Committee (1st Day) (Continued)
Schedule 1: Provision for police and crime commissioner to be fire and rescue authority
71: Schedule 1, page 201, line 33, at end insert—
“_(1) Section 1 (police and crime commissioners) is amended as follows.(2) In subsection (3) for “The” substitute “Unless subsection (3B) applies, the”.(3) After subsection (3) insert—“(3A) Subsection (3B) applies if the person who is the police and crime commissioner for a police area is also the fire and rescue authority for the area which corresponds to, or an area which falls within, the police area.(3B) In that case the name of the police and crime commissioner is “the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for” with the addition of the name of the police area.””
My Lords, these government amendments respond to one tabled on Report in the Commons by Amanda Milling. It is important that the public know that, where a police and crime commissioner is also the fire and rescue authority for an area, they are electing someone to both roles and are able to hold them to account for the delivery of both services. We therefore propose changing the legal title of a PCC to “police, fire and crime commissioner” where they additionally have fire and rescue responsibilities to ensure absolute clarity on this point.
Further, to ensure consistency, we similarly propose to amend the legal title of a police and crime panel for the area in which the PCC is also the fire and rescue authority to “police, fire and crime panel”. Again, this will provide greater transparency to the public as the new title reflects the additional scrutiny responsibilities of the panels in these areas. The Government consulted both police and fire partners on these amendments and it is clear that there is broad support for the new titles. They will preserve the identity of the fire and rescue service, which we have been clear will remain a distinct and equal partner to the police. I beg to move.
I will make just a few brief comments on these government amendments. I suppose we have achieved a great deal if we have managed to get away without endless discussion of what the new title of a police and crime commissioner who takes over responsibility for the fire and rescue service should be. That is the kind of issue on which there are usually interminable discussions.
Looking at the proposal that the individual who takes over responsibility for a fire and rescue service should be renamed the police, fire and crime commissioner, that title does not include reference to the rescue function. It is a fire and rescue service but the title simply refers to a police, fire and crime commissioner. I note that the Minister said that there had been consultation and discussion on this and that the proposed name change seems to have found general favour. I simply ask: why was it decided to exclude the reference to the rescue activity of the fire and rescue service from the renamed PCC where that PCC takes over responsibility for a fire and rescue service?
The other point I would raise refers to Amendment 72, which deals with the change of title to the police and crime panel. I do not intend to repeat the point I made about the new title of the police and crime commissioner in relation to these panels. However, have the Government carried out or do they intend to carry out any assessment of the effectiveness of these panels, bearing in mind that greater responsibility will be placed on them where the police and crime commissioner takes over responsibility for a fire and rescue service?
I ask that in the context of the findings of a recently published book on police and crime commissioners, which contains some observations about police and crime panels. It says that it is,
“unfortunate that Police and Crime Panels have to date proved less effective than hoped in modifying the actions of a PCC or in calling him or her to account”.
It goes on to refer to the views of a number of police and crime commissioners, who the authors of the book say have told them that police and crime panels seem,
“to be largely ineffectual and largely irrelevant to what the Commissioner does or decides”.
In a summary of a later chapter in the book, the authors state that they have to,
“conclude that the role of the Police and Crime Panel was ill-defined at the outset (of a piece with the vagueness of the PCC’s remit) and it is likely that at some point to come there will be tinkering with the legislation and some imposition of mechanisms to hold the PCC more firmly to account, outside the four-yearly process of election”.
Since the role of the panel is to be expanded in a situation where the PCC takes over responsibility for a fire and rescue service, it seems that there is a need for an assessment of how effective and relevant these bodies are in holding the PCC to account in any meaningful way, and to look at their relevance in relation to the activities of the PCC and the kind of decisions that a PCC has to take in the course of their duties. I would be grateful if the Minister could address the points that I have raised about the reasons for excluding the reference to “rescue” in the renamed PCC and, perhaps rather more significantly, whether there is to be any examination of the effectiveness of police and crime panels, particularly bearing in mind that they are to take over more responsibility in relation to the expanded role of the PCC.
My Lords, no doubt there was extensive consultation about the name that the new commissioners should have. No doubt, in typical fashion, that was conducted over the summer months when there was perhaps not a huge response. It more or less must have been then because this amendment was brought in at a late stage, at the tail end of the Commons consideration. I would be interested to know exactly how many responses there were and the substance of those responses.
Lumbering the commissioners, who I suppose we will have to get used to calling PFAC commissioners, is not necessarily the most helpful of things. My noble friend Lord Rosser has pointed out the omission of “rescue”.
Look at the order of the words: police, fire and crime. One might have thought that crime sat more comfortably near police than with fire, and while the Government are about it, they are compounding the problem that the original Act created of having somebody whose responsibility is to commission crime. They are making it worse because now this person commissions fire. If they said that this person was the police and rescue commissioner, it would make sense. It would be their job to commission people to do policing and rescue, but at the moment there is this strange amalgam which loses half the role of fire and rescue and at the same time manages to imply that the commissioner is responsible for all fires and crimes in their area. This is frankly not sensible. Rather than embark on another intensive consultation that perhaps nobody knows about, perhaps the Home Office might want to think again.
While it is thinking again, perhaps the Minister could give us a little more explanation about the proposals to have a police, fire and crime panel. Noble Lords will be pleased to know that I shall not rehearse the same set of arguments about why the various things should be bundled together and in what order the words should be, but my noble friend Lord Rosser raised an extremely important and pertinent point. Police and crime panels were bolted on to the legislation that created police and crime commissioners, I think probably because of some rumblings on the Liberal Democrats Benches at the time. It was a half-hearted gesture in the direction of creating an accountability mechanism, but it is a gesture that does not work. The panels have created a mechanism whereby people are brought together from different local authorities, perhaps three or four times a year, to carry out the statutory functions. It is not a cohesive team. The budget available for servicing them is microscopic, which means that there is no staff work which supports that work. It is not surprising that the learned study which my noble friend referred to is quite so scathing about them. I also wonder why it has been decided that this scrutiny function is best located in a single body. Why would you not have a body which focused on policing matters and one which focused on the fire matters, given that the Government keep telling us that these will continue to be separate functions with separate streams of funding? Perhaps the Minister can enlighten us.
I thank noble Lords for the points they have made. On using the word “rescue” in the title, apart from the fact that it is a bit of a mouthful, chief fire officers in the Chief Fire Officers Association do not have the word “rescue” in their title. I think that is the reason. I take the noble Lord’s point, but too many words can be a bit cumbersome. We consulted police and fire stakeholders between the amendment being made in the Commons and our suggestion to change the name.
On whether the panels are effective, I was on the police authority for a year. At that time there was a lot of criticism of police authorities being remote from people and questions about whether they were fulfilling their function of bringing police authority to account. The police and crime panels under the Bill have clear powers to scrutinise the actions and decisions of each PCC and to make sure the information is available to the public. The meetings are held in public, so not only is the information available to the electorate but they can watch these meetings, which are often recorded. For example, the meeting of Sussex PCP is broadcast, and members of the public can submit questions to the panel for the commissioner ahead of the regular scrutiny meetings. I will not disavow what the noble Lord said—I have not read the book—but their powers are clear, and the decision-making and the scrutiny process is transparent. The scrutiny meetings are often available for broadcast, and members of the public can ask questions ahead of them.
Does the Minister not agree that if the Government are satisfied that the police and crime commissioners have been in existence for long enough to form a view that they would be competent and suitable to take over responsibility for a fire and rescue service, the police and crime panels have also been in existence for sufficient time for the Government to properly evaluate their effectiveness and the extent to which they have or have not achieved the objectives that were laid down? The Minister acknowledged that the points I was making were not my personal views—they came from the study that had been undertaken—and I would have thought that there was an argument, now that their powers and responsibilities are to be extended, to at least have a look at the extent to which they are delivering on the objectives to which the Minister has just referred.
My Lords, I undertake to ask, between now and Report, whether any reviews have been undertaken on the effectiveness of police and crime panels and to get back to the noble Lord. I will write to noble Lords on that point and, if that is not the case, say whether the Government intend to review the process in light of the previous criticism of police authorities.
Amendment 71 agreed.
Amendments 72 to 76
72: Schedule 1, page 202, line 5, at end insert—
“ In section 28 (police and crime panels outside London) after subsection (1) insert—“(1A) Subsection (1B) applies if the person who is the police and crime commissioner for a police area is also the fire and rescue authority for the area which corresponds to, or an area which falls within, the police area.(1B) The police and crime panel for the police area is to be known as “the Police, Fire and Crime Panel”.””
73: Schedule 1, page 204, line 9, at end insert—
“ (1) The Localism Act 2011 is amended as follows.(2) In section 41(3) (power of fire and rescue authority to appoint officers and employees to be subject to pay policy statement) after “43(1)(i)” insert “or (j)”.”
74: Schedule 1, page 204, line 10, leave out “of the Localism Act 2011”
75: Schedule 1, page 204, line 14, at beginning insert “in relation only to sections 38, 40 and 41 and this section,”
76: Schedule 1, page 204, line 26, at end insert—
“Energy Act 2013 (c. 32)
In Part 3 of Schedule 9 to the Energy Act 2013 (protected information: permitted disclosures and restrictions on use) in paragraph 14(3) (local authorities and water authorities: interpretation) in the definition of “local authority” after paragraph (d) insert—“(da) a fire and rescue authority created by an order under section 4A of the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004;”.”
Amendments 72 to 76 agreed.
Schedule 1, as amended, agreed.
Clause 7: Involvement of police and crime commissioner in fire and rescue authority
77: Clause 7, page 6, leave out lines 10 to 30
My Lords, Amendment 77 is in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Paddick. We also have Amendments 78 to 80 and Amendments 82 to 86 in this group. Taken together, our amendments—with the caveat that they are subject to drafting errors—would allow the police and crime commissioner to speak at meetings but not to vote: in other words, to make his voice heard and to put arguments but not to actually be part of the decision-making process.
Earlier today, the noble Lord, Lord Bach, in the debate on various earlier clauses standing part of the Bill, said—I cannot recall whether of himself or generally—“We were not elected as a fire and rescue authority”. That is what underlies this group of amendments. Clause 7 has an innocent heading about the “involvement” of the PCC in the FRA, but gives the PCC a vote. Admittedly it is limited to fire and rescue authority functions, but quite how one identifies those and limits this—even with monitoring-officer involvement, as proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, in his amendment in this group—I am really not sure. When it comes to budgetary issues, for instance, in the real world a decision over here affects a decision over there. One always has to have regard to the knock-on effects and to the whole package. Whether it is possible to split out the issues in the way that the Bill proposes, I am unconvinced.
I also wonder, although this may be a secondary issue, whether a police and crime commissioner might be conflicted. In the role of voting at a meeting he would have to focus on fire and rescue considerations—indeed, he would be confined to them—but of course he has his other role.
In our view, there are some fundamental issues of governance and democracy here. Country fire and rescue authorities are elected as local authorities. A police and crime commissioner is elected perhaps at a different time, and perhaps in a different political climate, on the basis of different political and other considerations. I am distinctly queasy at the notion of giving the PCC a vote as the Bill provides. I beg to move.
We have Amendment 81 in this group. Clause 7, to which our amendment refers, inserts a provision into the Local Government Act 1972 to the effect that:
“A relevant police and crime commissioner may attend, speak at and vote at a meeting of a principal council in England which is a fire and rescue authority”.
A sub-paragraph then sets out the circumstances in which that applies, and one of those is,
“only if and to the extent that the business of the meeting relates to the functions of the principal council as a fire and rescue authority”.
Our amendment seeks to address what happens if there is a dispute as to whether or not council business is fire-related, and whether the relevant police and crime commissioner is able to exercise their power to attend, speak at and vote at the meeting. The amendment says that if there is a dispute on this point, the decision of the monitoring officer in that authority should be final—in other words, the monitoring officer will adjudicate if there is a difference of view regarding the extent to which the business of the meetings relates to the functions of the council as a fire and rescue authority. Naturally, one would hope that such a situation would not be a common occurrence, to say the least; indeed, one might hope that it would never be an occurrence, but clearly there has to be some effective means of resolving the matter if there is a dispute.
I suggest only one particular circumstance in which problems of this kind might arise: if a police and crime commissioner wanted to take over a fire and rescue service against the wishes of the local authority concerned. The local authority concerned might then seek to look very closely at the extent to which the business at the meeting related to its functions as a fire and rescue authority and therefore perhaps seek to preclude the police and crime commissioner from attending, speaking or voting at it.
My Lords, Clause 7 provides for PCCs to request to be represented on fire and rescue authorities within their police areas where they do not take responsibility for the governance of the fire and rescue service. This is what we have described as the representation model. When an FRA accepts such a request, we have set out that PCCs will be treated as if they were a member for the purposes of bringing agenda items, receiving papers and so on, and have full voting rights to ensure that they can take part in the business of the fire and rescue authority in a meaningful and effective way.
The amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, would remove those voting rights, which would be a great shame, as the PCC would not have real influence behind their contribution. Again going back to my experience, it would set an incredibly negative tone to the whole environment. In fact, it would make me wonder how they managed to get that far in the first place. We want PCCs and FRAs to consider the representation model as a viable option for promoting greater collaboration between the two services. To limit the PCC’s involvement would weaken representation as a serious model for collaboration; it would be quite anti-collaboration. The amendments also remove the necessity for a fire and rescue authority to publish its decision and reasoning in considering PCC membership. I would be concerned that to do so would remove transparency and accountability from the process, because these provisions enable PCCs to seek representation where they wish to while respecting local fire governance arrangements.
The final decision on representation rests with the fire and rescue authority, although we would fully expect that in most instances the FRA would accept the PCC’s request and if it does not, their reasons should be made clear to both the PCC and the public. This ensures that the process is fully transparent and open to effective scrutiny.
Amendment 81, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, would make the monitoring officer the final arbitrator of disputes about whether business is fire-related. We do not consider this to be an appropriate role for the monitoring officer. Where a county or unitary FRA does not have a dedicated committee for fire, the Bill provides that the PCC’s ability to attend, speak and vote will be restricted to matters relating to the functions of the fire and rescue authority. It will be for local appointing committees to consider how these arrangements work in practice.
As the noble Lord knows, monitoring officers have existing duties under Section 5 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 to report to the local authority if, at any time, it appears to them that any actions of the authority are or would be in contravention of legal provisions. It would therefore be a conflict of interest for them also to take a role in arbitrating on decisions.
As a further safeguard, PCCs will be subject to the local authority’s code of conduct for the purposes of their representation on the FRA. Were they to act outside of the code, the monitoring officer must refer the matter to the relevant police and crime panel, which will make a report or recommendations to the PCC.
I believe that the Bill as drafted allows for the representation model to be considered as a serious alternative to other governance models, and I hope that I have been able to persuade the Committee of the merits of the approach taken in the Bill and that consequently the noble Baroness will be content to withdraw her amendment.
Perhaps I can clarify what the Minister said. I understood the point that she sought to make about the unsuitability of the monitoring officer, in the Government’s view. I am still unclear, and she may need to explain to me again, what will be the process to resolve an issue if there is an argument about whether a police and crime commissioner is entitled to attend, speak at or vote at a particular meeting, because that relates to whether business is being discussed which is relevant to the role of a fire and rescue authority. Will a process or procedure exist, will guidelines be issued on it, or do the Government argue that they do not envisage that such a problem will ever arise?
As I have explained, in most instances, the FRA would accept a request, and it would be in the interests of good working, good faith and collaboration for it to do so. As to the process if it refused such a request, as I understand it—I will write to noble Lords if it is any different—if it refuses it, it refuses it, and there is no recourse thereon in.
My Lords, perhaps I should make it clear that the deletion in the amendments of the transparency provisions, as the Minister described them, were consequential—or possibly presequential. I am not sure about the point on voting. That was not really the thrust of our amendments. I am not comfortable about this. She described the amendments as being anti-collaboration, but collaboration by its very nature requires two parties—not merging the parties into a single authority. However, we are where we are, certainly for tonight, so I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 77 withdrawn.
Amendment 78 to 86 not moved.
87: Clause 7, page 9, line 40, after “or” insert “, in the case of a combined authority for an area which is wholly within England,”
Amendment 87 agreed.
Clause 7, as amended, agreed.
Clause 8: Combined authority mayors: exercise of fire and rescue functions
Amendments 88 to 92
88: Clause 8, page 11, line 19, leave out from “exercise” to end of line 20 and insert “the chief constable’s fire and rescue functions.”
89: Clause 8, page 11, line 23, leave out from “any” to end of line 24 and insert “functions mentioned in that subsection;”
90: Clause 8, page 11, line 25, leave out from “any” to “other” in line 26 and insert “functions mentioned in that subsection”
91: Clause 8, page 11, line 28, leave out from “of” to “specified” in line 29 and insert “such of the functions mentioned in that subsection as are”
92: Clause 8, page 11, line 45, at end insert—
“( ) In this section “fire and rescue functions”, in relation to a chief constable, means—(a) functions which are exercisable by the chief constable by virtue of provision made under subsection (2)(a), and(b) functions relating to fire and rescue services which are conferred on the chief constable by or by virtue of any enactment.”
Amendments 88 to 92 agreed.
93: Clause 8, page 12, leave out lines 2 to 6 and insert—
“(1) An order under section 107EA may not be made in the absence of—”
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Paddick and I also have Amendments 94 to 98 in this group. I am aware that if certain of these amendments were accepted consequential amendments would be required.
I want to probe whether it should be a matter for a particular combined authority mayor to initiate the procedure with which Clause 8 deals. Should this depend on an individual? Having started on that thought, I realise that if we are to have these arrangements, somebody has to start them off, but one is well aware of how a long-lasting arrangement can come about as a result of an individual seeing a short-term advantage. In any event, should there be public consultation, not the discretion which is implicit in the wording in new subsection (2)(b), which refers to,
“a description of any public consultation which the mayor has carried out”?
Surely it should be “the” consultation.
The second subject of this group of amendments is the majority provided by what will be new subsection (3), requiring that two-thirds of the,
“members of the combined authority have indicated that they disagree with the proposal”,
to block it. Come the happy day of proportional representation for local government, it will probably be quite difficult to get two-thirds to disagree. The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, will have recollections from a different perspective of getting a two-thirds majority in the Greater London Authority, where the mayor’s budget could be blocked only by a two-thirds majority. I am proposing 51%, which I suppose should be “more than 50%” if expressed properly, as that is what a majority is.
This also raises the question of why any opposition should be required to trigger what would be new subsections (4) and (5)—perhaps a more arguable point in the case of the latter—because opposition to the mayor’s proposal merely makes the Secretary of State investigate the situation fully. It does not actually block the proposal. There is a question here before one even gets to looking at the size of the majority. I beg to move.
My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has explained, these amendments relate to the process for adopting the single employer model by a combined authority mayor. I will take each amendment in turn.
Amendment 93 removes the requirement for a mayor to request that the Home Secretary approves an order implementing the single employer model. In effect, it enables any person to make such a request of the Home Secretary. As I explained during our consideration of the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill, we considered that directly elected combined authority mayors provided that strong, clear accountability necessary to exercise the wide-ranging powers that were devolved to an area. The processes in the Bill reflect this, giving the mayor the discretions and powers to be exercised locally that it is right for the mayor to have, given their own local mandate and direct accountability locally through the ballot box. Mayors should be able to take the big decisions that they are elected to make, with appropriate safeguards. Where a mayor is responsible for police and fire functions, we believe that the mayor should be the person to make such proposals to the Home Secretary about how these functions are run. Adopting this amendment would be counter to this devolutionary approach, whereby powers and duties usually exercised by Whitehall have been devolved to the mayor.
Amendments 94, 95 and 98 require a mayor seeking to put in place the single employer model to carry out a public consultation on the proposal. The Bill already requires the Home Secretary to consider whether a proposal for the mayor to put in place the single employer model is in the interests of economy, effectiveness and efficiency or public safety before approving it. These provisions do not prohibit a mayor from consulting locally on a proposal. Should the mayor wish to do so, the Home Secretary would be required to have regard to any responses to the consultation when considering whether to give effect to the proposal. Where powers have been devolved to an area, it is for the directly elected mayor to decide how particular proposals, be they for creating a single employer model or any other exercise of powers, should be taken forward. It is important that any proposals brought forward by a mayor are properly scrutinised. Noble Lords will have the opportunity to debate them, as orders to implement the single employer model under a mayor will be subject to the affirmative procedure.
Amendment 97 seeks to lower the threshold for triggering an independent assessment of a proposal to implement the single employer model under a mayor, while Amendment 96 takes the further step of requiring the Home Secretary to order an independent assessment of a proposal, regardless of whether there is local agreement. The amendment would also require a mayor to submit to the Home Secretary any representations made by elected members of the combined authority about the proposal and the mayor’s response to those representations.
It would not be proportionate to lower the threshold or strike out the limiting provisions for ordering an independent assessment of a proposal. The approach we have taken mirrors that of devolution deals agreed to date, whereby members are able to reject specific proposals brought forward by the mayor where there is agreement from at least two-thirds of members of the combined authority. Given that the combined authority mayor will have been directly elected with a strong democratic mandate, we consider that two-thirds threshold entirely appropriate. Not to bore noble Lords too much about Greater Manchester but, as I explained, my position was as one of 10—the only Conservative—and that was the situation that faced me year on year, quite often frustratingly. But the two-thirds majority worked. Lowering the threshold would give room for more regular mischief-making, should members of local authorities see fit. In my experience—noble Lords may disagree—it is an entirely appropriate threshold, and I hope the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I am sure the Minister, even as only one of 10, was quite capable of making enough mischief. I was never going to win an argument against the strong mayor model and the implications of that—but I do not think having a strong mayor means that there should not be consultation. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 93 withdrawn.
Amendments 94 to 100 not moved.
Amendments 101 to 104
101: Clause 8, page 13, line 22, leave out from second “of” to end of line 23 and insert “the chief constable’s fire and rescue functions.”
102: Clause 8, page 13, line 45, leave out from first “of” to end and insert “the chief constable’s fire and rescue functions.”
103: Clause 8, page 14, line 8, leave out from “of” to end of line 9 and insert “the chief constable’s fire and rescue functions;”
104: Clause 8, page 14, line 40, after “section” insert “—
“fire and rescue functions” has the same meaning as in section 107EA;”
Amendments 101 to 104 agreed.
105: Clause 8, page 16, line 10, at end insert—
“107EEA Section 107EA orders: application of fire and rescue provisions(1) The Secretary of State may by order—(a) apply (with or without modifications) any provision of a fire and rescue enactment in relation to a person within subsection (2);(b) make, in relation to a person within subsection (2), provision corresponding or similar to any provision of a fire and rescue enactment.(2) Those persons are—(a) a chief constable of a police force for a police area to whom an order under section 107EA(2) applies,(b) a member of staff transferred to such a chief constable under a scheme made by virtue of section 107EC(1),(c) a member of staff appointed by such a chief constable under section 107EC(2),(d) a member of such a chief constable’s police force by whom functions are exercisable by virtue of section 107EA(2)(b), and(e) a member of the civilian staff of such a police force (as defined by section 102(4) of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011) by whom functions are exercisable by virtue of section 107EA(2)(b).(3) The power conferred by subsection (1)(a) or (b) includes power to apply (with or without modifications) any provision made under a fire and rescue enactment or make provision corresponding or similar to any such provision.(4) The Secretary of State may by order amend, revoke or repeal a provision of or made under an enactment in consequence of provision made by virtue of subsection (1).(5) In this section “fire and rescue enactment” means an enactment relating to a fire and rescue authority (including, in particular, an enactment relating to an employee of such an authority or property of such an authority).(6) References in this section to an enactment or to provision made under an enactment are to an enactment whenever passed or (as the case may be) to provision whenever the instrument containing it is made.”
Amendments 106 and 106A, as amendments to Amendment 105, not moved.
Amendment 105 agreed.
Amendment 107 not moved.
Amendments 108 and 109
108: Clause 8, page 16, line 30, leave out “Act” and insert “enactment”
109: Clause 8, page 16, line 31, at end insert—
“( ) References in this section to an enactment or to provision made under an enactment are to an enactment whenever passed or (as the case may be) to provision whenever the instrument containing it is made.””
Amendments 108 and 109 agreed.
Clause 8, as amended, agreed.
Clause 9 agreed.
Schedule 2: The London Fire Commissioner
Amendments 110 and 111
110: Schedule 2, page 205, line 15, leave out paragraph 4 and insert—
“4_(1) Section 45 (the Mayor’s periodic report to the Assembly) is amended as follows._(2) In subsection (6) omit “except as provided by subsection (7) below.”_(3) Omit subsections (7) and (8).”
111: Schedule 2, page 205, line 36, leave out paragraph 6 and insert—
“6_(1) Section 61 (power to require attendance at Assembly meetings) is amended as follows._(2) In subsection (11) omit “, except as provided by subsection (12) below,”._(3) Omit subsections (12) and (13).”
Amendments 110 and 111 agreed.
112: Schedule 2, page 206, line 2, leave out from “not” to end of line 5 and insert “apply to a person appointed as the Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime or to a person appointed as Deputy Mayor for Fire.”
I move on to a series of amendments that relate to London. I remind noble Lords of my interest, in that I am in the process of completing a review for the Mayor of London on London’s preparedness. I should make it clear that the amendments in my name are not sanctioned by the Mayor of London or by any of his staff or colleagues— I doubt whether he is aware of them.
The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act, in its wisdom, created a mechanism whereby there were two routes to people being appointed as deputy mayor for policing and crime in London. One route was that the mayor would appoint a member of the London Assembly. Obviously, if the mayor appoints a member of the London Assembly, who has been elected, that person is clearly a politician. The second route is that the mayor might appoint another person who was not a member of the London Assembly—and, if they did so, there was a confirmation process that the London Assembly had to conduct before that person became the deputy mayor for policing and crime. However, that person was then treated as an employee of the Greater London Authority and therefore was politically restricted, which was, frankly, rubbish and stupid. Here was a deputy mayor, deputising for a political mayor and appointed as such, who was then politically restricted. So far, on the two occasions when successive mayors have appointed deputy mayors for police and crime who were not members of the London Assembly, the two individuals concerned have been London borough councillors, and have had to resign forthwith.
It may well have been sensible for them to resign as London borough councillors if they were taking on the role of deputy mayor for policing and crime. But they were politically restricted, which means that they could not hold office in or speak on behalf of their political party. I am not suggesting that anyone launch an investigation or criminal process or anything, but the last deputy mayor for policing and crime ran for his party’s nomination for the mayoralty of London, against Zac Goldsmith. That is a very strange position for somebody who is politically restricted—although I do not think anybody batted an eyelid or was in the least bit concerned.
What we have is legislation that is palpably nonsense. Depending on their route of appointment, the deputy mayor for policing and crime is, in one case, politically restricted but, in the other, if they are a member of the London Assembly, they clearly cannot be politically restricted because they are an elected person. When this legislation, the then Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, was going through the House, it was clearly not an issue that anyone either understood or felt was worth resolving. It does not work; it does not make sense. I would be interested to know why it is still well regarded—so much so that we now have legislation creating the new role of deputy mayor for fire, who can also be appointed by two routes. One route is where the mayor appoints a deputy mayor for fire from among the members of the London Assembly; that person is clearly not politically restricted, because they are an elected person in their own right. However, the mayor might appoint a deputy mayor for fire who is not a member of the London Assembly, in which case they would have to go through a confirmation process through the London Assembly, but they would then be politically restricted.
This amendment seeks to remove this nonsense altogether and to state that the deputy mayor for police and crime and the deputy mayor for fire, whatever their route of appointment—and I am not suggesting that it be changed—should not be politically restricted, because they are de facto acting in a political fashion. They are representing and carrying out functions for the Mayor of London and they are doing so in a political way. Why should one, through accident of appointment, be politically restricted when, if the accident of appointment went the other way, they would not be politically restricted? It is a stupid anomaly and I cannot see any conceivable justification for it. I look forward to hearing from the Minister why the Government are going down this route and whether she is prepared to remedy it on this occasion.
While the Minister is waiting, if she is waiting, for guidance to arrive on these matters, I should say that I think—I cannot recall precisely and I have not done my homework at this stage, though I reserve the right to have done it by Report stage—that a similar set of anomalies are created for deputy police and crime commissioners. Again, it is pretty ridiculous. Having allowed for there to be deputy police and crime commissioners, which was a sensible change during the passage of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill through Parliament, why create a situation in which the person whom the police and crime commissioner creates as their deputy is politically restricted? As I say, I have not checked this point; it may turn out that I am wrong about it, but I am pretty certain that I am right that they are politically restricted. This then presents a whole series of issues. There was at least one instance in the recent round of elections of a deputy police and crime commissioner running to be the police and crime commissioner. I do not know whether they had to resign their position as deputy or whether, as in the London case, everybody pretended not to notice.
My Lords, in replying to the noble Lord, I hope that I have the right end of the stick as to what he is saying; I will give it a go anyway and I am sure that he will intervene if I am wrong. The amendment relates to the rules on political restriction in Sections 1, 2 and 3A of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989, in so far as they apply to the deputy mayor for fire and the deputy mayor for policing and crime. Those rules do not apply to the deputy mayor for policing and crime. I therefore put it to the noble Lord that they are not applicable or relevant for this amendment.
The provisions for appointing the deputy mayor for policing and crime are set out in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011. The Bill does not seek to change those provisions. The 2011 Act does not restrict a member of the Assembly from being appointed as the deputy mayor for policing and crime, and for that member to continue to be a member of the Assembly.
The purpose of paragraph 8 of Schedule 2 to the Bill is to enable a person who is an Assembly member to remain a member of the Assembly or to become one despite having been appointed or designated as the deputy mayor for fire. The amendment would remove the political restriction rules completely for that position, which is perhaps what he was seeking. I did not think that was what the noble Lord intended, but it may be. If I have misunderstood his purpose, I will be very happy to reflect on what he has said and write to him.
I will certainly be grateful to receive a letter from the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. However, I think she has slightly missed the point—namely, that, under the current legislation, if the deputy mayor for policing and crime is not an Assembly member, he or she is politically restricted. It is just conceivable that, because of the convoluted way in which legislation is frequently drafted, the political restriction is derived from something other than those particular clauses in the Local Government Act, but I rather doubt it. Therefore, we are talking about those people who are not already Assembly members who are appointed as either deputy mayor for policing and crime or deputy mayor for fire. The Bill seeks to apply that provision to the deputy mayor for fire if they are not an Assembly member, so they are politically restricted. As I have said before, I think that is a nonsense. Therefore, I hope that the noble Baroness will check precisely how the legislation applies to them. But it certainly has applied to the last two deputy mayors for policing and crime in London, because both of them have been obliged to resign their council seats as a consequence not of any disqualification laid down other than the fact that they have become politically restricted, so clearly the measure has applied under those circumstances. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, no doubt has encyclopaedic knowledge on this.
I absolutely do not have any encyclopaedic knowledge. However, I am very glad that the Minister has agreed to look into this in more detail because, as the noble Lord describes the situation, it is a farce. As I recall, there was a sort of evolution of thinking about deputy mayors and the use of the 10-plus-two people in the original Greater London Authority Act, and their position. Originally, they were thought of absolutely as the mayor’s creatures. Will this be borne in mind in looking at the position because I think that some of this comes from the original ideas on what the structure would be and how the mayor might structure his or her office? Perhaps things have just moved on a bit from there. I suggest that this is part of a slightly bigger jigsaw.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for her remarks. I could have included in this the other deputy mayors. I thought that was probably outside the scope of the Bill, but, what the hell, I might have gone for it, because, among the crop of deputy mayors appointed by the current Mayor of London, and, indeed, by his predecessor, were people who were serving borough councillors or, in one case, a borough mayor. They had to resign their offices for those other positions. However, I have confined this amendment to the specific positions of deputy mayor for policing and crime and the deputy mayor for fire, possibly to make it easier for the noble Baroness to look at it. The situation is that, if they are not Assembly members, they are politically restricted. If they are Assembly members, obviously, they cannot be. That is a stupid anomaly which I hope the Government can remedy. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 112 withdrawn.
113: Schedule 2, page 210, leave out lines 32 and 33
My Lords, this is a completely different point, which relates to the role of the proposed fire and emergency committee of the London Assembly. I was interested that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, moved Amendment 72 a few minutes ago, which said that police and crime panels should become the “police, fire and crime panel” outside London. In London, the parallel structure for the police and crime panel is called the Police and Crime Committee. Confusingly, London has a PCC, but it is not a commissioner. The parallel structure which is therefore created is that a committee of the London Assembly meets—unlike police and crime panels elsewhere in the country—on a very regular basis, comprising politicians who know each other from the same authority. That works better than police and crime panels elsewhere.
The parallel structure created in the Bill is that there should be a fire and emergency committee which would be set up by the London Assembly and carry out the functions of scrutiny with regard to the deputy mayor for fire. That is fine—there should be a scrutiny structure. However, the Bill specifically says that the fire and emergency committee cannot carry out any other functions of the authority. It is saying to the Assembly: “You have to create two separate committees: one to look at policing and one to look at fire”. I would not suggest merging the two committees, but everywhere else in the country the Government are saying that the same panel must do it, even though it will be much less well resourced and much less able to do an effective job. But in London you have to have two committees.
Why can it not be left, in the spirit of devolution and localism, which the Government so espouse, to the London Assembly to decide how it wants to organise these functions? If it wants to have one, two or even three committees, as long as it carries out the functions set out of scrutiny of the respective deputy mayors, surely it should be allowed to decide how it organises to do that. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Harris, on this. I remember quite clearly, during the passage of the Greater London Authority Act, the then Minister—or the government representative at the Dispatch Box; I think it was a Whip at the time—saying firmly, on the basis of notes coming to her from the Box, that the London Assembly should be allowed to sort out its own procedure. I think we were debating an issue around a quorum. The same applies here, probably in spades. It is also interesting that the Government, who are concerned about efficiency, effectiveness and economy, should insist on procedures that must have the potential to be less efficient and more expensive.
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, explained, the amendment would delete the provision which prevents the assembly arranging for any of its non-fire and emergency committee functions to be discharged by that committee. The role of the fire and emergency committee will be to review how the London Fire Commissioner exercises his or her functions and to investigate and prepare reports on the commissioner’s actions and decisions. The committee will also review draft documents presented to it by the London Fire Commissioner and make a report or recommendations to the mayor. The committee will also undertake confirmation hearings in respect of the appointment of the London Fire Commissioner and the deputy mayor for fire. In addition, it will have the power to require the deputy mayor for fire, the London Fire Commissioner and any officer of the London Fire Commissioner to attend proceedings of the committee to give evidence.
The functions are set out in the Bill so that it is clear that the fire and emergency committee has a specific fire-related purpose. It follows that the committee should not be used for any non-fire-related business of the assembly. This is clearly different from everywhere else in the country, as the noble Lord said—and I am sure that other places in the country will argue for what London has. The position in London is different. There will be two separate functional bodies and no move to a single-employer model, so in that sense it is not the same as elsewhere. I apologise for doing it again, but I compare Greater London to Greater Manchester—it is four times the size.
My Lords, to be honest, I do not think that it was really an explanation. The issue is not that London is more complicated even than Greater Manchester, nor that there will be two separate functional bodies headed by the deputy mayor and so on—although I have to ask: if the Government are enthusiastic about such a model everywhere else in the country, why would it not make sense for the two functions to be brought together in London, or for there to be a single employer? I am not advocating that, by the way, because I do not think that it would be a good idea, but I find it inconsistent with everything else in the Bill.
As the noble Baroness says, the Bill specifies in enormous detail exactly how the Assembly will have to organise this:
“The Assembly must arrange for the functions”—
the noble Baroness listed them—
“to be discharged on its behalf by a particular committee of the Assembly … The Assembly may not arrange for the fire and emergency committee functions to be discharged on its behalf otherwise than in accordance with subsection (1)”,
which sets up the committee.
“The Assembly may not arrange for any of its other functions to be discharged by the fire and emergency committee”.
This is really laying it down—“You have to have a fire and emergency committee. It can do only this, it mustn’t do anything else, and nobody else must do it”. It really is not very much of a statement in favour of localism. The Bill then goes on to say that:
“The special scrutiny functions may only be exercised at a meeting of the whole panel”.
I do not know where “panel” comes from; the rest of the new section talks about a committee; no doubt that is a technical issue that I do not understand, but officials might want to look at whether the Bill should say “panel” or “committee” at that stage.
Had I been really malevolent, I would have taken out all that and just said, “These are the functions that the Assembly must consider how to administer”. Laying things down in that detail and limiting the discretion of the Assembly to decide how it wants to organise itself seems a nonsense. Although I am happy not to press the amendment to a vote tonight, I hope that I am getting an assurance from the noble Baroness that she will look at it again and come back on it on Report, otherwise I will.
Amendment 113 withdrawn.
114: Schedule 2, page 212, line 1, at beginning insert—
“(za) any actions and decisions of the Deputy Mayor for Fire,”
My Lords, new Section 327I gives the Assembly the power to investigate and prepare reports on certain matters. My amendment would add,
“any actions and decisions of the Deputy Mayor for Fire”,
“any other matters which the Assembly considers to be of importance to fire and rescue services in Greater London”.
Those are taken directly from the powers of the London Assembly in respect of policing—of its police and crime panel. It is called a panel; it runs as a committee. It has the power to investigate and prepare reports about any actions and decisions of the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, and matters which the Assembly considers to be of importance to policing and crime reduction in the Metropolitan Police district. I ask why there is no equivalent for fire.
I note that new subsection (5) will give the Assembly the power to summons the deputy mayor for fire to attend and to produce documents. It seems odd that it should have no power to report and investigate the items and person that it has the power to summons. I beg to move.
My Lords, the amendments proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, would extend the powers of the assembly fire and emergency committee to investigate and prepare reports about the deputy mayor for fire and any other matters which the assembly considers to be of importance to fire and rescue services in Greater London.
With regard to Amendment 114, the noble Baroness makes a valid point about the need for scrutiny of the actions and decisions of the deputy mayor for fire. I am happy to consider this amendment further in advance of Report. On Amendment 115, any other matters which the assembly considers to be of importance to fire and rescue services will inevitably have already been considered by the London Fire Commissioner in the exercise of his or her functions, and consequently will be subject to scrutiny by the fire and emergency committee. We are not therefore persuaded that this catch-all provision is needed. On the basis that I will consider further Amendment 114, I hope that the noble Baroness will be content to withdraw it at this stage.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for offering to look at Amendment 114. However, I wonder whether before Report she could look also at Amendment 115 in the light of Section 33(3)(f) of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011. Section 33(3) of that Act gives powers that cover,
“actions and decisions of the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime”.
That is the equivalent, in policing terms, of the deputy mayor for policing. It also gives powers that cover,
“actions and decisions of the Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime”.
Quite separately, in paragraph (f), are the,
“matters which the Assembly considers to be of importance to policing and crime reduction in the metropolitan police district”.
This is the exact equivalent, I would have thought, of my Amendment 115. They really do go together—it is a package of scrutiny.
If there is a difference between the provisions relating to policing and the provisions relating to fire and rescue in terms of the assembly’s powers, somebody is going to make the distinction and say, “No, you can’t go there”—when actually, they should go there. However, for the moment, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 114.
Amendment 114 withdrawn.
Amendment 115 not moved.
Amendments 116 to 119
116: Schedule 2, page 215, line 2, at end insert “or more”
117: Schedule 2, page 221, line 10, leave out from “audit)” to end of line 12 and insert “in subsection (5) for paragraph (a) substitute—
“(a) the London Fire Commissioner;”.”
118: Schedule 2, page 223, leave out lines 34 to 38
119: Schedule 2, page 226, line 40, at beginning insert “in relation only to sections 38, 40 and 41 and this section,”
Amendments 116 to 119 agreed.
Schedule 2, as amended, agreed.
Clause 10 agreed.
Clause 11: Inspection of fire and rescue services
120: Clause 11, page 19, line 25, at end insert “, who may include appropriately qualified assessors from conformity assessment bodies which have been accredited by the National Accreditation Body as appointed by the Accreditation Regulations 2009 (SI 2009/3155).”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 120 and speaking to Amendment 122, I should, at the outset, acknowledge the importance of strengthening the provisions in the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004 by introducing a robust and independent regime for fire and rescue authorities in England. Equally, I recognise the desire to increase transparency and to ensure that the new inspectors have the powers to exercise their function to monitor and report on the effectiveness and efficiency of our fire and rescue service, and to take action where necessary.
I do however hesitate over the rationale behind the decision to limit the conduct of all inspection activity to public authorities and officers recruited into the Home Office, as the Government are potentially missing an opportunity to utilise the inspection expertise available outside the public sector. I should declare an interest in this matter as the chair of the UK Accreditation Service, which is the sole national body recognised by the Government for accreditation, against nationally or internationally recognised standards of organisations providing inspection services, as well as certification, testing and calibration. UKAS’s role and remit as the national accreditation body are enshrined in the Accreditation Regulations 2009 and, in addition, UKAS operates under a memorandum of understanding with the Secretary of State for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, on behalf of the Government as a whole. That memorandum of understanding requires UKAS to act in the public interest at all times.
UKAS itself is peer-assessed against strict international standards and we are able to demonstrate and in turn assess impartiality and independence as well as technical competence and consistency as being vital elements of all whom we are assessing. This is why UKAS accreditation is used with confidence across a wide spectrum of policy and regulatory areas.
Extending the clause as currently drafted to enable the chief fire and rescue inspector to utilise inspections by competent, impartial and independent inspectors from conformity assessment bodies, outside public authorities, provided they hold the appropriate accreditation from UKAS, would in no way compromise the effectiveness, transparency or credibility of the new inspectorate. On the contrary, it would help to enhance the inspectorate’s reach and impact. It would also help to cement and enhance its position by giving assurance that all inspection and audit activities are conducted by independent, impartial and fully competent personnel as demonstrated by their conformity with UKAS’s robust and rigorous requirements as the Government’s sole national accreditation body. Such an approach would also support the Government’s policy of risk-based regulation, enabling the new inspectorate to use its inevitably finite resources to target its inspection and audit activities to where they are most needed, which would benefit the inspectorate itself, compliant fire and rescue services and of course the public.
For more than a decade, the national accreditation body had a strong record in working with the Government to underpin better regulation, government efficiency and public sector reform. It has helped to reduce the regulatory burden on society and reduce the inspection costs incurred by regulators while at the same time ensuring that robust outcomes in terms of compliance and behaviour are in line with required policy or regulatory objectives. There are a number of examples where UKAS accreditation has been successfully used by regulators to support and complement existing regulatory regimes: specifically, accreditation has enabled regulators to use a more risk-based approach, which has resulted in a better targeting of resources by regulators. Where organisations have a UKAS-accredited inspection or certification in place against a recognised national or international standard, this has been recognised as a reliable indication of compliance and so has given regulators the opportunity to focus their efforts on those organisations where the risk of non-compliance is highest.
For example, the Forensic Science Regulator has recognised the importance of UKAS accreditation as a mechanism to ensure that the standards required by the Home Office are met and maintained. The Forensic Science Regulator Codes of Practice and Conduct for Forensic Science Providers and Practitioners in the Criminal Justice System require forensic science providers to hold UKAS accreditation in accordance with the statement of requirements contained in the code. The requirement to hold accreditation applies irrespective of whether the forensic science provider is public, police or commercial. I could cite other examples. For instance, the Care Quality Commission uses UKAS’s accreditation to increase its regulatory oversight and effectiveness. I should also add in passing that UKAS currently works closely with the Chief Fire Officers Association, the Fire Risk Assessment Competency Council and British Approvals for Fire Equipment on a number of accredited certification schemes.
Using accredited inspection in this way does not remove the requirement for statutory inspections. There is always a need for the possibility of statutory intervention when appropriate. However, supplementing statutory inspection with an accredited alternative can free up valuable additional resources in line with the established better regulation principles without compromising outcomes.
The introduction of the new inspectorate is an important step forward and is to be welcomed. However, I firmly believe that granting the new inspectors the flexibility, if they so wish, to commission inspection activities from, or delegate inspection activities to, organisations in which all parties can have confidence because they have been fully accredited for that specific purpose by the national accreditation body will maximise the benefits, for the new inspectorate, for all who have an interest in the new inspectorate being able to deliver its role, and for public safety. I beg to move.
I thank the noble Earl for explaining to me prior to today the purpose of his amendments and the objective they seek to achieve. The noble Earl has made his case in very clear and cogent terms. I, too, would very much like to hear the Government’s response.
My Lords, a key element of the recently announced fire reform agenda is the creation of a new independent inspection regime for fire and rescue. Amendments 120 and 122, tabled by my noble friend Lord Lindsay, relate to persons and bodies appointed by the chief fire and rescue inspector and an English inspector respectively to deliver the inspection function.
The Government do not believe that Amendment 120 is necessary. Clause 11 is modelled on provisions for the inspection of policing and is deliberately broad to provide the chief fire and rescue inspector with flexibility in who they may appoint as an assistant inspector, or other officers, for the purpose of assisting English inspectors. The Government could have listed certain professions or qualifications in the Bill for who could be appointed, but that would be interpreted as an exhaustive list, or would influence the chief inspector on their appointments. Therefore, I assure my noble friend that there is nothing stopping the chief inspector appointing persons covered by his amendment—indeed, there may be some merit in their doing so if needed—but the amendment does nothing to further the Bill as such persons are not precluded.
Turning to Amendment 122, this issue was raised during the Bill’s Commons Report stage. My ministerial colleague, the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service, has exchanged letters with Bob Neill MP and Jim Fitzpatrick MP since then. Therefore, my comments will come as no surprise.
Whereas Amendment 120 deals with the appointment of individuals, Amendment 122 to Schedule 3 covers the appointment of bodies as the recipient of delegated functions. Paragraph 2 of Schedule 3 allows for an English inspector to arrange for the inspection function to be exercised by another public authority on their behalf. This provides a degree of operational flexibility, depending on the inspection model chosen, but it is simply not appropriate for government inspection functions —regardless of what or who they are inspecting—to be delivered by a non-public body. Importantly, for an inspectorate to undertake robust inspections they must have access to information, premises and persons—powers granted in statute. I do not doubt the high standards private bodies operate to, but such invasive powers should be delivered only by those holding public office to avoid any conflict of interest and ensure proper accountability for the exercise of such powers.
I recognise the valuable role UKAS provides in giving confidence to both the public and private sectors as to a person’s competence, consistency and impartiality. However, we deliberately did not add a prescriptive list to the Bill to avoid any constraint on the chief inspector appointing whoever they consider necessary and appropriate. As I said, there is nothing to stop external experts being sourced, including from the bodies covered by these amendments, but this constraint is important. In view of that, I invite my noble friend to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful for my noble friend’s response and look forward to reflecting on the detail of what she said in due course. It might be useful if there were some discussion between UKAS and the Home Office to make sure that anything that UKAS’s activities can do to support the new inspectorate is developed. I am also mindful that the Home Office will consult on the proposals for the new inspectorate later in the year. That is another opportunity for useful discussions. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 120 withdrawn.
Clause 11 agreed.
House adjourned at 10.01 pm.