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Crime and Courts Bill [HL]

Volume 738: debated on Monday 25 June 2012

Committee (3rd Day)

Relevant documents: 2nd Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 2nd Report from the Constitution Committee.

Clauses 13 and 14 agreed.

Clause 15: Abolition of SOCA and NPIA

Amendment 64

Moved by

64: Clause 15, page 11, line 25, leave out subsection (2)

My Lords, this is mainly a probing amendment although not entirely given the complexity and variety of some of the issues involved and the fact that some of the functions of the National Policing Improvement Agency are being transferred before the Bill completes its passage. This short amendment covers a major issue and through it I seek to understand why the Government are proposing this course of action, what benefits arise from abolishing the National Policing Improvement Agency and dividing its functions up between various different agencies and organisations, and what problems need to be addressed in so doing. Even though a number of the functions have already been transferred in that some have gone to SOCA and will go to the NCA and others will go to the Home Office and to the new IT company, the Government need to provide their justification for believing that this is the best way forward. I still feel slightly puzzled by some of the decisions that have been taken around the National Policing Improvement Agency. They show a tendency on the part of the Government to shoot first and ask questions later. That has become a bit of a theme with the Government. We saw it with the health Bill, where actions were taken before the legislation had gone through Parliament, and we are seeing the same thing with this Bill.

The functions of the NPIA are crucial. When reading the history of these proposals, I was somewhat surprised to learn that so little detail had been made available when decisions were being taken. That was the case almost through to the very end of decisions being taken. I have still been unable to get absolute clarity on what is happening to the various functions of the National Police Improvement Agency, so I struggle to find out why decisions are taken when there is so little detail, and so little follow-up is available. On the functions of the NPIA, the organisation itself commented that it was established in part in response to a perception that,

“existing arrangements for delivering support to police forces and implementing national initiatives—in response to demands from disparate bodies—were inefficient, often mutually contradictory and inconsistent”.

Therefore a number of objectives were assigned to the NPIA:

“The identification, development and promulgation of good practice in policing; the provision to listed police forces of expert advice about, and expert assistance in connection with, operational and other policing matters; the identification and assessment of: opportunities for and threats to police forces … and the making of recommendations to the Secretary of State in the light of its assessment … the international sharing of understanding of policing issues”—

which again, has been very important to the police—

“the provision of support to listed police forces in connection with information technology, the procurement of goods, other property and services, and training and other personnel matters”—

and it ends with a catch-all:

“the doing of all such other things as are incidental or conducive to the attainment of any of the objects described above”.

However, in practice, it has brought a large number of responsibilities together: information services, including the fingerprint identification database; Airwave; automatic number plate recognition; the police national computer; police information infrastructure; the police national network; and the National DNA Database. There are also operational policing services such as the Missing Persons Bureau, the Crime Operational Support Unit and the Central Witness Bureau, as well as issues on people and development services: exams and assessment; the National Senior Careers Advisory Service and the Police Advisory Board. That is just a sample of the whole range of absolutely crucial and important functions undertaken by this organisation. It seems to me that the National Police Improvement Agency has successfully managed critical national infrastructure services. It pioneered the police national database and delivered value-for-money savings through its procurement services.

Why, then, did it have to go? What was the rationale behind it, that the Government thought that this organisation had to be abolished and started to dismantle it before the legislation has even gone through Parliament? As I looked through comments that Ministers have made, the Government said in 2010 that they would axe the NPIA as part of “streamlining the national landscape”, and that,

“now is the right time to phase out the NPIA, reviewing its role and how this translates into a streamlined national landscape”.

I am not sure that I understand what that means, because it seems that we will have fewer police bodies undertaking these functions, and yet we are seeing the creation of new bodies. It would be helpful if the Minister could correct me if I am wrong on this, but it appears that the functions will be allocated across four different bodies, three of which are completely new agencies: the National Crime Agency, NewCo—the new ICT company—the police professional body, and the Home Office. That is what I mean by shoot first and ask questions later.

I looked at the Select Committee evidence. It noted in its conclusions published in September 2011 that,

“from the little that is already known about the likely distribution of the National Policing Improvement Agency’s functions, phasing it out is unlikely to lead to fewer bodies in the national policing landscape, as Ministers had hoped. In this sense, the landscape will not be more streamlined as a result of its closure. However, there remains a possibility that the landscape—and thus, more importantly, the police service itself—may operate more effectively once those functions have been redistributed.”—

and the committee said that it explores this later in the report.

Involving more organisations to carry out the functions than did so originally is not streamlining. Perhaps it was about saving money. Was there a plan to save money and is that why the organisation was to be axed? I looked at the Government’s case for saving money and I found that to be flawed also. There is no doubt that the National Police Improvement Agency could be streamlined and made more efficient and effective—and it undertook that role itself. The NPIA has delivered £1 billion in savings for the police through ICT and procurement transformation; it has itself changed in the past two years and found £100 million of savings; and it has reduced its head count by 36%. Given the cuts that have already taken place and the way that the spoils are being divvied up, it is hard to understand—and there has to be uncertainty and legitimate concern over—the effect that the proposal will have on the future delivery of services. It would be helpful if the noble Lord, when he responds, can give some information and say why he is, I assume, assured that there will be no dilution of service or of quality of service.

One area that gives cause for concern is that roughly half the NPIA’s employees are destined for the new police professional body, which will also take on a large number of the NPIA’s existing functions. What is the justification for axing the agency? There is the cost involved and the potential loss of expertise that that brings with it. About 250 jobs, including posts involved in cost-effectiveness, are due to go, and the National Senior Careers Advisory Service is, I understand, due to be scrapped. There will not be that same kind of advisory service for the police that exists within the NPIA. The service is moving to NewCo, the new police ICT company, whose budget will be cut by £60 million by 2014-15. That creates enormous uncertainty for some of the critical infrastructure services that are provided.

I am sure that the Minister is aware that that has eroded morale within the NPIA. There is a huge morale issue. The staff have done their best and have gone out of their way to make cuts and savings and to create efficiencies; but the organisation is being abolished and some of the staff still do not know where they are going to go. I worry about the specialist staff who are being lost. There is also the great danger that this preoccupation with reorganisation and structural change has taken the focus away from delivering further technical innovations that have helped to reduce costs in the first place.

There is also the issue of timing. I checked what Ministers have said previously about whether the transfer of services will be completed in time. The Home Secretary said that the transfer of functions of the NPIA will be complete by the end of 2012—although originally she said that it would take place by spring 2012. I double-checked and a number of times back in June, the Minister for Police and Criminal Justice said that he believed in consulting “very carefully” with professionals, and that,

“we will shortly be announcing the broad direction of travel”—

even back in June 2011 he was still talking just about the broad direction of travel—

“in terms of where the functions that lie within the NPIA should land, and then further detail will be worked upon and consulted after that”.

The Minister was pressed on what “shortly” meant, and he said, “Before the Recess”. This is still ongoing. I now struggle to know how the new arrangements will be set up by the end of this year. Perhaps the noble Lord can give us some assurances on that, and say whether he believes that the timescale is currently on track.

I looked at what has happened regarding the police professional body, which will perform many of the crucial functions to be taken from the NPIA. No chief executive, no chair and no shadow board have been appointed. The Government have not provided the detail that is needed on how the new body is to be structured. I have to say to the noble Lord that if the Government fail to meet their self-imposed deadline—they chose it; it was not imposed from on high—there could be huge consequences for the service in loss of expertise, delay to service benefits, and the potential for the transitional costs of moving from the NPIA to the NCA, the police professional body, the Home Office or other new companies to be much more expensive if there is any further delay.

I would like the Minister, during today’s debate, to answer a number of questions which arise out of the clause, which would abolish the organisation. First, we need a justification for, an understanding of, the Government’s reasons for axing the NPIA. I appreciate the argument about savings, but I think that has been knocked back, because the NPIA has made its own savings. I understand the Government’s intention to streamline the landscape, as they put it, but I have already shown that the landscape has not been streamlined; in fact, it has grown. There must be some other justification or explanation for why the Government want to take this action. Also, is there an estimate of the savings that will be made by scrapping the NPIA? I do not include the savings that have been made already by the NPIA, or those in the pipeline, but only those made by the changes proposed in the Bill.

One thing I have struggled with—which I mentioned at Second Reading, and to which I hope the Minister can respond—is where all the functions are going. I have been trying to work out a master plan to show which functions go to this or that organisation. It seems that there may be some functions which fall through the colander. Can the Minister provide some kind of master plan, or at least tell us which of the functions of the NPIA will be scrapped as a result of its abolition? It is quite a confusing picture for anyone trying to track where functions are going, and what are the cost implications.

A number of police forces have raised the issue of whether there will be any additional funding burdens on local police forces as a result of the transfer of NPIA functions, in particular those functions that will not go to the police professional body, such as training and careers advice. If those have to be taken on by local police forces, that will incur a cost at a time when their budgets are being cut by 20%, far greater than the Chief Inspector of Constabulary recommended. There is a lot of concern among police forces that they will be asked to make up for some of these cuts and changes, and will not be able to do so.

Another point is the loss of expertise. What actions are the Government taking to prevent the loss of expertise as a result of this restructuring? What efforts have been made? Which posts have not been identified? Which posts have been identified as needed to retain skills? In this kind of restructuring it is always the case that people in skilled posts, who have been there a long time, may seek the opportunity to take early retirement, particularly if their future is uncertain. What efforts have been made to retain them and their skills?

Within the new professional policing body—which is not properly set up yet, and there are still some concerns about that—I gather there will be, within that body, another body called the chief constable’s council. We need to understand how that is going to work. How will it improve on the delivery of the existing services currently provided by the NPIA? Will there be some loss of quality, or is it not expected to undertake the range of functions that the NPIA undertakes? All those are crucial functions.

The final question is, how will the Government ensure that the 2012 deadline is met? Will there be another deadline and then another, as we have seen before? I struggle to understand how that deadline can be met, given that so little work has been done already.

As I said at the start, this is a small amendment, but it opens up many questions. It is an enormous cause for concern if the Government have not worked out the plans for what is happening. I would like the noble Lord to reassure me on some of those questions, including one I have not yet mentioned: the premises and the estate, and what will be undertaken with those. It would be helpful to have some answers as we move forward with the discussion on this. I beg to move.

My Lords, my noble friend talked about the Government shooting first and asking questions later. It seems that the decision to abolish the NPIA stemmed from the Government’s desire to be seen to be abolishing quangos of various sorts, irrespective of considering whether the quango was being effective. I do not say that the National Policing Improvement Agency was working as well as it might have, but that does not mean that our first step should be to abolish it. That is the approach of, “If it ain’t broke, take it to pieces anyway”.

I would like the Minister to be absolutely clear with the House, before we move on, about what will happen. I will not go through all the different functions of the NPIA but will focus simply on the technology role that the NPIA currently fulfils. I understand that existing major national policing infrastructure contracts are not going anywhere other than to the Home Office. They will pass to Home Office civil servants, for whom I have the greatest respect. They are renowned for their ability to negotiate and manage large technology contracts. They are renowned for their ability effectively to retender those contracts when they come to an end so as to deliver the best value for the public purse. I am sure that the noble Lord will be able to convince us that the change will be definitely for the better and that the management of these contracts in-house by civil servants will be the best way to deliver best value for the taxpayer.

I am confident of that because at the same time, a new technology company will be set up. When we were first told that this company would be set up, we were told that it would be necessary to pay a professional a sum possibly of the order of £500,000 a year to run it effectively. I assume that there has not been a sudden decision by the Home Secretary that civil servants in the Home Office should be paid something in the order of £500,000 a year. Therefore, these very important infrastructure contracts will be passed to the management of Home Office civil servants, but without the professional expertise that is thought necessary for other technology contracts. Again, I look forward to the Minister’s explanation of why this is a sensible way to manage these high-value contracts.

The new technology company that will be set up—I listened to a very interesting presentation on it from Mr Bill Crothers, the architect in the Home Office and now the Cabinet Office of these proposals—will be a new entity that will place contracts with technology companies to provide IT services to the police. At the moment, it has no staff, no expertise and no revenue—but somehow it will place all these contracts for new technology for the police service. It will also negotiate the best terms in the absence of knowing whether any police force in the country will buy the technology. The Government have said that they do not want to see police forces mandated to use the services that will be provided through the new technology company. How will the new company negotiate the best terms with private companies if it does not have any staff and cannot give any indication of the size of the market for which they will provide a service? It will not be able to provide them with any indication of the size of the market because it will not be able to say, “Actually, all the police forces in the country will be mandated to use this, so you will be providing for 200,000 police officers” or whatever, because police forces will not be mandated to use the service. It will not even be able to say that any particular police service will use the new technology because none will have bought into it. How will the new technology company be able to negotiate the keen terms that we are promised, particularly when it will not have any revenue to do so? You only get the revenue at the point at which you place the contracts, so how is this negotiation process going to operate? I am sure that the noble Lord has detailed explanations in his briefing notes outlining how this is going to happen and why it will work under any conceivable set of circumstances.

The question that ultimately has to be answered is why this will be better and why we are doing it on this timescale. My noble friend Lady Smith highlighted the slightly moving deadline for the abolition of the National Policing Improvement Agency. We are now being told that the end of this calendar year is a firm deadline so that all these new arrangements, such as the new national police professional body and so on, will be in place. Indeed, steps are already being taken to create the new IT company—an organisation which will not have any staff or anything it can use to negotiate with the commercial sector that provides these services, but which will somehow deliver better prices than the existing NPIA can ensure. This is already being set up in shadow form. The Government have agreed that representatives of the Association of Police Authorities should be the driving force for this new company. I am a vice-president of the association and therefore have great confidence in the ability of police authority chairs to lead this organisation. However, the Government were intent in previous legislation—the passage of which through your Lordships’ House the noble Lord managed to miss taking part in—that the very same police authorities should not be responsible for the delivery of policing or oversight of policing in the future. It is exactly the same people who are now in charge of creating this company.

I do not know anything about the psychology of those who will be elected as police and crime commissioners in November. I suspect that many of them, particularly the Labour ones, will be extremely independent-minded and extremely trenchant in how they pursue their duties. However, it is difficult to see how these incoming, newly elected police and crime commissioners can say, “This strange technology body, set up by a bunch of people from the police authorities that we are supposed to be replacing and better than, is somehow going to deliver a better service than we can negotiate ourselves”. I want to understand the thinking about timing. Why rush ahead and create the new technology body before the police and crime commissioners—who are supposed to be the ultimate beneficiaries in terms of the revenue savings it will allegedly, magically produce; and without it mandating, being able to negotiate or having any expertise—are elected?

As this is obviously one of those areas of government policy that a great deal of effort and thought has gone into, I am sure that the Minister will be able to satisfy us. I look forward to his explanation of why this is palpably a better system and how it will work smoothly.

My Lords, I want to speak about a particular aspect of the work of the National Policing Improvement Agency: training. I confess that I also speak from a very specific point of view as Harperley Hall—the NPIA’s newest building, as well as most recently refurbished building, for training—is within two miles of my home. I was the constituency Member of Parliament for much of Harperley’s existence and my father was the MP before that when Harperley Hall served Durham constabulary. I therefore know Harperley very well.

I would not expect the Government to maintain a facility simply because it is in the north-east, where we have real challenges in terms of employment, particularly of highly skilled workers. Harperley is an absolutely beautiful place in the most beautiful place in the country—the foothills of Weardale, although I know that that, too, is irrelevant to today’s debate. However, it is attractive to those who go there because it provides a chance to concentrate on the training and the tasks in hand.

Harperley Hall now concentrates on forensic training, and I am sure that the Government will want to ensure that every force in the country has nothing but the highest quality forensic training. How will the Government ensure that in the new structure? Forensic training constantly moves forward and improves, and while I am not going to attack what happened to the Forensic Science Service, because my own party set that in train while in government, it is true that at the moment there is some anxiety, at least about the performance of some of the players. What lessons have the Government learnt from the changes made to the provision of forensic science services? How many cases over the past couple of years have struggled in the courts because of mistakes? We all know about the problems around the tragic death of the MI5 officer when people thought they had DNA evidence, but in fact it had been contaminated. Is that the only case or are there others? Have the Government learnt from that and will they seek better assurances on quality control for forensic training?

I have had the privilege of attending several awards ceremonies for different forces throughout the country. I recall going to one held at Durham University for Harperley Hall a year after the 7/7 bombings. The knowledge and understanding of forensics was absolutely critical to that investigation, and people who had graduated from Harperley Hall had been very much part of it. I am convinced that the Government think that this is important, so how are they going to maintain the quality in forensics training that they currently enjoy if places such as Harperley Hall are not going to continue? How will the Government ensure that what Harperley Hall does so well is maintained? At the moment, it trains people from virtually all the forces in the country, as well as taking on important work internationally by training other forces. That establishes good contacts between police forensic experts in this country and others around the world. Those contacts, let alone the knowledge that is shared, become critical in monitoring, examining and controlling terrorist activities. It is important to keep those contacts going, and I think that a national service helps towards that.

Who will undertake the research and development that drives improvements and developments in forensic science and thus in forensic training? That is a very important point. We have seen forensics change incredibly in my lifetime, certainly in the past 20 years, and training, of course, has to keep up with that. I have had the privilege of seeing some of this at Harperley and it is always great fun for folk such as me, who are real amateurs, to see what magic the forensic people are delivering, but I always know, even when I am enjoying it, that it is much more serious than that, because it is a critical weapon in tracking down offenders of all natures. We must not lose that facility.

I know that forces are now collaborating on shared forensic services. Are the Government confident that there is an overarching strategic approach to that, so that it is not simply a cost-cutting exercise, but an exercise that will add value and deal with the more strategic issues that I know the Minister knows are part of the development of forensics?

I echo my noble friend Lady Smith in needing to be reassured about the governance of new bodies. I think governance is very important for reassuring the public that we are really interested in policing for them and with them. The development of forensics sometimes takes place outside that and we have to make sure that governance connects the public to what is going on in forensics and forensics training, but it is also very important that the NPIA workforce have an idea of what is going to happen; whether they are still going to be there and whether the work that they have built up is still going to be valued in the new structures. It is not just governance that is really important; it is what the new structures are going to be. I hope that the Government can share with us their views on what the new structures governing forensics training will be.

As people have said, the NPIA is due to end at the end of this year. I am not sure that the Bill will have Royal Assent by then—maybe it will, maybe it will not. Are the Government bringing in transitional arrangements, so that people can be reassured, both the public and those people responsible for the work? If you lose morale, people do not perform as well and that could be very dangerous for us, particularly with what is coming up in the next few weeks. It is important, as my noble friend said, that we get reassurance that the Government have an estates strategy, or at least have a timetable for knowing what its estates strategy will be.

I cannot emphasise too strongly the confidence I have in the people who work at Harperley. They are a tremendous bunch of people and they have done terrific work there. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure me—and through me, them—that there is a future for Harperley and a future for forensics training in this country, and that they will continue to be able to do what they do for this country in working with forces overseas. I am sure that the Minister has not been there: it is not too far for him to go from home. I hope that he will find time over the summer to visit Harperley.

I assure the noble Baroness that I visit Durham with great regularity; it is not far from home and I am always delighted to visit any police force anywhere in the country, but even keener to visit police forces in the north of England. I will make a point, sometime over the summer, if I can arrange it, to do just that.

I thank the Minister for that. It is of course not a police force establishment these days but an NPIA establishment. I just hope that it will find a future within the new structure. I sincerely plead for Harperley Hall not simply because it is in the north-east but because it does excellent work on behalf of this country which has saved lives and improved the quality of forensics work both here and across the world. I do not believe that as a country we can afford to lose that. I hope that the Government have some warm words for us this afternoon.

I agree with the conclusions of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and the noble Lord, Lord Harris, that the abolition of the NPIA is hasty, ill thought out and potentially extremely damaging. I want to build on a question put by the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, about training. What is the future plan for Bramshill House? There it sits, a grade 1 listed building, a place at which I was present when one of the Minister’s friends, Kenneth Clarke, was Home Secretary. He arrived late for a meeting, having just been appointed, to say that he was sorry he was late but he had stopped in the driveway to ring the Prime Minister to tell him that he had found a very suitable residence for the Home Secretary.

Bramshill provides two things of vital importance. First, it provides the strategic training for the most senior officers of the police service. Secondly, it is a centre of excellence for international and European police training. Are there plans for what will happen to Bramshill when the NPIA is abolished?

I endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Blair of Boughton, just said. I had the great privilege of being invited to Bramshill on several occasions to speak to different groups of police about family issues. The time I particularly remember was being left with the most senior group being trained, who I understood were destined for high office. I was introduced in two sentences and the door was shut, and I was facing about 50 men—as it happened the group was made up entirely of men—many of whom were not from United Kingdom police forces. Having somehow or other got my way through that, I learnt, when going to lunch, how enormously valuable it is for the police forces round the world to have the opportunity to go to Bramshill. It is a wonderful institution and I hope, as the noble Lord, Lord Blair said, that it will be given the greatest possible respect and encouragement to remain doing what it does so well at the moment.

I will start at the end of the debate and deal with questions relating to both Bramshill and Harperley Hall. I ought to declare an interest in relation to Bramshill House. A branch of the Henley family lived there many years ago. That was not my own branch but a branch to which I am connected. It might be that they built it and lived there for a couple of hundred years. Later on it became a police college. I must declare that interest. As the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong of Hill Top, knows, I also have—as she does—a hereditary interest in Durham. My family comes from there. As I said, if possible I will visit Harperley Hall and see what it does. I agree with her that its work is very important.

I want to get over the message that no decision has been made on either of these sites, particularly on Bramshill, but that we will be making a decision fairly soon. I should stress—all noble Lords should be aware—that Bramshill is a very expensive property. It costs something of the order of £5 million a year merely to maintain it. That is before one has thought about its actual function as a police training college. I also understand how important it is to the entire police service. I was a Minister many years ago in the MoD at about the time that we were thinking of disposing of Greenwich. I understood the importance of that to the Navy. I understand that Bramshill plays a similar role for the police service so any decisions on that will obviously be difficult to make. I hope that all noble Lords will accept that they will have to be made in due course. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary will update both Houses in due course with her thoughts on these matters.

I want to try to answer the various questions on the abolition of the National Policing Improvement Agency that were put by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and echoed by other noble Lords. She wanted to know about our rationale. She wanted an estimate of the savings and to know where the functions are going, whether the abolition will increase the funding burden on other police forces, whether it would lead to a loss of expertise, what the police professional body is going to do, what is its likely shape and what is the timing.

The most important thing is to get over the rationale behind the changes. I hope that in doing so I will answer some of the questions that have been put by other noble Lords. I was grateful that the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, in posing his group of questions on this, which were slightly different from those of the noble Baroness, although they come to the same point, accepted that the agency is not working as well as it might—I think those were his words—so this is not a decision that we want to get wrong.

All our reforms of the policing landscape must be underpinned by clarity of responsibility and appropriate governance arrangements to support an effective and efficient law enforcement response. We accept that the National Policing Improvement Agency has done much to bring about welcome changes to policing but now, in the context of these reforms, is the time to review its role and contribution. The closure of NPIA is a crucial element in a wider programme of reform that is reshaping the way that our policing is delivered and supported to provide a service better equipped to meet the challenges of the future.

Since the agency was established in 2007, its mission has grown considerably. It has operated and managed the development of the police service’s most critical national services, provided specialist operational services to police forces, helped to improve policing practice and developed national learning, leadership and people strategy products. We believe that that is a broad agenda for one agency to deliver and that the agency has collected too diverse a range of functions and responsibilities to retain strategic coherence. Put very simply, we think it has grown like Topsy. Despite some achievements, the agency’s mission is now too unfocused to deliver efficiently and effectively the level of professionalism that we need to see in policing. In these challenging times, we cannot afford to support organisations that are unfocused or unclear about their priorities and accountabilities. To support our wider policing reforms, we need focus and attention at the national level in priority areas. Closure of the agency provides a timely opportunity to ensure that key functions are given greater priority in successor bodies.

If I wanted, I could go through the areas where all the different bits are going and say which bits are going to the National Crime Agency, which are going to the Home Office and which will go to the new professional policing body. I do not know whether it would assist the Committee if I went through all those in detail or whether it would be easier to write a letter in due course and put a copy in the Library.

I appreciate that the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, has previously expressed concerns regarding the reallocation of NPIA functions. I want to reassure the House that we have not rushed into the closure of the NPIA or the reallocation of its functions. There has been considerable thought and careful and detailed discussions with both the police service and other key stakeholders which have taken place to ensure that these critical decisions are made appropriately. We are working with the police service, with the NPIA and other policing and criminal justice partners to ensure that public safety is maintained.

My right honourable friend has already set out plans to transfer many of the agency’s functions. The noble Baroness suggested that both Houses had not been told much about it and I repeat an assurance that we put out two Written Ministerial Statements—one at the end of last year and one in March this year, I forget which—setting out what we would be doing. We will continue to work with all those bodies to make sure that everyone, including both Houses, knows what is going on.

A number of those functions has already been moved into SOCA—the Serious Organised Crime Agency—in anticipation of it forming part of the National Crime Agency once it is established. Some functions will transfer to the Home Office and the majority of the agency’s functions will transfer to either a new police protection body or a new police information communications technology company.

Technology and information are two of the most important weapons used by the police in their fight against crime. I note what the noble Lord, Lord Harris, had to say about these matters but currently there is a failure to fully exploit the full potential of economies of scale that could come when the 43 forces are spending £1.2 billion, which is the figure for 2010, on information communications technology. Poor deals, often with the same suppliers, are signed by different forces and changing this way of business could bring tangible benefits to forces and reduce the cost to taxpayers.

I rather regret the tone of the questions of the noble Lord, Lord Harris, about some of these matters. He was very careful in his use of words but seemed to imply that Home Office civil servants were not capable of delivering in this area. I think that tone is regrettable but we are still looking at the long-term options for some of the technology and other matters in terms of that transfer in this area. I shall give way to the noble Lord.

I am sorry at the reluctance that comes into the noble Lord’s voice every time I stand up. I am grateful to him for the courtesy with which he gives way on every occasion. If it was the view of Government that for the new IT company to function effectively it had to have in its leadership a chief executive who was paid at a commercial rate to attract the degree of expertise necessary, which might be of the order of £500,000 a year, to negotiate those contracts better than existing police services do and presumably better than the NPIA is thought to do at the moment, how will that not be the same argument that applies for these infrastructure contracts which will go to the Home Office? I am assuming that the Home Office will not be able to pay those sorts of sums to attract the technical expertise which is thought necessary for the other contracts.

The two matters are not related; the Home Office has the appropriate expertise to deal with these matters. I was regretting the tone of voice that the noble Lord carefully used to make it clear that he did not think that there was the appropriate expertise in the Home Office to deal with these matters. We believe that that expertise does exist.

I was about to deal with the issue of the new information communications technology company which will be owned and controlled by police and crime commissioners. It will be led and funded by its customers, who will determine the services it provides. It will be responsive to local operational needs, offering forces a route to better value for money and innovation in the delivery of police information technology services. The company will ensure a more efficient approach to police information and communications technology provision and aggregate demand to exploit the purchasing power of the police service to get a good deal for the taxpayer.

The police professional body will directly support police officers at all ranks and police staff to equip the service with the skills it needs to deliver effective crime-fighting in a challenging and what must be a leaner and more accountable environment. The body will ultimately be independent of the Home Office. It will have a powerful mandate to enable the service to implement the standards that it sets for training, development, skills and qualifications. Its core mission will be to support the fight against crime and safeguard the public by ensuring professionalism in policing.

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, was also keen to discuss timing and allegations that we had not met our targets. I appreciate that this frequently happens and that there can be slippage. I have known this throughout my career. There have been a number of times when one has announced that something will come out later in the spring and “later in the spring” has turned out to be July. However, we are on track to transfer the functions of the NPIA by the end of 2012. We began a phased transition of functions last year, with the non-ICT procurement moving to the Home Office. In April 2012, the following functions moved to SOCA: the Central Witness Bureau, the National Missing Persons Bureau, serious crime analysis, the Specialist Operations Centre and crime operational support. Obviously, more needs to be done and there are challenges, but I am more than happy that we will reach the target and do that by the end of the year. If we have any further problems, no doubt we will be the first to let the House know.

The noble Baroness was worried that the transition from the NPIA risked a loss of expertise. Giving staff certainty about their future is key to retaining their expertise, of which we are very proud. That is why we have been making announcements about this for some time and will continue to do so. Again, we are on track to complete those functions by the end of 2012. As a result, the majority of the NPIA’s staff will transfer to its various successor bodies by December 2012. Any reduction in staffing levels will arise from the already agreed budget reductions, which were part of the 2010 spending review.

Having looked at timing, rationale and other matters, I hope I have answered most of the questions that the noble Baroness and others asked. Obviously, we will have to say more later, particularly about the future of Bramshill and Harperley and the police professional body. Announcements will be made at the appropriate time. I hope that the noble Baroness will now accept that the abolition of the NPIA is a necessary part of the changes that we are making and of the Bill. Now is not necessarily the time to revisit what has, in effect, been a long-standing commitment, ever since the first announcement by my right honourable friend. Given the advanced state of wind-down of the agency and the transfer of its functions, now is the time to press on with our reforms, instead of looking back. Therefore, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for taking the time to go through many of the points and concerns I raised. Despite his efforts, he has not alleviated all those concerns. He called the closure of the NPIA a timely opportunity. It is an opportunity the Government created because they wanted to close the NPIA. I can certainly take on board some of his points. I can understand wanting to streamline the agency and the functions that he thought were better placed with other organisations. My amendments never suggested that there should be no change, but given the change that the NPIA itself had made, full abolition seems unnecessary. I am still not satisfied that the way in which it has been undertaken has not been piecemeal, as and when the Government think a part of it can be moved somewhere else. The Minister will have understood the concerns from around the House on this, not just on these Benches. I wonder whether he has read Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland? It may have been some time ago, but I will refresh his memory. There is a trial scene and the comment is made: “Sentence first—verdict afterwards”. That is what has happened with the NPIA. The Government decided that the NPIA was to go and then had to work out where all the functions went. They are still doing this. Yes, it was big for one agency; it grew like Topsy, because new functions came along that were best undertaken there; there was room for improvement and change; but the baby has gone with the bathwater.

On timing, the noble Lord says that all these arrangements will be in place, I note originally, by spring 2012. He may have been relying on typical British weather, but it still does not feel like spring 2012 even now. They are now expected at the end of the year. I expect we may see a further spring—perhaps snow again—before these bodies are in place. The police professional body has no chief executive, no chairman and no board. As we heard from my noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey, the new IT company does not have all the processes or financial arrangements in place to enable a smooth transfer. This is an issue that we will have to return to, in order to fully understand and be assured that all the “t”s have been crossed and the “i”s have been dotted. When I looked at the new landscape of policing and what the Government said back in 2010 and 2011, it seems that the goalposts have moved. All we had then was a broad outline. Now we have some detail, but the flesh is not on the bones. I would understand if the Minister said the timescale cannot be met and we are re-examining it. He has not said that, so we will return to it on Report and look at some of the functions and how they will be carried out. For now, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 64 withdrawn.

Clause 15 agreed.

House resumed.