Report (4th Day)
My Lords, it would be helpful to the House if the noble Baroness could give some indication of the Government’s intention. My reckoning is that there are 18 groups left to be debated on Report. Can she tell me at what point she intends that the House be adjourned tonight?
My Lords, I come to the Floor of the House tonight ready to complete Report. I do that particularly for this reason: there have been times during the course of this Bill when we have made quite rapid progress, with the co-operation of both sides of the House, but noble Lords will know that I have amended this Bill so that Members of your Lordships’ House could apply for and carry out the function of a full-time police and crime commissioner. During that debate, I was persuaded by Members of this House that your Lordships could not only carry out their functions in this House but hold down a very demanding full-time job as PCC as well. Everybody will know that people who engage at that level are people who do not clock-watch but get the job done. They stay until the job is finished; that is what I intend to do.
My Lords, I found that the most remarkable response. The Opposition have been very co-operative on this Bill. We agreed to do Committee in six days and Report in four days. We did not agree that the clock should start at 8.35 of the evening. On average, we have taken about half an hour per group. At that rate, we would be meeting for another nine hours. I regard that as wholly unacceptable, as I am sure that other noble Lords will do. I suggest to the noble Baroness that a discussion should take place in the usual channels on an appropriate way forward. It is not acceptable to say to the House that, at this time of the night, we should start a full day’s debate on Report.
My Lords, I, too, add my protest to what is going on here this evening. We have just spent several hours on what many people in this House considered to be a completely useless and totally unnecessary Bill. We are now faced with a Bill in which, from my point of view, the most important issue that we are yet to discuss—universal jurisdiction—is right at the end. That will probably come at something like 2 am or 3 am. That is an insult to all the people who have died by the actions of international war criminals and I am absolutely furious that the House has organised the business in this way.
Well, my Lords, I am certainly not furious and I always listen to my noble friend the Minister with great care but I say to her that there must be a preparedness on the Government's part to stop at a reasonable hour. This House has a justified reputation for considering legislation with great care and revising it on the basis of knowledge and a solid evidence base. I fear that once we pass a very late hour today, that power of this House will be lost.
My Lords, it may be helpful if I remind the House that we are moving into Report and that nothing may be resolved at this moment. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, pointed out that the Opposition have always said that they would complete Report today. That is part of a firm agreement. It was also for the convenience of the Opposition Front Bench that the exchange on Lords consideration of amendments on the EU Bill was moved to today.
My Lords, I am not going to take an intervention from anybody in the Chamber at the moment. I would be grateful if the noble Lord could sit down because it is a courtesy of this House that two persons do not stand at the same time. I would have thought that somebody who was a Member of another place and of another Chamber might be aware of that. I am pointing out—
I did not stand up while anybody else was talking. I do not carry out that kind of breach of conventions. I am trying to assist the House by pointing out that the Government have tried to schedule business for the benefit of the Opposition and for the whole House. Clearly, we are always prepared to have discussions. We have done little else over the past week. Those discussions can continue but it is a matter of this House that they do not continue on the Floor. Of course, the Motion may be now put that we do resume Report stage. I invite noble Lords to agree to that, pending that there can then be discussions elsewhere. I understand, by the look of it, that the noble Lord the Opposition Chief Whip will be happy to reply to that.
My Lords, I take that, in the end, as a very positive intervention by the noble Baroness the Government Chief Whip. I am more than happy to have some discussion off the Floor of the Chamber because it is pushing it to start a day as late as this. The noble Baroness is quite right to remind the House that we certainly signed up to try and complete Report in four days. I do not think that anybody expected the European considerations to go on for as long as they did. We tried to play our part in keeping them as short as we possibly could, but it is unreasonable to expect the House to debate serious issues such as universal jurisdiction, or issues that are a passionate concern for some, such as licensing, and the rest. As it happens, we have tabled only four or five groups of amendments for this stage of the Bill. We have tried to keep our opposition to the Bill within reasonable bounds and have done so. We have kept to our side of the bargain but, particularly on a Wednesday—and with a Thursday sitting starting at 11 am and a Friday sitting at 10 am—it is not right to keep the House beyond reasonable hours.
My Lords, I will make two points. First, it is my understanding, in terms of procedure, that in this House as well as in other Houses if a noble Member wants to intervene in the speech of another noble Member it is appropriate to stand, and for the other Member to consider whether or not to give way. I am sure even the Government Chief Whip would recognise that that is the normal procedure.
My Lords, we have just carried out that procedure correctly, because I did not stand until the noble Lord gave way. I made it clear I was not taking interventions. The noble Lord and I have exchanged views on that on other occasions. This is continuing a debate which leads nowhere. Discussions outside can be fruitful; discussions by the noble Lord continuing now may jeopardise the success of those discussions. Perhaps we might continue in the proper manner in a House that takes its procedure seriously.
I was making two points. I made my first point and I gave way to the noble Baroness, as appropriate. The second point I want to make—it is open to Members to make these points and I say that to my own Front Bench as well as to other Front Benches—is that when my noble friend the Chief Whip agreed that we should discuss this today it was on the basis that the day started at 3.35 pm. That is, if I can work it out right, five hours ago. Therefore we are not getting a full day in any sense. That is why I agree with noble Members opposite, particularly from the Liberal Democrats, who have indicated their deep concern. If concern is expressed by the Labour Opposition and by the Liberal Democrats I would have thought the Government should take account of that.
My Lords, I would like to add my voice and appeal that we leave this matter until tomorrow. At this late hour, no one can make guarantees. Although speeches may be short, when there are interventions it lengthens the thing out far too long. Those of us who are past our green years need to get home and get a bit of rest before coming back early in the morning. We will then have a fresher mind and more patience than we have at this hour of the night.
Clause 63 : Appointment of acting commissioner
229A: Clause 63, leave out Clause 63 and insert the following new Clause—
“Acting police and crime commissioner
(1) Where a police and crime commissioner is unable to perform his or her functions under this Part, the relevant police and crime panel must appoint an acting police and crime commissioner from amongst its members.
(2) A person who is appointed to the role of acting police and crime commissioner under subsection (1) has the same powers and is subject to the same requirements as a police and crime commissioner, in accordance with this Act and any other enactment.
(3) In appointing an acting police and crime commissioner under subsection (1), the relevant police and crime panel must stipulate the maximum length of time that the person may hold that position.
(4) A person ceases to hold the position of acting police and crime commissioner—
(a) in the event that the police and crime commissioner is able to resume his or her functions under this Act;(b) at the end of the maximum term stipulated by the police and crime panel; or(c) as otherwise stipulated in this Act or any other enactment.”
My Lords, we come to a very important matter: the appointment of acting police and crime commissioners. Whatever our views on this Bill, one thing is clear: the police and crime commissioners will have considerable power and authority over policing matters in their local police force area.
A second point is that, with the numbers so elected, inevitably there may be circumstances in which a police and crime commissioner may become incapacitated: they may be suspended, they may decide to leave office voluntarily, or they may die in office. Quite rightly, the Bill contains provisions for the appointment of an acting commissioner. That is well and good. However, the problem with Clause 63(2) is that an acting commissioner, appointed by the police and crime panel, can only be appointed if they are a member of the police and crime commissioner’s staff at the time of the appointment. The acting commissioner can exercise all the functions of a police and crime commissioner, other than issuing or varying a police and crime plan under Section 6, so the acting police and crime commissioner can dismiss the chief constable. They can set the precept and, as my noble friend Lord Beecham has reminded us, that can be around 9 to 11 per cent, depending on whether you are in England or Wales, of the total council tax bill.
I find it quite extraordinary that a staff member—perhaps the chief executive, the director of finance, or the chief of staff—can be appointed to exercise the powers of an elected police and crime commissioner. The reason that this Bill is so constructed is because the Government have decided on this extraordinary concept of a corporate sole. Instead of having sensible governance where it would be clear who might be well placed to be appointed as an acting police and crime commissioner, the Government are flailing around and have come up with this wonderful idea that if the police and crime commissioner in some way cannot carry out their office, a member of their staff should be appointed to do so. That is unacceptable, and I can think of circumstances in which in fact it would be wholly unacceptable. What if the commissioner was suspended because they were charged with an offence which carried a potential imprisonment of more than two years? What if the commissioner were charged with corruption? What if that corruption involved members of their staff? We must remember that there are no corporate governance safeguards over who the police and crime commissioner appoints as a member of their staff: it is wide open for corruption in any case, and corruption will occur. It is inevitable in these arrangements that there will be corruption. We have a situation where an acting police and crime commissioner has to be appointed from among the staff, in the circumstances I have described, of a police and crime commissioner charged with corruption. In those circumstances what possible confidence could the public have in those arrangements and in the acting police and crime commissioner?
My amendment seeks to put in place a much more sensible arrangement which allows the police and crime panel to appoint a panel member to serve as the acting police and crime commissioner. That would provide a much greater safeguard in terms of public confidence. We had a good debate on this in Committee. I very much hope that the noble Baroness will be sympathetic to my amendment.
My Lords, I support the amendment. We discussed this in Committee. I can think of virtually no circumstance where every member of the police and crime panel would be ineligible to stand as acting commissioner, if the circumstances warranted it. I can think of many sets of circumstances where it would be inappropriate for every single member of the elected commissioner’s staff not to be eligible to be the acting commissioner for the very circumstances set out by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. If the elected police and crime commissioner has been suspended or has had to stand down temporarily because of allegations of corruption or other behavioural issues, it would not be in the public interest for a member of what is going to be, in the Minister’s own words, a very small number of support staff to stand as the acting commissioner if there were a serious allegation of corruption against the commissioner. The Minister has been reasonable and conciliatory on many of these issues. This is a blindingly obvious case where it would be far more appropriate for a suitable member of the police and crime panel to act in circumstances where the elected police commissioner is no longer eligible to be commissioner for a period.
My Lords, I add my voice to those who support this amendment because I see it as a critical part of the necessary checks and balances on the powers of the commissioner. I say that for two reasons. First, the acting commissioner could be in post for eight to nine months—that is, for up to six months as permitted in the Bill, together with the period during which a replacement is elected. Frankly, to have an unelected acting commissioner for that length of time is unacceptable as they will set the budget and the precept. Although there is a veto on the precept, nevertheless they will be responsible for making the proposal on the precept and they will make a decision about the budget. All those functions should be undertaken by people who have been elected as opposed to people who have not been elected.
Secondly, the commissioner will have appointed the staff member to their substantial post. The only power that the panel will have is over which staff member is nominated, although they have to bear in mind the advice given to them by the commissioner who is incapacitated. I regard this as an absolutely fundamental issue. The panel must be able to appoint from among its own members. Between now and the next stages of the Bill, I very much hope that my noble friend the Minister will make clear to colleagues in the other place that this matter is of fundamental concern to a large number of Members of your Lordships' House.
My Lords, I correct my noble friend Lord Hunt, who has underestimated the extent of the precept as a percentage of the local council tax, which would fall potentially to the acting commissioner to levy. It is 11 per cent in England and 15.5 per cent in Wales—even greater than my noble friend indicated. I respectfully suggest that there is potentially an equal underestimate in relation to the period of vacancy. As I read the Bill, the six-month period after which a vacancy would have to be declared and a new election take place, which would add to the length of time in any event, arises in connection with incapacity. However, there are other grounds on which a vacancy might arise. In particular, there is the possibility of a police and crime commissioner being suspended. That could conceivably take an even longer period to resolve, so there is the potential for this position to be filled by a second-hand appointee, as it were, for a long period. Of course, the whole rationale of the proposal for police commissioners—flawed in the opinion of many, certainly on this side of the House—is that it is necessary to have somebody who is elected and who has a direct mandate for the purposes of exercising the functions that the Bill confers on the holder of the office.
There will be no such democratic element in the event that the procedure currently in the Bill is enacted. There would be no democratic mandate of any kind—direct or indirect. It is intolerable that that should be the case when within the police and crime panel, there will be people with a mandate—not the complete mandate—that will be claimed for the police and crime commissioner in as much as he or she will be elected for the whole force area. There will at least be some democratic mandate for those elected local councillors who will constitute the majority of members of the police and crime panel. In those circumstances I can see no argument for allowing—indeed requiring—the appointment of somebody who has no mandate when there are those available within the structure who would have at least some mandate.
I hope that the Government will think again. The noble Baroness was unlike her old self, if I may say so, at the beginning of this debate when her rather surprisingly peremptory statements were made. I would like to see her return to what your Lordships might think is the much more acceptable Browning version.
This is an extremely important issue and not one that we should rush through simply because we are fed up. I am sure that I have just as much stamina as the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, although I am not required to take the whole Bill through this House. We have to consider and debate these issues seriously because, after all, that is the function of this House.
This is a problem of the Government’s own making in that, having decided that police and crime commissioners—and for that matter MOPC in London, although the issues are slightly different—have substantial, individually held powers, the question then comes: what do you do in circumstances when there is a vacancy or someone needs to act while that happens? The Government cannot have it both ways. They cannot say, “Actually, it will be okay and we can have a member of the staff of the police and crime commissioner’s office to act in this function”, and at the same time say, “The police and crime commissioners are so important and will be so busy that they have to work full time on these functions”. What are they working full time on?
They are presumably setting direction—I am sure they are not intervening in operational matters because the Government are clear that they will not be doing that. They will be providing guidance on what is regarded as important to the electorate of that policing area. Among their duties will be setting the level of local taxation. There is no other area of British public life when something that impacts on taxation is not decided by people who are elected. If the noble Baroness wants to interrupt and tell me of one that I have not thought of, I would be delighted to receive it. There is no such area.
This is one of the most important decisions and it is one that will matter very much to the public in the area concerned. The task of being an elected politician is to balance what you believe are the important aspirations that you might have for the public service concerned and how much money can readily be raised in taxation. That is an issue that this and previous Governments have struggled with, and those who are actively engaged in local government struggle with it each year. You have to make a judgment and you can make it only if you see both sides of the equation. You see the side of expenditure and you see the side of what it will mean in taxation. Only somebody who is elected will have that perspective of what the public want in terms of services delivered and what they are prepared to buy through taxation. The public are not always single-minded on these matters. We are all aware of those stresses and strains, which is all the more reason why it must be an elected politician who makes that judgment. Only an elected politician with the authority of being elected can strike that balance knowing what the electorate of the area feel.
The difficulty with this is that an official will see this only from the point of view of the need to spend. Through this practice, the Government are creating a ratchet effect that will push up public spending. Officials will see this as entirely about the need to spend, about how many police officers and services they should have and about how much information technology should be purchased. Those will be the sorts of issues that they will see, because they will not be individually accountable to the public for the level of local taxation. That is why this is such a dangerous precedent. By saying that people who do not have elected authority will make those judgments, the Government are creating an effect by which only one side of the equation will be seen by those who make the judgment. That is why the principle of having an elected person carrying out this role is so important. Their idea is that a chief executive or a chief finance officer—before one even considers whether it might be a chief of staff of a police and crime commissioner—will make those judgements. Those individuals by their nature will probably never face an electorate, will never stand as a candidate and will never have to balance the need to spend against the need to tax.
I turn to the other powers of the police and crime commissioner. I am not talking about day-to-day matters, where the understanding of how an electorate feel about an issue would be so valuable, but about the extreme, major powers that one hopes will not be exercised very often—for example, the power to dismiss or appoint a chief constable. Again, one would expect the person concerned to be accountable in quite a different way. It will be at the moments of highest drama—for example, when you are in the business of dismissing a chief constable—when it will be most important for the decision to be made by somebody who is seen to be personally answerable to the electorate. Personal answerability to the electorate is the cornerstone of what the Bill is supposed to be about: putting in place people who are personally accountable to the entire electorate of a policing area and giving them the responsibility. That is what is missing.
I will try to predict the Minister’s arguments so that I will not have the temerity to interrupt her later when she is in her new, forceful mode. No doubt she will argue that to have a member of the police and crime panel suddenly taking on this responsibility will blur the distinction between the police and crime commissioner and the police and crime panel. That may blur a distinction, but is that a more important concern than the concern of blurring the line between elected accountability and someone who is appointed to carry out the functions of raising and setting local taxation? I have to say that it is not a significant argument.
The matter could be addressed in other ways. The Government could have come forward with proposals that would have enabled a deputy to the directly elected police and crime commissioner to be elected to fulfil those functions. They chose not to do it. They could have created a clear, corporate structure around the directly elected individual that could have taken on this responsibility—but they chose not to do it. Therefore, the problem is of their making. They must not tell the House that it is not an important problem, because it is vital. I wait to see what will be the reaction in local communities the first time an acting police and crime commissioner—an appointed official—sets the precept and the level of local taxation, because there should be no taxation without representation.
Before my noble friend sits down, perhaps I might ask whether he has given any thought to the situation of a police officer in the force who has received money from tabloid journalists. Would that be the responsibility of the chief constable or of the commissioner? If it would be the responsibility of the commissioner, how would someone standing in from the panel be able to deal with that?
If such a circumstance were to exist—and clearly this is all very much in our minds at the present time—I suspect that the first people who will recognise the level of public concern that is going to exist are going to be individuals with a personal, direct elected mandate in an area. Under the Government’s model, where you have an elected police and crime commissioner who has not been disqualified, removed from office or incapacitated, then maybe that works and that individual would express concerns.
There is a fascinating article by Daniel Hannan, who I know is of enormous influence within the Conservative Party. He complains, incidentally, that the Government have got the nomenclature wrong; they should not be called police and crime commissioners but should be called sheriffs. He points out that there is a historic British tradition of the local sheriff, who is not the guy with the five or six-pointed star badge, but an ancient, semi-feudal office. The City of London has sheriffs, so it must be all right, because it is the same medieval construct that brought us corporations themselves.
In those circumstances, the directly elected individual —and this again is the point of the Government’s proposals—is going to be the person who will sense that this is something of deep concern to the public and that something should happen. In the circumstances of my noble friend Lord Hunt’s amendment, the point about it is that, rather than have some official who has never had to face an electorate making those judgments and decisions, it would at least be someone with a personal electoral mandate, albeit not for the whole force area, but for a part of it, who would be reflecting the public concern about such matters and taking the appropriate action in those circumstances.
Again, I think the Government’s arguments are flawed and they really need to address what is actually a very serious problem, which would manifest itself most seriously in circumstances where something is seriously going wrong.
My Lords, I will intervene briefly, mainly to support what my noble friend has said.
On the previous intervention, the issue of offers of payment by the media to certain police officers is very much on our minds at the moment. In my view, this issue is not—and never has been—a really central and massive problem, but it has always been there. When I introduced my Freedom and Responsibility of the Press Bill 20-odd years ago, we looked at it then but it has never been dealt with so I would say it should be considered, particularly in the structure that Government are setting up. There will be a temptation for certain police officers to be paid by journalists. Usually, the journalist makes the approach, in my experience, when any offer is made. Journalists will talk about what they do on a confidential basis—“Do not quote me” and so on—but such things are said. Usually, the sums of money are not huge—perhaps £20 for a bit of information and a bit more for another piece of information.
We all have two or three concerns about this Bill, but on this particular aspect there is a danger of what you do if there is an issue of corruption, however small it is overall, and how it is dealt with. I hope that the Minister will deal with that point, which my noble friend made very adequately from the Front Bench, but has just been added to by my noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey.
Before the Minister replies, I have a brief query that I would like to ask. Between discussing this in Committee and on Report, the Minister has laid an amendment about deputies, so I think we have covered this. I am therefore assuming that it is possible that the noble Baroness might be saying—and it was certainly what I understood when it was first mentioned—that a deputy might assume this role of acting commissioner.
When I looked at this in some depth, it seemed to me that this deputy post was not one that would be exempted from Section 2 of the Local Government and Housing Act. In other words, it was going to be a post where the incumbent would have to be politically restricted. If that was in fact the case and it was a politically restricted post, it would seem to me to be completely wrong for that person who is politically restricted to be able to act up. Am I correct in my understanding of that? When that deputy post was created, I had rather assumed that one of the reasons for it was that the deputy could act up, but having looked at it, I do not see how that could work. I would be most grateful if the noble Baroness would perhaps say something about that as well in her reply.
If an allegation of corruption or any other crime is made against someone, whoever the officer might be, the procedure is well laid down, and I do not think that the Bill would change it in any way. The complaint is made to the chief officer of police, who has to record the complaint, which is automatically notified to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. The IPCC can take over the inquiry or supervise it, and discipline remains a matter for the chief officer. If, in the doomsday scenario, the chief officer does not deal with the complaint properly, then it is for the police authority or, in this instance, the police and crime commissioner, to step in. I do not think the procedure would be changed by the Bill.
I fully understand. That was an exceptionally clear explanation. However, if the commissioner was not there, and someone was standing in for the commissioner, would it be appropriate for the member of the panel who is standing in for the commissioner to deal with the issue in the same way as the commissioner would?
In the theoretical instance cited by the noble Lord, I do not think it would work that way because the chief officer of police would have to demonstrate that he had not dealt with the complaint properly, and that would take some time. We are talking about six months plus two months before an election, so by the time that doomsday scenario occurred, you would have an elected individual in place as the PCC, as I understand it.
My Lords, this amendment seeks to secure the appointment of an acting PCC from the panel rather than from the PCC's staff. I recognise the points made today and previously in Committee and remain open to suggestions about how we might secure a process of appointment for an acting PCC which provides the safeguards and political neutrality that I have described in previous debates and which would also provide assurance to a PCC that any appointment of a temporary stand-in would not endanger the continued delivery of the police and crime plan and objectives. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, that I am very happy to consider taking forward the situation with the deputy, but the deputy is not politically restricted.
My Lords, I will come back on that specific point, but I want to make the point that although I am not able to accept this amendment, I am aware of the genuine concern that has been raised, not just on Report but at previous stages, and I am still trying to find alternative solutions. I shall explain to the House why I do not feel able to accept this proposal. I understand what is trying to be achieved, but plucking the acting PCC from an inherently political body is not the right solution to this issue. Some may say that I am overplaying the need for political neutrality in these situations, but I point to the debates in the other place and in this House regarding the potential risks of politicisation. If, as was put forward, politicisation is such a key risk, then I would argue that establishing an acting commissioner from within a very political pool of people with a different mandate is the worst of all worlds and likely to lead to conflict. The PCC's staff are politically neutral and, in the absence of any other person with a political mandate spanning the force area, we envisage that the PCC's chief executive would be best placed to continue to secure the maintenance of an effective police force with the close support and involvement of the police and crime panel for the interim period.
As I have indicated, I cannot agree to the amendment for the reasons I have given, but I keep an open mind on coming back to the House on this issue with other suggestions, and I will consider the proposal put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Henig. On this basis, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, one of the Minister’s concerns is plucking—I think that that was her term—someone from a political pool. I understand the argument that the commissioner may be independent, but nevertheless he or she will be a politician because it is a political job. I speak very much off the top of my head, but is it worth Members of the House considering whether an appointment from the panel, but made by the commissioner, could be a candidate for this? Heads are being shaken across there and there are nods around here as to this being a possible way forward. Given the stage of the Bill, I felt that it was worth throwing this suggestion into the mix.
My Lords, would an alternative approach, which would be not unfamiliar from board practice, be to establish through the panel a nominations committee, which could provide an element of filter, rather than a direct overtly or covertly political appointment?
My Lords, I think the point has been well put that the powers of the acting PCC could be considerable. I apologise to my noble friend Lord Beecham for underestimating the size of the precept. It seems to me that it has grown between Committee and Report stages. But it involves the precept, the budget, the appointment of the chief constable and the dismissal of the chief constable. I am still concerned that the problem here is the construct of the Bill. As my noble friend Lord Harris has said, once you decide to place on a political individual so much power and responsibility, you clearly have a big problem in deciding what to do if that person is no longer able to carry out the job.
It seems to me that this is a very important issue, which has been debated in the other place as well. The Government clearly still do not have a clue about how to deal with it. The noble Baroness said that she is concerned about appointing the acting PCC from the police and crime panel, which is an inherently political body. But what is the PCC but politicisation? In terms of the idea that the staff will be wonderfully neutral, what on earth will the staff be doing? I am horrified at the thought that the PCC will employ an army of people. It will have one point, which will be to ensure the re-election of the police and crime commissioner. What else are they there for but to support that person?
The noble Baroness has said that she will take this away. I am very grateful to her, but can she confirm that that means that she accepts that I can bring an amendment back at Third Reading or that she will? It cannot be dealt with in the Commons on ping-pong. It is impossible to deal with this issue in that way. It has to be dealt with by this House. We have only a few days left. Will the noble Baroness confirm that she is saying that this is a matter that requires further clarification and can be brought back at Third Reading?
Amendment 229A withdrawn.
Clause 66 : Police and crime commissioner not to serve for more than two terms
230: Clause 66, leave out Clause 66
Amendment 230 agreed.
Clause 67 : Disqualification from election or holding office as police and crime commissioner: police grounds
Amendment 231 not moved.
Clause 69 : Disqualification of person holding office as police and crime commissioner
Amendments 232 and 232A not moved.
Amendment 233 not moved.
Clause 74 : Police and crime commissioners not to sit or vote in House of Lords
234: Clause 74, leave out Clause 74
Amendment 234 agreed.
Amendment 234A not moved.
Clause 80 : The strategic policing requirement
235: Clause 80, page 49, line 28, at end insert—
“( ) A report is to be prepared annually by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary assessing the extent to which the strategic policing requirement has been met in each police area and nationally.
( ) A copy of this report must be laid before Parliament.”
My Lords, I would like to speak to Amendments 235, 235A and 239. Can I just point out that I think there is a misprint on the groupings list? To clarify, this group should comprise Amendments 235, 235A and 239.
Amendment 235 is a response to the widespread fears of your Lordships expressed in earlier debates. It is also a response to the concerns of policing professionals, charities and businesses that an elected commissioner might, for obvious reasons, want to focus on a local mandate, and the fact that a lot of important, strategic national issues are somewhat hidden from public view. There is concern that all this might lead to cross-border national or strategic policing issues being relatively neglected under the Government’s proposed new model.
I dare say that we are as one in recognising and wishing to respond in the most effective manner possible to the ever present and, indeed, growing threats to many of the so-called protective services or national and strategic threats, which cross police force borders or require specialist attention. The sort of crimes I refer to are such things as cyber crime, threats from terrorism, extremism, serious and organised crime, people trafficking and the more sporadic—potentially devastating—impact of civil contingencies. There is a whole number of national incidents.
I do not wish to raise an apocalyptic spectre of crimes and emergencies, but it is exactly because these important issues are not the currency of local, political, policing debate that I am concerned that it might not be at the forefront of a commissioner’s attention. There is a risk that commissioners may—for understandable reasons—not give full weight to national issues. Anybody who has attended local, public policing meetings or read the results of public consultations about policing priorities will understand that local people are interested in local issues. One example is born out of recent excellent research undertaken by my home police authority, Lancashire, which revealed that most people’s priorities for an elected Lancashire commissioner were going to be tackling quite low-level crime. Anti-social behaviour and environmental issues such as littering and abandoned cars were the sort of issues that people wanted commissioners to address.
I have experience of consulting local people on their policing priorities. I used to always give people a list of issues on which we wanted to consult them. It would always include anti-terrorism and other matters but the public always said “We do not want anti-terrorist activity to be at the top of the list because that is a national responsibility”. When asked how this should be paid for they said that the Government should pay. They always put national issues at the bottom of the list. As I went round the county, this happened every time.
Even at a time in Lancashire when the Irish situation was quite difficult—and Heysham was quite an important area for activity which meant that the Lancashire police were engaged in considerable anti-terrorist activity —none the less people in Lancashire did not want their precept to be spent on that kind of activity. That worried me then and it worries me even more now because I think that tendency will be even more emphasised in this new regime.
What I propose as part of the solution to act as a substantial check and balance on commissioners and force actions is to have an annual report to Parliament by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary. I am sure I do not need to remind the House that it has a long and distinguished track record in both identifying and trying to identify the best ways of closing the gap in protective services. It is perfectly placed to provide an annual guarantee that the gap does not widen in the years to come, or, if it does widen, that it can alert Parliament that this is happening.
My idea of an annual report to Parliament draws on similar recent and successful provisions that have enabled Parliament’s concerns about the potential impact of certain Acts to be monitored and to some degree ameliorated. I am thinking here of the distinguished work of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, as the independent reviewer of counterterrorism legislation. That is just one example of a way in which activity could be monitored, so that Parliament could get some sense of how things are working out. I understand that the amendment would impose a new duty on the inspectorate’s already, no doubt, hard pressed resources, but the national issues are so important and the consequences of us failing to ensure adequate provision for national strategic policing requirements are so great that an annual assessment would be one way of monitoring the situation and measuring what forces are doing. It would help commissioners in their debate with local people to emphasise how important these national strategic requirements are. It is in that spirit that I beg to move the amendment.
I have Amendment 235A in this group. The noble Baroness spoke about matters which I raised at the previous stage, mentioning a number of criminal areas which do not respect boundaries. This amendment is arguably a little more local, but I have been asked to raise it by Justice, whose concern is exactly what I articulated at the previous stage and what the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, has articulated now. It is concerned that the creation of commissioners could result in what it calls—it is rather a good phrase—a competitive “race to the bottom” on populist law and order policies. It mentions what one might call the “invisible” crimes, such as domestic violence and crimes against vulnerable individuals and members of minority groups, which do not dominate public concern in the way that street crime and anti-social behaviour do.
The Bill deals with offences such as terrorism and organised crime, which require a national policing response. Child neglect has been acknowledged in another part of the Bill, but aggravated crimes against minorities and a whole list of other matters, with which I shall not detain the House, may not be a priority—indeed, it is extremely unlikely—for any commissioner seeking an electoral mandate.
I made the point to Justice that we had already covered some of this ground, to which it responded rather honestly that it was important to make the rhetorical point. Although it is almost half-past nine on perhaps our last day on Report, I shall make the point not very rhetorically, not very eloquently, but in quite a heartfelt manner.
My Lords, I do not think that some of the issues that we are discussing in these amendments are rhetorical matters. My Amendment 239 approaches the issues which my noble friend Lady Henig raised in Amendment 235 from a slightly different perspective.
Some 35 hours ago, I sat listening to the Home Secretary introduce the new CONTEST strategy for the United Kingdom. That document, which pulls together the efforts being made to counter terrorism, is fundamental to the issues that we are talking about here in relation to the national strategic policing requirement.
Of course, this document describes the importance of having a national network feeding in to the counterterrorist effort—if we do not have such a national network, we cannot deliver effective counterterrorist policing. That is why it is so important that the Government have put the strategic policing requirement into the Bill. What makes it difficult for us in your Lordships’ House to consider these matters tonight is that, of course, no one, as far as I am aware—certainly none of your Lordships—has yet seen the strategic policing requirement, or a draft thereof.
When I have listened to senior police officers, they say that there are a number of building blocks for anyone to understand how this legislation will work. One of those building blocks is the memorandum that we have seen—the Minister has promised us that she will come back to us on whether that will be part of the Bill. Another key building block is what is going to be contained in the strategic policing requirement. Until we see that, we cannot see what will be the balance of responsibilities for chief officers of police. I hope that we will at least see a draft of the strategic policing requirement before the Bill goes to Third Reading. I had understood that something was due to be published some while back for consultation. As far as I am aware, unless it has appeared very recently, nothing has yet been published.
My noble friend served with me on the Joint Committee on the national security strategy. Will he help the House and contemplate how the strategic policing requirement might fit in to the national security strategy? Would it be part of it or relate to it in any way? It has certainly not been mentioned, as I am sure my noble friend would agree, in our meetings on the national security Joint Committee.
The Government are trying to square the circle of putting a very high priority on national security—the national security strategy, the creation of the National Security Council—and their policies on police and crime commissioners. Clearly, the potential danger with police and crime commissioners elected with a local mandate to articulate the concerns of local people is that some national priorities will not be given the same priority at local level. Now, I am sure that no sensible police and crime commissioner would say, “I am not interested in anything being done on counterterrorism”, just as no sensible police and crime commissioner would say that they did not want to see anything done on serious crime. However, when there are 41 directly elected individuals, some of whom will fight very fiercely contested local elections, or be facing fiercely contested re-election, the question of whether the same priority is given to national security matters as is given to other matters becomes a real issue.
Because of our particularly slow progress as a House on other matters before we arrived at the Bill tonight—we are making rapid progress compared to the progress earlier—I had the opportunity of listening to a presentation downstairs from Professor Dave Sloggett, a nationally known expert on counterterrorism issues. In a rather chilling 15-minute tour d’horizon, he simply spelt out the sorts of threats that we face, which are contained in the CONTEST strategy, and the context in which that is taking place at the moment. Yes, Osama bin Laden has been killed, but that does not mean that al-Qaeda goes away. We are actually seeing a fragmentation and each of the different affiliates going their own way, each presenting slightly different threats.
We have Gaddafi in Libya, who has made an explicit threat of suicide bombers in European cities; and there is the changing situation in Northern Ireland, where we have just seen two nights of sustained rioting and serious disorder. Again, the fact that that has not impinged significantly on the rest of the country makes it all the more likely that there will be an aspiration for it do so. We have the challenges of the Olympics. In moving her amendment, my noble friend Lady Henig referred to issues around cybercrime, and it is interesting that the CONTEST strategy for the first time refers to the cyberterrorist threat. These are issues in which local police forces have got to play their part; they have got to raise their game. They are not necessarily issues which will immediately emerge as the priority for the elected police and crime commissioner in every part of the country, yet every part of the country is potentially affected.
Let us consider the way in which Roshonara Choudhry self-radicalised herself, dropped out of her university course and, having listened to speeches and read material on the internet, decided that an appropriate thing for her to do to take forward the cause would be to assassinate a British Member of Parliament. She then researched Members of Parliament on TheyWorkForYou.com and purchased two kitchen knives. Fortunately for Stephen Timms, a Member of Parliament in the other place, she decided on the day that it was easier to conceal in her clothing the shorter of the knives. That is an example of the kind of threat we face.
Not so long ago an individual in the south-west of the country seriously injured himself in an attempt to blow up a restaurant in which families with young children were having meals. Again, he was an individual who, as far as we know, was not significantly connected to any of the networks.
It will be the responsibility of local policing, local special branches and local intelligence to pick up on these issues. If you get to a stage where this is seen as not the responsibility of a local police force, your ability to combat these threats will be severely weakened. That is why the strategic policing requirement is so important.
It is also important in the context of serious and organised crime because we all know that if you do not maintain consistent and strong pressure on the issues around serious and organised crime, gradually the quality of community life in all kinds of areas will begin to deteriorate—and yet this will not be an immediate priority for many police and crime commissioners.
The Government have, properly, written into the Bill a strategic policing requirement. However, they have not specified how it will be enforced and how they will make sure that it is met in every force area. My noble friend Lady Henig has tabled an amendment which would require Her Majesty’s Inspectorate to produce a report on an annual basis and lay it before Parliament to assess how the strategic policing requirement is working. My amendment has a different focus; it seeks to consider what happens in each individual force area. It does not specify that the report should be laid before Parliament because sometimes the content of that report in relation to the strength, willingness and effectiveness of local forces in combating terrorism and serious and organised crime would best not be publicly shared.
I know that the Home Office does not want to be top-down on all kinds of issues, but on these issues it needs to be top-down, which is why it has postulated a strategic policing requirement. This will give the Home Secretary a snapshot for each police force area and a national overview, if you take the position that has been put forward by my noble friend Lady Henig, of what is going on and where there may be weaknesses. Whether that will result in a formal intervention by the Home Secretary or a less formal intervention with the chief officer of police and the elected politician who leads those areas applying pressure, I do not think really matters. What is important is that the Home Secretary has that information and has it as a tool. Further, it is important that the locally elected individual—the police and crime commissioner or the MOPC in London—is aware of where they stand in terms of meeting the strategic policing requirement. They may well have a rose-tinted view of what the level of problem is or what needs to be done. This gives them that information and the opportunity to decide. I find it extraordinary that there is nothing in this Bill about monitoring how the strategic policing requirement is to be met, how it is to be achieved and what is to be done about it.
These amendments are put forward in a genuine attempt not just to assist the Government to achieve their objectives, which as you know are constantly at the forefront of our thoughts on this side of the House, but because it is critically and crucially important for the national security of this country and indeed for our ability to deal with serious and organised crime.
My Lords, I hope I will be forgiven for making a short intervention in support of the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, and indeed in support of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, as to its principle. This Bill is to a great extent about the accountability of the police. The whole purpose of the Government’s policy, which I applaud, is to make the police more accountable to the public. The noble Baroness, Lady Henig, is attempting to do precisely that—to give visible evidence of that accountability to enable the public to judge from a document how accountable the police are in terms of the strategic policing requirement.
The noble Baroness referred to the work of the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, which I used to be. The independent reviewer is required to produce at least two reports every year which enable Members of both Houses, who use the reports extensively, and others to judge the performance of the authorities in relation to counterterrorism law. We have an independent reviewer of the relatively new Northern Ireland provisions for what is now public order law in Northern Ireland. This role has been carried out since it was introduced by Mr Robert Whalley. He has been very successful in ensuring that those important parts of the law he reviews in Northern Ireland, which can prove, as we have seen in the past couple of days, very controversial in the context of everyday life, are accounted for in the legislative assembly of Northern Ireland and in this Parliament.
Following the legislation in relation to the UN money-laundering provisions for named terrorist suspects, we introduced recently an independent review which is going to be carried out, as I understand it, by David Anderson QC, who succeeded me as independent reviewer of terrorism legislation. There again, we will have a report which will deal with issues relating to a part of the strategic policing requirement. Those who carry out such roles from time to time have been asked ad hoc to carry out reports which call to account those who have been involved in aspects of counterterrorism and related policing.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary has a distinguished and respected record of impartiality. It has been able to secure changes in policing practice around the country by the kindly method of report, constructive criticism and engaging, sometimes, the support of those in both Houses of Parliament. It seems to me that there is nothing to be lost and potentially much to be gained from the transparency of a report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, particularly given the importance of the strategic policing requirement, which has been amply described during this short debate, particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Harris.
I take issue with the noble Lord on only one detail. He suggested that it might be difficult to write a report that would be published that engaged with matters of national security that are best left unsaid. I can tell the noble Lord that there are ways of doing this; it can be done. With the co-operation, which is always available, of the security services in particular, there are ways of writing reports that do not damage national security but deal fully with all the principles that need to be discussed.
I therefore believe that this is a constructive proposal and I hope to hear that the Minister will also allow this matter further consideration with a view to something being brought forward at Third Reading.
My Lords, I wonder if I might put a different gloss on the matters that we are debating in this group of amendments. We know that there is a strong likelihood that there will be a national crime agency some time in the next calendar year. We already have a discussion document about that. It refers to tasking, which I am confidently assured means direction from the centre. That means that there is bound to be tension between local and national issues, which is a good thing. It is democracy in action. It is inevitable that the inspectorate will become involved, at the behest of local or national figures. That is what it is there for and that is my experience, having served in it for more than five years, albeit some time ago.
I am concerned that the Bill is in grave danger of becoming overprescriptive. We are covering detail, which is good as far as it goes. However, to put it in the Bill rather than take it as a matter of good sense or encompass it in regulation stretches too far the issue of what should be in the Bill.
I shall refer to Amendment 235A. Having followed an all-encompassing definition of national crime, we are then invited to put in something about children, vulnerable adults, members of minority groups and so on. I do not at all underestimate the threat to those groups; terrible things are done to and with them. However, if we are to pick out those groups, why do we not put in something about drugs, counterterrorism, and the theft of high-value motor vehicles and plant, all of which happen on a European—if not a more international—scale? Why do we not put in something about cybercrime or identity theft? I shall sit down soon because I want to brief, but my point is that we should not drop into the trap of being overprescriptive. Valid though all the comments from speakers so far have been, it is asking the Bill to accept too much.
My Lords, this has been a very interesting debate. I understand what the noble Lord, Lord Dear, is saying about the risks of overprescription. However, we are talking about strategic policing requirements. This is a matter of national importance. My noble friends have argued very well for their respective amendments.
No election will be won by a police and crime commissioner on issues to do with national policing. They will be won on local manifestos. Almost every candidate will promise more police on the beat. The question will be an auction over just how many police will be on the beat at any one time. That is fair enough and clearly responds to a general view held by many members of the public, who like the police to be visible. I do not argue with that. However, it will have some consequences. It will put the squeeze on the specialist units that the police forces have developed. It will also put the squeeze on each force’s responsibility to the national policing requirement. In some way or other, without being wholly prescriptive, we need to find a way in which to reassure Parliament that the national strategic policing requirement will be carried out as effectively as possible. It is not just terrorism; it is also about serious organised crime. My noble friends Lord Harris and Lord Foulkes were absolutely right to develop the argument about the threats that we face. We are in no position today to be complacent about those threats.
In their approach to the Bill the Government have really rather pooh-poohed the current tripartite relationship. They have criticised police authorities for a lack of visibility—although I have yet to hear any conclusive evidence put forward on why they ought to be visible. Furthermore, they believe that the tripartite arrangement is at fault because Home Secretaries have indulged in too much target-making. There will be a debate about targets and their place but there should be no doubt that in the end the Home Secretary is accountable to Parliament and ought to be accountable to Parliament for national policing strategy and the effectiveness of police forces in making a contribution to that strategy.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dear, about the implications of the national crime agency. I also agree with him that some tension will be constructive—but tension could also be destructive. In the Bill we see that the requirement in relation to the strategic policing requirement is placed on chief officers of police. In exercising the functions, they must have regard to the strategic policing requirement. In other words, they can ignore it, because “have regard to” is a very weak use of parliamentary language. They have to have regard to it, alongside other matters that are placed in the Bill.
We then look to page 2 of the Bill and see that in Clause 1(4) that the,
“police and crime commissioner must … hold the chief constable to account for”,
a series of actions, but also,
“the exercise of the duty under section 37A(2) of the Police Act 1996 (duty to have regard to strategic policing requirement)”.
All we have in statute is a requirement on the police and crime commissioner to hold the chief constable to account. Then we find that the actual requirement is simply to have regard to. What if the police and commissioner does not effectively hold the chief constable to account? What if the chief constable has regard to but does not take the necessary action? Where are the safeguards and sanctions? There are none. That is really our concern.
The amendments seem to be helpful and constructive. My noble friend Lady Henig asks for a report to be prepared assessing the extent to which the strategic policing requirement has been met in each police area. That does not seem overprescriptive; it is simply giving an assurance to Parliament that there will be a process by which Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary has a means of looking at each police force area and reporting on how they are doing in their contribution to the strategic policing requirement.
My noble friend Lord Harris has another constructive amendment around the inspection programme. In our first debate the Minister was very helpful, although I did not really follow her arguments. She was very constructive in being willing to engage in the area of the acting police and crime commissioner. Nothing is more important than the national strategic policing requirement. I hope that the noble Lord, who, I suspect, is going to respond to the amendment, will be able to be as constructive as his noble friend.
My Lords, before the Minister replies to the debate, he will recall that nearly an hour and a half ago the government Chief Whip indicated that she would return speedily with a new timetable for this Bill to propose to the House. We are now approaching the normal time of rising of this House. I hope that the Minister will give an indication as to when the government Chief Whip will do us the courtesy of returning to indicate what the new timetable for this Bill will be.
As always, the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, is immensely helpful in his contribution to debates. I well recall his many constructive contributions to the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill in an earlier period.
It is part of the intention of this Bill to build in some constructive tensions between the local and the national—
I am grateful to the Minister, but this is a serious point. A number of Members of this House have an interest in subsequent amendments and are genuinely concerned that there should be a proper debate on the Bill because some very serious and important amendments are coming up. They do not know what is going to happen. They do not know whether these amendments are going to be considered at three o’clock, four o’clock or five o’clock in the morning or, more sensibly, on another day when they can be properly considered by this House. It is the normal role of this House to give proper consideration to these amendments, and I hope that someone will find out when the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, will return, as she promised an hour and a half ago, and tell the House what the programme is going to be. If not, people are hanging on here without any knowledge about what is going to happen.
My Lords, I will do my best to get that information to the House as soon as possible.
As I said, it is part of the intention of this Bill to build in some constructive tensions between the local and the national. We all understand that policing is a constant dialogue between local, regional and national, although I suggest to the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, that things have changed a great deal in the last 20 or 30 years. Certainly when I was a candidate in Manchester many years ago, there was a small Special Branch that dealt with the IRA, but there were not the cross-cutting collaborative units that we now see across the north of England—drugs units, organised crime units and counterterrorism units, which are now part of the network in which our police forces co-operate with each other. My perspective on policing is a West Yorkshire one, but the Yorkshire Post, the Bradford Telegraph & Argus and the local radio stations do not simply focus on local crime, partly because local and national issues, such as parades by the English Defence League and drugs heists in which the drugs have just been imported from some other country, are very much part of the local scene. Therefore I think that the widespread fears suggested by the noble Baroness may be exaggerated.
Clause 80 sets out the strategic policing requirement, which is an update of the Police Act 1996, as noble Lords have said. That strategic policing requirement is now being extensively consulted on by the Secretary of State, ACPO, the Association of Police Authorities, the Metropolitan Police service and others. Clearly that is going to be a major part—
My Lords, while I am fascinated to hear that this consultation is taking place, on the last occasion on which I saw representatives of the Association of Chief Police Officers—I believe it was last week—they had not yet seen a draft of this document, so I am slightly bemused by that. Parliament has to see it. We cannot understand what the balance is going to be between the local and the national unless we can see that document, even in draft state, and understand it.
My Lords, Clause 80 sets out in some detail the principles of the strategic policing requirement. It is there in the Bill. There is a question of how much detail we want to write in to the Bill, but Clause 80 sets out the fundamentals of that requirement. Clause 96 adds to that the backstop power for the Secretary of State to intervene if, in her opinion, local police forces are not paying sufficient attention to the strategic policing requirement.
I add that “have regard to” is not, as has been suggested, a weak statement. It is a commonly used phrase for a strong and appropriate duty, which places an obligation on the chief officer and the PCC to comply with the strategic policing requirement. In policing terms, the duty to have regard has previously applied, for example, to codes of practice that have been used to implement a national intelligence model across all 43 police forces in England and Wales, to codify the use of police firearms and to ensure compliance with the IPCC statutory guidance on handling police complaints, which suggests that this is a widely used and strong duty.
The Minister says that this is intended to be a strong requirement. Clause 80, which he referred to, says,
“must, from time to time, issue a document”.
What I am trying to clarify is: how can we see what the impact of that strong requirement is unless we know what the Government's intentions are for the document's contents? That is not asking to have the wording of the strategic policing requirement written into the Bill. The Bill already says that there will be such a document, but none of us have seen one. The Minister has talked about consultations but as far as I am aware—I wait to be corrected—last week no full-touch document had been circulated for comments, despite the expectations set out in here.
I promise to get back to the noble Lord as soon as possible with an update of where we now are on that. I stress that it is normal practice to pass legislation without all the details of the regulations being tied up before that Act is passed, because ongoing negotiations about how the regulations will be carried through are often under way. I am assured that negotiations and consultations on the strategic policing requirement are well under way.
The Minister talks about regulations but I did not actually think that the strategic policing requirement was going to be put in regulations. I thought it was simply going to be a document. There have been plenty of occasions when the document has been so pivotal that Parliament has been advised of what the content of regulations will be. Draft regulations have been circulated so that people can understand what their scope is. As I understand it, this is regarded as one of the central planks in determining what is local and what is national. I believe that Parliament should therefore see this document in draft form before we can move forward.
I promise to get back to the noble Lord with a situation report, certainly by the time we come to Third Reading. On Clause 96, I am also informed that the backstop power available to the Secretary of State to intervene where forces are not having sufficient regard to national priorities has never been used. It is there as a backstop power but police forces, chief constables and police authorities have necessarily recognised that there is a thread between neighbourhood policing and local, regional and national priorities. The neighbourhood police groups which I have been out with in Leeds and Bradford are also looking at potentially vulnerable individuals, at people who may be radicalised and at areas where drugs are being dealt or supplied. That feeds into a national intelligence chain and is part of what we all understand as policing.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, stressed the importance of criminal activities which, in some cases, do not respect boundaries. She also talked about the invisible crimes of domestic violence, vulnerable adults, child neglect and aggravated crimes against minorities. Again, I have sat in on MAPPA groups—multi-agency areas—where police are working with other local social services and non-governmental organisations, precisely to look at those invisible crimes. Part of the way in which attention is drawn to these crimes is by local voluntary organisations working with police and other agencies at the local level. In the nature of these cases, much domestic violence and child neglect is essentially local. Those elements which are not local—child trafficking, sexual abuse, online sexual exploitation—are dealt with now increasingly by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre and other forms of collaboration between local police forces and national agencies, which indeed will feed into the national crime agency when that is developed. Again, in this case there is not a tension but a thread between local violence, local disorder, local abuse, and those more limited elements in which children are trafficked or abused and the internet is used for these purposes. I can assure the noble Baroness that this does not need to be written again into the Bill. Having said that, I hope that I have given sufficient assurance to those who tabled these amendments to enable them not to press them.
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down and with the leave of the House, I say that the thrust of the arguments is one which I made at the last stage. The amendments themselves are about mechanisms. Can my noble friend on the Front Bench help the House as to whether it is necessary to spell out these mechanisms? It seems that noble Lords opposite are seeking mechanisms to assist the Secretary of State—but does the Secretary of State actually need to have the legislative powers? As I read these, I would have thought that it was possible for her to take steps, certainly in one of these amendments, and to have considerable influence to ensure that the inspectorate undertakes the others. To that extent, these amendments are not necessary. However, the noble Lord has addressed the arguments rather than the amendments, and if I may say so, so have the noble Lords pressing the amendments. I hope my noble friend may be able to help the House on that.
With the greatest respect to noble Lords, a requirement for HMIC to publish a report annually is not a target; it is simply information to Parliament. Surely the Minister is prepared to consider that. As I have said, it is a very short time until Third Reading, but will he take this back without commitment and consider whether some reassurance might be made to Parliament on this?
In the next group of amendments we will move on to HMIC, and it is part of the requirement for HMIC that it will publish reports for the public, so HMIC will be publishing regular reports. The question of whether it should have to publish reports on a regular basis for Parliament is an additional thing of which I am not persuaded. I will certainly consult further but I am not currently persuaded that that is a necessary addition. Many years ago I took part in a debate which required the Government to report to Parliament twice a year on developments in the European Union so that there could be a six-monthly debate. Those reports have continued to be published and somewhere in my attic I have a number of them. I am a little doubtful about additional reports.
Before Minister comes back on this, I say that this is not just about whether or not this is a document published for Parliament; it is about ensuring that there is a focus on the strategic policing requirement. That is something which the Government have not yet conceded. While I am on my feet, and to prevent me getting up again, can he tell us what he actually means by a situation report? Does that mean that when we get to Third Reading which, as far as I am aware, is still only a few days away, we will have in front of us some idea as to what this document will look like?
My Lords, I had not promised to give the detail of the strategic policing requirement, which is currently under negotiation. I am happy to give noble Lords a situation report on where negotiations stand regarding the definition of the strategic policing requirement. That is the most that I can do.
My Lords, I have listened closely to everything that has been said. I thank noble Lords who have participated in this debate. I have listened very carefully to the Minister. I agree that under the present system there is a recognised way of reconciling local and national police authorities; I do not think that is in doubt. The problem is that we are embarking on a completely new structure of police governance. Everything that we are used to is being changed, and not incrementally but quite radically. I think that we all accept that. My amendment seeks to reassure the public, given that we are faced with this completely new and untried system. We owe it to the public to reassure them that under the new system cross-border crime, serious criminal issues and national crime will be tackled by local forces.
We have heard a lot about commissioners. I am sure that good commissioners will act as the Minister thinks they will; it is the not-so-good commissioners and the areas where local people may be let down which are the problem. I do not see that this measure is such a lot to ask for when reports are prepared in many areas of our national life. Why cannot they be prepared by the inspectorate in this area? I do not understand why this is such a novel suggestion. I keep being pushed to press amendments to a Division, but I really would like to test the opinion of the House on this matter.
Amendment 235A not moved.
My Lords, I nearly transgressed by being on my feet when the Deputy Speaker was on his feet, which would have been an heinous crime at any time, but particularly at 10.23 pm.
As promised earlier this evening, there have been discussions in the usual channels, which reached mutual agreement with regard to the progress of business. Clearly it is important that the House is able to scrutinise legislation effectively: we all want to work towards that end. On the other hand, the House also tries to work in the most efficient manner to deliver government business in a better state than it receives it. Even the late Division that we have just had clearly was intended to produce that end—and although the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, may not have got the result she wanted, I know that she was testing the opinion of the House from the right motives.
It has been agreed through the usual channels that we will conclude business tonight at approximately 11 am.
Well, there you are—that is what I really want to do. One minute’s break between today and tomorrow would give us enough time for Prayers. My Lords, in fact it will be 11 pm. We would like to make further progress on an amendment or two and conclude as close to 11 pm as possible. The agreement is that tomorrow morning after Questions we will start on the Report stage of the police Bill. We will continue until we have concluded Report and then go back to consideration of the published business, which is the Committee stage of the Localism Bill.
This has an implication for consideration of matters at Third Reading. The Minister has already made it clear that she is prepared to consider matters at Third Reading and I know that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, has already signalled that he has at least one serious matter that he wishes to consider. It is therefore important that we maintain our normal tradition of having the usual intervals between stages. That can be achieved by the Government rearranging their business next week so that the Third Reading of this Bill will be taken on Wednesday instead of Tuesday—so we have the usual intervals—then after the Third Reading of this Bill on Wednesday we would continue in Committee on the Localism Bill.
I know that the usual channels will continue to have discussions tomorrow afternoon, when we are able to see the progress of business, to work for the best of the House.
236: Clause 85, page 52, line 28, at end insert—
“(2A) The inspectors of constabulary may carry out an inspection of, and report to the Secretary of State on, the performance by a police and crime commissioner or a police and crime panel of its functions or of any particular function or functions.”
I rise to speak to three amendments, which, taken together, seek to preserve the checks and balances and independent assessment of performance within the current system that the Government have drawn on so heavily in creating their case for change; namely, the excellent work of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary.
Right at the beginning of our work on the Bill, the Government told us that HMIC unearthed the evidence for the failings of the present system, which necessitated the abolition of police authorities as quickly as possible. Indeed, in the absence of an analysis of the results of the Home Office’s public consultation on their reform proposals and the rather limited utility of a Cabinet Office report now five or six years old, the findings of HMIC’s inspections of 22 police authorities could be charitably described as the nearest thing the Government have for an evidence base on which they can build the case for change—at least as far as the suggested evidence for the weaknesses of the old system goes.
When it comes to this clause of the Bill, it very much surprised me—and may well surprise many of your Lordships—that, far from the excellent work of Her Majesty’s inspectorate being valued and taken forward into the new era of elected accountability, it has been relegated to the sidelines. In fact, the inspectorate is no longer going to be called upon to inspect the whole range of policing accountability but is going to be focused on forces.
I find this a little odd. We are told that commissioners and their panels are the necessary drivers of change, the fulcrums on which the hopes of reforms are going to be founded. They are going to have the role in driving efficiency at local level, not the Home Office from the centre any more. Yet these crucial new transformative individuals and bodies are not to be subject to the same level of inspection in the public interest as police authorities. I find this quite strange. Surely it cannot be right to limit the scope of inspectors who could provide valuable, impartial and expert information to the public on complex areas of policing and police finance, including the efficiency of those overseeing that finance. Budgets are going to be tight in the next few years and the new system is going to be very costly. I find it hard to believe in the new system, which many of us think will increase costs. These costs will add up and may very well eat into the policing budget. It is therefore not unreasonable that inspections should be able to oversee how those costs are running and whether things are operating reasonably.
I know, because we have already had this argument, that the Government will be quick to remind me that the ballot box will be the judge of how commissioners oversee and apportion their part of the policing grant and the precept. However, four years is a long time in politics and a lot of money could have been spent before the public place a cross and deliver a verdict. Who in the mean time, except HMIC, will inform the public about how effectively or otherwise commissioners have spent their money? I am reluctant to raise once again the spectre of corporations sole and, still less, the frankly frightening sight of not one but two corporations sole with two auditable bodies and consequentially opaque arrangements for overseeing public spending in policing. The only reason I want to mention them is that I think that because of that situation there will be a need for more, not less, accountability. Inspection of the new regime, when compared to what we have presently, will be more important because of the arrangements that are being set up. I believe that these areas need to be opened up to the public. Expertise should not be excluded. It is essential for public trust and confidence in the police that every penny of the policing pound is considered by those charged with inspecting and fostering improvement. That is why I think that the Government should reinsert full rights of inspection for HMIC and the ability of the local policing body and panel to call in inspectors on a regular basis.
I shall briefly say something about the idea that the panel should have to pay the cost of the inspections. That is a tremendous disincentive to having inspections. I could not help thinking that if existing police authorities had to pay for inspections they would have definitely seized on that as a reason not to be inspected, particularly when it is those inspections that justify the present abolition of police authorities. Slightly at a tangent, I mention that in those last inspections of police authorities—there have been 22 in the past few months—not one authority failed an Audit Commission or HMIC inspection and more than 97 per cent of HMIC’s 110 individual assessment scores for police authorities’ performance were excellent, good or adequate, which I think is very reasonable. It is certainly a record of achievement that compares favourably with local government. In fact, police authorities consistently and significantly outperform local authorities in Audit Commission inspections of their use of resources. I do not feel that inspections should have to be paid for in this way by those who are being inspected—hence my Amendment 238 to delete this provision.
In relation to police authorities’ financial management, the inspectorate’s report stated:
“Over the last ten years, forces and authorities have delivered efficiency improvements to meet Government targets. Between 2004 and 2008, forces and authorities declared just over £1.5 billion of efficiency improvements against a target of just over £1 billion”.
I am sure we would want such efficiency improvements to continue into the new regime. Indeed, the public would expect commissioners on £120,000 or more a year to be driving and delivering even greater efficiencies than their predecessor police authorities. I therefore feel that the public would want the inspectorate to give them the relevant comparative information rather than leave it to the media to report, or not, as they see fit. For all these reasons, it seems to me that there should be regular inspections of commissioners and of panels. I see no reason why there should not be. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have put my name to Amendments 236, 237 and 238 which were tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Henig. We are being asked to support nothing less than a revolution in policing governance in the absence of any evidence base on which the benefits of such drastic changes are set and in the absence of any public clamour for costly reform—indeed, the opposite. We are being told that these changes will not be piloted or introduced in stages since reform is urgent and cannot possibly wait. I beg to differ on all those counts.
However, if we are to press ahead with such an untried system, I am absolutely determined that we should do our duty to ensure that all means possible are employed to insert safeguards into the Bill. HMIC inspections seem to me to be a bedrock of any such safeguards against potential pitfalls and I share the high regard in which Sir Denis O’Connor, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary, is held, together with his extremely able team.
In short, HMIC inspections are at times a difficult and challenging process for those undergoing them and they have repeatedly yielded the improvement across policing, which is at the heart of HMIC’s mission. So I am left, frankly, bemused when the Government propose not to expand but to constrict the use of this valuable tool for improvement. It makes no sense at all effectively to exclude these completely new systems of oversight from an inspection regime when that regime has already helped the current system to improve.
Next, I shall draw out the intention of Amendment 238, which removes the proposed new obligation on the local policing body to reimburse HMIC for the costs of its inspection. We have heard what the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, thinks of that. We have sought to replace this with a statement that the panel may request that HMIC conducts an inspection if its concerns warrant such an intervention. I am unaware of any other inspection regime in which those delivering a public service, or who invite in or are made the subject of an inspection in the interests of public trust and confidence in their work, are expected directly to cover the costs of their inspection. Surely, in some cases an inspection will be called amidst quite serious financial issues or challenges. This idea that those opening themselves up to scrutiny in the public interest must pay for the cost of such transparency seems decidedly odd to me, even bearing in mind the parlous state of Home Office finances at the present time.
It also seems to me to be the most bizarre disincentive to those on the panel or on the commissioner’s staff who are considering whistleblowing on what might be significant issues of public interest or concern. A whistleblower or concerned panel member or local policing body member would have to gain pre-emptive approval for the costs of a possible investigation from someone who might be implicated in the very dubious activity that necessitates the inspection.
This parcelling of costs on to the petitioner for an inspection feels wrong to me on a very instinctive, but also on a very practical, level. Surely the Home Office should be seeing fit that the costs of HMIC’s absolutely essential work should be met by a Home Office grant. It would seem to be neglect approaching a dereliction of the Government’s duty to do otherwise. We have proposed that this apparently ill suited new subsection (2BB) should be replaced by a positive power for the panel that it should be able at any time to request that HMIC carry out an inspection of the PCC.
No one will be more aware of the PCC’s action or inaction in some areas than the police and crime panel since it is designed as her or his safeguard and strict check and balance. However, while the panel will be equipped to oversee the PCC in most areas, it may feel that there are issues on which it lacks a professional operational judgment on a matter of controversy. In such circumstances, it may not be appropriate to pull the chief constable into what could amount to a difference of opinion with the PCC. Who then can the panel turn to for that necessary professional advice and impartial opinion?
Finally, there should be a direct and clear ability, and a responsibility on the panel, to be able to involve HMIC appropriately. HMIC could, of course, take a view that it was being asked to get involved in a petty or irrelevant matter and could decline the invitation. However, we anticipate that this referral mechanism to HMIC will provide a helpful bridge to practical improvement for many forces facing difficulty in the future, as it so often has in the past.
My Lords, all I would like to say on the amendment is that we have discussed in previous debates the inconsistency between different parts of government in relation to inspection. I must declare my interest again as chair of an NHS foundation trust and as a consultant trainer in the NHS. NHS foundation trusts, which the Government support, were meant to be given much more freedom than other NHS bodies but they are still subject to the tender mercies of a regulator called Monitor. For the life of me, I cannot see why the Government have taken such a light-rein approach to the construct in the Bill when we have such an excellent inspectorate in the form of HMIC. These amendments seem wholly constructive. By the grace of the usual channels, we have been given a little extra time—a day—to consider these matters. Is this not a matter which the Government might take back and consider?
My Lords, with regard to fees, I do not know whether my noble friend is in a position to give any comparables, but I think that local authorities have to pay—or have had to pay—for Audit Commission inspections and that it is the Audit Commission that has set the rates. There must be comparables. Maybe there are comparables which go either way; I do not know.
My Lords, we recognise we are proposing a different model for policing accountability from the previous model. I feel with a number of the arguments which the noble Baronesses, Lady Henig and Lady Harris, have made that they feel the current system is superb and any different system will be untested, untried, difficult and probably worse. Therefore, as the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, said, we must insert safeguards; I think this would insert belt, braces and string as well.
The intention behind Clause 85—and the role of HMIC—is that HMIC should be there to inspect the professional forces. That is its job. That is what it does extremely well. In terms of funding, regular inspections will be paid for, as now, by the Home Office. The subsection which relates to police and crime panels being able to request additional inspections of part of the functions of those forces is precisely to give them added flexibility to request such inspections when needed. Therefore, it does not seem unreasonable to say, as this clause says, that,
“such reasonable costs incurred or to be incurred in connection with the inspection”,
should be reimbursed by the PCP.
In terms of who inspects the PCC, the whole relationship between the police and crime panel and the police and crime commissioner is intended to be that the checks and balances are provided by the police and crime panel. The regular check on the police and crime commissioner is provided by the police and crime panel. That is the process which we are trying to build into the new model. To muddy the role of HMIC by inspecting police and crime commissioners and police and crime panels does not seem appropriate to the model we propose. The model we are introducing through the Bill is that HMIC should continue to focus on the professional police forces and to report to the public as well as the Secretary of State on that. Police and crime commissioners will be held to account, under scrutiny, on a regular basis by police and crime panels. Police and crime panels are part of the structure of local government and local authorities and, I am sure, will continue to be held to account by their fellow councillors, particularly if they vote through precepts which rise rapidly year by year. On that basis, I hope that I have provided some reassurance to the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, although I am sure that she is completely unpersuaded that any new system can possibly be as good as that which we currently have. Nevertheless, I hope that I have persuaded her to withdraw her amendment.
I thank the Minister for that response. However, I do not think that he fully understood what I was arguing. I was not arguing that everything is wonderful in the present system; in fact, until recently, police authorities were not inspected. It is only quite recently that they became inspected, which had a tremendously focusing impact. Police authorities operated much more effectively once they were inspected, which has taken place only in the past two or three years if my memory serves me correctly. If elected councillors sitting on a police authority can be inspected, I do not understand why commissioners who have been directly elected cannot be. I do not understand the difference: they are both elected, albeit perhaps in different ways.
One reason why I have perhaps less confidence in the panels than the Minister is that I have yet to believe—and we are now on Report—that they will have any power. We keep talking about checks and balances. The panels have some rather pathetic veto powers requiring a two-thirds majority vote, but their input is not that great. I do not have much confidence that they will have any great impact on the way in which a commissioner operates.
My standpoint, funnily enough, has nothing to do with police authorities working well or not; my standpoint is the public. The whole point of the system is to serve the public. One of the strengths of policing in this country is local accountability to local people. It is local people that I am thinking of. They should have the reassurance on some sort of regular basis that commissioners are operating effectively—I do not see that there is anything wrong with that. I find it difficult to accept the repeated suggestion that I am asking for all sorts of radical and extreme things, when it seems that very sensible and basic issues are being raised. All I am suggesting is that it would be sensible for commissioners to be inspected, because it would give the public reassurance.
I am sorry that the Minister finds that so difficult to understand, because it seems to me to be very straightforward. However, in view of the lateness of the hour and because I do not want to test the patience of the House any further, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 236 withdrawn.
Amendments 237 and 238 not moved.
Clause 87 : Inspection programmes and frameworks
Amendment 239 not moved.
Schedule 11 : Crime and disorder strategies
Amendment 239A not moved.
Amendments 240 and 241
240: Schedule 11, page 145, line 42, at end insert—
“( ) In subsection (1), after “section 5” insert “, with subsection (1A),”.
( ) After subsection (1) insert—
“(1A) In exercising functions under subsection (1), apart from devolved Welsh functions (as defined by section 5(8)), each of the responsible authorities for a local government area must have regard to the police and crime objectives set out in the police and crime plan for the police area which comprises or includes that local government area.”.”
241: Schedule 11, page 146, line 22, leave out “5(7)” and insert “5(8)”
Amendments 240 and 241 agreed.
242: Before Clause 91, insert the following new Clause—
“Status of British Transport Police Force
(1) After section 1(2)(c) of the Police Act 1996 insert—
“(d) the area over which the British Transport Police Force has jurisdiction.” (2) In section 30 of that Act insert—
“(2A) A member of the British Transport Police Force shall have all the powers and privileges of a constable throughout England and Wales and Scotland and the adjacent United Kingdom waters.”
(3) In section 101 of that Act, in the definition of “chief officer of police” insert—
“(d) in relation to the British Transport Police Force, the Chief Constable of that Force;”.(4) In section 1(2) of the Police (Property) Act 1997, in inserted section (2B) insert—
“(d) the British Transport Police Authority.”(5) Omit section 100 of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001.”
My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 243, 271, 272, 304, 305 and 306. Since all the amendments are to do with the British Transport Police and the British Transport Police Authority, they have been deliberately grouped together rather than with specific clauses. They aim, as I said at Second Reading, to,
“strengthen the Bill by increasing co-operation between the authority and other police forces, particularly in counterterrorism and in the run-up to the Olympics”.—[Official Report, 27/4/11; col. 173.]
I shall first outline the context in which the amendments have been tabled and apologise to the House for being unable to be here when they were debated in Committee. Again, as I said at Second Reading, I am an unashamed proponent of two-tier policing in this country, with a national police service complemented by a number of local and specialist forces. Bearing in mind that the last royal commission on policing was in 1962 and much has happened since then which suggests the need for reform of the policing as extant at that time, I was very disappointed to find that although called the police reform Bill, there is very little in it about reform, except about the governance of policing, which is not the same thing.
However, these amendments are about long-needed reform; they are an attempt to complete business that was begun as long ago as October 2001, when the then Government issued a consultation document entitled Modernising the British Transport Police, which included detailed proposals to bring it in line with Home Office police forces in terms of accountability, status and powers. It proposed, first, placing the jurisdiction of British Transport Police constables over the railways on a statutory basis; that was partly addressed in the Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003, which gave them the powers and privileges of a Home Office constable, not only over all railway property, but throughout Great Britain in relation to railway matters. It secondly proposed giving British Transport Police constables jurisdiction outside the railways in certain circumstances. This, again, was partly addressed in the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, emergency legislation that followed 9/11 and other terrorist attacks.
However, although welcoming these changes, the Transport Police and its authority regarded them as only partial introduction of what had been proposed. Therefore, they tried to use the opportunity presented by the August 2008 consultation that preceded the Policing and Crime Act 2009 to address the identified anomalies once and for all. They submitted a formal request for a number of legislative changes that addressed the issues of police powers and jurisdiction to which, reprehensibly, they received no formal feedback from the Home Office. Instead, there was no consultation and they were surprised to find that Schedule 7 of the Act stated that:
“Where a member of the British Transport Police Force is for the time being under the direction and control of the chief officer of another police force by virtue of a police force collaboration agreement … the member shall have all the powers and privileges of a member of that other force”.
Furthermore, no attempt was made to address an added complication to co-operation that they had raised, namely that the powers of jurisdiction of police officers from Home Office forces were not extended to match those of a British Transport Police officer, which include the ability to police in England, Wales and across the border in Scotland.
Charitably, the British Transport Police assumed that these continued inequities were not intended, but resulted from a lack of knowledge about the anomalies that resulted from gaps in existing legislation. Therefore, they continued to look for opportunities to obtain parity of police-officer powers regardless of employing force, the next opportunity coming in September 2010 with the coalition Government’s consultation before the Bill, entitled Policing in the 21st Century; Reconnecting Police and the People.
The Bill envisages annual police plans, covering areas of the country yet to be determined, drawn up by elected police and crime commissioners. Assuming that, in logic, this must include all police forces, the Transport Police, in its response to the consultation, pointed out that, as the specialist national force for the railways, cross-border working was part of its day-to-day business. It welcomed the fact that, in drawing up their plans, PCCs would have to look beyond their own force borders,
“under a strong duty to collaborate, in the interests of value for money and to tackle cross border, national and international crimes”.
The British Transport Police also said that it was keen to ensure that the different governance structures between it and its authority and their Home Office colleagues and their authorities did not create difficulties in the excellent communications and partnership working that currently existed between them. There must be, for example, adequate provision for communications between the authorities and committees of the Transport Police, the Civil and Nuclear Constabulary, the MoD Police and police and crime commissioners, if they subsume the role currently filled by the Association of Police Authorities.
I mention this not to criticise the Bill so much as to suggest that these amendments to do with the British Transport Police ought to be government amendments. Identified anomalies that inhibit national and local policing have existed for far too long and have been drawn to the attention of both the Home Office and the Department for Transport over a number of years. Amendments 242, 271 and 272 are designed to rectify the status anomaly; Amendment 243 is designed to provide the opportunity for the Transport Police to protect the travelling public by taking preventive action against possible sex offenders.
The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, will speak to Amendments 271, 272 and 304 to 306, covering licensing and firearms. All are designed to save money and better protect the public.
I appeal to the Minister to accept the opportunity created by the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill to complete this unfinished business. I know that both she and the Transport Police and its authority have been in contact with the Department for Transport and I look forward to hearing what may have been agreed between them. I accept that she will be unable to promise more than that the issues I have raised will now be tackled positively and not allowed to drag on as they have over the past 10 years. In that anticipation, I beg to move.
My Lords, I speak in favour of the seven amendments. I start by expressing my appreciation to the Minister for the constructive approach she has adopted in conversations with both the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and me about the role, powers and jurisdictions of the BTP. I know that she has written to the Transport Minister about these amendments and I hope that when she answers the debate she will be able to say that the Government at least accept the spirit of them, if not accept them tonight.
I know from what the Minister said in Committee that she is particularly concerned about licensing issues and the difficulties that the BTP and the travelling public face with anti-social behaviour on the railway fuelled by excessive drinking. I shall come to the amendments which deal with that issue in a moment.
I would like to add a word to what the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said about jurisdiction. This is covered in Amendment 242. The British Transport Police Authority has sent me a copy of a letter which was sent on 7 July from the chief constable of the force, Andrew Trotter, to the Minister of State for Transport, Theresa Villiers. In a paragraph headed “Jurisdiction”, he says:
“The current legislative anomalies mean that there are a number of caveats applied to the powers of BTP officers, these are provided not through our own Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003, but the Anti-terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001 (section 100(2) and (3)) which pre-dated it. The amendment laid before the House of Lords seeks to remove the ambiguity the current legislation creates through these caveats. If the amendment is approved, in the eyes of the public and the rail industry, it will have no obvious impact on day-to-day policing of the railways and I can assure you it will have no impact on costs or other resource implications. It will however put BTP officers on the same footing as their Home Office colleagues when not physically on rail property or carrying out duties related to the railways, i.e. they will be warranted officers not civilians”.
Amendments 271 and 272 deal with the Firearms Act. I read in the latest issue of Railnews, which is the monthly newspaper for rail industry staff, that the Government have approved the creation of an armed response unit for the BTP. That paper states:
“Transport secretary Philip Hammond said the Home Office go-ahead was not in response to any specific threat but would reduce the burden on other police forces which provide armed support to the BTP”.
That is all well and good and it is what the BTP chief constable asked for, but it appears that BTP officers, once selected and through the selection process, will have to apply individually for firearms certificates. This seems ludicrous and flies in the face of the Home Secretary’s determination to reduce bureaucracy in the police service—a point made by the chief constable in his letter to Theresa Villiers. The cost in direct financial terms and in opportunity costs to the BTP and Home Office forces to process more than 100 applications is completely avoidable simply by giving the BTP the same powers as those expressly quoted in the Act for the Civil Nuclear Constabulary and the Serious Organised Crime Agency. It also creates a delay in trained officers being fully operational. Our amendments avoid that and I hope the Minister will feel able to accept them too.
I turn finally to Amendments 304, 305 and 306. Amendments 304 and 305 seek to name the BTP as a responsible authority under the Licensing Act so it can object to a licence application, revoke a licence for premises located within the jurisdiction of the railway or object to a temporary licence. Amendment 306 explicitly provides for the BTP to receive the late-night levy from the licensing authority. Bearing in mind that so much BTP officer time is spent policing alcohol-related crime, disorder and anti-social behaviour, it seems most unfair that the BTP is not able to get some payment from the levy.
I have a number of statistics relating to offences on railway stations. The one that apparently has the greatest difficulty is Leeds station which has 18 venues, including a nightclub and a hotel. Alcohol-related offences at Leeds have increased by 122 per cent in the past five years. I will not go into any more detail at this late hour, but I am sure the Minister will agree with me that this is an unacceptable situation. There are few things more unpleasant or potentially terrifying for rail passengers to face, particularly women travelling on their own late at night, than a bunch of drunken yobbos terrorising a train or a station platform. We cannot claim that our amendments will solve this problem but the BTP and we certainly believe it will help them tackle it.
I hope very much that the Minister can accept the spirit of these amendments. The previous Government attempted to do that and were not able to produce exactly the right solution. She has the opportunity to produce a lasting solution for the future of the BTP’s powers and jurisdictions. If she does that, the travelling public, railway staff and the officers of the British Transport Police will be greatly in her debt.
I support all these amendments, too. I will not repeat what the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and my noble friend Lord Faulkner have said because I fully support all their contributions, but it is worth pointing out that the BTP is pretty unique as a very specialist police force. I think the statistics are that half of its officers tend to operate in London, both on the Underground and on the main line, and the rest are split between the main line elsewhere in the country and Network Rail.
When it comes to dealing with incidents—whether it is some of the bad behaviour that my noble friend Lord Faulkner was mentioning or cable theft on the railway, which is a very serious issue and delays many trains—the BTP’s specialist knowledge in working safely on the lines, where there are sometimes high-speed trains and which sometimes can be electrified, is probably unique. When one has been delayed on the railways and has seen the difference in response professionalism between the local force that probably has not had much experience of this and the BTP, it brings into focus how important it is that the BTP’s expertise is maintained and enhanced.
It is absolutely essential that the ideas behind these amendments—that the BTP is put on the same footing as Home Office forces—are accepted. I hope the noble Baroness will accept the principle, but I wonder whether there is a problem because the BTP is the responsibility of the Department for Transport and other forces are the responsibility of the Home Office. I sometimes detect a kind of tension between the two, which the two previous noble Lords have also alluded to. I hope that these amendments will help to improve relationships and—something I see as being thoroughly important—enable BTP officers to move around, not just on the railways but in adjacent areas where they need to do their work without the constraint of having to apply to go into another force’s territory.
I look forward to hearing what the noble Baroness will say in response and I thoroughly support these amendments.
My Lords, I shall make only three brief points. Like the others who have spoken, I should like to hear what the Minister will say in response to the case that has been put forward. When I spoke to these amendments in Committee, I am afraid I got into the history of the BTP but I will not repeat that. Noble Lords will know that my concern for and interest in the branch is real.
The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, gave us an interesting history and pointed out some of the difficulties that the BTP has faced in trying to make its case to the Government. Those are very powerful and persuasive points. The additional comments from my noble friends Lord Faulkner and Lord Berkeley have made a pretty irresistible case. It is time to look at how the geographic forces interrelate with the BTP and vice versa. The safety of the travelling public and the interests of all concerned would benefit from that. I am concerned that it is perhaps more complex than has been said in the past few minutes. Therefore, we shall need to look at that sometime. However, I hope the Minister will reassure us that she will not leave it to ordinary processes and that, on this occasion, she will tackle what is required positively to give us some hope that the situation will not be allowed to drag on, and so that we get some resolution to these points.
My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate. I shall start by speaking to Amendments 242, 243, 271 and 272. In Committee I was grateful for noble Lords’ comments about the importance of integrated policing between the British Transport Police and the geographic police forces. This is why my honourable friend the Minister of State for Transport and I fully agree that these changes merit closer examination. I can assure noble Lords that, in taking this matter forward between us, there is certainly no tension between the two Ministers involved. I hope we shall meet fairly soon to set out and discuss what is behind these amendments and how we might take that forward in a practical way. I pledge to take a personal interest in the progress of this.
The proposed amendments cover a range of detailed and technical changes. These would significantly affect the status, jurisdiction and powers of the British Transport Police. It is therefore essential that the intentions of the amendments proposed are fully understood and that the consequences of the changes, for both the British Transport Police and wider policing, are closely examined. In particular, we need to ensure that the seemingly simple and straightforward legislative changes sought do not bring with them any unintended consequences. For example, Amendment 242 would change Section 1 of the Police Act 1996 to make,
“the area over which the British Transport Police Force has jurisdiction”,
into a police area for the purposes of the Act. The effect of this would be that references to police areas in any other legislation would apply to the police area of the British Transport Police, as defined in the amendment. A quick search has shown that there are 370 occurrences of the phrase “police area” in primary legislation. The impact of extending them all to the British Transport Police would be wide-ranging.
I have some detailed illustrations of what that would mean, including matters to do with the Children Act 2004, local safeguarding children boards and the Police (Property) Act. However, given the lateness of the hour, I hope noble Lords will understand that very careful and detailed consideration is needed before putting this into primary legislation. However, I am in touch with colleagues in the Department for Transport, with a view to exploring solutions to this to provide the necessary powers and jurisdiction that the British Transport Police seeks and which will enable it to deliver policing of the railways as efficiently and effectively as possible and without unintended consequences. I have discussed this with colleagues in the Department for Transport, and this examination and seeking to find the right way in which to put this into primary legislation will be an ongoing exercise for us. I assure noble Lords that, when appropriate changes are identified, my department will be prepared to consider making the necessary changes within suitable primary legislation. Although I cannot commit to putting the provision at this very late stage into the tail-end of this legislation, we will, as these proposals come forward and are validated, look to put them into primary legislation in future Bills. I understand that there is quite a bit of Home Office legislation coming up the track, if noble Lords will forgive the pun, and I would hope that there would be opportunities.
I thank the noble Lords, Lord Ramsbotham and Lord Faulkner of Worcester, for their amendments and I thank noble Lords for the support that has been given to them around the House. However, on the basis of what I have said, I ask them not to press their amendments.
I turn to Amendments 304 to 306, which address licensing. These amendments seek to put the British Transport Police on a par with the 43 territorial police forces in England and Wales for the purposes of alcohol licensing. I can see why that might seem a reasonable proposition at first glance. However, I am not able to accept the amendments, as I explained in some detail in Committee last month. However, I shall briefly reiterate the reasons.
Amendment 304 would make the British Transport Police a responsible authority under the Licensing Act 2003, which requires licensing authorities automatically to notify responsible authorities about licence reviews. Licence applicants, who will be local businesses or individuals, must also send copies to their local responsible authorities. In this Bill, we are increasing the list of responsible authorities to include health bodies and licensing authorities in their own right. We do not think it would be helpful to extend the list further to include the British Transport Police. Licensing is administered by local authorities, which make licensing decisions that reflect the needs of the local area. For this reason, the chief officer of police for the geographic area is a responsible authority under the Act. Likewise, other responsible authorities have as their focus the geographic area in which the premises are situated.
The British Transport Police is a broadly non-geographic force, with a specific, non-regional jurisdiction. It covers the transport network as a whole and so will not be relevant to some licensing authority areas. We do not think it would always be obvious in a given local area to which part of the British Transport Police licensing applicants should send their licensing forms. On top of that, the Government are unwilling to add to the burden on businesses by adding responsible authorities unnecessarily.
Of course, the British Transport Police has expert knowledge on alcohol-related late-night crime and disorder around transport hubs and on the transport network. We expect the British Transport Police to have effective lines of communication with the geographic constabularies and that it will continue to use them in future to raise any issues it has relating to alcohol licensing. In addition, I point out that because under this Bill we are removing the test of vicinity from the Licensing Act 2003, it will in future be open for anyone, including members of the British Transport Police, to make representations to the licensing authority in their own right. Applications for new licences do get advertised, and we are taking steps to require licensing authorities to publicise these online. I hope that would be of help to the British Transport Police. Making the British Transport Police a responsible authority would cause unnecessary bureaucracy for licensing applicants.
Amendment 305 seeks to make the British Transport Police a relevant person for the purposes of allowing it to object to temporary events notices. Residents’ organisations told us that, after crime, noise was their greatest concern in relation to temporary events. We are extending the right to object to the environmental health authority and allowing them and the police to object on the grounds of all four licensing objectives. We think that provides adequate protection for residents while again minimising unnecessary bureaucracy. I am confident that if the British Transport Police has concerns about temporary events, it can raise these in the course of their liaison with their local constabularies.
Finally, Amendment 306 would make the British Transport Police a recipient of the late-night levy funds alongside the geographic police forces. The levy is a means of raising revenue from licensed premises that sell alcohol late at night so as to ensure that such premises contribute to the costs of policing the late-night economy. I mentioned in Committee that, while I recognised that the British Transport Police must deal with late-night crime and disorder, its role is more limited. Its night-time role is restricted to areas where there is little or no public use of late-night railway transport. This applies to many licensing authority areas.
In any event, the geographic constabularies bear the overwhelming burden of late-night policing costs. The levy clauses will allow licensing authorities to retain up to 30 per cent of the net revenue to fund services in the late night, such as taxi marshals. Licensing authorities could decide, at their discretion, to give some of their retained funds to the British Transport Police in those areas where the BTP may incur specific costs of policing alcohol-related crime and disorder in the night-time economy. In addition, the Government have retained the power to amend the beneficiaries of the levy in regulations, should it transpire that it is desirable specifically to pass some of the levy funds to bodies such as the British Transport Police.
We have the greatest respect for the BTP, which carries out the difficult task of tackling crime on our transport network. However, for the reasons that I have given, I ask your Lordships to withdraw the amendments.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that very encouraging and positive response. I also thank her personally for the care that she has taken to meet with us and take on board the points that we have made and transfer them to the Department for Transport as well.
I think we are all encouraged, but I hope that the Minister will forgive me if I sound a note of caution, because promises have been made to the British Transport Police since 2001. I ask the Minister if we could now have from the Department for Transport and indeed the Home Office an action plan showing who is to do what and by when, which will be reported back to this House so that we can keep in touch with what is actually happening. We have been here before over the last 10 years and people have been frightened, I suspect, by the figures that she might have quoted to us and put the matter in the “too difficult” file. It is not a “too difficult” file; it is a file that must be actioned. Therefore, if I say that I am prepared to withdraw the amendments tonight but perhaps return to the subject on Third Reading briefly, I hope that at that stage the Minister might be able to assure this House that the action plan that I am calling for will be implemented so that these things really will happen rather than be allowed to wither on the vine.
I am very grateful to the noble Lord. I am sure that he is aware that Third Reading is next week—Tuesday or Wednesday, I believe. It was not my intention to have met with the Minister of State in the Department for Transport by then. However, I can assure him that I am planning to meet with her before the House returns in September. I think that she and I need to have an across-the-table discussion about the sort of thing that the noble Lord has mentioned. I am in favour of action plans and timelines. I quite like the concept of project management in this area. However, I do not want to talk it up too much, given that the noble Lord has told us that this has been on the table since 2001.
All I can say is that both my right honourable friend in the Department for Transport and I are minded to move this along as fast as we can. We will of course engage the British Transport Police itself in this negotiation. I am quite sure that it will relay to the noble Lord whether it feels we are making progress or not. However, as we make progress I will endeavour, on a very informal basis, to ensure that noble Lords who have expressed an interest in this are kept informed of the progress being made. I am quite sure that if we do not make that progress, the noble Lord will call me back to this Dispatch Box pretty rapidly.
My Lords, I am very grateful for that. I do not know whether I have the right to say that but we of course have the opportunity, when the Bill goes back to the other place and comes back here, for progress to be made. It is terribly important, as the Minister has clearly realised, that we maintain the momentum rather than let this matter die. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 242 withdrawn.
Amendment 243 not moved.
Clause 91 : Collaboration agreements
244: Clause 91, page 59, line 23, at end insert—
“( ) A statutory instrument containing an order under this section may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.”
Amendment 244 agreed.
Consideration on Report adjourned.
House adjourned at 11.21 pm.