HC Deb 08 November 1999 vol 337 cc774-6

Lords amendment: No. 426, in page 133, leave out lines 24 to 29 and insert— ("(c) the person or body responsible for the appointment of members of the Greater London Magistrates' Courts Authority under regulations made under section 30B of the Justices of the Peace Act 1997 (which, by virtue of paragraph 5(b) of Schedule 2A to this Act, appoints magistrates to be members of the Metropolitan Police Authority).")

Mr. Raynsford

I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take Lords amendments Nos. 745 to 758 and 779 to 781.

Mr. Raynsford

All the amendments in this group are connected with the membership of the Metropolitan police authority. They fall into three categories which I will address in turn—magistrate members of the MPA, the position of the deputy mayor on the MPA and the upper age limit of MPA members.

Amendment No. 426 heads a set of seven amendments which deal with the appointment of magistrate members of the Metropolitan police authority. Now that the Access to Justice Act 1999 has been passed, we need to make a number of changes to reflect the new arrangements that will apply to the administration of magistrates courts in London.

Amendment No. 748 is the key amendment. It will substitute new arrangements for the appointment of the four magistrate members of the MPA. Paragraph 5 of schedule 21 to the Bill, as introduced in the other place, provided that the appointments would be made by a joint committee of the selection panels for the magistrates courts committees within the Metropolitan police district. There are 21 such selection panels, so it would be quite a task for them to join together to form a single panel to make the appointments.

As the House will be aware, the Access to Justice Act 1999 establishes a new Londonwide body called the Greater London magistrates courts authority. That body will replace the existing magistrates courts committees in London, which will in turn mean the disappearance of the MCC selection panels.

The GLMCA will not assume its full powers until April 2001, but work is already under way in relation to the appointment of its members. A selection panel is to be set up for that purpose around the turn of the year, and we think that that panel would be the ideal body to make the four magistrate appointments to the MPA. This is what Amendment No. 748 will achieve.

Amendment No. 426 is consequential. It provides that the body or person who makes appointments to the GLMCA—the selection panel to which I have just referred—must be consulted by the Secretary of State when he is considering reducing the number of MPA members. That will replace the current provision in the Bill whereby it is the MCC selection panels that must be consulted. Amendments Nos. 747, 753, 756, 757 and 758 make further changes consequent on the passage of the Access to Justice Act 1999.

Amendments Nos. 745 and 755 clarify a couple of matters regarding the position of the deputy mayor on the Metropolitan police authority. Amendment No. 755 provides that the deputy mayor will cease to be a member of the MPA if he or she ceases to be deputy mayor. The Bill already makes specific provision as to what should happen when the deputy mayor acts as the mayor, and in such cases he or she will sometimes be required to step down temporarily from the MPA.

The Bill as introduced into the other place was silent, however, on what should happen if the deputy mayor ceased to be the deputy—for example, following a resignation. Amendment No. 755 will rectify that position. As the deputy has his or her place by virtue of that office, we think it right that that individual should be required to step down as a member of the MPA on losing that office. Equally, provided that he or she remains an Assembly member, there is no reason why he or she should not remain eligible for reappointment to the MPA in his or her capacity as an Assembly member. That will be possible by virtue of paragraph 18 of schedule 21.

Amendment No. 745 makes it clear that the deputy mayor will be subject to the disqualification criteria for MPA membership as set out in paragraph 8 of schedule 21. Those provisions cover standard disqualification issues such as bankruptcy and criminal convictions, and are very similar to those which the Bill applies to Assembly members, and hence to the deputy mayor.

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The third set of amendments will remove the upper age limit to membership of the Metropolitan police authority. The Bill as introduced into the other place barred those aged 70 and over from being MPA members. The origin of that age limit, which applies to all police authorities, seems to be linked to the position of magistrates. Since magistrates have to retire at 70, magistrate members of police authorities have to resign on reaching that age. The reasoning appears to have been that equality of misery should be applied to other police authority members.

The Bill had echoed the position in other police authorities, in line with our general approach that the structures and functions of the MPA should, as far as possible, be the same as those of authorities outside London. However, on reconsideration, it seemed wrong to exclude from police authority membership perfectly able people of advancing years. Amendment No. 749 therefore removes the upper age limit for MPA members. The Government will bring forward legislation at the earliest opportunity to remove the upper age limit for other police authorities in England and Wales.

The other amendments in this group are consequential on amendment No. 749. They amend or remove references elsewhere in schedule 21 and also in schedule 3, to the Police Act 1996 as amended by schedule 2 of the Bill, which relate to the age limit of MPA membership or membership of the MPA independent member selection panel.

Mr. Simon Hughes

I support the proposals regarding membership of the MPA and the age limits involved. However, a question arises that I ask in ignorance as I do not know the answer. Will it be possible for the new Metropolitan police authority, whose democratisation we welcome, to change the age limits for officers in the police service? I will quite understand if the Minister cannot answer me now, but the new MPA is to be slightly different from other police authorities in the country. How much autonomy will it have over the management of its service, and to what extent will it be governed by the legislation covering the other police services in England and Wales?

It would be wonderful—and more than I expect—if the Minister could give me an answer now. An answer later is what I expect, but in any event I hope that I get one.

Mr. Raynsford

I have to disappoint the hon. Gentleman, as I cannot give him an answer now. However, I undertake to write to him with the information that he seeks. I reiterate that the change that the Bill makes with regard to the Metropolitan police authority will be followed by legislation applying to other police authorities elsewhere in the country to remove the upper age limit.

Lords amendment agreed to.

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