House of Lords
Tuesday, 24 May 2011.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Blackburn.
The following Measures were given Royal Assent:
Care of Cathedrals Measure,
Ecclesiastical Fees (Amendment) Measure,
Mission and Pastoral Measure.
House of Lords: Membership
To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many additional Peers from each of the parties that contested the 2010 general election are required to meet the commitment in the coalition’s programme for government to establish “a second Chamber that is reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election”.
My Lords, the coalition programme made clear that, pending reform of this House, appointments would be made with the objective of creating a second Chamber reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election. We have now published our proposals for a wholly or mainly elected House, and we intend that the first elected Members will join this House in 2015. The Prime Minister will continue to move towards the objectives set out in the coalition programme.
My Lords, that was an Answer to two questions, neither of which was the Question I asked. Can I assume that neither the Leader of the House nor anyone in the unit in the Civil Service that is dealing with these things has read the document published by the Constitution Unit of University College London, which calculates that if the coalition agreement’s plans for appointment to this House were to be met, an additional 269 Peers would be required? We have two simultaneous government policies, one set out in the coalition agreement, which provides for a House in excess of 1,000 Members, and the other in the document published last week, the draft Bill, which provides for a House of 300 Members. Will the Leader of the House explain the Government’s thinking?
I think the noble Lord is making a frightful meal of this. There is no complexity in it at all. The Prime Minister has said, as outlined in the coalition document, that we will move towards this objective over time, but we may not reach it. If we get to 2015 and have elected Members of this House, it will, of course, be unnecessary. What all the figures demonstrate is that the Labour Party is extremely well represented in this House. If anyone needs more Members it is the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats.
Does the Minister agree that one of the important principles that should be preserved in this House is that no one party should ever have an overall majority within it? Does he also accept that in the House as presently constituted, 80 per cent of Members are male and 20 per cent female, with an average age of 69, and that any future appointments or any future electoral system should be geared towards improving the representative nature of this House to make it more reflective of the diversity of the country as a whole?
My Lords, I agree with my noble friend’s first point. It is a matter of record that the coalition—the combined forces of the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats—is no more than 40 per cent of this House, which means that it is a minority. The Labour Party does not like to be reminded of the fact that it is the largest group in the House of Lords, but that, too, is a fact. I am sure that my noble friend’s statistics on the male-female ratio are correct. We are also a substantially older House than many other assemblies and parliaments in the world, which of course is not such a bad thing. It is a good opportunity to let the House know that it is my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway’s 94th birthday today.
Is the noble Lord aware that the Prime Minister wrote to me last August saying:
“I do take on board what you say about the number of UKIP Peers currently in the House of Lords and I will, of course, keep this matter under review”?
Since UKIP got more than 3 per cent of the vote at the last general election, that would give us some 24 Peers by the present numbering instead of the two we now have. How is the Prime Minister’s review proceeding?
My Lords, does Her Majesty’s Government believe that the appointment of a large number of additional Peers will help your Lordships’ House to serve the people of our country more effectively, or might some of the proposals of the Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, help to achieve that objective better?
My Lords, there is no intention at present to increase the number of Peers in this House. However, from the point of view of my noble friend Lord Steel’s Bill, I can inform the House that my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral’s proposition has been published in a Procedure Committee report, will be taken in the course of the next few weeks and, I hope, will be agreed by the House.
My Lords, amusing as all this is, can we not abandon the constitutional gobbledegook to which we have been subjected? Can my noble friend not recognise the worth of this House and the good sense of the Steel Bill proposals, reform this House, and abandon plans to abolish it and replace it by an elected assembly, which could only be second best?
I was unaware of any constitutional gobbledegook during the course of this Question. It is because my noble friend Lord Steel’s propositions on permanent retirement from this House are so sensible that the Procedure Committee has agreed a report which I hope will be agreed by the House.
My Lords, I am sure that many of my noble friends would welcome the noble Lord’s announcement that the Government have no intention to increase the number of Peers, thus breaking another promise in the coalition agreement, but one which we welcome wholeheartedly. Does the Leader of the House agree that, while neither the Conservative Party nor the Liberal Democrats have a majority in this House, as the coalition Benches they have a political majority, which has fundamentally changed the workings of this House since the advent of the coalition?
My Lords, there is no intention at present to increase the size of the House of Lords, but that—for the avoidance of doubt—is not a moratorium. As for the political majority, it is true that the coalition has more members than the Labour Party, but that is not the whole of the House of Lords. The Cross-Benchers play a substantial and serious-minded role in this House—one the Labour Party wishes to abolish from the future House. I am, on the other hand, entirely in favour of the Cross Benches remaining an important and integral part of a reformed second Chamber.
Education: English Baccalaureate
My Lords, since announcing the subjects that would count towards the English baccalaureate in the 2010 performance tables, the department has received a wide range of correspondence on whether it should include religious studies. Ministers and departmental officials have held a number of meetings with interested parties. The Government are currently considering the content of the English baccalaureate for the purpose of the 2011 performance tables. We intend to publish information on all measures to be included before the Summer Recess.
My Lords, surely the inevitable consequence of the exclusion of religious studies as an examination subject in the English baccalaureate will be its downgrading and increasing marginalisation. Is that what the Government intend? Given the widespread popular support for religious studies as evidenced by a petition signed by well over 100,000 people, would not the Government be well advised to consider a possible two-out-of-three option for the humanities component of the English baccalaureate? That means two out of history, geography and the very popular and rigorous religious studies.
My Lords, I am aware of the proposal for a two-out-of-three option and my ministerial colleagues who are responsible for this area are aware of it too. On the noble Lord’s point about the marginalisation of religious studies, I am glad to say that in recent years the opposite has been the case—more pupils have been studying religious studies at GCSE, so we are starting from a position of strength. As the noble Lord will know, the thinking behind the EBacc is to try to ensure that more children have the chance to do a core of academic subjects which will enable them to progress to A-level and into higher education. That was the focus of what the EBacc was attempting to do.
My Lords, the Church of England is concerned about high-quality RE and religious studies not only for the 1 million pupils in its own schools and academies. Is the Minister aware that it is not just religious organisations that feel dismayed at the exclusion of RE from the English baccalaureate?
Yes, my Lords. As I said in my initial Answer, we have had a series of meetings and representations, and I am aware of the wide range of views that have been expressed on the importance of religious studies—a view which I share—and that those views have been expressed not only by churches and faith bodies but also more widely. It is generally accepted that religious studies plays an important role in educating children and giving them an understanding of some of the ethical and moral issues that we want all our children to learn about.
The noble Lord illustrates one of the difficulties that one has when one starts to expand the number of subjects that one would like to have in some kind of EBacc. There are many people who can make an extremely strong and persuasive argument as to why particular subjects should be included—the subjects of music and creative arts, for example, have been raised in Questions before. If one wants to have a small core of subjects that enables us to see what is being offered, one has to try to keep it to a core. I understand the point about the range of subjects, but the principal drive in this is to ensure that children, particularly those from poor backgrounds, have the chance to study a core of academic subjects alongside vocational subjects, and then there is time for a range of other subjects to be taught alongside them.
Can my noble friend think of any time in history when an understanding between different faiths was more crucial to the future of world peace? Does he not think, as the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, pointed out, that a step which will inevitably result in a marginalising of this subject is a step in the wrong direction?
Well, my Lords, an understanding between two religions could have been usefully applied in our own country in the 16th century. I accept my noble friend’s basic point about how important it is. Nothing that I have said, I hope, or that the Government are intending for religious studies, in any way undermines our support for the subject. I agree about the important role that it plays, particularly in a religiously and culturally diverse society. It is a statutory subject and the take-up is increasing, which I very much welcome.
My Lords, can the Minister give an absolute assurance that no school’s performance will be assessed on the basis of retrospectively applied rules and that all schools will be judged on the rules that applied at the time that they were assessed?
Yes, my Lords. As the noble Baroness will be aware, the point of the EBacc is to provide information. It is not a performance or accountability measure. We use the same measure as we inherited from the previous Government—that is, five A to C GCSEs. The point of the EBacc, alongside other measures, is to try to provide more information. One would want to see more information being made available about schools offering RE, alongside the other, vocational subjects. The more that parents can see what a school is offering, the better it will be.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is essential that all pupils have access to a broad syllabus in the bacc, including religious education that teaches all faiths and none, which is about what people believe rather than teaching them what to believe? Does the Minister further agree that, in addition to RE being an academically rigorous subject, effective all-faith teaching promotes understanding, social cohesion and tolerance?
Crime: Homeowners’ Liability
My Lords, the Government believe that the civil law provides effective protection to property owners and other victims of crime against possible claims for damages by those engaged in unlawful activity. We have no plans to review the law in this area.
I thank the Minister for that reply. Can he reconcile the contradictory advice given to homeowners, particularly in rural areas? In some areas, they are advised to lock up their lawnmowers and be very careful about their sheds, whereas in Surrey and Kent the police advise people that, whatever happens, they must not put any wire mesh on their garden sheds in case it injures a burglar.
I saw the report of that advice. All I can say is that it is an example of overcompensation. Certainly, putting wire mesh on a shed is not disproportionate. The law warns against disproportionate protection measures. The property owner has protection in law to protect their property proportionately.
Does the Minister see any reason to vary Section 329 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which provided that civil proceedings brought by a burglar could be brought only with the permission of the court? It is a defence for the householder to say that he believed that the claimant was about to commit an offence or that he was defending himself. Does the Minister see any reason to change that position?
No, my Lords. I believe that the party opposite can take credit for the Criminal Justice Act 2003 because, as my noble friend said, it included a test to make it more difficult for a person who has been convicted of an imprisonable offence to make a civil claim for damages unless what they had encountered was grossly disproportionate to the circumstances. It is interesting to note that, since the introduction of Section 329, we are not aware of any claims by criminals for trespass to the person succeeding.
Yes, and this is a good opportunity to emphasise from this Dispatch Box wise guidance that was given by the Director of Public Prosecutions in 2005, who is now my noble friend Lord Macdonald of River Glaven. He said:
“The law is on the side of householders … It is only in the most extreme circumstances that householders are prosecuted for violence against burglars”.
He goes on to say that householders,
“are entitled to use violence to protect themselves”,
“Indeed we routinely refuse to prosecute those reacting in the heat of the moment to finding intruders within their homes”.
Is my noble friend aware that some of the more ridiculous cases are stimulated by claims management companies and that there are recommendations about their activities in Lord Justice Jackson's report? Will he update the House as to where we are on the possible implementation of those proposals?
What a good question. While a Bill is before the House, that can be used in evidence. As I said at the beginning, this is a report of advice given by the Surrey police which, on reflection, they would probably think is not proportionate. In a case in Florida recently someone wired up their window frames to the electricity mains and electrocuted a burglar. That is disproportionate. Wire mesh on the windows is not.
My Lords, I am not surprised that the Minister did not answer the noble Lord’s question, because he gave the game away. He suggested that elected party political police commissioners will interfere in the day-to-day operations of the police force. That is why that Bill has to be defeated.
My Lords, the Government believe that rape is a very serious offence, with dreadful consequences for the victim. The seriousness with which the offence is viewed by the Government, Parliament, the courts and society at large is reflected by the fact that the maximum penalty is a life sentence and that the average determinate custodial sentence imposed is eight years.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. However, does he agree that the careless and damaging remarks made last week by his right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor have undermined the confidence that victims have in the criminal justice system? The views expressed seemed hopelessly out of touch and out of date, and have offended many people, including victims of sexual violence. Will the Minister confirm that there will be no downgrading in the priority given to prosecuting those who have committed offences of sexual violence; and that the Government will not reduce the number of specialist rape prosecutors —now around 840 in number—employed by the Crown Prosecution Service over the comprehensive spending review period?
I do not know who is damaging confidence most, if damage has been done. It certainly was not anything that my right honourable friend said. Anybody who analysed what he said would accept that. I was caught by a paragraph in the Stern review, which said:
“We need to look at rape victims as people who have been harmed, whom society has a positive responsibility to help and to protect, aside from the operations of criminal law. Whether the rape is reported or not, whether the case goes forward or not, whether there is a conviction or not, victims still have a right to services that will help them to recover and rebuild their lives”.
That is the policy of Her Majesty’s Government and we will stick to it.
My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that it was extremely regrettable that the leader of the Labour Party chose to jump on a populist bandwagon the other day in an effort to undermine a Secretary of State who is pursuing some of the more progressive and enlightened policies of this coalition Government?
I am very grateful for those comments. The Labour Benches and the Labour leader must make their own minds up whether that intervention was opportune. All I know is that this Government and this Secretary of State have put rape support centres on a secure financial footing for the first time, with £10.5 million of grant funding allocated to existing centres across the country over the next three years. Up to £600,000 is also being provided to develop four new rape support centres. We have run a grant-funding programme to award the voluntary community and social enterprise sector up to £30 million in grant funding over three years. We have guaranteed funding of up to £2 million a year for the next three years to fund specialist support for adult victims of human trafficking. We have provided Victim Support with £114 million in grants spreading over the next three years. That is the action that this Government have taken on rape: standing by women, supporting them and giving them the support they need. Everybody realises it is an extremely traumatic experience.
My Lords, would it not be quite wrong for the Government to duck legislating in the area of rape, given the problem we had this last week? In particular, the argument over whether men should have anonymity in rape cases remains outstanding, as does the question of whether women who make false allegations should enjoy the anonymity that they currently enjoy.
I know that the noble Lord has raised these matters on a number of occasions. The Government’s sentencing and legal aid Bill will shortly come before the House—or, rather, before Parliament, as it will go to the Commons first—and it will give us a chance to consider again the issues that he has raised consistently. However, his assertion that there are large numbers of false claims for rape is not, as far as I am concerned, borne out by research.
My Lords, leaving aside what the Lord Chancellor may have said, does the noble Lord agree that sentencing in rape cases, as indeed in all cases, is a matter for the judges? Subject to the maximum sentence for any given crime, which in the case of rape is, as the noble Lord has pointed out, life imprisonment, it is for the judges to decide where the particular case fits, subject of course to the guidance of the Sentencing Council.
My Lords, perhaps this is an opportune time to say from the Dispatch Box that this is certainly a case where Parliament should trust the judges, and so should society at large. Only the judge hears the full case, the full information and the full background and is able to make a proper judgment as to the required punishment. Nobody should be in doubt that the judiciary, the Government and society at large treat rape very seriously and the perpetrators will be punished appropriately.
My Lords, are the Government considering reclassifying consensual sex by two people under the age of 16, given that that appears to be very different from rape? Only 5 per cent of victims feel able to report rape and, for two-thirds of victims, rape by a partner or ex-partner involves violence to the point of choking or strangulation.
The case that the noble Baroness brings up is one that is best left to the good judgment—and it is the good judgment—of the authorities involved in those cases. It is extremely difficult to make broad-brush assumptions. I note what she says and, for our review of sentencing, I will take back the particular point that she has raised.
My Lords, all incidents of rape are serious and to indicate otherwise sends the wrong message to victims of rape. Will the Minister give an undertaking to ensure that there is a public awareness campaign about the laws on rape and consent so that we make it absolutely clear that non-consensual sex is a serious offence? I believe that this would clear up any misunderstandings that have happened over the past week.
I do not think that there are misunderstandings from over the past week. There has been no doubt that this Government take rape very seriously, and the Secretary of State takes rape very seriously. The amount of money, even at a time of difficulty in overall spending, has been maintained and the number of rape advice centres has been extended. However, I agree with the noble Baroness that it is time to publicise the seriousness of rape, and I think that that could be started in the schools and by looking at some of the worrying things in advertising, in pop music and in some of the newspapers, which have been so quick in their editorial pages to condemn my right honourable friend. Some of those should look at where they put the position of women in society and whether they encourage young men to give women the respect that they should have. That might be a start.
Parliament Office of Science and Technology (POST)
Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Monetary Penalty Notices and Consents for Interceptions) Regulations 2011
Motion to Approve
Postal Services Bill
I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Postal Services Bill, has consented to place her interests, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.
Clause 2 : Report on decision to dispose of shares in a Royal Mail company etc
1: Clause 2, page 2, line 6, at end insert—
“( ) the strategy for achieving the objective of making post offices the principal location for the provision of government services over the next ten years”
My Lords, as we have scrutinised this Bill, many noble Lords have stressed the crucial importance of maintaining the link between Royal Mail and the post office network. We have urged the signing of a new 10-year interbusiness agreement of long enough duration to give a sense of security to the people who run our post offices and the many members of the public and businesses that rely on them. The Government have made helpful moves in providing the details for the IBA to be included in the report to Parliament. The Minister has said that she expects a new IBA in the spring and that she hopes that the agreement might extend to 10 years or more. That is good news. Royal Mail work accounts for the largest single stream of income for post offices, about a third, but government services are also very important. They account for more than 25 per cent of post office income; they used to account for more than 40 per cent.
I fully understand the difficulties facing the Government. It would have been wrong to prevent pensioners receiving their pension direct into their bank account if they so wished. It would be wrong to prevent the public from applying for licences by internet if they so wished. We understand the constraints of European competition law. So the Government should be realistic. They should not raise hopes only for them to be dashed and they should turn warm words into practical projections and plans. But when it comes to converting fine intentions into actual work, the results have been disappointing. The document produced by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in November 2010, Securing The Post Office Network In The Digital Age, contains welcome words. It boldly declares:
“We want to see the Post Office become a genuine Front Office for Government at both the national and local level … acting as a natural home for the delivery of face-to-face government services and helping citizens interact with Government online”.
Those are wonderful words, but the document is in truth a little thin on this particular subject. There are promises of pilots and one or two isolated examples. Indeed, Mr Billy Hayes of the Communication Workers Union described the Government as being as “joined up as spaghetti” in this respect, with different government departments each adopting a different approach.
The first practical test that came along was the DWP contract for so-called green giros, which are paid to an estimated 250,000 to 350,000 people on benefits or pensions who do not have a bank account or card account. In contrast to the record of my noble friend Lord Mandelson in suspending the bidding for the post office card account, the one actual decision that the Government made was to take away from post offices the multi-million pound contract to process so-called green giros. I suspect that that is a bigger blow to sub-post offices because of the added footfall that it brings than it is to Post Office Ltd as a whole, but it was a serious setback to the confidence of sub-postmasters. But the Minister for postal services was clear when he said that:
“BIS has no intention of subsidising DWP and I am sure DWP has no intention of subsidising BIS. I would simply say that if new services are put forward by any Government Department, unless there are issues that prevent a competitive procurement, those Whitehall Departments have to go through a proper procurement process and Post Office Ltd would have to compete with them”.—[Official Report, Commons, Postal Services Bill Committee, 23/11/10; col. 349.]
It is the usual stance of other departments and local councils, especially at a time of cuts of 20 per cent or more, to concentrate more on saving money, so there are practical steps that can be made. Injection of modern technology at post office counters, for example, could benefit from the comprehensive spending review funding; then there is the imaginative use of the post office as a central and trusted point in community life. There are deadlines for decisions on procurement and projections that need to be made. The views that I have expressed are views shared and supported perhaps even more strongly by the National Federation of SubPostmasters.
This amendment is intended to concentrate minds and encourage a strategic approach to the future of government services provided through post offices. It is an important addition to the call for a long-term interbusiness agreement, on which the futures of many of our post offices hang. The Government will be judged on this issue, to quote the words of the Suffragettes, through deeds not words. I beg to move.
My Lords, Amendments 1 and 2 seek to introduce new requirements into Clause 2. On Amendment 1, as we have discussed previously, Post Office Ltd has developed a clear strategy to deliver a commercially self-sustaining business while maintaining a network of at least 11,500 branches. This Government have allocated a funding package of £1.34 billion which will allow Post Office Ltd to deliver this strategy, as part of which Post Office Ltd has been clear in its ambition to become a front office for both local and central government. The Government fully support Post Office Ltd in this, as does the National Federation of SubPostmasters.
The National Federation of SubPostmasters realises that this strategy, along with the other elements of the Post Office’s plan, such as the introduction of Post Office Local outlets, must succeed in order for the Post Office to become the vibrant business we all believe it can be. Indeed, the National Federation of SubPostmasters stressed the importance of the front office for government strategy last week, when welcoming the publication of the Co-operatives UK report on options for a mutual Post Office. The front office for government strategy is already under way and the Post Office is working hard to develop competitive, innovative services targeted at both local and central government. It is also engaging with a number of departments, agencies and local authorities to develop the role it will play, particularly as all parts of the Government plan how to deliver their services in new and increasingly digital ways. This is beginning to yield results.
Only yesterday, the National Federation of SubPostmasters welcomed the beginning of a pilot scheme which offers document verification for pension applications across 106 post offices in the north-east. I welcome it too. The Post Office, the National Federation of SubPostmasters and the Government all agree that this is simply a good start and that more work should follow. It is therefore good news that the pilot is actually just the first of three planned pilots with the Department for Work and Pensions, which has set out that it will continue to work with the Post Office to explore opportunities for delivering welfare in the future, including universal credit. The Post Office has also been successful in its bid to provide registration services as part of an initiative to enrol local authority employees into a government employee authentication service.
The annual report on the Post Office network required under Clause 11 will provide ample information regarding its progress in delivering government and other services across its network, and that will be provided each and every year. I see no benefit in duplicating the information in the report to be delivered on a Royal Mail transaction. As such, and due to the reassurance I have given on the progress that Post Office Ltd is making in securing new government business, I hope the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw Amendment 1.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her words. I will obviously study the detail of them. I found them helpful and I do feel able to withdraw Amendment 1. In my desire not to take up too much time, I did not speak to Amendment 2 which, with the House’s indulgence, I should like to address.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
2: Clause 2, page 2, line 6, at end insert—
“( ) the criteria and method by which the value of shares or overall sale value of the Royal Mail Group, or part thereof, which is to be disposed of, has been assessed”
My Lords, Amendment 2 addresses a concern that, in the pursuit of other no doubt laudable objectives, attention may be diverted from getting the right valuation of Royal Mail and ensuring that the taxpayer is not short-changed. The noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, drawing on considerable professional banking experience, reminded us of her wicked past, although I doubt it was enough for a super-injunction to be called for. She said that it was,
“good to have the warning that past sales of assets have not really achieved the maximum price that could have been achieved under more effective disposal mechanisms. The Government tend to be quite poor at procurement of almost anything, including a price for the sale of assets”.—[Official Report, 14/3/11; col. 103.]
Those are wise words, based on experience.
There is a compelling case to show that in the heyday of privatisation, the 1980s and 1990s, privatised companies were consistently sold at too low a price. The noble Lord, Lord Lea, on the basis of his thorough research, pointed out to the House that it has been estimated that for 1986 alone the average share issue premium on major share issues was 7 per cent. On privatisation issues the average premium on the first day of trading was 77 per cent. One of the reasons for this undervaluation is that it is extremely difficult to place an accurate valuation on a company in which no shares have been traded recently. That would certainly be the case with Royal Mail. It is not uncommon, when a public body has kept records for other purposes, for its inventory not to be perfectly up to date for the purposes of a sale.
Ministers have previously warned that they do not want to publish the valuation of the company for fear of affecting the sale price adversely. In other words, they think they might undervalue the assets, compared with what someone is willing to pay. They have also been unwilling to guarantee that there will be an independent valuation, or to share the valuation prior to the sale with the Public Accounts Committee in another place. They have indicated that there will be an internal confidential valuation and that the accounting officer of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills will be obliged to ensure value for money overall. That might be reassuring were it not for the fact that similar obligations also applied in the palpable underselling of public corporations in the 1980s and 1990s.
This amendment does not seek the publication of any figure for valuation. It does not even ask for a figure to be shared with the Public Accounts Committee in advance. It simply provides for the Government, at the time of their report to Parliament—already promised in Clause 2—and prior to the sale of Royal Mail, to make clear the criteria for and method of their valuation. That does not mean the valuation itself but at least the criteria and method of valuation. I hope the Minister will be able to give some indication of a willingness to present this or similar information, if not to Parliament as a whole then to the Public Accounts Committee.
Could the Minister also address a question raised by the coalition review of its year in office? It made reference to the timescale for European state aid clearance, which seems to have been extended by six months to May 2012. That conflicts with previous statements that this might be achieved in the winter of this year. I would welcome some reassurance—clarification might be a better word—on that.
We are pleased overall to help improve the safeguards in the Bill; to safeguard the viability of Royal Mail; to strengthen regulation transparency and accountability to Parliament; to strengthen the safeguards to the universal service and the post office network; and to ensure that we get the best possible value for public money in the event of a sale. I beg to move.
My Lords, in my defence, although I continue to think that the Government do not have a very good track record in valuing companies that they put forward for sale, I did not think that the Floor of this House would be any more effective in coming to an appropriate valuation either. Therefore, I support the Government in this instance.
My Lords, I support this amendment. The Government have to recognise that despite the hours which this House and another place have spent on this Bill and the very protracted proceedings, to which the noble Baroness replied in a very courteous and often very helpful way, the central fact of this piece of legislation, which deals with one of our national institutions and an essential part of our national infrastructure, is that nobody—not the Government, employees, customers, competitors or potential investors —knows what Royal Mail will look like once this legislation is passed. We do not know who the prospective buyers are. We do not know what mechanism the Government are intending to use for the sale, and therefore we do not know who will call the shots in Royal Mail’s future decisions once the privatisation is complete.
In those circumstances it is not entirely surprising that the basis for valuation causes concern. This is what lies behind my noble friend’s amendment. He is right that, historically, assets were sold off at a price that proved to be less than their value. However, in the 1980s, at least it was clear how we were going to sell them, which were going to IPOs and which were to be sold directly to particular bidders. This is not the case here. It is therefore even more important that this great national institution is not passed to an unknown process of sell-off, or to an unknown buyer, without Parliament and the public as a whole being confident about the basis on which that valuation is carried out.
As my noble friend has said, the amendment does not say that we should publish a valuation and therefore undermine the Government’s negotiating position, but it does say that we ought to know the criteria in the Government’s mind on which the valuation is based. This is a fairly minimal requirement. I hope that the Government, who are determined on this course, will at least have the self-confidence to make the public feel confident that this great asset will not be seriously undervalued. I hope that my noble friend’s modest proposal would go some way to achieving that objective if at this late stage the Government were to concede that such a measure should be included in the Bill.
My Lords, I have some sympathy with what the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, describes as a modest proposal. However, I completely endorse the remarks of my noble friend Lady Kramer. What worries me about the amendment, were it to be carried, is that the most likely outcome would be a sentence in the report simply saying, “It was the best price we were offered”.
We have debated at length the issues around revealing the Government’s internal estimation of the value of Royal Mail shares prior to a disposal. Amendment 2 would not require the Government’s estimation of the value to be revealed, but would require us to publish the methods and criteria for making that valuation. Our expectation is that we will apply a range of valuation methodologies to our assessment of the business’s value.
I reiterate what I said on Report—that we would, of course, expect that both the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee will wish to review the sale process, including the valuation methodologies that we have applied. They would both provide their own independent view to Parliament on whether the Government had achieved value for money for the taxpayer. This is consistent with the reporting requirements for previous sales of government assets. What should matter is not the technical valuation methodologies that we may apply, but whether we have the right objective for the sale. In that respect we have committed to report back to Parliament prior to a sale process beginning, and this report will confirm our objective for the proposed sale.
I reiterate a further point with regard to valuation. As your Lordships will fully understand, we cannot, and should not, reveal our estimation of the value of the company. Doing so would be giving the whip hand to the potential investor and would severely undermine our ability to negotiate the right deal for the taxpayer or for the company. Put simply, it does not make good business sense.
The noble Lord, Lord Young, raised a point about the taxpayer losing out through undervaluation at previous privatisations; noble Lords have a great deal of knowledge about them. That is one of the great assets of your Lordships’ House, but I am afraid that I cannot answer for why those privatisations were done in the way that they were or what their objectives were. What I am absolutely clear about is that our intention will be to secure the best deal for the company and the taxpayer, consistent with the objectives. We will ensure that, whatever form private sector investment takes in this instance, it will be done with those objectives in mind.
Finally, I remind your Lordships that the previous Government’s Postal Services Bill in 2009 did not include a requirement, as this Bill does, for the Secretary of State to report to Parliament before a disposal of shares. That Bill required a report after a sale and there was no requirement on the Secretary of State to report on the criteria or method used to assess the value of Royal Mail shares. The previous Government did not therefore believe that this was necessary or appropriate then, and I do not believe that the case has been made for it now. I therefore ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
With the indulgence of the House, I should like to make a few further remarks. Throughout the passage of this Bill, your Lordships have requested information about the Government’s timetable—for example, in relation to the state aid application. We have endeavoured to be transparent about our plans. In this spirit, I should like to set out briefly our plans for taking forward the provisions in the Bill, following Royal Assent.
On the specific question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Young, about the state aid timetable, I can provide the following reassurance. As he will know, the state aid approval process is highly complex; however, we intend to submit our notification shortly, and hope to conclude the process by March 2012. I will come forward with more details when we have notified. However, I can reassure the noble Lord that we remain on track.
The Bill provides for the regulatory responsibility for postal affairs to transfer from Postcomm to Ofcom. We intend for the transfer to take place in the autumn, at which point the bulk of the regulatory powers will also come into force. This will enable Ofcom to establish in spring 2012 a new regulatory framework that reflects the new regulatory regime, including the overarching objective of securing the provision of the universal postal service and having regard to its financial sustainability.
We will then need to implement the pension solution as the next step in the process towards a sale. I believe that all noble Lords will agree that the sooner the company is relieved of the crippling burden of its £8.4 billion pension deficit, the better it will be for the company and for the pension plan members. For this reason, it is the Government’s intention, subject to state aid approval, to relieve Royal Mail of its legacy pension deficit with effect from March 2012.
I know and respect the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, from the time when he was a Minister and I was in opposition, and from when he took over as the chairman of what was the National Consumer Council, which became Consumer Focus. I would always do my very best to reach an agreement with him. However, once all these changes have been implemented, we will be focused on that final, critical piece of the jigsaw—securing private capital for Royal Mail. As I have said throughout these proceedings, we are committed to doing the right sale at the right time, consistent with our objectives, to secure the future of the universal postal service. We have brought our talents to bear, including our knowledge of the City and business. We have been able to build on the previous Bill that the previous Government worked their way through. I hope that in the light of that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will have a little more confidence in our ability to fulfil what he would like to happen, without us telling him beforehand how we are going to do it. I hope that your Lordships will find this information helpful.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply and for her clarification of the timescale; it was helpful to place that on the record. To respond briefly to a few points, I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, that I was not suggesting that this House should do the valuation. I agree with her assessment: valuation by committee—what a thought.
My noble friend is right: this is a modest proposal. It is true that it was not in the Bill presented by the previous Government, but as I have said on a number of occasions, we were not going for the full monty, 100 per cent privatisation. Perhaps in hindsight we did not get every aspect right anyway. I freely confess that. Although I welcome some of the points that the Minister made, the reassurances in relation to the National Audit Office and so on are all post-sale. We were trying to get a bit more transparency into the process that precedes the sale. I recognise that she has gone about as far as she can go, as the song said, and in the circumstances I will study carefully what she said but I am prepared to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 2 withdrawn.
Clause 24: Information
3: Clause 24, page 14, line 20, at end insert—
“( ) In the event that a section of the RMPP is constituted as a separate pension scheme the members of which consist of or include persons who are qualifying members of the RMPP—
(a) any reference in subsection (2) to the RMPP includes that separate pension scheme, and(b) any reference in subsection (3) to the trustee of the RMPP includes the trustees or managers of that separate pension scheme.”
My Lords, Amendment 3 is designed to future-proof the information-sharing provisions in Clause 24 of Part 2. Clause 24 sets out a legal gateway to facilitate data sharing between the government scheme, the Royal Mail pension plan and the employer of the RMPP members. The framework will help to ensure that the administration of the two schemes is seamless so that, for example, members with rights in both schemes will need to notify a change in personal circumstances to only one point of contact rather than two. That is an important objective that we share with the trustees of the RMPP and, I believe, with all Members of the House.
The management of the ongoing Royal Mail pension plan will be a matter for the company and pension trustees. Amendment 3 simply ensures that if separate sections of the Royal Mail pension plan are split off into separate schemes at some point, the information-sharing framework provided under Clause 24 will extend to those separate schemes. That additional flexibility will help to ensure that we are in a position to meet our commitment to seamless administration, regardless of any changes that may be made to the RMPP by the trustees and company in future. I beg to move.
My Lords, government Amendment 3 to Clause 24 is in itself desirable. If the Royal Mail pension plan is to be divided into two or more pension schemes, as distinct from sections, it is better that all trustees co-operate with efficient administration and have the power so to do. What is most interesting about the amendment, however, is that it reveals for the first time during the Bill’s progress that the Government's intention may be to split the Royal Mail pension plan into two or more separate schemes, as distinct from sections.
It would be possible not to split the scheme and run the Royal Mail pension plan as a segregated scheme similar to the railway pension scheme. From the perspective of scheme members, that may well be a preferable outcome, because the governance structures would remain in place, but one can anticipate that that may not be the Government's preferred outcome. As the amendment now introduces separate schemes into the Bill, as distinct from separate sections, it raises questions that I put to the noble Baroness.
Is it now the Government’s decided intention to split the Royal Mail pension plan into separate schemes post-privatisation? If the Royal Mail pension plan is to be so divided, is the Post Office scheme to be hived off, leaving the reduced Royal Mail pension plan with the privatised Royal Mail, or vice versa? What is the Government's intention on consulting the trustees on such separation?
A fourth point that I know will be of concern to scheme members attracted some attention in the debate in the House of Commons. There is no power to wind up in the rules of the Royal Mail pension plan. That is a very important safeguard for the current members, which ought to be replicated.
During the House of Commons Committee debate on 30 November 2010 the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Mr Edward Davey, commented to the effect that inserting a winding-up provision would be prevented by the then Clause 19 of the Bill, which is now Clause 20, dealing with the “no worsening of benefits” provision. He said—
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary said:
“Any amendment to the RMPP rules that would allow the scheme to be more easily wound up would fall foul of the protection provided for members under clause 19(2), as any such amendment would have a material effect on members’ ‘relevant pension provision’ … and given that our intention is to take on the historic deficits for the Royal Mail together with a more manageable scheme, it would not be appropriate for the Secretary of State to make any amendment to the RMPP that would allow the scheme to be wound up”.—[Official Report, Commons, Postal Services Bill Committee, 30/11/10; col. 445.]
In view of that debate, and in view of the fact that this amendment now introduces an intention to separate the plan into separate schemes rather than separate sections, is it the Government’s position that there will be no change to the winding-up provisions in any separate scheme if and when a section of the RMPP is constituted as a separate pension scheme?
My Lords, I certainly concur with the points made by my noble friend Lady Drake, and I shall not repeat them because once again she has covered the waterfront on that issue. I want to take the opportunity to say, first, that we welcome the constructive approach of the Government Front Bench, led by the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, with her ineffable charm in listening to the representations, in bringing forward a number of appropriate amendments and assurances. Our every wish has not been granted but I did not expect that that would be the case.
I pay tribute to the many noble Lords who have contributed to the debate and I would single out two: the noble Lord, Lord Low, who unfortunately is not in his seat, but I am sure that it will be conveyed to him, and my noble friend Lord Clarke, who is not with us today. He reminded us how much of his life has been invested in what we both joined as the GPO. It is also traditional in these cases to pay tribute to the Bill team, who have served us very well. I was reflecting that it was led by Jo Shanmudalingam—I probably have her name wrong. I do not know whether she is in the Box today, but I know that she is expecting her second child. I could not help reflecting that some mothers pay a lot of attention to what babies hear when they are in the womb, and play them Mozart. I am thinking of this child who has been exposed to House of Lords debates, whose first words, instead of “Mama” may be “My Lords”. The only hope is that she will grow out of it, or it might be a career destination. In any event we thank the Bill team.
My final piece of advice to the Minister is to remember what they put on the side of fragile parcels or packages, and the same goes for this Bill: handle with care.
I shall start by giving my last response on this Bill to the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, and reassure her, I hope, that there is no change in policy. Clause 18 allows for the RMPP to be divided into different sections to reflect the restructuring of the Royal Mail Group Ltd under Part 1 of the Bill. We do not have powers to create a separate pension scheme. However, in the fullness of time it is possible that the businesses might wish to alter the pension arrangements by transferring a section of the RMPP into a new stand-alone arrangement. Any such change would need to meet the safeguards provided under statute and under the scheme rules. The amendment simply ensures that in this event, the information-sharing framework provided under Part 2 would apply to the new scheme as it did to the old section. The trustee would need to consent to any proposal made by the employer to create separate schemes under the scheme rules and under general pensions legislation.
I will conclude the debate by offering my sincere thanks to all Members of this House who have, without exception, made wise, informed and passionate contributions to the debate. I pay particular thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Young, who has been a passionate and informed advocate for Royal Mail and the Post Office from the Benches opposite. The Government have sought to be open to the debate, to reflect on the concerns raised and to work alongside noble Lords to ensure that the Bill leaves this House in a form that gives us the best chance of securing the future of the universal postal service. The amendments passed in your Lordships' House have been the result of constructive cross-House working and I sincerely thank all noble Lords for approaching the Bill in this spirit. I, too, have understood how difficult it has been for some noble Lords who have a very different view of what should be the future of the Royal Mail and who do not see privatisation as any answer to this. I thank them in particular for their good grace and for the marvellous stories that they have shared of their experiences over a long period in a service which, over many years, has served its country well.
Amendment 3 agreed.
Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.
Fixed-term Parliaments Bill
I do not know whether the noble Lord is aware that paragraph 8.153 of the Companion states:
“The motion ‘That this bill do now pass’ is moved immediately after third reading has been agreed to or, if amendments had been tabled, as soon as the last amendment has been disposed of. The motion is usually moved formally. It may be opposed, and reasoned or delaying amendments may be moved to it, but in other circumstances it is not normally debated”.
In the first report from the Select Committee on Procedure of the House, which was agreed by the House, the recommendation was that:
“The motion ‘That this bill do now pass’ should be moved formally and should not normally be debated. Ministers should if necessary respond to points raised on the motion by other Lords. The motion should not be an occasion for thanking those involved in the passage of the bill”.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. I want briefly to say two things. First, having taken part in all stages of this Bill, I thank the Minister for his unfailing courtesy, sensitivity and willingness to listen. Secondly, I express the hope that what was not a terribly good Bill but is now a slightly better Bill will come back from another place in the state in which it leaves this House. In other words, I hope that the Cross-Bench amendment passed a couple of weeks ago will remain in the Bill. It will give great encouragement and comfort to those of us who have had certain concerns about it.
Following the very brave intervention by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, I follow him briefly to thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, who has conducted his part in this Bill with great skill and understanding. I speak on behalf of my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton, who led for the Opposition on this Bill, in saying that we hold him in the highest respect for the way in which he has dealt with this legislation. It does not stop us thinking that this is completely the wrong way of passing constitutional change in this country, and I believe that if there had been a free vote in this House—here I am looking particularly at Conservative Peers—there certainly would have been four years rather than five. My last hope is the hope that the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, expressed, which is that the Bill is accepted by the Commons as it leaves here today.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Cormack and the noble Lord, Lord Bach, for their kind words, which are appreciated. This is an important Bill. It is an important constitutional development. We made it clear at the time that we were not able to support the amendments that gave rise to a sunrise and possibly also a sunset clause. No doubt the other place will consider that constitutional novelty. That apart, this Chamber has engaged in its role of proper scrutiny, improvement and revision, and therefore, subject to what I said about one particular amendment, I think this Bill goes to another place in a better shape than that in which it came here. I thank all noble Lords on all sides of the House who have contributed to that. It has been work well done. Once again, I encourage noble Lords to pass the Bill.
Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.
Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill
Committee (3rd Day)
Relevant documents: 13th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 14th Report from the Constitution Committee and 11th Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights.
26: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
(1) Section 1 and other provisions on police and crime commissioners and police and crime panels shall commence—
(a) in accordance with section 158 in respect of not more than six police areas designated by the Secretary of State, and(b) in respect of other police areas only in accordance with an order made by the Secretary of State.(2) No order shall be made under subsection (1)(b) unless—
(a) pilot schemes have been undertaken for at least two years in the police areas designated under subsection (1)(a), and(b) the Secretary of State has reported to Parliament on the pilot schemes.”
In addition to this amendment, I also have Amendment 47 in this group. They are two amendments among a number proposing different models of piloting the proposed new policing governance. Before I turn to the substantive issues, noble Lords will be aware that we have quite a difficult day ahead of us in that the groupings of amendments today have been described as aggressive in an attempt to get us to move on more swiftly with the Bill. Apart from one enormous grouping of about 60 amendments, I have been quite happy to go along with this, but I think it may leave the Committee in a difficult position. It is inevitable that on a number of the groupings many of us will make rather more general speeches than we might otherwise have made, and I am just a little concerned that we will not give the word-by-word content of the Bill this House’s normal detailed scrutiny. Perhaps I say that not on behalf of the whole Committee, because I am sure other noble Lords will be more competent than I in dealing with this situation, but just as a disclaimer on my own behalf.
My Lords, one way to deal with that would be for the Government to write letters in response to the amendments so that the technical details, which might normally be addressed in the winding-up speech of the Minister, could at least be on the record and placed in the Library. When we come back on Report, the noble Baroness and other noble Lords would then have the benefit of a Government response. I do not know whether that is helpful. It might be one way in which to alleviate the concerns of the noble Baroness.
My Lords, in response to the noble Lord’s suggestion, I am very happy to agree to that.
My Lords, that will be helpful. I would merely add that I have always had a bit of a concern about responses being dealt with by letter because they would not be in Hansard and easily accessible by those who may seek to look for them. In fact, this is a matter on which the Leader’s Group on the working practices of the House of Lords has made some suggestions.
To turn to the issue of piloting, the very number and variations of proposals for amendments demonstrates the importance of the issue. Whatever model of governance we end up with, we all have a great concern that it should work well. After all, that is our role. Certainly, piloting is not equivalent to not taking the changes forward, which is why my amendment would provide for pilots for a two-year period. I see a lot of sense in a longer period but I did not want the suggestion that this was a matter of trying to undo the proposals to become mixed up with the issue of piloting.
Piloting is hardly a new concept. It is what the outside world regards as sensible, about which a lot of people, having become aware of this issue over the past couple of months, have commented on to me. The Government do it as well. Last week, the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee had a statutory instrument on dentistry which was taking forward the piloting of new arrangements. It is not simply directed at a yes or no answer to the proposition but tests all the aspects of that proposition, including—I come to them again—the checks and balances, which, if they are too limited, will be insufficient. Checks and balances have to be sound in themselves individually, and extensive. Otherwise, they will be ineffective because ways around them will be found.
I have always thought that it was necessary to look at checks and balances in the round. There may be different views of the role of scrutiny; that is, the role of the panels here. The tagline of the Centre for Public Scrutiny—I am a member of its advisory board—is, “Good Government Needs Good Scrutiny”. It should not be in arrear or by way of commentary. If it is oppositional, it should be active, constructive, collaborative and preferably consensual, thus providing a reality check.
This is not just the role of the police and crime panel. Another major area of concern expressed by your Lordships is the boundary of responsibility and function between police and crime commissioners and chief constables. We have a protocol in draft form. We debate the term “operational”. Seeing how the model works and where the boundaries lie in practice would be more than useful: it is essential. The decisions that must be taken above the local level is an issue that was touched on at the last stage when the noble Lord, Lord Laming, raised child protection. Counterterrorism is an obvious issue, but child protection, trafficking and a number of other matters may have to be dealt with not just very locally but at levels above that.
The NSPCC raised this with me and said that it would be happy for me to quote from its briefing. It says that child protection is a complex task, and that to be successful,
“it requires a combination of the highly visible elements of policing with the less visible elements such as engagement in multi-agency work and investigative work”.
What is needed, says the NSPCC,
“may not be identified as a priority, as it is unlikely to be among the mainstream crime issues that are prioritised by the majority of people within local communities”.
This is something we have also touched on. The NSPCC also said that,
“there has been limited opportunity to thoroughly test the practical implications and measure the impact of the Government’s proposals”.
The NSPCC therefore recommends that these changes,
“are piloted and evaluated by the Home Office prior to national roll-out to ensure that relevant lessons can be learnt, especially, though not exclusively, for child protection”.
My Amendment 247 is consequential on the main Amendment 26, and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, for adding their names to it, along with my noble friend Lord Shipley. I have suggested pilot areas designated by the Secretary of State—up to six areas, and that is because I realise there are huge variations in police areas: variations in geography, size, demography, the urban and rural mix and so on. I do not pretend to know which would be the best test for these. I am not sure whether the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, is going to move his amendment to this amendment. He specified some particular areas; if he is moving it, he will justify his choice.
I have explained the period of up to two years. There should be a report from the Secretary of State. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, in his amendment, suggests an independent report from HMIC, and I think that that is a splendid idea. My noble friend Lord Bradshaw has a slightly different approach again, but we all share the view that there needs to be not just time for reflection but quite structured reflection before a full rollout, with a mechanism for altering the provisions.
The Local Government Association has also supported the notion of piloting, which it says would result in “tangible feedback”. It says that it would be wise to gather further evidence and thus be able to gather a wider support from members of the police, public, councils and Parliament prior to implementation.
I am not deaf: I heard the Government’s response to this amendment before it was even tabled, and I know that they are concerned about pilots. Therefore, perhaps my most important question to the Minister is whether, if piloting ceases to commend itself, the Government can find another way of testing, assessing and evaluating the model. London cannot be regarded as a pilot. We have had reference in the debate to the number of letters received by the mayor’s office when the current mayor took over responsibility for policing. However, London is not like the rest of the country, so I hope that that is not used as an argument against. I am sure the Minister will agree that we want evidence-based policy, not policy-based evidence. I beg to move.
I have to inform the Committee that, if this amendment is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment 218.
Amendment 27 (to Amendment 26) not moved.
My Lords, as my name is attached to Amendment 26, I should like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for the manner in which she introduced it. It is very much a probing amendment. I do not want to repeat my concerns about the election of police commissioners—my noble friend the Minister is well aware of those and has been most gracious in her recognition of them. She has already shown that she is indeed a listening Minister. We are in a slightly peculiar position, having passed the amendment that we passed a couple of weeks ago. I did not vote for that; I voted with my noble friend the Minister, because I felt that it was consistent with the role and responsibility of this House that we should accept the general principle from the House of Commons and then seek to improve what it had sent to us. It seemed to me that the most constructive way of seeking to improve it was to sanction pilot schemes.
This is in no sense a wrecking tactic; it merely says, “Make haste slowly. Make sure you’ve got it right and be aware that there are very real problems that Members in all parts of the House have already touched on”. I am concerned about the possible impact on national issues of the election of essentially local commissioners. I am very concerned about the party-political nature of the commissioners. It is almost beyond any doubt that unless we include in the Bill a provision specifically to say that those affiliated to a political party cannot stand, most commissioners will be affiliated to a political party. I am saying not that they cannot do their job but that I have real concerns about it, as does the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. I think that many Members in all parts of the Committee would urge the Minister to discuss the strength of feeling with the Home Secretary and her other ministerial colleagues to see whether the pilot scheme cannot be accepted and adopted, or to come up with an alternative that meets some of the legitimate concerns and objections that have featured in debates so far.
I do not wish to detain the Committee further, but I think that, far from being a wrecking tactic, this is a constructive suggestion. I hope my noble friend Lady Browning will recognise that when she comes to reply.
My Lords, I sympathise with the motivation behind the amendment. Although I realise that it is a probing amendment, I cannot support it. The perfect storm of change that understandably surrounds policing needs to be resolved in the quickest and best way possible. However, pilots might be an unnecessary delay for a number of reasons. A small number of pilots might tell you a great deal about the relationship between some individual police and crime commissioners and some individual chief constables in localised areas, but I am not sure that we would learn great lessons that could be extrapolated to the whole of the country in all circumstances over 40 police forces. Although I acknowledge that this is a probing amendment that seeks a way to test, explore and challenge some of the rationale behind elected police and crime commissioners, I am not sympathetic to pilot schemes. Having discussed them with serving chief constables, I know that not many of them are supportive either.
My Lords, I support what the noble Lord, Lord Condon, has said, because my views accord very much with his. Normally, I am a great fan of pilots—they give you a step-by-step approach, they are often sensible, they lead to a sense of being sure-footed, and they hammer off the rough edges of what was proposed in the first instance. In this case, however, I submit that they would lead to a sense of great unreality.
I, too, have taken a straw poll of members of the police service, ACPO members and so forth, and I have met with the same result. So far as I can make out from a fairly detailed survey, the service wants a degree of certainty, certainly nationally. That is particularly so when one looks forward. One does not need much of a crystal ball to recognise that more is coming down stream towards us that has not yet reached your Lordships' House, such as the national crime agency, which relates to national issues. Today, we have been focusing more on the local, and issues of leadership that are bound to flow from what part 2 of the Winsor report will propose. All those things and others depend on a sense of certainty. If we get into pilots now and they overtake us, the service will not be in a position to handle the other issues that are bound to come before your Lordships' House in the next 12 months or so.
What I propose flows logically from the argument that we have just heard. We should make quite sure that the proper checks and balances surround the whole concept of police and crime commissioners and at that stage vote yes or no. We either have them or we do not, having given them due and appropriate consideration in your Lordships' House. We should not get into the business of pilots, which will be disruptive.
I share the concern about pilots, but I also very much share the concern expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. The Bill contains so many unanswered questions that we are in danger of causing policing in this country more problems than we need. My profound anxiety is that, having spent the past 10 or more years trying to get the police from where they were 20 years ago, which was not a good place, to where they are now, which is a very much better place, we are in danger of losing that if we do not think this through.
I pick up on the suggestion made by the noble Baroness and echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, that there is a strong case for the Government to go away and think about this. They should think about how they can ensure that this Act will not introduce profound changes to the police that are unpredictable in their outcome and that might move us backwards rather than forwards. The police are in a better position than they used to be. Let us not throw out the good for the sake of something that we think might be better but that does not have the checks and balances that are necessary.
My Lords, I have two amendments in this group: Amendments 38 and 253. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, who I assume will speak to his amendment in a moment, I propose a system of pilots.
I listened with great interest to the words of the noble Lords, Lord Condon and Lord Dear, who are worried about the impact of pilots. As they said, the feedback that they are getting from chief constables is that the worst thing of all for them is to have uncertainty about the future. I understand that point of view. I declare an interest as chair of an NHS foundation trust and as a consultant and trainer in the NHS. We are going through a similar process in the NHS. Obviously, people worry about uncertainty and about where they are going, but the crux of the point is that made by the noble Lord, Lord Dear; he said that we should see what checks and balances we can get into the Bill and then vote yes or no on the whole thing.
I understand the noble Lord’s point. I have no doubt that if the Minister responds sympathetically to some of the points put by noble Lords in our debates on recognising the need for stronger checks and balances, the argument for pilots would become less persuasive. However, the enormity of the change that is being proposed and the potential politicisation of our police forces are serious matters. There has been no Green Paper and no pre-legislative scrutiny. No evidence whatever has been produced to justify the changes that are being proposed.
On that basis and despite the uncertainties that this might produce for chief constables, I suspect that, retrospectively, if elected police commissioners were introduced without checks and balances, those chief constables might look back and wish that there had been pilots so that some of the most contentious points of the arrangements could have been tested. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has gone for two-year pilots, the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, for three years, and I have gone for four years. However, the substantive point is that they need to be long enough to see how this works out in practice. I also think—and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, really has endorsed this—that there needs to be an independent evaluation as well. That would give confidence that the experiment has been judged and considered, and it would give Parliament time to consider the matter again. Above all, it would raise issues around governance, checks and balances, and the role of the panels, which the Government might wish to consider in the light of experience of those pilots.
In reflecting on and understanding the point about uncertainty, and given the Government’s position at the moment, the case for pilots is pretty persuasive.
My Lords, I particularly support the submissions and remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. Although I have immense regard and sympathy for the amendments, the answer does not really lie in pilot schemes at all. I look upon it as the Government embarking on a very revolutionary experiment. Whether one agrees with it or not, one cannot deny that it breaks new ground in a massive way. Here is a machinery that has the potential to be successful but also to be extremely dangerous. How do you test that to destruction, before you bring the whole scheme into being? In other words, what is the legislative equivalent of the wave tank or wind tunnel that will give you an answer to that problem?
I listened of course with total respect and regard to the remarks of the noble Lords, Lord Dear and Lord Condon, with their immense and distinctive experience in this field. Uncertainty is also a very great enemy of the morale of the police service in this matter but, nevertheless, these are massive questions. You may have a situation where perhaps 30 of the forces involved find themselves well and successfully served by a commissioner. What if you had 10, 11 or 12 situations where it did not work? The damage and the disastrous consequences would be so immense. That is the danger that we face.
The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, spoke of national issues, and I will speak about a Welsh national issue. The Welsh Assembly Government were conscious of the very particular situation that we have in Wales with the four police forces and the possibility of amalgamation, which raises immense constitutional questions. In Wales you now have the outline of statehood and the question of whether you should have one single police force for a country and nation—not a situation that, at the moment, we are facing in the United Kingdom. The Welsh Assembly set up a high-powered body, which reported, I think, in February this year and recommended very strongly that there should be full discussions between the Welsh Assembly and Her Majesty’s Government on this most sensitive of matters.
Here we have been told by the Government—and I have no doubt that the Government are sincere in this —that this is a matter on which local views, attitudes and conditions have immense pertinence. That can be put to the test by respecting that attitude in relation to Wales.
Lastly, speaking as a former family judge, I accept completely what has been said about the secrecy involved in dealing with the protection of children. These are not matters that can be laid down as huge lines of policy. They are sensitive matters where a great deal has to be done by way of trust and, if I may say so, covertly in so far as the general public are concerned. I do not for a moment believe that the role of protecting children is mainly that of the police; agencies in local government, and indeed in the health service, have that as their main concern. If I may say as an aside, I believe that the best protection that any child in danger can ever have is to have one person responsible for collecting and collating information—that, above all, is the best service that can be given to children. The police certainly have a massive and impactive role to play, but I do not think that their role can be improved in any way by the sort of structures contemplated in the proposals for police commissioners, with every respect to Her Majesty’s Government. The matter needs to be approached with great imagination and great sensitivity.
My Lords, those of my colleagues who read the Daily Telegraph will have noticed from yesterday’s edition that the stated main purpose of the coalition is to save us from economic disaster. The paper berated some of my noble colleagues for being left-wing trouble-makers. I have never regarded myself either as a trouble-maker or as particularly left-wing, but I believe the Bill to be essentially a flawed piece of legislation.
I will speak very briefly to the amendments in my name, and I do so as a gardener. One of the things that you learn as a gardener, when you move about the country as I have done, is that you leave the place virtually alone until you know about what is growing there; you do not just go in and hack everything down. I am afraid that Ministers have a tendency to the hacking approach rather than the gardening approach. I must say to the noble Baroness the Minister that, so far, we have had no message in this House that would cause us to believe that Ministers in another place will actually listen to and discuss the concerns that we are raising. We have had many meetings, but those have not been productive meetings as we have been told, “This is what is going to happen”. Indeed, I believe that instructions have been issued to police authorities that they are to prepare for Armageddon.
Why would my amendments provide for three-year trials? I believe that it is essential that you go through two complete budget rounds before you know whether the arrangements work and what they will cost—I am very concerned about how much they will cost. I also believe that the experience in London, which the Policing Minister cited as the pilot study, is anything but a pilot study. I would ask the same Policing Minister whether, if he thoroughly approves of the way in which things are done now, he would still do so if Mr Livingstone is successful in 18 months’ time. One of the rules in politics is that the pendulum does swing, and sometimes it swings pretty violently with great reaction against the party that it is leaving. Many organisations are then left to pick up the bits and to start reconstructing again.
Turning back to the economy, I cannot see one iota of evidence that says that the proposed move is necessary or that it will save money. I believe that the Government have masses of things to do and, with due respect, I believe that this could be kicked into touch and nobody would notice.
I rise briefly to support the amendment, and I do so for a number of reasons.
First, there is a tremendous lack of detail in the legislation, as has been mentioned before. Some very general ideas are put forward, but there is not much supporting detail about how it will all work in practice, as we have already commented. I am particularly concerned about how a PCC would interact with local government—not just with the councils but with all the bodies that local councils work through, including such local strategic partnerships as still exist and the crime and disorder partnerships that have been mentioned. I am also concerned about the relationship between the PCC and the panel, however the panel ends up and whatever powers it might have. There is clearly a relationship there that needs to be tested, and at the moment we have a very dim idea of how that would actually work.
There is another set of reasons why I would like to see some pilots, relating to the electoral system. We have not talked about this yet, although I am sure that we will in due course. The Government have come forward for these PCC elections with an electoral system which I would like to see work, particularly in places such as Thames Valley and West Mercia. We have not actually had elections like these before in our history—one-topic elections over considerably large areas of the country, such as Thames Valley, where we have three local authorities, not one. I would be interested to see what the turnout would be in such elections and how the election campaign would be conducted. It seems reasonable to suggest that that would be worth studying. I would certainly want to see different models. I would like to see something happening in the West Midlands or Thames Valley because of the huge size of those places, but then you have very compact areas such as Cheshire and Warwickshire, which have rather different dynamics. It would be interesting perhaps to tweak the modelling to emphasise slightly different things in slightly different places.
Politicisation is something that we have talked about. It is a huge problem for all of us and we are all very worried about that. Clearly, some sort of trialling might give us a handle on how elections could be conducted perhaps without party-political slanging. I would, for example, like to know whether we are right in thinking that no independents could conduct these elections. That was raised two sittings ago, and the point was raised that we are assuming that these elections will be contested by party-political candidates; yes, I am assuming that, because of the expense of the exercise. Maybe I am wrong—maybe independents could contest them. Again, one might get a better idea if one had some sort of pilot running.
My very last point is that, while it is no secret that I have grave concerns about the proposals in this legislation, I am always prepared to admit that I might be wrong. Actually, what the Government are proposing might be fantastic for policing and I might have it wrong; my concerns might be misplaced. I am always ready to put my hand up and say that that is the case. Equally, however, I would expect the Government to be as flexible and say that perhaps they have got it wrong. It is possible. If we were in the private sector, it would not be seen as a terrible admission of anything to trial something before you went full tilt; you would say that it was very sensible. I do not see why in the public sector one should not adopt the same kind of cautious approach.
For a whole number of reasons, I strongly support the amendment.
My Lords, before I respond to the debate that we have just had regarding the issue of pilots, it might help the House if I clarified the position regarding policing in Wales, which was spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan. Within this group of amendments, and a number of subsequent groups which we hope to debate later today, there are specific amendments that address matters of devolution and I dare say seek to probe the Government's negotiations with the Welsh Assembly Government. I am aware that there was not enough time at Report and Third Reading in the other place to debate the specific provisions within this Bill that had to be amended as a result of the failed legislative consent Motion. I therefore feel it is appropriate to set out publicly and on the record the narrative behind these provisions and, I hope, avoid any misunderstanding of the Government’s position.
I am grateful to noble Lords who have tabled amendments that will provide me with this opportunity. The Government have worked hard to try to secure a negotiated solution specific for Wales in the spirit of the devolution settlement. I must emphasise at the outset that policing is a reserved matter under the devolution settlement. However, there are related matters that are devolved.
At the start of the planning for this reform in government, Ministers in the Home Office sought, and entered into, early engagement with the Welsh Assembly Government at both ministerial and official level. Their intention was to discuss how the Bill would apply in Wales and how it could respect those devolved institutions. On a number of occasions throughout the Bill’s development, the Home Secretary and the Policing Minister met the Welsh Assembly Government's Minister for Social Justice and Local Government, Carl Sargeant, who was reappointed earlier this month to the same ministerial portfolio. Indeed, the Policing Minister also made visits to Cardiff to speak to the Welsh Assembly Minister and his officials to address directly the concerns of the Welsh Assembly Government and the Members in the National Assembly for Wales.
From the outset, the Government acknowledged that the Welsh Assembly Government were opposed in principle to the abolition of police authorities in Wales and against the proposal to replace them with directly elected police and crime commissioners. However, the UK Government, including the Secretary of State for Wales, remained firm in their opinion that it is not in the interests of the people of Wales to have a different governance and scrutiny structure for their forces. Our reason is quite simple: there cannot be two models of governance for a police service whose officers and assets so regularly cross the regional boundary between England and Wales in pursuit of making our communities safer and tackling crime. The Welsh Assembly Government recognised this position and, while they do not agree with it, continued to respect the fact that policing remains a reserved matter to the Government in Westminster.
When the original Bill entered the other place there were certain elements which affected the legislative competence of the National Assembly for Wales. Specifically, this was with regard to the provision for police and crime panels to be formed and maintained by the local authorities in the police area. As noble Lords will be aware, the Welsh National Assembly has legislative competence over oversight and scrutiny committees of local authorities. Therefore, in respecting the devolution settlement, the Government agreed with the view of the Welsh Assembly Government that the consent of the Assembly would be required to legislate on establishing police and crime panels in the form set out in the original Bill.
In addition, the Government recognised the unique political landscape within Wales which had not, until this Government came into office, been formally recognised within policing governance structures in Wales since devolution. My ministerial colleagues in the Home Office and the Cabinet sought to address this by offering the Welsh Assembly Government the power to appoint a representative to the police and crime panels within Wales and to afford that member full voting rights. Furthermore, due to the unique funding stream that the Welsh Assembly Government afford to community safety partnerships and the legislative competence over social justice and community engagement, the Government offered provision for police and crime panels in Wales to have an additional veto to those in England. This veto would have enabled the panel to require the PCC to come to it for its consent if the PCC intended to merge community safety partnerships in Wales or require them to submit a report. This not only protected the policy and financial interests of the Welsh Assembly Government but fostered a stronger working relationship between the PCC and the Government in Cardiff, via the panel. The Welsh Assembly Government proposed a Motion to the Assembly to support the Government's negotiated solution in respect of the status of police and crime panels but it was defeated. It is regrettable that the then Government in Cardiff abstained from a vote that, if passed, would have strengthened their voice within policing governance.
Nevertheless, the Government have respected the decision of the Assembly and have therefore amended the Bill to give the Secretary of State, rather than local authorities, the power to form police and crime panels within Wales. These panels will not form within local government structures but the Bill still seeks to ensure that the panels are made up of locally elected representatives, invited to form such a body at the request of the Secretary of State.
I apologise to the House that I missed the earlier part of this debate, although I have heard all of the Minister’s comments. She mentioned the role of local government and that there might be an involvement in the activities that she has just outlined. Can she confirm that each local government area would have a voice in this, as they do at present on the police authorities—a unique situation in Wales, where every authority is represented?
I have to say to the noble Lord that these negotiations and discussions are still ongoing. However, I hear what he has said and will certainly feed back what he has suggested today.
We have also amended the Bill to ensure that the provisions on community safety partnerships do not touch on matters in respect of which Welsh Assembly Government Ministers have functions. I hope that this account explains how we have reached the provisions set out in the Bill at present. Policing remains reserved. It is this Government’s intention to secure the same reform for the people of Wales as for those in England, following the decision taken in the first session of this Committee. The Bill now removes the current arrangements for policing governance, but I can assure your Lordships’ House that there are ongoing discussions to make sure that we get this absolutely right. I am grateful for the patience of your Lordships’ House. There are amendments that relate specifically to Wales not only in the current group but in subsequent groups.
I turn now to pilots. The amendments tabled by my noble friends would require the Government to pilot police commissions—or police and crime commissioners, as remains the Government’s intent—in certain police areas before establishing them across England and Wales. In the spirit of constructive debate, I will deal with this group as though the amendments affected the original policy and clauses that would have established police and crime commissioners in England and Wales. Your Lordships will know that we are in difficult territory here. We are dealing with two very different bodies in the context of piloting.
I shall not repeat what I have said in debates on previous amendments but I spelt out some of the research that has been done, which clearly demonstrates the public’s appetite for more engagement with policing in their local areas. The success of the crime mapping website launched this year is evidence of this, with 410 million hits since January. Cabinet Office research showed that more than two-thirds of the public wanted an elected person to hold the police to account. I heard what my noble friend Lady Hamwee said about not praying in aid the experience of the Mayor of London. However, I cannot ignore what has happened in London. They mayor is there and the policing structure in London is there, and has been there for a while. While it was not exactly floated as a specific pilot, none the less we cannot ignore the fact that since the Mayor of London took on responsibility for policing, MPA correspondence has more than quadrupled. For these reasons there is no need to conduct pilots to establish these matters. Pilots also present practical problems.
In the research that the Minister cited, and certainly in the research that I have seen, when members of the public were told that police and crime commissioners would have a party political label, I understand that only 7 per cent of them wanted individuals with a party political label to be in charge of policing. That is not quite the same as what we are being told by the noble Baroness.
Will the Minister reflect on the fact that London is a unique area, with unique and very large media coverage? I ask her to think about places such as Devon and Cornwall and the distance from Barnstaple to Penzance and the distances to be covered in several other areas. People in different areas do not listen to the same radio programmes or read the same papers. It is only by having representatives of the divisions within an area that you will get any form of representative democracy.
My Lords, will the Minister accept from me that the fact that people checked on crime in their local area does not give an indication either way? My husband checked but I assure the noble Baroness that he would be very cross were she to assume from that that he is in favour of the Government’s proposals.
My Lords, I would not dream of presuming what the noble Baroness’s husband has made of all this. That would be a step too far for a mere Minister. My noble friend referred to the uniqueness of police forces across the country. That is the essence of this matter. Each police force is unique in its nature. Nobody is suggesting that what works in London will be exactly replicated in the Devon and Cornwall forces, or any other force. That is why piloting such a scheme would not give us a representative picture of what one sees in forces across the country. It would be interesting perhaps, but I genuinely believe that it would not take us any further forward, and it would cause delay.
There are practical problems associated with pilots, such as how they would be chosen, who would decide that matter and who would be denied democratic policing while they were carried out. Also during the piloting scheme the two different forms of police governance would be running alongside each other, which would cause uncertainty. The noble Lords, Lord Condon and Lord Dear, with their vast experience in this area, referred to the uncertainty that this would create not least among chief constables. We are looking to the chief constables to show the leadership that is needed in working with the police and crime commissioners on these reforms to introduce the change that will allow the public to believe that the duo at the heart of these reforms will make a difference to the way that they see the police and can engage with them and with policing matters in their area.
My Lords, of course, there are common factors across all police forces, although each force is unique. However, notwithstanding those, I believe that spending time on pilots would cause uncertainty, as I have said. Costs and delay would arise in sorting out this publicly recognised issue—that the public want to engage with policing in their area and to be represented by somebody who is democratically accountable directly to them. That very important matter is at the heart of these changes.
Noble Lords have continued to ask about checks and balances. I cannot commit to changing the text of the Bill in order to satisfy the demands with regard to pilots. However, I am genuinely open to discussing checks and balances across the piece. I say to my noble friend Lord Bradshaw that although I have attended meetings, I have not yet held meetings to discuss checks and balances, as I promised the House on the previous Committee day. A letter will be sent out today to those noble Lords who have expressed an interest in the protocol, inviting them to meet immediately after the Recess so that I can hear their views. Other meetings will be offered as the Bill goes through your Lordships’ House. I hope to hold them before the Bill leaves this House. Given those assurances, I hope that the noble Baroness will not press the amendment.
My Lords, this has been a serious debate, for which I am grateful. When my noble friend Lord Bradshaw talked about hacking in the garden, I thought that he would mention pulling things up by the roots, but perhaps I should not pursue that. I believe that his reference to meetings concerned an earlier regime—I am not sure whether that is quite the right term—but certainly before the noble Baroness took up her ministerial office. I am grateful to her for her offer to hold discussions throughout the passage of the Bill.
I take very seriously the issue of certainty, which has been raised. I accept that the problem of uncertainty is inherent in the proposal for piloting or trialling. There is certainty and uncertainty on the one hand, and on the other there is getting it right—that is the dilemma we are in—and making sure that there are proper checks and balances, as the noble Lord, Lord Dear, said. The coalition programme for government refers to “strict” checks and balances.
I do not want to take the time of the Committee by going through all the useful comments that have been made. However, I cannot resist picking up on what that the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, said about one-topic elections. That is the problem, although possibly not in the way she presented it. Local issues are so often subsumed to national issues and we have one-topic elections, but not perhaps in the way that the noble Baroness meant.
As for the Minister’s response, I, too, checked the crime map for my area. I would have been more hesitant in doing so if I had thought it might be held against me in some way. All forces are indeed different, but they have some common characteristics, which are the ones we should look at.
In conclusion, I am a little disappointed, and it may be that the Minister has been unable to think of another alternative. She does not seem to have answered my question: can the Government find another way of testing, assessing and evaluating the model? It may be that we can continue to discuss this issue, because there must be evaluation and a reaction to what one finds from that evaluation. In that hope, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 26 withdrawn.
Amendments 28 and 29 not moved.
30: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
“Applicability of memorandum of understanding: operational independence
The Minister must ensure that any memorandum of understanding finalised and approved in accordance with section 155(2) is applied to non-geographic police bodies in the United Kingdom, including—(a) the British Transport Police Force;(b) the Central Motorway Policing Group;(c) the Civil Nuclear Constabulary;(d) the Ministry of Defence Police;(e) the Port of Dover Police;(f) the Port of Liverpool Police; and(g) the Serious Organised Crime Agency.”
My Lords, I will link what I say to Amendments 231, 231A, 231B, 234ZA and 234ZB in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, my noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester, and the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. They effectively seek to ensure that the British Transport Police has the same powers and authority as geographical police forces. For reasons that I hope will become apparent, we support these amendments, which seem to make good operational sense.
Additionally, in this group are a number of amendments in the names of my noble friends Lady Henig and Lord Beecham, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, that require police forces in the scope of the Bill, when enacted, to have particular regard to co-operation and collaborative working arrangements. Again, we support those amendments. Amendments 83ZA and 83B in the names of members of our Front Bench cover much of the same ground, but additionally require these working arrangements to be independent and impartial, and included in the memorandum of understanding.
A memorandum of understanding has an important role to play in policing, irrespective of the Bill. In last week’s Committee debate, the Minister encouraged us to regard as a first draft the memorandum of understanding circulated earlier this month by the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice. She invited comments and we should very much like to take up her offer of a meeting at an appropriate point to discuss the text in more detail. Although the MoU was referred to in our Committee discussions last week, it was not given much detailed consideration. I should therefore like to spend a little time on it, in the spirit of constructive debate, before arguing that the MoU, once agreed, should apply also to all UK police forces and, in particular, to the British Transport Police.
What do we want from a memorandum of understanding? The model that comes to my mind is in part the military covenant and in part the BBC royal charter. Like the military, the police put themselves at the service of their country and have to endure risks on a daily basis, sometimes paying the price of such service with their lives. Like the military, this ought to be recognised in a compact with the state. As with the BBC, the police clearly need to be independent and be seen to be independent. Therefore, there needs to be a document setting out the high-level principles that we think should apply to policing, defines the aims and objectives of policing, guarantees the independence of the police operating within those parameters, indicates how the success of police operations will be measured, and defines how accountability will be discharged—accountability that should surely be to Parliament.
It should, in short, be adjudged to be part of our constitutional writings, as is acknowledged in the draft. Much of it already exists in other documents and in legislation. The task, therefore, is one of bringing the material together in a readable and appropriate form. It is a pity that that has not been the approach taken to date. The draft which has been circulated does not achieve those aims. It ought to be an authoritative disquisition about the operational independence of the police, a clear statement about what we, the people, want our police to do and defining how they may do it, putting flesh on the bones of that admirable construct, policing by consent.
In fact, what we have been given is somewhat polemical in approach, containing as it does a rehash of the arguments for the Bill and, in particular, a case for the role of the police and crime commissioners. It states:
“The election of Police and Crime Commissioners is at the heart of the Government’s plan to cut crime”.
Perversely, it starts off in a negative mode and is full of warnings about what it does not contain. It states:
“This Protocol does not supersede or vary the legal duties and requirements of the Office of Constable”,
instead of positively defining what those duties are.
These documents are not easy to get right, and I sympathise with Ministers struggling with them. I hasten to add that there are some very good sections in the MoU but, to my mind, they come much too late in the document and lose their impact because of what you have to read through to get to them. The section on the chief constable and what, to us, seems to be at the heart of the memorandum, the section on operational control, need to be considerably expanded and should come up front so that, for example, the sections on relationships with local interests and with the Home Office have a context.
I make two other points. The document would be much improved if more attention was paid to the inevitably complex lines of accountability and control in policing. For example, the assertion that the chief constable holds office under the Crown but is appointed by the PCC needs to be unpicked and given much more detailed consideration. There also needs to be much more in the memorandum about the assertion:
“The PCC and Chief Constable must work together to safeguard the principle of operational independence”,
but the sentence continues,
“while ensuring that the PCC is not fettered in fulfilling the role set out above”.
Those two aspirations pull in opposite directions and seem irreconcilable.
Amendment 30 is intended to ensure that the citizens of the United Kingdom and our visitors can be assured that the standards of policing in this country are broadly comparable wherever they are and whatever they are doing, not only across the geographical police forces, which are in scope to the Home Office, but the non-geographical forces, listed in our amendment, which are in scope to other departments such as the Department for Transport and other departments of state.
Surely we should be striving for a commonality of approach while respecting local and operational differences. My concern is that a memorandum for one set of police forces will exacerbate the present differences between the geographic and non-geographic forces. Where the Bill has to introduce new structures, they should support a seamless policing environment from the citizens’ point of view.
I declare a past interest in that I was for several years an external mentor for the excellent senior management development scheme in the British Transport Police. I confess that I knew next to nothing about policing or even the existence of BTP, but I soon came to recognise that BTP was, and remains, a very special police force. I have a high regard for its ethos, its approach to policing, the quality of its senior management and its overall operation as Britain's only national police force.
BTP's history can be traced back to 1826 and the origins of the police service in Britain. The railways and high-speed rail in particular are a unique policing environment with a unique set of needs. BTP's 2,835 police officers and 1,455 support staff exist to provide a specialist policing service to meet those needs. The officers and men of BTP police the tracks and provide a service to rail operators, their staff and passengers across the whole of the country, including the London Underground system, Docklands Light Railway, the Midland Metro tram system, Croydon Tramlink and Glasgow Subway. BTP safeguards about 6 million people every day. Railway passengers do not recognise the boundary between the railway and the community more generally. Crime and the fear of crime know no boundaries. Criminal behaviour is promiscuous and it crosses areas and networks. It is surely vital that our policing services do likewise with the minimum interruption from the structural concerns. At present, the systems and structures, pay and conditions, training, the use of HM inspectorate, the uniforms and the rest ensure that the BTP is seen by the public as an integral part of our policing system. Senior officers of the BTP, for example, regularly serve as gold commander at public events such as sporting occasions and state visits.
Our amendment seeks to ensure that, when the memorandum of understanding is introduced, the Bill takes account of any danger that it might separate the non-geographic from the geographic forces. We think that the way to do that is to require that the memorandum of understanding, once it is finalised and approved in accordance with Section 155(2), is applied to non-geographic police bodies in the United Kingdom. Only in this way, I believe, can we guarantee that visitors coming to London through our ports, via the Channel Tunnel or by using our motorways, can be sure of parity of service provision, or that people attending the Olympics or the Commonwealth Games can be confident that the police service will match the highest standards found in the community and that our commuters and their families will be sure that they are as safe out and about as they are at home and that the standards applied are equivalent. I beg to move.
Amendment 77 is in my name, so perhaps I may say a few words about it. Before I do so, I did not declare my interest on the previous occasion and perhaps I may seek clarification. Do I need to declare my interest at the start of every Committee day, or does the fact that I did so on the first day mean that I do not need to do so again?
I am grateful for that. Amendment 77 relates back to an issue that this House discussed on our previous Committee day—that is, exploring the role of the police and crime commissioner in relation to the crime aspect of their portfolio, in addition to the aspect relating to policing.
In that debate I mentioned my concern that this aspect of the police and crime commissioner’s role is underdeveloped in how it is described in the Bill, which seems largely to focus on the ability to make grants to organisations engaged in crime reduction. The amendment seeks to link the role of the police and crime commissioner to this wider role in preparing policing and crime plans. It is clear that it is the Government’s intention to enable crime-related issues and priorities to be included in the functions of the police and crime commissioner and therefore, by extension, in these plans. The issue here is whether it would be possible, without explicit powers, to do what the Government want. Therefore, I am trying to make explicit what the Government hope the police and crime commissioner will do and to give a permissive power to the police and crime commissioner to work with partner organisations, and not just the police, and include them in crime reduction plans.
I have indicated before that I consider the Government’s proposals regarding police and crime commissioners to be very ambitious. I quote what the policing Minister stated in a speech at the IPPR on 28 March 2011:
“The role of commissioners will be greater than that of the police authorities they replace. That is the significance of the words ‘and crime’ in their title. They will have a broad remit to ensure community safety, with their own budgets to prevent crime and tackle drugs. They will work with local authorities, community safety partnerships and local criminal justice boards, helping to bring a strategic coherence to the actions of these organisations at force level”.
I hear that, and it is what I should like to happen but there are no explicit linkages in the Bill to ensure that it does happen. It is an aspiration but I want to make sure that it happens in delivery terms, and I am therefore trying to put something explicit in the Bill. We all know about good intentions but that does not necessarily mean that delivery happens on the ground, and I am most concerned about how this works out on the ground.
Therefore, perhaps in her response the Minister can address whether she believes that the plans, as currently set out in the Bill, will be able to pick up priorities related to this wider crime role and not just policing priorities or whether she thinks that what I am trying to suggest here in my amendment is helpful. Again it comes down to collaboration with a whole range of bodies that exist at local level at the moment, and on giving the police and crime commissioner an explicit remit to go out and do all these things. They have been mentioned but I would like to know that they will happen.
I was disappointed that the Minister did not address my query at our previous sitting about how the Government see the wider crime role of the police and crime commissioner fitting in with the new payment-by-results approach, which the Ministry of Justice is developing in relation to criminal justice bodies. That was not addressed but it is an issue, and it would be helpful if she could address it in her response. I remain concerned about timing. The Bill risks putting in place premature arrangements while the landscape in relation to criminal justice is still being developed. It is not yet clear so I hope that she can reassure me on that point.
I understand that we are debating an issue of uniformity, which has to be a good thing. I do not think that anyone will be surprised if I remind the Committee that nearly all the organisations mentioned are either controlled by or commercially responsible to either Her Majesty’s Government or to commercial concerns.
I wish to draw attention to the Central Motorway Policing Group, which is in the list. I set up that group in the late 1980s. It was then, and remains, a collaborative agreement between four police forces: the West Midlands, which is at the heart of the ring around the West Midlands conurbation, with substantial stretches in Staffordshire, West Mercia and a small section in Warwickshire. It covers the M5, M6, M40, M42 and the M6 toll road. It is a collaborative agreement in which the constituent chief constables take an interest but it does not fit usefully into that list. Those proposing the amendment, assuming things are not changed, might consider withdrawing it from the list.
I rise to speak briefly to Amendment 83A. The clause requires the elected police commissioner to co-operate with a variety of partners in the criminal justice system. One might think that it might be overegging the pudding to require that he should co-operate with,
“the chief officer of police for that police area”,
but that is what Clause 10(4)(a) says. The clause then identifies a range of other partners, such as the Crown Prosecution Service, the Lord Chancellor in respect of courts, a Minister of the Crown in respect of functions relating to prisons and a youth offending team —effectively NOMS and probation.
It is arguable that a body might be under a duty to co-operate with such agencies of the criminal justice system but it strikes me as somewhat invidious for a single individual to have that relationship with bodies administering the courts and these other functions. Those powers are sensitive—extremely sensitive, it might be thought—and likely to promote some concern on the part of the public as to whether single individuals should be engaged at that level in such a co-operative enterprise. I should be grateful if the Minister could elucidate the thinking behind that provision. It seems somewhat dangerous to me. One might be more ready to accept the duty if it were that of a police authority, constituting more than one individual. If we do revert to that position, there are some concerns that need to be discussed.
I have a number of amendments in this group. Like other noble Lords, I found the draft of the memorandum of understanding that we have seen useful as a narrative but disappointing in that it seems hardly to tackle the difficult issues. It would be inappropriate for the memorandum of understanding simply to say in other words what the Bill, or Act as it will become, says. It must go further and deeper. There is a lot that could be cut out, but noble Lords are identifying a lot that needs to be covered.
Amendment 69AA, on the supplementary Marshalled List, provides for any protocol or memorandum of understanding to be one of the items that must be considered when the police and crime plan is reviewed. Clause 5 lists other items, but we should recognise that a document such as this will be in existence and should be acknowledged in statute. I appreciate that the Minister will want to talk about whether the protocol should have statutory force when she discusses that with other noble Lords.
Amendments 82 and 83 deal with Clause 10: “Co-operative working”. My simple proposal is that victims of crime and their representatives—I am thinking of various voluntary organisations—should be included among those who work co-operatively and should be brought in to the arena. Similarly, arrangements for obtaining the views of the community, covered by Clause 14, should include those who have been the victims of crime and those who support them, because their views should be obtained and made good use of.
Finally, the Local Government Association asked me to table Amendment 231 on community safety partnerships. The Bill transfers the Secretary of State's authority to commissioners. The amendment would delete the transfer so that authority would remain with the Home Secretary. Noble Lords might be surprised to hear me advocating the retention of a Home Secretary's power: it is not what I normally do. However, the LGA is concerned—and I share its concern—that the introduction of police and crime commissioners could undermine the partnership working that is in place, introduce ambiguity for community safety partnerships over the role of the commissioner and undermine the ability of the partnerships effectively to deliver results. The LGA warns of tension between the differing political mandates of commissioners and local authorities. I remind the House that it speaks on a cross-party basis. It says that to keep the authority over CSPs with the Home Secretary at national level and encourage close collaborative working at local level would be for the best.
I will speak to Amendments 231A, 231B, 234ZA and 234ZB standing in my name. They relate to the British Transport Police. That body is unique and not, as far as I know, subject to the idea of elected commissioners. However, it polices our railways and goes back in its origins to the days when transport policemen were the signalmen on the railway who looked after the conduct of trains.
We have moved on a bit and the transport police now are more or less corralled within the boundaries of the railway, so that they cannot exercise their powers outside the railway unless explicit guidance or agreement has been reached with the county force or its successors. These amendments would extend the jurisdiction of the transport police to make them responsible for policing transport interchanges. Nearly every railway station has a car park, a bicycle place and somewhere where people catch the bus. People need to be assured of their safety throughout their journey. Some research I had done about 18 months ago showed that according to the estimates made by the Department for Transport, 11.5 per cent more journeys would be made on public transport if passengers felt more secure. I am not pretending for one instant that letting the transport police embrace the precincts of a station would put that all right, but I know that the moment when people get off a train and transfer to another means of public transport, even walking down the street, is when they feel most vulnerable and is probably when they are most likely to be attacked.
I am not asking for more money to be given to the British Transport Police, which is, in fact, a matter for the Department for Transport, rather than the Home Office, but it is important that some real force is put behind the guidance. Actually, there is no guidance. Informal arrangements exist in some places, and they work, but they are informal. To take an example I know well, at Reading station, which has extensive bus stops, car parks, some of them rather nasty, and cycle racks, the police cannot even deal with disorder in the park that was built as part of the station but is outside the limits. We want to use the manpower at the Government’s disposal in the best possible way to promote the interests of passengers, and the British Transport Police force is, to a large extent, paid for by the train operating companies .
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, and have put my name to the same amendments in this group. I commend the speech made at the beginning of this debate by my noble friend Lord Stevenson, who summed up ideally the importance of the British Transport Police and the necessity of removing the anomalies in existing legislation. We made some progress on improvements over the past 10 years. For example, at one point, it was illegal for a British Transport Police officer to pursue a pickpocket out of the station on to the neighbouring street. It was like one of those Wild West films where the police’s jurisdiction finishes at the state line and the next state’s police have to take over. It is an absurd situation. The problem that the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, referred to still exists to a considerable degree. I believe that it is important that when people undertake a journey by train to an airport station, the British Transport Police should be not only on the platform but in the airport as well because they are providing the same sort of security to the traveller and, as far as the passenger is concerned, it is a seamless journey.
There are some anomalies that we have the opportunity to address with these amendments. I shall concentrate on one aspect of them relating to alcohol. The BTP is at present excluded by Section 1 of the Police Act 1996 from having a view on licensing applications, even though there are now large numbers of retail outlets selling alcohol on stations, as the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, points out. It would be very much in the interests not just of the travelling public but of the public generally that, if the British Transport Police was aware of problems relating to particular premises associated with the railway, it had the opportunity to object to those licences. I understand that at present it is not able to do that.
A number of these anomalies can be put right, particularly if the amendments that the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, has tabled and which I am supporting were to be accepted by the Government. I very much hope that the Minister will look at them, and if it is not possible to accept the amendments today will be able to come back to us at a later stage to say that some of these difficulties will be ironed out at later stages of the Bill. I think these are worthwhile amendments, and I hope the Committee will support them.
My Lords, there is a cornucopia of interesting points concealed in this group of amendments. I shall try to confine myself to about three rather than address them all. In response to the speeches made by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, and my noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester about the British Transport Police, although I have a lot of sympathy for what is being said, I say that we need to think through some of the implications. It would not be in the interests of citizens if they never knew where the tentacles of the British Transport Police had so far extended and that they might be relating to them in places considerably different from railway stations or the railway.
I am conscious of that because some years ago I conducted an exercise, on behalf of the Metropolitan Police Authority, which listened to Londoners about their attitudes to counterterrorism policing. There were a huge number of comments, particularly about stop and search and Section 44. I appreciate that Section 44 is no more. It was interesting that, on analysis, a large number of those comments related to the actions of the British Transport Police. The public, particularly young people, did not make a distinction between the British Transport Police and the Metropolitan Police in that instance. We have to think about how a chief officer of police will have direction and control for policing in their area if this is blurred. But that is not to say that we would want an extraordinary sort of relay race where the baton is handed on when a pickpocket is being chased from one place to another. The position of some of the non-geographic police bodies should be regularised and it is important that they are regularised in this Bill.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Stevenson of Balmacara for putting forward and speaking to Amendment 30, which raises the issue of the memorandum of understanding defined in his earlier amendment. Incidentally, I think that it is a different document from that which the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, was talking about and which the Government published a couple of weeks back. This is intended to talk about the relationship between different forces rather than the relationship between an elected police and crime commission or a non-elected police and crime commission and a chief officer of police.
Some specification of the relationship between the non-geographic forces and the mainstream Home Office forces is extremely important. I should like to illustrate that in relation to the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, which is responsible for the protection of nuclear sites and for the transportation of nuclear materials, including at sea. Because of the nature of nuclear materials and the considerable dangers that might be associated with it, it is a very heavily armed constabulary with significant amounts of weaponry, including, I think, cannons for use at sea. It is therefore very important in terms of what might or might not happen in respect of these issues. It highlights potential vulnerabilities of particular sites or when nuclear materials are being transported and the public, quite rightly, would expect those materials and sites to be properly protected.
However, it is slightly anomalous that, as I understand it, the members of the Civil Nuclear Constabulary are paid on different, lower scales than other police officers. It is more than slightly anomalous that those officers are not necessarily subjected to the same levels of training. I think that as regards firearms training there now is a lot of read-across, but that was not always the case and there is no requirement for that to be the case. This is potentially of enormous public concern and we want to see that the governance and arrangements are managed properly.
The relationship between the Civil Nuclear Constabulary and Home Office forces in the vicinity also worries me. As I understand it, agreements are in place between the Civil Nuclear Constabulary around particular establishments and the local police force. I think the concept—no doubt I caricature it grotesquely—is that if, for example, a particular establishment came under sustained attack from the massed ranks of al-Qaeda or whoever else it might be, the Civil Nuclear Constabulary would be able to hold off that attack for a certain period while the local constabulary would come to its aid. The problem, I suspect, is about what the local constabulary would be able to do under such circumstances. Often these are in quite rural and remote areas; the forces concerned do not have large armed presences that could be summoned at short notice—or they might have to go over mountain ranges or face other difficult circumstances. To clarify what the relationship is and should be not only would be very valuable in terms of this legislation, but also would be extremely important in terms of public safety and the security of the critical national infrastructure.
I suspect—but I know less about it—that a similar arrangement might well be important in respect of the Ministry of Defence Police. I know there were some discussions—and I acknowledge that I am not sure how they turned out—about the Ministry of Defence Police taking on responsibility, in addition to its duties in respect of Ministry of Defence establishments, for keeping an eye on and protecting certain bits of the critical national infrastructure. Again, the same principles apply about the relationship between its activities and the local force’s. Getting that right is important: I think it probably would valuably be spelt out in the context of having independent-minded police and crime commissions or commissioners—whatever we end up with—or the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime in London. It may be important in terms of protecting the national interest and what we all expect to happen with respect to that collaboration if some of these things were capable of being spelt out by a proper memorandum of understanding which could be referred to and in which the Home Office and other agencies would want to play a significant part.
That is one point I wish to make on this group of amendments. The second relates to Amendment 83A, in the name of my noble friend Lord Beecham. This deletes the reference to specific bodies listed in the definition of “criminal justice body”. Again, it would be valuable when the Minister responds if she could spell out the direction of travel as far as the Government are concerned. What we have at the moment is an enabling clause within the Bill, designed to enable things to evolve over time. However, we also want some clarity that this is not going to damage some of the existing areas of collaboration; we need to understand what the longer-term constitutional implications of major changes in this area might be.
For example, at the moment, there are plenty of very good, well worked-out examples of having Crown Prosecution Service staff collocated within police stations. This is designed to ensure a quick and rapid interchange between police officers investigating a crime and Crown Prosecution Service staff about whether sufficient evidence has been gathered as soon as arrangements have been made as to how to take things forward, were a charge to be made. That is good practice, and something which works well. Is it the Government’s intention that that should go further—that ultimately the Crown Prosecution Service should come within the ambit of the police, or within the ambit of the police and crime commissioner, the commission or the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime—whatever we end up with? I think that then raises some fundamental issues about the relationship between the police and the prosecution decision. We do not have in this country an inquisitorial system whereby a prosecutor comes in and makes all the decisions on the investigation and how things proceed. By changing that relationship—or potentially changing that relationship—we will change significantly the components of the criminal justice system and the way they relate to policing. Whether that is in the wider interests of the public, I think we need to be clear and we need to debate. I have a fairly open mind on it, but it raises some quite big constitutional issues.
Similarly, I can see that considerable savings might be made were some elements of probation and policing to be brought together. Checking whether people are meeting their probation obligations might fit in usefully with local policing, but the distinction between the end point of criminal justice—the punishment end or whatever else it may be called—and ordinary policing would then be blurred. Again, I have an open mind as to whether that is good or bad, but it raises profound constitutional issues about the independence of those different functions. We should be clear about what the Government see as their direction of travel.
On court administration and court services, tremendous benefits in terms of cost savings could be achieved by removing some of the extraordinary anomalies whereby police officers hang around indefinitely almost for the convenience of courts, magistrates or judges. If all those services were under the control of a single individual—the police and crime commissioner, the police and crime commission or the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime—efficiencies could be introduced in the way those systems worked. That would no doubt be good news for the public purse; it might be good news in terms of people awaiting trial and disposal by the courts, because things would happen speedily and when people expected them to happen; it would certainly be in the interests of witnesses; and it might well be in the interests of police officers who could spend their time otherwise. However, fundamental constitutional questions are raised about the relationship between the courts and the police. I am quite happy for us to have that debate but I would not want it to happen by default on the basis of a comparatively obscure clause in this Bill, as opposed to us looking at what the implications might be and whether there are serious unintended consequences of what might otherwise seem a sensible proposal.
I shall make my final point briefly because I appreciate that I have spoken for quite a long time. It relates to Amendments 230A, 230B and 230C, which are on crime and disorder strategies and propose essentially to link into them the police and crime commissioner, the police and crime commission or the MOPC. The amendment ties in with the amendments that we debated last week about the relationship with local authorities. It is important to make sure that the accountability mechanism created under the Bill, whatever its final picture looks like, is seen to have a read-across at divisional level and at very local level. If a single individual ends up being in charge of all these things, the mechanism risks becoming centralised into a county-wide and force-wide process of debate and discussion, and you will lose the local dialogue which is essential to crime and disorder strategies at a local-authority level. It would also be more difficult to bring about the neighbourhood dimension. Making the strategy an explicit responsibility of the police and crime commissioner, the police and crime commission or the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime makes enormous sense.
Well, both your Lordships are strong protagonists of the British Transport Police. My point was about the potential confusion. I am sure that all of us in this Committee know instantly whether a police officer whom we see is from the Metropolitan Police, the British Transport Police or the Ministry of Defence Police. We recognise the hat badges and the different detail around the cap, but most people do not. I was simply demonstrating that this was an area of considerable confusion.
There was equally severe concern and criticism of the way that the Metropolitan Police had used Section 44 of the Terrorism Act in terms of stop and search and there was also enormous confusion about whether it was Section 44 of the Terrorism Act or stop and search under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act or whatever else. The point is that people do not understand these processes. Before we go down the road of saying that the remit of British Transport Police officers should automatically be extended, we need to think through how that will be managed and dealt with.
My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords for raising the potential implications of the protocol or memorandum of understanding for the non-geographic police forces within England and Wales. Of course, the Bill does not change the governance structures of these bodies. With the exception of the Serious Organised Crime Agency, they are not answerable to the Home Secretary, who is to issue the protocol. The protocol will not vary the interaction between the Home Office and non-geographical forces. That is why in the Bill we have safeguarded the direction and control of chief officers. Through that, their operational interaction with, for example, the British Transport Police and others remains unaffected.
There are also questions about how the protocol, as it is currently conceived, would apply to these bodies, which differ from the geographical police forces significantly in terms of their functions. The Committee has touched on some of these this evening. The governance arrangements and relationship with the public, although overlapping, are often quite different. However, I appreciate that at least some of those forces may benefit from such a protocol being in place. I genuinely welcome further discussion on the merits of widening the protocol's scope.
However, this has not been the immediate focus of the protocol as drafted and we would be keen to discuss that further, including of course detailed discussions with the bodies concerned. I reiterate that Members of the Committee who have expressed an interest in the protocol as currently drafted will receive an invitation to discuss it in more detail with me. Those letters should go out in the next 24 hours. I hope that after the recess we can have a more detailed discussion about that protocol.
The Government expect police and crime commissioners, community safety partnerships and other criminal justice bodies to co-operate in order to deliver the best service to local communities across the force area. Their priority should be tackling crime and disorder for the benefit of the local people. Therefore, they should work together to overcome any particular issues. Clause 10 sets out in legislation a reciprocal duty to co-operate for police and crime commissioners and authorities comprising community safety partnerships. It also requires police and crime commissioners and other criminal justice agencies within their force area such as the probation, prison and court services to make local arrangements to work effectively together.
We want to establish a framework that enables commissioners to develop strong relationships with these key local partners. Those relationships will be critical to commissioners in order to make the most sustainable impact on crime and community safety. The clause sets the foundations for that framework and we expect commissioners and local partners to build on that through strategic engagement and dialogue. They will work together to provide the most effective and efficient response to the needs of their local communities. It is important to see Clause 10 in the context of other measures to advance joint working in the Bill, such as grant-making powers, provisions to elevate crime and disorder strategies to a force-wide level and to commission reports to examine any element of those strategies.
The noble Baroness, Lady Henig, asked specifically about payment by results. I hope that she will find it agreeable for me to write to her on that issue. I know that she focused on Clause 10.
I do not think it necessary to further labour the duty with a memorandum of understanding which has the potential to become burdensome on the professional and experienced services that certain amendments within this group are seeking to bind in law. We have agreed a way forward with the protocol and I hope that noble Lords will avail themselves of making their views on specific issues known to me. However, I want to keep that light touch because there is a danger if too much detail is set into the protocol it will become a burden. That is not what we want it to do.
The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, was concerned that an individual would carry the power and responsibility. But I gently remind the noble Lord that if they are elected by the public, that person, whatever badge they had when they stood for election, would have had to present themselves to the public and convince them that they were able to do the job. They would have to carry out those important functions not just in an honourable way but in a competent way. Therefore, they would have to gain the trust of the public.
This is often the cause of debate. We say that we trust the public, but do we really? I do and I believe that our democratic process is such that if we give the public an opportunity to elect somebody to an important and responsible role such as this—as we do in other areas of our democratic process—we should trust them. The police and crime commissioners will of course have the scrutiny of the panel behind them which will hold them to account and who will be an important check and balance on the way in which they carry out their duties.
Does the Minister not see that, in all the partnerships that arise, there will be only one person—the elected police commissioner—who stands alone? In no other case will he be engaged with a single individual. He will be dealing with a properly constituted body, whether that is the Lord Chancellor's Department—he will not have a direct relationship with the Lord Chancellor—the Prison Service, the National Offender Management Service or the youth offending teams.
We will have a situation where an individual, elected as the noble Baroness said, deals effectively with a number of corporate bodies. Does that relationship not look odd constitutionally? My noble friend Lord Harris pointed that out. Is there not a danger that, with their having been invested with that elected authority, there may be a temptation, which may be difficult to resist, for an unprecedented—in our system—degree of pressure on other parts of the criminal justice system?
The Mayor of London might well be described as having similar power as constituted already and already elected. I was not aware at the time that that was an argument brought forward to oppose the powers of the Mayor of London. I do not know whether I am reading the noble Lord correctly. I understand why he is concerned but he has not yet persuaded me. I am sorry to tell him that.
I hear what noble Lords are saying. I am not persuaded of the argument because I believe that there are sufficient checks and balances as far as the police and crime commissioners are concerned to ensure that they carry out their duties, not only in a robust way but in the way that we would all expect them to carry them out in their relationship with all bodies, whether at a local or national level. I remain unconvinced, I am afraid, by the noble Lord's arguments in that area.
I also trust the public, but in the only cases that I can see that might be compatible—elected mayors—there have been one or two examples of extremely problematic situations in the past few years. If they were repeated in the policing sphere it would have the most serious consequences.
I understand why the noble Baroness says that, which is why, of course, the checks and balances need to be in place. We are all frail as human beings, even the highest. That is why the Bill needs to ensure—and I believe it does—that there are checks and balances for police and crime commissioners. That is one of the things we might discuss in our negotiations across the Committee before this Bill leaves it. However, I do not want noble Lords to think that I am persuaded that the principle of a democratically elected police and crime commissioner is something that we are going to depart from. It is the core of the Bill.
The Minister has, with a very welcome style, promised meetings before the Bill leaves the House. In my experience, those meetings would be most helpful prior to Report stage, because it is then much easier for Members with a detailed interest in this legislation to consider what their position will be on Report.
My Lords, I quite accept that and it would be my intention to do exactly that. There is a gap between Committee and Report and I hope that we can usefully fill the hours in between discussing these matters.
The public, through a police and crime commissioner, will receive a stronger voice within the wider criminal justice system; moreover, the commissioner would act as an advocate for the system’s independence. I do not believe there is a need to restate in this Bill the legal consequences were any individual, irrespective of their public position, to seek to undermine or frustrate the well established legal processes within England and Wales. As with the operational independence of a chief constable, no clauses in this Bill seek to undermine or influence the independence of the judiciary, the Crown Prosecution Service or the legal responsibilities and foundation of other criminal justice bodies.
To that end, it is right and proper that we simply list in Clause 10 those bodies and authorities which the Government expect a PCC to develop a co-operative working relationship with rather than leave it to chance or allow for uncertainty and doubt or, at worst, preach to the converted and issue guidance on how the separate bodies should go about each other’s business.
I am most grateful to noble Lords who have spoken on the subject of the British Transport Police.
Now that the noble Baroness is leaving the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, perhaps she could tell us whether she is saying that the sole purpose of Clause 10(4) is to remind these paragons who are going to fulfil these roles in future that these are people they ought to talk to and collaborate with. In that case, it seems unnecessary to include the list in the Bill unless the Government have some further intention in mind going beyond simply saying, “Well, these are people you ought to talk to”.
My Lords, the Government have no intention or expectation that they will go further in the way that the noble Lord has outlined. We just felt that it was important to put it in the Bill but not to the point of being prescriptive in any further detail than that. I can assure the noble Lord—if this is what is in the back of his mind—that there is no hidden agenda of mission creep here in terms of the powers. I do not know if I have interpreted what he has said correctly but if that is what he was suspicious of, I hope I can reassure him on that point.
My Lords, that is an extremely helpful comment. Let me put it round the other way. Does Clause 10 contain within it an expectation that those bodies listed will themselves collaborate? We have heard examples of where some of the individuals and bodies have stuck very carefully to what they regard as their independence and have not seen it as their responsibility to collaborate with other partners.
My Lords, we hope that with the election of police and crime commissioners there will be a real culture change in the way in which these bodies work together. We hope that we will break down Chinese walls where bodies do not co-operate and that they will work together where it would definitely be to the public’s advantage that they do. One of the police and crime commissioner’s duties will be to build these relationships and ensure that they advance the fight against crime. That is their objective. We do not want to be too prescriptive in the Bill but, on the other hand, we also want to make the intention behind the role very clear. I reassure the noble Lord that if there are problems at a local level—and there are bound to be, because we are talking about human frailties and people taking positions; we are all familiar with that—a police and crime commissioner will make it his or her priority to rebuild bridges and co-operate right across the piece to ensure that they fulfil the main objective of their job, which is to reduce crime and represent the people’s view on crime reduction in their area. It may sound rather worthy but culture change is not always easy to bring about. It does not always happen simply by dotting every last “i” in the primary legislation.
I turn to the British Transport Police. As I hope noble Lords will recall from exchanges during passage of the Policing and Crime Act 2009, some of the matters that have been raised tonight were to have been considered within the context of the quinquennial review of the British Transport Police Authority, which was to have been carried out under the previous Administration but was not progressed. Nevertheless, this is an opportunity for the Government to re-examine these proposals and to consider them within the wider context of the Government's plan to reform the governance of the 43 Home Office forces within England and Wales. I therefore undertake to consult my ministerial colleagues in the Department for Transport on the various issues raised by these amendments and to consider how they might best be progressed. Once I have done so I will write to noble Lords. I say particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, that I have just had my ministerial duties defined this week, and alcohol and drug use are included in my responsibilities. I was very interested to hear what he said about the lack of British Transport Police involvement. I promise to take the matter away and consider it as I thought that he made a very strong point.
I am grateful to those who contributed to the debate on these amendments, and I ask those who tabled them to consider not pressing them.
The noble Baroness has very helpfully addressed a number of the points. However, I am still not clear whether she has addressed the central point of some of these amendments—the call for a statement somewhere of the relationship between the new structures and the non-territorial forces. It is not part of the protocol about operational independence, about which we will no doubt have plenty of interesting discussions; it is about the relationship between police and crime commissioners, or whatever we end up with, and those other forces. For example, I raised some points about the Civil Nuclear Constabulary. I am not sure that the Minister addressed the point about the value of some sort of codification of how these relationships are managed.
My Lords, I am not sure that the noble Baroness responded to my amendments on the role of victims and victim organisations and the contribution they can make in the two areas that I mentioned, or indeed to the amendment on community safety partnerships. I think that the word cornucopia was used about this grouping. If these amendments have somehow slipped out of her notes, I hope that she will nevertheless be able to look at the issue. I am particularly concerned that, although the Bill makes a reference to the role of victims and so acknowledges their place in what might be called—to use a term that is used quite often—the wider landscape, I read that as a little bit of a gesture. I would like to see those matters brought far more centrally into the way in which the new arrangements are to operate.
I thank the Minister for her helpful comments and responses to what has been a wide-ranging and very full debate—a cornucopia indeed, as has already been mentioned. I think that essentially four issues have been raised, although not necessarily by everybody, as we have gone through the debate.
The first issue concerns the duties of collaboration. As with the last point that has just been raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, I think that there would be room for the Minister to make the offer to write on that in a bit more detail. As my noble friend Lady Henig and the last speaker have pointed out, some of the details might skip out and not be caught properly, so I think that correspondence on those issues might help. The general concern is to flesh out some of the frameworks that are in the Bill so that we have a better understanding, when we go forward to Report stage, about how these things will work.
In that context, there was an exchange between my noble friend Lord Beecham and the Minister on the rather subtle point—it may not have been given enough air to grow and flourish in the debate—about the difference between an individual dealing with a range of corporate bodies and a body corporate, should there be such, that was to have the same responsibilities. That is quite an important issue. Again, we would benefit from having a bit more flesh on why the Minister thinks that a single individual should have that capacity and would not get carried away as was suggested in the discussion. The point was made that, if elected persons such as mayors have a particular remit and take an aggressive stance on some issue, they tend to stray into areas that perhaps were not thought of when a democratic mandate was first given to them. We think here perhaps of the experience in Doncaster.
The second point was about the direction of travel, on which there were also a number of exchanges. I think that we ended up at what is the right place to be, which is that the fact that the “criminal justice system” is explicitly mentioned in the Bill as an area with which the new structure will engage is not meant to mean anything other than is appropriate. On our side, we would like further clarification on that. The idea that there is some sort of creeping organism embedded in the Bill that will somehow express the Home Office’s territorial interests has been rightly rejected by the Minister, but I think that the sense on our side is that we would like a little bit more on that, either in correspondence or perhaps in Hansard, to explain why those particular groups, rather than others, are mentioned and why the Government think that it is appropriate for those groups to be there. In her concluding remarks, I think that the Minister said that nothing should be read into this other than that it makes good sense for these bodies to collaborate.
The third point was on the British Transport Police. I am very grateful for the support that my amendment received from the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, and from my noble friend Lord Faulkner. As I said at the beginning of my remarks opening the debate, the British Transport Police has a long history in policing. This may not be well known to your Lordships, but the phrase “the booking office” comes from the British Transport Police because, in the early days of rail travel, you had to go and book in your travel with the British Transport Police-equivalent at the time before you were permitted to travel. It became known as “the booking office” because the journey was written down in a book—
If noble Lords like my erudition, I will continue. My second point, from my lecture this evening, is that we owe the very term “police station”, and all that those words imply, to the British Transport Police because, in the days when the railways were being built, there were so many undisciplined chaps around causing trouble in the localities that stations had to be built—believe it or not—every mile along the track. Those became the British Transport Police stations, and the term became loosely associated with the police. So we owe a lot to BTP: it is in the DNA of our modern police.
I am very grateful to the noble Lord for the points that were made about the need to discuss in more detail how we might, while respecting the differences, also seek to have a comparability of approach across the country. I think that that matters to ordinary people.
I opened the debate by talking about the importance of having a memorandum of understanding. I thank the Minister for her willingness to engage with that proposal. There is a balance to be struck between having the detail, on the one hand, and safeguarding the essential verities that we want to see in our police force. We are not asking for enormous amounts of bureaucracy—we on this side of the House are not in favour of that—but we want the checks and balances that we think will be reflected by such a memorandum to be brought out a bit more securely. I look forward to our discussions and, if the Minister cares to write on that as well, we would be very grateful.
I think that this has been a very satisfactory debate, which has raised a lot of points. I am sure that we will want to study the record to make sure that we have got everything right, but in the interim I seek to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 30 withdrawn.
31: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
(1) There shall be a body corporate for each police area listed in Schedule 1 to the Police Act 1996 to be known as a “Police Commission”.
(2) A Police Commission shall consist of—
(a) a police and crime commissioner, and(b) a police and crime panel.(3) The police and crime commissioner shall be appointed by the police and crime panel (from amongst its own members).”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 31, for the avoidance of any doubt let me say that it was agreed by the Government that this amendment is consequential on my first amendment, which was agreed to on the first day of Committee, and I am most grateful for that.
Amendment 31 agreed.
Amendment 31A not moved.
31B: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
“Deputy police and crime commissioners
(1) There is to be a deputy police and crime commissioner (“the deputy commissioner”) for each police area listed in Schedule 1 to the Police Act 1996 (police areas outside London).
(2) The name of the deputy commissioner for a police area is “the Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner for” with the addition of the name of the police area.
(3) The deputy commissioner shall be appointed by the police and crime commissioner for the area from among those members of the police and crime panel for the police area who are properly appointed as members of the panel.
(4) The deputy commissioner shall have—
(a) such functions that are performed by the police and crime commissioner for that police area, where the police and crime commissioner is unable or unavailable to perform them in accordance with this Act;(b) such other functions that are conferred by this Act or any other enactment.(5) A person must not hold the office of deputy commissioner and chair the police and crime panel at the same time.
(6) If the police and crime commissioner appoints as deputy commissioner the person who chairs the police and crime panel, the person shall resign as chair of the police and crime panel.
(7) Subsections (5) and (6) apply in relation to the deputy chair of the police and crime panel (if there is one) as they apply in relation to the chair of the police and crime panel.
(8) A person shall cease to be the deputy commissioner if—
(a) that person ceases to be a police and crime panel member;(b) that person, at any time, gives notice of resignation as the deputy commissioner to the police and crime commissioner’s chief executive; or(c) the police and crime commissioner at any time gives notice terminating his or her appointment as deputy commissioner.(9) A person who ceases to be deputy commissioner shall be eligible for reappointment.”
My Lords, the amendments in my name in this group relate to the situation in which a vacancy arises in the position of police and crime commissioner, which, for the purposes of this debate only, we will assume might eventually emerge as enshrined in the legislation.
Such a vacancy could arise in a number of ways. It could arise because of incapacity or because of the resignation or death of a police and crime commissioner; it could also arise if the police and crime panel suspended the commissioner under Clause 30 of the Bill. Incidentally, the police and crime panel does not have to suspend the commissioner if he is charged with an offence carrying a maximum prison sentence of more than two years—that is an issue to which your Lordships might wish to revert later, as it seems rather odd that there is such discretion—but, be that as it may, the situation could arise under which a commissioner is suspended, and the period of the vacancy could be quite considerable. In the event of death or resignation, there would have to be an election of a successor within 35 days, which is a tolerably short period of time, unless the vacancy arises within six months before the due date for an election, in which case the vacancy would last for six months. However, I assume that, if there is a suspension, the vacancy could last for a considerably longer period, because the suspension would lapse if the charge was withdrawn or if the commissioner was acquitted, but that process could take many months.
The extraordinary position arises under this Bill that the vacancy would be filled by a member of staff appointed by the police and crime panel. That is the procedure under Clause 62. It is quite remarkable that, presumably, any member of staff would be eligible to be appointed by the police and crime panel for that purpose. That is the opposite of the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government’s desire to combine the position of elected mayors with that of the chief executive; this is the other way round, as an officer would in effect become the police and crime commissioner. It is as if Caligula, in appointing a horse as his consul, had to appoint a police horse. It is quite a remarkable concept and is, really, entirely unsatisfactory.
My amendments, therefore, seek to create the position of a deputy commissioner, who would be chosen from the police and crime panel—it could not be the chairman but it could be another member. Under these amendments, the deputy commissioner would in effect have the powers of the police and crime commissioner whose position had been vacated permanently or temporarily. Otherwise, under the Bill as it stands, the position would be exercised by a paid officer. Curiously, the Bill provides that in the event of incapacity, the incapacitated police commissioner’s views should be sought about which member of his staff, appointed by him in the first instance, would be appointed. That is again a rather curious concept—that somebody incapacitated for one reason or another should designate a successor in that way. Given the nature of the duties that would fall on an acting commissioner, which is the Bill’s phrase, it seems inappropriate for that position to be held by someone appointed in the manner currently prescribed by the Bill. It would be much better if it were a member of the police authority; the amendment provides for it to be a councillor member of the police authority—that is to say, somebody with a democratic mandate. That seems appropriate, particularly given that the period during which the deputy served could be many months. Obviously, he could have a whole range of duties including quite possibly determining the precept, bringing forward the crime plan, and so on.
This is not in any way a destructive amendment, but one which I hope the Government will consider carefully, because the proposal before the House is in my recollection quite unprecedented to be made in the way that the Bill prescribes. It certainly does not engender confidence that accountability would be served. So I hope that the Minister will look sympathetically at a way of improving the provision in order to cover those occasions when a vacancy might arise.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 212, which I hope has the status of a drafting amendment since its aim is simply to make sure that any enactment in relation to an acting commissioner includes this Act. It would have the additional benefit of bringing the wording in line with that of Amendment 31B, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, which I find extremely helpful because it imposes a very important check and balance on the police commissioner. It would mean, put simply, that the deputy cannot be a member of the police commissioner’s own staff, appointed to their substantive job by that police commissioner. Rather, it must be a member of the panel who can be appointed as a deputy by the police and crime commissioner. That seems a much better approach to providing a deputy role and cover for incapacity. It is much clearer to the general public; it would occur at an early stage and it would mean that an elected not an unelected person would have the mandate of being a deputy.
I rise to support the amendment. Given that thus far with the amendments that have been moved there has not been that much sense of give in the Government’s responses, I would like to know what the thinking was on this provision. I find this whole area of the Bill quite extraordinary and quite out of line with anything else that I have experienced in policing or local government. Given that it is seen by many of us as an extraordinary suggestion, would someone explain where the idea has come from? It is so unprecedented, in my experience. If the response follows the same pattern as on previous amendments and the Minister stands up and tells us why the arguments that we are putting forward are not going to work and why what is being proposed is absolutely perfect and that therefore we should not be challenging it, in this particular case I would like to probe why this provision is in the Bill. It seems bizarre to a lot of people.
I support the amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, and my noble friend Lord Shipley. My first question is whether we need a deputy for the PCC. My contention is that it is absolutely essential and that that person must be chosen from within the police and crime panel, who will in the main have been elected by the local community. How utterly bizarre it would be for an elected PCC to appoint his or her deputy. That could be absolutely anyone from the PCC’s own staff, as the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, has outlined. What a recipe for corruption that might be. How will that person be chosen and what criteria will the PCC use to put so much political power into the hands of an unelected person? We absolutely must ensure that whatever befalls a PCC during its term of office, it must appoint a deputy from a properly elected body—the police and crime panel or, as I would prefer, the police and crime commission.
I support the amendment as well. I fear that the thinking behind this provision was like something that I explored at Second Reading. It is almost as if the police and crime commissioner will be contaminated, or his office will be contaminated, if he is in any sort of collaborative arrangement or anyone else is drawn into the ambit of the police and crime commissioner in any way. I, too, think it would be totally inappropriate for the police and crime commissioner to nominate his deputy. Therefore, I support the notion of a deputy, if there needs to be one, being drawn from a police and crime panel, or some other body with more legitimacy than just the touching of the shoulder—figuratively speaking—by the crime commissioner of someone who happens to be working within his office.
I also support the amendment, because if the argument is that police commissioners are elected, surely the deputy must also be elected if he acts in their place. There is nothing more bizarre than if someone was appointed to the power, bearing in mind that a commissioner might be ill for six or nine months. That surely would be a recipe for disaster.
My Lords, the Minister spoke earlier about recognising the need for checks and balances, and I regard this as a very important issue. I do not think that we can let the Bill stand as it now rests on the appointment of an acting commissioner. Clearly, the reason for it must be the architecture. Of course, the architecture is of the concept of an individual, a corporate sole, having huge powers. One can see the difficulty: if you do not place it within a proper corporate governance structure, what do you do? The Government clearly have no answer so have come up with the extraordinary idea that if a commissioner becomes incapacitated or no longer holds office a staff member can take over that responsibility.
Will vacancies arise in the circumstances of Clause 62(1)(a) to (c)? I rather think they will. As the noble Baroness said earlier, people are frail, and I am pretty certain that out of the 41 or 42 potential elected police and crime commissioners, one or two bad eggs will be elected. I am also pretty certain that the media will be very intrusive in looking into the backgrounds of people so elected. Given the position that they hold, they and their families will come under intense scrutiny, and it is likely in those circumstances that some elected commissioners will find themselves in a position to no longer hold office. Yet one of their staff members is to be appointed to take their place in those circumstances.
What sort of staff are these elected police commissioners likely to have? I would have thought that they would be likely to be media people and people who will help the commissioner be re-elected. Who is it going to be? Will it be the chief media person or chief pal of the elected police commissioner? Will it be the chief of staff? Who knows? What is likely is that this person is woefully unqualified to be an acting police commissioner. When we come back on Report, I think the Government will find that the House will require them to be willing to amend the Bill in this regard. This is a very important part of the checks and balances that are required.
My Lords, we recognise that the whole question of checks and balances is a matter of much concern throughout the House and that a number of amendments which we will be discussing deal with the checks and balances built into these new arrangements, and with the relationship between the police and crime commissioner and the police and crime panel. We will be discussing those throughout several more groups from now on. The architecture of the Bill is in principle that one identifiable individual, elected and accountable, should be clearly responsible for oversight of the police. I think that noble Lords would all recognise the difference between an assistant commissioner appointed when there is a vacancy or due to incapacity, and a deputy commissioner who is appointed from the outset. That builds a very different relationship into the structure which we are designing.
I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, on the amount of care that he has put into these amendments but I am sure he also recognises that having a deputy—particularly one who comes from the PCP—also builds a potential basic tension into a structure which has been designed to do something rather different. The checks and balances should come between a separate police and crime panel and a directly elected police and crime commissioner, rather than blurring the relationship between the two. The panel is appointed by local authorities and, under our model, is clearly distinct in its origin and role from the police and crime commissioner.
The provision which we have put into Clause 62 is intended to provide a reasonable one for a temporary expedient when the elected police and crime commissioner is unable to act. We have conceded that, in such circumstances, as set out—
Yes, we accept that and it is something which we will have to consider further and discuss with noble Lords who wish to pursue the issue. Nevertheless, we are concerned about blurring the relationship between the panel and the commissioner. We have conceded that the panel should make the temporary appointment, as the most suitable single body for an event that might arise from a multitude of different causes, but the principle of the Bill is that there should be a definite dynamic which depends on direct election and a high public profile. I am reminded that the Bill states that six months is the maximum for an assistant commissioner and that there would then be a by-election.
Surely that would not be the case, would it, in the event of a suspension? The suspension could clearly last for more than six months in the circumstances to which I referred—for example, a trial on a charge carrying a sentence of more than two years’ imprisonment.
My Lords, perhaps I might add to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, in that this is not just blurring the distinction between the police and crime panel and the police commissioner. What the amendment proposes is that a power of patronage be given to the police commissioner over the panel whose purpose is to be a check and balance and to call him to account. Surely that does not extend the logic which I have heard so often in your Lordships’ House: that power is being concentrated in one person. This amendment would in fact give even more power to that person and confuse the relationship even further between the commissioner and the panel.
I submit to the Committee that it would only make sense to have some kind of election within the panel which would keep the roles distinct. In the circumstances mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Beecham—of suspension on the grounds that the commissioner has been charged with a criminal offence—surely the patronage that was previously exercised to appoint someone from the panel to deputise could, in the eyes of the public, be polluted by the fact that the commissioner is now standing charged with a criminal offence. Therefore, the function of deputy could again be polluted. To have the panel itself perform some kind of election is a matter of regret, having heard so many representations about the need for independence in policing. It seems from the Committee’s discussion of this amendment that co-opted, independent members would not be eligible to be the deputy commissioner, so I query the logic behind this amendment. It could pollute and give even more power to the commissioner in those circumstances.
My Lords, perhaps it would help if I came in because that was an interesting point about the issue of pollution and people being tainted if the police commissioner had to stand down, or was suspended or incapacitated in any way. Take the example of a police commissioner where the charge was corruption: the idea that a member of that person's staff could then be appointed the police commissioner is just not going to run. Would the Minister be prepared to take this away? I accept that my noble friend Lord Beecham has put a suggestion forward as to how you emerge with a credible acting commissioner. There will be other suggestions; I do not think he is suggesting that he has all the answers and I do not think that anyone does. What we are pretty convinced of is that the approach in the Bill will just not do.
I thank the noble Lord for that intervention. We may agree that appointing or electing the deputy commissioner at the outset may well not be necessary or desirable, but we will look at what happens if there is a long-term suspension. There are precedents with directly elected mayors and others that we will want to look at. We will reflect on this and discuss it off the Floor and, on that basis, I ask if the noble Lord would care to withdraw his amendment.
Amendment 31B withdrawn.
Amendments 31C and 31D not moved.
Schedule 1 : Police and Crime Commissioners
31E: Schedule 1, page 106, line 9, leave out “Secretary of State” and insert “police and crime panel”
I shall speak also to Amendment 32B to 32F in this group. I will try to be brief as I hope that these amendments are relatively straightforward. The substantive amendment is Amendment 31E; the others are largely consequential upon it. These amendments are designed to align the provisions in Schedule 1 about the payment of salaries to police and crime commissioners, along with allowances and pensions, to the new structure now incorporated in the Bill of a police commission with two component parts—the commissioner and the panel. My main amendment suggests that the panel, not the Secretary of State as provided in the Bill, should set the salary of the commissioner. The consequential amendments, however, allow the Secretary of State to make regulations about commissioners’ salaries. The remaining amendments provide that the police commission will pay the commissioner's salary and be responsible for paying the pensions of ex-commissioners.
I am uncomfortable about the Home Secretary being directly involved in setting the pay, allowances and pensions of individual commissioners. That looks to me like micromanagement, not the greater devolution and localism to which this Government say they are committed. These amendments therefore propose that the Secretary of State can still set the general parameters and exert influence over salaries through making regulations but would put her at arm’s length from the immediate decision. This is a more appropriate arrangement, which allows local accountability to be more meaningful and more flexible.
I am aware that the Senior Salaries Review Body is looking at an appropriate level of remuneration for commissioners. That does not prevent its findings being included in the arrangements that I have suggested through this amendment. These findings could be included in a national framework set by the Home Secretary, which would allow local flexibility in determining what salary is appropriate to a particular area or particular circumstances. These amendments would also provide for the police commission as a body corporate, and not the incumbent commissioner, to make pension payments to ex-commissioners.
Similarly, the commission, not the commissioner, would pay the allowances and expenses of the commissioner. This seems a much more satisfactory arrangement than that currently proposed, which is effectively that a commissioner should pay himself or herself. This might be appropriate for a person who is self-employed but it is completely inappropriate for a public servant. It raises the possibility that governance of public finances—in this case police finances—will be perceived as suspect. At best, it may have a whiff of the gravy train about it, at worst the taint of corruption. At present the British policing model is widely regarded as one of the cleanest and least corrupt in the world. It must be of concern that provisions such as this could leave it vulnerable to a different perception. That worries me. It is an important issue. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have several amendments in this group: Amendments 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 47, 48, 63, 64, 94 and 135. Amendment 32 would restrict the salary of the police and crime commissioner to no more than one-third of that of the chief constable. I expect a bolt from the blue for suggesting such a meagre amount but this is a probing amendment. We know that the SSRB is to advise but I understand that it will advise only. As the noble Baroness has just said, it is proposed that the decision will be that of the Secretary of State. However, the SSRB and we will need to understand several factors that are relevant to the recommendation. There is not only the responsibility carried, as one reads in the Bill, but the workload. What workload do the Government expect of the new commissioners? I am sure it will be different for different police areas. Perhaps the Government can assist the House with some sort of general advice or ballpark figure. It will not necessarily be a good thing for the commissioners to be full-time. Will that not bring them into a position of challenging the role and authority of the chief constable? There are some sensitive and complex issues buried within this. As I say, this is only a probing amendment but it is not a frivolous one.
My next three pairs of amendments are also probing, but they probe only the drafting and are very much third-order matters. Amendments 33 and 34 deal with incidental powers, including entering into agreements. I want merely to understand why it is necessary to word it in this way. Does “legally binding” mean enforceable through legal mechanisms? Is it necessary to cover all the bases by giving these examples of incidental powers? Amendments 47 and 48 to Schedule 2 are rather similar. They relate to the chief constable. The distinction is that the chief constable is an existing post. Do chief constables not already have these powers? Are these provisions necessary because of some new functions in this schedule?
I have two further pairs of amendments: Amendment 35 and 36 to Schedule 1, and Amendments 63 and 64 to Schedule 2. These paragraphs deal with protection from personal liability. I have no problem with that but I am a little puzzled by the terminology. Is not the position that there should be no personal liability for an act or omission unless it is not in good faith? The words that I am looking at are “shown to have”, which must mean something. I can think only that this is about the standard of the burden of proof. I have warned the Bill team that this is what is in my mind. My alternative to “shown to have” is simply “has”. One would have to provide evidence but there must be some distinction. There is something here that I do not understand but I would like to. It might be quite significant.
Amendment 94 would delete Clause 15(3), which provides that commissioners may not enter into agreements with each other about matters that could be the subject of a collaboration agreement. My question is: why not? Why not give the local bodies discretion? Is it not up to the local body to find the most efficient way?
Amendment 135 would transpose paragraphs 19 and 20 from Part 3 to Part 4 of Schedule 6. This is very esoteric stuff, for which I apologise. It is so that we might understand whether paragraphs 19 and 20 are not of general application—the general provisions are contained in Part 4—or relate only to the panels established by the Secretary of State, which are the subject of Part 3.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has not raised esoteric points; she has raised two fundamental issues. In one case I agree with her very strongly. In the other I disagree with her almost more strongly. As I understand them—I appreciate that they are probing—Amendments 33 and 34 effectively remove the power of the police and crime commissioner or commission, or whatever else we might have, to enter into contracts. That is an extremely dangerous amendment. It takes away one of the very powerful mechanisms or levers that whatever we end up with—the elected police and crime commissioner or the police and crime commission—will have in terms of its accountability responsibility. If the commissioner does not enter into these contracts, it must presumably be the chief officer of police who does so. This amendment further shifts the balance of responsibility away from the elected or indirectly elected body that holds the police to account to the chief constable. That is an extremely worrying principle. There is already too much in the Bill that places additional powers and responsibilities on the chief officer of the police and takes them away from the body that is supposed to hold the police to account. Given that the police have tremendous powers and responsibilities, some countervailing mechanisms are needed. That is what I thought the Bill was supposed to be about. I disagree; it has sold a pass in one or two instances and given excessive powers to the chief officer of police. However, this amendment would make it worse.
It might be helpful if I respond to that to save the Committee going down an avenue which I am certainly not suggesting that it should go down. My amendment would leave the right to enter into agreements but it seeks to understand the distinction between contracts and other agreements, whether legally binding or not. That is the simple thrust of my amendment. I am certainly not suggesting what the noble Lord indicates. One of the problems with probing amendments is that they sometimes seem to indicate something far more significant than is the case.
I accept that the noble Baroness is merely trying to elucidate what it means. It seems to me that in this case the Government are entirely sensibly trying to cover all the various types of agreement and contract that might exist. That seems to me what that part is about, and in my view that is why it should remain.
I turn to easier ground and to that part of the noble Baroness’s remarks with which I strongly agree. I find it bizarre that the Bill prohibits an elected policing body entering into a collaboration agreement with another. Surely, this is precisely what we hope would happen. I hope to see all sorts of networks of agreements between policing bodies around the country, perhaps to share back-office facilities or an agreement that one police area will develop an area of policing expertise and other police areas will agree that that body will take the lead in that matter. That seems to me eminently sensible. I find it strange that the Bill appears to prohibit that. I do not understand why the Government have gone down that road. If this is a probing amendment perhaps the Minister will tell us that we have completely misunderstood what the schedule is about. However, it seems to me that it cannot be interpreted in any other way. I thought that it was government policy to encourage this collaboration.
The Conservative Party, and probably the Liberal Democrats although I cannot remember their precise position on this issue, were deeply opposed to the idea of mergers of police forces when it was raised by previous Home Secretaries. They felt that this was a terrible diminution and that people would be affronted by changes in the hat badge if police forces in different parts of the country were merged. Their response was that they would want to see this sort of collaboration. Indeed, I recall the Minister for Police Nick Herbert pointing out at a conference that the proposals and discussions that were then—as I understand it—going on extremely slowly between police forces about how they might share helicopter services were a test case to establish whether police services and police authorities could collaborate under any circumstances. The message that I took from his comments was that if there was a failure to share helicopters in that instance, where there seemed to be an overriding case for doing so—however, the chief constables who wanted their own helicopters might argue differently—the Government would try to make that mandatory. I hope the Minister has received the advice that she needs on this point and that we will be told that that is not the Government’s intention. However, if it is the Government’s intention, perhaps they can explain why that is the case.
My Lords, I rise to make a short comment on Amendment 31E, moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, and to add a gloss on the earlier debate that we had in the context of Amendment 32, spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee.
On Amendment 31E, the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, spoke out for localism in deciding what these salaries should be. I find myself frequently reading in both the national and local press about the extreme distress caused by the salaries that are paid to the chief executives of local authorities, which seem to be totally out of order when compared with the salaries paid in a neighbouring county. Here we are talking about an office which is not elected, but where the decision is taken by the local authority itself. I understand the noble Baroness’s argument about localism but I recall doing these exercises from the centre for four years between 1985 and 1989, when the then Chancellor, my noble friend Lord Lawson of Blaby, delegated to me responsibility for the pay and conditions of the Civil Service. I negotiated with a number of people who now sit on the Benches opposite in connection with those matters. I recall that some jobs in public bodies went beyond purely the Civil Service and that in those cases the Treasury reserved the right to decide what the salaries would be. It was a difficult task and one which I think we discharged with reasonable consistency, accuracy and honour. I would be happier with something of that order rather than the provision which the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, suggested.
In the context of Amendment 32, I heard my noble friend Lady Hamwee say she did not believe that the police and crime commissioners would have a full-time job. I recall that on the previous occasion we debated these matters my noble friend Lord Eccles pulled up the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and asked him where the Bill stated that it would be a full-time job. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, had made the perfectly reasonable assumption that it was likely to be full time. However, here we are on Amendment 32 going back to the situation where it is not likely to be a full-time job at all. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire whether the Government expected the job to be full time and received an immediate answer. I go back to a mild comment that I made on the previous occasion when I said that there was some danger of entering an Alice in Wonderland scenario if we did not keep track of the matters that we were discussing, particularly given the way in which we are dealing with the Bill.
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Henig and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, have explained the purpose of their amendments, which we are discussing. I want to refer only to one or two aspects.
This group of amendments seeks to address the considerable powers that are given virtually unchecked and unchallenged under the Bill to police and crime commissioners, while very little meaningful power or responsibility is given to the new police and crime panels. As my noble friend Lady Henig has said, the Bill provides for the Secretary of State to determine a commissioner’s salary. We know very little about how the Secretary of State might do this. At one stage, certainly in the media, there were suggestions of six- figure salaries, though it now appears that the Senior Salaries Review Body may be called in.
However, that raises the issue of why the Secretary of State wants to determine directly the salary of a police and crime commissioner. As has been said, the approach seems at odds with the Government’s declared stance of devolving responsibility as far down the line as they can. Is the view that Whitehall knows best on this issue? Is the Secretary of State of the view that each commissioner should be paid the same irrespective of the geographical size and diversity of the area covered, the population of the area, the size of the budget and of the force and the levels of crime? Or is the Secretary of State of the view that commissioners’ salaries should differ? If so, what factors does she consider should be taken into account? How will she take into account any specific local or area factors? Does she intend to take into account the views of the police and crime panels or, indeed, the views of anybody else other than those of the Senior Salaries Review Body, if that is to be used?
I acknowledge the concerns that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, and probably others, have about some of the salaries that are paid to chief executives of local authorities. But if you devolve responsibility and you believe that that is right, you have to accept the consequences and not simply say that because you are concerned about what might happen you will automatically keep everything at the centre. Of course, the salary of a local authority chief executive is, in that sense, determined by the local authority members, as are the salaries, if any, to be paid to council members and the council leader. One of the amendments spoken to by my noble friend Lady Henig provides for the salary of a police and crime commissioner to be determined by the police and crime panel. The panel should be in a better position than the Secretary of State to know what salary will be appropriate to the responsibilities and complexities of the position, and what salary is likely to be needed to attract appropriate candidates for the position. It could be argued that that would also enhance the position of the panel and provide a check by the panel to the largely untrammelled authority and power given to a commissioner under the terms of the Bill.
We have discussed other amendments relating to the ability to enter into contracts. As was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, the amendments were intended, at least in part, to probe what powers the Bill seeks to give or to remove. We have heard concerns expressed by my noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey about some of the amendments spoken to by the noble Baroness.
I hope that because most of my comments related to the determination of the salary the Minister will recognise the concerns behind the amendments on salaries, reflect that in her response, respond to the concerns expressed by my noble friend Lord Harris about the provision that appears to prohibit an elected policing body from entering into a collaboration agreement with another elected local policing body, and explain the Government’s thinking behind that.
My Lords, the Bill provides for the Home Secretary to determine the salary of Police and Crime Commissioners. These are unique positions, being directly elected. The Home Secretary has asked the Senior Salaries Review Board to make recommendations to the appropriate levels of pay by September this year. The SSRB is now calling for evidence to help it to decide on its recommendations. Furthermore, the SSRB will consult with partners as it considers appropriate, and this will ensure further that its recommendation takes into account the views of relevant groups.
Specifically, the Home Secretary has asked the SSRB to recommend pay arrangements that are adequate to encourage, retain and motivate candidates of sufficient quality; recognise the extremely challenging fiscal climate and wider constraints of public funding; meet the demands and expectations of the public in terms of getting value for money; reflect the essence of the role as an elected public figurehead and ambassador; provide transparency and robustness in determining PCC pay levels; recommend an approach to establishing PCC pay levels that is simple to administer and is based on a range of single salary points pay structures; and take account of, where applicable, the salary levels and responsibilities of other similar roles in the wider public sector, including elected executive mayors, MPs and MEPs. We believe that these requirements will ensure a fair pay level for PCCs, which I believe is the concern expressed by noble Lords.
The salary payable to a chief constable is one benchmark, but only one. There are other criteria that must be considered, such as demographics. In any event, the job of a chief constable is very different to that of a PCC. The SSRB provides independent advice to the Prime Minister, the Lord Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Defence on the remuneration of holders of judicial office, senior civil servants, senior officers of the armed forces, and other such public appointments as may from time to time be specified. We believe that the SSRB is the right body to provide independent advice on the levels of PCCs’ salaries. Noble Lords have said that these are probing amendments, and I therefore ask for them to be withdrawn or not moved.
I turn now to contracts. The wording used in the Bill,
“contracts and other agreements (whether legally binding or not)”,
is designed to make it clear that the mayor’s office and the PCC can enter into contracts—in other words, agreements creating legal rights and liabilities, and agreements with no legal force, such as memoranda of understanding, protocols or service-level agreements. If the proposed amendments were made, the Bill would merely refer to “agreements”. Because a legally binding contract is a kind of agreement, we would say that the PCC would still be able to enter into a contract and there would not actually be any effect on the scope of the PCC’s powers.
I turn now to the amendments in relation to protection from personal liability. I understand that the intention is to reduce the protection available to the office of the PCC and its staff by reversing the burden of proof in relation to whether a questioned act or omission was done in good faith. Under the Bill as it stands, a person who challenged an act or omission of the PCC would have to prove that it was done in bad faith. The effect of the amendments would be that it would be for the PCC to prove that the questioned act was done in good faith. The concern here is with civil proceedings where the standard of proof is on the balance of probabilities. Whether it is the claimant who has to prove that it is more likely than not that the PCC acted in bad faith, or the PCC who has to prove that it is more likely than not that it acted in good faith, is unlikely to matter in most cases.
I should also stress that these provisions are concerned only with the personal liability of the person holding the office of commissioner for policing and crime and their employees. The provisions do not restrict the liability of the office itself, and a claimant harmed by an act or omission of the PCC or their staff in the exercise of their functions would still have legal redress against the office.
Bearing in mind the high-profile nature of the role of the PCC and the difficult issues that it will have to deal with, it may be a tempting target for legal challenge. We would not want the office or its staff to carry out their duties in a defensive fashion, out of fear of attracting personal legal liability for their actions. Rather, the Bill as drafted strikes the right balance in allowing the legitimate claimant legal redress, while giving the PCC a sensible level of legal protection.
Much has been said about the supply of goods and services. I should stress that Clause 15(3) merely replicates Section 18(3) of the Police Act 1996, which applies to police authorities at present. The provision is not new. Noble Lords asked particularly about this, and perhaps I may examine what the amendments would do. We do not believe that there is a particular advantage in using the Local Authorities (Goods and Services) Act 1970 with policing partners instead of the Police Act collaboration agreement provisions. The 1970 Act simply allows for agreements to be made about the provision of goods and services. However, when both parties concerned are policing bodies, making an agreement under the 1970 Act would circumvent the safeguards in the police collaboration provisions of the Police Act 1996, which would take priority. For example, there would be no requirement to have regard to any guidance issued by the Home Secretary to provide advice on best practice in drawing up agreements, and there would be no requirement for consultation with the relevant chief constables before making the agreement.
Other noble Lords have raised the matter of panels in this group of amendments. Although I recognise the intention to ensure that all panels, regardless of how they are established, are treated equally in the provision of financial resources, that is already the case. It is for that reason that I resist the amendments. Funding for all panels will be borne by the Secretary of State, regardless of whether they are established by local authorities or by the Secretary of State. For panels established by local authorities, paragraph 11 of Schedule 6 makes clear that it is for local authorities themselves to decide how that money is paid to or distributed between themselves. The Secretary of State will provide funds amounting to those required for a scrutiny officer and to cover running costs of meetings, which will be distributed at the discretion of the legal authority. That leaves local authorities the freedom to establish their own processes.
For panels established by the Secretary of State, in the case of Wales, or where no panel was formed under other circumstances, it cannot be left to local authorities to make those arrangements. In those cases, the Secretary of State will work directly with the panel to provide financial resources. That is what paragraph 20 of Schedule 6 provides. The liabilities of police and crime panels established by local authorities will be borne by the relevant local authorities, as they are with other local authority committees. The liabilities relating to panels established by the Secretary of State will be borne by the Secretary of State.
If I have not answered any specific questions, some of which were quite technical, I apologise and I will ensure that they are responded to by letter. I hope that, under the circumstances, the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.
I seek a little more clarification about Amendment 94 and the response given about elected policing bodies not entering into collaboration agreements. I understand that that takes forward a heavily amended bit of the Police Act 1996. I think that I am right to say that there is no consolidated Police Act available for us to refer to, so it is difficult to track through the changes. The previous Government had a policing Act at least once a year, so there were always changes to confuse one.
Is it being said that the prohibition is here because other arrangements permit the same thing to happen between elected policing bodies? Is the wording of police authorities changed in the Police Act 1996 to permit that?
I do not want to venture into territory where I may in any way mislead the noble Lord, but my understanding is that Clause 15 provides support for more effective collaboration arrangements between forces by securing that where an arrangement can be properly made by a collaboration agreement with another force rather than contracted out, the collaboration agreement should take priority. That is already established in statute.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness. If it is the case that collaboration agreements are entered into between what under this terminology would be the elected policing bodies, that is helpful. I was slightly surprised that one reason given why that was the preferable arrangement was that it removed a requirement to take account of guidance issued by the Home Office on how such arrangements might operate, given that I understood that the intention of government policy was that there would be far less guidance from the centre in future and that it would all be left to local action by the elected policing bodies.
I hope that I can assist the noble Lord by telling him that a police authority may not enter into an agreement with another police authority under Section 1 of the 1970 Act in respect of a matter which could be the subject of a police authority collaboration agreement. If I have understood that correctly, the collaboration agreements take priority.
I thank the noble Baroness for her response on the financial issues. She was so kind as to say in our previous setting that she was a listening Minister; we all appreciate that. I reiterate that I have no problem with the national framework but what I wanted was some local variation within it. I have no problem with the Senior Salaries Review Board undertaking its work; that is absolutely appropriate. I have no difficulty with the points made by the noble Lord. I want a national framework, but I am asking that within it, there should be the possibility of local variation.
The reason for that is straightforward. The whole purpose, as I understood it, of the introduction of commissioners is to empower the public in local policing. One area that the public will be interested in is the salaries of those individuals. If there was some way in which there could be a local dimension in setting the salaries within a national structure, that would be helpful in enabling local people to feel involved in the whole exercise. I was trying to bring an element of localism into this, while of course not ruling out that there should be a national framework in which it will operate. I listened carefully to the Minister and will happily withdraw my amendment.
I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, but a thought has just occurred to me. There is always the danger with salaries, particularly with someone who is elected, that a Dutch auction ensues of who will do it for least. We want to get value for money in setting the salaries, but we want the salary to be fair. With elected positions, there is a danger in how the candidate might canvass the electorate in trying to bid themselves down. That will give an advantage to people with a lot of personal wealth or a lot of money behind their campaign. I think that the Home Secretary, with SSRB recommendations, is a much more stand-apart arrangement and would mean that we would not go down that route.