HL Deb 18 December 1979 vol 403 cc1576-9

Second Reading debate continued.

4.38 p.m.


My Lords, I shall now reply to the speeches made on the Police Negotiating Board Bill. May I express my gratitude to noble Lords who have spoken on this Bill, thereby showing their interest in its importance, and particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, for reminding us of the responsible and often dangerous duties of the police. If I may say so, my noble friend Lord Inglewood was absolutely right to say that these duties require the police service to have officers of high quality; and it has been to the advantage of this debate that we have had the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, with his experience of the police service, saying that he feels that the police service is finding these men and women to enter the service.

My noble friend Lord Inglewood asked me if I would reply to him on the question of whether this new body (to be called the Police Negotiating Board) is to be soundly based. I believe it is and for these reasons. First of all, the board is being set up as a result of recommendations of the Edmund-Davies Committee. It is fair to claim, on the evidence that we have of the Edmund-Davies recommendations, that the Committee was shrewd and indeed far-seeing with regard to the matters to do with the police service. Secondly the board is being set up as a result of consultations which are written into the Bill. These consultations have to be undertaken, and therefore when the board is set up it will be as a result of consultations with everybody connected with the police service.

At the same time—and this was a point that was put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham—the Edmund-Davies Committee said that the committee structure was for the new board to decide. The Edmund-Davies Committee was very careful to say that it endorsed the same committee procedures which had proved that they worked under the Police Council. I have confidence in the future of this new board because it has a very able chairman in the noble Lord, Lord Plowden. I am grateful to noble Lords—not least the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, with his knowledge of the police service—for welcoming the appointment of the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, whose services we have been most fortunate to secure.

My noble friend Lord Inglewood asked me about the composition of the board. The information that I can give my noble friend is that it is the intention that it should have 62 members: 33 on the official side and 29 on the staff side. If my noble friend thinks that this is a large body, may I remind him of what I have just said: the board will have a committee system, five committees. I think that the Police Council had five committees and the intention is that this board shall have the same number of committees. Therefore the real work of the Board will be undertaken in sensibly-sized committees.

Your Lordships have all asked me about representation of magistrates upon the board. It is the fact that the Edmund-Davies Committee recommended that the representatives of the local authority associations on the official side of the new negotiating body should reflect the composition of local police authorities by including one-third magistrate representatives. It is also the case (as your Lordships have made clear from your speeches that you realise) that there was disagreement between the local authority associations and the representative bodies over this recommendation. The recommendation has, however, now been accepted by both sides of the board. Therefore, when the board is set up on a statutory basis when this Bill becomes law, the composition of the new board will be determined as part of the arrangements made under Clause 1(3) of the Bill; and it is now agreed—may I make it quite clear to your Lordships' House—that this will accord with the recommendations on this particular subject of the Edmund-Davies Committee.

The noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, asked me about the bringing into effect of the Bill. Clause 3(2) provides that the Bill shall come into force two months after the Royal Assent, and before that time is up the consultations referred to in Clause 1(3) which refer to composition and procedure of the board must be completed. I hope that this debate has made clear that all the consultations conducted so far have reached agreement. I therefore believe that if both Houses of Parliament pass the Bill, the board will be ready to begin work on a statutory basis within two months of Royal Assent. The noble Lord also asked me about the independent secretariat—something in which the noble Lords, Lord Wigoder and Lord Boston, also expressed interest. May I make it crystal clear that the Government accept absolutely the Edmund-Davies recommendations for the independent secretariat. But the Government also took the view that this ought to be done only after consultations which are written into the Bill under Clause 1(3). That is why the secretariat is not provided in the Bill. I give the House an assurance that the Government accept that the independent secretariat is needed, and none of the police bodies concerned has commented adversely on this recommendation. The secretariat is therefore being provided for by the Office of Manpower Economics—as the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder reminded us, it is in the Explanatory Memorandum.

My noble friend Lord Inglewood asked me about the regulations in the Bill. They are subject to the Negative Resolution and therefore can be prayed against in both Houses of Parliament. My noble friend referred to the position of special constables and cadets He wondered whether they were—and, if not, why not?—provided for in the Bill. The cadets are represented by the Police Federation; that is why they are not provided for specifically in the Bill. The police advisory board working party in 1976 agreed that special constables ought not to receive payment and the question of their representation on the new Police Negotiating Board does not therefore arise. May I make it clear that I take very seriously what my noble friend says about the voluntary elements in this country and also in policing in this country. I should like to say on behalf of the Government that we believe that the voluntary contribution to policing is met, and should be met, through the special constabulary, which we all want to see as a vital and effective body.

May I reiterate my thanks to your Lordships for taking part in the Second Reading of what is a short Bill but none the less an important one. I hope that your Lordships will now agree to give this Bill a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.