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Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill

Volume 728: debated on Thursday 9 June 2011

Committee (5th 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.

Amendment 217 not moved.

Clauses 74 to 76 agreed.

Schedule 10 agreed.

Clause 77 agreed.

Amendments 218 to 220 not moved.

Clause 78 agreed.

Amendment 220ZZA

Moved by

220ZZA: After Clause 78, insert the following new Clause—

“Standards Board guidance

(1) Section 57 of the Local Government Act 2000 (Standards Board for England) is amended as follows.

(2) In subsection (5) for paragraph (b) substitute—

“(b) may issue guidance on matters relating to—(i) the conduct of chief commissioners, members and co-opted members of police and crime panels and the Police Commissions in England and Wales; and(ii) the qualifications and or experience that monitoring officers should possess.”(3) In subsection (5) omit paragraph (c)”

My Lords, I hesitated before speaking because I intend to be very brief and I was of the view that I would probably finish before everybody had managed to leave the Chamber if I started straight away.

Police authorities currently are covered by the Standards Board for England, but this will not be the case with the new police and crime panels provided for in the Bill. The amendment provides for guidance to continue to be given by the Standards Board for England in relation to the conduct of chief commissioners, members and co-opted members of police and crime panels and the police commissions in England and Wales, and also on the matter of the qualifications and experience that monitoring officers should possess. The current legislation states:

“In exercising its functions the Standards Board for England must have regard to the need to promote and maintain high standards of conduct by members and co-opted members of relevant authorities in England. … The Standards Board for England … may issue guidance to relevant authorities in England and police authorities in Wales on matters relating to the conduct of members and co-opted members of such authorities”.

If the situation is that while police authorities are currently covered by the Standards Board for England but that this will not be the case for the new police and crime panels—indeed, I understand that it is the Government’s intention to abolish the Standards Board—the purpose of this amendment is to ask what the Government intend to do in future in relation, for example, to the new police and crime panels. Is it intended to replicate the functions currently carried out by the Standards Board as far as, for example, the new police and crime panels are concerned and, if so, by which individual, body or organisation? One would have thought that since one of the key functions of the Standards Board for England is to have regard to the need to promote and maintain high standards of conduct, that would be even more important in relation to the new bodies and organisations that will be established under the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill that we are discussing. One finds it difficult to believe that the Government do not intend to provide some sort of substitute for the Standards Board for England, if it is their intention to abolish it, and that they do not intend to ensure that similar guidance is not going to be issued in future in order to maintain high standards of conduct in relation to, among other bodies, the police and crime panels. The purpose of this amendment is to seek to ascertain from the Government what their intentions are in this regard. I beg to move.

My Lords, I rise first to speak in support of the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Rosser. To some extent, we touched on these matters at an earlier stage. The absence of a standards regime for these new bodies which are going to be responsible for the oversight of the police service in England and Wales is really rather extraordinary. In the previous day in Committee, I gave an example of the sorts of things that could happen where having a robust standards regime would be a better solution than one that says that, if these individuals step over the line and actually break the law, they can be investigated by the police—for whom they have a direct responsibility, of course, which raises some interesting questions—and, if necessary, prosecuted. A standards regime that is going to protect the integrity of those individuals and provide assurance to the public that they are acting properly and appropriately is clearly important. It will be interesting to hear from the Minister how the Government envisage that this will be dealt with.

Grouped with this amendment—rather strangely, I have to say—is Amendment 234. Some of the groupings in this Committee stage have been rather strange, but a group of two amendments on two completely different topics is something that one should perhaps be surprised at. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, will want to speak to Amendment 234 in a moment, and I have also put my name to this amendment. Amendment 234 raises the very important, separate issue about how complaints against police officers are to be handled. I suspect that the unsatisfactory arrangement now contained in the Bill, whereby the chief officer of police or the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis will act as both the complaints authority and the appeals body for their own officers, will run contrary to principles of natural justice and cause problems in the way in which the police service operates. It will also produce a minefield of arguments, litigation, industrial tribunals and so on—all the sorts of things which the police services are already rife with, for one reason or another. This will actually make matters worse and it will not provide protection for chief officers of police who may be accused of not handling a complaint properly or an appeal properly because they will be seen as part of the same process. So it is really rather important that there is a separate and independent mechanism as part of that.

The other element contained in the amendment which the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, has put forward and to which I have put my name is the question of information. This specifically refers to London but the same principle applies outside London. One of the very important functions of whoever is responsible for oversight of the police must be to know of, and have information about, the nature of complaints that are being made against police officers in a particular area. The second part of this amendment provides a requirement that that information is automatically provided, in this instance to the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, but I suspect the Government would want to ensure that it was also provided to elected police and crime commissioners, if that is what we have, or to police and crime commissions, or whatever the final model is. One of the very important functions of holding a police service to account is to know the nature of the complaints that are being received, to know what is being done about them, to monitor trends and perhaps to dip-sample some of them to make sure that those complaints are being handled properly. That is why this amendment is important.

I hope that the Minister, in responding, will recognise that that function of monitoring complaints and understanding what is going on will be a critical and necessary part of any body that has oversight of the police service.

My Lords, I fully endorse everything my noble friend Lord Harris has just said. I just add that I find it quite extraordinary that this Bill proposes a system whereby the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police would effectively be judge, jury and executioner. It puts a huge amount of power in the hands of one person, which is bad enough without a system where there are absolutely no checks and balances of any description. The proposal is deeply flawed. It also lacks an effective framework to safeguard impartiality.

At the moment complaints against senior officers are dealt with by the Metropolitan Police Authority. There is a very good system and it is dealt with by the Professional Standards Cases Sub-Committee. If officers are unhappy with the rulings of that sub-committee, there is a very clear, very transparent appeals system to the police appeals tribunal. This amendment would restore equivalent safeguards, which I believe is absolutely essential. It would make the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime the appeals body, and I endorse again what my noble friend Lord Harris has said: that in order for that to work it is absolutely essential that the MOPC would have statutory access to information and systems where complaints are recorded. The Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime simply cannot be sitting there waiting for the Metropolitan Police Commissioner to advise it of complaints and conduct matters. It must be able to have statutory access. Without this, I do not believe that it is possible that it can discharge its functions in the Bill; namely, to ensure that chief constables have fulfilled their duty in the handling of such complaints. I believe that it is absolutely essential to put independence, transparency and impartiality back into this process.

My Lords, I support the amendment in respect of one issue in particular, which is the issue in terms of judge and jury where the commissioner would decide on a case and then be the appellant authority. It flies in the face of natural justice. All I ask is that the Minister has a look at that and takes legal advice in relation to it. I am quite sure that at some stage there might be room for changing that part of the Bill.

My Lords, the noble Lord from the Cross Benches interestingly reminds us of the two limbs of the item in the coalition programme for government. The second, which in my view is of equal status to the first, is the strict checks and balances on the first limb.

I support what has been said on Amendment 234. On Monday, I put forward an amendment which specifically addressed the monitoring of complaints to which the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, has referred. It is important to look at how complaints are handled overall as well as individually.

The theme of Amendment 220ZZA surfaced strongly when we debated the Localism Bill a couple of days ago. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, is right to draw our attention to this. Assuming that there will be different codes of conduct, and there should be, how such codes are to fit—when you have members of a panel who will be subject to particular standards and provisions, we hope, in their capacity as local councillors—with any separate code of conduct in this capacity and the need for a chief commissioner to be subject to some sort of arrangement requires a lot more thinking through.

The noble Lord’s point about the monitoring officer, who will I assume be appointed by the commissioner or a member of the commissioner’s office—perhaps we will hear whether the Government have any different idea in mind—is important. I have seen monitoring officers a little out of their depth. It is important that they should have both the tools and the qualifications to be able to carry out what can often be a difficult and sensitive role. I have also seen monitoring officers who are absolutely splendid at the job because they are so sensitive to the huge range of issues that not every monitoring officer spots is going across her or his desk as part of the monitoring process.

My Lords, following the decision on the first day in Committee, this Bill now removes the current arrangements for policing governance. The Government’s intention in relation to Schedule 14 is to ensure that there is a proportionate and effective police complaints system with responsibility for responding to complaints resting at the appropriate level. The Independent Police Complaints Commission will be responsible for the handling of appeals in cases where the complaint is of a description set out in regulations. Such cases may include those where the allegation may amount to a criminal offence or would justify the bringing of disciplinary proceedings. In low level complaint matters, it is appropriate that the chief officer of the force concerned should be responsible for ensuring that there has been an appropriate response to a complainant’s concerns.

The amendment to Schedule 14 would mean that the responsibility for dealing with appeals against low level complaints in the Metropolitan Police would be handled by the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime rather than it resting with the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. While the Government recognise that this is one way of providing some independent scrutiny of such matters, we are not persuaded that the responsibility and duty to consider individual appeals should be different in London and rest with the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime. The Bill already provides a power to the relevant local policing body to enable it to direct the chief officer to take such steps it considers appropriate if it determines that the complaint has not been appropriately dealt with. The local policing body also has functions to ensure that it is kept informed about the handling of complaints within its force and to ask for information being held on the force’s systems related to complaints. The Government consider that these safeguards are sufficient and achieve the same effect as the amendment suggests. It is the Government’s view that the responsibility for the handling of low level matters should rest with the chief officer of a force, with the local policing body holding the chief officer to account and vested with the power to intervene if it is not satisfied that a specific complaint has not been dealt with by the chief officer to a satisfactory standard.

Moving on to Amendment 220ZZA, this Labour amendment which seeks to insert a new clause after Clause 78 would give the Standards Board for England a role in providing guidance relating to the conduct of chief commissioners, members and co-opted members of the police and crime panels, and the police commissions in England and Wales. It would also be able to issue guidance relating to the qualifications and/or experience that monitoring officers should possess. However, Clause 15 of and Schedule 4 to the Localism Bill will abolish the Standards Board so there would be no practical effect in accepting this proposal.

However, I take the points made about the Localism Bill, which has come before your Lordships’ House in the past few days. In the Localism Bill, with the abolition of the Standards Board regime, it will become a criminal offence for councillors deliberately to withhold or misrepresent a personal interest. This means that councils will not be obliged to spend time and money investigating trivial complaints while councillors involved in corruption and misconduct will face appropriately serious sanctions. This will provide a more effective safeguard against unacceptable behaviour. In order to retain confidence in the policing system, any allegations of criminal behaviour against police and crime commissioners will be referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. It will then be for the IPCC to determine the appropriate method of investigation. Allegations of criminal behaviour against members of police and crime panels will be investigated by the police service in the normal way.

We realise that there are two pieces of legislation here. In the light of that, we are negotiating with colleagues to see whether amendments are needed in either this Bill or in the Localism Bill.

I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. It is possible, under the Localism Bill as it stands, for councils to constitute standards committees. It will not be a requirement on them but they could do so. In that event, could a complaint against a councillor member of an authority in respect of his or her service on a police and crime panel be investigated by the standards committee of the council on which he or she serves?

That is a good question. As I indicated to the Committee, we would expect the police to investigate serious complaints so far as the panel is concerned. As I said, however, we are in discussions with colleagues and will come back to the House with a decision on where would be the appropriate place to make amendments to the Bill.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply, which raises quite a number of issues. Let us deal first with the question of standards and what is to happen. I accept that the Committee is in the very difficult position of considering a piece of government legislation that is possibly going to change the law in respect of standards, and trying to deal with a piece of legislation where we have already slightly altered the direction of travel, which may or may not revert. The principle that the Minister seems to be enunciating is that there is nothing below the threshold of criminal activity which will be investigated. That is a very worrying situation to create in areas where there will be all sorts of difficult arguments to be had about the extent to which the functions of overseeing the police service are being properly fulfilled. That is a genuine difficulty.

A further genuine difficulty is who will investigate such matters. In the context of the Localism Bill, if we are talking about the investigation of misbehaviour by a local authority member, then the local police force may well be the adequate route to follow. However, where it is the individual or individuals with responsibility for the oversight of the police service in question who are being investigated, for that force to investigate that individual will raise some real and difficult issues unless it is also being said that, under all those circumstances, the individuals will be suspended. Again, I am not sure that that is the import of the other part of the Bill.

Two questions need to be addressed in respect of the Minister’s answer on standards. First, is there anything below the threshold of criminal activity on which there should be some guidance on standards of behaviour? Secondly, what safeguards exist for the police investigating the people who are responsible for oversight? The latter situation could work both ways. It could be the police going soft on the person who is responsible for oversight, or it could be the police investigating more rigorously than might otherwise be the case the person who has been giving them a hard time in their role of oversight.

That is one group of issues that has been addressed in these amendments. I say to the Committee that we really must look at what items we bring together in amendment groupings because it is getting a little bit complicated. I know that on our previous day in Committee we all became confused about where we were and the sheer range of subjects being considered in one group.

The second set of issues related to the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey. Quite understandably, she characterised it as being just about London. But this is Committee stage. Yes, the amendment is cast in terms of London, but the principles apply to everywhere else in the country. If there is a real issue here, we need to look at it across the country and not just in terms of London. Is the Minister saying that there will be mechanisms for an independent appeals process, or will it just voluntarily be done by chief officers of police or, in London’s case, the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis? How will the power of the local policing body be exercised if it feels that a complaint has not been dealt with properly? Will it simply be a matter of complainants coming to the local policing body and saying, “Hey, our complaint is not being dealt with properly”? In virtually every instance where a person feels that they have a complaint against the police, they will first complain to the police service and then go to the local policing body, which will have no power to do anything about it other than to go back to the chief officer of police and say, “Look at it again”. I suspect that police and crime commissions and commissioners, and the MOPC in London, will end up having to do an enormous amount of complaints work because they will be seen as the route down which you will have go to prod the police to take your complaints seriously.

The final and, I hope, the easiest point for the Minister to answer is on the powers of the local policing body to require information. Is she able to give us an undertaking that that information is about not only mechanisms and numbers but also, potentially, individual cases? There are two reasons for saying that it needs potentially to be about individual cases. First, an individual case may be a matter of local importance—in which case it is important that specific information can be obtained by the local policing body; and, secondly, there is enormous value in local policing bodies having the power to dip sample what has happened in terms of complaints because the dip-sampling process often tells you all kinds of extra information about the way in which the police service is operating in that case.

Finally, can the noble Baroness explain the distinction between a low-level complaint and other matters?

My Lords, perhaps I may begin with that last point. We all understand complaints which involve criminality—that is fairly clear—but below that there are issues about complaints to do with, for example, time-keeping, absenteeism, rudeness and that kind of thing, which I regard as low-level complaints. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Harris, will accept that those within policing are able to make that distinction quite clearly without too much written information in the Bill.

The noble Lord mentioned standards. A PCC will be subject to interrogation by the IPCC and the local police for criminal allegations, and the IPCC will decide which are the less serious allegations. So the IPCC will act as the arbiter of the panels. Less serious allegations will be decided by the PCP. I hope that there is already clarity about what is regarded as a serious or a low-level problem. PCPs will be subject to the standards applicable to local authorities under the Localism Bill. I shall come back to noble Lords on how we are going to handle having the two Bills before the House.

On the points the noble Lord, Lord Harris, made about London, the Government recognise that sometimes people feel that the independent scrutiny of such matters should be in the Bill but, as I said earlier, we do not agree. We are not persuaded of that and it is not our intention to make any changes in that respect.

I shall have to write to the noble Lord on some of the other points he raised. However, I cannot agree with the suggestion he made about revisiting the situation as it applies to London.

Let me be clear: the amendments are couched in terms of London but the principle of an independent element in matters where there are appeals against a chief officer’s decision is important and should apply across the Bill. Clearly there is not an amendment before us which deals with outside London—there may have been one in one of the many groups we dealt with the other day but we lost it in the wash. However, it is an important principle to which we will have to return on Report, as the noble Lord, Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington, has indicated.

The point made by the Minister about PCPs—or, in the case of London, the London Assembly—dealing with lower-than-criminality level complaints about the elected police and crime commissioner or the MOPC in London will create a situation where there will constantly be a party political row in the police and crime panels and the London Assembly panel as to whether the person concerned has performed their duties appropriately. If that is in the absence of a centrally laid down and agreed framework of standards, it will be a constant, politically damaging and wasteful process. There is still a need for a centrally laid down framework of standards for the behaviour and actions of police and crime commissioners.

The noble Lord is quite right in saying there is potential for political conflict of the type that he describes. Does he foresee that there could then be a danger of a continuing battle over that, which would, in the end, go to the courts?

It is certainly possible that it would go the courts. However, I was thinking more of an equally completely draining and pointless political toing and froing over something when, with a clear framework or set of guidance and standards against which any of these allegations could be judged, the situation would be better for all concerned. It seems to me that a PCC, for example, or the MOPC, may have a particular view of the standards they should follow while the PCP or the London Assembly panel might have a different view—that would just lead to endless political argument and rows, rather than saying, “Here is a set of guidance and that is the way we should operate”.

In reply to the noble Lord, standards and governance would not be something we would wish to put in the Bill. It might well be something that would come out later in guidance, but I would not expect it to be in the Bill itself.

First, I thank all those noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, which has clearly raised a number of serious and important issues. I am left with the impression that the Government, in their enthusiasm in the Localism Bill to abolish the Standards Board, probably overlooked the significance of that decision for this Bill. I think that is why the Minister has been a little on the defensive during these exchanges. I do not think there has been as much joined-up thinking as the Government would sometimes wish us to imagine that there is. A fairly powerful case has been made for continuing guidance in order to promote and maintain high standards and conduct by the members of the bodies that we are talking about within this particular Bill.

I have to say I am not entirely clear—and I would be grateful if the Minister could clear this up—what she has or has not agreed to do. She has made references during this debate to still being in discussion with colleagues. However, I am not clear what the Minister is saying she is still looking at and, by inference, whether she might be coming back to this House at a later date; or even if she is saying that she is looking at some of the issues that are raised by my amendment and will be coming back to the House with further thoughts. There may be no further change at all, but will she be coming back to this House to let us know the result of these discussions she is having with colleagues?

I am grateful to the noble Lord and perhaps I can just clarify that. These discussions between the Home Office and CLG are ongoing and I cannot give the House a definitive answer today as to the conclusions. However, I will promise that as soon as they are concluded—which I hope will be shortly—I will write to noble Lords and place a letter in the Library.

My Lords, I do not want to be too defensive on this but it is a matter that we are looking at. With the abolition of the Standards Board, we need to make sure that that piece of legislation does not have an adverse effect on this particular Bill, therefore there are some discussions going on as to how we resolve the matter and in which piece of legislation we may or may not want to make any changes. It is on that basis that discussions are being taken forward.

I will at this stage leave it at that. I thank the Minister for that further information. I hope that it does lead to some changes to the Bill because the case has been made fairly strongly and powerfully for at least the continuation of guidance on promoting and maintaining high standards of conduct in relation to panels that certainly will be subject to a high level of public scrutiny, bearing in mind the role that they are going to have. However, I will at this stage leave it at that and I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 220ZZA withdrawn.

Clause 79 : The strategic policing requirement

Amendment 220ZA

Moved by

220ZA: Clause 79, page 49, line 8, at beginning insert “Subject to subsection (1A),”

My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 220ZA, 220ZB, 221B, 228B and 228C. These amendments can be split into two groups, though both parts seek to foster appropriate safeguards which will protect the public from the possible whims or vagaries of an individual commissioner exerting inappropriate influence over the police. The first group, Amendments 220ZA, 220ZB and 221B, seek to strengthen the idea of the strategic policing requirement or SPR—a concept supported across the House but one which many think needs to be strengthened to enable it to succeed.

First, my recollection is that the Policing Minister in the other place said in Committee there that a draft strategic policing requirement document would be available to Peers at Committee stage. There has been no mention of this document in discussions in your Lordships’ House thus far. Can the Minister tell us when we might expect to see that document? It is very important that we see it because it will set out the police’s approach to dealing with national and regional threats and help us to understand what the role of police governance needs to be at this level. At present, we are being asked to approve an approach in principle to legislation without being able to scrutinise the detail in this area, when we do not know what the national police landscape might look like. I hope that the Minister might be able to tell us a bit more about that document.

The strategic policing requirement is a crucial component of the changes proposed by the Government. Under a new regime of accountability, driven by a focus on public perception and visibility while constrained by cuts, that requirement could help to ensure that less visible cross-border and specialist policing functions are not neglected while issues such as antisocial behaviour predominate in planning and local police resourcing. Amendments 220ZA and 220ZB therefore propose practical changes that would ensure sufficient time elapses between the Home Secretary producing the SPR and each local policing and crime plan being finalised. The idea is that the timescale would help to ensure that the strategic policing requirement could be wholly and thoughtfully reflected through each force’s local planning, not as an afterthought but as the core consideration that it must be if the public are to be kept safe from what are commonly known as level 2 or protective service threats.

Amendment 221B goes further in embedding the worthy idea of the strategic policing requirement by making all the members of the panel have regard to it. It is hoped that this will assist in balancing the necessary tendency towards parochialism on the part of those with an explicit role to represent a certain area with the duty to have regard to the bigger picture. It could prove a useful factor in ensuring that resources sufficient to protect the public are devoted to less visible or immediate local areas of policing. Finally, on the strategic policing requirement, Amendment 221B makes sure that although the entire police and crime commission must have regard to it, it is the commissioner who must ensure that it is fully,

“incorporated within the police and crime plan”.

I believe this requirement on the commissioner to lead from the top in delivering the strategic policing requirement is an essential component in its success if neighbourhoods are not to be consigned to a postcode lottery of unfairly inequitable levels of local protection from serious threats, such as terrorism and cross-border crime or issues such as domestic violence. That is my first set of amendments.

The second pairing of amendments, Amendments 228B and 228C, relate to the functions of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary. We heard from the Minister at a much earlier stage in our deliberations about the importance of that inspectorate’s assessment of police authorities as one means of driving improvement. Noble Lords might recall that it was urgently necessary to change from the present structure because of the inspection results that had so far come forth. It is worth detouring here just a little, if I may, to meet these criticisms: I remind your Lordships that 22 out of 43 police authorities were inspected and not one failed either an Inspectorate of Constabulary inspection or an Audit Commission inspection. I recall that the same level of success has not been achieved by the Government in their departmental inspections, or even by local authorities. So police authorities did extremely well in these inspections because the vast majority of scores assessed their performances as more than adequate or doing well, and a number attained the rank of excellent. That, not surprisingly, was reflected in a recent YouGov poll undertaken for Liberty, which revealed that 65 per cent of the public, on a nationwide sample of more than 2,300, think that the present system of police accountability is serving them well and is preferable to that proposed by the Government.

Whatever the results of these inspections, everybody has agreed that they were important, rigorous and thorough. If they have revealed the case for change, then why on earth should they not be engaged to continue driving improvement and measuring the success or otherwise of the new system? It is by no means clear to me that the Government wish the inspectorate of constabulary to have any duty to inspect police commissioners as they propose to abolish the ability and, indeed, the duty on HMIC to inspect police authorities.

By this stage in our deliberations, I think I can anticipate the Minister’s reply. I might be wrong, but I think it will go along the lines of saying that a commissioner’s fundamental accountability is to their electors and it is these electors who should have the job of deciding whether the commissioner has done a good job. We have had the argument a number of times that if there are to be directly elected commissioners, they will be responsible to their electorate. Of course, this argument is dangerously flawed because it assumes that a commissioner will stand for re-election. Certainly, those commissioners in a second term will not, and even first-term commissioners might not. Where is the accountability then?

Every time we try to put a check or balance in place to rein in a commissioner, the response is always that that runs counter to the Government’s concept that in the last resort, were we to have a directly elected commissioner, they can be accountable only to their electorate. If you accept the logic of that model, it means that you cannot have any strict checks and balances because ultimately it will all be up to the electorate. Under that model, 43 individual party politicians deploying huge resources will be able to exercise fairly decisive and possibly capricious pressure on policing and on the force senior and divisional command teams.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, quite rightly reminded the Committee earlier, the coalition agreement wording refers to strict checks and balances by locally elected representatives. The model currently before the Committee—the one outlined in the earlier amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, which found favour with your Lordships—actually provides these strict checks and balances and does so much more effectively than anything else that the Government have so far come up with.

The amendment seeks to provide another check by restoring the requirement on HMIC to inspect police commissioners who will not just be spending public money but setting public budgets and priorities for the emergency service of last resort in every community. It is important that they should be able to allow any part of the police commission to call in the inspectorate to inspect itself or a component part of the commission, as it can for any part of the force. It is an essential requirement that these inspections should be allowable. I believe that these simple changes could make a world of difference to public trust and confidence in the new system, providing, as they would, requirements on all forces to address the fullest range of threats to the public and also to provide independent verification of the efficiency and efficacy of those charged with overseeing the police and their substantial budgets. I beg to move.

My Lords, I have Amendments 223, 224 and 225 in this group. I support the amendments in the group that would extend the duties to observe the strategic policing requirement to commissioners, for the reasons of which the noble Baroness has reminded us and on which many noble Lords spoke powerfully on previous days. Perhaps I can summarise those reasons as being the temptation for the commissioner to play to the local gallery, which is one of the dangerous aspects of the politicisation of policing to which many of us referred. I share, too, the concern that the words “have regard to” are insufficient. The Constitution Committee put it tactfully, saying that,

“the Government must explain why”,

the wording “is sufficiently compelling”. Those of us whose natural inclination is to go local are concerned about this; it is quite significant. As we come to the end of Part 1 of the Bill, I shall mention the need for strict checks and balances again, even though these are of rather a different kind.

My first amendment, which proposes that,

“any matter within the functions of the Serious Organised Crime Agency”—

I am aware of yesterday’s statement—

“shall be deemed to be … a threat”,

within this provision, is intended to seek assurances from the Minister on the approach to the work that is currently within SOCA. I chose that wording because I did not want to single out one area of criminality above others. I have said this before in Committee. For example, the noble Lord, Lord Laming, referred on the second day of Committee proceedings to child protection. I acknowledged then its importance. He acknowledged that child and adult trafficking, for instance, are—I hesitate to say of equal importance—within the same category. My noble friend Lady Walmsley will speak to a specific amendment on this in a moment.

It might be worth mentioning a letter that I am sure other noble Lords will have received from the Howard League for Penal Reform as we approached Second Reading. It is certainly useful to realise that some of the points that we make over and again are not just ones that we have dreamt up but are of concern outside this House. The letter mentioned the concern that the proposed elected police and crime commissioners would find it,

“electorally enticing to run a campaign aimed at”—

the example it chooses—

“the easy arrest and detention of children, rather than devoting resources to crimes that appeal less to the local media or populace”.

The Howard League for Penal Reform reminds your Lordships about the large number of sentences imposed on children, whom it describes as,

“‘low hanging fruit’ which partly accounts for their … high arrest rates”.

In what it calls the,

“harsh world of electoral politics”,

it is right to remind us of the different parts of the jigsaw.

My Amendments 224 and 225 would change the second part of the definition of a national threat from one that,

“can be countered effectively or efficiently only by national policing capabilities”,

to one that “is most likely to” be countered effectively or efficiently by national policing capabilities. The wording in the Bill, as drafted, of,

“countered … only by national policing capabilities”,

seems too restrictive. One would not want to see an argument over whether that criterion was satisfied when common sense says that the likelihood is that a national policing capability is required with regard to the matter. They may look like two rather small and insignificant amendments, but I am concerned that this part of the definition is too narrow and too restrictive. I hope this is something that the Government might take away and think about again.

My Lords, I have tabled Amendments 221 and 222 in this group, concerning the duty of the Home Secretary to deal with national threats by issuing a strategic policing requirement. As my noble friend Lady Hamwee has already said, the words “have regard to” in the Bill are definitely too weak and need to be changed to a firm obligation. Allowing a PCC to disregard national threats in favour of political expediency or re-election strategies is not a good idea. PCCs are directly elected. There will be political incentives for them to behave partially, particularly in the run-up to an election. Decisions based on a PCC re-election strategy will not necessarily be the best way to address major threats and public order problems.

Imagine a scenario whereby a PCC has been elected on the promise of putting significant additional police officers into an area of high crime and then, two weeks before the next election, is asked to extract those same officers in order to deal with the policing of a major demonstration in London. At best, they will be very torn between the necessity of trying to get themselves re-elected and whether they should “have regard to” sending the officers to London. It is a difficult issue that really needs to be clarified, and to become a firm obligation rather than a suggestion. Under the Bill, the PCC would be free to disregard strategic policing requirements. We cannot afford to have dealing with national threats undermined by decisions taken for reasons of political expediency.

My Lords, this part of the Bill is one of the most important. I speak to Amendments 229 and 230 in my name, and also in support of Amendments 221 and 222 to which I have put my name.

This issue is extremely important because, for most citizens, interaction with the police is obviously about what happens at the most local of levels. It is about what is going on at their street corner, the threat of violence in the streets, burglary and anti-social behaviour. However, people take it for granted that more serious crime is being dealt with somewhere. They take it for granted that terrorism is being dealt with somewhere. However, every part of the country must be making its contribution to that effort. If it does not, there is a real danger that terrorism or serious and organised crime cannot be dealt with effectively. There is a need for a national strategic policing requirement. The Government are quite right to place it in the Bill as they have done.

However, there is a danger in the overall governance proposals in terms of whether the same level of priority will be given under the new governance structure to what the current Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis calls the “balanced policing model”: the balance between the handling of the immediate concern of the local citizen and these national contributions to making the country safer. There is a fear—which has just been expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, and by others as well—about the extent to which a directly elected police and crime commissioner, or the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, will necessarily place the same priority on that national obligation as ideally they would. I have heard the Minister of State for Policing get extremely irate on that point. He says that he cannot imagine circumstances in which a responsible person elected to these positions will not take counterterrorism and serious and organised crime seriously. I agree. Most sensible elected politicians would of course give a very high priority to such matters. However, the reality will be, particularly in times of limited resources, that judgments and choices will be made.

I give your Lordships an example. At the moment, police services around the country are facing extremely difficult budget rounds. In those areas of the country without a counterterrorist intelligence unit, questions may well be phrased as to what the appropriate level of requirement for those areas to maintain a level of Special Branch commitment is compared to the past. Local policing bodies, whether under the current model or—even more so—under a directly elected model in the future, may well make a judgment that these issues are not currently significant in their part of the country and that they can reduce their commitment to them. That would be a perfectly sensible and, in many ways, rational judgment.

However, the reality is that even—indeed, especially—in the most rural areas of the country there have been organised terrorist training camps. It is a fact, regrettably, that one of the most difficult threats that counterterrorism now faces is the individual who chooses to radicalise themselves on the internet, is not in ready communication with groups which might otherwise be monitored, who decides to build an explosive device following a recipe obtained on the internet, and who then goes out and does something in a local town centre. There have been a number of such individuals in the past few years. Those are precisely the circumstances under which you suddenly discover that that force would have been very well placed to have retained a good, high, strong Special Branch capacity. Yet that is the sort of thing that is vulnerable at the moment. No doubt the Minister will counter that this is not actually a problem, but it is the sort of thing that should be looked at in terms of the level of budgets that have been allocated for those sorts of things.

Similarly, it may not be apparent that activities and organised crime will impact on, say, a rural village, or even some of the leafier suburbs of London. Apart from the fact that these are often precisely the areas where some of the most serious criminals decide they want to live, it is not the case that they do not impact on those areas. Indeed, we have to take into account the insidious way in which serious crime operates, whereby quality of life is diminished over quite a long period. That requires long-term investment in tackling those problems. It is not something that you can just send in a task force to handle; you have to continually work on those areas. There is a risk. There is the sort of conversation which goes, “Why should we, in this force area, maintain a kidnap unit of this capacity and quality, able to deal with these sorts of incidents? Why do we need to do this?”. The reason is that if you do not, or if you do not contribute to something that is provided on a regional or national basis, when something goes wrong it will be your citizens who are potentially vulnerable.

Yesterday, the Home Secretary produced proposals for a national crime agency. One of the central planks is the ability of the national crime agency to direct resources. This will be an interesting way forward, and it will be fascinating to watch some of the discussions which will no doubt take place with chief officers of police as to how this is to be managed and who will have operational control, and all the sorts of counterterrorism issues that have had to be resolved over the past few years. It will be an interesting and exciting set of discussions.

I have no problem with the concept in principle; all I am saying is that it will be that much harder to direct resources if, when you contact the chief constable concerned, you say, “I am sorry. I just don’t have that capacity because I decided I didn’t need that number of detectives or that number of specialist units in my force area because it is not a day-to-day priority as far as I’m concerned. I know there is a problem as this group seems to be operating across my territory but I no longer have the resources”. That is why the strategic policing requirement is so important. I do not believe that sensible police and crime commissioners or the MOPC will deliberately say, “We are going to run down these things”, but when you are faced with difficult budgetary decisions and you are facing a difficult election campaign, having more police tackling day-to-day street crime and anti-social behaviour is a very compelling argument.

In the long distant days when I was a local authority leader, I remember that whatever my personal priorities were in terms of the value of education or the big spending items, the important thing in the run-up to an election was to divert resources to street cleaning as that was the key driver on how people voted. I hesitate to say that there will be similar key drivers in the election for police and crime commissioners or the MOPC in London, but I suspect that there will be. The danger is that the strategic policing obligations will be put to one side, even if for a temporary period, in the run-up to an election. Therefore, there has to be something in the Bill which gives the strategic policing requirement real teeth and real obligations.

My specific proposal is that we should give more powers and responsibilities to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary. I say that for two reasons. One is that I think that is the sensible way forward. It would mean that the inspectorate would look at the way in which individual forces had chosen to meet their obligations under the strategic policing requirement, and would then report no doubt to the Home Secretary but also to the elected commissioner, the PCP and anyone else involved. Certainly those parts of the report that can be made public should be made public because, if there is a failing in this area, local electorates will want make to take account of it in determining whether they should re-elect a particular individual or deciding whether it is an important issue for their locality. That should be a regular process. Given the pliability of budgets, it should be done at least once a year; otherwise, I am not sure that you will necessarily resolve the matter. That seems to me the appropriate mechanism and it is consistent with the way in which the police service operates.

The other important reason why I think this is the right way forward is that it gets the Government off the hook as regards how much they specify in the strategic policing requirement. I have heard Ministers say—vehemently in the case of the Minister of State—that they do not want to put an enormous shopping list into the strategic policing requirement. As a general principle, that is right. This is not the way to do it because people will simply follow the shopping list, if that is what they are told to do, rather than necessarily working out what is the best way to deliver their obligations under it. However, I have heard counterarguments from chief constables who say that we have to have a document. They are busily preparing volumes of material which they say should underpin the strategic policing requirement.

I propose that there should be a police-led discussion on the most effective way of meeting a strategic policing requirement. The inspectorate would have the key role in determining what it is looking for as it goes round forces to see whether the strategic policing requirement is being met. The Government would not have to specify in mind-boggling detail how many officers should patrol a regional airport, for instance—expect that in that case the airport ought to be paying for them—or specify in enormous detail the size of a force Special Branch or how many detectives it is necessary for each force to maintain so that they have the capacity to receive instructions, guidance and requests from the national crime agency or from the local counterterrorist unit. Those matters would be determined within the police service in discussions led by the inspectorate.

Unless you have this sort of mechanism, it seems to me that despite having a strategic policing requirement there will be no means of making that happen. As a consequence, there is a real danger that over time we will find that we do not have the resources that the country needs to deal with serious organised crime or terrorism.

As my noble friend Lady Hamwee said, I have an amendment in this group—Amendment 225ZA—which seeks to add to the list of threats to public safety specified in Clause 79 against which the police must devise a coherent strategy a threat to the welfare of children.

The important role that the police carry out in child protection processes was emphasised in the 2009 Laming review. On the second day in Committee on this Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Laming, who is not in his place, spoke about the role of the police in relation to child protection. His comments highlight why my amendment is important. He said that,

“it is important that the standard of the child protection service is maintained. To achieve this will require determined leadership, and police constables should be left in no doubt that they have a continuing and prime responsibility to tackle the abuse, neglect and exploitation of vulnerable children”.—[Official Report, 18/5/11; col. 1421.]

A democratic process for electing police commissioners will not guarantee that the protection needs of the most vulnerable are considered. Many of the people, including all children, who rely on the police for protection will not be afforded the right to vote for the police commissioner. Including this short paragraph in the Bill would give those children a voice. Domestic abuse, rape, child abuse investigation, honour-based violence, the monitoring of travelling sex offenders, female genital mutilation and forced marriages are all areas of policing that are unlikely to be identified as local policing priorities by the general population who will be voting for the commissioner. However, they are vital. Unfortunately, they are unlikely to appear in the manifesto of anyone seeking election to the post of police commissioner. That is the reason why I would like to see this issue specified in the Bill.

My Lords, in supporting my noble friend’s amendment—my name is added to Amendment 225ZA—I remind the House that the Home Affairs Select Committee in its December 2010 report, Policing: Police and Crime Commissioners, stated that it saw,

“merit in the suggestion that there be a set of national priorities to which Police and Crime Commissioners should have regard when setting local goals”.

This amendment would help to ensure that child protection is prioritised by police and crime commissioners and would grant the Home Secretary powers through the strategic policing requirement to ensure that that was the case.

The NSPCC strongly supports this amendment and maintains that there should be a provision within the strategic policing requirement to promote the welfare of children as defined in the Children Act. While we are talking about the wider responsibilities that the police and crime commissioners will have and will need to take cognisance of, I should tell the House that I intend to bring forward an amendment on Report that will address the equally important matter of ensuring that victims of crime are properly considered. My noble friend Lady Hamwee has already spoken about victims and I want to reinforce her concerns. Yesterday, I met the Victims’ Commissioner, Louise Casey, and was deeply concerned to hear that victims of crime have absolutely nowhere to go if they wish to make a complaint or, indeed, ask for advice about what they should do. The police can, of course, ignore low-level crime. It is important that the PCC is properly apprised of the responsibility to look after victims of crime as well as the desperately vulnerable children whom this amendment addresses.

My Lords, I must apologise to the Committee for not being here when Clause 5, on the requirement on the police and crime commissioners to issue police and crime plans, was discussed. Had I been here, I would have referred to Clause 79, on the strategic policing requirement. The police and crime plans, whoever draws them up, must always be an amalgam of national, international and local policing requirements. It is always going to be a difficult balance to decide which of those has priority and how the resources are to be allocated to them. That is one of the reasons why I have always been a supporter of the dissenting comments of Dr Goodhart in the 1962 police commission on the need for a national police force to cover the fact that crime does not observe local boundaries.

The time has come to look nationally at these issues and then to make certain that they are covered properly. The question is who will cover them. You could be forgiven for thinking that the proposal for elected police commissioners in areas around the country is putting the local policing issue at the top of the pack. Is that actually so? The Home Secretary, quite rightly, will insist that international terrorism or international drug dealing, for example, are given due recognition. What worries me is that I do not see this issue being resolved by the Bill as drafted or the guidance. I had hoped that I might have found it in the draft protocol. It states that local police commissioners have the,

“legal power and duty to … set the strategic direction and objectives of the force through the Police and Crime Plan … which must have regard to the Strategic Policing Requirement set by the Home Secretary”.

That does not resolve the issue, either.

My concern is that the person who will lose out, if we are not careful, is the person who will have to carry the can through the heat of the day—the chief officer of police or the chief constable. To my mind, there is only one person in an area who should draw up these plans—the chief constable. It should be done necessarily in draft and then it should be cleared with those who have to provide the resources. However, it should also be cleared with those with responsibility for influencing the balance between the international, national and local requirements of policing in that area. We will be doing a great disservice to the chief constables and chief officers of police if we do not make that clear and if we set them the problem of having to resolve something that is not resolvable, with a whole lot of competing people around them who may not necessarily come together in a way that will resolve the matter. This issue is too important for the public to be left not properly resolved.

My Lords, I, too, wish to speak to amendments in my name—Amendments 220ZC, 221A, 225ZB and 228A. Clause 79 provides for the Secretary of State to,

“from time to time, issue a document (the ‘strategic policing requirement’) which sets out what, in the Secretary of State’s view, are … national threats at the time the document is issued, and … appropriate national policing capabilities to counter those national threats”.

I am not quite sure what “from time to time” means in this context, but perhaps the Minister will be able to throw some light on it. The Bill provides for the chief officer of police to,

“have regard to the strategic policing requirement”,

in exercising their functions. One of my amendments adds that the police and crime commissioners must also take into account the Secretary of State’s strategic policing requirement document in exercising their functions.

A further amendment to Clause 79 provides for Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary to report annually on how each police and crime commission and the mayor’s office is fulfilling the strategic policing requirement. The clause places a requirement on police and crime commissioners and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner to have regard to the findings of the HMIC report. The final amendment would retain a requirement, which appears to be deleted under the Bill, for HMIC to report to the Secretary of State on the efficiency and effectiveness of police forces.

Under Clause 5(5), a police and crime commissioner must, in issuing or varying a police and crime plan, have regard to the strategic policing requirement issued by the Secretary of State. My amendment, however, makes it clear that account of the strategic policing requirement has to be taken by the police and crime commissioner not just in issuing or varying a police and crime plan but in exercising all their functions. For that reason, it would provide a much clearer and stronger form of words. I do not wish to repeat the points made by my noble friends Lady Henig and Lord Harris of Haringey, but it is surely necessary to have some checks against any potentially maverick police and crime commissioner and, in short, some acceptable consistency in strategy and approach.

Yesterday, the Government announced their proposals for a national crime agency. In the Government’s view, the new agency represents a major change. It is surprising that in the middle of the Committee stage of the Bill the Government should announce proposals that could, depending on what their intentions are, have a significant impact on the powers and functions of the bodies and organisations that are referred to in the Bill, including police and crime commissioners. Perhaps the Minister can tell us whether the Government see the national crime agency as the creation of a new enhanced national policing force or whether it simply brings together under one roof a number of key organisations that are largely working well at present and will not be helped by the distraction of the cost and time of the creation of a new organisation and its associated bureaucracy.

The Government have said that the national crime agency will be a crime-fighting organisation that will tackle organised crime, defend our borders, fight fraud and cybercrime, and protect children and young people. With a senior chief constable at its head, it will harness intelligence, analytical capabilities and enforcement powers and will have strong links to local police forces and police and crime commissioners. The Secretary of State yesterday said that the national crime agency will comprise a number of distinct operational commands, one of which, the organised crime command, will,

“tackle organised crime groups, whether they operate locally, across the country or across our international borders. Fulfilling a key pledge in the coalition agreement, the border policing command will strengthen our borders”.

Other commands will be border policing, economic crime and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre. The Secretary of State also said that the national crime agency will,

“use … intelligence to co-ordinate, prioritise and target action against organised criminals, with information flowing to and from the police and other agencies in support of tactical operations”,

and that,

“the NCA will have the ability and the authority to task and co-ordinate the police and other law enforcement agencies”.

She continued:

“For the first time, there will be one agency with the power, remit and responsibility for ensuring that the right action is taken at the right time by the right people—that agency will be the NCA. All other agencies will work to the NCA’s threat assessment and prioritisation, and it will be the NCA’s intelligence picture that will drive the response on the ground. That will be underpinned by the new strategic policing requirement”.

The Secretary of State concluded by saying that all areas of the country suffer the effects of organised crime,

“from the very poorest communities to the most affluent, from the smallest villages to the biggest cities”,

and that we owe it to them to tackle it. Her penultimate phrase was:

“The National Crime Agency will do all those things and more”.—[Official Report, Commons, 8/6/11; cols. 232-34.]

That is quite a build-up for an organisation that will have no more money than the aggregate cost of its predecessors, which already face significant reductions in their budgets, including a cutback in a number of front-line staff as a result of cuts made by the Government that are too deep and too fast.

What change does all that mean in reality? Was the Secretary of State’s Statement yesterday jazzed up by her spin doctors to sound much more than it really is; or does it mean fundamental change which will impact on the bodies, organisations and individual positions referred to in the Bill, including police and crime commissioners?

If the national crime agency will be the single agency with the power, remit and responsibility for ensuring that the right action is taken at the right time by the right people, and that all other agencies, including the police, will work to the NCA's threat assessment and prioritisation; that the NCA's intelligence picture will drive the response on the ground; that the NCA will tackle organised crime groups that operate locally; and that the NCA will be accountable to the Secretary of State, where does that leave the Government's apparent intention that policing decisions will be made locally with the advent of police and crime commissioners?

Who will decide whether crime is organised crime and therefore, apparently, the responsibility of the NCA? Will it be the NCA or a police and crime commissioner? What powers will the NCA have to direct police and crime commissioners if the NCA has the power to ensure that the right action is taken at the right time by the right people? Will we have the appointed chief constable, who will head the NCA, or perhaps the head of the organised crime command or another command, directing police and crime commissioners, who the Government think should be elected? Or will a police and crime commissioner be able, if he or she chooses, to ignore the wishes or directions of the NCA? Issues will not always be sorted out over a cup of tea between a police and crime commissioner and the NCA. Sometimes, there will be conflict. Where will the final decision-making power lie: with the police and crime commissioner or with the national crime agency?

I hope that the Minister will be able to throw some light on those issues, because the proposals announced yesterday by the Government, if they mean significant change, as opposed to hype, seem to make the case for my amendments even stronger, in the light of the Government's apparent intended role for the national crime agency, as they ensure that police and crime commissioners have to take into account the Secretary of State's strategic policing requirement in exercising all their functions. They provide for the HMIC to report annually on how each police and crime commissioner and the mayor's office are fulfilling the Secretary of State's strategic policing requirement, with a duty on police and crime commissioners to have regard to the findings of the HMIC report, and give the HMIC a duty to report to the Secretary of State on the efficiency and effectiveness of every police force.

If yesterday's paper on the national crime agency, which was subtitled,

“a plan for the creation of a national crime-fighting capability”,

means what the Government appeared to be saying, it clearly creates potential clashes with a police and crime commissioner. We are entitled to a response from the Minister as to who will have the final decision-making power where there are such clashes. It would be in the Minister's interests to accept my amendments, which are clearly in the spirit of the Government's intention for what the powers of the national crime agency should be.

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, that this is one of the most important debates we are having in Committee and raises some of the important underlying issues with which we need to come to grips in the Bill. I know that we have covered some broad and important issues which concern the balance between local, regional, national and, increasingly, international policing. There is a whole range of issues about the balance between flexibility and direction. There is a constant tendency in almost every issue with which we deal in Parliament to demand devolution of power with very detailed direction from the centre as to exactly how that devolved power should be used. If I may say so, we have heard quite a lot of that over the past hour. Then there is the question of accountability. Several noble Lords have asked where the checks and balances lie and how inspection is conducted. Again, there are some important issues there.

The strategic policing requirement will support police and crime commissioners in effectively balancing local and national responsibilities and driving improvements in their force’s response to serious cross-boundary criminality, harms and threats. How that is done and how tightly that is drawn is, again, a question of balance. I remain of the view that “to have regard to” is the correct way to deliver that balance. The phrase “to have regard to” has been used in a great deal of previous policing administration. It is intended to provide that that is something that you must take into account, but you have flexibility in how you take it into account on a day-to-day basis. That seems to us to be the balance that we need of giving direction but not tying people down too far.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, asked about the balance between the local, the regional and the international. With much less knowledge of policing than most of those taking part in this Committee, but having looked at the growth of the international dimension of police co-operation—particularly the European dimension—over the past 25 years, I am struck by how much the balance has changed. Before the Berlin Wall came down, the number of policemen in this country who dealt with international dimensions of crime was relatively limited. When I was at Chatham House and first met the external department of the Metropolitan Police, it was a relatively small body.

As we all know, the international context of policing has been transformed over the past 25 years by the continuing growth of international travel, by the continual revolution in communications, and by the arrival of the internet. Every local policeman has to have some regard to the international dimension. I recall reading in the Yorkshire Post not long ago about a well-known criminal in Liverpool who had been followed by the Dutch police in Amsterdam and arrested and convicted in Jersey, but the crime he was engaged in impacted on Liverpool. That is local and international crime. I was concerned with the question of who would pay for him being sent to prison in England from Jersey. Those are the sort of difficult questions we get engaged in.

The answer, we know, having had a debate about whether we should move towards a national police force or yet another round of amalgamation of police forces down to about 20 rather than 40 in England and Wales, is to promote co-operation. We have a range of shared regional units, and I have happily visited a number of them in recent months, which deal with the specialised units—for example kidnapping, helicopters, dog units, organised crime units and counterterrorism units, all of which are shared by the smaller police forces. To us, that is the way forward.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, that the announcement of the formation of the national crime agency yesterday was not a further stage towards a national police force; it was part of the continuing process in which we have to handle the balance between international policing and national, regional and local policing. The creation of SOCA and the whole growth of that dimension has been part of the response over the past 25 years to dealing with international co-operation. It was not an important factor for policing 40 or 50 years ago. A balance has to be struck, although no doubt it will change again. The duty to have regard is one that we defend as striking the right balance between flexibility and direction. I cannot answer the many questions which the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, raised about the NCA, but we shall return to it in more detail.

Surely the noble Lord is not telling me that he has not read the paper that the Secretary of State published yesterday? My questions are simply based on what she has written.

The noble Lord asked about 65 questions and I fear that it might take a great deal of time to answer them all in detail. We shall extensively discuss the exact role of the NCA on a later occasion. I hope that, in general terms, I have answered the question about this not being a road to a national police force.

When the Minister says that we will discuss the national crime agency on a later occasion, does he mean as part of our discussions on this Bill? If he is not quite sure of the answers to my questions, I can tell him that they relate to the potential impact on, for example, police and crime commissioners. Can he assure us that we will have a discussion about the impact of the national crime agency on the Bill that we are currently discussing, or is he talking about discussing it only after we have dealt with this Bill?

Perhaps I may remind the opposition Front Bench that we could have taken the Statement on the national crime agency yesterday but that the opposition Front Bench declined to have the Statement repeated in this House. We could have usefully discussed that yesterday. We shall take the whole issue of the role of the national crime agency further. We can certainly give answers in writing to some of the questions that he has raised on the Floor of the House.

It is certainly true that we did not take the Statement yesterday but there was other rather important business to discuss. I hope that the Minister will accept that, even if the Statement had been taken, it would hardly have been a substitute for discussing the implications of the national crime agency on the provisions in this Bill, which can be discussed properly only during the discussions on the Bill.

My Lords, the Serious Organised Crime Agency already exists and the national crime agency will be an expansion and revision of the role of the Serious Organised Crime Agency. This is evolution and not revolution.

My Lords, the issue is that the national crime agency will have the ability to direct resources which would otherwise be under the control of chief constables. That is precisely the substance of the group of amendments that we are discussing now about the strategic policing requirement, and in this instance we will ensure that those resources are available for the national crime agency to direct.

My Lords, most people here know a great deal more about this than I do, but we all know that there is a golden thread between local and international policing which is based, however one organises and restructures the forces, on a necessary degree of co-operation not only among police forces but also between police forces and a range of other agencies. The NCA will help to strengthen the national and international dimension of policing; it is an evolution of where SOCA has already taken us in this regard. We shall discuss this in great detail in due course when we bring forward the necessary legislation next year to establish the NCA. The NCA will be part of this balance, but it will not provide the sort of detailed direction which deprives local and regional forces of the flexibility which they need.

I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, raised a question about planning cycles and the strategic policing requirement. It is well understood that wherever possible one should issue a strategic policing requirement in order to fit in with the financial and other planning cycles of elected police bodies. The reason why flexibility is written into the Bill is that new threats or new events may happen between October and April which will require some changes to the strategic police priorities. That is why there is flexibility in the Bill in this regard. However, it is understood that, as far as possible, revisions in the strategic police requirement should fit in with the requirements and the cycles which local forces are going through.

Amendment 222 seeks to place a specific duty on the Home Secretary to identify national threats based on objective criteria and to draw up a strategic policing requirement based on those threats. We recognise the entirely honourable intention of this. It is absolutely proper for any Government to use an objective methodology to identify national threats for this purpose, but we think that the Bill as drafted, particularly in Clause 79, answers the case. These requirements require, not enable, the Home Secretary to set out national threats and the appropriate national policing capabilities to counter the threats as identified. Clause 79 also provides that the Home Secretary must obtain advice from representatives of chief police officers and of local policing bodies before issuing the strategic policing requirement.

I say to those who raised the issue of checks and balances that we understand that accountability is a process and not just an event. Checks and balances require a number of formal processes which are reinforced by the informal processes, which is why transparency and publication, particularly the publication of HMIC reports, is written into the Bill. The role of the police and crime panels, through scrutiny, is part of the continuing process of checks and balances. The role of HMIC is part of that continuing scrutiny and publication provides informal scrutiny through press comment and other less formal mechanisms. That is fully intended to be part of the Bill.

Liberal Democrat Amendments 223 and 225ZA raise the question of safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children. We are all aware that human trafficking in relation to children is a growing problem which requires national and international co-operation as well as co-operation at the local level. The strategic policing requirement is intended to focus on those areas where the threats and the criminal activity cross the borders of local police authorities. Where problems are within the boundaries of single police forces, they are not within the strategic policing requirement. The question of child trafficking is clearly a strategic policing issue. The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre—I have great difficulty remembering what CEOP stands for—will be an important part of the NCA. It will be part of the evolution of SOCA into the NCA.

Amendments 224 and 225 have the collective effect of broadening the scope of the strategic policing requirement to include threats that can be countered effectively by local policing capabilities acting in isolation from other police forces. This would risk broadening the strategic policing requirement and taking us back to a situation in which the Home Secretary will issue more and more detailed instructions to local police forces. That is not our intention; we are trying to loosen the degree of central direction of local police forces.

There have been a number of useful discussions on the role of HMIC and whether HMIC inspections should be exactly timetabled. Again, we return to the question of whether we should have flexibility or absolutely require inspections once a year. We consider that the phrase “from time to time” strikes the right balance. It does not put inspections on a totally regular basis, but allows additional inspections from time to time. Local police commissioners may also invite HMIC to come in and inspect. HMIC will thus become more independent from government and more accountable to the public. Inspectors of constabulary will report for the benefit of the public rather than simply reporting to the Secretary of State, and a local policing body will have the power to request an inspection of its police force, supplementing the power of the Secretary of State to do so. These arrangements do not mean that HMIC will not have a programme funded by the Home Office. A programme of work will be approved by the Secretary of State, laid before Parliament and published by HMIC. This is a supplementary provision to enable local police bodies to invite inspectors in when they feel that it is desirable. The question of how often inspections should take place merely repeats existing legislation. I did not hear any noble Lord in the Chamber say that they were dissatisfied with the current pattern of HMIC inspections. Therefore, I suggest that the case has not been made for a change in the arrangement.

I hope that I have now answered all the points in this interesting and important debate. We will look again between Committee and Report at what was said in the debate. I have listened very carefully to what has been said and I hope that noble Lords will not press their amendments.

There were so many questions that I missed that point in my notes. My understanding of what was said in the Commons was that the draft protocol was to be published during the passage of the Bill. Several drafts of the strategic policing requirement have been written. They are undergoing extensive consultation and the Government are concerned that they get this right. This will take some time, but I assure the noble Baroness that the process is under way. I was warned that it was quite possible that a Member of this Committee would get up and wave her copy of the report, but perhaps Members of the Committee have not yet seen the drafts. I assure noble Lords that work is under way and that consultations are taking place.

I may have missed it, but I do not recall the Minister responding to my point in relation to Amendment 230 about placing an obligation on HMIC to report on the way in which the strategic policing requirement is being met, to make the report available to the Home Secretary, police and crime commissioners and MOPC, and to put it, in some form, in the public domain.

I will take that back before I start to drop my notes. My understanding is that the question of how local forces fulfil the range of their functions will be part of what HMIC will naturally report on; it will necessarily be part of an HMIC report. We will look at that again and make sure that we can satisfy the noble Lord.

My reason for pressing the point is that it is extremely important. It is a mechanism that will enable a proper discussion about the real requirements for the strategic policing requirement. It will obviate the need for that to be written into a document that emanates from the Home Office. It will be a process that the police service owns through the inspectorate that will identify and report on whether the spirit of the strategic policing requirement is being honoured. I hope that this will be taken back and considered seriously, because I will press the point on Report unless the Government come forward with a response.

The strategic policing requirement is intended, among other things, to inform the inspectors on the sort of things that they should be looking at. We are all aware that the strategic policing requirement feeds into a range of discussions. The question of whether there is a division between local and national policing is one that begins to dissolve once you get into it. I had a fascinating briefing some while ago about traffic policing and the extent to which it has to be a co-operative activity between different forces. I had not thought it through before. There was a great deal of linkage all the way through. I am impressed by the extent to which our forces already co-operate in the sort of specialised units that the noble Lord talked about, outside London where there are many forces smaller than the Metropolitan Police. We will look at this and make sure that it is fully in the Bill.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply and I thank all noble Lords who participated in the debate, which covered some serious and important issues. That is why we have gone on at such length; it was necessary to cover the topics that we did. I will start with the point about having regard to the strategic policing requirement. My concern is that having regard to something is fine: “Yes, I have had regard to it, Minister, and then I have gone and done something else”. That is not the same as being inspected against it. It is not a matter of balance, but of what happens in practice on the ground. The words “have regard to” will not make people who want to have local policing requirements as a very important part of their menu do anything other than that. Being inspected against it would be the really important measure. I found the arguments of my noble friend Lord Harris compelling when he talked of the national threats that face us and the way in which they cover the whole country. Judging by the way noble Lords listened to that part of the debate, there was a general sense across the House that what the noble Lord was talking about was likely to be the situation.

I am sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness, who has gone on to another point. Does she agree that it would be helpful if the Government could produce before the next stage a briefing on how the term “have regard to” has been interpreted in other contexts? Like the noble Baroness, I have a difficulty with it. However, if we are told that the courts have given it a greater importance and weight than she and I fear, that might be very useful.

I accept that point. If it is a legally backed concept that has a very clear set of conditions attached to it, it is a very different matter from the way that I have been interpreting it, so it would be useful to have that clarification.

On the timing of the issuing of the document, I hear what the Minister says about flexibility, and that is obviously important. However, part of me has a suspicion that documents are sometimes delayed for convenience rather than flexibility. We have known that in the past. Documents have not been available in a timely way, particularly when they have come from the centre. I wanted to emphasise the importance of forces getting the document as early as possible. I accept the flexibility issue provided that that is the cause of the delay, rather than convenience at the centre, which has sometimes resulted in documents appearing late.

I listened very intently as regards the inspections role. My concern with inspections is that they should not be optional. If they are optional, then the good commissioners will have them, because that is how they work, while those who need them are precisely the ones who will not ask. I listened intently, as I said, and I got the sense that the Minister is saying that inspections will carry on very much as they are now, which is exactly what I want to happen. If that is what he is saying then I am delighted. However, I have not found that in the Bill—perhaps I am not looking in the right place. If inspections of commissioners and commissions are to continue as they are now, I am very pleased, because I think that that is the right way forward.

I am very happy about that, in particular, but also about the other issues because there are going to be further discussions. In the light of what has been said, I am very happy to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 220ZA withdrawn.

Amendments 220ZB to 225ZB not moved.

Clause 79 agreed.

Clause 80 : General duty of Secretary of State

Amendments 225A and 226 not moved.

Clause 80 agreed.

Clause 81 : Obtaining advice from representative bodies

Amendment 226A not moved.

Clause 81 agreed.

Clause 82 : Abolition of certain powers of Secretary of State

Amendments 226AA and 226B not moved.

Clause 82 agreed.

Clause 83 : Suspension and removal of senior police officers

Amendments 226C to 228 not moved.

Clause 83 agreed.

Clause 84 : Functions of HMIC

Amendments 228A to 228C not moved.

Clause 84 agreed.

Clause 85 agreed.

Clause 86 : Inspection programmes and frameworks

Amendments 229 and 230 not moved.

Clause 86 agreed.

Clauses 87 to 89 agreed.

Schedule 11 : Crime and disorder strategies

Amendments 230A to 231 not moved.

Schedule 11 agreed.

Amendments 231A and 231B not moved.

Clause 90 agreed.

Schedule 12 : Collaboration agreements

Amendment 232 not moved.

Schedule 12 agreed.

Clause 91 agreed.

Schedule 13 agreed.

Clauses 92 to 95 agreed.

House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 2.36 pm.