HL Deb 27 April 1995 vol 563 cc1027-30

3.30 p.m.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their policy on fixed tens contracts for chief officers of police.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch)

My Lords, all new appointments to the ranks of chief constable and assistant chief constable after 1st April 1995 will be for fixed terms. Serving officers in those ranks may, by agreement with their police authority, move to a fixed-term appointment on or after 1st April.

Appointments for fixed terms, especially for the top managers of an organisation, have important benefits for both the individual and the organisation and reflect established arrangements in other walks of life, including the public sector.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank

My Lords, will the Minister acknowledge that the Government's policy has received a serious setback with the refusal of the Chief Constable of Hampshire, a most distinguished police officer, to sign a short-term contract? Given what the Minister said about benefits, in what way does she believe his performance would be improved were he to do so?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I do not believe that there has been a setback. The Chief Constable of Hampshire has an absolute right under the arrangements to make the choice as to whether he wishes to sign up for a fixed-term appointment. He is perfectly free to exercise that choice. We have made it possible for him to do that, and he has done so. It is also important to note that that was a personal choice. Many of his chief officer colleagues will choose to participate in fixed-term contracts.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, Mr. Hoddinott is not only Chief Constable of Hampshire but also President of the Association of Chief Police Officers. Is the noble Baroness aware that in a letter which has been published in the press Mr. Hoddinott has drawn attention to the fact that he proposes to refuse the new contract on the constitutional grounds that it would fetter his independence from undue political interference? Is that not why we opposed this proposal so strongly when we discussed the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I have noted that Mr. Hoddinott is president of the association. I made the point that he acted in a personal capacity and that many of his chief officer colleagues will make a different choice. I also made it clear that there were benefits. It is worth recording that the association of which he is president agreed, in the Police Negotiating Board, to both fixed-term contracts and performance related pay.

To address a hypothetical situation, if an authority strayed into areas which were properly the preserve of the chief constable and interfered with his proper duties, there would have to be complicity between all the different representatives on the police authority—the elected members, magistrates and appointed members. That would be unthinkable.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, to follow the answer that the Minister has just given, is it not the case that the position adopted by the Association of Chief Police Officers, and by the Opposition at the time of the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill, was that it was the combination of fixed-term contracts and performance related pay which presented the threat to the independence of Chief Police Officers? Secondly, is there not a curious contradiction between the Government's view that accountability of chief police officers is achieved by fixed-term contracts but accountability for the Director of the Prison Service is apparently now to be achieved by a month-by-month contract?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, it is worth recording that the Director of the Prison Service is also on a fixed-term contract and is accountable for his performance. Speaking from this Dispatch Box recently I explained the reason why, when that appointment was first made, accountability for performance was not put in place. It has now been put in place. I repeat, that it was the police authorities and the Association of Chief Police Officers who agreed that arrangement as part of the new pay structure for the police, within the Police Negotiation Board, and in fact made the recommendation themselves. Therefore, I am not sure that the comparison the noble Lord makes is a valid one.

Lord Geddes

My Lords, can my noble friend advise the House what restrictions, if any, exist on the renewal of such fixed-term contracts?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, there is absolutely none. When chief police officers or assistant chief police officers come to the end of fixed-term contracts they are entirely free to apply for reappointment.

Lord Knights

My Lords, if, as I believe is the position, performance related pay is to be part of the chief police officer's contract, can the Minister tell the House by what criteria his performance is to be measured and who will make the assessment? Bearing in mind the importance of his relationships not only with his police authority but also with many other bodies such as the councils within his area, the Crown Prosecution Service, Home Office officials and perhaps the Home Secretary himself, how is that aspect to be fed into the assessment of performance?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the noble Lord, who has a great deal more experience of these matters than I have, knows that there is such a thing as the police plan. That will form the basis for the work of the police authority in the course of a year. At the end of the year, in negotiations between the police authority and the chief police officers themselves, a judgment will be made as to whether performance was good, bad or indifferent, and whether it was at the median level or above average. Up to 7.5 per cent. of salary is available for recognising outstanding performance above the norm.

Earl Russell

My Lords, will the noble Baroness agree that in showing such apparent indifference to the loss of a distinguished officer she risks sounding like the Australian Government which, on being told that one of its policemen had been eaten by cannibals, issued a statement saying that there were plenty more where he came from?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I am bound to answer a question with a question. What indifference have I shown, and what police officer have we lost?

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, the Minister advised the House that at the end of their short-term contracts chief police officers have to reapply for their own jobs. Can the Minister advise the House whether that is the mechanism by which Cabinet Ministers are reappointed?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the performance of Cabinet Ministers is reviewed for reappointment every four or five years by the British electorate. That is how they are accountable. It is a very sharp accountability indeed.

When a chief police officer or assistant chief police officer comes to the end of a fixed-term contract—and it should be remembered that the contract is for up to 10 years for assistant chief police officers and up to seven years for chief police officers—there is an automatic review. It will be a matter for the officer concerned as to whether he wishes to be considered for further appointment. The post would have to be advertised and it would be for the authority to determine whether or not there should be a reappointment.