Committee (1st Day) (Continued)
36: Clause 5, page 7, line 42, leave out “, or prohibit them from making,”
The dinner hour came rather unexpectedly; I was caught out by not being able to thank the Minister for his full explanation of the whole of this clause. As we draw our scrutiny of the clause to a close, I am reminded by the remark of the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, who is not in her place—she said, “That’s not quite how it works” of the delicate relationship between the Secretary of State, the police authority and the chief constable. I am sure that we are agreed in all parts of the Committee that our aim is to ensure that the Bill leaves here with that relationship as close and as complementary as it possibly can be.
Amendment 36 would draw out a small part of new Section 23G. It seeks to probe the circumstances in which the Secretary of State might envisage prohibiting a collaboration agreement. Given the requirements on chief officers to seek the approval of their authorities and the requirements on both of them to assist the efficiency and effectiveness of the agreement, when would the Government consider stepping in to stop one being made? The Minister gave us a fairly comprehensive explanation of that in the previous amendment, but I beg to move.
As was the case with Amendment 25, proposed by the noble Baronesses, Lady Harris of Richmond and Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, I reassure noble Lords that the Bill’s provisions are not intended as a form of micromanagement that is being imposed because the Home Office does not trust the police service to make its own judgments about collaboration. Instead, this is a power to direct that we expect to have to use rarely, if at all. It is a necessary failsafe as opposed to a proactive legislative tool for regular use.
Our approach to promoting collaboration has been to encourage forces and authorities to take bold and, at times, innovative steps to work jointly. We continue to encourage this approach and have issued some guidance and good practice on a range of issues to ensure that we learn from those leading the way. However, as our knowledge develops further, we will become better at identifying those instances where experience tells us either that collaboration is not the right form of delivery or that a certain type of collaboration is not going to deliver the improvements needed. Rather along the lines mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, when we were discussing a previous issue, this is something to draw on.
In those instances, which are likely to be rare, it is the Secretary of State’s duty to ensure that policing more generally does not suffer from the few badly executed collaborations. This growing pool of knowledge will also begin to identify preferred models of collaboration for certain policing functions that will need to benefit from a minimum level of consistency nationally in order to be effective. Police functions such as serious organised crime and counterterrorism are already providing good examples of this. In these rare instances, it is in the public interest that the national interest is reflected through the Secretary of State’s powers to intervene as a last resort.
While we hope that we will not need to use this power, Clause 5 provides a legitimate attempt to ensure that, where a collaboration agreement goes against the interests of policing more generally, the Secretary of State is able to reflect and defend the public interest. Should this power need to be used, it will of course be for Parliament to scrutinise and judge the Secretary of State’s decision to act. I therefore ask that the amendment be withdrawn.
Amendment 36 withdrawn.
Clause 5 agreed.
Clauses 6 and 7 agreed
37: After Clause 7, insert the following new Clause—
“Authorisations of covert human intelligence sources: conditions
(1) Section 29 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (c. 23) (authorisation of covert human intelligence sources) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (2) for paragraph (c) substitute—
“(c) that arrangements exist for the source’s case that satisfy—(i) the requirements of subsection (4A), in the case of a source of a relevant collaborative unit;(ii) the requirements of subsection (4B), in the case of a source of a relevant Scottish collaborative unit;(iii) the requirements of subsection (5), in the case of any other source;and that satisfy such other requirements as may be imposed by order made by the Secretary of State.”(3) After subsection (2) insert—
“(2A) For the purposes of subsection (2)—
(a) a relevant collaborative unit is a unit consisting of two or more police forces whose chief officers of police have made an agreement under section 23(1) of the Police Act 1996 which relates to the discharge by persons holding offices, ranks or positions with any of the forces of functions in connection with the conduct or use of the source; and(b) a relevant Scottish collaborative unit is a unit consisting of two or more Scottish police forces whose chief constables have made an agreement under section 12(1) of the Police (Scotland) Act 1967 which relates to the discharge by persons holding offices, ranks or positions with any of the forces of functions in connection with the conduct or use of the source.”(4) After subsection (4) insert—
“(4A) For the purposes of this Part there are arrangements for the source’s case that satisfy the requirements of this subsection if such arrangements are in force as are necessary for ensuring—
(a) that there will at all times be a qualifying person who will have day-to-day responsibility for dealing with the source, and for the source’s security and welfare;(b) that there will at all times be another qualifying person who will have general oversight of the use made of the source;(c) that there will at all times be a qualifying person who will have responsibility for maintaining a record of the use made of the source;(d) that the records relating to the source that are maintained by virtue of paragraph (c) will always contain particulars of all such matters (if any) as may be specified for the purposes of this paragraph in regulations made by the Secretary of State; and (e) that records maintained by virtue of paragraph (c) that disclose the identity of the source will not be available to persons except to the extent that there is a need for access to them to be made available to those persons.(4B) For the purposes of this Part there are arrangements for the source’s case that satisfy the requirements of this subsection if such arrangements are in force as are necessary for ensuring—
(a) that there will at all times be a Scottish qualifying person who will have day-to-day responsibility for dealing with the source, and for the source’s security and welfare;(b) that there will at all times be another Scottish qualifying person who will have general oversight of the use made of the source;(c) that there will at all times be a Scottish qualifying person who will have responsibility for maintaining a record of the use made of the source;(d) that the records relating to the source that are maintained by virtue of paragraph (c) will always contain particulars of all such matters (if any) as may be specified for the purposes of this paragraph in regulations made by the Secretary of State; and (e) that records maintained by virtue of paragraph (c) that disclose the identity of the source will not be available to persons except to the extent that there is a need for access to them to be made available to those persons.”(5) After subsection (7) insert—
“(7A) For the purposes of subsection (4A) a person is a qualifying person if—
(a) the person holds an office, rank or position with a police force whose chief officer of police is a party to the agreement mentioned in subsection (2A)(a); and(b) persons holding offices, ranks or positions with that force are permitted by the terms of the agreement to have the responsibility mentioned in paragraph (a) or (c) of subsection (4A) or the general oversight mentioned in paragraph (b) of that subsection (as the case may require).(7B) For the purposes of subsection (4B), a person is a Scottish qualifying person if—
(a) the person holds an office, rank or position with a Scottish police force whose chief constable is a party to the agreement mentioned in subsection (2A)(b); and(b) persons holding offices, ranks or positions with that force are permitted by the terms of the agreement to have the responsibility mentioned in paragraph (a) or (c) of subsection (4B) or the general oversight mentioned in paragraph (b) of that subsection (as the case may require).”(6) After subsection (9) insert—
“(10) For the purposes of this section—
(a) references to a police force are to the following—(i) any police force maintained under section 2 of the Police Act 1996 (police forces in England and Wales outside London);(ii) the metropolitan police force; and(iii) the City of London police force; and(b) references to a Scottish police force are to a police force maintained under or by virtue of section 1 of the Police (Scotland) Act 1967.””
The new clause inserted by Amendment 37 is related to provisions already in the Bill in Clauses 6, 7 and 8. These clauses are intended to facilitate the work of police collaborative units. They ensure that, where two or more police forces reach collaboration agreements in respect of certain techniques regulating the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, the fact that investigative teams may comprise officers from different forces will not cause any operational problems for the authorisation of these techniques.
This new clause has a similar effect in relation to covert human intelligence sources—CHIS. It may help if I explain precisely what a CHIS is. A CHIS is an individual who establishes or maintains a relationship with someone else for the covert purpose of obtaining information. A CHIS can be a member of the public—for example, a member of a drug-trafficking gang who is recruited to provide information to the police—or a member of a public authority, such as an undercover police officer who infiltrates a drug-trafficking gang to obtain information of a similar kind. In either case, RIPA requires each CHIS to have both a controller and a handler. These play different roles in managing and supervising the CHIS. The controller is responsible for overseeing the use made of a CHIS; the handler has day-to-day responsibility for dealing with the CHIS and for his security and welfare.
With one key exception, the controller and handler of a CHIS have to be from the same authority or, in this case, police force. The exception to which I have referred is relevant to the need for this new clause. If the activities of a CHIS take place for the benefit of more than one public authority—in this case, more than one police force—the controller and handler can be from different authorities or forces. This exception will solve the problem for many collaborative units that tackle cross-border crime. Where a number of smaller forces agree to delegate all CHIS activity to a dedicated unit, it might not apply. This is because the dedicated unit may be required to investigate purely local, as well as cross-border, crime. In such circumstances, therefore, the controller and handler would have to be from the same force. Obviously, this would limit the point of having a joint investigative unit as part of a collaboration agreement.
A further benefit of the new clause is that it will facilitate the way in which undercover officers are used across the country. As I have mentioned, the handler of a CHIS is responsible for his or her security or welfare. Often, an undercover officer’s own police force likes to keep this responsibility even if the officer is deployed in another force area or is tasked by another force. Under this new clause, such a division of labour between the home and the host force would be possible. We even anticipate that all 43 forces in England and Wales may choose to form an agreement to permit such a sharing of roles in relation to undercover officers. The eight forces in Scotland may also choose to form their own collaboration agreement to this effect.
Unfortunately, the limited impact of the exception that I have described has come to light only recently. I apologise, therefore, for this new clause being tabled late in the passage of the Bill. It is, however, a relatively minor adjunct to the key provisions in Clauses 6, 7 and 8, which are intended to facilitate the work of police collaboration units, including, in some circumstances, the collaborative work of all 43 forces in England and Wales or the eight forces in Scotland.
Amendments 38 to 41 are minor and technical. Where all the conduct authorised is likely to take place in Scotland, Section 46 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 prohibits Scottish police forces from authorising under RIPA unless the authorisation is granted or renewed in the interests of national security or the economic well-being of the United Kingdom. Clause 8 of the Bill replicates this restriction unnecessarily. These amendments remove this replication. I hope that noble Lords will agree with the benefits that these provisions will bring. I beg to move.
Amendment 37 agreed.
Clause 8: Authorisations for surveillance etc
Amendments 38 to 41
38: Clause 8, page 12, line 21, leave out “(subject to subsection (1ZF))”
39: Clause 8, page 12, leave out lines 23 and 24
40: Clause 8, page 13, line 26, leave out “(subject to subsection (3ZF))”
41: Clause 8, page 13, leave out lines 34 and 35
Amendments 38 to 41 agreed.
Clause 8, as amended, agreed.
Clause 9 agreed.
Clause 10 : Police equipment
42: Clause 10, page 15, line 10, at end insert—
“( ) After subsection (1B) insert—
“(1C) Before making any regulations under this section, the Secretary of State shall seek advice from Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary.””
Amendments 42 and 44 stand in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Miller, although they also stand alongside related proposals on whether Clauses 11 and 12 should stand part. Both amendments are intended to modernise the operation of regulation and order-making powers under Sections 53 and 57 of the Police Act 1996, to bring them into line with more recent legislation exemplified by Section 53A of the same Police Act. These changes would require the Secretary of State to take into account the expertise of HMIC in the fields of police equipment and facilities and services before exercising powers under this section.
I believe the Government intend that these provisions in the Bill will enable the Home Secretary to mandate the use of national IT systems. However, the provisions are not limited to this and once again contain wide-ranging order-making powers which could have a much broader application. I accept that it might not be the intention of the current Home Secretary to use the powers more widely, but that does not guarantee that they will not be misused in the future. It therefore seems sensible to include mechanisms that help to ensure that these powers are used wisely and proportionately. The reference to HMIC advice is one way of trying to ensure this. I beg to move.
We fully recognise that Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary plays an important role in promoting the efficiency and effectiveness of police forces. However, we feel that the existing consultation provisions in Sections 53 and 57 of the Police Act 1996, which relate to regulations that the Secretary of State can make regarding standards of equipment or requiring police forces to use specified facilities or services, are sufficient. Both Sections 53 and 57 already provide that the Secretary of State must consult the Association of Police Authorities and the Association of Chief Police Officers. Existing safeguards are therefore in place to ensure that the force requirements are fully understood and considered by those who have the greatest expertise in understanding the implications of making those regulations.
Although we recognise the important role of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in advising the Secretary of State, it is conceivable that the inspectorate—in certain technical cases on matters related to the regulations under Sections 53 and 57 of the 1996 Act as amended, for example relating to IT software procurement—would have neither the interest, inclination nor expertise to provide a consultative opinion to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State may of course wish to consider consulting HMIC on these regulations in other circumstances, but he should not be required to do so as the amendments propose.
In light of my response, I hope the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
I thank the Minister for that response. However, I would have thought that HMIC would have the ability to seek out those with greater knowledge than he or she has on a particular piece of kit. But I hear what the Minister says, and I do not think that we will get any further on this. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 42 withdrawn.
43: Clause 10, page 15, line 11, leave out subsection (4)
Amendment 43 is a probing amendment to find out what sort of software the Secretary of State might make compulsory by regulation. I understand that powers are available to ensure the use of hardware, but that current legislation does not allow for software to be similarly prescribed. The subsection would allow the Government to insist on common programmes being used, so has the potential to make considerable savings in the realm of data sharing across different authorities. The principle appears very sensible and entirely in line with reducing unnecessary red tape. Police forces need every encouragement to use sensible computer programmes so that police officers can spend less time at their desks and more time on the beat. Similarly, ensuring that records can be easily accessed by different authorities will help to ensure that offenders are properly identified across the country. The principle we accept. Our concern therefore lies not in the power that the section gives, but in whether it actually could be used.
I think that we all agree, perhaps even on the noble Lord’s Benches, that a great many government IT procurement and implementation projects have been a costly disaster. There have now been two reviews on how to reduce the bureaucracy and data burden in policing—the question is whether the Government have the drive to ensure that their recommendations are pushed through. Is the Government’s intention to set up another large database? If so, what steps have they taken to ensure that it does not go the way of the NHS database, for example, and so many others that have had great failure rates? If the Government intend to increase the sharing of data across police authorities—demanded by regulation—how will they ensure that there will not be another disastrous loss of confidential information? I beg to move.
I understand that this is a probing amendment. As noble Lords will know, the policing Green Paper, From the Neighbourhood to the National, identified that the full potential of information systems to support better policing would be achieved only if there were a co-ordinated strategy for those systems developed across the police service. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, points out, that is a necessary way to go and it is important that we achieve that. She is absolutely right: not just in government, but across the private sector, we have not got the most brilliant record on large IT systems, and we certainly need to be very nervous of them. Certainly the intention here is not to set up another huge database and go down that route.
Since the publication of the Green Paper, the National Policing Board has commissioned the National Policing Improvement Agency to take forward or consolidate a strategy, known as the information systems improvement strategy. Part of the strategy’s approach is to build on the excellent and innovative collaboration work already taking place between forces. The strategy will also review the procurement of IT systems so that, wherever possible, national solutions are delivered for national problems. Historically, we have been very bad at this. I remember sitting between two chief constables and talking about some equipment. One said, “I’m going to buy this”, and the other one said, “In that case, I’m not going to get that”. We must not be in that sort of situation; it is just outrageous.
Section 53 of the Police Act 1996 already allows the Secretary of State to set standards for “equipment”, a term which covers IT hardware but not IT software. A strategy that covers hardware alone is not really feasible. It would need to be able to set standards in respect of software as well to deliver the desired benefits in terms of better procurement, more effective services to the public and greater collaboration. Setting standards in respect of IT software will allow us to maximise efficiencies, whether at local, regional or national level. IT software and its development is a very costly element of any IT project, sometimes more costly than the hardware. Major efficiency gains could be made by ensuring compatible software platforms and leveraging more out of the provider—the people whom we are buying from.
The amendment seeks to limit the scope of the provisions to IT hardware only. While much progress can be made through voluntary collaboration, we need to be certain that, if it is clear that there are benefits to the public and the police service generally for greater IT collaboration, the Secretary of State has the power to support that collaboration through setting requirements for both IT hardware and software.
It is not our intention to cut across the operational decision-making of chief officers. We are merely seeking to enable a more effective regime for promoting efficiency and effectiveness. The Secretary of State would make regulations that support the joint design, procurement and management of IT systems at a national or regional level only if it was necessary to do so for the purpose of promoting that efficiency.
Legislation would require any regulations to be preceded by consultation with the APA, ACPO and other relevant bodies. The existing legislation already provides for regulations on hardware, as I said, and Clause 10 now has the modest effect of extending them to software and making it more flexible. On that basis, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
Amendment 43 withdrawn.
Clause 10 agreed.
Clause 11 : Police procedures and practices
Debate on whether Clause 11 should stand part of the Bill.
I am rising on behalf of Liberty to propose that Clause 11 and Clause 12 do not stand part of the Bill. I am happy to do so because it is important that Liberty sees its way into Hansard.
Clauses 11 and 12 raise some serious concerns about the ability of the Secretary of State to interfere in operational policing matters with regard to specific forces. Currently, the Police Act 1996 allows the Secretary of State to make regulations requiring all police forces to adopt particular practices and procedures. These regulations can only be made if the Chief Inspector of Constabulary states that he or she is satisfied that it is necessary to do so to ensure co-operation between police forces and also to ensure that the proper procedure is carried out and that it is in the national interest.
The proposed new Clause 11 would allow the Secretary of State to make regulations to that effect which only apply to one or more police forces. It would also allow regulations to be made if the chief inspector thinks it necessary to do so to promote the efficiency and effectiveness of a police force, rather than just to ensure co-operation. Similarly, Clause 12 seeks to amend the current position, enabling the Secretary of State to make regulations requiring all police forces to use specified facilities and services if he or she thinks it is in the interest of efficiency or effectiveness to require just one or more specified police force to do so. Enabling the Home Secretary to direct the type of policies that apply to specific police forces to promote efficiency in that force raises the spectre of political interference in particular police forces. The current power does not allow the Secretary of State to pick and choose between police forces, and that provides some limit on the power of central government to control how a particular force operates.
Liberty has consistently warned against political interference in policing. The police must remain able to investigate crime independently and to apply the laws made by Parliament free from political pressure. Liberty’s position is that police authorities should be responsible for setting the strategic direction of the police force and should hold the chief constable of the force to account without additional interference by central government. Liberty has frequently stated that police independence and the rule of law are best served by denying the Executive excessive control of operational policing matters. It also maintains that communities are best served when the police are able to act with an appropriate degree of independence.
We have been going over this ground all afternoon. I make no apology whatever for going over it again and I am delighted that Liberty has provided this particular opportunity.
Clause 11 extends the Secretary of State’s power to make regulations to require police forces to adopt certain procedures and practices. At present, regulations can be made in respect of all forces only where in the opinion of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary and the Secretary of State such regulations are necessary to support joint or co-ordinated police operations and are in the national interest.
The proposed change allows regulations to be made in respect of one or more forces. It also allows the regulations to be made where in the opinion of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary and the Secretary of State the adoption of practices or procedures will promote the efficiency and effectiveness of a police force and are in the national interest.
This clause further strengthens the ability of the Secretary of State to provide a regulatory basis for convergence in support of the information systems strategy. It has been our experience historically that the cost of developing common IT applications in policing has increased where there has been no agreement over common business processes.
As in the case of Clause 10, we do not expect that such regulations will be made frequently. This provision is nevertheless valuable and necessary to improve information systems in policing. It is quite focused. Regulations under Section 53A could however also be used more generally to support the recommendations in Sir Ronnie Flanagan’s Review of Policing for more efficient and effective police business processes that would help to reduce unnecessary bureaucracy, improve police procurement and create a national set of standardised forms.
Clause 12 is the last of three clauses which are intended to give the Secretary of State more flexible regulation-making powers in support of a common approach to the development of information systems and services in the police service. This clause will enable the Secretary of State to make regulations in respect of the use by one or more police forces of specific services. Regulations will be made only where the Secretary of State, having consulted the Association of Police Authorities and the Association of Chief Police Officers, considers them to be in the interest of efficiency and effectiveness of the police.
The power already exists if applied to all police forces at once. This provision allows the flexibility to make regulations that apply, for example, to one region. The circumstances in which this power might be used would be if there were benefit in a collaborating group of forces using a shared information service—for example, a common secure storage service for digital evidence. Again, we hope that agreement to do so would be done by voluntary agreement on the strength of the business case, but it is possible to envisage circumstances in which the benefit to a larger group of forces might justify an element of mandation.
Clause 11 agreed.
Clause 12 : Police facilities and services
Amendment 44 not moved.
Clause 12 agreed.
44A: After Clause 12, insert the following new Clause—
“Police authorities: membership
(1) Schedule 2 to the Police Act 1996 (c. 16) is amended as follows.
(2) Paragraph 2 shall be renumbered sub-paragraph 2(1).
(3) After sub-paragraph 2(1) insert new sub-paragraphs—
“(2) A relevant council or joint committee shall exercise its power to appoint members of a police authority under paragraph (1)(a) and (b) so as to ensure that, so far as practicable, in the case of the members for whose appointment it is responsible, the proportion who are members of any given party—
(a) where it is a council that is responsible for their appointment, is the same as the proportion of the members of the council who are members of that party; and(b) where it is a joint committee that is so responsible, is the same as the proportion of the members of the relevant councils taken as a whole who are members of that party.(3) A relevant council or joint committee shall exercise its power to appoint members of a police authority under sub-paragraph (1)(a) or (b) so as to ensure that, as far as practicable, it has regard to the relevance of the skills, knowledge and experience of the members for whose appointment it is responsible.”
(4) At the end of paragraph 3(1)(a) insert “or a committee of the authority”.”
The amendment aims to do two things. First, it puts councillor nominations on a more competency-based footing. This is intended to support the Green Paper’s ambitions, which I fully endorse, to strengthen police authorities. It aims to contribute to this by improving the capacity and capability of police authority members. Independent members of police authorities are already selected through a competency-based process but the amendment extends this requirement to councillor members.
At present, the only requirement in selecting councillor members is political balance. In my view, this must remain the overarching consideration. We discussed this on earlier amendments. The ability of police authorities to reflect a balanced range of views has been fundamental to keeping them independent and largely free of party-political domination over the past 15 years.
However, there must also be room for improvement in the quality of councillor members. As an ex-councillor and ex-police authority chair, I am well aware of the weaknesses in the present system of appointment. Many councillor members are excellent, but some are still appointed for a range of reasons through a process that lacks transparency. Police authorities in some areas still struggle to find councillor members who will turn up and make an effective contribution, and in some cases, this amounts to attending no more than quarterly meetings of the full authority. Councillor members have a vital role to play in providing a link to democratic processes and credible accountability to local communities. Poor attendance or questionable commitment, or a lack of particular capacity to do the job, which is demanding, are not acceptable if this vital link is to be maintained.
I am not arguing that councillor members should necessarily be expected to bring the same competences to police authorities as independent members. They have a different role to play, focused on engaging with local communities, understanding their needs and better joining-up policing with local councils. But the public have a right to expect that councillors should discharge this responsibility effectively and that the enthusiasm and suitability of candidates should be considered in deciding whether to appoint a councillor to a police authority.
Secondly, the final paragraph of this amendment corrects a possible anomaly in the current legislation about appointing independent members. A significant round of appointments to police authorities took place last year across the country, which threw up some queries about whether the final stages of the appointments process need to be conducted by the full authority, or whether it can be done by a committee of the authority. Good recruitment practice suggests that it is not particularly effective to subject a candidate to an interview panel comprising 17 or more people, which is the number of members of a full authority. However, there are some doubts about whether it is adequate under current legislation to conduct final interviews through a committee and then ask the full authority to endorse the recommendations of the committee.
In theory, a police authority can delegate any of its functions to a committee unless the law says otherwise, but this amendment is designed to put the matter beyond doubt and make it clear that the decision on who to appoint can be delegated to a committee of the authority, if desired. I beg to move.
I added my name to this amendment, but the Liberal Democrats have a rather different system for the construction of police authorities. The first parts of Amendment 44A would be quite difficult to support, although I support proposed new sub-paragraph (3), which states:
“A relevant council or joint committee shall exercise its power to appoint members of a police authority under sub-paragraph (1)(a) … to ensure that … it has regard to the relevance of the skills, knowledge and experience of the members for whose appointment it is responsible”.
That is a very important part of the amendment.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, said, having spent a number of years in a full police authority, lining everybody up to interview people to pick the independent members of an authority is ridiculous. Yet, that is what we had to do. I support proposed new sub-paragraph (4), which refers to “a committee of the authority”, which would be a sensible way forward. We may have to bring forward at another stage proposals on the make-up of police authorities.
We all have views on how police authorities should be and they are all different. My main concern is the practicality of what is being proposed. Local authority members are not chosen because of their expertise in any particular matter—not yet. That may come in due course, and we will be fluffing around trying to find somebody with financial experience to lead the council on finance matters. But we are not there yet. I am worried that some people who would be very good police authority members would be precluded because they do not happen to have the ability or expertise that the police authority is looking for. Such expertise may not be available on the council at all. A police authority needs people with a robust connection with their local community, who have a lot of common sense and who understand policing. That does not seem to require any expertise other than being able to live in your local community and understand it.
Although I understand the sentiments behind the amendment, I would not want to support it, because it might put local authorities in a very awkward position. If they were trying to appoint the sort of people that a police authority said it wanted, they might preclude somebody who was very good indeed and who might have been appointed if such restrictions had not been in place.
I am disappointed that we do not have an amendment from the Conservatives so that we could have a lively debate about their proposals for police authorities. I am sure that we can wait for another day for that.
The difficulty that we face is that, given the state of local government elections and local government reorganisation, with yet more authorities put on hold in local government review, not only are the electorate not very interested in turning out to vote for their local authorities, but the attendance at police authority meetings, which has never been fantastic, is suffering again a fall in interest from members of the public.
In proposing amendments to the Bill, we are between a rock and a hard place in coming up with any good suggestions in a system that is so broken and that the Government have so far failed to fix in the much wider context not just of the police authorities but of local government. The issue is very difficult and needs a lot of energy and input before we can get anywhere near solving it.
The noble Baronesses seek to enshrine in primary legislation the existing duty on those who appoint councillor members of police authorities to reflect the political balance of councils in that area. The Government are aware of the importance of this long-standing principle, which is why it was included in the Police Authority Regulations 2008. I am afraid that I do not see the value of moving this into primary legislation. These regulations have the full force of law and the Government have no plans to remove this principle from them. The Government are also required by statute to consult the APA whenever these regulations are amended. Therefore, if the situation should ever arise where the Government sought to amend this, the APA would be involved in that decision right from the beginning.
This amendment also seeks to place a duty on councils and joint committees to fill skills gaps in police authorities when appointing councillor members. This duty has long been placed on independent member selection panels when they appoint independent members. Extending this duty to the appointment of councillor members merits serious consideration. Many councillors have a broad range of skills and it appears sensible, in essence, for these skills to be considered in their appointment.
However, the wider context also needs to be taken into account. Often these decisions reflect broader concerns including political interests. I would not wish to impose restrictions on the discretion of councillors appointing their own members without first engaging with the Local Government Association and other interested stakeholders. I will ask Home Office officials to engage with the APA and the Local Government Association on this matter, with a view to the issue being considered as part of the regulatory reform of police authorities that is currently under way.
I understand the noble Baronesses’ desire explicitly to allow the delegation of appointments to a police authority committee. It is very sensible that small committees of police authorities carry out the interviewing of candidates rather than the whole authority. However, I think that this amendment needs proper deliberation before it is included in the Bill. For example, I would wish fully to understand how this proposed power would interact with local government legislation. Would it impose any limits or requirements on membership of the committee? Could non-police authority members be co-opted on to that committee?
I hope that the noble Baronesses will agree that further thought should be given to the amendment and will agree to withdraw it on the understanding that Home Office officials include these issues in their review of police authority regulations and guidance.
Amendment 44A withdrawn.
44B: After Clause 12, insert the following new Clause—
“Police authorities: co-operation with responsible authorities
Any responsible authority (as defined by section 5 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 (c. 37) (Authorities responsible for strategies)), other than the police authority and the chief officer of police, shall have a duty to co-operate with the police authority in relation to delivery of the Secretary of State’s strategic priorities for police authorities set out in section 37A of the Police Act 1996 (c. 16).”
Moving speedily on, this amendment was drawn up with the new single confidence target for policing very much in mind. This new confidence target is the one overarching numerical target that will be set for policing in the future by the Home Secretary. It is an important measure, so we must ensure that we get the arrangements surrounding it right.
The police do not deliver safer communities single-handedly; they have to work effectively with partners to achieve success in improving public safety and in driving down crime. The new confidence target recognises that because it is in fact a measure of public confidence in the police and local councils. Herein, of course, lies the catch. Councils are able to sign up to the same target through their local area agreements, but crucially they have an option regarding whether or not to do so. It is merely one of a range of targets that they can adopt and it is not mandatory for them. I understand that out of approximately 350 councils in the country, so far only about 50 have adopted this target. Of course, the police have little power to influence the council-half of the equation by which success will be measured in the future.
Although the single confidence target is very laudable and the reduction in the overall number of targets placed on the police is welcome, it seems inequitable that half of what is measured relates to bodies that the police do not control. The concern must be that what gets measured gets done. Particularly in the parlous financial times that we are facing, there will be significant pressure on local authorities to focus only on targets that they have selected as priorities. Targets that are not a priority are therefore likely to be ignored and little resource or effort will be invested in helping partners to deliver targets that are different. That could clearly have a detrimental effect on policing and on force performance, not necessarily through any fault of individual forces or divisional commanders.
My amendment would provide a solution by placing a duty on partner authorities to co-operate with the police in delivering the single confidence target, which is the key strategic priority set by the Home Secretary for policing. This is similar to the duty that partner authorities to local councils, including both police authorities and police forces, are already under to help councils to deliver their local area agreement targets. This seems a proportionate and balanced reciprocal approach to the problem. I beg to move.
The Home Secretary’s strategic policing priorities are set at a national level and are already integrated into the processes that govern local delivery. The strategic policing priorities are reflected in the Government’s public service agreements, which are adopted at local level through local area agreements. They are also incorporated into the partnership plans of the responsible authorities. The extent to which, and manner in which, the Home Secretary’s strategic policing priorities are adopted are determined by local circumstances. I believe that the amendment is not necessary and that it would duplicate the current integration of the strategic policing priorities within public service agreements and existing local priority-setting processes, imposing a rigid process on the current flexible framework of locally determined priorities. I therefore invite my noble friend to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 44B withdrawn.
44C: After Clause 12, insert the following new Clause—
“Police authorities: nominations to crime and disorder committees
(1) The Police and Justice Act 2006 (c. 48) is amended as follows.
(2) In section 19 (Local authority scrutiny of crime and disorder matters), after subsection (1) insert—
“(1A) Every crime and disorder committee shall include at least one member nominated by the police authority responsible for maintaining the police force in the area of the local authority, who shall have the same entitlement to vote as any other member of that committee.”
(3) In schedule 8, paragraph 5, for “section 20(6)” substitute “sections 19(1A) and 20(6)”.”
This amendment seeks to ensure that there is always a police authority representative on crime and disorder committees to square the circle regarding police accountability.
Crime and disorder committees are effectively council overview and scrutiny committees when they sit to consider crime and disorder issues. They were created through the Police and Justice Act 2006 with the intention that they should scrutinise the work of crime and disorder reduction partnerships. That was nearly three years ago, but the regulations governing the operation of these arrangements were implemented only this year in April.
Noble Lords with memories somewhat better than mine may recall that I spoke about these provisions when the original Police and Justice Bill was in this House. At the time I was concerned, among other things, that the committees would be used to scrutinise individual partners, and not the partnership as a whole, as intended by the then Bill. I was concerned in particular that the committees would be used in practice to try to hold to account individual police commanders—because police commanders are accountable to the chief officer, who in turn is accountable in law to the police authority. It is not for council committees to do the statutory job of other bodies.
To guard against this possibility and square the accountability loop, I suggested that provisions should be included in the Bill, specifying that a police authority member should sit on the crime and disorder committee. At the time, my noble friend Lord Bassam resisted my call to put this in primary legislation, but agreed to ensure that it was covered in the regulations that followed. When eventually the regulations were published, in April this year, I was surprised and concerned to see that they did not specify that a police authority member should be co-opted on to these committees. The regulations did contain permissive powers enabling representatives of outside bodies to be co-opted at the discretion of the council. However, if a council chooses not to do this, significant difficulties concerning police accountability may arise.
I appreciate that the Home Office guidance that supported these regulations made strong recommendations that police authority members should be co-opted on to committees where policing matters were being considered. However, I am also aware that several councils will not, as a matter of principle, co-opt outside individuals on to their committees unless legislation compels them to—and guidance is not legislation. So the situation remains unsatisfactory from a policing point of view, and risks creating tension between local authorities and the police, who are not legally accountable to them. This could have a detrimental effect on partnership working at a time when it is important that all parties work well together to make the best use of scarce resources. In moving the amendment, I ask my noble friend if he has any plans to revise the regulations at some point in the future, or any other plans that would allay my concerns. I beg to move.
The amendment relates to the composition of crime and disorder overview and scrutiny committees, which have been established by local authorities in England since 30 April 2009 under the Police and Justice Act 2006. The suggestion is that it should be compulsory to have a member of the local police authority as a member of each of these committees. This is an interesting point. However, regulations made under the Police and Justice Act already enable the co-option of additional members—including police authority members—to crime and disorder committees. Although this is subject to local determination, supporting guidance drafted in partnership with the Association of Police Authorities encourages local authorities to presume that police authorities must play an active part in scrutiny committees, and provides clarity on particular circumstances where police authority members or officers can add value to their work.
I am afraid that I cannot tell my noble friend Lady Henig that we plan to make any great changes. I am confident that existing arrangements will encourage local authorities to ensure that police authorities play an active part in committees when community safety matters are being discussed, and in particular when the police are to be present. The effect of the amendment would be to remove local flexibility in relation to how the local police authority is engaged, which is key to the Government’s approach. Therefore I ask my noble friend to withdraw the amendment.
I thank my noble friend for his response. I am sure that there are problems with the amendment, but there will be problems also if it does not happen. It is interesting that the Minister is all in favour of flexibility in some circumstances, and yet in others—and we have been arguing since 3 pm for flexibility—he is unable to provide it. In this situation, there could be problems if police authority members are not involved in these bodies, or do not know what is happening on them.
None the less, I hear what my noble friend has said and, in view of the lateness of the hour and in the hope that regulations will continue to alleviate at least some of the difficulties, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 44C withdrawn.