Mr. Maclennan : No, I am not suggesting that. I am suggesting that the proper way in which to deal with the issue of national objectives is to strike it out of the Bill. I do not think that we should countenance the suggestion that national objectives issued by any Home Secretary are tolerable. I dare say that parliamentary procedures may limit the way in which the matter can be discussed, but it seems to me that--inadvertently, perhaps--the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth is giving some support to the idea that national objectives might reasonably be introduced at some time if certain conditions were met.
Mr. Michael : In Committee, we said that we preferred to deal with objectives entirely as a local issue. However, as the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) rightly implies, we cannot have exactly the same debate on the Floor of the House as we had in Committee. We have therefore responded to Ministers' rejection of our case by coming up with a positive constructive solution. Has the hon. Gentleman tried to delete national objectives from the Bill ? If so, I must have overlooked his amendment.
Mr. Maclennan : At this stage in the debate, the exercise would be in vain. But by suggesting that national objectives might be made more tolerable, the hon. Gentleman is compromising his position and that of the
Column 195Labour party. If the Bill becomes the law of the land, a future Labour Home Secretary may avail himself of the power to establish national objectives. I should take equally strong exception to a Labour Home Secretary seeking to use such a power as to its use by a Conservative Home Secretary.
However, as the hon. Gentleman knows, when a matter has been exhaustively debated in Committee, as this has been, it is probable, indeed almost certain, that the subject will not be reopened on Report. Therefore, to go through the charade--under provocation, I am using slightly stronger language--of implying that there is some merit in seeking, as the hon. Gentleman has done, to qualify the introduction of national objectives is dangerous ; it is playing with fire. It is an ingenious debating device, but unfortunately it gives entirely the wrong signals to the police, the police authorities and the general public.
National objectives have no part in British policing. They should be struck out at the earliest opportunity, and we should make it clear now that it would be our intention to do so at the next legislative opportunity.
Mr. Howard : I shall begin by explaining what the new clause would actually achieve. It would have three main effects. First, it would require the Home Secretary to have regard to the desirability of promoting locally accountable policing. Secondly, it would require the Home Secretary to appoint an independent person to consider the effectiveness of performance targets established by police authorities. Thirdly, it would prevent the Home Secretary from setting key objectives before that independent report had been laid before Parliament, and also prevent him from doing so before three years had elapsed since police authorities had been directed to set performance targets.
That seems a curious mixture of ideas, and it would be best if I dealt with them one by one. First, the Home Secretary is already required to promote the efficiency of the police. As to promoting locally accountable policing, that is the central purpose of the Bill. That is why we are setting up strong independent police authorities with clear responsibilities for providing efficient and effective local policing. That is why we are requiring police authorities to consult their communities about policing objectives and priorities in their areas. That is why we are requiring police authorities to publish annual policing plans and annual reports setting out the outcomes of those plans. So the first declared objective of the new clause is already achieved by the Bill. The new clause would also prevent the Home Secretary from determining key objectives for policing before he had laid before Parliament an independent study of the effectiveness of local performance targets. The connection between the two elements is not at all clear. The Home Secretary's power to set key objectives is designed to enable him to focus police attention on the major areas of concern expressed by the public. The objectives set for the current year involve increasing the number of detections of violent crimes and of burglary, targeting and preventing local crimes, in partnership with the public, providing high-visibility policing and responding promptly to emergency calls. We do not require an independent study to recognise that those are common concerns of people throughout the nation.
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In fact, there is already an independent person, appointed on my recommendation, whose task it is to report annually on the efficiency and effectiveness of police forces and their performance. Let me reassure the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) that that person is not Sir Patrick Sheehy, but Her Majesty's chief inspector of constabulary. He is entirely independent--I am sure that, on reflection, the hon. Gentleman would not want any of his remarks to be taken as implying otherwise--and has under his control a number of inspectors responsible for inspecting police forces.
Inspectors of constabulary are independent of the police service, and are accountable to the Home Secretary for carrying out their responsibility. Part of their job will be to consider the effectiveness of the performance targets established by police authorities under the Bill, and to report accordingly. Inspection reports are published, as is the annual report of the chief inspector to the Home Secretary. I therefore see no purpose whatever in establishing yet another independent person to cover the same ground as the existing independent inspectorate.
The fact is that the Labour amendments on national objectives are a red herring. The simple truth is that Labour Members do not want national objectives at all. Judging by the other amendments that they have tabled, Labour Members do not want local police authorities to set out local policing plans with local objectives, either. The Labour party simply does not understand the first thing about measuring and improving the performance of public services. They always take the side of the producer, never the side of the consumer or of the public. In that respect the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) is just as prehistoric as his Front-Bench colleagues. He is interested only in rehearsing tired arguments about giving new duties to local authorities. That would be the effect of the new clause on which he chose to speak, and that speaks volumes for his priorities. The hon. Gentleman does not seem to understand that we need a body separate from the police--in this case, the police authority--to set objectives and to measure performance.
The hon. Member for Sedgefield should listen to the words of the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher). I know that he will find this hard to take, but the hon. Member for Oldham, West is not only a closet moderniser, but more of a moderniser than the hon. Member for Sedgefield. When asked how to reform public services the hon. Member for Oldham, West explained :
"If you are going to make it work seriously you have to set targets independently."
I do not always agree with the hon. Gentleman--in fact, I do not often agree with him. But I entirely agree with him on that, and that is precisely the point that we are making in the Bill. Regrettably, that is entirely lost on the hon. Member for Sedgefield. He talks about modernising public services, but votes against the very measures that will make that happen.
In his recent Police Foundation lecture, the hon. Member for Sedgefield called for a
"proper national strategy and framework"
to deal with crime, yet today he rejects that. As usual, he is all sound bite and no substance.
The hon. Gentleman talks as though he has just bought his first modern textbook on management, but has read only the index. Some of the words are there--
Column 197"performance", "efficiency", even "accountability" but he does not understand what they mean. The hon. Gentleman would not reform public services to make them better. He would simply say to those responsible for delivering services, "Set your own targets, measure your own performance, and don't bother to publish the results." Indeed, that was the philosophy that lay behind the speech by the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael). It is entirely inconsistent with a proper approach to accountability. The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) does not want targets of any kind. That is the approach taken by the modern purposive Liberal Democratic party.
To sum up, the new clause
Mr. Maclennan : The Home Secretary does me a disservice in misrepresenting what I said. I am much in favour of local police authorities having targets and local policing plans, but I object to the Home Secretary's taking that authority into his hands, and to his dictating what the national targets should be. I do not believe that he is sensitive to local needs.
Mr. Howard : Of course, it is always possible that the words which the hon. Gentleman used in his speech earlier did not adequately convey the meaning which he intended to convey. However, if he reads those words in Hansard , he will find that the representation which I made of them a few moments ago is entirely justified and accurate. To sum up, the new clause is misguided and unnecessary. It is misguided because it suggests that the Home Secretary cannot set key objectives to reflect major concerns of the people of the country without first having some sort of investigation into the way in which police authorities have set local targets. It is unnecessary because it seeks to duplicate the independent review and assessment function that is already provided by Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary.
Amendments Nos. 4 and 20 would detach performance targets, which police authorities may be required to set, from the key objectives, but there is an inescapable connection between the Home Secretary's key objectives and the police authorities' performance targets. Otherwise, there would be no common point of reference, no way in which people could establish how their police force had performed against the objectives and no possibility of making any comparisons. Clearly, the performance targets to be set by the police authorities should relate to the key objectives. Equally, it is right that the Home Secretary's powers and responsibilities in that area should clearly link the two issues.
Amendment No. 12 arises from a misunderstanding about the Home Secretary's powers in relation to performance targets. The Home Secretary has no power at all under the Bill to set performance targets. The power to set the targets quite deliberately rests with the police authority. Since the Home Secretary has no power to set targets, but merely to direct the police authorities to do so, it follows that he does not need to consult anyone before he decides to issue a direction. It is a matter for him and him alone to decide how, when or if to instruct police authorities to set performance targets, but when he has instructed them to do so, the targets will be determined locally with local consultation. The hon. Member for
Column 198Cardiff, South and Penarth did not speak to amendment No. 17, which is included in the group, so there is no need for me to deal with it.
The new clause and the amendments epitomise the muddle which has characterised the approach of the Labour party to the Bill. They are misconceived, misguided and unnecessary. They illustrate how remote the Labour party is from any true appreciation of how accountability of public involvement in policing can best be achieved, and I urge the House to reject them.
Mr. Michael : That was a nice try by the Home Secretary to sound as if he was being reasonable in rejecting the new clause. He is not. However, I shall first refer to the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan). His speech was disappointing. He sometimes disappoints and, sometimes, one finds him supporting rational argument on such issues. He seemed to be suggesting an agenda for misrepresentation on a fresh issue of focus in the near future, which rather misrepresents the nature of the debate. The Home Secretary paid my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) the compliment of concentrating on my hon. Friend's speech in an earlier debate, during which the Home Secretary chose not take part, before leading his troops into the Lobby to vote against local partnerships for crime prevention. The Home Secretary missed his chance on that occasion. That is his mistake and he cannot recover with a sound bite in this debate.
If the new clause were incorporated in the Bill, it would be a victory for common sense over dogma--such as the victory that we have heard has taken place this evening in another place. The Home Secretary has been given another bloody nose because of his pursuit of dogmatic attitudes towards the problems of crime and crime prevention, rather than listening and learning from those who have been involved in and have been trying to tackle those issues over the years.
I am glad that the Home Secretary thinks that he understands the new clause, but he has not explained to us why he will vote against having regard to the desirability of promoting local, accountable policing. That is what the new clause requires.
Mr. Michael : It is not what the whole Bill is about. The whole Bill, I tell the Home Secretary, is about centralising power in his hands. He has had that exchange before. He will not get away with it. People will- -belatedly, perhaps--recognise how centralising and damaging and constitutionally bad the Bill is. He has an opportunity today to accept the new clause, which would move us a little in the right direction.
The Home Secretary has talked about a study by an independent person. Why is he so against learning from experience ? Why is he so against learning from what happens when local police authorities and chief constables set objectives and seek to meet them ? Why will not he learn from the combined experience of all local police authorities and forces in every part of the United Kingdom ? He says that he already has an independent person to look at such issues, so why not accept the new clause ?
Labour Members understand the setting of priorities and the use of objectives. I told the Home Secretary that I have had positive experience of that myself. It should be
Column 199done locally, on the basis of partnership, with the experience of the police and on the aspirations of the public. The police authorities will set targets, but those targets will be distorted by the imposition of national objectives, which the Government seek to set, unless the Home Secretary accepts the new clause, as he should if he is really interested in local, effective and accountable policing.
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time :
The House divided : Ayes 238, Noes 303.
Division No. 283] 6.25 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane
Adams, Mrs Irene
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony
Bennett, Andrew F.
Bray, Dr Jeremy
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E)
Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Clark, Dr David (South Shields)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Corston, Ms Jean
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John
Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l)
Donohoe, Brian H.
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Eagle, Ms Angela
Evans, John (St Helens N)
Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Godman, Dr Norman A.
Golding, Mrs Llin
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)