 and that, when the phrases “young persons” and “children” are alongside one another, “children” presumably covers those below 16. While I have some feeling that consulting young persons may be worth while and beneficial to everyone concerned in judging what the police should or should not do, I am rather doubtful about children if they are to be defined as those under 16. I know that we have youth parliaments and so on. They are of great educational value to help people debate, understand and listen to others. But the idea that the police authority should seriously sit down with children—presumably, to be representative, they would have to be not just under 16, but some of them under 10, or under 8, or maybe even under the age of criminal responsibility for all I know—seems to be taking liberalism too far.
I have to intervene to support my noble friend Lady Harris of Richmond. I find myself very much in disagreement with the noble Lord, Lord Borrie. Young people are quite capable of expressing themselves in a very serious way about very serious issues. Over the weekend, in fact, I was reading about a local authority that was setting up a junior children’s safeguarding board to consult children about matters as serious as safeguarding other children in their community.
My other point is this. The police authorities obviously want the arrangements that they make for policing to work, and many of those who are most affected by policing arrangements are young people, including the arrangements made to ensure that young people are safe when they go about their local community and the arrangements for ensuring that when minor misdemeanours are committed, the police do not overreact with young people and drag them into the criminal justice system in an unwarranted way. All those arrangements really do affect young people’s lives.
There is such a thing as the “not invented here” syndrome. I think that we are all aware of it. We are much more likely to co-operate with something of which we take ownership ourselves. We take ownership of something when we are consulted and we have our own input. The Government are very aware of the “not invented here” syndrome. Only this morning, I was talking about two reports on the primary school curriculum, one of which was commissioned by the Government and the other of which was not. I am sure your Lordships will have a very good idea of which of those two the Government are taking notice—the one that they commissioned themselves. They have ownership of that report and not of the other one.
If we want young people to co-operate with the police—and we do—then it is very important and beneficial to the whole community, not just to the young people, and to the police in their ability to do their job well, that we should consult young people. Local authorities already have duties to consult young people on a whole raft of issues. That means that they have already developed the skills needed to talk to and listen to young people and to interpret what they are saying—even very young children in some cases, as in relation to the provision of nursery places. So, with local authorities, the skills are already there and are developing all the time. The need is there and the benefits are obvious.
I very much agree with the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, on Amendment 1. Of the two amendments under discussion, I prefer that of my noble friend Lady Hanham, because her proposed new subsection (2A)(d) would cover what is in Amendment 1. It specifies:
“any other people or organisations they consider relevant”.
It is far more important for the police to discuss the position with parents rather than children because they need the parents’ co-operation. To some extent, the problems of young people today arise because parents very often do not start to teach their children discipline and the difference between right and wrong at a young age.
The children covered by Amendment 1 could be as young as three or four. They may well have to be consulted if this amendment becomes law. I do not think that that would be right, because they are too young to know. The police could go and talk to youth groups or clubs. That would be an opportunity for those young people—those approaching 16 or over 16—to talk to the police and answer their questions on community policing. I would prefer Amendment 2 to go forward because Amendment 1 is misconceived.
Many Members of the Committee will have read the interview with the new Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, in today’s Times, in which he refers to the fact that the Government have been coasting on ASBOs and that they are going to take a new, proactive approach. Presumably that means that they will take a much more active line with them.
Anti-social behaviour is always difficult and needs to be dealt with. However, it is interesting that the Home Secretary chose to use the example that young people may become subject to an ASBO for sitting on a wall in front of an elderly person’s house because, as he said, they have nowhere else to go. The elderly residents of a street may well have asked for an ASBO to be imposed after they had asked the youngsters to move and the youngsters had said no, perhaps quite rudely. Young people tend to use different and sometimes offensive language, which can be intimidating to older people. Nevertheless, they would not have committed a criminal offence; they would be assembling as they have done for ages.
I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen. Of course parents have a role, but young people over the age of 10 and up to 18 have been a problem ever since I can remember. Often their parents, with the best will in the world, are unable to deal with them because the behaviour may take place between school and home or when they are out on a Saturday afternoon. You cannot keep them locked up in the house, nor should you—they have to learn to be independent and to deal with the world.
If we pass this Bill, yet again, if the Government have their way on everything—the provisions on alcohol misuse, for example—we will be passing legislation aimed at young people who have done nothing criminal and it will impinge on their freedoms in the same way as ASBOs do. It behoves us—it certainly behoves the Government—at the same time as bringing in further laws that affect young people in these ways, to consider how we are going to ensure that the authorities, such as the police, that deal with these issues take a more proactive approach to young people, who otherwise will feel further alienated.
I know that the record of most police forces is extremely good, but that is not always the case. The people who write letters to the press or sit behind their PCs and fire off letters to their MPs asking for more action to be taken on young people are all adults; very often we do not hear the young person’s side of the story. As I said, the Home Secretary said that the young people may be sitting on the wall in the first place because they have nowhere else to go. It is important that we keep the necessity of engaging with their views at the forefront of our minds when considering the Bill.
I declare an interest in that I am heavily involved with the Army, Air Force and Navy Cadet Forces and the Combined Cadet Force in encouraging those who have fewer opportunities than others to achieve vocational qualifications, which amount to four GCSEs, to start the process of giving them an opportunity in life. I am heavily involved in that area and with a number of other charities, one of which gives sponsorships to youngsters in the areas of sport, music, the arts and so on. So I am involved in this area to an extent.
I agree to an extent with the noble Baronesses, Lady Harris, Lady Walmsley and Lady Miller, that at times it seems that we are down on youngsters when they are doing what youngsters do, such as hanging around; certainly I was a bit of a scallywag when I was younger. However, I have some sympathy for what the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, said; back then, when I was admittedly very naughty, there was a certain inherent respect that I believe has somehow been undermined. We are down on youngsters too much, but we are in a slightly different place from where we were. We should remember, though, that youngsters are youngsters and, from my experience of the cadet forces and other groups, given half an opportunity and something to focus on, we have some remarkable and wonderful young people in this country. We always need to remember that.
This is a difficult area. As we saw from the debate between the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, my noble friend Lord Borrie and the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, there are a lot of differing views and one has to think about that. I agree with noble Lords that the views of children, young people, local authorities, the business sector and the voluntary sector all need to be considered when the police authority carries out its functions. In that regard, I accept the principle behind the amendment, which I understand. However, this clause is not the right place to make that point.
Police authorities have long been required to obtain the views of the public under Section 96 of the Police Act 1996 and any amendment to how views are obtained or whose views are relevant would need to be made in or under that section rather than here. I would not wish to apply this amendment to that section either, though, for one simple reason: it has too few items on the list. The Bill refers to,
“people in the authority’s area”,
which is a very wide standard. The Government are clear that that can include the views of people who live and/or work in an area, including children and young people, people in businesses in that area, people in the local authorities in that area and people in the voluntary sector organisations in that area. We therefore accept that all the people specified by noble Lords should be included, but trying to list everyone who should be consulted runs the risk of excluding all the groups that are not on that list. Why should we specify children but not parents who live outside the area whose children attend schools there, or those who visit elderly relatives or other vulnerable people in the area? There is an endless list of people and groups that deserve a say in how an area is policed, but it would not be sensible to try to put an exhaustive list in this Act—and a partial list, as always, risks exclusions.
Furthermore, merely adding that police authorities must engage with people whom they consider relevant, as Amendment 2 seeks to do, would not solve that problem. In fact, it is difficult to conceive of a situation where a police authority would consider a person to be relevant and yet not consult them. We should not be too prescriptive; we should treat these people as mature people who do these things, as indeed I think they do.
What would the additional duty add? The measure is too subjective to have any real-life effect. That is why the Police and Justice Act 2006 amended Section 96 of the 1996 Act to allow the Government to make regulations that may include provision about who must be consulted. The Government will therefore make such regulations setting out the arrangements that authorities must make for obtaining the views of people in their area, which will allow a more flexible approach so that the list can be changed when appropriate. It will, however, provide a specific set of principles by which the police authority will be bound rather than the sort of general catch-all proposed in the amendment, which, as I say, is too prescriptive. The Home Secretary will bring regulations to set out minimum standards for engagement and those regulations will include specific provisions for groups that are harder to reach, such as children.
While noble Lords make an excellent point, which I accept, I suggest that the clause is not the most appropriate place, nor is this the most appropriate way, to do what is suggested. I ask them kindly not to press their amendments.
Before we conclude this debate, if we are going to, I want to go back to both the legislation and what the Minister has said. I am now slightly concerned that the Minister has suggested regulations. There is no room for regulations in this Bill because it does not say anything about them, which means that there is no possibility of them coming to this House. We may later have to insert an amendment that says that the regulations on consultation must be brought forward.
To widen this a little further, my amendment would amend Section 6(2) of the Police Act, which is what we are talking about. The Minister suggested that it would not, but it would. Clause 1(1) says that the Police Act, as it is presently structured, states that the police authority “must have regard”. That is a very wobbly phrase and I wonder how it got through parliamentary scrutiny. It might mean absolutely anything. From what the Minister has said, I suppose that the regulations will point out how they “must have regard”. That is not here. We do not have any information at all about how the police authorities will be asked to carry out this important duty. I accept what the Minister says: in lists there are always difficulties over making sure that everybody is included. However, my amendment mentions,
“any other people or organisations they consider relevant”.
I ask the Minister to go a little further and to give us an opportunity to probe more on exactly how this consultation will take place. Will it be formal consultation or will there be visits to, and discussions with, youth organisations by the police? It would be worth getting a little more body around this so that we know what will happen.
We do not want to be too prescriptive. As I have said, it is rather like mission command, where you give the mark for where you want to go and then let people get on with it. However, regulations and changes to regulations would be under existing Section 96 of the Police Act 1996. That is how that would be done. It will be constantly looked at in discussion with the people involved, to see how we need to amend, if necessary, that section of the Act.
First, I thank those noble Lords who have supported my amendment, in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, and my noble friends Lady Walmsley and Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer. My noble friend Lady Walmsley talked about the benefits to the whole community when young people are consulted about how they can see crime improving in their area. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, I point him to the example that I gave of the young boy who talked about being concerned about swearing and littering. He was 11 years old. There are many young people below the age of 16 who attend youth clubs. Their concerns can be expressed very clearly through youth clubs and other youth societies. The police should take note of them.
I also hear what the Minister said about being naughty when he was a boy, but in those days there was respect for older people. Young people today can be more respectful if they are consulted. They become better young citizens if they are asked what their views are. It is very important to take that on board. I also accept that, at the moment, the Minister does not feel that this is the right place in which to make the point. I was going to ask him whether he would consider putting it in regulations, but he neatly answered that point by saying that there would be regulations on a set of principles. I thank him for that small concession.
I will withdraw the amendment but we may decide to bring it back at a later stage to see whether something a little meatier could be inserted at another point in the Bill. However, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
Amendment 2 not moved.
3: Clause 1, page 1, line 11, at end insert—
“( ) In section 4(6) of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 after the words “in paragraphs (a) to (e)” add the words “and (g)”.”
This is a probing amendment. If the Committee were to accept the argument that I propose, a number of consequential amendments would in practice be required to give effect to this amendment. At present, chief executives of police authorities do not enjoy the same statutory protection as chief executives of local authorities. For that matter neither do the other statutory officers, the treasurer and the monitoring officer. The amendment is intended to rectify this anomaly.
Section 4 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 requires a relevant authority to designate a head of paid service. In practice, that is usually the chief executives of the authority. The definition of “relevant authority” in this section of the Act does not include a police authority, although a number of other sections apply to police authorities. In 2001, the Local Authorities (Standing Orders) (England) Regulations were introduced, part of which dealt with incorporating into authorities’ standing orders certain provisions about disciplinary action that could be brought against the head of paid services, the chief finance officer and the monitoring officer.
At the time of the 1989 Act police authorities—as I well remember, having been a member of one—were still a committee of the local authority rather than the independent bodies that they now are. However, it is not clear why police authorities were not included in the 2001 order, because by that time they were independent bodies, other than in the City of London, where I understand that the police authority continues to be the Common Council of the City of London.
In 2001, chief executives of police authorities were called clerks. I remember participating in a police Bill a few years ago that managed to get their title changed to that of chief executive, about which they were all very pleased. One can speculate that in 2001 many chief executives of police authorities were also chief executives of a local authority, so that they headed police authority secretariats on a part-time basis. To that extent, chief executives had relevant protection through their mainstream employment; they were part time on both sides. However, even then not all statutory officers of police authorities were also local authority employees, and now it is almost definitely the case that very few are.
Now that there is increased emphasis on strengthening police authorities and making both members and officers more accountable, is it not time to rectify this anomaly? I want to ensure that not only chief executives but police authority treasurers and monitoring officers—sometimes they are the same person—benefit from the same protection as their counterparts in local authorities. I beg to move.
I support the amendment. In doing so, I declare an interest as the president and a past chair of the Association of Police Authorities. I support the amendment on the grounds that this matter has clearly not been updated in line with the various pieces of legislation that have been passed in the past few years and on grounds of equity. It seems to me that this is a very important change that should be made to safeguard the position of chief executives.
As the noble Baroness has said, chief executives are now in a very different position from the one that they had 10 years ago. It is important not only that they should be covered in the way that she suggests, to make them operate on a similar basis to those in local government, but that they should have that position in relation to the force and to its chief constable. An extremely important suggestion is being made here, and I strongly support it.
On this amendment, the noble Baronesses have both raised an interesting and important point. I have also noted the position of the Association of Police Authority Chief Executives on this matter. Police authority chief executives and other officers perform a hugely important and, possibly, underrated role in the operation of the police service in this country. I know that Home Office officials often find the Association of Police Authority Chief Executives to be a useful and expert adviser on policing matters.
I agree that it seems strange that police authority chief executives do not have the clear protections and status in law that their local authority counterparts enjoy. As previous speakers have said, that was, perhaps, an accident of history due to the evolution of policing governance and the role of police authority clerks and chief executives. Police authorities are, especially from a corporate perspective, similar in many respects to other local authorities. They are not, however, identical and there might be a need to have more tailored provisions regarding the position of police authority officers. Therefore, while the amendment certainly warrants serious consideration the Government must give the position much more thought before they could offer it their backing.
I will make a commitment, however, that Home Office officials will engage with the Association of Police Authority Chief Executives and the Association of Police Authorities with a view to evaluating what changes may be needed. In doing that, there should be a full comparison of the duties of police authority and local authority chief executives to see whether a separate legal status is warranted. We could look to effect any changes, if they are needed, in the light of that exercise. Therefore, I invite the noble Baroness to withdraw this amendment, with a view to the Government discussing the proposals with the APA and the Association of Police Authority Chief Executives. That will enable the Government to give these proposals the close consideration that they require.
Before this discussion finishes, what other examination will be done on this? It might only be my own ignorance, but I do not quite understand why the police authority chief executives have been left out on what appears to be a limb, rather than incleduded like most other public body chief executives. I wonder what the difference is between a police authority chief executive and, for example, a chief executive in the National Health Service, or in any other public authorities. The Minister may not know the answer to that, but before he comes back to this issue it might be worth having a look at whether they are alone in this particular problem, or whether it goes across public bodies and needs to be looked at differently.
As I said, this is just an historical anomaly, and the noble Baroness is absolutely right that we need to look at whether there are any other complexities. We also need to look at whether it applies to any others, to make sure that this all ties together.
I am most grateful to the Minister for giving me a hint of help in the future. I know that the chief executives will, certainly, be looking carefully at what he had to say, while knowing that the Home Office might be in consultation with them to look at the legal vagaries here. I think that their main concern is that they may be first in the firing line if a critical report is the outcome of the joint inspections of police authorities, because they are not protected from being scapegoats as local authority chiefs are. That is their main worry, but I am heartened to hear what the Minister has to say and, for the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 3 withdrawn.
4: Clause 1, page 1, line 11, at end insert—
“( ) The following amendments to the Local Government Act 1999 (c. 27) shall have effect with regard to police authorities—
(a) section 1(1)(d) is omitted;(b) section 1(4) is omitted;(c) section 24 is omitted.”
Leaping up and down quickly, I shall speak to the amendment, which I mentioned at Second Reading. It examines the best-value case once again. Those of you who have heard me speak on policing legislation in the past will be familiar with the theme, but I return to it in the hope that some progress may be made. Best value was of course originally introduced through the Local Government Act 1999 but, if there is one piece of legislation more in need of consolidation and rationalisation than the various policing Acts, that is most definitely it. For that reason, the amendment is only probing, as in reality many more consolidating changes would be needed to give effect to it. However, the broad intention is to disapply best-value legislation from policing.
I am sure that the Minister will remind me that, among other things, that would remove powers to inspect police authorities. It would also remove from police authorities the power to oversee continuous improvement within their forces. I reassure him here and now that I fully support police authority inspection—I have for many years—and police authorities' important role in making sure that their forces strive to improve. However, it would be altogether much better either to place the powers in policing-specific legislation, or to completely revise the original legislation. Then it can be honed to do a precise job and take into account the subtleties of the policing context, where governance and delivery are separated into two different bodies—the police authority and the force.
As things stand, this local government legislation has been applied, in policing, to a context for which it was not originally intended. That has been exacerbated by almost constant amendment, re-amendment, counter-amendment and partial disapplication, followed by even more partial reapplication; I think that I said those very words at Second Reading. I suspect that few understand now where we are with it. The original aim of the legislation was laudable; it tried to apply, to the public sector, key principles originally developed in the private sector about making improvements while remaining efficient. However, as so often happens, in translation it became mangled into a vastly bureaucratic process, made worse by almost constant tinkering with the underlying legislation.
I want a return to the clarity and simplicity originally intended, and seek reassurance from the Minister about whether and when serious consideration will be given to achieving that. I beg to move.
The noble Baroness mentioned that the financial functions of police authorities and duties arose from the local government best-value provisions, which regulate police authorities’ procurement, recruitment and financial accounting and reporting. Although the Government accept that police authorities are in many ways distinct from other local authorities, surely the financial and corporate affairs of police authorities are substantially similar to those of other local authorities. They have a similar imperative to provide value to the public and to be efficient and effective, and must be held to similar public scrutiny. On the latter point, the new police authority inspection regime is built on the important foundation of the best-value legislation, as was stressed and supported by the noble Baroness.
The effect of this amendment would be that police authorities would no longer be required to produce statements of accounts, would no longer be regulated as to their procurement, and could no longer be inspected by the Audit Commission. I am aware that this is a probing amendment. While removing police authorities from the best-value framework may deserve some consideration, as the noble Baroness recognised, it would not be a simple exercise. As noble Lords will appreciate, this cannot be achieved though one or two clauses. It would need careful unpicking, and dedicated legislation would almost certainly be necessary if we choose to take that route. Such a review would take some time and could not be completed during the passage of this Bill.
Therefore, I invite the noble Baroness to withdraw this amendment with a view to the Government discussing the proposals further with relevant partners. This will enable us to give them the careful consideration they require—because they will be complex—and hopefully the clarity that the noble Baroness quite rightly demanded.
I sense a germ of hope, finally, in what the Minister has said. For years I have been bashing on about this, never getting anywhere and always being thrown back by whoever happened to be dealing with me at the Dispatch Box. There is hope, and I am most grateful to him for indicating that. I never intimated that it would not be a complex exercise to try and get it sorted out; but it needs sorting out. If the Minister will happily take that on board, I will withdraw the amendment, as it was simply probing.
Amendment 4 withdrawn.
Clause 1 agreed.
5: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
“Freedom of information: ACPO
The Secretary of State shall, within six months of this Act being passed, in exercise of his powers under section 5 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (c. 36) (further power to designate public authorities), amend Schedule 1 to that Act (public authorities) to include the Association of Chief Police Officers.”
This amendment would bring the Association of Chief Police Officers within the provision of the Freedom of Information Act. My reason for tabling it is that the Government are, in any case, looking at whether the FOI Act is wide enough in the organisations it covers. The Prime Minister opened a consultation in February 2008 on whether Section 5 of the FOI Act should be extended to persons who perform functions of a public nature and contractors who provide services that are functions of public authorities. On 13 May 2009, at the very interesting Information Commissioner’s conference, Justice Minister Michael Wills MP announced that there will be an expansion of the number of institutions to which the Freedom of Information Act applies. So against that background I am tabling this in hope.
There seems to be no good reason why the Freedom of Information Act should not apply to ACPO. The status of ACPO is quite confusing but rather well laid out by the Minister in a Written Answer to a Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, about funding:
“As an independent organisation of chief officers from the police forces in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, ACPO is accountable to its members. Chief officers are in turn accountable to police authorities and the public. As it is a private company, the Freedom of Information Act does not apply to ACPO, since Schedule 1 to the Act does not include a definition which covers ACPO”.—[Official Report, 2/6/09; col. WA64.]
So ACPO is public/private in terms of the FOI Act.
Clearly, ACPO has very public functions and is often setting strategy, which suggests that the FOI Act should apply to it. To its credit, ACPO states on its website that it is willing to place as much information as it can in the public domain. It argues that as a small organisation it has too few members of staff to be able to conduct the necessary research and compile the responses. However, other small institutions have to deal with FOI requests—university departments, for example. The size of an organisation should not dominate a decision on whether it should be subject to FOI requests. It should be made on whether it is performing functions of a public nature.
The FOI Act creates a general right of access to information held by bodies fitting into a description in Schedule 1 to that Act, which are mainly public bodies. However, my amendment makes use of the power under Section 5 of the Act to treat other bodies as public bodies for the purposes of the Act. This is appropriate because, as I have explained, the boundaries between public and private bodies are increasingly blurred.
ACPO is funded by a combination of Home Office grant, contributions from the 44 police authorities, membership subscriptions and the proceeds of its annual exhibition. Given that the majority of ACPO’s funding is provided by the public in one way or another and that its leading representatives are generally serving senior police officers, it is effectively a public sector entity operating as a private company. It is responsible for leading the development and direction of police authorities in England and Wales, so its public functions are obvious. It co-ordinates strategic decisions among police forces and much of that decision-making process is opaque and unminuted. The counterargument that the Minister and others may choose to put is that if ACPO is to be subject to the FOI Act and feels sensitive about it, that will drive any decision-making process underground. But that is not in the spirit of the FOI Act and I hope that that would not happen.
Perhaps I may give your Lordships an example of one area of ACPO’s work which is of crucial public interest and much debate—the police policy on tasers. ACPO’s evaluation report on taser trials has been cited by the Home Office and states that tasers are safe enough to be deployed to non-firearmed police. ACPO has received information requests for the evidence for that but has not released it. I submit that that information is in the public interest and would enable better public debate. Apart from that, the very keeping of that information as a secret creates the wrong impression.
Therefore, against that background and what I have described the Government are considering, it is important that ACPO is in the forefront of bodies to which the FOI Act needs to apply. I beg to move.
We are opening the debate and I am sure that there will be plenty of room for everyone to join in. I am interested in the amendment because it raises the question of whether this legislation makes ACPO a statutory body. The position that it will be given by the legislation in terms of the appointments panel represents the first time that ACPO will be named in legislation as having a role. That is important in addition to the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, as regards how the scrutiny and safeguarding of what ACPO does will be ensured.
Concern has been raised in the past few months, and the Flanagan review highlighted the confusion that has arisen from a lack of a clear understanding about roles and responsibilities of various bodies and organisations in the policing sector. Shoe-horning ACPO into the legislation in a statutory role, without proper clarification of its responsibilities and without scrutiny, does nothing to help the implementation of the review recommendations.
The question of whether ACPO should be covered by the Freedom of Information Act—I am sure that it is not at the moment—is a perfect example. If ACPO is to have a statutory role in senior appointments, it will have to have proper accountability. Later amendments will address the question of what accountability the appointments panel will have, but the nominating organisations should also have responsibility to be accountable to the wider public, not just to their members, if they are to be included legislatively as the people who have to do all that is required under the legislation.
I understand that ACPO has some concern about the inclusion within the schedule placing too high a burden on its members. The noble Baroness has referred to that. I hope that the Minister can give us a little more detail on how many of the requests for information that are currently received on ACPO’s role can be answered by ACPO and how many are refused, if such information is available. Much more importantly, we need to understand the status of ACPO, not just as an organisation with members but now in its position of having a statutory role in appointments.
I support the amendment and do so because I have been concerned about this organisation for a while and have tabled Questions for Written Answer. The noble Baroness is nodding so she has obviously seen them. A body that is financed in part by the Government and in part by the police authorities ought to be under public control.
I received a Written Answer on 7 May as to the scope of the work of ACPO, which is very wide indeed. If noble Lords will allow, I shall read the Answer given by the noble Lord, Lord West. It states:
“The Association of Chief Police Officers is an independent organisation made up of representatives of forces in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, which works in partnership with both the Government and the Association of Police Authorities to co-ordinate the direction and development of the police service.
ACPO plays a key role advising the Government on behalf of the police service as a whole on major national projects aimed at developing the capacity of the service. It also advises on how to tackle serious and ongoing strategic threats that might put the public at risk. In times of national need, ACPO is specifically tasked with co-ordinating the strategic policing response on behalf of all chief officers.
ACPO is funded by a combination of Home Office grant, contributions from each police authority, membership subscriptions and the proceeds of its annual exhibition”.—[Official Report, 7/5/09; col. WA 130.]
Those powers are very wide indeed. I was even more surprised and concerned when a later reply told me that ACPO was not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. I congratulate the noble Baroness on tabling the amendment today. My broader view is that such an organisation is rather more than an association. It has power and will advise the Government on serious matters, so it ought not to be a private organisation. It should be under public control. It should be financed completely by the public. Indeed, its activities should be transparent and obviously, then, open to the Freedom of Information Act. I hope that the noble Lord will take note of this, and, indeed, that when he answers my latest question as to whether ACPO should be privatised, he will give me a very encouraging answer. Perhaps that is hoping for too much—but this organisation should be subject to public control and supervision, and accountable in the last analysis to Parliament through the Minister. I am pleased that the amendment was tabled and I have pleasure in supporting it.
I would like to ask the Minister how an organisation that is not subject to public scrutiny can set up a unit to monitor political and environmental groups. That question was raised by Henry Porter on Tuesday 10 February in the Guardian online. He referred to it as a “sinister unit”; I certainly do not do that. But it does encapsulate some of our concerns, which have been so well expressed by my noble friend and by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham.
ACPO is not governed by any statute; rather, it is a company limited by guarantee. It is not a staff association; it consists of members who are senior police officers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It has about 280 members. As we have heard, the Freedom of Information Act 2000 does not apply to it. The company’s objectives include leading and co-ordinating the direction and development of the police service and developing the ACPO brand—whatever that is. ACPO publishes advice and guidance on a wide range of policing issues and contributes decisions and comments to a wide range of contemporary debates.
What is the constitutional role that ACPO plays? Is it an external reference group for Home Office Ministers? Is it a professional association protecting the interests of senior officers? Is it a public authority which issues guidance and good practice to local forces? Is it a national policing agency? Is it a campaigning pressure group arguing for greater police powers? These are questions that need answering before ACPO is given a statutory role, as it is under Clause 2.
ACPO has already been included as a body that the Secretary of State must consult with before making particular orders or regulations. Is it time to reflect on the nature of ACPO and consider the appropriateness of involving it in decision-making processes? The Government have missed an opportunity properly to define the role of ACPO in the Bill. The constitutional role and make-up of ACPO has not been adequately debated and defined. Until that is done, it is impossible to know whether it is appropriate for a representative of ACPO to be consulted before any senior police appointments are made.
As has been said by a number of speakers, the Association of Chief Police Officers—ACPO—is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. We have not opened up the FOI parameters as yet, and ACPO is an independent voluntary organisation. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, mentioned, it is not a public authority. It is a registered private company limited by guarantee and it is directly accountable to its members, not to the public. It is therefore not open to FOI requests. Its members, however, are chief police officers who are themselves accountable to police authorities and the public. All individual police forces are already subject to requests made under the Freedom of Information Act. Furthermore, as the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, said, ACPO already seeks to place as much information as possible in the public domain—for example, on the web—and of course the details of its accounts are available to be viewed at Companies House. As the noble Baroness said, it receives some public money as it represents the leadership of the police service.
In response to a question by the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, ACPO provides effective representation for chief officers at a national level, in part because it is not on a firm statutory footing but is instead able to operate independently to represent the interests of its membership. I have some sympathy with what the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, said about tying it down a little. It has been rather a thorn in my flesh and tying it down a little more might be quite useful because it sometimes proves extremely difficult for the Government. However, I think that that is one of the benefits of having it in its current form.
As was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, ACPO is referred to in statutes—for example, in Section 37A of the Police Act 1996, which places a duty on the Secretary of State to consult both ACPO and the APA on strategic priorities. Therefore, I think that it has a very useful role to play.
Because of what one might call an anomaly but what I consider to be quite a useful status, ACPO is able to make a very effective contribution to the development of policing in this country. I am not sure that it would be able to do that if we put in all the controls that are being talked about, and the Government do not intend to undermine that by seeking to interfere in the operation of what is a private organisation. I certainly would not be keen to do that.
I understand that in recent debate there has been a lot of interest in ACPO’s status and structure. I know that the party opposite has been looking at this in some detail. However, as I said, I think that it performs a very useful duty. Although it can sometimes prove very uncomfortable, I have found it valuable in doing my job as it holds my feet to the fire. I therefore ask that the amendment be withdrawn.
I thank all noble Lords who have spoken. I particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, who has been very helpful in putting down Written Questions, and I am grateful for his excellent contribution today. He made many points with which I totally agree.
My noble friend Lady Harris of Richmond asked a very relevant question: what sort of beast are we dealing with? The Minister has insisted that it is a private organisation, but how can senior police officers who are paid by the public purse to serve the public—we have just been debating a clause about how accountable they should be—have an association that is entirely private and not subject to FOI? I am afraid that I am taken back to my childhood and conversations between very concerned people as to whether members of the police force belonged to, for example, the Freemasons. I do not want to draw a parallel between the Freemasons and ACPO because that may well not be appropriate. Nevertheless, an association of senior police officers needs to have a better constitutional footing and we need to be much clearer about what sort of animal we are dealing with here. As my noble friend said, it is leading and co-ordinating the direction and development of the police services and developing the ACPO brand. There should not be an ACPO brand, because being a senior police officer in this country is more about serving the public. That worries me. In his reply, the Minister told us what ACPO is and is not, but he did not address the question of whether it is appropriate. Does he think that its constitutional standing, which we have explored this afternoon, is appropriate?
I will hold on to “anomaly” as something that I intend to build on. It is not a satisfactory position. I would not go so far as Henry Porter did in his article when he suggested that it is an immense conspiracy; but he raised a number of valid points that should give even the Minister great cause for concern. We cannot, under Clause 1, debate how accountable the police are, and then, when debating the very next clause, start debating how appropriate it is to keep from the eyes of the public all the discussions that senior police officers have about strategy. That is not appropriate and not what we should allow to happen in the Bill. I will come back to this on Report, when I have gathered more information.
The point that I made has not been referred to. Does the noble Baroness agree that the fact that ACPO is now getting a statutory responsibility to nominate people to the police senior appointments panel changes the situation? It now has a firm statutory role within the police service.
I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, who has put her finger so accurately on the point. We have discussed accountability in the Bill, and, as she says, we are about to discuss the statutory role of ACPO; yet the Minister is denying that it should be open to people to see what it is about and what it is doing. As I pointed out at the beginning of the debate, the Prime Minister and a Minister from the Ministry of Justice have said that they intend to expand the application of FOI. This should be the first place to expand it to. We will come back to the matter on Report. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 5 withdrawn.
Clause 2 : Police Senior Appointments Panel
5A: Clause 2, page 2, line 3, leave out from beginning to end of line 31 on page 3 and insert—
“(1) The Police Act 1996 (c. 16) is amended as follows.”
I shall speak also to Amendment 6. I have already declared an interest as president of the Association of Police Authorities. I declare an interest also as chair of the Security Industry Authority.
These two amendments take different approaches but deal with the same concern, which is to ensure that the national influence in appointing the most senior police officers does not outweigh the local interest. Much of the strength and credibility of British policing lies in getting this delicate balance right. If we get it wrong, the consequences will be serious.
First, I apologise to the Committee, because both amendments have slight errors in the form in which they appear on the Marshalled List. For clarity, I will explain what is meant when I reach the relevant sections. My first amendment takes the simplest approach. It is intended to remove the whole clause, apart from subsection (2), which relates to delegated functions and the role of HMIC. I accept that HMIC should no longer have delegated functions to carry out the Secretary of State’s role in approving senior appointments, given its new and more independent role as set out in the Green Paper. However, the amendment as shown in the Marshalled List suggests that subsections (3) and (4) should also remain. This is an error, for which I apologise. If the main part of this clause is removed, these subsections must go, too. This is covered in Amendment 11, which should really be debated alongside Amendment 5A. When we come to debate Amendment 11, I shall not seek to move it.
The amendment would result in the senior appointments panel remaining a non-statutory body. I listened carefully to the Minister at Second Reading, and I support his desire to make the senior appointments panel more independent and more proactive, but I am afraid that I do not see why it needs to be a statutory body to operate in this way. This will merely inject unwelcome additional bureaucracy into the appointments process and hand greater powers to the Home Secretary of the day, and to his or her officials, to direct this body in favour of national requirements to the detriment of local interests and requirements.
It might be worth reiterating that the local police authority has the power to appoint chief officers, not the Home Secretary, whose role is to approve appointments made by police authorities. My noble friend therefore has yet to convince me that a statutory body is necessary for the Home Secretary to carry out this role of approval effectively or for police authorities to take heed of advice on the wider national strategic requirements. As noble Lords will notice, I am taking a twin-track approach here, so I argue that a statutory body is not necessary. If we accept that it is desirable, I am concerned about the precise nature of some of the proposals that are set out in Clause 2, so my second amendment deals with that situation.
Again, before explaining exactly what my concerns are, I must apologise to the Committee for an error in the amendment on the Marshalled List. Proposed new subsection (18) should refer to subsections (12) and (13)—that is, to the respective functions of the Secretary of State and police authorities to approve and make senior appointments.
Broadly speaking, my Amendment 6 is designed to introduce precisely the more independent and proactive approach to which my noble friend has alluded, without the centralised approach that risks upsetting the national/local balance. The amendment makes it clear that the make-up of the panel needs to be balanced so that the Home Secretary’s appointees cannot outnumber the appointees nominated by police authorities and chief officers. It would also enable the panel to elect its own chair, rather than leaving this appointment to the Home Secretary. It would provide independence to the panel to determine its own arrangements for conducting its business, rather than those arrangements being set out by the Home Secretary.
Perhaps most importantly, my amendment is more explicit about what the functions of the panel should be. Specifically, it includes the ability to give general advice not just to the Home Secretary but to police authorities. If the Home Secretary needs advice on approving chief officer appointments, it is only sensible that that advice should also be given to the bodies that make the appointments.
The functions also include the critical duty of developing a more consistent and robust system for setting out the criteria for prioritising vacancies and considering candidates for them. This problem has long existed and has never been satisfactorily resolved. It always means that some authorities must wait much longer than others before it is their turn to interview available candidates. It also means that, for those who come later in the queue, the pool of available candidates tends to be smaller. In the past, this has been dealt with by a process of negotiation reaching eventual consensus. That has not been without problems, however, and a new and more proactive panel should be required to see whether there are ways of improving the system.
Finally, the amendment would give the panel the flexibility to carry out any other functions that may be necessary to fulfil its main duties. This would replace an order-making power for the Secretary of State to confer additional functions.
All these proposed provisions in Amendment 6 are based on practical experience of the workings of this body. If the body is to be made statutory, it should be made statutory to improve its workings and to make it a more effective body for all the parties concerned—the Secretary of State, the police authorities and senior police officers. In moving this amendment, I hope that my noble friend will agree that the amendment would genuinely provide for an independent and proactive panel that is properly balanced between the tripartite policing partners and national and local requirements. I beg to move.
I added my name to the amendments because I completely agree with them. I have been interested to hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, had to say. My question was why the senior appointments panel needs to be a statutory body. Once again, the Secretary of State will be granted new powers to make arrangements or orders about the make-up, functions and proceedings of this new body.
It is the primary responsibility of police authorities to appoint their chief officers, after which the Secretary of State approves, or otherwise, that appointment. Therefore, I am extremely concerned that the balance of responsibility for ensuring that police authorities get the right chief of police for their area could be skewed away from them and towards the Secretary of State. The noble Baroness, Lady Henig, clearly pointed that out. If that is not political interference with local decision-making, I do not know what is.
This panel must have a genuine tripartite balance in its membership. As it stands, the wording is so wide that it could allow a future Home Secretary to appoint more government representatives and so upset that very delicate balance. Government representatives should not outnumber police community appointees, so I ask the Minister to look again at this and ensure that the wording is tightened.
I have spent many years on policing matters. I have gone through many interviews with chief officers—from chief constables through to deputies and assistants—and so have a wide-ranging knowledge of how they are selected to come before a police authority and what then happens when they do. As the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, said, the Secretary of State could say, “No, I do not particularly want that person to go before a selection panel of police authorities”. That simply is not good news. A transparent process is what is needed in the Bill. There are no criteria by which decisions are made about when and which officers can apply for posts. SAP must develop mechanisms to address these concerns. I hope that the Minister will be able to assuage some of my concerns in this area.
The noble Baroness, Lady Henig, has made a constructive speech and, while disagreeing with the change from non-statutory to statutory, she has produced some constructive amendments. She has raised several points about the panel—in particular, the role that the Secretary of State will play in the appointments process—and about the ongoing development of the panel.
A shake-up is clearly needed in the appointments process. The difficulty of attracting sufficient numbers of appropriately qualified candidates to apply for available positions is an indication that much more needs to be done to support and train candidates to prepare them for senior roles. However, I agree with both noble Baronesses who have spoken that some concerns remain, certainly among outside organisations, that the Government have not established the panel on the best footing to achieve this. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us more detail on exactly how he envisages this legislation improving how the panel currently operates. The role is to be put on a statutory basis, as the Government propose. However, in the previous arrangements, if the Secretary of State had wanted to consult the non-statutory appointments panel, there was nothing to stop him.
We generally support this clause as a welcome sign that the Government have turned their attention to a pressing problem and hope that the panel will be able to make an important contribution to the process. We agree, however, with the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, that the changes that need to be made are not ones that can be legislated for; they need to be made in government and in the police bodies.
I turn to the details of the provisions—and this is where we very much agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Harris—and how they differ from the proposals in the noble Baroness’s amendment. The noble Baroness is quite right to highlight the significant powers that the Secretary of State is taking over the constitution of the panel in the future. We understand the need for some flexibility, but the failure to specify the number of members or the relative proportions of the representative members means that the future make-up of the panel could well be very different from the model envisaged by the Government. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us more detail on this matter.
Taken alone, Amendment 5A, tabled by my noble friend Lady Henig and the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, would remove the statutory senior appointments panel from the Bill. However, Clause 2 is an important part of the Bill and the Government are committed to working, through the tripartite, to get the best possible leaders for the future in policing. A more proactive, strengthened statutory senior appointments panel will play a key role in delivering this. Amendment 6, also tabled by my noble friend Lady Henig and the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, would replace the majority of the Government’s clause establishing a senior appointments panel and alter the composition and functions of this panel. They are fairly major amendments.
I thank my noble friend Lady Henig for highlighting the importance, as I said at Second Reading, of streamlining, making better and sorting out the appointments panel so that we get the best senior policemen we can, in a co-ordinated fashion, across a disparate group of police areas in this country, which has always been so difficult to achieve in the past. The Government agree with the principle that the tripartite contribution to the panel should remain balanced. The noble Baroness, Lady Harris, mentioned this and we share her view, which we see as important. That is why the Bill specifies that that ability is required to keep the tripartite well balanced.
As set out in the policing Green Paper, which is where this stemmed from, the Government believe that the new panel should have a greater independent element so that there is a broader perspective on leadership. This is established by Clause 2. The provision in new Section 53B(2)(a) will be used to appoint independent members according to the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments principles. The Government also share the view that the panel should publish reports, but new Section 53B(5)(b) already provides for arrangements to be made for publishing those reports. The Government made clear in the Green Paper and in the debate in the other place that these reports would be published and the detail would be set out in the panel’s constitution.
Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary will continue to have an important role as an adviser to the panel. Work is ongoing with those involved to ensure that the key needs of the appointments system are identified; it is envisaged that the key additional functions will relate to the co-ordination of the appointment rounds. While I understand the intention of the amendment to set out in detail the functions of the panel, I do not believe that doing so will give us the flexibility that we need, working as tripartite, to deliver the best senior appointments arrangements for the future. For example, the amended clause would not allow the necessary scope for the greater co-ordination of the appointments round, which was mentioned by my noble friend Lady Henig. This is crucial, because we have found that, when these matters have been done in a disparate way, we end up with some poor choices for those further downstream. We committed ourselves in the policing Green Paper to move forward on this. The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, correctly identified the need for a shake-up, which is what we are trying to achieve and are achieving.
The new panel will not make appointments directly. The function of a police authority to appoint the senior officers set out in the Police Act remains in statute. The panel retains a powerful advisory role on ministerial approval of candidates and will increasingly take a more strategic overview of the talent pool. That is absolutely crucial. I was surprised when I came into this area for the first time that, unlike in the military, there is not an overall view to develop the best officers to go to the top of the profession.
When the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee of this House reviewed this, it did not consider the absence of parliamentary control over the panel’s arrangements to be inappropriate. The committee is also content that Clause 2 provides appropriate parliamentary oversight for conferring additional functions. Before conferring additional functions, the Secretary of State must consult the panel, giving all panel members—both independent and tripartite representatives—an opportunity for full discussion. Parliamentary scrutiny committees look at all orders laid before the House, providing an additional check and an opportunity to scrutinise. All those issues are important.
I therefore believe that the current provision provides the framework needed most effectively to oversee and manage the important issue of policing appointments, which all of us in this place agree needs a shake-up. I invite my noble friend to withdraw her amendment.
This seems to be an opportunity to open up consideration of the representative members. We briefly touched in our last amendment on ACPO’s role in nominating. Will the Minister say a little more on ACPO’s role in advising the panel and how that will change under the Bill?
Secondly, the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, is interesting in what it leaves out. She leaves out from proposed new Section 53C:
“The Secretary of State may refer any report made by Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Constabulary to the panel”.
That means that HMIC can ask the Secretary of State and the Secretary of State will refer. One wonders which reports HMIC deems so important that it has to go via the Secretary of State to ask the panel to consider them that do not fall into subsection (4), which the noble Baroness has included.
I ask the Minister for two explanations. The first relates to the nomination process for members of the panel. As I understand it, in the past ACPO and APA used to work in an advisory capacity on putting forward nominations, but here they are now both with statutory responsibility. The second is the interesting aspect of what HMIC is going to be referring or asking the Secretary of State. Indeed, the provision does not specify that, so the Secretary of State may refer of his own volition an HMIC report to the panel. What might that report be on?
I fear that I will not be able to be specific on either of the points. All I can say is that ACPO is very much seen as part of the tripartite in the new system with the APA and the Secretary of State. Perhaps I may come back to the noble Baroness in writing about the differences between now and the future, as I am afraid that I am not able to articulate that clearly now. Similarly, to give a specific example of what the Secretary of State demands of an HMIC report, I will have to come back in writing; I do not have the information at my fingertips.
I thank the noble Lord and the noble Baronesses for their supportive comments. I agree with the Minister that we need to make the system of senior appointments work more effectively; we all want to do that. He feels that greater co-ordination is crucial. One of the problems relates to remarks by the noble Viscount about poor choices for those downstream and some of the appointments; the problem lies not at senior appointment level but lower down, in the numbers of senior officers coming forward and coming through the selection process. That is where the action needs to be taken. I have sat on many bodies that the Home Office has set up over the years to try to improve diversity and the flow of appropriate candidates coming through. More action is needed at that level. Increasing choice at senior appointments level is not a matter for the senior appointments panel; that lies lower down the chain.
I hear what my noble friend said about his surprise when he came into the post that a military model was not followed for police officers. Many of us have debated that point long and hard over the years. Both senior police officers and police authorities value the element of choice. There are police officers who have family concerns and preferences. They do not wish to be moved around, as might be the case with a military career. They might not want to move their children out of schools. There are many legitimate family issues for police officers to pursue in wanting to have a certain amount of choice in the appointments that they go for. Similarly, if locality means anything, it means that police authorities may themselves want a choice about the sort of police officers whom they are looking for. I say respectfully that I do not think that the military model is an appropriate one, and I have said so for the past 10 years. So far I have managed to beat off this idea that the senior ranks of the police should be moved around and that we should develop cadres that have a military way of proceeding, but I can see that I am going to have to fight the battle for longer. At the end of the day, the tripartite structure is important to all of us and we want to preserve it. That means allowing choice at local level.
My reservations centre on the role of the Secretary of State. Is this going to be the thin end of the wedge in giving the Secretary of State more power in an area that a lot of us feel is central to maintaining democratic accountability over policing and the powers of local authorities? While I will withdraw the amendment at this stage, I may wish to return to the issue on Report.
Amendment 5A withdrawn.
Amendment 6 not moved.
Amendments 7 and 8 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
9: Clause 2, page 3, leave out lines 19 to 40
Following on from the previous debate where we discussed the uncertainty over the future number and make-up of members, Amendment 9 seeks to highlight uncertainty about the future functions of the panel. Although we welcome the creation of a body capable of driving through the changes necessary to ensure proper career development within the police force, and hope that the advisory functions will allow for a useful relationship between the panel and the Home Office, new Section 53D potentially opens up a much larger role for the panel in future. We on these Benches are sensitive—and it is possible that the Liberal Democrats sometimes feel the same—that this is far too much legislation going into secondary legislation. What additional functions do the Government envisage giving to the panel in future? If there is a useful role that the panel could play in other areas, why has that role not been drafted into this legislation already? I beg to move.
I support the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman. We too are concerned at the powers of the Secretary of State under this section to confer an additional function on the senior appointments panel, and he can do this by a negative statutory instrument. We do not feel that this is appropriate either.
The amendment would remove the power of the Home Secretary to confer additional functions on the senior appointments panel, and it is important that the arrangements for the panel contain sufficient flexibility to allow it to take its work forward in future, while having the checks in place so that Parliament and the tripartite are appropriately involved.
As I have mentioned in this debate, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee has scrutinised the approach taken in the Bill and is satisfied with this power to confer additional functions. The proposed amendment would also mean that the power of the Home Secretary to delegate his role in the appointment of senior officers to the Chief Inspector of Constabulary was retained. While the chief inspector will continue to have a key role in advising the senior appointments panel, he will no longer chair it, as it would no longer be appropriate for him to hold this role under the new system as HMIC takes on the strengthened role of performance improvement. The power to delegate the Home Secretary’s approval role to the chief inspector therefore does not reflect the chief inspector’s new role, and is being repealed. An independent chair and members will help to bring a wider perspective from people who do not represent organisations with a direct stake in individual chief officer appointments.
I am unclear as to the noble Lord’s intention in removing the amendments to the Race Relations and Freedom of Information Acts. The Bill ensures that the panel is subject to all relevant equality duties by amending the Race Relations Act to apply the race equality duty to the panel. The equality duties for gender and disability will apply to the panel, since it will be carrying out public functions. In future, I fully expect the panel to be subject to the requirements of the equality duty set out in the Equality Bill. It is important that a body that has a role in helping to improve the diversity of senior appointments has the appropriate statutory equality responsibilities. As an example of extra co-ordination, by allowing this not to be in the Bill we want to achieve greater flexibility in future. As soon as we tie it in to the Bill, we are tied down to something and it does not necessarily cover everything that we will want to do in the future. Therefore, I invite the noble Viscount to withdraw his amendment.
Amendment 9 withdrawn.
10: Clause 2, page 3, line 31, at end insert—
“( ) In Section 54(2A) of that Act (inspection and report powers of inspectors of constabulary) at end insert, “and, in the case of the Police Senior Appointments Panel, the operation of the Senior Appointments process in each police force area.”
Amendment 10 explores how the panel’s activities will be scrutinised and what mechanisms there will be to assess its performance. When a similar amendment was tabled by my honourable friend in Committee in another place, he received some welcome assurances that current legislation would allow HMIC to report on the work of the panel; that the panel itself would also report on its functioning; and that all such reports would be public. While that is welcome, the Minister’s concern that putting a duty to report would be overly bureaucratic is therefore all the more surprising. The current appointments process is clearly in need of a thorough overhaul, as we have already said. I would be extremely worried if HMIC were to decide that the panel’s work was not of sufficient importance to report on in future, so I cannot see that a bureaucratic burden is being imposed. I would welcome further clarification from the Minister about what the intended reporting requirements that will cover the panel will be, and whether HMIC will be in a position to do it. I beg to move.
This amendment seeks to create a role for the Inspectorate of Constabulary in inspecting the operation of the senior appointments system in each police force area. There is no doubt about the importance of transparency and accountability in the appointments system. I therefore share the principle behind this amendment. However, I believe that the amendment is unnecessary since the Secretary of State already has the power, under Section 54 of the Police Act 1996, to require HMIC to prepare reports on particular functions of a police authority, which could include the workings of the senior officer appointments process in that force. More broadly it is also the responsibility of the panel itself, which will publicly report on the functioning of the appointments system and the strategic challenges to address. This will take into account the views of APA, ACPO and others, as well as the professional input of the inspectorate.
In the debate in the other place that was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, the Government made clear the intention, set out in the policing Green Paper, for the panel to publish reports to increase the transparency of the senior appointments process. This requirement will be set out in the senior appointment panel’s constitutional arrangements, which will be made under Clause 2. Therefore, I hope noble Lords can see that, while I have much sympathy with the principle behind the amendment of having a transparent and accountable senior appointments panel, I believe that the amendment is not necessary, since we are already achieving that. I hope that, on the basis of those reassurances, the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.
I am grateful to the Minister for that explanation. As I understand it, the power is already there for HMIC to produce the reports and for the Secretary of State to invite it to do so. I very much hope that that will happen and that reports will be made so that these appointments, all that is involved in them, and what the panel is doing, are well understood. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 10 withdrawn.
11: Clause 2, page 3, line 35, leave out subsections (3) and (4)
I am sure that this was an unintended aspect of Amendment 11, but it would remove the senior appointments panel from the scope of the race equality duty in the Race Relations Act 1976 and from the Freedom of Information Act 2000. I am unclear of the intention behind the amendment. I think that I now understand it better given the previous description of it but it still has the problems to which I have referred.
I take the view very strongly that the new appointments panel must be subject to the relevant equalities and freedom of information legislation if it is to command the confidence of officers, police authorities and the public. The equality duties for gender and disability will apply. However, specific provision is needed to ensure that the panel is subject to the race equality duty in the Race Relations Act.
The race equality duty will require the panel to have due regard to the need to eliminate unlawful racial discrimination. It would be a serious anomaly if the panel were not subject to this duty. It is important that a body which has a role in helping to improve the diversity of senior appointments has the appropriate statutory responsibilities. Given that the panel has a particular advisory role for appointments, and that increasing diversity is a key challenge, it is especially important that this is done. I do not believe that the amendment intended to remove that duty but that is what it would achieve. I hope that I have helped to clarify it a little. The other aspect of it was debated earlier. On that basis, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 11 withdrawn.
Clause 2 agreed.
Clause 3 : Regulations about senior officers
12: Clause 3, page 4, leave out lines 6 and 7
This is a probing amendment to try to find out what payments the Government envisage paying to senior officers who cease to hold office before the end of a fixed term appointment, and why those payments should be made.
In another place the Minister for crime and policing made the rather surprising remark that the clause did not seek to fix any problem. Therefore, one does not know whether a problem is anticipated in the future. Presumably the Government anticipate that there might be a problem with officers seeking to terminate their employment prematurely or having their employment terminated. Perhaps the Minister can give us examples of why either of those situations might occur. There is a great deal more in this part of the Bill regarding co-ordination and co-operation which might legitimately lead to a situation where there was a vacancy or one was created. We need to understand a little more about what the clause is about and why it is included. I hope that the noble Lord will be kind enough to explain this and, if possible, relate it to other aspects of the legislation. I beg to move.
I had assumed that this part of the Bill related to pay-offs for senior officers who were asked to go early. If that is the case, no doubt my noble friend will respond on that specific point. I should be grateful if he will also respond on the wider question of incentive payments to senior officers because it is my understanding that some police authorities make extremely generous payments outside the normal negotiating board arrangements, thereby distorting the payment arrangements for senior officers in different parts of the country. If that is the case, rather than narrowing the ambit of this clause, as the noble Baroness proposes, we might want to see it widened to cover those additional bonus payments that are, I think, made in some police authority areas.
The noble Lord, Lord Harris, makes an interesting point. I, too, would be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about that. I support the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham. How do the Government envisage this being used? Would there be different levels of payment for each different reason that a person would leave, dependent on how long they had been in post and that sort of thing? Those are my concerns about this amendment.
In one word, flexibility is the cry. A key theme of the policing Green Paper is greater local accountability. Therefore, ensuring that police authorities have all the options necessary to act in the best interest of communities is important. The new chief officer appointments framework will increase the focus on chief officers’ performance. However, the Government recognise—although I cannot give a specific example—that there easily could be a circumstance where, as a result of the changing needs of the force or of the individual, the current chief officer was no longer the best person to lead their force.
Therefore, the regulations would allow police authorities to exercise their discretion in agreeing the appropriate compensation for a chief officer to leave before the end of his contract if it were the best way forward overall, given that this would not imply any lack of performance on behalf of the officer. One can see occasions where one is not actually in a position to remove an officer because his performance is not adequate, but because of a change in circumstances it is in everyone’s benefit for that person to move on. That is what this provision aims to achieve, and it is necessary for setting out a clear mechanism for a policy authority to make such payments, if required.
My noble friend Lord Harris talked of incentives; I am afraid that I do not have the statistics on those outside the norm at my fingertips, but perhaps I may look into that and get back to him on that specific point separately from this debate, because I am not aware of those. As I say, it is for flexibility; having given greater local accountability to allow people to make the best moves necessary to ensure that they have the best person there, as there are changing circumstances. I hope that clarification will suffice, and I ask that the amendment be withdrawn.
I am surprised that this does not exist already. In employment law, I would have thought that there was always a right for an authority to terminate employment. It gives no indication of whether this would be done under employment law, or of the sort of levels of payment that there might be. It gives no indication of whether that payment would fall on the pension fund, because so often early retirement—which is what this would be—amounts to that. It only says that this is going to come in within regulations. What are those regulations going to be?
It is a very broad statement to say that payments can be made. There is nothing to give any substance to what that is going to be. I accept the circumstances as I laid them out; I suggested that it might be when there was an interest in changing the way that authorities were run, and vacancies were having to be created. Neither does it indicate whether this is something that might be a quasi-disciplinary matter. Can the Minister put a little more flesh on this?
The aim is that this should absolutely not be a disciplinary matter, because there are rules to go through for that. We need a clear power in statute to support the payments where appropriate. We want to give discretion in each case to the individual police authority, so I have not been more specific about the amounts. I am afraid that I do not have the answer on the pension at my fingertips. Maybe I could come back to the noble Baroness outside the debate on the detail of that.
I am grateful to the Minister but am still quizzical. I shall probably return to the subject because, if ever a situation causes angst, difficulty and consternation, it is to do with payments, whether pay-off payments or whatever. We have had huge examples not too far down the line of what people have discovered in finding out how much payments will be. I would be grateful to know whether there will be any guidance on where the payments are coming from—it might be the pension fund. Would they constitute a year’s salary or more than that? How will that be laid down? If we get the Freedom of Information Act coming in and somebody asks the question and finds out what payments are made, there will be plenty of room for mischief and trouble. As I said earlier, we need a bit more flesh on this. I would be grateful if the Minister would give me that so that I could decide whether to bring the amendment back on Report.
Amendment 12 withdrawn.
Debate on whether Clause 3 should stand part of the Bill.
That almost gave me a heart attack.
I will now raise yet again the issue of the large number of regulation-making powers in the Bill for the Secretary of State. I am afraid that you will hear a great deal more from me on the subject as the Bill progresses. It is fundamentally an unsatisfactory way to make laws. The powers tend to be wide-ranging and non-specific to make sure that every future possibility is catered for, but that is completely unclear about what is intended in the first place. This clause is no exception. What precisely is meant by,
“steps to be taken in connection with the appointment of senior officers”?
That is very wide-ranging. Might it include, for instance, limiting the number of candidates put forward for interview, which follows on from the issues discussed on Clause 2 about the role of the senior appointments panel? I am also not clear whether the new paragraph on payments to senior officers is designed to mandate or prevent large golden handshakes being doled out to failing senior officers who depart prematurely. I had a lot of experience of that over the years when I was chairing my own police authority.
I understand that one key driver for the provision was a concern on the part of ACPO that chief officers were not always fully consulted by police authorities before the authorities made appointments at deputy or assistant chief constable rank. However, I understand from the Association of Police Authorities that protocols governing the topic have now been agreed between it and ACPO in principle, which looks like a good move. I do not see any reason to regulate on the subject at all if the main reason that drove the inclusion of the clause has been removed. It remains the job of the police authority, not the Home Secretary, to appoint chief officers and to determine the pay and conditions on which they are appointed. Regulation-making powers of this nature look like an attempt to erode and blur this important line and they are to be greatly resisted.
Clause 3 allows the Secretary of State to make regulations which will support the work of the senior appointments panel—the subject of Clause 2—and enable police authorities to agree appropriate compensation for chief officers who leave a force before the end of their fixed-term appointment.
The key theme for the policing Green Paper is greater local accountability. Enabling police authorities to act in the best interest of the force to ensure it has the right leadership to enable it to deliver for the public is critical. The new chief officer appointments framework increases the focus on the performance of chief officers. However, the Government recognise that there could be circumstances when there is a need to change the individual, as I discussed before, and Clause 3 allows police authorities to exercise their discretion in agreeing the appropriate compensation.
Additional functions would relate to the appointment of senior officers and would be conferred by the Secretary of State, following consultation with a panel. These may be required so that the work of the panel can evolve to best meet the needs of the tripartite. I do not believe this gives too much power to the Secretary of State. It is necessary to have order-making powers to confer additional functions on the panel. We are creating a more flexible structure and allowing further consultation with stakeholders. Before conferring additional functions, the Secretary of State must consult the panel—so the Secretary of State is not acting in an autocratic way—giving all the panel members, both independent and tripartite, an opportunity for a full discussion. Parliamentary committees looked at all the orders laid before the House, providing an additional check, so there are checks and balances.
Clause 3 agreed.
13: Clause 4, page 4, leave out lines 16 to 40 and insert—
““(2) Any appointment of an Assistant Commissioner shall be made by the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, subject to regulations under section 50.
(2A) Before appointing an Assistant Commissioner the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis shall—
(a) consult the Metropolitan Police Authority, and(b) obtain the approval of the Secretary of State.”(3) In section 9FA (Deputy Assistant Commissioners of Police of the Metropolis) for subsection (2) substitute—
“(2) Any appointment of a Deputy Assistant Commissioner shall be made by the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, subject to regulations under section 50.
(2A) Before appointing a Deputy Assistant Commissioner the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis shall—
(a) consult the Metropolitan Police Authority, and(b) obtain the approval of the Secretary of State.”(4) In section 9G (Commanders in the metropolitan police force) for subsection (2) substitute—
“(2) Any appointment of a Commander in the metropolitan police force shall be made by the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, subject to regulations under section 50.
(2A) Before appointing a Commander in the metropolitan police force the Commissioner of the Police of the Metropolis shall—
(a) consult the Metropolitan Police Authority, and(b) obtain the approval of the Secretary of State.””
I begin with an apology. I was unable to be present in your Lordships’ House for Second Reading and, thereby, to make early comment on Clause 4 and give notice of my intention to table an amendment. I know convention does not demand that I give reasons for that omission, but as a matter of courtesy and good practice, I shall do so. Only a few days ago, I returned from a course of post-stroke therapy, which has kept me from attendance in your Lordships’ House, but I hope that it will now enhance my involvement, enabling me to speak without juxtaposing words and to stand before you more steadily.
I have tabled this amendment with the full knowledge and support of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. It accords with his wishes and reflects his fears for the future accountability of the commissioner and my fears for the further politicising of policing. This amendment applies only to London, our capital city, since it already has an elected mayor and regional government. I declare an interest and past involvement as a former chief constable of a large provincial constabulary, and as a former Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. Yes, I am the archetypal yesterday’s man or, perhaps more correctly, the day-before-yesterday’s man. None the less, this gives me some insight into the present system of selections. Having observed how the office of Metropolitan Police Commissioner has, in the last few years, been buffeted backwards and forwards in a party-political cauldron, I firmly believe it is time to take policing out of politics and to take politics—as far as possible political influence and most definitely political direction—out of policing.
I repeat my emphasis that my amendment refers only to our capital city. The arrangements for appointing the commissioner and deputy commissioner should, however, remain unchanged because of their national responsibilities. Similarly, the arrangements for selecting chief officers in other parts of the country would remain as envisaged in the Bill.
Since the creation of the post of Mayor of London and the amendment to the Greater London Authority Act, which enables him to chair the police authority, there is enhanced accountability for the commissioner in London, with potentially significant consequences. If that accountability almost by osmosis turns into increased direction and operational control by political appointees, we will have moved a significant step towards a system obtaining under totalitarian regimes where the reigning political power has operational control and direction of policing. Freedom to demonstrate peacefully has long been cherished in this country and authority to march or hold a protest meeting should be given only on public order grounds and without political consideration.
I have a short anecdote. A number of years ago I was considered to be a leading police figure in the fight against terrorism and in the art of negotiation. I was invited to share such knowledge as I had with police services in many different countries. When I went to the capital city of a particular large but friendly state, as a matter of good practice I visited the commissioner of police before I began a series of lectures to police, military and government personnel within his country. His office was on the 18th floor of the police headquarters. I returned to the city three years later and took the lift to the 18th floor, ready to pay my courtesy call on the boss. “Sorry, sir”, said the local officer who accompanied me, “the commissioner has now moved to a lower floor. These upper offices are now occupied by the police Minister and his staff”. I got the message immediately, as had everyone else, no doubt. Operational decisions, direction and control were firmly in the hands of the politicians.
Policing is too important to be left solely in the hands of politicians or indeed solely in the hands of the police. We must find a way to get the right balance for the benefit of the public we serve. Will we one day see a future mayor with an office on the upper floors of New Scotland Yard? I return to my main theme. If the mayor as chair of the authority can hold the commissioner and his or her top team to account, it is only right that the commissioner should have the power to appoint that top team. I understand that the outgoing Home Secretary, the mayor, the chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority and the deputy mayor for policing have acknowledged the good sense of the commissioner’s suggestion that this should be the way forward.
This is about leadership. The leader of an organisation like the Metropolitan Police with a staff of more than 30,000 personnel must have a vision of how to improve policing of the metropolis for the benefit of all law-abiding residents and for those who work in, visit or pass through this great city. He or she must articulate that vision, obtain public acceptance and then, together with loyal disciples, put it into practice. If those who are to turn the vision into reality are selected by anyone other than the commissioner, they may, because of influence from elsewhere, be going down a different path.
I re-emphasise that I do not advocate any change in the Bill relating to the selection of senior personnel in other than the Metropolitan Police. From my experience there is a much more transparent and—dare I say?—civilised approach, to such matters elsewhere. In my time as chief constable of Thames Valley Police, the selection board comprised the non-political chairman of the police authority and two members from each of the major political parties. As chief constable, the merits of the various candidates were discussed with me. Although the selection was rightly carried out by those members of the police authority, they would not have selected someone to whom I was opposed or have gone against my advice—an altogether civilised approach to get the best, most suitable candidate for the job.
London, however, is a different kettle of fish. I reiterate that since the creation of the post of Mayor of London and the amendment to the Greater London Authority Act, which enables him to chair the Metropolitan Police Authority, there is enhanced accountability in London with potentially significant consequences, as we saw with the departure of Sir Ian Blair when the mayor withdrew his support. Let us not mince words. Sir Ian Blair was sacked. We can pussyfoot our way around with fine words about an amicable discussion, but the end of the story is that he was fired. He had to go; no alternative. The mayor had been voted in and he was not going anywhere.
If the chairman of Thames Valley Police Authority, when I was chief constable, had said that he would no longer give me his support in running the force, I would have known which way he was pointing. I commend the amendment as a way of reducing the risk of party politics becoming unnecessarily involved in or influencing policing in our capital city.
I declare an interest as a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority and former chair of that authority. I have enormous respect for the noble Lord, Lord Imbert, whose views on most matters to do with policing I listen to with great interest, and I usually agree profoundly with what he says.
On this occasion, however, I disagree profoundly with what he says. I think that he has misunderstood the current situation in London and the position of some of the key players. First, the amendment is a retrograde step, which goes against the philosophy and changes proposed in the Bill. It goes against the spirit of giving more control and say to local communities in the running of the police service, and it goes against ways of opening up the police service to the influence of the local community.
I was distressed to hear the noble Lord, Lord Imbert, say that the amendment was proposed with the full knowledge and support of the present Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis. I have no reason to doubt that that is the case, but if so, it is a serious breach of faith between him and the police authority in London. This matter has not been discussed with the Metropolitan Police authority. It may have been the subject of private discussions with the Mayor of London and the deputy Mayor of London with responsibility for policing, but they have not expressed the views of the Metropolitan Police Authority. Were the amendment to be carried, it would increase rather than diminish the risk of politicisation of policing decisions in London. We would create a situation in which the commissioner was more likely to be set against the views and wishes of the police authority than one where the commissioner was working with the authority.
In my time, I have chaired appointments panels for a large number of commanders, deputy assistant commissioners and assistant commissioners of the Metropolitan Police. I have participated in a number of such appointment panels subsequently. In all of those the commissioner has been an important adviser. As I understand the Bill, that position would be strengthened to give the commissioner the power essentially to veto. I think that it would be a veto if a commissioner said that he was not happy with a particular candidate. The proposal suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Imbert—
I am suggesting that we should not support the amendment and that the noble Lord, Lord Imbert, might want to think again and talk more widely about it. The arrangements in the Bill provide all the safeguards that the commissioner needs to have the sort of management team and people that he wants, but at the same time it makes clear the relevance and importance of public accountability of other senior officers. An assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police is the equivalent of a chief constable outside London. Under this Bill, assistant chief constables and deputy chief constables will be clearly appointed by the police authority. This amendment would make London different. The result is likely to create more of a gulf between the commissioner and the police authority to which the person is accountable.
In practice, if you are to carry the public of London with the difficult policing decisions that need to be taken, it is important that they, through the police authority, have confidence in those holding significant office. The arrangements that have been put in place will set up confidence rather than diminish it. The amendment would be a retrograde step and I hope that when responding, my noble friend will say that the Government also think that it is a retrograde step. As I say, I have the most enormous respect for the noble Lord, Lord Imbert, on most policing matters, but I hope that he will recognise that perhaps this is not a sensible way forward.
I understand where the amendment is coming from. It has elements to which I am sympathetic but I must oppose it in this form for reasons that I shall outline.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Imbert, that party politics have absolutely no place in policing. I am sure that we all agree on that. I understand the concerns lying behind the amendment and the worry of a commissioner, or any chief constable who has to be judged by the team around them. They fear that while others choose the team, they will be judged on the team’s performance, which could lead to problems. The fear is misplaced because appointments tend to be made by the chief and the police authority working closely together. It is rare for it not to work that way, but I understand the fear.
As my noble friend said, outside London police chiefs are locally accountable to their authorities. I think that the same principle should apply in London. For those elements of policing that are relevant to London the commissioner has to be accountable to the Metropolitan Police Authority. I accept that there may be national functions for which the commissioner has direct responsibility to the Secretary of State. That is where policing in London differs because it has that twin element to it. For me, political proportionality is absolutely key. No police authority should be dominated by a political party one way or another. The biggest change that I have witnessed in policing since the 1990s is that many people who have worked with police authorities in the past 10 to 15 years have worked to make policing and police authorities non-party-political. To make the Association of Police Authorities an all-party-respected national body is crucial to this discussion. If I felt for a minute that the police authority in London was unduly politicised, I would be much more concerned. I would certainly be more mindful to support the noble Lord.
My worry is not for now but for the future; in this amendment, we see the dark shadow of the future. If we go down the road of direct election to police authorities—if we go down the road of elected commissioners—this issue about the politicisation of policing will come back to this House. That is why I am so vehemently opposed to some of the proposals I have heard. Police authorities and policing have to be above politics. That is a crucial principle, with which I am sure we would all agree.
It is a pleasure to see and hear the noble Lord, Lord Imbert, once again in this Chamber—and in good voice. We heard everything he had to say, and while colleagues who have spoken so far may not have agreed with him, he has made his case clearly. I have no doubt the Minister will be glad that the noble Lord, Lord Imbert, has spoken in the way he has, with his long experience in police forces, not only as head of the Metropolitan Police, but also, of course, outside London.
I find this an extremely difficult issue. In favour of the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Imbert, is the point that the Commissioner wants the very senior police commissioners and assistant commissioners around him on a day-to-day basis to work together as a coherent, harmonious team. That is in the interest of the running of the police force and, of course, in the public of London. On the other hand, there are the points that my noble colleagues have already made; one wants in the team surrounding the Metropolitan Commissioner—assistant commissioners and commander—people who are independently minded and who have their own views; people who will contribute, sometimes strongly, and perhaps to the irritation of the Commissioner, their views. It is important that the group surrounding the Commissioner is independently minded. It is also most important to avoid the risk, and the reality, of cronyism, which can come from appointments all being made at the top level by the Commissioner himself.
I find this extremely difficult. Because it is so difficult, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Imbert, will consider the matter—especially in the light of comments that were made by colleagues earlier in the debate; perhaps he will consider withdrawing the amendment. Ultimately, the accountability to the police authority is probably what should count in the creation not only of the Commissioner himself but of the most senior deputies and assistants who surround him; they are the equivalent, as one of my noble colleagues said, of a “chief constable elsewhere”, and therefore ought, perhaps, to be appointed by the authority itself.
A number of noble Lords have already mentioned this, but I think the whole House welcomes the noble Lord, Lord Imbert, back again. He is in fine form, having completed whatever course it was; the noble Lord’s charming wife has been the regimental sergeant-major who has driven him down this route, and I have been filled with admiration for that as well.
I would like to thank the noble Lord for raising the important issue of the senior appointment arrangements in the Metropolitan Police Service. As he knows, Clause 4 of the Bill already corrects an anomaly. Previously, the Commissioner had no formal voice in the appointment of officers at the rank of assistant commissioner, deputy assistant commissioner and commander. We have ensured that there is a formal role now for consultation.
The noble Lord is not alone in making the case to go further. The Metropolitan Police is unique in the scale of its operations and in the national functions that it carries. Under current arrangements this has meant that the MPA has to appoint a far larger number of senior officers than in any other force in this country. The Government are sympathetic to the view that this may not reflect the best balance of police authority oversight and leadership of the organisation by the Commissioner. After all, it would seem entirely reasonable for the most senior and accountable member of an organisation as large and with such wide-reaching functions as the Met to be able to have a full role in appointing his or her own senior staff.
I take the point made by my noble friend Lord Borrie about the importance of having independence among one’s subordinates, but it is always a question of balance. I would not have liked, on a ship of mine, a second in command who tried to run a totally different ship from the one I wanted. However, were such a change to be made, I am of the view that there should be a balancing change to the legislation concerning the removal of senior officers at the ranks that the Commissioner took responsibility for. It would be unusual to lead on the appointment of a senior team and then not even to be consulted were removal to be considered. Indeed not having this role may not be the best basis for generating confidence in those seeking appointment, and therefore potentially undermine such appointments at a very basic level.
However, I am also aware that there are differing views on this matter, for example those articulated by my noble friends Lord Harris of Haringey and Lady Henig. There are significant issues to consider. In particular, we need to ensure that any new arrangements for Met appointments will deliver improvements to both the strength and the diversity of leadership within the force. They will also need to ensure accountability and transparency so that the Commissioner could be held to account for the increased responsibility for appointments.
A key issue is where the line is clearest drawn between the oversight functions of the MPA and the leadership of the Commissioner, and whether this would include a change in the lead role for the strategic rank of assistant commissioner as well as the broader senior team. I welcome debate on this matter, but the MPA continuing to lead on assistant commissioners’ appointments would mean that the top three levels in the organisational structure were not appointed by the Commissioner, equivalent to the strategic appointments role taken by police authorities nationally.
As far as I am aware, there have been some discussions at official level, but nothing further. The previous Home Secretary felt that maybe some moves should be made in this area, but nothing formal had been agreed.
I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Imbert, for raising this matter, and while I am sympathetic to some of the principles underlying this amendment, I would wish to consider and consult on the matter further, before reaching a decision. On the basis, I would invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
I am grateful to noble Lords who have contributed to this discussion, and I thank in particular the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, and the Minister for their comments in welcoming me back from my all-too-frequent absences from your Lordships’ House. I shall pass on the Minister’s comments to my wife, no doubt with a bouquet of flowers, which will not go down to expenses, if you will forgive me for saying so. I respect the views of the noble Lord, Lord Harris; I may not agree with them, but I do respect them. In the light of the comments by the Minister about reflecting on this matter, I have at least put up a marker, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 13 withdrawn.
14: Clause 4, page 4, leave out line 22
Amendments 14, 15 and 16 leave out the words,
“obtain the approval of the Secretary of State”.
We have been over this ground, so I shall not detain the Committee overlong. Amendment 17, which concerns the appointment of chief constables and assistant chief constables, touches on what we have just been talking about. Again, it is the question of the Secretary of State overseeing the appointment of assistant commissioners of the Met police. However, we should be decentralising, as envisaged in the Green Paper, and not adding another layer to an already complex process.
I listened with great interest to what the noble Lord, Lord Harris, said about the position of the Mayor of London. I do not see that position written into this clause, yet the present incumbent of that post had a great deal to do with the removal of the previous commissioner and the appointment of the new one—and a very good choice it was. Is it intended that he, too, will have a hand in this? If so, where might that be written?
These highly skilled officers are appointed after a thorough grilling by many professional channels, including the senior appointments panel. One would have thought that all that scrutiny of their undoubted abilities would be sufficient for the MPA and the commissioner alone to agree without the final stamp of approval of the Secretary of State. I beg to move.
I support the amendment on the basis that I hope we will get clarity from the Minister about the successive repetition of the phrase,
“obtain the approval of the Secretary of State”.
Is it intended to mean that candidates who are appointed will have been through the senior appointments panel before the appointments process or is it adding yet another stage to the appointments process so that after candidates have been through the senior appointments panel, having been short-listed and interviewed under a police authority process, they then have to go back for final approval by the Secretary of State? If it is the former rather than the latter, it seems a very cumbersome legislative way of expressing it. If it is the latter—that is, if there is a three-stage process with candidates first having to be vetted by the senior appointments panel, then being appointed by the police authority in consultation with the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis and then going for approval by the Secretary of State—I think that we will have created a new situation. It seems to me unnecessarily cumbersome, with an element of control-freakery, for the Home Office to control who fills senior office in the Met.
I have taken part on a number of these panels and I should like the Minister to explain very carefully who in the Home Office will use his name to carry out this approval. When you sit on an appointments panel with a list of names that have already been approved, it is usual at the end of the session—the chief constable is usually there—to appoint a person immediately. You do not have to say, “Thank you all very much. We’ll let you know when the Secretary of State has given his ruling”, knowing full well that it will not be the Secretary of State but one of his functionaries.
Amendments 14, 15 and 16 would remove the approval role of the Secretary of State in appointments to the Metropolitan Police at assistant commissioner, deputy assistant commissioner and commander levels. Amendment 17 would insert a new clause to allow a police authority to appoint and remove a senior officer without reference to the Secretary of State.
The Government recognise the hugely important role of police authorities, including the need to hold to account chief officers. However, the most senior officers have national roles to play, as well as leading within the communities that they serve. Therefore, it is necessary to retain a role for central government in approving these appointments and in any removal procedures.
Indeed, in certain circumstances, in may be necessary for the Home Secretary to take action, under Section 42 of the Police Act 1996, directly to secure the removal of a chief officer. There are cases where efficiency and effectiveness questions are of such severity that the Home Secretary needs to have the power to act in the public interest, notwithstanding the actions of the police authority. Examples of where this could have been required include the need to restore confidence in Humberside Police following the Soham murders, and in Sussex Police as a consequence of the shooting—
I am grateful to my noble friend. The answer that he is giving, although compelling and interesting, is about the removal of senior officers, whereas the amendment is about the appointment of senior officers. Are we suggesting that in the Humberside case the Home Secretary of the day would have been so prescient that, at the moment the chief constable of Humberside was appointed, he would instantly have withheld his approval on the basis of what might happen some years in the future?
I was giving an example of where the Home Secretary might require the power to act in a specific case. My noble friend Lord Harris asked about this being another stage. The SAP advises the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State has already approved the short list, and his approval is required because of the national role of these officers.
The posts in the Metropolitan Police covered by the amendment are equivalent in seniority to chief constables, deputy chief constables and assistant chief constables. Therefore, the post holders are making a contribution of national significance and the Home Secretary needs to ensure that candidates have the necessary qualifications and expertise—for example, in collaboration between forces—to perform at this level. The amendments would also undermine the role of the senior appointments panel by preventing it advising on appointments to these ranks.
Is the Minister really suggesting that when the names are put forward for interview, the Home Secretary has already approved them but that somehow, between the time the approval is given by the Secretary of State and the interviews take place, these people suddenly become unsuitable and the Home Secretary changes his mind? That seems quite incredible.
I can think of occasions when, as Naval Secretary, I approved lists of people for promotion and there were then boards and so on, but when one looked in more detail, one discovered things that perhaps had not cropped up previously. Therefore, such a situation is feasible. I am simply going by personal experience of promotions within another organisation. Perhaps in the police that never happens but I just give that single example.
I am grateful to my noble friend for giving way yet again on this point. He seems to be saying that this is genuinely a three or perhaps a four-stage process. The first stage is that the Secretary of State gives approval to candidates to be interviewed through the senior appointments panel. The second stage is an interview by the police authority, and the third stage is consultation with the commissioner. However, there is then a fourth stage in which the Secretary of State either gives or declines to give approval to someone who has been through that process. Therefore, this clause creates a new superstructure in the appointments process for the Metropolitan Police, effectively giving the Home Secretary far more opportunities to intervene. I had assumed in my naivety that repeating the phrase,
“obtain the approval of the Secretary of State”,
was simply a rather cack-handed way for the parliamentary draftsman to refer to the role of the senior appointments panel. However, we are now being told, although I hope I am wrong, that there will be an additional stage to the appointments process—something that was not deemed necessary when the Greater London Authority Act created a police authority for London, and something that was not deemed necessary when the precise arrangements for chairing the police authority were changed with an amendment to the Greater London Authority Act. I just wonder what appointment has taken place in the past nine years that the Home Secretary feels that he now needs these powers.
As I understand it, that is what happens, but I will get advice from the Box on the exact stages. At the first stage, candidates are approved by the Home Secretary on advice from the SAP. The second stage is the interviews. At the third stage, the police authority decides who to appoint and there is no further role for the Home Secretary. I am afraid that I confused noble Lords with my last statement. I hope that that clarifies to my noble friend Lord Harris that there are still three stages, and that that is what is meant.
I gave some examples of where this might be required. I dealt with posts in the Metropolitan Police covered by the amendments. The tripartite has agreed a leadership strategy for the service that provides an analysis of the skills required in the top ranks of policing, in particular a need for further development in business, organisational and partnership working, alongside maintaining excellent operational skills. In order for the vision to be delivered, it is essential that the senior appointments panel is able to advise on appointments to all senior posts, and for all appointments to have the benefit of the panel’s expertise.
I hope that noble Lords can see that the amendments are not in the interest either of improving senior appointments in the Met, or of supporting the senior appointments panel in its work; and that Clause 2 is not a centralising measure, but is important to ensure that we have the best people leading the police in future, to protect the public locally and nationally. I invite the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for clarifying what is without doubt a very blurred area. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, for supporting my amendments. That was an unusual but very welcome addition to our debate. I am grateful also to my noble friend Lord Bradshaw, who will be speaking at greater length as we debate the Bill.
I do not agree with the Minister—he will not be surprised to hear me say that. I keep on about the powers of the Secretary of State. They have been thoroughly aired and we will probably debate them again later in the Bill. However, at this stage I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 14 withdrawn.
Amendments 15 and 16 not moved.
Clause 4 agreed.
Amendment 17 not moved.
18: After Clause 4, insert the following new Clause—
“Responsibilities of police authorities
(1) Each police authority may determine its own local precept agreement with the relevant local council or councils as appropriate to its individual requirements.
(2) Each police authority may determine its own fiscal priorities in accordance with its individual requirements.
(3) The Secretary of State may not give unsolicited directions to police authorities on local precepts, minimum budgets or fiscal priorities.
(4) Each police authority has a duty to consult with the Secretary of State, and to take account of national policing authorities.
(5) The Police Act 1996 (c. 16) is amended as follows.
(6) In section 6(2) (general functions of police authorities), omit paragraph (a).
(7) In section 6(2)(c) leave out “, whether in compliance with a direction under section 38 or otherwise”.
(8) In section 6 omit subsection (3).
(9) For section 37A (setting of strategic priorities for police authorities) substitute—
“37A Policing objectives
Each individual police authority must determine objectives for the policing of their own local area.”
(10) For section 38 (setting of performance targets) substitute—
“38 Levels of performance
Where an objective has been determined under section 37, the relevant police authority shall establish levels of performance (performance targets to be aimed at in seeking to achieve the objective).”
(11) Section 39 (codes of practice) is repealed.
(12) Section 41 (directions as to a minimum budget) is repealed.
(13) Section 44 (reports from chief constables) is repealed.
(14) The Local Government Act 1999 (c. 27) is amended as follows.
(15) In section 31(9) (major precepting authorities: further recognition), after “1992” insert “, but excluding police authorities and the Metropolitan Police Authority”.”
The amendment was discussed in Committee in the other place. The proposed new clause sets out the responsibilities of police authorities. It gives them the power to determine their own council tax precepts and removes the powers of the Home Secretary to override it. It also gives police authorities the power to determine their own local policing priorities. Amendment 18 would give a directly elected police authority complete control over setting its precept, without being subject to the directives of central government, and therefore without the rate-capping and precept-capping powers that we have lived with for 20 years or more. It would also give the police authority more power and independence to set its own objectives in response to its local needs, community and electorate. Those objectives would differ in different parts of the country. We hear about postcode lotteries, but to some extent they must be accepted. If local bodies—be they health bodies, local councils or police bodies—are elected to represent local views, there will be some differences in where communities in different parts of the country put their emphasis. I beg to move.
I return to the vexed issue of the rate capping in Surrey. This took place just before local county council elections, which would have determined the political appointees to the police authority. It is they who are in the majority when the precept is agreed—they must be in the majority. When the people of Surrey support the police authority—which they did—is it right that the Government should say, “You have had your say, you have said that you want these people and what they are doing, yet in the interests of local democracy we know better, and we set aside your decision”? Police authorities are aware of the need to keep the council tax down. They are also well aware of the efficiency opportunities in their area that they could take advantage of to do so. The Government are going beyond their role in stepping on what local people want.
Clearly, the noble Baronesses tabled these amendments because they think the Secretary of State’s powers and involvement in the budgetary and financial affairs, strategic direction and performance management of police authorities need to be fettered to allow them greater autonomy in determining their budgets. The proposed new clause suggests that police authorities do not already have the ability to determine their own local precepts. In fact, they already have the powers suggested by this amendment—under Section 40 of the Local Government Finance Act 1992, read with Section 19 of the Police Act 1996—and will continue to do so.
More worryingly, the proposed new clause seeks to remove the Government’s powers to cap police authorities. Ministers currently have powers under the Local Government Finance Act 1992—amended by the Local Government Act 1999—to cap excessive increases in council tax. These important powers protect council tax payers from excessive increases in council tax; but they are reserve powers, and are not used lightly. The Government are reluctant to cap, but cannot stand back and ignore circumstances where council tax payers are being subjected to excessive increases. It was a manifesto commitment that we would cap where such action was appropriate.
The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, mentioned the Surrey police authority. The Government imposed a cap on its precept because, for the second year running, it was the only authority in England and Wales to propose an excessive increase in its precept. The noble Lord said that council tax payers in Surrey were happy about the increase. I do not know whether a survey showed that they were happy about the increase to their council tax—in most places in Britain, people are not happy about such increases. The matter of the Surrey police authority has been raised a number of times in the House.
When capping action is initiated, authorities have a right to challenge their proposed caps, and Ministers are bound to consider their representations carefully before taking a final decision. Authorities can be confident that, under the current system, they can present their case and ensure that Ministers are fully aware of their circumstances before taking a final decision. This is being done. When a decision is taken to cap an authority in-year, or in advance for the following year, it is subject to the approval of the House of Commons unless an authority has accepted its proposed cap.
The proposed new clause goes on to remove the powers of the Secretary of State to make strategic policing priorities, performance targets and codes of practice. There will always be a need for national co-ordination of policing, so we will always need a national strategic framework to ensure that policing is being delivered efficiently and effectively. Strategic policing priorities, and the targets that flow from them, are vital to achieving this, as is the power to establish codes of conduct. They are always set at a very high level, stating what the Home Secretary thinks should be considered by police authorities when exercising their functions. They do not dictate how an authority acts or how it should act, but merely allow for a modest degree of national co-ordination of priorities. Removing them would mean that each authority would have to consult individually with the Secretary of State, and there would be no co-ordinated setting of priorities, as there is now.
I see no reason to remove the current provisions, only to replace them with a duty to consult with the Home Secretary. That would be far more time-consuming for the authorities, as they would need to do this individually with no national co-ordination of strategy.
I hope I have been able to convince the noble Baroness and the Committee that, in budgetary management, police authorities already have some of the powers that are being sought in the amendments, that some of the existing safeguards on capping are necessary, and that the proposed removal of the Secretary of State’s powers would spoil the very fine balance between local efficient and effective delivery policing and nationally co-ordinated and strategically consistent efficient and effective policing. I therefore ask the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.
The Minister and I will never agree on this point. The effect of what he is saying is a great tightening band around police authorities’ freedoms to manage their affairs sensibly. Police authorities do not go spending willy-nilly money that they do not have or cannot raise properly. I advise the Minister that in North Yorkshire a number of years ago—not under my watch; it was as soon as I left, when the Conservatives took over the running of the authority—the precept ranged enormously. It was the largest in the country. It is not right to say that this cannot happen and that the Home Secretary can impose a cap. He did not do so when north Yorkshire did what it did, because it was done proportionately. Local people have voted for what they want their police authority to provide. I fear that we will go over this again and again, and I apologise to the Minister for continue to nag him about it, but at this point I know that we are not going to get any further, so I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 18 withdrawn.
Clause 5: Police collaboration
19: Clause 5, page 5, leave out lines 18 to 20
Amendments 19 and 21 are the first of many amendments to deal with issues of collaboration. Their aim is to make collaboration effective. To do that, we have to make clear where the responsibility needs to lie to ensure that there is collaboration and that it does not undermine existing accountabilities.
Ever since the Police Act was passed in 1996, each police authority has had a statutory duty to ensure that the police force for its area is efficient and effective. In addition, new arrangements were brought in three years ago under the Police and Justice Act, which gave a police authority the statutory duty to ensure that its force collaborates where this improves efficiency and effectiveness in policing for a wider area, not just for the area of its own force. Amendment 19 is therefore consistent with a police authority’s existing duties. Against this, it is not currently the primary duty of chief officers to determine what is efficient and effective, which the amendment makes clear. The Bill allows room for confusion to be created about who should determine efficiency and effectiveness in the context of collaboration.
One would hope that disagreements about whether to collaborate would rarely, if ever, arise between a police authority and its chief officer, but if this were to happen the Bill’s wording would simply result in deadlock. Potentially, this could be fully resolved only by the police authority firing the chief officer, which would be a rather unsatisfactory resolution, not least for the chief officer. The legislation therefore needs to be clear about who has the ultimate accountability for ensuring collaboration. The amendment would achieve this by removing the reference to the chief officer’s judgment about efficiency and effectiveness. The key driver would then become the provision in the clause that follows: that a chief officer may make a collaboration agreement only with the approval of the police authority. That is consistent with current legislation.
The second amendment in the group—Amendment 21, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, will speak—reinforces this approach and the overarching role of the police authority to determine what is efficient and effective. I beg to move.
Amendment 21 is grouped with Amendment 19. As the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, has just pointed out, the two amendments are related.
The noble Baroness has already spoken about the background to the amendments, so I will not repeat it. I agree with her that the Bill needs to be clear about where the ultimate accountability rests in order to ensure collaboration. I also agree with her that this is not clear at the moment, for the reasons that she outlined. Collaboration is really too important to leave this open to interpretation.
My amendment would add to Amendment 19 and make this crystal clear. It would provide that a police authority could approve a police force collaboration agreement only if it believed that the agreement was in the interests of the efficiency and effectiveness of one or more police forces. This is consistent with the police authorities’ existing powers and would reiterate this in the context of force collaboration agreements.
We find Amendments 19 and 21 very sensible because, as the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, has said, they are designed to relate to the interests of the efficiency or effectiveness of one or more police forces. I particularly take the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, that firing the chief police officer would be a draconian move. I also very much support the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond.
Efficiency and effectiveness at all levels of policing are at the heart of the purpose of encouraging collaboration. It is right that efficiency and effectiveness should be the test used in assessing whether a joint approach is the best approach to follow when considering such an agreement. Police authorities have the central function of ensuring that the policing of their areas is efficient and effective, so they have a wider responsibility to support these aims for the community through collaboration.
My noble friend Lady Henig talked about the chief officer being asked to judge efficiency and effectiveness. There is no question but that the ultimate judgment of efficiency and effectiveness should be made by police authorities. This links into one of their core functions and goes to the heart of their purpose, but that does not mean that a chief police officer should have no regard to these considerations. It is also important to remember that a chief police officer is depended on for his professional judgment of operational effectiveness, and it would be wrong to undervalue the importance of his advice on how policing is best delivered in our communities.
The concern behind these two amendments is that this position should be upheld. Amendment 19 would remove the consideration of efficiency and effectiveness from chief officers, while Amendment 21 would clarify that it was the basis on which police authorities must approve agreements. However, these changes are not necessary as, under the provisions that we are bringing forward, the police authority’s judgment is the deciding one and the police authority would not approve the agreement if it did not consider it to be in the interests of efficiency and effectiveness.
In addition, the amendments may overlook the fact that police forces are expected to deliver efficient and effective services, for which their authorities hold them to account. Therefore, both the chief officer and the police authority can be relied on for their professional judgment to propose agreements that will deliver operational effectiveness. Both the chief officer and his authority will bear in mind the efficiency and effectiveness of the proposal when considering the options for collaboration and I suggest that any alternative position should be questioned.
Nothing in Clause 5 contradicts the existing statutory responsibilities of police authorities to deliver an efficient and effective police force, so I suggest that the amendments are unnecessary and ask that they not be pressed.
I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, and the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, for their support for my amendment. I have listened carefully to what my noble friend has just said. I agree with him that the police authorities have an absolutely central function in ensuring efficiency and effectiveness. I also hear what he says about the chief officer needing to have regard particularly to operational effectiveness. This takes me back to the old days when police officers used to say to us, “That is operational and you can’t interfere”. We have moved on from those days. We have agreed that there are strategic discussions to be had and that the police authority shares with the chief officer the responsibility for strategic oversight and has this very important judgment to make.
I was pleased to hear my noble friend say that the police authorities’ judgment was the deciding judgment. If that is the case, we do not seem to be carrying this logic through. If the police authority has this deciding role, in the interests of clarity that needs to be underlined and made clear in the legislation. I submit, with respect, that the situation is not clearly defined at the moment. I do not totally support my noble friend’s argument, as logic suggests that we should not be afraid of spelling out what this entails, which is that the police authority should be the deciding voice, as my amendment suggests. I will withdraw the amendment, but we might need to return to this at a later stage.
Amendment 19 withdrawn.
20: Clause 5, page 5, line 22, at end insert—
“( ) A chief officer may make an agreement only after consulting with representatives of police authority employees.”
The Bill has major implications for staff and for the trade union UNISON, which has a substantial membership in staffing grades within police forces. Those comprise a group identified under proposed new Section 23(3) of the 1996 Police Act as civilian employees. My amendment would require chief constables to consult trade union representatives over any proposals for police force collaboration agreements.
I make it clear that I have no relationship of a pecuniary or financial nature whatsoever with UNISON. I simply raise in this House on occasions amendments in which it has an interest because I agree with the position that the union has taken.
Such agreements, which are being strongly promoted by Home Office Ministers, would see individual forces creating collaborative arrangements to deliver protective services across their respective force areas. This push for collaboration arose from an HMIC assessment that protective services, particularly in relation to serious organised crime, murder or counterterrorism, were patchy across different forces. The union’s concern over collaboration agreements is that they will have major implications for the location and, potentially, terms and conditions of its members who are police staff. Police staff involved in collaborative projects may have to relocate to another force area and come under the management of a different force while remaining the employee of their parent force.
The amendment would require each chief constable to consult his or her UNISON branch to ensure that all workforce matters work properly and are at least properly considered in the context of collaborative plans. The union has discussed the amendment in principle with the Police Minister, Vernon Coaker, and, although the Government indicated that they would not support putting the amendment on the face of the Bill, they had intended that the intention behind the amendment would find expression in the statutory guidance to follow the Act. Therefore, David Taylor MP—a good friend of mine in the other place—tabled the amendment at Report stage in the House of Commons with the aim of this intention being confirmed in Hansard. Unfortunately, the amendment was not debated, due to the volume of business being considered—and, if I might add, due to the inadequate arrangements for scrutiny of legislation in the House of Commons. I hope that my noble friend will look sensitively at this amendment today. I beg to move.
I have a great deal of sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, but in effect police authorities would most certainly want to talk to their employees because, although they may be under the direction and control of the chief constable, it would be a poor authority that did not look to the interests of its staff and staff associations. I am at a bit of a loss to understand how their terms and conditions might be affected, as I understood the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, to say they might be if staff were moved to a different area. Again, there would have been consultation—certainly in the police authority areas that I know that are good employers—with the police authorities and certainly with the chief constable. If statutory guidance is going to be given under the Bill, I would welcome that, because this needs reinforcing if it is felt that it is lacking at the moment and that the Bill does not cover it.
I must admit that I have great sympathy with the point made by my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours about scrutiny in the other place, but I do not think that I will go there at the moment.
It would be inconsistent with other provisions in the Police Act to include a provision in the clause on police collaboration agreements to mandate consultation with bodies representing employees, as there is no similar provision about consulting them on other strategic changes to policing. I think that it would be unnecessary, too. It is well recognised that collaborative working impacts on the work of some police staff. For this reason, the statutory guidance supporting the revised framework will make clear the need to involve unions and staff associations representing the interests not only of employees but of warranted officers. I think that that was the statutory guidance to which my noble friend referred. That will be done from early on in the development of collaboration projects. This is one of the lessons learnt by those already engaged in collaborations.
The essence of the amendment is certainly very good advice, and we encourage the approach, but it does not need to be enshrined in statute. In developing the statutory guidance, unions and staff associations are among the wide range of interested parties being consulted. I might point out that UNISON, which represents the majority of police authority employees, and the Police Federation have both signalled their desire to contribute and are doing so through the Police Advisory Board for England and Wales.
I hope that this gives my noble friend the confidence that he was looking for. I suggest that guidance on the full breadth of consultation appropriate to collaborations, developed with these representative organisations themselves, is the sensible approach. I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
Amendment 20 withdrawn.
Amendment 21 not moved.
22: Clause 5, page 6, line 6, leave out “with the approval of” and insert “after consulting with”
This amendment provides that a police authority must consult its chief officer before entering into an agreement involving employees who are under the direction and control of the chief officer, but it makes it clear that, ultimately, the decision to collaborate must remain with the authority. As the clause in the Bill stands, the words effectively provide chief officers with a mechanism to veto the decision of the authority if there is a disagreement about what is efficient and effective and about whether collaboration agreements should be entered into.
Amendment 22 would maintain an important constitutional and governance line between police authorities and their chief officers. The police authority is the governing body and should not have to obtain the approval of its chief officer before entering into an agreement. I am sure that, from what my noble friend has said on this score previously, he would agree with the logic of what I have just said.
A consequence of the original drafting could have the effect of reinstating the provision in the old Section 15 of the Police Act 1996, where, in effect, the authority had to get the chief officer’s agreement to provide resources for itself. It is the same sort of logic here and I am sure that we would not want to return to that kind of situation, which is why I am moving this amendment. I want the Bill to restate with more clarity what I am sure is actually intended in terms of collaboration. I beg to move.
The amendment is connected to the debate that we have just had about ultimate accountability for ensuring that collaboration happens. This clause did not appear when the Bill was first published; an even more draconian variant was included at the Committee stage in the other place. This was subsequently replaced at the Report stage and Third Reading with the current wording, for which much thanks—or some thanks.
The problem with the clause lies in the complexities of the employment status of police staff. They are employees of the authority but, as long as they are employed to assist the force as opposed to the authority, they remain under the direction and control of the chief officer. Under the collaboration provisions, police authorities are directly responsible for making agreements that relate to support services, including making collaborative arrangements about payroll services, fleet management and so on, but in practice this will be administered by police staff who are under the direction and control of the chief officer.
The clause, therefore, again muddles responsibility and accountability for collaboration. It suggests that a police authority must seek the permission of the chief officer to use staff whom it employs to provide support to an agreement for which it is responsible. This effectively gives chief officers a veto over police authority collaboration agreements. This is totally unacceptable, as it hampers authorities in fulfilling their statutory duty to secure collaboration.
In addition, the current wording would have the effect of reinstating the provision that was in the old Section 15 of the Police Act 1996. This was removed through the Police and Justice Act 2006 but, prior to that, an authority effectively had to get its chief officer’s agreement to provide human resources for itself. I remember that all too well.
The amendment more accurately reflects the situation that should exist, which is that a police authority should consult a chief officer before entering into a collaboration agreement that affects staff who are under his direction and control, but it should not have to seek his permission to collaborate. Noble Lords will require no prompting from me to recognise the absurdity of the situation. The police authority is the governing body of the police force—we keep repeating that—and to suggest that it should have to seek permission from the body that it governs in order to fulfil its own duties is to turn governance completely on its head.
Once again the noble Baronesses, Lady Henig and Lady Harris of Richmond, have made a good case for the insertion of the amendment. Can the Minister say how much of a role the Government intend to give chief officers in deciding whether or not a collaboration agreement should go forward?
It is obviously important to ensure that collaboration agreements between police authorities are capable of providing for changes to the use of police staff, and new Section 23A ensures that. However, where a chief officer has direction and control over such police staff, that independent power should be protected and the chief officer should be asked to approve the particular provisions of the agreement that affect the job that they do—not the whole agreement, just the specific details.
The amendment would enable police authorities to include plans for police staff under a collaboration agreement without needing first to get the approval of the chief officer who has been delegated control over them. They are all employees of the police authority, because the police force is not empowered to be an employer. However, to all intents and purposes, they work for the police force under the chief officer’s direction and control. If a chief officer were to challenge a police authority proposal under these provisions, the authority should take account of his concerns. One would expect that such a discussion would follow the normal course of debate between the chief officer and his authority in order to reach an agreement weighing up the concerns of both sides.
The power of direction and control is a necessary part of a chief officer’s operational independence. If it were made open to interference, his authority would be undermined. However, having heard the debate, I should like to look into the matter a little further. It seems that there might be an anomaly and I should like to clarify it. On that basis, I would ask for the amendment to be withdrawn. I will look at this in detail and come back on that specific point.
I thank my noble friend for his reply and for the sliver of hope that we might be able to agree on this in the future. Relationships do not quite work in the way he described. A police authority and a chief officer consult; you do not have a situation where the chief officer says, “You are not going to do that”, and then the police authority says, “We will”. It does not work that way. If ever there was a scenario such as the one described, the thing would not work. It works 99.9 per cent of time through consultation and the good offices and common sense of the police authority and the chief constable. I hear what my noble friend said and I am heartened by it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 22 withdrawn.
23: Clause 5, page 6, line 16, after “payments” insert “and indemnities”
Amendments 23 and 24 are interdependent, and I shall outline briefly why I think they are desirable. Collaboration in a policing context is a complex business, as many of your Lordships have gathered from our preceding debates about responsibility and governance.
At the heart of this lies a tension between lines of control and lines of accountability under what are, essentially, joint ventures. These arrangements cross defined geographical boundaries in a situation where different bodies are responsible for governance and for operational responsibility. Under existing collaboration agreements, difficulties have arisen about indemnities relating to grievance and other claims against police officers who are acting under the terms of collaboration agreements. At present, the “home” force of a police officer retains responsibility to indemnify or otherwise cover any grievance or other claims which arise from that officer’s actions. This remains the case even in a situation where that officer is acting under a collaboration agreement which places him under the command and control of another chief officer. In effect, this means that forces and authorities must provide indemnity for police officers against actions over which they may have no control when a collaboration agreement comes into play.
The amendment closes this loophole. It enables responsibility for indemnities to be transferred to the force responsible for command and control where this is the most appropriate course of action. I beg to move.
I strongly support the amendment which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, said, covers the loophole that currently exists. It provides a stronger basis for ensuring that collaboration arrangements operate effectively and that indemnities are given to cover situations as necessary.
The two amendments raise the sensible point that indemnities which may need to be part of the detail of a collaboration arrangement should be considered before any agreement is made. The agreement may also need to set out where the responsibility for indemnities lies. It is a sensible point and sound advice.
However, a permissive provision of this kind, in addition to the provisions already set out in proposed new Section 23B on payments, is not necessary to enable the inclusion of these details. I can confirm that it is intended that indemnity arrangements can and should be included by virtue of this new section.
While I do not believe it is necessary to state indemnity specifically in statute, this is a useful piece of advice that will be included among the planned recommendations in the statutory guidance that the Secretary of State will be issuing to support the provisions along with many other subjects. It would be inappropriate to include all such details in primary legislation and trust that this House would agree that guidance based on best practice is a sensible place. The fact that it is in Hansard has been extremely useful. I thank the noble Baronesses for making this important point and placing it on the record with the fact that indemnity should be included along with other payments in proposed new Section 23B. I hope that on that basis the noble Baroness will withdraw the amendment.
Before my noble friend comes back on her interesting and necessary point, under these collaborative arrangements, should it be necessary for a member of the public to know what the arrangements are, where to get redress, where to go in case of indemnity and so on, at the moment it is obvious where the line of accountability is. How will it be obvious to them when the new arrangements come in?
I am most grateful to the Minister. Including this information in guidance is the appropriate way forward. As he said, it will be placed in Hansard so that everyone will be able to see what the intention is. I am most grateful to him and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 23 withdrawn.
Amendment 24 not moved.
25: Clause 5, page 6, leave out lines 36 and 37
Once again, I am afraid that we return to the wide-ranging powers of the Secretary of State in the Bill. This provision is unnecessary and is more likely to kill collaboration than encourage it. First, police authorities must already report collaboration agreements to the Secretary of State as efficiencies in one form or another, largely through their policing plans, which must still be lodged with the Home Secretary, although information on other efficiencies is also gathered through performance frameworks and audit. I am not altogether clear between these existing reporting arrangements and the overarching duty on police authorities to secure efficiency and effectiveness what the Home Secretary adds by being consulted in this way.
On the contrary, there seem to be a number of disbenefits. It would add another layer of bureaucracy when the Home Office claims to be reducing bureaucracy. It would lead to delays in decision making and consequently delays to bring improvements in policing. It seems to fly in the face of the Green Paper proposals for more local devolution. If the intention is to retain a strategic grip at the centre, why is there no de minimis provision? Even low value minor agreements will require consultation with the Secretary of State if they involve more than six parties, as proposed, which begins to look like micromanagement.
For example, a number of police authorities might decide to share a member of staff to help with technical interpretation of forced performance information, or they might put in a joint bid for funding, perhaps to support an initiative linked to anti-social behaviour. Does that really need the Secretary of State’s permission? Taken together, those requirements are likely to act as a deterrent and disincentive to collaboration. Collaboration should be encouraged by incentives, not stifled by bureaucracy. Speaking in the sixth sitting of the Public Bill Committee on the Policing and Crime Bill on 3 February, my honourable friend Paul Holmes said:
“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”.—[Official Report, Commons, Policing and Crime Bill Committee, 3/2/2009; col. 209.]
I agree with his sentiments and hope that the Minister will be able to give me some reassurance.
Finally, it is completely unclear to me how “six parties” is defined. If police authorities and police forces enter agreements together, does it mean that the provision will be triggered if more than three police areas wanted to work together on something? I beg to move.
I am interested in the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, because it raises many questions. We have not explored in great detail the Government’s proposals about collaboration. As I understand it, collaboration could extend from anything to do with IT and amalgamating the behind-office organisation to security and employing detectives across the piece. There seems to be a host of areas where such collaboration could take place. There is interesting wording, which is not six or more other “authorities” but six or more other “parties”. How is “parties” to be defined? The collaboration agreements as I understand them are to be with other police forces, but parties is a different word. I wonder whether there is an expectation that collaboration can take place with, for example, a local authority.
An agreement to have an arrangement to share payroll with a local authority would open up a wider debate on where the collaboration is going to take us. Perhaps when the Minister replies he could expand a little more on where the collaboration agreements are going to go, how widely they are going to go and whether they can be wider than between police forces.
The issue raised in proposed new Section 23C(1) was discussed at Second Reading by several noble Lords. I would like to reassure them that the Bill’s provisions are not intended as a form of micromanagement being imposed on the police service because the Home Office does not trust it to make its own judgment on collaboration.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, properly pointed out, the police have been carrying out collaborations for a long time. For that reason there is no blanket requirement for all collaboration plans to be given the Government’s stamp of approval. However, where agreements are so geographically extensive that they exceed even the largest of the ACPO policing regions—six police force areas being the largest for these regions—that would represent a strategically significant development of which the Government would want to be aware as early as possible. It is possible that such planned agreements could work against broader plans nationally. The Home Office and its police partners would need to ensure that such a conflict did not arise. That is why we are looking at that provision. Under the new provisions, individual collaboration agreements can be made only by forces or police authorities. A collaboration involving six forces and six authorities will therefore be formed using two agreements of six parties each under the legislation. Therefore such collaboration would not trigger the safeguard, but if it was greater, it would.
That concern was raised by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary during the consultation with the police service on the legislation’s development. There was general agreement that a mechanism was needed with as light a touch as possible to guard against that eventuality. I am happy to clarify that we are determined that the process of seeking approval in such a case would not impose any significant burden, although I appreciate that timing can be an issue. Large-scale agreements are not made overnight and early notice of such plans on the scale being considered should allow the Secretary of State, with the advice of HMIC, ample room to confirm within the appropriate time frame that there is no conflict.
In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, we are trying to look at collaboration across the board at all levels, covering almost everything, so that we can work better and more closely together. As I say, we are looking at these larger-scale collaboration agreements as ones where we would like to monitor and take action, while in the smaller-scale agreements we would let people get on with it themselves. For the reasons I have given, I cannot agree to the proposed amendment. I hope that, on the basis of these assurances, the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.
I thank the Minister as well as the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, who asked a range of relevant questions about collaboration.
In my area, North Yorkshire, a very large rural area crossing the whole of England almost at the top of the country, we collaborate with West Yorkshire, Humberside and South Yorkshire. That is an enormous region. Is it then considered necessary for that huge rural area with a mix of urban and rural forces—mainly urban, with South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire—to collaborate with, say, Cleveland just over one side of the border and Cumbria on the other? Would that trigger the six parties? Would the Home Secretary say that those two little forces that made up the six had triggered his wanting to know what was going on?
I ask this because it seems strange, although and I do not know whether the Minister is able to reply. Little Cleveland has a tiny force just to the north of North Yorkshire, where everyone can be hurled together in 30 minutes—the whole of the police force can be at police headquarters in that time. Cumbria may not be quite like that but, again, it is a big rural area, on the edge of North Yorkshire. I still do not see the point of the six parties being specified so clearly. Will the Minister comment on that before I think about withdrawing my amendment?
We picked the figure of six because it is the number of police force areas in the largest known region. The process is triggered by the figure going over six—when it goes to seven, eight or nine—because we believe that that represents a strategically significant development that the Government would want to be aware of. It might be that it is a tiny thing that has no real impact but, as HMIC said during the consultation, the Government should be aware of it. That is how we have arrived at that figure.
The Government “being aware of” and the Government “interfering with” are perhaps two different things. I will read carefully what the Minister has said. We still might come back to this on Report, but for now I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 25 withdrawn.
26: Clause 5, page 7, leave out lines 1 to 3
This small amendment tries to clarify proposed new subsection 23C(5). As I understand it, the collaboration agreement can be entered into by either the police authority or the chief officer, in which case both sides have to consult the other. A police authority cannot enter a collaboration agreement without having consulted the chief officer, and a chief officer cannot enter into a collaborative agreement without the agreement of the police authority. If they all agree to the collaboration, that is fine—but what if they do not agree, to stop it? How does the consultation go again?
The police authority says to the chief officer, “We don’t think this collaboration’s any good. It’s not working at all. We think that we ought to talk to the other authority and call it all off”. The chief officer says, “It’s going absolutely fine. I don’t want this to stop”. Or, the other way around, the chief officer who entered into it thinks it ought to stop, but the police authority does not think so. Where does the authority actually lie for terminating those agreements if there is a disagreement between one police authority and its chief officer?
The provision of the proposed new subsection requires police forces and authorities to reach a mutual agreement in order to dissolve a collaboration venture. They must therefore show a degree of commitment that I believe collaborations require. That protects the group as a whole from the dangers of losing a partner, and I argue that it is more important to protect the group than to allow each party the freedom to unilaterally withdraw once that agreement has been made. If one party were to withdraw, it would leave the rest to try to make new arrangements work, or the collaboration might collapse altogether.
If the investment made by any party to a collaboration agreement were vulnerable to the sudden withdrawal of another party, the risks could seriously damage the chances of the opportunity being taken forward. Equally, it could be argued that if the participants were not prepared to make this commitment, the case for a particular collaboration may need to be questioned. It is vital to be able to trust partners in a collaboration agreement where significant resources may be committed and they might well have had to commit those resources to this collaboration.
If the amendment were to be accepted, it could result in police forces not engaging in collaboration agreements where they would be beneficial, or in minor disagreements resulting in agreements falling apart; whereas the clause as it stands means that the parties involved have to take these seriously. It therefore has benefit because it makes sure that the parties are committed to it, they are fully locked in and there will not be any loss or waste of resources in terms of value for money. In the light of this, I ask that the amendment be withdrawn.
It may sound like semantics, but it seems that the Minister has not quite answered the question. There could potentially be a disagreement. Take the police authority that has entered into a collaborative agreement. It has consulted with its chief officer, who has said, “OK, I don’t mind doing that”. After two years, though, the police authority says, “This absolutely is not working”, or, “It is far too expensive”, or, “We think that it’s time that we viewed it again”, and the police authority on the other side of the agreement is quite happy about that. However, the chief officer, with whom they consulted originally and whose agreement they had to have, says, “I don’t agree with you. The chief officer on the other side and I think that the agreement is wonderful and is working spectacularly well”. Who has the authority to finally decide that the agreement can be ended? This is a disagreement in one particular police authority between that police authority and its chief officer.
I did not answer the noble Baroness’s question, and I see exactly where she is coming from. The police authority has to agree to a police force agreement; if it does not agree, the force cannot terminate that. However, the procedure is not clear enough in the Bill. I take the point that things might change two or three years down the track. While it makes sense that in the short term no one can suddenly say, “I’ve changed my mind”, and try to terminate it, I agree that there may be circumstances over the slightly longer term where there has to be a mechanism for this to be debated. I would like to come back to the noble Baroness on that, because the question of how that would be done needs to be resolved. If she is happy with that, I ask her to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 26 withdrawn.
27: Clause 5, page 7, line 3, at end insert—
“( ) A collaboration agreement may be entered into jointly by a police authority and the police force for its area with another party or parties.
( ) Any police force collaboration agreements which imposes any legal liability on the police authority must include the police authority as a party to that agreement.”
As with previous amendments, this one aims to bring greater clarity to collaboration agreements. The first paragraph would make it explicit that police authorities and their police forces could enter agreements jointly. I am not convinced that this is currently clear in the Bill.
On the contrary, the way in which the Bill is drafted makes an absolute distinction between operational agreements—to be entered into by police forces—and agreements relating to support services, which are to be entered into by police authorities. This distinction also implies an absolute separation of the two functions, which is much more sharply drawn than in the current legislation governing collaboration. It is true that this allows for separate force and authority agreements, but it is less precise about the exact nature of these agreements. Because existing legislation is, in some senses, more permissive than the replacement now being proposed, it has been customary to enter into many collaboration agreements jointly, as between force and authority. This makes sense where an essentially operational agreement requires support services to make it effective. In fact, it is hard to think of any area of collaboration that is so operationally focused that it would not require some element of administrative back-up. Perhaps, to a lesser extent, the argument also holds the other way around, when collaboration might focus on administrative support but impact on some element of operational policing.
The point of this section of the Bill is to improve on existing legislation to better enable collaboration and bring greater clarity to the respective roles of the authority and the force. This is to be supported, but I fear that, unless the Bill explicitly permits joint arrangements, it will have the opposite effect. I know the Minister will argue that this is unnecessary because there is nothing in the legislation that says joint agreements cannot be entered into, but I am not convinced that it is so straightforward. The existing wording at least implies that joint agreements are not possible because of the absolute separation of functions. If this is so, it would render most existing collaboration agreements unworkable and prevent, rather than encourage, a significant proportion of new agreements.
The second paragraph ensures that any police force collaboration agreement that commits a police authority to a financial or legal liability must include that police authority as a party to that agreement. This refers largely to the position of police authorities as both employers to the police and budget holders for their force, with a duty of care to their employees and a financial stewardship for the budget. The amendment acknowledges this position and puts in place arrangements that prevent an authority’s legal liabilities being compromised through agreements that might otherwise be outside their control. In moving this amendment, I reiterate that it is designed to be helpful and bring greater clarity to the impetus to encourage more widespread and effective collaboration. I beg to move.
I have added my name to this amendment. There is no need for me to reiterate what the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, has said. I share her concern about the Bill making an absolute separation between operational agreements by forces and support services by police authorities. It would be very helpful if that distinction could be cleared up.
There has been some confusion over separation in this legislation—in how it deals with the agreements between forces or police authorities. It has been suggested that such a separation indicates that police forces cannot engage with their authorities and come to agreements with them about the details of the collaborative work that they want to do. This divide is not new; it is also in the current legislation. Both the current and new provisions provide for separate agreements to preserve the important distinctions between the functions of forces and authorities. It would not have made sense to confer power on chief officers to agree matters relating to the exercise of functions by their police authority, and vice versa. Neither would it have made sense for two chief officers to decide how they are to be held to account. These two groups will be signing up to wholly different agreements, reflecting their own responsibilities. However, this is not to say that authorities and forces will not work together to ensure effective collaboration. In practice, a substantial collaborative enterprise normally involves both kinds of agreement in parallel. These new provisions continue to support agreements in which all the parties come together and sign up to an arrangement where each agrees to their specific role.
The wording of the amendment is intended to ensure that police authorities will always be party to agreements by their forces when police force collaboration plans impose a legal liability on them. Under the provisions that we are bringing in, police authorities will have to be involved in all police force collaboration agreements. Under Section 23(6) they must approve all police force agreements. Therefore, they will need to approve any liability imposed upon them. They will also need to consider their own agreements to facilitate jointly the force collaboration. Under new Section 23D the authorities must agree on the arrangements to be followed to ensure that accountability for the force collaboration will be delivered, and must publish those arrangements alongside the details of the collaboration agreement.
The agreement between the forces and the agreement between the authorities will most likely take the form of a single collaboration document that satisfies the legislation in both the current Section 23 and the new provisions. There is no need to specify that both sorts of agreement can be combined in a single document but this practice will no doubt continue and indeed will be provided for in example agreements that will be included with the supporting guidance that we intend to publish. On the basis of this assurance that the intention of the amendment is already served by the draft provisions, I ask that it be withdrawn.
I thank my noble friend for his very clear explanation. I will say only that the intention of the amendment was to improve collaboration by making it more effective and ensuring that no obstacles were in its path. It is quite clear that my noble friend and I share the same objective. It is just that he hopes that it will be achieved in a more overall way by some general provisions that he has cited. I was concerned to remove obstacles at a more detailed level. I hear what he says and may return to this at a latter stage. At this point, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 27 withdrawn.
28: Clause 5, page 7, line 6, after “force” insert “or a joint committee of those authorities involved in the agreement as specified under section 23D(3),”
In moving Amendment 28, I will speak also to Amendment 36A. Amendment 28 aims to put beyond doubt the arrangements about police accountability under the collaboration provisions set out in this section. It strengthens the other parts of the section, which I welcome as a genuine attempt to bring clarity to this tricky area, aiming to set out how chief officers will be held to account under collaboration arrangements. This has proved difficult in practice under existing arrangements, and it is crucially important to get this right under the new proposals. While I agree that the Bill makes a good start, I am not convinced that the existing wording adequately covers collaboration arrangements overseen by joint committees of the police authorities involved. The amendment is therefore specifically designed to address this situation.
The existing wording in this clause seems merely to reiterate that a police authority holds its own chief officer to account, which is something that authorities do under existing legislation in any case. It does not seem to deal adequately with the complexities of holding to account for arrangements that extend beyond the boundary of the police authority concerned. This might occur when a force’s chief officer conducts operations in another force area under a collaboration agreement. There are difficulties in squaring this accountability circle at present. On the one hand, there is uncertainty as to whether the home authority can ask a chief officer to answer to it over conduct outside its area. On the other, there is doubt about whether the authority in whose area the officer is operating can hold him or her to account. This is generally overcome by those authorities forming a joint committee, but in the past some chief officers have questioned the authority of a joint committee to hold them to account. While joint arrangements are mentioned in subsection (3), these are oblique and do not seem explicitly to deal with accountability. Because accountability and answerability are fundamental in getting collaboration right, the arrangements to make this work in a joint context need to be clear and beyond doubt in the Bill. I beg to move.
Amendment 36A in this grouping is intended to assist collaboration and make its operation easier and more effective. At the risk of boring the Committee to death, to explain how this helps I need to address some of the complexities of local government legislation and some of the history of police authorities.
At present, unlike other local government bodies, a police authority is not allowed to arrange for any of its functions to be discharged by another police authority. This prohibition is set out in Section 107 of the Local Government Act 1972. In 1972, when this Act came into force, police authorities were still committees of local authorities, as I explained earlier. In those circumstances, it was inappropriate for police authorities to have an independent legal status outside of their councils, and to arrange for another police authority to carry out their functions. But since 1995, police authorities have had an independent legal status, yet remain covered by arrangements which are no longer appropriate in this respect. This restriction has a particularly detrimental effect on joint procurement. Local authorities that wish to make joint procurement arrangements will usually nominate one authority to take the lead on behalf of the other authorities involved. This is usually the authority with the most expertise and experience to manage the procurement process, while other authorities contribute to the cost on a pro rata basis.
However, these arrangements are predicated on being able to delegate certain functions. So this option is denied to police authorities, which cannot arrange for another authority to discharge their functions, including arranging for and awarding contracts. In practical terms this means that every authority or force taking part in collaborative procurement arrangements has to be a legal party and signatory to the procurement contract, to avoid falling foul of this section of the 1972 Act. Naturally, the result is needless bureaucracy and a disincentive to collaboration. The amendment would resolve this situation and so facilitate much greater collaboration, particularly in relation to procurement, which has driven significant efficiencies in local government.
I support the amendment. As regards collaborative arrangements, it is extremely important that a mechanism is set up to see that joint arrangements are working. I suspect that there would have to be, as the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, suggested, a joint committee made up of members from each of the authorities involved. Given that the police authorities are not able to delegate, it is vital that proper arrangements are in place to ensure that the collaborative work can be carried out satisfactorily in terms of legalities and supervision. There is a lot to be said for this amendment and I hope that the Minister will be able to accept it.
My noble friend Lady Henig is entirely right that police authorities should be able to deliver their function of holding a chief officer to account for collaborations by way of a joint committee of police authorities, as proposed in Amendment 28. Subsection (3) of new Section 23D actually encourages consideration of joint committees for this purpose.
However, the Local Government Act 1972, by virtue of Sections 101(1) and 107(1)(a), already allows police authorities to delegate the discharging of their functions to joint committees of police authorities. This amendment is therefore not needed.
Amendment 36A also concerns the Local Government Act and its provisions regarding the exercise of the functions of police authorities. As already noted, this Act is useful in allowing joint police authority committees to deliver accountability functions under a collaboration agreement. In this way a police authority can already deliver some of its duties jointly under the Local Government Act, such as that of holding a chief constable who is leading a collaboration agreement to account for his work on that joint endeavour.
However, the principle that the police authority is ultimately responsible for policing in its own area is sound and should remain at the core of what a police authority is all about, whether it exercises that responsibility collaboratively or independently. Even in those cases where collaboration takes a lead force approach, each police authority needs to continue to be involved as the body with overall responsibility for policing of its area.
There may be some merit in the suggestion which has been put forward recently by the Association of Police Authorities that some employment and procurement difficulties in collaborations might be eased by the ability to delegate to each other some of the functions relating to those areas. These are complex areas and we would not want to make any such amendment before examining the detail and the extent of any such proposal, and giving it close consideration.
But I beg to suggest that this amendment is too sweeping in its wording and would allow a police authority to divest itself of any or all of its core functions. I question whether this House would support enabling one police authority to delegate to another all responsibility for holding its chief officer to account for the delivery of policing on, say, counterterrorism, or its responsibility to promote equality and diversity.
I know, however, that a number of police authorities are firmly of the opinion that an amendment of some kind to the police authority provisions in the Local Government Act would be of genuine benefit to collaborations on procurement in particular—procurement is an issue very close to my heart—and I would welcome further work between the Home Office and the association to examine such an approach. In the light of this, I request that the noble Baroness withdraws the amendment.
I thank my noble friend for his reply. I also thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Hanham and Lady Harris, for speaking in support of these amendments. In thanking my noble friend for what he has just said, I very much hope that it will be possible for the Home Office and the Association of Police Authorities, and any other bodies that can make a useful contribution, to get together to see whether any amendments can achieve the objective which I think we all seek; namely, to make collaboration more effective and meaningful and to see it working on the ground. I think that all of us in our different ways are trying to ensure that. In the light of that assurance, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 28 withdrawn.
29: Clause 5, page 7, line 28, at end insert—
“23EA Collaboration agreements: report
(1) A person who makes a collaboration agreement must submit a report on the working of the agreement annually to the Secretary of State who shall lay it before both Houses of Parliament.
(2) A report under subsection (1) shall include an assessment of the efficiency and effectiveness of the agreement.”
There is a lot to be learnt from collaborative arrangements. They already operate to a limited extent but as they become more and more a part of the lives of police authorities and police forces, lessons will be learnt about where they work, where they do not work, where disagreements arise or do not arise, where there are huge benefits and where there are financial benefits. My amendment seeks to probe how that information will be assembled, taken into account and communicated across all the authorities.
In lobbing the Secretary of State into this matter, I am arguing for the opposite of what I have argued for throughout the Bill. I suggest that an annual report on any collaborative arrangement should be submitted to the Secretary of State and laid before the House. We could perhaps limit that to the first few years so that the learning process only would be covered. I believe that it would be beneficial and very useful for that information to be freely available so that people do not have to try to find it. If that were the case, they would know that a report had been made and that it would be published, and they could take account of it. That would be useful for police authorities, police forces, local government and anybody else who has a role in the matter. It might also be of marginal interest to the Secretary of State who would receive the reports. I seek purely to provide a follow-through for these collaborative arrangements to see how they are working. I beg to move.
These Benches are minded to support this amendment. It seems to be a good idea. It would be very useful to know how collaboration is working between forces. We hope that it works well as we certainly would not want to go down the merger route again.
I have a question for the noble Baroness if she is willing to answer it. Is she able to clarify that the amendment would apply to each person who makes an agreement—that, for example, if two forces decided to work together, two reports would be produced, one from each chief officer? It would be useful to see whether there were circumstances where collaboration had worked for one force but not another, so that lessons might be learnt. If the Minister and the noble Baroness are able to help me there, I would be grateful.
I was delighted to see that the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, spotted the irony of the amendment, which I have to say runs the risk of adding significant unnecessary bureaucracy for those who have entered into a collaboration agreement. It could deter some from entering into joint working arrangements; I am not convinced that it would do that, but it would add to bureaucracy. Since the Flanagan review, cutting back on bureaucracy has become an important aim of the Government, something about which we have been whipped by a number of people, so we take it very seriously. In that sense, the amendment would be a backward step.
The Government have a clear role in setting the strategic direction and steering police collaboration in a way that benefits policing in the round, but the role of the centre should be limited to when it is really needed. That balance will not be achieved by the amendment. I understand why the amendment was tabled but police authorities already have, and under this clause will continue to benefit from, a clear remit to hold to account and oversee how policing is delivered in their policing area. That is no different for collaboration, and Clause 5 makes adequate arrangements for that. At the local level, the authorities need to pull data together; I agree that it would be useful to draw on that to see how collaboration is working. However, the amendment would do nothing other than add to bureaucracy, so on that basis I ask that it be withdrawn.
There are ironies all round here. The noble Lord mentions Flanagan; I mention in passing that there seems remarkably little of Flanagan in the Bill. I commented on that on Second Reading, and I make the point again.
We are all interested in getting rid of bureaucracy, but we ought to ensure that we learn lessons. None of this legislation may work; it may work beautifully, but it may not. There is a responsibility on those legislating to know how it is working. I hear what the Minister has said and, for today’s purposes, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 29 withdrawn.
30: Clause 5, page 7, leave out lines 30 and 31
I have been asked by my noble friend Lord Bates, who cannot be in his place, to remind the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, that Cleveland is not only a very small force but a very fine one.
The Secretary of State remains on stage, because the amendments in this group seek to explore the involvement that the Secretary of State will have in collaboration agreements. We have been discussing the subject in other forms today. The Bill allows for both guidance and directions. Is it really appropriate for the Government to give directions about an agreement directly to a chief officer, over the head of his police authority?
Do the Government intend to publish guidance under new Section 23F, or is it being introduced as a reserve power in case authorities and officers do not implement these agreements as intended? Is the direction power there merely to back up the guidance if it proves insufficient, or does the Minister imagine the Government taking a proactive role in seeking out opportunities for collaboration agreements and forcing authorities to engage in them?
Given the intrusiveness that the two new sections allow, Amendment 31 in this group, tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Harris and Lady Miller, seems very wise. Indeed, it seems sensible to require the consultation of not only ACPO and the APA, but the affected authority or chief officer. Similarly, Amendment 34 seems entirely in line with the Government's intentions and is another amendment we would support. I beg to move.
Amendments 31, 32, 34 and 35 in this group stand in my name, and I will deal with each in turn as quickly as I can.
Amendment 31 is relatively straightforward and would ensure that the Secretary of State had to consult the APA and ACPO before issuing guidance about collaboration. That is only common sense, as they are the bodies responsible at national level for the other legs of the tripartite police governance arrangement. They are also the bodies with the practical experience of collaboration to be in a position to ensure that any guidance is workable.
My remaining amendments essentially approach the same problem in slightly different ways. That problem is, of course and yet again, the wide-ranging powers for the Secretary of State set out in the new section about directions. The powers are particularly pernicious, because at best they can generously be interpreted as micromanagement, but at worst they represent a means by which policing could be restructured through the back door. I am sure that the Minister will assure me that that is definitely not the intention of the Government but, once the powers are there, someone someday might find it convenient to use them in a way which was not originally intended.
My first and preferred solution would be to remove the powers altogether. That is the approach taken in Amendment 32. Incidentally, that would also apply to the following new section, which is about terminating collaboration agreements, but one amendment in that respect will suffice to make my point. However, I am sure that the Minister will remind us all how important the future stability and resilience of policing is. No doubt he will argue that the Secretary of State should, in extremis, be able to exercise powers to ensure that the police service is fit to meet the very real challenges it faces from serious crime and other such threats.
Therefore, I have also suggested an alternative approach to moderating the way in which the powers of direction can be used. Amendment 34 levels the playing field to ensure that the Secretary of State must use the same criteria demanded of police authorities in judging whether or not to collaborate. That would ensure that the yardstick for all must be efficiency and effectiveness, and that the Home Secretary cannot exercise the draconian powers using other, unspecified criteria. Amendment 35 then provides that the powers of direction can only be used following the arrangements in Sections 40 and 40B of the Police Act 1996. Those sections set out very specific criteria and processes by which the Home Secretary can give directions to police authorities and chief officers. It would mean that directions could be triggered only when there was evidence that existing arrangements were failing to support adequate performance.
The new section also ensures that directions can only be given to chief officers through the police authority. That is a very important safeguard to prevent direct political interference in policing by central government, and is a fundamental tenet of ensuring that policing is kept independent of the state. In addition, the powers of direction under the new section are subject to HMIC's view about the merits of the proposed direction. Finally, the authorities and forces concerned must be given an opportunity to make representations about the proposals.
In tabling the amendments, I have sought to restrict what are very draconian, centralising powers. If the powers cannot be removed from the Bill altogether, they at least require reasonable checks and balances to ensure that they are not misused.
I shall take Amendments 32, 33, 34 and 35 first, and move on to Amendments 30 and 31. The first amendments aim to take out the direction powers that the Secretary of State would have to help shape the future of policing in the area, something that the Secretary of State is accountable to Parliament for. They would also remove the Secretary of State’s power to publish guidance to support the implementation of the provisions.
One of the key reasons for bringing forward the clauses on collaboration is to ensure that there is this increasingly important means by which to deliver policing benefits from a clear and robust framework that Parliament can approve. At the heart of this is the empowerment of police forces and authorities to enter into collaboration agreements where that is in the interest of policing. However, as the person accountable to Parliament for policing, an equally important part of this is the power for the Secretary of State to be able to ensure that collaboration is done in a way that benefits policing generally, and that arrangements are coherent, transparent and, where possible, consistent. That is not only sensible but constitutionally sound.
If this is to be achieved in reality, any Secretary of State will need the requisite powers to influence collaboration when it is deemed to be in the interest of the overall efficiency and effectiveness of policing. Powers to direct are not new. Indeed, the powers to direct in this area of business replicate and provide clarity to the broad powers that the previous Government enacted through the Police Act 1996. Other direction powers that the Secretary of State already has under legislation that predates this Government give the Secretary of State powers of direction over elements of policing such as performance, priorities and policing areas. These powers, as is the case with our clauses, are to be exercised in consultation with the parties affected. This continues to be a sensible way for these arrangements to proceed.
There is a view that any direction given under this new legislation should be in accordance with the arrangements under the Police Act 1996, in particular Sections 40 to 40B. However, these sections deal typically with forces and authorities found, via a report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate, to have failed to discharge their functions effectively. While these clauses might be capable of enabling actions to be taken to remedy an individual force’s failings, there might be wider strategic reasons, such as a move towards certain operational services being delivered at the regional level, which warrant central direction of a different kind.
Directions of the sort described would need to be given both to the police forces involved to incorporate the changes to their structure and to the police authorities to incorporate the appropriate changes to accountability arrangements resulting. It is right to use Sections 40 and 40A to react to failings in performance, but, as we stated in the policing Green Paper, if we are to best serve the public interest, we must proactively engage with the service, including HMIC, and proactively determine where robust and consistent collaboration is needed. Directions here would serve to consolidate a consensus and not simply be used as a last resort, which is what lies behind Section 40. In addition, Section 40 goes no way towards specifying the sorts of directions about collaboration that may be given. The new provision in this subsection provides this clarification. As the Home Affairs Select Committee highlighted recently, there may well be a need to require collaboration to deliver improvements in certain policing areas, and where this is the case, it is right for Government to exercise their powers to achieve this. However, a prerequisite is for Government to have the powers in the first place.
The case for a more robust and consistent collaboration is emerging, with collaboration on functions such as serious organised crime growing. In the light of this progress across policing, we have already asked Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary to work with partners to scope what policing functions could usefully benefit from a more robust collaborative framework. It has, in turn, highlighted a number of areas where it is arguably in the public interest to proceed in a consistent manner across the country.
I know that some believe that the powers being sought under Clause 5 should be expressly limited to those instances where it is in the interests of the effectiveness and efficiency of policing. I agree. This is, in fact, already provided for under Section 36 of the Police Act, which requires any power of the Secretary of State under Section 1 of that Act, which these provisions amend, to be exercised in a manner that promotes those aims. As we have demonstrated with the recent HMIC report, the Secretary of State will always need to be able to assure Parliament that the actions and decisions taken are grounded in the drive to deliver an effective and efficient police service.
Some have expressed concerns that these powers to direct are compromising the independence of the police. Protecting the independence of the police is at the heart of our constitution and a critical safeguard in preventing the abuse of power by the Executive. However, we must be equally careful to distinguish between this and the Executive’s role in ensuring that policing is delivered effectively and efficiently, ensuring the police have the right structures and processes in place to deliver this public-service ambition, and that it is in the public interest and in no way undermines or threatens the principle of police independence.
The power to mandate in this area, which already exists, has been clarified by these clauses, demonstrating our desire to be clear about our intention in the area. It is unfair to suggest, as some have, that these powers are anything but open and transparent. After all, we set out our intention to consider requiring collaboration in our Green Paper in the summer of 2008. With collaboration becoming a major part of 21st century policing, it is right and proper that, as well as encouraging forces and authorities to pursue collaborative ventures, the Government reserve the right to consult those who are to receive directions—first, to help shape collaboration in those areas where they promote the efficiency and effectiveness of policing at a local, regional and national level, and, secondly, to intervene in those instances where a collaboration may benefit a few but is counterproductive to wider policing interests.
I turn to Amendments 30 and 31. Statutory guidance is one of the key tools available to Government to ensure the effective implementation of new legislation and, in many instances, to clarify the intention of Parliament as a result of debates such as this one. This guidance becomes even more important where the legislation is seeking to drive organisational reform and new ways of working. In these instances, guidance allows delivery agents to avoid some of the pitfalls experienced by others, best value is achieved, and the legislation drives the necessary public service improvements. This is the purpose behind Section 23F, and to remove it would severely curtail the ability of Government to assist and shape public service reform, which is set out by this legislation but is underpinned by meaningful guidance of the kind that officials will work with the service to produce. This will of course include the APA, ACPO and all other partners helping to deliver effective policing. This consultation happens routinely. It is not restricted to the APA and ACPO and does not need to be included in primary legislation.
While non-statutory guidance can be issued without the need for primary legislation, as we have seen at Committee stage in the Commons and here today, there are issues that are best dealt with in guidance but that are sufficiently important that statutory guidance, developed in partnership with partners, is best placed to ensure that delivery agents have regard to it.
I know that that has been a long response but I hope that I have been able to set out the case for why the Secretary of State’s powers to give directions about collaboration and to issue statutory guidance are both necessary and proportionate in collaboration agreements. In the light of my response, I would kindly ask the noble Lord and the noble Baronesses not to press their amendments.
Amendment 30 withdrawn.
Amendments 31 to 35 not moved.
House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.38 pm.