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Column 142The logical next step after performance targets is league tables. I confess that I have reservations about the value of league tables for schools ; so often they do not compare like with like. I would have even stronger reservations about league tables for police forces, because conditions can be very different, even in adjacent areas. A further dimension has already been touched upon. If, under clause 16, the chief constable is on a fixed-term contract with performance pay, how will the existence of league tables influence his judgment ? Will he still fulfil an entirely independent role, as is intended ? If there is doubtful merit in having national objectives and performance targets, obviously it is right that there should be local ones, but how they are set is crucial. The obvious method is detailed discussion between the chief constable and the police authority. Since they have operational responsibilities, chief constables would obviously like complete agreement between themselves and the authority. That may be too much to ask, but at present clause 4 requires only that the authority shall "consult" the chief constable, who will have the eventual task of implementing the policy. The Association of Chief Police Officers would like to substitute the words "to have regard" to the views of the chief constable, which does not seem an unreasonable suggestion. Surely any policy is likely to be more successful if the objectives have been reached by agreement rather than imposed. I listened carefully to the exchange between my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), but I think that I am even more confused now than I was before that exchange took place. I hope that the point can be clarified before the debate is completed. With regard to part IV, the Lord Chancellor has gone a long way to meeting many of the concerns of the magistracy and the justices' clerks, some of which were voiced at a special conference called by them in October, so strong were their concerns, but some still remain.
Under clause 66, the Lord Chancellor can issue directions specifying standards of performance by magistrates courts. Exactly what does that mean ? Does it mean that the Lord Chancellor can specify court sizes or the frequency or length of sittings ? Again, local circumstances vary and, while it is reasonable to set certain performance objectives after consultation, we must leave it to the local magistrates courts committees to decide how to meet them. I return to the point raised by a number of hon. Members that under clause 62 the Lord Chancellor can make orders amalgamating magistrates courts committees. It says that he shall do so after consultation, but nevertheless the power is there in the Bill for him to act unilaterally. He can do so on grounds of efficiency, but I do not find in the Bill any specification of efficiency. What are the criteria for efficiency ?
My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, will be well aware of the alarm that the existence of that power has provoked in south-east and south-west London among the magistrates and their clerks, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey) referred earlier. At one time, there was one magistrates courts committee for south-east London and another for south-west London. In 1986, they were broken up so that there was a magistrates courts committee for each of the London boroughs. That system has worked well. It has been effective and efficient.
Column 143But a year or two ago, before the Bill was published, indications were given that the Lord Chancellor was considering steps to amalgamate the magistrates courts committees in south-east and south-west London. I have in my hand a letter from the Lord Chancellor's Department dated 27 July 1993, which says :
"The Lord Chancellor has concluded that Merton magistrates' courts committee area should be amalgamated with Bexley, Bromley, Croydon, Sutton, Kingston upon Thames and Richmond upon Thames"
in other words, south-east and south-west London.
The letter goes on to say :
"An order of the Lord Chancellor is required to effect the amalgamation. At present such an order can be made only at the request of the magistrates concerned. Primary legislation" the Bill before us
"will be introduced to enable the Lord Chancellor to initiate the order."
There were strong objections to that proposal throughout south-east and south-west London and at the meeting that I mentioned on 9 October the Lord Chancellor was handed a petition signed by 273 justices from south-east London alone. Discussions took place about that conclusion of the Lord Chancellor, including a meeting of a number of my hon. Friends led by my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) when we met the Lord Chancellor to convey the concerns that had been put to us.
We had some indication that the Lord Chancellor was prepared to have second thoughts. When I inquired of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary at Question Time on 14 March 1994, he said :
"we are still exploring with the outer London action group the details of its proposals . . . The Lord Chancellor and I are hopeful that it will be possible to find a system that delivers our objectives in restructuring the outer London service but falls short of amalgamating committees. We are working with the service to that end."--[ Official Report , 14 March 1994 ; Vol. 239, c. 612.] It will be extremely helpful if my hon. Friend could say, perhaps when he replies to the debate, what the present state of play is with regard to those discussions, whether a conclusion has been reached or when we can expect some concrete result from the consultations. He will appreciate that at the moment the only thing on record is the letter from the Lord Chancellor's Department stating his conclusions.
Mr. John M. Taylor : I give my word that I shall respond to my hon. Friend in the manner that he requires during my reply. I regard my reply to him in Hansard as being very much on the record. I meant that then and I shall have more to say to him later this evening.
Mr. Sims : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. However, I still suggest that, in Committee, clause 62 should be amended to ensure that no order for amalgamation can be made unless it is not only in the interests of efficiency but without detriment to the delivery of local justice.
The Bill has not had an especially happy history so far. I give credit to the Government for at least having made the changes that they have, albeit some of them a little reluctantly. I hope that Ministers will not stop at that point because there is scope for more improvement to the Bill. I shall support the Bill on Second Reading, but, as I said, with a number of reservations, and I hope that by Third Reading I shall have none.
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Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland) : The hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) made a remarkable speech, with not one word of which I disagree. Neither his speech nor that of the hon. Member for Reading, West (Sir A. Durant) can have been music to the ears of Ministers, but they are a valuable reminder of the wisdom of proceeding in matters concerning the police with a strong basis of cross-party agreement.
It is worth reflecting that, before the Police Act 1964, the present basis of Britain's police, there was a wide-ranging debate. There was a royal commission and a debate in Parliament in which the views of all parties were broadly similar. What a contrast with this Bill.
The Bill is the first major attempt for 30 years to reshape policing in Britain. It is unnecessary, it is unwise and it is quite without friends. It was launched by the Government as a flagship, but, following its inspection in another place, it was deemed unseaworthy and subjected to unprecedented amendment. It remains gravely defective and unfit to put to sea.
The police and magistrates courts are the bastions of society against crime and disorder. Few measures could be potentially more damaging to British society than one which undermines the effectiveness and responsiveness of the police and the magistrates courts. The Bill, by its dangerous, centralising purpose, is just such a measure. It was conceived by two senior Ministers--the Home Secretary and the Lord Chancellor. Their common characteristic appears to be remoteness from the good sense of those who make the criminal justice system work. They display a common desire to draw into their hands the power which, under our long-tested constitutional provisions, has been carefully balanced in favour of local policing and local justice. Their only threadbare justification is their express concern to secure greater efficiency. Efficiency is necessary, but centralisation is not necessary to efficiency. I recall to the Home Secretary the wise words of his predecessor, Mr. Henry Brooke--the father of the present Secretary of State for National Heritage--on Second Reading of the Police Bill, which became the 1964 Act, which is the secure base on which policing has been conducted ever since. Mr. Brooke reminded the House that the Royal Commission on the Police had recommended that the Home Secretary should be made legally responsible for police efficiency, but that all political parties had rejected that recommendation. He said : "To support such a specific responsibility as the Royal Commission recommended the Home Secretary would need powers of detailed direction which could not, in my view, live along with the continuance of a system of local forces. I see the police service continuing to develop as a partnership between central and local government ; not as a service in which local authorities or chief constables act as agents of the Home Secretary."--[ Official Report , 26 November 1963 ; Vol. 685, c. 89.]
That careful balance is jeopardised by the Bill.
The most offensive instrument that the Home Secretary has chosen to impose his will on local policing is the power that he will take under clause 13 to determine national policing objectives. That is coupled with the provision in clause 4 requiring that those national objectives be included in policing plans for local areas. To secure their implementation, the Bill provides for performance targets
Column 145to be linked to the attainment of those objectives in local policing plans. To secure police compliance, the pay of senior officers will be performance-related.
There are no advantages in that scheme for the public, the police or the Home Secretary himself. For the public, there will be a blurring of local accountability and a loss of influence over local policing objectives, which could damage the trust between police and public which is so crucial to effective policing. Any perception that the police are pursuing arrest quotas to meet their targets could, for example, breed fear of wrongful or unreasonable arrest. Paradoxically, it could also damage police effectiveness. Criminals will be aware that the police are occupying themselves arresting burglars, for instance, because they are the national target. Criminals may simply turn to car crime in the belief that the backs of the police are turned.
For the police, there will be a loss of flexibility and a diminution in the chief constable's authority. Some targets are already set by the police themselves--for example, response times or measures of satisfaction from surveys of victims and witnesses. The police set and pursue those targets as a means of improving their own service.
Some targets cannot and should not be set--clear-up and arrest rates in particular. There is a world of difference between the work of a police officer in responding to 999 calls and talking to victims and enforcing the law. A police officer's legal powers are, in the words of the 1962 royal commission, original and not delegated. No one--not even the Home Secretary --can lawfully require an officer to arrest anyone.
For the Home Secretary--who is, willy-nilly, establishing league tables of performance--that provision will unleash constant criticism that his national objectives are not those of the nation, still less of the locality. The Home Secretary is already under fire for apparently differing with the Prime Minister over his introductory national targets, in not treating the elimination of drug crime as a national objective.
A virtue of the present tripartite structure of policing is that it recognises the danger to civil society of placing in political hands the extraordinary powers of the police. Police officers alone possess the power of arrest and detention. They intervene in private matters between individuals. They ask questions and can expect answers. They make requests and can expect compliance. They may use force on our behalf. They are ordinary citizens, but they have extraordinary powers.
From time to time, those powers come under strain. In the last decade, for example, during the miners' strike and the violent demonstrations against the poll tax, our policing system remained resilient and ultimately proof against the charge of political motivation. The success of the police and public confidence in their fairness rests on public perception. As Lord Carr of Hedley said in the other place, they are "our police", not "the police". The second virtue of the present tripartite balance is that it recognises the inappropriateness of trying centrally to measure the effectiveness of particular policing activities. The police are not a commercial organisation whose efficiency can be measured like profits in crimes solved per pound spent. An officer who defuses a punch-up is not a bad officer because he fails to add a few charges to the record. Nor is an officer who comforts a victim a bad
Column 146officer because she chooses not to join her colleagues in chasing the attacker. An officer who persuades schoolchildren of the dangers of drugs is no less important than the officer who stalks the dealers outside the school. High arrest rates alone do not a good police force make.
The third virtue of the present tripartite system is that it allows chief constables and police authorities to establish their own priorities for the policing of their areas. The 1964 Act gives chief constables, who are appointed by their local police authorities, the legal authority to direct and control the force under their command. The Act also requires police authorities to secure an adequate and efficient force. That creates an identity of interest between the chief constable and police authority.
Controls over policing policy available to police authorities and to the Home Secretary are indirect. The system relies more on influence than legal force to encourage locally managed and locally sensitive policing. I regret that the Home Secretary did not take the opportunity in the Bill to underpin and enhance the effectiveness of local policing, for there are glimmers of sense in some of its proposals.
The concept of a local policing plan is valuable. If it is truly local, it could form a type of contract--a statement of
priorities--between the police and public. I welcome the proposal in clause 2 that all police authorities should be established as independent corporate identities. That should avoid another threat to the independence of the police, of which we saw a nasty example in Derbyshire, where the police authority is wholly subordinated to the financial dictates of the local authority.
I also welcome the lifting of the central control of police numbers--the establishment of particular authorities. But there, too, the Home Secretary points in two directions, as he seems hell-bent on following the bad advice of Sir Patrick Sheehy by centrally reducing the number of ranks available to chief constables. Enough has been said about that by the hon. Members for Reading, West and for Chislehurst for me to refrain at this stage from adding my objections. We shall return to the matter of rank in Committee. Although the Bill is almost wholly unnecessary, the Home Secretary could have used it as a vehicle for reinforcing the effectiveness of local policing by writing into the requirement that the local police plans be published a specific obligation to co-ordinate and promote practical crime prevention measures within its area. My right hon. and hon. Friends and I will seek to amend the Bill to achieve that purpose.
I deal now with part II of the Bill, which deals with Scotland. The structure of the Scottish police is laid down in the Police (Scotland) Act 1967. The Government of the day did not simply make an administrative omission when they failed to run Scotland into the Police Act 1964. They reflected the fact that Scotland has a separate legal and criminal justice system from England which needs, therefore, to be treated separately. Yet the Bill runs the two together as though there were no such difference. The consequence will be that, as with the Criminal Justice Bill recently, Scottish Members will play a limited part in the shaping of the Government's legislation. That is constitutionally unacceptable. It strengthens the case for a Scottish Parliament.
Spliced on to the Bill--the hon. Member for Chislehurst drew attention to the misfortune of these two matters being handled in the same legislation-- are the provisions for
Column 147managing magistrates courts. They are no more welcome to the magistracy than are the police provisions to the police. It is true that the Lord Chancellor has already met some of the objections, but he has not removed the reasonable concern about future political meddling in the administration of local justice.
The efficiency of the magistrates courts is crucial. Some 80 per cent. of the 2 million people who were prosecuted in England and Wales in 1991 went before a magistrate. The trebling in volume of the cases before the magistrates courts in 50 years has increased the challenge. But the Lord Chancellor has more than a managerial problem. The state of the criminal law itself, uncodified, notwithstanding the recommendations of the Law Commission, contributes to the complexity and length of trials. The Home Office's own figures show that, in 1992, the average number of days from first listing to disposal for indictable offences has risen from 41 days in 1985 to 64. Many of those facing trial will be on bail during that time-- many of them still out there committing crimes. The less time that they have to do so, the better.
At the centre of the debate, provoked by the Government's proposals in the Bill, sit the justices' clerks, who are responsible for giving legal advice to the lay magistracy. They are, however, also responsible for the management of the courts. That includes, for example, the scheduling of cases, which has a direct impact on the quality of justice. Here, as with the police, subsidiarity should apply. Those best placed to secure the efficient management of courts within a locality are the courts themselves, acting in concert through the magistrates courts committees. Justices' clerks hold their posts at the pleasure of the courts committees and it seems natural that they should be answerable to them, and them alone, for the efficiency with which they discharge their duties.
Yet the Lord Chancellor will, through the Bill, be able to involve himself in these local matters. He will be able to appoint two of his friends, who need not be magistrates, to every local committee. The courts committees are to be subject to performance objectives and targets set by the Lord Chancellor. He is also to acquire for himself the unlimited power to amalgamate court areas without any legal duty to justify his reasoning or pay regard to the views of those involved. That level of intervention is unacceptable. There needs to be a new constitutional settlement to protect the independence of the judiciary and secure the greater accountability of responsible Ministers for the management of their budgets for the criminal justice system. The Lord Chancellor in particular has an anomalous role as the head of the judiciary and a partisan member of the Cabinet. The functions must be separated.
I accept that the Minister who speaks in this House for the Lord Chancellor is right. He has a third function. But it is not one that impinges directly on the administration of justice and the independence of the judiciary. Those functions of the Lord Chancellor should be separated. A Minister of Justice in the Commons should be appointed to secure the proper administration of the criminal justice system and take charge of the enactment of a modern codified criminal law. The present Lord Chancellor, who, in some respects, is less political than most, has shown himself to be surprisingly insensitive to the dangers in the duality of his role.
To my mind, the Bill embodies a dangerous tendency--that the public will see their local police forces and magistrates courts drifting out of their reach. Yet local
Column 148policing is good policing, and local justice is also where justice is best done. To centralise in the manner proposed is wrong in conception and would be damaging in practice. We shall oppose it. 6.16 pm
Mr. David Atkinson (Bournemouth, East) : I applaud my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and his team for the many new initiatives that they are taking to reverse the rise in crime, which is threatening the very quality of the daily lives of our constituents--and, of course, I welcome the fall in recorded crime which was announced last week.
After 14 continuous years of extra funding for the police, the Government are now right to pause and consider how better value for money can be obtained from existing resources through improved police structures and organisation. When a chief constable admits that the scenes of 60 per cent. of burglaries in his area have not been visited, yet police manpower is used to crack down on car licence dodgers, it must be right to review police priorities.
I mean in no way to criticise our police forces. The increase in police manpower since 1979 of 16,600--an average of 1 per cent. a year--lags a long way behind the rise in crime during that period. Our police have been running ever faster just to stand still, frustrated by ever-increasing paperwork, the apparent leniency of the courts and the perceived inadequacy of the law, particularly towards young offenders.
I pay tribute to the local police in Dorset, where crime fell and the rate of detection rose last year. Despite that, serious crimes of violence and robbery rose by 10 per cent., officers were shot and wounded on the streets of our conurbation and, for the first time, IRA terrorism threatened residents and holidaymakers during the height of our holiday season last summer. Yet the new Liberal Democrat-controlled Dorset county council was prepared to reduce our police budget, by £500,000, and police manpower. What utter irresponsibility.
I echo the welcome given by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Sir A. Durant) to the way in which my right hon. and learned Friend has responded to the concerns expressed by the police about some of the recommendations of the Sheehy report. They are far happier about those recommendations now.
Mr. Shersby : I am aware that Dorset's local authorities have reduced the police budget by half a million pounds. Can my hon. Friend give us some idea of the likely impact of that on the security of his constituents ?
Mr.Atkinson : I assure my hon. Friend that, although the local authorities were prepared to reduce police resources by that amount so that they could be spent elsewhere, my constituents and those of other Conservative Members did not allow them to get away with it. I welcome the streamlining of the composition of police authorities, and the amendments introduced by my right hon. and learned Friend to allow chairmen and the majority of representatives to be elected by authorities. I must say that I have not been impressed by the input of local democracy in the present authorities, whose response to local needs and demands seems most frequently to be yet more calls for more police on the beat. Unlike my right hon. and learned Friend, they do not give much thought to the more efficient use of existing manpower and resources.
Column 149The new smaller, stronger authorities will have a greater commitment to achieving locally the targets and objectives that the Home Secretary will set nationally, on the advice of and in consultation with chief constables. But--I hope that I do not misunderstand the Bill's proposals--the chief constable, not the police authority, must ultimately be personally responsible for both the planning and the undertaking of operational matters. I look forward to hearing an assurance to that effect from my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department. I look to the new authorities to pursue bolder initiatives in creating safer public areas--for instance, the installation of video cameras, and the injection of new life and direction in our neighbourhood watch schemes. I hope that they will build on the excellent "crimeline" confidential information services in newspapers such as the Bournemouth Advertiser , which is published in my area. Such schemes do very good work in requesting the public to come forward with the confidential information that the police need in order to track down criminals.
Mr. Fabricant : Is my hon. Friend aware that some 90,000 neighbourhood watch schemes have been set up in the United Kingdom ? Should we not congratulate citizens on taking responsibility into their own hands and working alongside the police ?
My hon. Friend is right to point out that those schemes are making a major contribution to the combating of crime in our communities. It must be said, however, that there remain too many unsecured homes that constitute a soft touch for the burglar, especially the homes of vulnerable elderly people living alone.
I am very surprised that insurance companies do not encourage the installation of continental-style shutters : such shutters, which are widespread in Europe, strike me as the best protection available for domestic property. Surely burglar alarms and shutters should be standard on all new premises, just as alarms are now standard in all new motor cars.
Once again, the Government have responded positively to the fear of magistrates courts that their judicial independence might be threatened. My local magistrates courts committee in Dorset is much happier now that the terms of employment of its justices clerk and the appointment of its chairman remain at its discretion, although it is still anxious for the work of the proposed courts
inspectorate--which would be appointed by the Lord Chancellor--to be seen to be wholly independent of his Department in the making of recommendations. I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will clarify the grey area between judicial functions and administration.
My local committee is also concerned about the possibility that, if boroughs such as mine in Bournemouth and neighbouring Christchurch revert to their former county of Hampshire--I understand that both authorities will submit proposals to that effect to the Local Government Boundary Commission--the new magistrates court committee area that might result will no longer coincide with the area and boundaries of the police and
Column 150probation authorities. That would make liaison between them much more difficult. I hope that my hon. Friend will respond to that point as well.
Finally, let me repeat a complaint that I have made in the House many times before--on behalf of my constituents and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill), other hon. Members representing party conference towns, and their police authorities. It concerns the continuing extra financial burden imposed on council tax payers by the cost of making our national leaders secure at their annual party conferences. The complaint was most recently made just a couple of weeks ago by the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock), in an attempt to amend the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill. Although she made her complaint to the right Ministers, I thought that she was seeking to amend the wrong Bill : this is the Bill that deals with police funding. Anyway, her amendment was negatived.
I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will allow our right hon. and noble Friend the Minister of State to receive a group representing all three of the county councils involved--Dorset, Sussex and Lancashire--as requested by my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West in his letter of 30 March.
Our principal argument remains that the 1984 Brighton bomb tragedy made this a national issue whose costs should be borne entirely by the nation. As I said earlier, last summer the IRA targeted Bournemouth--my constituency--for the first time. Fortunately, there were no casualties, but the incident brought it home to us that we on the mainland are also on the front line in the war against terrorism.
What thought has been given to supplementing police manpower with troops from our armed services to man the security zones that are now a feature of all major party conferences ? That would reduce both the number of police required--which includes police from other counties, at overtime rates of pay--and the cost to the council tax payer. It is one of the proposals that I wish to put to my right hon. and noble Friend when we meet him.
I warmly welcome a Bill that, together with the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill, has already done much to allay our constituents' fears that not enough is being done to combat crime. I look forward to safer communities, and a reduction in crime that will restore the confidence of those constituents.
Dr. Tony Wright (Cannock and Burntwood) : It did not occur to me that the Home Secretary possessed a touch of comic genius until I heard him in Home Office Questions the other day. When congratulated on the comprehensive nature of his retreat on the Bill, he said : "The changes that have been made to the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill are changes of detail. The principles are intact, and they will deliver us the objectives that we have always sought to achieve."--[ Official Report , 10 March 1994 ; Vol. 239, c. 387.] Yet what is happening today ? Every time that issues of principle are raised, we are told, "Ah, those have been resolved. They are no longer issues of principle ; they have been taken care of. Some of the detail remains, but there is nothing to worry about." I prefer the remarks of the noble Lord, the Earl Ferrers, who, when the Bill left the other place, said :
Column 151"Your Lordships were good enough to explain your anxieties . . . in a manner which even the most, shall I say, dim- witted Minister could not fail to understand."--[ Official Report, House of Lords , 24 March 1994 ; Vol. 553, c. 796.]
It is well to remember for a moment the sense of outrage that the Bill occasioned when it first surfaced. Other hon. Members have referred to the way in which other organisations responded to the Bill. They responded in that way because people who understood and were involved in this area sensed that something of major constitutional importance was taking place.
A whole tradition of running the police and the local constabulary-- enshrined in the Municipal Corporations Act 1835, the Police Act 1964 and the Local Government Act 1888--was endangered by what the Government proposed and the way in which they proposed it. As has been said, in 1964 there was a royal commission and three years of the most detailed inquiry and discussion about the proper arrangements for policing. But none of that took place in this case ; it was not thought necessary.
In the Bill, we also have the quite illegitimate amalgamation of the police and the magistracy. Given the inappropriate amalgamations that are consequential to the Bill, perhaps that is a rather telling kind of amalgamation.
There is something quite uncanny about the range and variety of opposition that this measure has called forth. Even a Government who managed, in the same week, to alienate both the Royal British Legion and Dame Vera Lynn still have to be admired for their ability to alienate at the same time every organisation concerned with policing and the magistracy.
As we consider the Bill, it is well to remember what was said by those who understand these things when the Bill arrived in the other place. The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Taylor--it was quite exceptional for the Lord Chief Justice to talk in this way--said :
"A cult seems to have developed and to be invading the whole of the public sector whereby fixed-term contracts and performance pay are seen as the panaceas which will give us managerial efficiency. They may indeed be useful tools in a purely managerial context, but in a judicial context, or where there exists a judicial element, they can have no place."--[ Official Report, House of Lords , 18 January 1994 ; Vol. 551, c. 476.]
Perhaps we might refer to the remarks of a couple of former Conservative Home Secretaries. Viscount Whitelaw talked about a "major change" in the "whole history" of policing in this country and called it a "very dangerous move indeed". Lord Carr said : "If I were still Home Secretary today, I would not accept the offer of powers of this kind. I would resign rather than accept them".--[ Official Report, House of Lords , 18 January 1994 ; Vol. 551, c. 491.]
Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. I clarify for the hon. Gentleman that it is not in order to make direct quotations from Members of another place unless they are quotations from a Minister. That applies only to quotations in this Session. I am not quite sure whether the hon. Gentleman was making indirect or direct quotations, but I make that point.
Dr. Wright : I am grateful to you for making that point, Madam Deputy Speaker. Fortunately, I have traversed so far in the wrong direction that it is now irremediable ; but I understand and accept what you say.
Against those words that were never spoken, I should like to celebrate--as we all should--the House of Lords. Perhaps it is most appropriate for someone on this side of
Column 152the House to say that. Let us be quite honest : if this monstrous Bill had started in this place and been driven through in the way that Bills are driven through the House, it would now be inflicted upon the police and the magistracy of this country.
It is all very well for hon. Members opposite to celebrate the changes that have taken place. Having noted their behaviour in relation to everything that comes before the House, I am fairly certain that they would not be so robust if the original version of the Bill were before us now. So let us celebrate the House of Lords, because it certainly deserves to be celebrated.
Upon the Bill leaving the House of Lords after Third Reading, the unanimous view of the noble Lords was--I shall not quote directly--that this Bill, which they had done something to save and insert some sanity into, was still unsatisfactory, and that measures still had to be taken to make it more workable. I refer particularly to the central unsatisfactory element of what remains : the proposals relating to the constitution of police authorities.
I hope that it is quite inconceivable that the constitution of a police authority of such Byzantine complexity could ever leave the House in the way that it has entered it. That would do the most terrible damage to an efficient and effective police force and to its status in the local community.
I will not quote him directly, but the noble Lord Harris of Greenwich--who was responsible for the amendment that saved us from the original horror of the Bill in relation to the constitution of police authorities, and landed us with the Byzantine mess that we have now--said of the Bill as it left the other place that that was the price we had to pay for damage limitation. But let us hope that we can still sort it out further down the road.
Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann) : In view of the horror that the hon. Gentleman expresses about the present proposals, what would he say if he were faced with a proposal to have a police authority whose members were all appointed by a Secretary of State ?
Dr. Wright : Although I do not want to be totally diverted by that intervention, the resentment and antipathy felt on this side of the water about the extension of appointed government in place of elected government is felt doubly in the north of Ireland.
Let us think for a moment about why the complexity of these police authorities is so undesirable and unworkable. We have an extraordinarily elaborate and cumbersome procedure which is guaranteed to alienate at least 10 people--those who are the rejects from the Home Secretary's cull. We have no idea what will happen about casual vacancies. In every respect, the procedure is not sustainable. Whatever else the Committee stage of the Bill achieves, I hope that it brings forward a proposal which is at least workable, because the present proposal is not.
There was a much more sensible way in which to proceed. I speak as someone who was, and is, very keen on trying to reconstitute police authorities in new and interesting ways. The germ of progress in this area is to be found in the White Paper itself, which says : "The membership will not be confined to those who have been able to go into local government or to sit on the bench."
I agree with that sentiment. For a number of years, I have wanted to explore new ways of reconstituting police
Column 153authorities--rooted in their local authorities and anchored in their local communities, but bringing in far more people to represent the diverse strands of local communities.
Starting with that germ of a good idea, all that the Government had to do was allow the local committees to become more genuinely representative of the community. The Government could even have had the option to specify the categories of people they wanted on the authorities, as they have done with every other kind of public body. That was the way forward, but the Government failed to take it, which is why we have this mess.
We have this mess because we suffer from the disease of "ministerialitis"-- ministerial fingerprints have to be put on everything that moves. That is the contemporary curse that afflicts the Bill, as it afflicts so many other pieces of legislation introduced by the Government. In fact, there are two curses, and perhaps I may spend a little time on each.
Earlier today, someone said that the Bill was a microcosm, or perhaps a further extension, of the Government's public service reforms. In some ways it is, and in some ways it is not. Perhaps the two ways in which it is and the two ways in which it is particularly dangerous are due to the fact that it suffers from the curse of centralism and from the curse of managerialism, a managerialism that was born in the private sector, a philosophy which it was believed could simply and easily be translated into public services. Both approaches are misguided, and both are the source of error in the Bill.
In this context, centralism means another instalment of the patronage state. There are about 20,000 or 25,000 elected councillors across the country, but already about 60,000 people have been appointed directly by Ministers to run public bodies and public services. Indeed, the new magistracy, as those people have been described, often have no local roots ; they are certainly not elected ; and they lack any organic connection with the local community in which they are appointed.
The only way in which Ministers know how to respond to the organisation of public services is to wonder how they can appoint some of their own people to run them. We have seen how that works under the present Home Secretary. When he wanted to appoint a prison ombudsman, a number of distinguished candidates presented themselves. A short list was assembled--I shall not embarrass the people involved by naming them, but they were all very distinguished people. The problem was that none of them was politically acceptable to the Home Secretary, so we had to wait and wait, until, rather like waiting for the puff of smoke in the Vatican, a retired admiral was found last week.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with retired admirals but the irony is that the choice took so long and many were rejected before the Home Secretary could find someone who was politically acceptable for that post. That is an example of centralism, amalgamation and "the Minister knows best", which is why he is alienating every constituency in sight.
I could not even begin to recount the feelings of magistrates in Staffordshire, who are now being told that the Lord Chancellor has decided that they should be amalgamated with the magistrates in Warwickshire. When I asked the Lord Chancellor how that could happen, and suggested that it would be unhelpful to the magistracy in
Column 154Staffordshire, I received an extraordinary letter from his representative on earth, who said that the problem was that the Warwickshire magistracy was so inefficient that his Department wished to amalgamate it with the Staffordshire magistracy. That is profoundly insulting to Warwickshire and Staffordshire magistrates.
Mr. Mike O'Brien (Warwickshire, North) : Would my hon. Friend let me have a copy of that letter, because I am sure that magistrates in Warwickshire, many of whom are Conservative councillors, would be interested to know what the Lord Chancellor and his representative on earth think of them ?
Dr. Wright : I am rather alarmed to discover that the earthly representative does not even remember the exchange, because it was thought to be one of particular interest, significance and danger to the magistrates in my constituency and my county.