HL Deb 18 July 1994 vol 557 cc15-8

2Clause 3, page 2, line 31, at end insert:

'Reductions in size of police authorities.

3B.—(1) This section applies to any order under subsection (2) of section 3A of this Act which varies or revokes an earlier order so as to reduce the number of a police authority's members.

(2) Before making an order to which this section applies, the Secretary of State shall consult—

  1. (a) the authority,
  2. (b) the councils which are relevant councils in relation to the authority for the purposes of Schedule 1B to this Act, and
  3. (c) any panel (or magistrates' courts committee) which is responsible, or is represented on a joint committee which is responsible, for the appointment of members of the authority.

(3) An order to which this section applies may include provision as to the termination of the appointment of the existing members of the authority and the making of new appointments or re-appointments."'

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I beg to move that the House doth agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 2. Perhaps I may also speak to Amendments Nos. 61, 62 and 64.

The Bill already includes a power for the Secretary of State, by order, to increase the size of a police authority above the standard size of 17. The power includes the power to vary or to revoke such an order. We do not expect frequent changes in the size of police authorities, but it would be wrong if the size of a police authority could only be increased but could never be decreased if circumstances were to change.

Amendment No. 2 is needed in order to cater for the practical consequences of reductions in the size of a police authority. The main purpose of the amendment is to ensure that, when varying or revoking the enlargement order, the Secretary of State may make provision concerning the appointments of existing members. That might in practice be done in a variety of ways, depending on the circumstances. Where the change in size was quite small, the Secretary of State might consult the police authority and might reach agreement with it over which members' appointments were to be terminated. There might, for example, be people who would would be due to retire from the authority shortly anyway, or maybe some would volunteer to do so. In these cases the order would give effect to what the Home Secretary had agreed with the authority.

Alternatively, especially in cases where more complex changes in the structure of the authority might be required, the better course might be to terminate the appointments of all existing members so that the appointing authorities could look at the matter afresh. The amendment includes an obligation on the Secretary of State to consult before taking such action on this. There is no statutory provision for consultation before making an order to enlarge a police authority because, in practice, the initiative for enlargement is likely to come from the authorities concerned in the police area, and local discussion will therefore arise naturally.

It is much more likely that the initiative to reduce the size of a police authority would come from the Home Secretary of the day, if it appeared to him that the reasons for an earlier enlargement had changed. In practice I have no doubt that he would consult—he would not leave the police authority to learn of a reduction just be the laying of the relevant order before Parliament. But we thought that consultation on the question of reducing the size of an authority should be mandatory, and the amendment achieves that purpose.

Amendments Nos. 61 and 62 also concern police authority membership. They put right an anomaly which affects local government areas which are partly within the Metropolitan Police district. At present parts of the counties of Surrey, Essex and Hertfordshire are within the Metropolitan Police district. We have no plans to change the boundaries of the Metropolitan Police district, so this will continue in its present state for the foreseeable future.

Under the Bill as originally drafted, it would theoretically have been possible for local councillors who represent those areas that are policed by the Metropolitan Police to be appointed as councillor members of the police authority for Surrey, Essex or Hertfordshire—which would, of course, be the policing authority for the other part of their area. That would obviously not make sense. Their electoral divisions would be in the Metropolitan Police district and not in the police area on which police authority they wish to sit. Their local electors would be contributing to the funding of the Metropolitan Police, not to the funding of the force on which police authority they sought to sit.

I understand that, at present, the county councils whose areas include parts of the Metropolitan Police district do not choose county councillors representing electoral divisions within that district to sit on the relevant county police authority. The amendment will put that commonsense practice on a statutory footing by ensuring that councillors who are elected for electoral divisions which are wholly within the Metropolitan Police district are disqualified for membership of a police authority for an area which is outside the Metropolitan Police district.

The amendments will also ensure that, for the purposes of determining the political balance among the councillor members of a police authority, a council or a joint committee which is making appointments should take no account of councillors who are disqualified for membership because they were elected for areas within the Metropolitan Police district. It would be absurd if political balance were to be determined by the political affiliations of people who were ineligible for appointment.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 2.—(Earl Ferrers.)

Lord Renton

My Lords, before I ask my noble friend a simple question about this group of amendments, perhaps I may ask him a more general question. I hope that it will be in order for me to do so. I feel that it may save time. Can he assure us that the Commons amendments to Parts I and II of the Bill, which deal with police affairs, have not changed in principle the amendments made by your Lordships to the Bill that was originally presented to us? They do not seem to have done so, but if my noble friend can give an assurance that that is so, I am sure that it will help in the further discussion of the Commons amendments. There are a number of amendments but they seem to be mainly consequential on what your Lordships did to the Bill. Indeed, many of them appear largely to be matters of administrative detail.

Having asked the question, perhaps I may now turn to the effects of this group of amendments. In considering the group, which includes reference to the first schedule, we find what the police areas for the future in England, except London, are to be. In this context we have to bear in mind that there is a local government commission which has already made many recommendations about the future of local government in England. In doing so, it referred to various specialist tasks, such as policing, for which local authorities in England are at present responsible.

In the case of Cambridgeshire, where I happen to live, the police area is to be the county of Cambridgeshire. Perhaps I may say that I am glad about that. Although I personally hope that a number of unitary authorities will be created within Cambridgeshire, I hope also that the police authority will cover the whole area in the future as it has done up to now.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I believe that I can satisfy my noble friend, certainly over the first part of his question. Although there are a number of amendments, they are mostly matters of detail and are, as he described it, largely of administrative detail. There is only one case in which the Commons amendment reverses; a Lord's amendment, and that concerns Amendment No. 18.

With regard to my noble friend's concern about his county of Cambridgeshire, so far as I know the position is likely to remain as it is at the moment unless or until the local government commission suggests any alterations to the boundaries.

On Question, Motion agreed to.