HL Deb 22 July 2002 vol 638 cc71-9

1 Clause 4, page 4, line 45, at end insert— (5) The Secretary of State shall not give a direction under this section in relation to any police force unless—

  1. (a) the police authority maintaining that force and the chief officer of that force have each such information about the Secretary of State's grounds for proposing to give that direction as he considers appropriate for enabling them to make representations or proposals under the following paragraphs of this subsection;
  2. (b).that police authority and chief officer have each been given an opportunity of making representations about those grounds;
  3. (c).that police authority has had an opportunity of making proposals for the taking of remedial measures that would make the giving of the direction unnecessary; and
  4. (d).the Secretary of State has considered any such representations and any such proposals.
(6) The Secretary of State may by regulations make further provision as to the procedure to be followed in cases where a proposal is made for the giving of a direction under this section. (7) Before making any regulations under this section, the Secretary of State shall consult with—
  1. (a) persons whom he considers to represent the interests of police authorities;
  2. (b) persons whom he considers to represent the interests of chief officers of police, and
  3. (c) such other persons as he thinks fit.
(8) Regulations under this section may make different provision for different cases and circumstances. (9) A statutory instrument containing regulations under this section shall not be made unless a draft of the regulations has been laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 1. It is perhaps fitting that we begin our consideration of the amendments made in the other place with the issue which has proved to be the most contentious throughout the passage of the Bill in both Houses. Indeed, it is so contentious that this House decided at Report stage in April to remove the offending clause—that is, Clause 5, headed "Directions to chief officers"—from the Bill.

In turn, the other place decided, as is their right, to restore the clause. But the clause that we are now considering is very different from the one first introduced into your Lordships' House. Indeed, it is so different that the clause now has a different title. Rather than "Directions to chief officers", it is now to be entitled "Directions as to action plans".

It is fair to say that in the past three months since the Bill left this House, both sides have come a long way. During the earlier debates in this House, the opposition were not even prepared to accept that there were any circumstances in which it would be appropriate for the Home Secretary of the day to intervene to ensure that effective action was taken to address poor performance. There is now a general acceptance that there must be some last-resort mechanism for the Home Secretary to become involved where local remedies have failed to address serious weaknesses.

For our part, we now accept that the trigger for intervention must be an adverse report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary. Evidence of poor performance from the Police Standards Unit or Audit Commission may cause the Home Secretary to commission a special inspection, but the independent inspectorate would need to confirm that the initial concerns were fully justified.

The Government also accept that the intervention powers, once triggered, should be applied through the local police authority. Hence there is no longer a power to direct a chief officer. We have instead built upon the existing power to direct police authorities. That was first introduced in the Police and Magistrates' Courts Act 1994 by the previous Conservative administration.

Under the revised clause, the Home Secretary will direct the police authority to submit an action plan. In turn, the police authority will direct the chief officer to prepare a draft of such a plan. It will then be for the police authority to adopt the plan, with or without modifications, and submit it to the Home Secretary.

I should stress that the content of the action plan will be wholly a matter for the police authority, in consultation with the chief officer. However, we believe that it is entirely reasonable that the Home Secretary should see the plan and, if necessary, comment on it, to satisfy himself and, more importantly, those communities suffering from an inadequate policing service that adequate measures are to be taken. Again, it would be entirely a matter for the police authority to decide whether to change the plan in the light of the Home Secretary's comments.

The House will no doubt recognise many of the features in the revised clause. They are not dissimilar to those contained in the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey at both Committee and Report stages, which received general support from both Opposition Front Benches.

Following further discussions with the Shadow Home Secretary, we have made some further adjustments to subsection (2) of new Section 41A, which are contained in government amendments to Amendment No. 2. Those adjustments seek to remove any lingering doubt that the Home Secretary would still be able to dictate the content of an action plan. We are happy to make it abundantly clear that that is not the case.

I believe that, as a result of these and the earlier changes, there is now broad agreement to these amendments, and I commend them to the House.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 1.—(Lord Falconer of Thoroton.)

6.45 p.m.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

My Lords, in rising to speak to this amendment, which, as the Minister has pointed out, goes to the heart of some of our original objections to parts of this Bill, I shall, with the leave of the House, take the rather unusual step of speaking generally and as briefly as possible on all remaining amendments before the House today. I have given notice of that intention to the Minister, to the Liberal Democrat Front Bench and to the Chief Whips of both parties. It is to show good will to the Bill at this stage and to assist its speedy passage at a time when we have much pressing business in this House. I hope that by speaking for about five or six minutes now, I shall not need to detain the House by speaking on any further matters today, unless, of course, it becomes necessary at some stage to correct any inaccuracies.

I welcome the Bill as it is now being re-drafted by the Government. It goes far enough towards the position we have been seeking to be acceptable to us. If the Liberal Democrats press their amendments to a Division today, I am afraid that we shall not be able to support them.

I pay tribute to the hard work done over the past few months by my noble friends, especially my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith, and by my right honourable friend Mr Letwin and my honourable friend Mr Paice, in making these significant government concessions possible. I do not in any regard underestimate the extent of the hard talking that has taken place behind the scenes, as well as on the Floors of both Houses, nor the extent of the Government's recognition of the clear determination of this House to stick by its principled views expressed during our debates on the Bill.

On other matters before us today, I should also like to take the opportunity now to welcome the new provisions on sex offender orders, which will ensure better protection for vulnerable people against convicted sex offenders.

Of course, there is always a "but". In this instance, the "but" is that my noble friend Lord Attlee is still extremely unhappy with Amendment No. 142, which will be debated later. I am sure that the Minister will recognise, as I do, the depth and breadth of my noble friend's knowledge and expertise in these matters. Amendment No. 142 deals with the movement of abnormal loads. My noble friend believes that it facilitates a private person undertaking what is now a police function on a commercial, not a competitive, basis. I have not been briefed on this matter by the industry, as there has been no consultation by the Home Office. I am sure that both my noble friend and I will return to this matter in the future when the Bill is enacted, but I am most grateful to him for indicating to me that he will not pursue the matter in our debates today.

When the Bill was debated in this House, noble Lords found three measures in particular objectionable: first, the Secretary of State's plans to intervene in constabularies where ministers believe they have failed in some respect; secondly, the provisions to invent community support officers; and, thirdly, the Henry VIII powers regarding the Secretary of State's powers to make orders and regulations.

I shall deal briefly with the three points in reverse order. I welcome the concession made by the Government on Report on 9th July on the so-called Henry VIII powers, when they tabled an amendment which had the effect of adding their names to the amendment tabled by my honourable friend Mr James Paice and Mr Norman Baker. I welcome the Government's conversion to our view not only that the powers were indeed Henry VIII powers—far too extensive—but that they should be deleted, as they had been by this House. If the Government had not made that concession, the Bill would have provided a power to enable the Home Secretary to amend and supplement the list of police powers, set out in the schedules, which civilians might possess under the Bill. We believed that that gave the Home Secretary too wide a power, and the clause was removed from the Bill at Third Reading.

With regard to the CSOs, it is no secret that, had we started with a clean sheet of paper, we would not have invented them. We would have preferred to adopt another route, using the Special Constabulary. However, I welcome the Government's commitment, given on Report at columns 980 to 981 of Commons Hansard of 10th July, that the schemes will be piloted and that during the first two years after the commencement of this Act, the maximum number of forces allowed to deploy CSOs with the power to use detention with reasonable force will be six. It is acceptable because we are assured by the Government that they settled on that number after consultation with the chief inspector of the constabulary.

I therefore come to the final and most intractable of the issues, which is the subject of the amendments in this group; that is, Clause 5 and the Government's initial plans to require chief officers in forces which Ministers consider to be failing in some way, to submit an action plan addressing the problem; and of course, as the noble and learned Lord the Minister has pointed out, Clause 5 was deleted by this House. It would have given central control of policing to the Home Secretary and undermined the tripartite system that gives a role to chief constables, Ministers and police authorities.

When the Bill was debated on Report in another place, the Government's position was still not acceptable to us. Their offer was that the requirement for an action plan should be imposed only after an adverse report from independent inspectors and that it should be channelled through the police authorities. However, the Government would still have been able to indicate the relevant areas on which the plan should focus. That was not acceptable to us.

The Government's amendments which they have brought forward today show that they have now dropped that objectionable requirement. The new clause gives the Home Secretary the power to initiate an action plan, but will give him no control over its contents and he will no longer be able to direct chief officers to draw one up.

The Home Secretary will not now have the power to run every police force from his desk in Whitehall as we believed was initially proposed. As the old saying goes, "A week is a long time in politics", and in this week the Government have done their final and most welcome U-turn. They have listened properly to the concerns expressed first in this House and subsequently in another place. I therefore welcome the amendments.

Lord Dholakia

My Lords, the amendment is grouped with a number of other amendments. I want particularly to speak to Amendments 2, 2A and 75A to D.

There have been a number of changes to the Bill in another place. I am delighted that much of what has now been achieved reflects the concern that we expressed in your Lordships' House. I am delighted with the contribution of my honourable friends Norman Baker and Simon Hughes, who were able to bring much pressure on the Government to achieve these changes. I welcome the amendment, but I intend to speak also in relation to CSOs later on during the relevant amendment.

In the meantime, I confirm that our approach on Report in your Lordship's House was justified. We strenuously opposed Clause 5 then because we believed and still believe that the police authority should be at the heart of all changes proposed. To tamper with this well-established structure will not bring improvement in the way we deal with crime. Moreover there is a clear demonstration in a number of previous Bills before your Lordships' House that the Government have an insatiable appetite to control matters centrally. They took little notice of what we said on the Education Bill and on other Home Office matters, where central controls replaced many of the local initiatives.

At the heart of police reforms must be an acceptance that police authorities are an essential element of the tripod that sustains local accountability and independence. More importantly, they are the guardians of the independence of police operational methods. Any interference in those aspects would erode the confidence of the public. I am glad that the Government have made a concession to uphold that principle. It is reflected in the way the amendment has been framed.

The Bill now stops short of establishing the Home Secretary's position as the de facto head of policing. The Government failed to realise that the Bill as first drafted seemed to accord to the Home Secretary powers that go far beyond those traditionally accepted within our constitutional convention.

The most obvious issue is that the Bill altered the historical constitutional balance of the relationship between central government, the local governance of policing and the so-called operational independence of chief constables. There has always been a recognisable separation—albeit now somewhat blurred—between the power, the responsibility and the accountability of each of the three institutions. Since the inception of the new model police from the late 1820s onwards, constitutional convention has stressed the importance of local accountability for the delivery of policing. That is one good reason why the amendment ought to be supported.

Locally appointed police authorities—as they became—have jealously guarded against central interference. It must be recognised that the traditional tripartite" relationship was manipulated into a more lineal one following the Conservative sponsored Police and Magistrates' Court Act 1994. Ministers may well reflect the controversy surrounding those provisions and especially as they related to the perceived centralising of power. The current Bill, however, went far further. Its net effect would have established the Home Secretary as the determining institution in and of policing.

The original Bill all but eradicated the position of police authorities as the locally accountable governing body. It could well reduce their role to that of mere functionaries of interpretation. It also altered the relationship between the Home Secretary and Chief Constables. The Home Secretary accrues to himself the power to dismiss chief officers, having already the power to determine the suitability for appointment. Taken together with the other powers, it could be perceived that chief officers of police could be wholly dependent on and at the whim of the Home Secretary.

That interference is wholly unacceptable. It is a dangerous development. It is not an exaggeration to suggest that if the Bill was passed in its original format, it would entrench more power and control in central government. I am glad to an extent that we have moved away from that. Save perhaps for the Armed Forces, the Police Service is the most powerful operational institution in any polity. We might not have a police state in the literal sense of the term, but we would be a long way towards establishing one. We would certainly have a ministry of policing in everything other than in name.

The central question still remains: why does the present Home Secretary see the need for such measures? I find it difficult to understand his publicly-announced reasoning that because he is responsible to Parliament for policing he should have the power as well as the responsibility. While I do not want to rehearse the points already made in previous debates in your Lordships' House about the role of central government, it seems to me to be a complete misunderstanding of the role of a Minister within a liberal democracy for the Home Secretary to assume such powers. It is, I believe, a sign of immature governance to presume that accruing such powers will positively assist the delivery of policing services.

However, we know now that the buck stops with him. He has no escape route left. I am therefore a little happier that our concern is reflected—not totally but partially—in the Commons amendment and the amendment moved by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer.

I turn to Commons Amendment No. 75. The argument that I have advanced about police authorities applies equally to the NCIS authority. The Government have gone some way in redefining their relationship in trying to tackle remedial measures realised by an inspection under Section 54 of the Act.

For the time being we shall support these measures. But we shall watch developments with great care. So, although the powers of the Home Secretary to intervene in the actions of chief officers of police and police authorities have been greatly reduced—thanks to the combined opposition in both Houses of Parliament—I have no doubt that if we smell that the local authority is eroded by centralised control we shall be back to propose suitable amendments in future legislation.

Lord Harris of Haringey

My Lords, I rise briefly to say how pleased I am with the amendments put forward by my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton. It is important that the Government have listened to the arguments put by noble Lords, by police authorities externally and by chief police officers about the importance of the tripartite relationship between the Home Secretary, local police authorities and local chief officers of police.

Essentially, the amendments in this group restore that balance. It is entirely legitimate for the Home Secretary to have concerns about the performance and delivery of policing services in local areas. However, it would not be legitimate for him to follow up that concern with the proposals that were originally in the Bill. The arrangements that have now been put before the House set the balance right. The local police authority will be required to ensure that an appropriate action plan is drawn up and that that action plan meets the concerns of local communities and the wider population, to whom the Home Secretary is responsible.

So the balance has now been struck right. I would say that, having tabled an amendment on similar lines at an earlier stage, this is an important recognition that the Government have listened to the concerns that have been expressed and have now got the balance right, preserving the important principle of the tripartite relationship.

7 p.m.

Baroness Harris of Richmond

My Lords, I, too, agree that we have come a long way from the original draft. I welcome much of what we have worked on in this House and what they have worked on in another place. But, like my noble friend Lord Dholakia, I ask why the Home Secretary still feels that he needs the powers, and what evidence he has that police authorities will not have regard to the national policing plan. They have a statutory duty to do so; if they do, there should be no need for the Home Secretary to issue an action plan. That could still be seen by police authorities to be undermining their role.

On Amendment No. 75A, it is again the directions to the service authorities of the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the National Crime Squad that are difficult for us to accept. They are relatively new bodies and, to my knowledge, have thoroughly complied with their statutory responsibilities. As is the case with the police authorities for England and Wales, there can be no sensible reason for the Home Secretary to take to himself those powers. He has sufficient power to make police authorities and forces perform better. The intervention powers under Clause 4 achieve that. I still have considerable concerns about the matter, as does my noble friend Lord Dholakia, but we agree that we have come a long way from the Bill as drafted.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale

My Lords, perhaps I may thank my noble and learned friend for not simply listening to concerns expressed in this House and another place about the Bill's provisions but, more importantly, responding to them. It is slightly churlish to start to throw around phrases such as U-turns, defeats and the rest of it. One of the reasons that this place is here is to review legislation with which we are presented and propose ways in which we collectively feel that it may be improved. It is then up to the Government of the day, who have a majority in the other place, to decide whether they will simply listen and reject those proposals or, as one hopes—and more sensibly, in my view—to listen and respond to what has been said.

I do not want to reopen the argument, but although I understand many of the concerns expressed, they are exaggerated and overstated. But that is by the by, in a sense, because the whole debate at both ends of the Corridor has underlined the continuing importance of our tripartite arrangements for policing on behalf of communities up and down this island. That is what matters.

What matters is that, as far as possible, we should try to proceed together on the path of reform. I have not heard any argument that policing is incapable of being reformed—least of all, let me immediately say, from the police themselves. There are arguments about the detail, but we are all signed up to the need to persuade, encourage and enable the police, with the proper provision of the resources that they need in terms of manpower, equipment and all the rest of it, to get better results in not just detecting but deterring crime, where possible. There is no argument between us about that. The amendments proposed by my noble and learned friend will help us to achieve that.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I hope that your Lordships will not think it discourteous of me not to reply to the debate, because we have gone through this many times. Although I appreciate that the noble Lord, Dholakia, and the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, have reservations, the appropriate course is for us to proceed, because I shall deal with almost all of their points in the course of debate on other amendments.

On Question, Motion agreed to.