|Previous Section||Home Page|
Column 232I am far from certain--the hon. Gentleman himself recognised this difficulty--that it would be appropriate for registered magistrates in Northern Ireland who are full-time, legally qualified members of the judiciary to be members of a body whose remit will inevitably involve it in questions with political and security overtones. Their position is different from that of local justices of the peace who serve on authorities in England and Wales.
Finally, as the hon. Gentleman knows, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland recently published a document making proposals and inviting comments on the future of policing structures in Northern Ireland. My right hon. and learned Friend is considering the responses, including that of the hon. Gentleman's party--members of which I had the pleasure of meeting recently. Those responses will be considered very carefully. I suggest that this is not the proper time to make changes to the arrangements for appointing the Police Authority for Northern Ireland, and that the measures proposed by the hon. Gentleman are neither appropriate nor desirable--although I shall of course reflect on them very carefully.
Question put and negatived.
After section 30 of the 1964 Act there shall be inserted
"Common rules for determination of police grant
30A.--(1) Any determination of the amount of grant to be made by the Secretary of State to each authority under the provisions of section 31(2)(b) below shall be governed by common rules which the Secretary of State shall issue no later than six months before the financial year to which the determinations relate.
(2) Before issuing the common rules, or any revision of existing common rules, under subsection (1) of this section, the Secretary of State shall consult persons representative of police authorities and of chief constables of forces maintained by those authorities".'. -- [Mr. Michael.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
Government amendment No. 43.
Mr. Michael : We seek to ensure that the legislation allows for fairness in the determination of grant for police authorities. This is a difficult issue and at various times it has been felt that there is some unfairness in the way in which the grant is allocated--not least in areas of south Wales such as Aberdare, Merthyr, Penarth and Barry, which are currently treated as rural areas. I am sure that improvements could be made, and that the method of distribution could be fairer.
First, the new clause asks for the rules applying to the determination of grant to be common and to be applied fairly across police forces throughout England and Wales. Secondly, it asks that the rules should be understood. We propose that the Secretary of State should issue, no later than six months before the financial year, the common rules on which determinations will be made. Thirdly, we wish the Home Secretary to consult
Column 233"persons representative of police authorities and of chief constables of forces maintained by those authorities"
before the common rules are determined. That seems eminently sensible and fair.
We seek to delete the part of the Bill that states :
"The considerations which the Secretary of State takes into account in making a determination . . . may be different for different authorities or different classes of authority." Some considerations may not apply to certain authorities--the difference between "urban" and "rural", and the nature of royal residences, large public buildings or venues for major events. Such considerations affect the policing of an area, however, and should therefore be taken into account in the authorities where they apply- -but the rules should be common. The applicability of the rules may vary from authority to authority, but it seems wrong to leave the extensive discretion that seems to imply that the Home Secretary could more or less make it up as he went along, varying the rules applying to the determination of grant levels without real reason and almost at whim.
In Committee, the Minister confirmed that the Home Secretary was being granted complete discretion on the distribution of grant. He said :
"The Bill takes special care to avoid imposing such rules and specifically provides a discretion instead of a duty for the Secretary of State to use formulae or rules to allocate grant . . . The Bill is also designed to provide him with a power to apply any formulae or rules to part of the total grant only, and it allows him to treat different police authorities differently. That is for good reason."
That is a matter of dispute. I have suggested a way in which flexibility could be introduced to allow recognition of the different responsibilities and burdens carried by different police authorities. Surely it is wrong in principle and practice to legislate for unfairness, which is effectively what the Home Secretary is trying to do.
In Committee, the Minister alluded to work that was in hand on the
"means of allocating grant to police authorities."
That work should have been in hand for many years. I have been commenting for five or six years on the method of distributing grant, and I am sure that some hon. Members have done so for much longer. Everyone knows that work needs to be done and proper conclusions need to be reached.
It should also be recognised that the work is effectively being conducted in private by a working group with no formal status. The Home Secretary is certainly not bound by the group's eventual recommendations ; nor can there be any guarantee that the new formula for the allocation of police grant will fully accord with the formula used by the Secretary of State for the Environment to allocate police standard spending assessments.
Even at this late stage, there is no clarity about the intended treatment of the Metropolitan police in the grant distribution formula. Do the Government intend them to be subject to the same formula, or will they be treated as a separate class of police authority with a separate formula ?
There is a glaring anomaly in regard to police authorities in Wales. When asked to give the SSAs of police authorities in England and Wales, the Home Secretary is able to provide those relating to England, but cannot give those for authorities in Wales ; he refers that to the Welsh Office. Why does he not refer the SSAs for English authorities to the Department of the Environment ?
Column 234I know from a conversation with the Minister of State, Lord Ferrers, that in fact the SSAs are available in the Home Office. I do not understand the secrecy about information that is readily to hand and could be given by Ministers without delay. That, however, is an anomaly within an anomaly, rather than the main thrust of the debate.
The Minister rightly recognised that it is
"quite unlikely any formulae could succeed from day one in fairly allocating grant to all police authorities without some modification."
He said :
"We intend to introduce any changes gradually by mitigating to an acceptable level the year-on-year changes."
However, that again calls into question the likelihood of a common formula being applied to both grant and SSAs.
The Minister argued that the application of common rules "would result in police authorities suffering an abrupt and unacceptable change in funding."
That is not necessarily the case. We would expect common rules to be drawn up covering both the distribution formula and any transitional damping mechanism required to mitigate its immediate effects. It should be within the competence of the Home Office to deliver such rules--in other words, common rules, and the means of moving from the present system to those rules.
On consultation, the Minister argued that the requirement to consult formally on grant distribution would lead duplication and confusion if
"the Government, through two Departments, were seen to be consulting twice on the same matter."--[ Official Report , Standing Committee D, 26 May 1994 ; c. 294-95.]
Elsewhere in the discussion, the Minister was keen to draw a clear distinction between the grant and SSA allocations. As I have said, in the case of relations with the Welsh Office and the Department of the Environment the Minister is more than willing to act in completely different ways.
The Minister cannot have it both ways--or, it seems, three or four ways. By putting the consultation on police grant on a similar footing to revenue support grant and SSAs--which is the purpose of amendment No. 116--greater consistency might be achieved. Those are simple, straightforward practical amendments, that seek to bring a degree of dependability and consistency to the way in which the grant to police authorities is calculated. I commend them to the House. 8.30 pm
Mr. Charles Wardle : This is not a case of legislating for unfairness. We had a full debate on the subject in Committee and I made the Government's position absolutely clear. We believe that adopting common rules to allocate police grant would prevent us from funding the Metropolitan police in a suitable, satisfactory and adequate fashion, and from introducing funding changes gradually. I explained in Committee why we cannot accept an amendment saying that the Home Secretary's determination should be governed by common rules. Reference to common rules implies that the same rules must be applied to each police authority, and that cannot be squared either with the funding of the Metropolitan police, which we all agree requires additional funding for a range of national and capital city functions, or with introducing any funding changes gradually so as to avoid large swings in resource allocation.
Column 235The Bill specifically provides discretion rather than a duty on the part of the Secretary of State to use the rules to determine the allocation of grant. It lets him treat different police authorities differently. I appreciate that, as the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) has said, the provisions are wide, but they are essential to achieve the flexibility of funding necessary to accommodate both the funding of the London force and the gradual move to formula funding.
The provision is practical and, for that reason, I cannot accept what the hon. Gentleman said. I appreciate that the motivation behind the amendment is to ensure that the Secretary of State allocates police grant with the maximum possible input from those directly affected by the decision, but, as I have explained, there are real practical difficulties with the new clause. The proposed new section 30A(2) of the Police Act 1964 would require the Home Secretary to consult on the common rules.
However, as the House knows, the Secretary of State for the Environment already consults local government on the amount of revenue support grant to be paid to local authorities. The hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth mentioned that. A similar, although not precisely identical, process is undertaken by the Secretary of State for Wales. Under the new police funding regime to be introduced by the Bill, the consultations will include the allocation of standard spending assessments to the new police authorities.
There is, of course, a parallel between those allocations and the way in which Home Office specific grant will be distributed between authorities. If we were to consult on the distribution of police grant, that would duplicate an element of the consultation already undertaken within the Department of the Environment. Potentially at least, it would be a recipe for confusion if we were to consult twice, and even more so if, in each group, some of those consulted were the same as those in other groups and some were not. I hope that the House will appreciate that this is a difficult area, and we cannot give the commitments that the hon. Gentleman seeks, so I urge the House to reject the new clause.
I shall now deal briefly with amendment No. 43, in the name of the Home Secretary. It would make a small change to clause 30, which provides for the new police authorities to receive initial financing grant before they take over their full responsibilities. Under clause 30, the Secretary of State will be able to make grants to the new police authorities during the current financial year. That will give them, once they are set up, the financing necessary to operate in parallel with the existing police authorities until April next year. It will also enable them to spend money on gearing up the police forces for whose maintenance they will assume full responsibility next April, and to fulfil their full management tasks.
As currently drafted, clause 30 allows the Home Secretary to make the initial financing grants to the new police authorities in respect of expenditure incurred by them, and it means that the grant cannot be made after the expenditure is incurred. We now consider that it would be prudent to ensure that grant can be paid where necessary before the expenditure in respect of which it is made has been incurred. For that reason, I commend the Government amendment to the House.
Question put and negatived .
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris) : With this it will be convenient to discuss also the following : Government amendment No. 48 and Government amendment No. 57, in page 7, line 47, at end insert--
Alteration of Welsh police areas on local government reorganisation
21AA.--(1) The Secretary of State shall by order made before 1st April 1996 make such alterations to police areas in Wales as he considers necessary or expedient in connection with the reorganisation of local government in Wales taking place on that date.
(2) The alterations that may be made by an order under subsection (1) of this section include alterations that result in a reduction or an increase in the number of police areas, but not alterations that result in the division of any county or county borough between two or more police areas.
(3) The Secretary of State shall make an order under subsection (1) of this section only after he has consulted every body within the following paragraphs which is in existence when the order is made (a) the police authorities established under section 3 of this Act for the police areas altered by the order,
(b) the police authorities which are to be superseded by the police authorities mentioned in paragraph (a) of this subsection ; (c) the county councils which
(i) are the councils of counties wholly or partly within the police areas altered by the order, and
(ii) are to cease to exist on 1st April 1996 by virtue of the Local Government (Wales) Act 1994 ;
(d) the councils of the counties and county boroughs established by virtue of that Act which are wholly or partly within the police areas altered by the order ;
and such other persons as he considers appropriate.'
Amendment (a) to amendment No. 57, in subsection (2), leave out a reduction or'.
Amendment (b) to amendment No. 57, after subsection 3(d), at end insert
(e) Members of Parliament representing constituencies which are wholly or partly within the police areas altered by the order ;'. Government amendments Nos. 49, 58 to 60 and 50 to 55.
Mr. Wardle : The amendments are necessary to enable us, after Royal Assent, to settle outstanding questions relating to the police boundaries in Wales. As the House will know, the Bill has been proceeding through Parliament at about the same pace as the Local Government (Wales) Bill. By convention, each Bill is drafted as if the other Bill did not exist, so as not to anticipate Parliament's decision on either Bill. The Welsh Bill is about to receive Royal Assent, so we now need to make an amendment to take account of the new local government boundaries to be created in Wales from 1 April 1996.
As the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) knows, for North Wales and Dyfed-Powys police areas that would be entirely straightforward, with only minor boundary changes. But the shape of the new boundaries in south Wales will require significant changes to the boundaries of the South Wales and Gwent police areas, because the Rhymney valley--the new Caerphilly
Column 237district--straddles the existing boundary between those two police areas. The boundaries of the new district were not finally settled until a late stage during proceedings on the Local Government (Wales) Bill.
Although we have been discussing with the two police authorities and the two police forces the options available for settling the boundaries, those discussions obviously could not be brought to a conclusion until the boundaries of the new local government areas were settled. The changes affecting the South Wales and Gwent police areas are quite large, and it is obviously right that we should give sufficient time for all concerned to consider the available options. My right hon. and learned Friend would not want to impose a solution now, when there will not have been sufficient time for the police authorities--or, indeed, for my right hon. and learned Friend himself--to consider all the available information, including an assessment of the policing implications of the available options on the basis of the boundaries so recently decided.
The powers provided by the amendments will therefore require the Secretary of State, before 1 April 1996 when the Welsh local government changes take effect, to make an order--or if necessary more than one order, although that seems unlikely--settling the police boundaries in Wales. I can confirm that for North Wales and Dyfed-Powys we expect that the order will merely redefine the existing boundaries, in terms of the new Welsh local government areas, including some small but important changes in the north- east of Dyfed-Powys police area necessitated by the Welsh local government changes.
I cannot, however, say what will need to be done in South Wales and Gwent. The position today is that my right hon. and learned Friend has not reached any decision on how to resolve the boundary problem affecting the South Wales and Gwent police areas. Discussions have been going on with the police authorities, on the basis of the available options.
There are three options, any of which could be put into effect by means of the powers set out in the amendment. The first option is to put the whole of the new district covering the Rhymney valley into the Gwent police area, making the Gwent force somewhat larger than it is at present. The second option is to put the whole of the new district into the South Wales police area, which would make the South Wales force a little larger and the Gwent force somewhat smaller. The third is for the two police areas to be combined.
The discussions already held with those concerned mean that we have committed ourselves to a process of consultation on the basis for those three options. Although we do not want prolonged uncertainty, my right hon. and learned Friend certainly will not rush into a decision ; we want the policing needs of the area, and the wishes of those concerned in the area, to be properly explored. The hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth and I have discussed that subject at some length--most constructively, I feel. The amendment includes a requirement for consultation, which in a sense is unnecessary because we have already made it clear that we are committed to that course. If those concerned in the area could reach agreement on a way forward on a basis that provides a solution that my right hon. and learned Friend regards as satisfactory in
Column 238policing terms, he would use the new power to give effect to that agreement. We certainly want to proceed on the basis of agreement if we possibly can. That has been the purpose of the discussions that have been going on locally. We have received welcome indications in the past few days, since the amendment was tabled, that agreement seems more likely. The two police authorities have asked for postponement of a meeting with Home Office officials, which was due to take place tomorrow, so that they can have more time to discuss matters between themselves ; I welcome that development. The hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth is aware of that and has been having discussions himself.
The other, minor, amendments in the group are consequential and enable the necessary changes to be made to the schedule that defines the boundaries of the police areas, which will need to be amended to define Welsh police areas by reference to the new Welsh local government areas. They will permit transitional provisions in the order and deal with other minor and entirely consequential matters.
Mr. Michael : I welcome both the spirit in which the Minister wrote to me about his intentions with regard to the amendments and the way in which he has introduced them today. I accept that most of the amendments in the group are minor and consequential and are intended to make two pieces of legislation fit together. I do not intend to take time on them. Instead, I shall come straight to one issue that is of major concern and on which, in the light of what the Minister said, I hope we may proceed in a spirit of co-operation. That issue is the impact on police authority boundaries of the Local Government (Wales) Bill.
Will the Minister confirm that it is only in relation to local government reorganisation arising from the Local Government (Wales) Bill that those powers can or will be exercised, and that he will not seek to use the powers except as a consequence of the boundary changes which would make a change necessary ?
Mr. Charles Wardle indicated assent .
Mr. Michael : I am grateful for the Minister's indication of assent. Will he also confirm that there are only two places where boundary changes are relevant to that extent ? The first of those is the Llanrhaiadr-ym- Mochnant and Llanfyllin area. My understanding is that everyone agrees that that can be dealt with as a simple consequence and that there is no question of having to use powers to merge or vary police authorities to any great extent, but that any transfer of resources and responsibilities can be and will be dealt with by agreement in a fairly simple manner.
Mr. Wardle indicated assent .
That leaves the Rhymney and Islwyn area. The Rhymney area, currently in the South Wales police authority, and the Islwyn area, currently in the Gwent police authority, would come together to compose the new Caerphilly authority. Am I right in assuming that it is only in resolving the impact of that boundary change on police authority boundaries that any question arises, and that outside that, there would be no intention at all of using the powers ? The Minister is indicating that that is where we have a problem, which is extremely helpful, because that
Column 239makes it easy for us to have a common purpose--to end up with an agreement on the right form of policing for that area.
As the Minister rightly said, there have been meetings during the past week, and I was delighted when I met representatives of each of the four county councils--the three Glamorgans and Gwent--to find that the members and the leaders of those authorities are, indeed, keen to find common agreement which could lead to a recommendation to the Department.
Obviously, it takes a little more work to reach a specific recommendation. However, I can tell the Minister that, at the meeting that I requested, which was held at very short notice in the past week, agreement was reached that the two clerks of the police authorities would write jointly to all members of both police authorities to call them to a meeting at which it is intended that the two chief constables will speak on the policing issues relating to the Rhymney and Islwyn area. That positive spirit gives us a possibility of reaching agreement.
Any hon. Member--a number of Welsh colleagues have spoken to me--would be concerned about any suggestion that a merger was about to occur. The reassurance given by the Minister of State in another place was referred to earlier. He said :
"My right hon. Friend has no intention at present of amalgamating anything, but it is perfectly possible in the course of the next 10, 20 or 30 years that amalgamations will have to take place."--[ Official Report, House of Lords, Vol.551, c.324.]
I take it that the Minister would be willing to reassure us that his intention in Wales is not to depart in any way from the spirit and substance of that earlier reassurance.
The Minister will know of the sensitivity in relation to the Gwent police force and the Dyfed-Powys police force. There is also a feeling that we do not want the South Wales police force to become over-large. Indeed, the North Wales police force serves a considerable area. It is the area in which I was born and brought up, so I take a personal interest--as do hon. Members of all the parties represented in Wales.
I have tabled three small amendments to amendment No. 57. The first would leave out the words "a reduction or". That would mean a retention of the same number of police forces in Wales or--I say with tongue in cheek--an increase in the number of police forces in Wales. For instance, the Minister may have it in mind to deal with the situation by splitting the South Wales police force in two, although he has not referred to such a suggestion.
If we are talking of any reorganisation that is not simply consequential, we should look at all the options. If we ruled out the reduction in the number of police forces in Wales and established that there would be no intention of bringing it down from four, it would be extremely helpful. Obviously, I would be greatly reassured if the Minister would accept that amendment. If he cannot, a positive response, in the spirit in which I have moved the amendment, would be helpful.
Secondly, I would insert as consultees the
"Members of Parliament representing constituencies which are wholly or partly within the police areas altered by the order ;". That would refer only to the South Wales police and Gwent police areas. Thanks to the Minister's courtesy in writing to me last week, I have been able to speak to large numbers of my colleagues in Gwent and in South Wales, and, in
Column 240doing so, have observed not only party boundaries in doing so. There is a great deal of interest among Members of Parliament in the policing of their areas.
Mr. Michael : I speak for them. The hon. Gentleman, who has wandered into the Chamber at a late hour, probably after a heavy dinner, ought to behave himself and listen to the debate, rather than interrupting in an unhelpful way.
Sir Jerry Wiggin : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman said that there was a great deal of interest in the matter. One Opposition Member has just come in, but when I came in--and I am not especially interested in the matter--there was a complete absence of Opposition Members of any kind. Is it right for the hon. Gentleman to make such assertions when they are clearly untrue ?
Mr. Michael : I am grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker--although we did not have much quality in that intervention. Throughout the Gwent and South Wales police authorities, my hon. Friends have taken part in constructive discussions on those issues outside the Chamber. I am conveying their composite views to the Minister, who has treated the matter seriously and with courtesy. The hon. Gentleman's contribution to the debate does him no credit.
Perhaps we may return to serious business. The interest of Members of Parliament has been constructive during the past few days and will continue to be so. We have arranged for an opportunity for hon. Members to discuss the issue in the hope that we, as well as the police authorities, may move towards a consensus. That would be helpful to the Minister, helpful to good policing in the area and helpful to the general atmosphere in which policing may continue. My third amendment asks the Secretary of State to use his best endeavours to proceed by consensus in making orders under subsection (1). The amendment was not selected, but I hope that, when he comes to reply, the Minister will confirm that he will seek the use of these powers only in the context outlined in the amendment--I hope that he can answer in that spirit
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. It would not be in order for the Minister to respond to amendment (c). It was not selected. Whatever spirit moves hon. Members outside this Chamber is for them to determine--but not now and not here.
Mr. Michael : I am grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I just want some idea of how the Minister will exercise the powers that this House is about to grant him ; I am sure that that will influence the minds of right hon. and hon. Members when they respond to the Minister's request.
I appreciate the spirit in which the Minister has approached this issue. In return, I offer him a spirit of co-operation on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends who represent constituencies throughout south Wales and in Gwent. If the matter is carried through in this atmosphere, I hope that we will be able to come up with a single proposal for the Minister which he will be able in turn to recommend to his right hon. and learned Friend.