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Mr. Howard : I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who draws an extremely interesting parallel from which there is much that we can learn which may well be of relevance to the proceedings that we are discussing at the moment and may well have a good deal of applicability to those proceedings. That is an extremely valuable point.

I am persuaded that police officers should continue to have the right to be legally represented if they are at risk of dismissal, requirement to resign or reduction in rank. Under my proposals, legal representation will still be

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available both on appeal and at the hearing at which a decision to dismiss, to require resignation, or to reduce in rank may be taken. I shall be seeking to make one further change to those provisions of the Bill that deal with appeals. As the Bill stands, an officer who is dismissed, required to resign or reduced in rank has a right of appeal to a police appeal tribunal.

In order to ensure that the composition of the tribunal continues to reflect the present position and the position under general employment law, I propose to bring forward amendments that would add a former staff association representative as an additional member of the tribunal. He would sit together with a legally qualified chairman, a serving or recently retired chief constable from another force and a member of the police authority for the officer's force. The chairman will have a casting vote in the event of a disagreement. Those changes will, I am confident, enable us to make important and much-needed changes in the area of police personnel management. Part II contains purely Scottish provisions on the police. It makes various amendments and additions to the Police (Scotland) Act 1967 in pursuit of our policy for reform of the police service that are comparable to those made for England and Wales in part I. Those include provisions to give greater management responsibility to chief constables, provisions on rank structure and conditions of service, and on discipline. The Bill also makes provisions that are relevant only to Scotland. They relate to matters such as the subjects to be included in chief constables' annual reports, and the

responsibilities of inspectors of constabulary in Scotland. Part III of the Bill makes changes to the Police Act (Northern Ireland) 1970 to give effect in Northern Ireland to the Government's decisions on police rank structure and conditions of service. The changes are comparable to those being made in Great Britain to enable greater flexibility in making regulations, while taking account of the special and different circumstances of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

The Government's aim in part IV of the Bill is that magistrates courts should provide an efficient, high-quality and expeditious system of local justice that commands public confidence. We are committed to maintaining both the local nature of the system and the independence from Government of judicial decision making. That requires improvements in the management structure and organisation of the courts service.

Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones (Ynys Mo n) : Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way ?

Mr. Howard : If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me for a moment, he may find that I am about to deal with the point that I suspect he has in mind.

The changes will achieve four main objectives. They will guarantee the judicial independence of magistrates and their legal advisers, yield improvements in the efficiency and effectiveness of the service, secure maximum co-operation in the management of the service with other parts of the criminal justice system and improve the accountability of the service-- both locally and to Parliament. The day-to-day management of the magistrates courts service remains in the hands of local committees,

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consisting almost entirely of local magistrates, but the Lord Chancellor is accountable to Parliament for the operation of the service. At present, lines of responsibility both locally and with the Lord Chancellor are inadequate. The Government's proposals, which are based on those published in a White Paper in February 1992, will provide the Lord Chancellor with the minimum level of control over the service consistent with his accountability to Parliament. Clause 62 will enable the Lord Chancellor to initiate the amalgamation of magistrates courts committee areas. There is at present a power to amalgamate magistrates courts committees, but only where the committees themselves so wish. In fact, no such amalgamations have ever happened. The power provided by the Bill will not be used arbitrarily. It is obvious that an amalgamation will work best if it has the full backing of the local people involved, and local consultations will take place in each case. But we have a duty to consider the best interests of the service as a whole. Where, for example, some of the smallest committees cannot use their resources as flexibly as larger ones, the opportunity for a higher level of service to the public and improved value for money might make an amalgamation appropriate even where not all local interests agree with such a move.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster) : Will my right hon. and learned Friend ask the people who are to consult on those matters to pay more attention to distance in rural areas ? The closure of Garstang magistrates court has been universally deplored by all concerned.

Mr. Howard : My hon. Friend makes an important point, as usual, and I will certainly draw it to the attention of my noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor.

Sir Roger Moate (Faversham) : Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that many of us are sceptical about the proposition of greater parliamentary accountability over magistrates courts ? If a closure is proposed by the magistrates court committee and it is not objected to by the county council, the matter does not come to Parliament and we have no say. Does my right hon. and learned Friend propose to improve on that ?

Mr. Howard : My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I will refer it to my noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor and to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, who is seated beside me and who will reply to the debate. I am sure that he will be seized of my hon. Friend's point.

Magistrates courts committees will be restructured so that they can better fulfil their task of providing strategic direction. They will no longer be primarily representative bodies. Instead, members will be chosen for the particular experience or skills that they can bring to that management body.

Committees will be strengthened by a full-time head of staff to take responsibility for the service's day-to-day administration, although always subject to a committee's direction. That head of service, to be known as the justices' chief executive, will be the manager of all the committee's staff. A number of committees have already structured their staffing on that basis, so far as is possible within the existing legislative framework.

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Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones : I want to question the Home Secretary on a different point which arises from clause 66. It provides that the Lord Chancellor may give directions to magistrates courts committees so that they can meet specified standards of performance. Some people regard that as the green light to close many rural courts. Will the Home Secretary give me an assurance that that is not the proper interpretation of the clause ?

Mr. Howard : Having had the opportunity just a moment ago of refreshing my memory about the precise contents of that clause, I do not think that it contains any justification for the inference that the hon. Gentleman seeks to draw. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department will be able to enlarge on that point when he replies.

Mr. Barry Jones : Will the Secretary of State confirm that I have persuaded him that he and the Lord Chancellor would be unwise to seek to merge two areas--Gwynedd and Clwyd--in terms of the magistrates courts committee ? Will he undertake to reconsider that proposal, because on linguistic, cultural and geographical grounds they will not able to do it ?

Mr. Howard : My right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor has no proposals to make any such amalgamation. Should the time ever come when he has, I know that he will particularly take into account the hon. Gentleman's representations.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South) : Will the Home Secretary assure me that where, because of the shifting nature of the problem, fine collection in industrial and urban areas becomes a problem the magistrates courts in those areas will not be penalised on an efficiency basis simply because they cannot find the people to collect the fines from ?

Mr. Howard : I am quite sure that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, who was listening very carefully to the hon. Gentleman, will ponder at length on its implications and give full weight to its significance before he reaches any decisions on the point raised by the hon. Gentleman.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton) : I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for giving way before he leaves this phase of his speech. He seems to be saying that our hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will give some guarantees later. He is, of course, aware of the worry about amalgamation of the magistrates courts committees in the outer London boroughs. He said that my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor is simply seeking a power to amalgamate, but I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will realise that amalgamation of the outer London magistrates courts committees, only 10 years after a complete restructuring following the abolition of the Greater London council, would be very ill timed and ill considered.

Mr. Howard : I am delighted to see such keen anticipation in all quarters of the House of the speech of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department. He is listening extremely carefully to all these points. Indeed, he has told me--I confess that I was not entirely familiar with them before

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--that negotiations are under way in relation to the outer London boroughs and that they are making excellent progress. I hope that that will give some reassurance to my hon. Friend. No doubt my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will have more to say on that point, too, in due course.

Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South) : I broadly support my right hon. and learned Friend's proposals on the future of the magistrates courts, but what are his proposals for the proper cover of stipendiary magistrates throughout the country, because some parts of country, such as Teesside, have very large lay benches and the progress of cases sometimes is inordinately slow, while other parts of the country hardly ever have delays and have an overprovision of stipendiary magistrates ? May we have a little more even cover throughout the country, please ?

Mr. Howard : I have no proposals to make for the appointment of stipendiary magistrates. I understand, however, that the attitude that the Lord Chancellor takes to the matter is dependent on whether an approach is made by the lay magistrates in the area concerned. If my hon. Friend thinks that that approach needs modification, I am sure that he will address that subject if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The magistrates courts service inspectorate has already been set up ; the Bill will place it on a statutory footing. It will also enable the Lord Chancellor to issue in regulations standards of performance that he expects the magistrates courts service to achieve. Part IV of the Bill deals exclusively with the administrative structure of the service, not with what goes on in the courtroom. But, in the light of fears--which I must say that the Government do not share--that the changes may in some subtle way undermine the independence of the advice given to lay magistrates, there is a declaration on the face of the Bill that in giving advice to magistrates in court, or in exercising the delegated functions of a single justice, justices' clerks may not be subject to direction and will remain utterly independent in those facets of their work. All parts of the Bill will help crucial public services in the United Kingdom to operate with the benefit of up-to-date thinking about management and public accountability. No organisation can afford to ignore the constant search for more effective ways of getting people to work together to achieve common aims. In the private sector, any organisations that ignore it are likely to go out of business ; in the public sector, they ossify and are in danger of becoming self-serving bureaucracies.

The public service reforms introduced over the past decade have all been designed to allow the people who are running the services to get on with the job, free from unnecessary political or bureaucratic interference from outside. But the people running our public services should not dictate what the standards offered by that service should be. All our successful public- service reforms have proceeded on the basis that some person or body outside the service should have a role in setting standards. That is the way to make our public services more efficient and accountable.

The changes being introduced in the Bill will ensure a modern, efficient and accountable police service, better able to tackle crime in the rest of the current decade and into the next century. We believe that the Bill's provisions

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--which are an important part of our strategy to combat crime--will enable both the police service and the magistrates courts to function more effectively.

The Labour party's attitude to the Bill calls for particular attention. For Labour to pose as an ally of the police is rather like Eugene Terre'blanche posing as a friend of Nelson Mandela. For years, Labour local authorities railed against the police ; in the House, Labour Members have consistently voted against the measures to strengthen police powers that we have introduced. They called the Criminal Justice Bill unacceptable, and refused to support its passage through Parliament. The police called it "first class", and an essential measure in the fight against crime.

When I made my statement in the House on the Sheehy report, the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) attacked it vigorously ; yet on the very same day, in another place, Lord McIntosh--his party's spokesman on home affairs --said that it was

"a very welcome basis for future discussion of the way forward for the police service".--[ Official Report , House of Lords , 28 October 1993 ; Vol. 549, c.944.]

That evening, on Channel 4 News, the hon. Member for Sedgefield had already started to shift his position : he explicitly supported the decision to abolish the three police ranks. But he had reckoned without Lord McIntosh's ability to change his mind. Within months, Labour was voting against the abolition of the ranks in another place.

The Labour party's attitude to the two Bills is evidence of a party whose commitment to law and order and to supporting the police is poll deep. It simply cannot be trusted to give the police and the fight against crime the unrelenting support that they require. We alone in the House are prepared to give them that support. I commend the Bill to the House.

4.23 pm

Mr. Tony Blair (Sedgefield) : I thank the Home Secretary for his speech. I felt that it began to come alive when he was attacking the Opposition rather than defending his own measure, but that is not surprising, given that the Bill comes before us in a badly wounded and limping state--severely mauled in the other place, but none the less still dangerous. Thankfully, it has been changed ; but it has not been changed nearly enough.

I note that the Government have adopted a new ploy when attempting to justify a measure that has very little support : they make the very claim for it that its opponents cite as the reason for their opposition. Thus, the Bill becomes a measure to reduce political interference and improve local policing, just as the health service reforms become measures to cut bureaucracy. We reached the very height of justification the other day when I heard the junior Minister for the Environment say on the radio that the purpose of the value-added tax on fuel was to assist the elderly in the campaign for a more green, ecologically friendly environment.

The Bill is now presented to us as delivering better local policing. The Home Secretary said today that, where it had been changed, change had occurred through a process of consultation. Let us be very clear about why the legislation has been changed, because that is the only way to secure further changes to it.

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In truth, since the moment that the proposals were first spoken about in December 1992, they have come under more sustained attack than any set of proposals virtually in living memory. The attack was renewed every time that the proposals were reissued--which was frequently. I think that I am right in saying that the consultative process yielded no one in support of the proposals, and when the Bill was published nothing from the consultation resulted in changes to the Bill. Not one single change of any substance occurred until the clock was almost striking midnight in the other place and, under pressure of defeat and humiliation, change was announced. It was secured not through a listening Government, but through a scared one.

Although the changes have been numerous--my office estimates that there have been about 23 changes during the passage of the Bill, but we may be underestimating--the legislation remains deeply flawed. The Bill is flawed simply because the thinking and the ethos that underpin it are flawed. With one or two exceptions--such as the proposals about greater flexibility in the financing of police authorities--the Bill represents the most determined and least popular attempt ever made to centralise policing in Britain, to give Ministers unprecedented control over the way that the police do their work, and to undermine police independence. It is driven not just by short-term cost cutting, but by an ideology that resents local freedom and has an aversion, bordering on paranoia, to local government.

That is why the Bill has been opposed, not just by the Labour party or by Labour councillors, but by Conservative councillors ; by the police, where the proposals have had the extraordinary effect of uniting almost every rank of serving police officers against them ; by magistrates and their clerks, neither group noted revolutionaries in any area ; and by virtually all independent commentators. Of course, the Government may dismiss their objections as special pleading, but that is unfair.

The police are prepared to change and adapt--indeed, they have done so in many ways in the past few years. When magistrates are concerned about the independence of their clerks, it is not a vested interest speaking. When they express their concern about amalgamation, they do not speak out simply for their own convenience. They do so because they sincerely hold the view that their independence and, hence, that of the judicial system is being undermined by the proposals.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cirencester and Tewkesbury) : I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Among his catalogue of criticisms of the Bill, will he tell us about one or two Labour proposals--in particular, the proposal to have elected police authorities, which will do more to politicise those authorities than anything in the Bill ?

Mr. Blair : That is not the Labour party's proposal. As I have made absolutely clear in debate, I do not believe that the priority in policing today is about fiddling with the structure of police authorities. It is about getting the right local partnership between police and local communities in order to fight crime. That is what policing is about.

Mr. Howard : The Labour party certainly fought the last general election on a policy of directly elected police authorities. The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but if he

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looks at page 20 of his election manifesto for 1992 he will find a specific commitment to that effect. Will he now tell us when his party's policy changed, if change it has ?

Mr. Blair : I have made it absolutely clear all the way through the debate that that is not our policy. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman stopped fighting the Opposition over these proposals and started listening to what is being said, not just by the Opposition but by others, he would find that they got broader agreement. The opposition that the Bill has aroused has been passionate not because of special pleading but out of a genuine belief that the proposals are not only wrong in themselves but will harm the fight against crime in local communities, and that their effect would be not only a denial of constitutional principle but contrary to the practical ways in which crime can be countered. It is, in other words, literally a counter-productive measure because crime is fought most successfully locally, where police and the local community work together. Every measure that ruptures or weakens that link diminishes our primary purpose which is to fight crime. I now illustrate with reference to the Bill how that occurs.

Let us first consider the composition of police authorities. The original proposals were very much worse--I accept that entirely. Originally, the Home Secretary was to appoint the chairman of a policy authority and a third of its members. That suggestion has now been dropped--it was one of the parts of the Bill that were most savaged in another place--but the size is still to be reduced significantly.

Let us consider also the provisions for the five so-called independent new members. Of course, these provisions are a vast improvement on the original ones, but, although the procedure for determining the new independent members may be an improvement on direct appointments by the Home Secretary, surely the whole process has been cobbled together by someone with an extravagant sense of humour. The way in which the proposals will work is one of the most extraordinary things I have come across.

A panel of selection is to be established in every police authority area to select the independent members. There is a complicated procedure for appointing the panel ; it, in turn, has very complicated procedures for deciding who is qualified or disqualified from serving on it. When the panel has, by this means, drawn up a list of 20 people, that list is put to the Home Secretary who then draws up a further set of regulations on how it is to be worked through. He then considers the 20 and reduces the number to about 10 or perhaps fewer. Further complicated regulations follow, and the list then goes back to the police authority to determine who the five independent members should be.

All this extraordinary rigmarole, including special provisions for the Home Secretary to nominate where the numbers on the original list submitted to him are not sufficient, is to secure what ? It is to secure the interpolation of people on to the police authority that nobody--not one single independent group of people--has ever said is necessary or wanted.

I pose one simple question. Let us suppose that the Bill had never been thought of and that no word about reforming the police authority had reached the Home Secretary's office at Queen Anne's gate. Let us then suppose that an enthusiastic official had bounded into his room with a procedure of such complexity for reforming policy authorities. What would have happened ? Would not

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that official even now be in a padded cell with his arms stuck behind his back while he was examined by a range of psychoanalysts ? What I have outlined is an extraordinary, expensive and wasteful procedure and it comes from the party of deregulation, from the party which claims to want to cut red tape and undermine bureaucracy ; and for what ? It is in order to ram through a proposal that no one supports and for which no one has ever asked. The absurdity of the process lies not only in the fact that it will foist on police authorities the duty to select colleagues with whose very existence they disagree ; it lies also in the fact that it will undoubtedly reduce local involvement.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham) indicated dissent .

Mr. Blair : If the hon. Gentleman will listen, I shall explain. The police authority will, in the main, have about 20 or 30 local councillors on it. That figure is to be stripped down to a maximum of nine, which is an enormous reduction in many areas.

Mr. Shersby : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Bill also contains provisions under which the Home Secretary can agree to a larger composition for a police authority, depending on the constituent area that the authority will cover ?

Mr. Blair : The hon. Gentleman is right. I read the debates in the other place carefully, and I think that I am right in saying that Earl Ferrers made it clear that that power would rarely be used. We cannot say that, as a matter of course, the Home Secretary intends to expand the number. I do not believe that that is the proposal. In County Durham, there is a range of different villages in an area, and there are almost 30 councillors on the police authority. It is important to recognise that those councillors, whether they are Conservative or Labour, give local people an input into local policing. Within their areas, those people are certainly more approachable than the average business chief. Considerable concern is shared by the police, never mind local authorities, that the change will weaken the interest and engagement of local people.

Although we have no prospect of achieving it, I must say again that the fact that we still have no proper strategic police authority for our capital city of London represents an omission from the Bill.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Mid-Staffordshire) : Will the hon. Gentleman give way ?

Mr. Blair : I must press on for a moment, but

Mr. Fabricant : On County Durham ?

Mr. Blair : On County Durham ? I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman on that subject.

Mr. Fabricant : I know County Durham well. It is a beautiful area, and I have stayed in Witton Gilbert.

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the whole point of the Bill is to give local police authorities greater powers ? Does he not also concede that any police authority, like the board of a company, will be more effective if it is smaller rather than larger ?

Mr. Blair : May I try to achieve at least the following consensus ? If the hon. Gentleman says that the test of the Bill should be whether it gives power to the locality or takes it away, he should follow my argument and see

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whether the new measures give power to local people or to the centre. If, at the end of that argument, he can find it in himself to be reasonable enough to accept the fact that the Bill gives power to the centre rather than to local people, perhaps he will join us in the Lobbies tonight.

The policing objectives are important and it must be understood that there is no objection to chief constables and police authorities setting goals and objectives, or to their producing a local plan. Many, in effect, already do so. The objection is to the wholly unprecedented power that the Secretary of State is taking to overrule local objectives and to insist that national objectives, which he lays down, should be followed instead.

It is important to read those objectives in line with the performance targets that are supposed to be published in accordance with them, in line with the power--which is not wrong in itself--that will direct grants to police authorities in aggregate from now on, and in line with the fact that chief constables will be on short-term contracts. The effect of all those measures together will be, for the first time in our history, substantially to remove local discretion in determining local policing priorities and to replace it with central control.

The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown) spoke about objectives and performance targets. With all due respect, I think that the Home Secretary is not being entirely open with us about the effect of the provisions that he wants us to pass. Although it is correct to say that the police authority merely has to have regard to the national objectives that he will set, the new section 28B that clause 13 would add to the Police Act 1964 makes it clear that the performance targets set in pursuit of the national objectives--contrary to what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said earlier, the two are directly linked--are obligatory. Indeed, under new section 28B(3) the Home Secretary may impose directions, which will also be mandatory, in order that the performance targets set in pursuit of the objectives may be met.

What examples are there of the type of performance targets and objectives that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will set ? What will he do ? Will he set specific targets, such as specific cuts in burglaries in a particular area ? Should forces be told to concentrate on certain types of activity ? The concern is not only about those powers, but about how they will link in to the present investigation into what are called the core activities of the police.

The agenda here, however hidden it may be, is that under the Government's proposals the police will become increasingly a law enforcement agency and less of a public service. What of working with local youth projects or old people's homes ? How will those activities tie in with the type of objectives and targets that the Home Secretary wishes to impose ?

Mr. Howard : I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that it is extremely important that there should be no misunderstanding about the provisions, that unnecessary anxiety should not be aroused and that false alarms should not be raised. The position, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman will--on reflection--agree, is this : the new section 28B empowers the Secretary of State to direct that a target should be set in relation to a special objective. The level at which that target should be set is a matter for the police authority. The target is something "to be aimed at".

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Those are the words in section 28B(1), so there is no question of the force being required to achieve that target on a mandatory basis, regardless of any other problems that the force may face. It is very important that we should not give any misleading impression of the effects of the legislation. I have set them out as clearly as I can.

Mr. Blair : I am afraid that that does not deal with the point at all. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is simply expressing a matter of obvious common sense--one cannot impose some arbitrary target with an absolute duty to meet it.

Mr. Howard : That is what the hon. Gentleman is saying.

Mr. Blair : That is not what I am saying. It is true that the authorities are merely obliged to aim at the target, but that in itself is important and must inform the nature of their local policing. However, the target is obligatory. What is more, it is backed up by proposals under subsections (2) and (3) of the new section for directions to be given by the Secretary of State for conditions to be imposed under which the performance targets must conform. It is not merely that the performance targets are, as it were, obligatory, but that they may have conditions attached to them under the direction of the Secretary of State.

Mr. Howard rose

Mr. Blair : I will certainly give way again. That is not an objection which is being raised merely by us ; it has been raised after careful consideration of the Bill in the other place. Objections are being raised not only by the Opposition parties, but by the police themselves.

Mr. Howard : The hon. Gentleman's analysis leaves out of account the fact that the levels are to be set not by the Secretary of State, but by the local police authorities, having regard to local conditions and to their other local priorities. It is perfectly reasonable for the Secretary of State to say that those are matters in respect of which targets should be set. It is for the local police authority to decide on the level at which the target is to be set and it is then for the police authority to aim at achieving that locally set target. That is the important point and if we are to achieve transparently accountable policing, that is an extremely sensible way in which to go about it.

Mr. Blair : I do not think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is studying carefully exactly what he is legislating. Of course, I am not suggesting that there is some arbitrary level that the authorities, as a matter of absolute obligation, must achieve. To meet the point that was raised earlier, he was suggesting that the objectives of the police authorities that he would set were merely something that they had to take into account, but not follow. In fact, that is not entirely correct, because the authorities are obliged to follow the performance targets that are set in pursuit of those objectives. What is more, under subsection (3), the Secretary of State may give the authorities directions on how they achieve those targets. Therefore, the idea that that does not give him centralised power over policing is absolute nonsense.

Mr. Howard rose

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Mr. Blair : May I finish the point ? Obviously, the right hon. and learned Gentleman may convince his hon. Friends, with the help of Whips, but the people that he must convince are the police and those outside the House who have constantly raised the matter-- and he has refused to give them a proper answer.

Mr. Howard : There is no substance in that at all. If the Bill provided that the Secretary of State could set the levels at which the targets should be aimed, there might be some substance to the criticisms of the hon. Gentleman. However, it is for the local police authority to set the levels. That is an absolutely crucial component of the series of changes. It is a sensible way--there is nothing sinister about it--in which to achieve transparent accountability. I have set out with some precision the sequence of events that will occur. The hon. Gentleman is, I am afraid to say, misrepresenting them.

Mr. Blair : We may prolong the argument for ever, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman is wrong ; the performance targets must be aimed at the objectives that he sets. In other words, it is not correct to say that the local policing authorities set their own targets and then merely aim at them. The targets are governed by the objectives. The correlation between the targets and the objectives means that the police are, in effect, following his instructions rather than those of the local policing authorities. No doubt the matter will be considered at length in Committee, but if the Home Secretary desires the authorities to have complete freedom in setting their own performance targets, irrespective of the objectives, he will agree to the amendment that we shall table.

If I may turn to the amalgamation

Mr. Howard : Of course I will not accept any amendment to that effect, because I think it absolutely right that the Secretary of State should be able to identify the targets ; but the levels at which those targets are to be aimed--that is the key point--will be set by the local policing authority. It was very noticeable that, in the hon. Gentleman's most recent summary of his version of the effects of the provisions, he left out all reference to the levels. The levels are critical. I will not accept any amendment along the lines that the hon. Gentleman has advanced, because it would subvert our entire objective of transparent accountability in which the local police authority, which would have the responsibility for setting the levels, would have a key role.

Mr. Blair : With due respect

Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South-East) : Will my hon. Friend give way ?

Mr. Blair : I shall give way in a moment, but I should like to press on. The Home Secretary is not dealing with the point that has been made, which is that the objectives that he sets determine the targets. I think that if the right hon. and learned Gentleman reads it carefully, he will find that he is wrong.

In relation to amalgamation, there is the sense

Mr. Jim Cunningham : Will my hon. Friend give way ?

Mr. Blair : Yes.

Mr. Cunningham : An interesting point is being raised and the Home Secretary is a little confused. If he knew

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anything about police authorities, he would know that funding can often determine the level of targets. That is what the Home Secretary is obscuring.

Mr. Blair : My hon. Friend is absolutely right and, if I may say so, he injects a welcome note of practicality into the debate on the construction of the Bill.

The amalgamations are also extremely important. The sense of a hidden agenda is stronger in this area when we encounter the new fast-track procedure for amalgamation. When the Secretary of State announced the consultation in June, he never mentioned the issue of amalgamation of police authorities. In fact, there is an entire chapter devoted to amalgamation in the White Paper, which preceded press reports about the desire to whittle down the number of authorities from 43 to 25 or even fewer. What is absolutely clear from that White Paper is that, although the Government do not intend--for fairly obvious reasons--to press forward with amalgamation now, it is by no means clear that, as soon as the Bill is conveniently out of the way, they will not proceed then. May I simply ask the Home Secretary this : if it is no purpose of his to amalgamate authorities, and if that is not what he desires, why have the new procedure in the Bill ? What is the purpose of the streamlining ?

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