HC Deb 10 February 1994 vol 237 cc432-3
3. Mr. Pickthall

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what recent representations he has had about his proposals for change in the method of appointment of police authorities.

5. Mr. McFall

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what further discussions he has had with the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Association of Chief Police Officers (Scotland) regarding the Criminal Justice Bill and the Police and Magistrates Court Bill [Lords].

Mr. Howard

I have received many representations from organisations, members of the public and hon. Members. Last week, I announced measures that we propose to include in the Police and Magistrates Courts Bill to reinforce the independence of local police authorities. We have had a number of discussions with representatives of the Association of Chief Police Officers about that Bill and about the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill.

Mr. Pickthall

I am amazed at the effect that my tabling the question had on the Home Secretary. Does he realise that his generous and ungrudging U-turn on the appointment of chairmen and chairwomen, and on the numbers in police authorities, has delighted most Members of the House, most members of the other place, members of police authorities and the police forces themselves? Will the Home Secretary now take one more U-turn towards democracy and remove his most distasteful proposal: to add five or more placemen or women to police authorities?

Mr. Howard

No. Independent local people who do not have the time or the inclination to become magistrates or councillors can make a valuable contribution to the working of the local police authorities. I do not believe that local police authorities should be denied the benefit of their service.

Mr. Streeter

Did those representatives reflect the growing public concern that some police authorities had been tardy in introducing modern management techniques and information technology? Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree, therefore, that it is extremely sensible to have on police authorities people who bring management, financial and IT skills, which can only assist the police in doing their duty?

Mr. Howard

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The Police and Magistrates Courts Bill will provide strong local police authorities to reflect the interests of local people, greater freedom for chief constables to manage their forces and a clear framework for setting priorities and measuring performance. The measures will contribute to more effective policing.

Mr. Blair

Now that the Secretary of State has accepted that it is wrong to appoint the head of the police authority, what possible justification is there for proceeding with appointing one third of the members, thus ensuring that his national objectives for policing should override local priorities and forcing smaller police services to amalgamate, even where local people do not want that? As the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers said last week, after the Secretary of State's U-turn, that the proposals were still ill-conceived and publicly unacceptable, what possible support does he have for proceeding with them?

Mr. Howard

I have just explained to the House the purpose of my measures. It is for this House and the other House of Parliament to decide what measures we should take; it is not even for the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers. We must set in place the proper framework for policing in this country. We must have slimmed down and effective police authorities to which there will be proper local accountability. That is what my measures will achieve.