HC Deb 09 July 2002 vol 388 cc771-81 4.57 pm
The Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety (Mr. John Denham)

I beg to move amendment No. 20, in page 35, line 45, at end insert "a notice in writing".

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal)

With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments Nos. 21 to 23.

Mr. Denham

The Government have tabled these amendments in response to a point made in Committee by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar (Vera Baird), so I shall deal with them as a group.

Subsection (2) provides that if the Secretary of State proposes to require a police authority to exercise its power to call upon the chief officer to retire or resign, he must give the chief officer concerned notice of his intention to do so and an explanation of his reasons.

The point raised in Committee by my hon. and learned Friend was that the provisions under new subsection (2A) to section 42 of the Police Act 1996, as inserted by clause 33(2) of the Bill, place a requirement on the Secretary of State to give a copy of the notice to the police authority while not explicitly requiring that the notice include his grounds for acting.

Theoretically, a situation could arise in which the police authority was not notified of the grounds on which the Secretary of State wished to proceed, while the chief officer had received both notice of the Secretary of State's intention and the grounds for acting. That situation would obviously be undesirable, and these amendments will ensure that the notice given to the chief officer includes the Secretary of State's reasons for acting, so when a copy of the notice is sent to the police authority it will be aware of those reasons.

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire)

I note that the hon. and learned Member for Redcar (Vera Baird), who raised these issues in Committee, is not present. I am not sure whether she is on the Select Committee on Home Affairs. I welcome the Minister's introduction to the amendments, but I want to press him a little, especially on the question of what is in writing and what is not.

At column 182 of the Committee's deliberations, the Minister clearly said that the Secretary of State would have to give reasons if he wished to remove senior officers. That was during the discussion on what was then clause 29. He later resisted the Opposition's attempts to introduce further rights for inquiries to be held and for the chief officer in question to make personal representations to the Secretary of State, accompanied by a professional adviser, if the Secretary of State intended to use his powers to remove a senior officer or require his resignation or retirement. The Minister also said at that time that he would seek to make regulations under what was then clause 33, now clause 34, which would lay down the procedures to be followed.

Clause 42 of the 1996 Act, as amended by this Bill, gives chief officers the right to make representations in person if they are to be forcibly retired or required to resign. That right to make representations in person does not extend to the new part of section 11 of the 1996 Act, introduced by clause 32(2) of the Bill, which relates to suspension of chief officers.

The Chief Police Officers Staff Association, CPOSA, is extremely concerned that, in effect, suspension from duty is tantamount to a requirement to resign. It is extremely difficult for any chief officer who has been suspended—whatever the outcome of the case—to be reinstated with the credibility necessary to carry out their very important duty, and almost every case of suspension will end in resignation. The association is therefore concerned that the right to make representations in person does not extend to the issue of suspension.

The amendments appear not to extend the inquiry system to suspension, nor do they appear to require the Secretary of State to give notice in writing of where suspension is to take place. They are limited to the specific circumstances in which resignation and retirement are required, but not to the stage of suspension.

That brings me to the draft protocol, which has been sent to CPOSA. The association is now considering the procedures relating to suspension of chief officers. I will not detain the House by going through the protocol, with which the Minister is obviously familiar; at least, I sincerely hope so. [Interruption.] He is laughing, obviously to inform us that he is familiar with it. He will know, therefore, that nowhere does the protocol refer to an inquiry, to the chief officer being given the reasons for their suspension, or to the opportunity for the chief officer to make representations either in writing or in person if they are to be suspended.

My challenge to the Minister concerns the very narrow sense of the amendments. From his opening remarks, I understand the specific reason raised by the hon. and learned Member for Redcar that gave rise to the amendments, but behind that is a much bigger issue. The Government are consulting on a protocol that does nothing whatever to fulfil what at least was the understanding of Committee members: that a number of these issues would be addressed in regulations or in guidance.

I stress again that it is widely believed—Members of this House will accept it—that if a chief officer has been suspended, as with any other profession, it is very difficult ever to regain the credibility that was held before, regardless of the outcome of the case that led to the suspension. Resignation may be the only sensible way forward, regardless of the outcome. That is why I would argue that the opportunity for the chief officer in question to be given reasons why he is to be suspended, the opportunity to make representations in writing and in person, and the opportunity for an inquiry, are important adjuncts to the power that the Secretary of State is taking in the Bill to provide for suspension.

I challenge the Minister, even at this late stage, to respond to the real concerns of chief officers, expressed through CPOSA to me today, that the protocol is wholly inadequate, and if he is not prepared to alter the Bill, at least to amend the protocol.

Norman Baker (Lewes)

The amendments seem uncontroversial and improve the Bill in the way suggested by the hon. and learned Member for Redcar (Vera Baird). I want to refer to the protocol. The hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) has the advantage of me, in that I have not seen the protocol. It is a pity that it has not been circulated to all members of the Committee. I should be grateful if the Minister clarified what he intends to do to make the protocol available to Members of this House. Even if the protocol is not available in its final form, it would be helpful to have the draft circulated, as that would inform discussion.

That point has particular validity, given that paragraph 49 of the Home Affairs Committee's report states: We recommend that the proposed protocol on the operation of the powers to remove senior officers be published before the Bill reaches report stage. Paragraph 43 of the Government's response states: As these discussions are ongoing it will not, in the event, be possible to publish a protocol in advance of Report Stage, but we will do so as soon as possible thereafter. Will the Minister please circulate the draft protocol that he has put out for consultation, or make it available by putting a copy in the Library? In addition, what is the time scale for reaching agreement on the protocol? I hope that such agreement will be reached before the Lords consider any further matters relating to the Bill.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)

I rise to support some of the observations made by my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice). My hon. Friend is right to say that, under the Bill as drafted, the power to suspend does not require the giving of reasons. Furthermore, the power to suspend in no way triggers an inquiry, which will probably do a grave injustice to the senior officers concerned. My hon. Friend made the sensible point that once a police officer has been suspended, it is extraordinarily difficult to recover their credibility. It is very difficult for them to obtain employment, whether in another force or with an alternative employer. In the absence of the giving of reasons, it will be extraordinarily difficult for them to challenge the justification for the suspension. I ask the Minister to explain why provision is not made for the giving of written reasons, or for the holding of an inquiry.

Suspension, by definition, is not a final state. What provision will be made for finally determining whether a chief officer is to remain in the force? So far as I can tell, the Bill provides no such procedure. There is no obvious procedure through which a police authority can ask that a chief officer be no longer suspended; nor does the Bill provide for the officer concerned to submit that the suspension be done away with. We have a state of limbo that is entirely dependent on the Home Secretary's discretion. I am always against giving Home Secretaries such discretion, regardless of their political complexion.

I ask myself another question. Under clause 33, the Secretary of State can choose between suspending, requiring retirement or requiring resignation. What obligation is there on the Secretary of State to consult a police authority in advance on which of those alternatives might be desirable? The answer is: none at all. As far as I can see, the views of the police authority are not necessarily to be sought; it is for the Secretary of State to determine which of the three options is the most attractive. I am against giving Secretaries of State—particularly the Secretary of State in question—such power. Why is provision not made for pre-action consultation between the Secretary of State and the police authority concerned?

It is clear that there are financial distinctions to be drawn between the consequences of retirement and of resignation. When somebody retires, they normally trigger pension entitlements. As we well know, such entitlements constitute a substantial burden on police authorities; however, the same is not necessarily true in respect of resignation. What consultation will take place between the Secretary of State and police authorities about the preferred route? Nothing in the Bill requires the Secretary of State to undertake such consultation.

The criteria in question are "efficiency or effectiveness". I realise that that phrase appears in the Police Act 1996—legislation for which the Government of whom I was a member were responsible. However, the question of what is efficient or effective is as long as the Home Secretary's foot; in other words, the power is completely discretionary. We are reinforcing a provision in the 1996 Act that enables the Secretary of State to get rid of a police officer on the subjective judgment that they are not effective or efficient. I am very sceptical about giving any Home Secretary—particularly the present one—that power, and I hope that the House shares my inhibition.

I am personally in favour of fixed-term contracts for senior police officers, which would mean little need for these provisions. The re-engagement of chief police officers would be considered on a rolling basis every three to five years. The disadvantages of that policy are not so great as to displace the advantages.

I am very cautious about these amendments. They would give the Executive yet more discretionary power—and I do not value the discretion of the present Home Secretary—in the important policy area of the police service.

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North)

I have one query for my right hon. Friend the Minister. The Home Secretary may issue a written notice of removal to senior officers if he feels that they have been inefficient or ineffective. Does that phrase relate to their performance on operational matters or on non-operational matters? Is there any definition of what an operational matter is? I ask because some years ago, when I had some responsibility for the subject, operational matters were tightly defined, but now they appear to be anything that a chief constable decides is in his remit. That is an important, albeit detailed, issue and I would be happy for my right hon. Friend to undertake to write to me if that is more appropriate.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney)

I share the views of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) and I am very uneasy about the powers that the Government will take to remove senior officers. I am pleased to take part in the debate. I sit on the Home Affairs Committee; as other hon. Members have pointed out, its members are in Brussels. I had to stay in the country for personal reasons, not because of any antipathy to Brussels. I do not wish to be governed from that city, but it is a pleasant place to visit and I am sure that my colleagues on the Committee are having an interesting time.

I support the Committee's report and what it said about the protocol. I shall return to that issue because it is germane to the amendments. First, however, I must make the point that we are today debating further centralisation. The Home Secretary will have the power to sack every chief constable in the land. I ask the Minister to contrast that situation with that pertaining to the rest of the police organisation. In the Witney or Banbury police station, the chief inspector or superintendent does not have the power to remove ineffective officers in his own force. Power in the police force is going in the wrong direction—towards the centre and the Home Secretary—instead of being devolved throughout the organisation, and the amendments will not improve the situation.

I accept that the Government have made some concessions and have started to talk about consulting police authorities on the removal of chief constables. However, because of those concessions, the Bill now contains some very tortuous language. The question of the sacking of a chief constable should be a matter for the police authorities. That point was made in evidence to the Committee by Mr. Kevin Morris of the Police Superintendents Association of England and Wales, when I asked him whether he thought that the real responsibility for hiring and firing chief constables should rest with the police authority. He replied: Yes, I do. We do have this tripartite structure which gives the police authorities quite a lot of discretion and a role to play within policing. The Bill should reinforce the powers of police authorities, and its failure to do so concerns me most of all.

The Committee made two recommendations in its report that are germane to the amendments: if the Home Office has concluded that strengthened powers are needed for the suspension and removal of chief constables, it should be able to give a fuller explanation of how they might be used. We would expect these powers to be used only in exceptional circumstances. Can the Minister, even at this late stage, give us some more assurances and perhaps even some examples of circumstances in which those powers would be used?

Our second point had to do with the protocol being discussed by the Home Office and senior officers. The hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) and my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) have both referred to it. The Select Committee stated: We recommend that the proposed protocol on the operation of the powers to remove senior officers be published before the Bill reaches report stage. We hope the House, before agreeing to these clauses, will press Ministers for a fuller explanation of why they are necessary and why the matter cannot be left to police authorities. We are asking a vital question—when can the Home Secretary exercise the powers, and when can he not?

5.15 pm

Above all, where is the protocol? My hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire is ingenious and seems to have got hold of a copy. The first people I know to have got hold of a copy of the protocol work for The Times. Yesterday, in an article with the wonderful subheading "Crunch week for Blunkett on crime, cannabis and asylum", the newspaper stated: The new Bill includes an extra power to suspend a chief constable or his deputy or assistants where public confidence is undermined.

Details of the regulations under which such intervention would happen have not been included in the Bill. The framework for such powers is set out…in a protocol produced by the Home Office, a copy of which has been seen by The Times. It may be a naive question, but if The Times could see the protocol, why could not it be seen by hon. Members before the Bill reached Report stage? If The Times had it, why did paragraph 43 of the Government's response to the Select Committee report state: As these discussions are ongoing, it will not, in the event, be possible to publish the protocol in advance of Report Stage". I echo what the hon. Member for Lewes said. Given that my ingenious hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire has got hold of a copy of the protocol. perhaps one could be given to all hon. Members, even at this very late stage.

Why does this matter? Yesterday's article in The Times quoted an adviser—an "aide to Mr. Blunkett", according to the newspaper—who explained why the power might be necessary: We want to consult chief constables about this, but if a police area is completely failing, there is a very strong argument that the Home Secretary should be able to intervene. The arguments may be strong, but they should be presented to the House, with copies of the protocol for hon. Members to look at. It seems odd that the Government are still consulting on the matter. Normally. one consults before legislating, but the two processes seem to be going on at once.

I am unhappy about the proposed centralisation, as we could end up with chief constables looking over their shoulders at the Home Office rather than at local circumstances or their local police authorities. A good example of that was reported by The Times, which has been assiduous recently. We were assured yesterday that Ministers, not all of them Home Office Ministers, are not overseeing individual police forces, but The Times reported that those Ministers were looking at police areas and at the operation of the street crime initiative.

In an article by Mr. Tom Baldwin—who is known for his close connections with Downing street and for his assiduity in getting stories—The Times reported that it had learned that the police forces, covering areas where 80 per cent. of street crimes are committed, are each submitting weekly crime figures to their own minister from Downing Street's special "Cobra" emergency committee. This committee was set up in February under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister. The article states that my own Thames Valley police force is being overseen by the Minister for Social Exclusion and Deputy Minister for Women, who does not even live in that force's area.

It is clear that the new powers in the Bill will cause chief constables to look over their shoulders at the Home Office, to divine the thinking there and to determine the central initiatives that the Government are driving through. They will not be as worried as they should be about local policing matters.

In my area of Witney, there has been a spate of bad rural burglaries. I am meeting the Thames Valley area's chief constable tomorrow, and I want to know that he is focused on local issues such as that. I want to be sure that he is not always worrying about whether the Minister for Social Exclusion and Deputy Minister for Women is satisfied with what he is doing about street crime, or that he is not always looking to the Home Office to see whether he is going to be fired. The power to sack chief constables should reside with the police authorities.

I shall end with a quotation from the evidence of Sir John Stevens to the Select Committee, as it relates directly to the amendments. I put it to Sir John—not too brutally, I hope—that the Secretary of State may require the Metropolitan Police Authority to exercise its power…in the interests of efficiency or effectiveness, to retire or resign. And he can just sack you? Sir John Stevens said: I think there has to be a very, very detailed debate on what is operational independence"— the point made by the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen)— and what might affect operational independence. I am not talking about this Home Secretary, or Mr. Straw, or anybody else. I believe that, the worst case scenario, you should look at someone who might be the Home Secretary who may well want to exercise control over Chief Constables, and it is a golden thread of British justice that the police are independent. That golden thread is being unravelled by the powers in the Bill. Those powers will mean that chief constables will consider only the Home Office and how they are doing with Ministers—not even Home Office Ministers in the case of the Minister for Social Exclusion and Deputy Minister for Women—and they will forget about the importance of local policing.

Mrs. Claire Curtis-Thomas (Crosby)

I support the Government amendments which will be extremely important in delivering better crime prevention to all areas of the United Kingdom.

I shall set my remarks in context by quoting from "Policing a New Century: a Blueprint for Reform", which included a statement from the Audit Commission. The commission noted: There remain, however, significant variations in performance between police forces. These variations cannot simply be explained by differences in workload or by the varying circumstances forces face…There is no consistent link between increases in spending and improvements in performance. Of those forces that increased spending the most between 1994/95 and 1998/99, some registered improvements across a number of key indicators, others did not. The report continued: The performance variations at force level are striking. The recorded crime detection rate for burglaries varies between 43.5 per cent. and 7.9 per cent., for vehicle crime between 28.3 per cent. and 4.7 per cent., and for robbery between 50.8 per cent. and 14.4 per cent. Few people would find such variation remotely acceptable. I represent an area where the amount spent on policing is significantly higher than in many other areas, yet our detection rates are consistently low. I have great difficulty in explaining that to my constituents.

Contrary to some of the views expressed in the debate, police officers or chief constables will not be dismissed on a whim. They will be dismissed, or asked to resign or retire following a period during which they will have failed to come to terms with the difficulties that they experience in their community and to deliver good policing services.

We must find ways of removing from post people who are inefficient and ineffective. The notion that the tripartite system of Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary, police authorities and the Home Office achieved that in the past is farcical. There have been few cases of dismissal of chief constables in the UK.

Chief constables should be looking to the Home Office. After all, the Home Office is called to account for the failure of police authorities throughout the country, yet it has little impact on the performance of those authorities.

I welcome the Government's proposals on the removal of chief constables who are failing. Many areas of the country would benefit—as they would have done if we had introduced such a measure many years ago.

Mr. Denham

We have held a useful debate on a set of amendments on which we agree—I look forward to the debates on amendments on which we disagree.

I shall take in turn the points that were raised. It is worth reminding the House that for almost 40 years Governments have had the power to initiate the retirement of chief police officers. There is nothing new in that. Some contributors have spoken as though the Home Secretary was taking some new centralising power.

The new elements in these provisions are, first, the ability to require a chief officer to resign rather than to retire. As we discussed in Committee, the provision is based primarily on the fact that chief constables reach that rank substantially earlier than they used to. Police officers always appear to be getting younger, but chief officers genuinely are younger than they were 20 or 30 years ago. Therefore, it does not seem appropriate to require someone who might be in their early 40s to retire and receive the benefits of a pension.

The right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) referred to the financial issues. We undertook in Committee to work them through with the staff associations, because appropriate provision will obviously have to be made for those who have to resign.

Mr. Hogg

Does the Minister accept that the course of action chosen will have substantial financial implications for the police authority? Therefore, there is a good case for discussing with the authority which of the two courses should be taken.

Mr. Denham

I am not sure that a decision about the appropriate action should be taken on financial grounds. However, the nature of the provision to be made in such circumstances will, of course, be discussed with the CPOSA, the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Association of Police Authorities.

The new elements include the Bill having procedural safeguards on retirement and resignation that did not exist before. We have also discussed suspension, and it has been suggested that the Home Secretary will have an untrammelled power to suspend a chief officer on a whim. I shall not go through the legislation in great detail, but it makes very clear the circumstances in which a chief officer can be suspended. First, he can be suspended by a police authority when it has considered—or has decided to take—action leading to resignation or retirement. There is an important initial stage in the process. The same is true when the Secretary of State initiates action. The possibility of suspension comes into the frame only when a decision has already been made to take measures leading to retirement or resignation, when serious consideration has been given to such measures or when they have been implemented but the chief officer has not yet resigned or retired.

The Bill makes it clear that the test to be used by the police authority or the Home Secretary is the maintenance of police confidence. Action will be taken to suspend a chief officer if that is necessary to maintain public confidence. Although the wording is slightly different, that is essentially true whether the police authority or the Home Secretary takes action. Therefore, it is not an arbitrary power. The suggestion that it was such a power was made not by the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice), but by other Members who have spoken in the debate.

Norman Baker

To return to the point about public confidence that was discussed in Committee, does the Minister not recognise that if a Home Secretary or Minister rightly or wrongly publicly decried a chief constable, that could lead to a loss of public confidence in that officer who would automatically then be suspended by the police authority because public confidence had been eroded? If confidence had been eroded, it would be difficult to imagine the circumstances in which it would be restored so that the officer could return to duty.

Mr. Denham

I recognise something in the hon. Gentleman's remarks, but the possibility of an officer's career being damaged by action initiated by the Secretary of State has existed ever since the 1964 or 1966 Act first gave the Home Secretary the ability to act with regard to a chief officer. If the Home Secretary is considering action, a danger must be present, and I do not believe that we have introduced something significantly new in principle.

Members have reasonably asked about the protocol. The Select Committee on Home Affairs had hoped that the negotiations on the protocol would have been completed before Report—in an ideal world, I would have shared that hope—so that we could discuss them. Discussions are continuing this week between my officials and the CPOSA. If it is possible to conclude those discussions in time for Lords consideration of the Bill, we will make every effort to do so. However, I cannot promise that. It is important that negotiations take place between the Government, the CPOSA and organisations such as the Association of Police Authorities rather than occurring in the pages of the national press.

5.30 pm
Mr. Paice

The Minister is right. He has introduced safeguards when chief officers are required to retire, but he has not addressed the problem of safeguards when someone is suspended. There is nothing on such safeguards in the Bill; and the draft protocol, which I have been fortunate to see, makes no reference to them. Many hon. Members said that suspension is extremely damaging, whatever the outcome. The Secretary of State can require suspension and there is no option of a third-party appeal to him. What safeguards will the Minister introduce on suspension?

Mr. Denham

The suspension power comes into effect when circumstances are moving towards action to require a chief officer to retire or resign on either the Home Secretary's or the police authority's initiative. Suspension in those circumstances is seen as an immediate action and response to maintain public confidence. If all the procedural safeguards that are in place for a resignation or retirement are applied to the suspension process, the danger is that that process becomes the hearing on resignation or retirement. The power becomes unusable and the ability to get the right balance between maintaining public confidence and fair treatment of the chief officer is upset. How we handle that process needs to be the subject of discussion on the protocol, and I am sure we have some way to go before that is in a satisfactory form.

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh)

If the protocol is a work in progress, why was a copy of it shown to a journalist from The Times before it was shown to some hon. Members, including specialists who serve on the Home Affairs Committee?

Mr. Denham

I have no idea. I am reasonably confident that it did not come from any source within the Home Office or any Minister associated with the Department. I believe that copies of the draft protocol are fairly widely available in the police service. Chief constables have told me that they have had sight of it, although I have no reason to believe that any of them shared it with The Times. The matter will have to remain a mystery.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) asked whether there is a legal definition of efficiency or effectiveness in this context. The answer is no. It has not been defined in law, nor has there been a definition in law—certainly not in primary legislation—of operational matters, although the noble Lord Denning referred to a description of operational matters in a judgment 20 years ago. Other parts of the Bill exclude certain decisions from the powers of direction that may be made by the Home Secretary or a police authority, as set out in a new clause.

Mr. Allen

Given that "operational" is an elastic term, will my right hon. Friend consider defining it so that the operational creep in the police service, which allows just about everything to be seconded to the powers of the chief constable, is limited? I realise that it might be too late to do that for this Bill.

Mr. Denham

My hon. Friend will see that we have approached the matter in a slightly different way in the Bill. It is much easier, in law and in practice, to define those matters that must be solely the responsibility of the chief constable rather than to define all those that might be called "operational" in a broader sense. In the clauses that deal with what are currently called powers of direction, we have sought to exclude certain types of activity from those that could be the subject of a direction.

Mr. Allen

My right hon. Friend knows that I am interested in a particular problem. The chief constable in Nottinghamshire has effectively been able to do away with the beat bobby service in the city of Nottingham by ending what we would all term "community policing". Is my right hon. Friend telling me that nothing in the amendment, the clause or indeed the Bill would have prevented the chief constable from doing something that he can do now with impunity? He can disregard the rhetoric that Ministers dispense at the Dispatch Box; is my right hon. Friend telling me that he will still be able to do so in future?

Mr. Denham

I hate to disappoint my hon. Friend, but the answer is yes. It is clear from the discussions on Second Reading, in Committee and in the other place that the powers of intervention will not allow us to say to a chief constable, "You must do things our way." They apply only where the quality of service and the results achieved for the public are not satisfactory. The Bill makes provision for codes of practice to which chief constables would have to have regard. That could cover several different areas of policing, but I would not like to speculate today on whether it would cover the issue raised in such detail by my hon. Friend. He has inadvertently given me the opportunity to make it clear that this is not the prescriptive, centralising Bill to run the city of Nottingham from Whitehall that Opposition Members make it out to be.

My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas) made valuable points about variation. The thrust of the Bill is to ensure that we bring the standard of all police forces up to that of the best.

Lady Hermon (North Down)

I apologise for coming slightly late to the debate. Will the Minister elaborate on the nature of the representations that senior officers may make? He will know that under the rules of natural justice a person is entitled to a fair hearing. Given the seriousness of retirement or enforced resignation to an individual, surely it is acceptable and wholly reasonable that he is able to make representations in person as well as in writing.

Mr. Denham

Certainly we intend that the chief officer will be able to make such representations during the appropriate part of the proceedings, and I shall write to the hon. Lady with details about that. We do not intend to make available a full hearing at every stage in the proceedings, but it is obviously right that the rules of natural justice are followed if measures are taken to require a chief officer to retire or resign.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made:No. 21, in page 35, line 46, leave out "a notice" and insert "informing him".

No. 22, in page 36, line 1, leave out— 'an explanation in writing of' and insert "explaining".

No. 23, in page 36, line 5, leave out— 'of his intention to require the exercise of any power'.—[Mr. Ainger.]

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