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'Subject to subsection (4A) below'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 26, in page 2, line 4, leave out from 'Authority' to end of line 5.

No. 55, in page 2, line 12, at end insert--


'(4A) This section shall not apply to police authorities in respect of their oversight of any of the following police functions:
(a) any issues relating to national security;
(b) any relating to any matter whose public disclosure might compromise current or future police operations;
(c) any which is a statutory duty of police forces;
(d) the provision of any support service that may be specified by order of the Secretary of State.'.

No. 27, in clause 2, page 2, line 44, at end insert--


'(5A) The Secretary of State shall consult with--
(a) the authority or body concerned, and
(b) all other relevant bodies
before making an order within this provision.'.

No. 58, in clause 3, page 3, line 6, at end insert--


'(1)(A) In the case of police authorities, the general duty in this section shall be without prejudice to section 10 of the Police Act 1996 ("General functions of chief constables").'.

No. 72, in clause 6, page 6, line 3, at end add--


'( ) In preparing a best value performance plan, a police authority must also have regard to section 8 of the Police Act 1996 ("local policing plans").'.

No. 73, in page 6, line 3, at end insert--


'(5) In the case of a police authority, a draft of the best value performance plan shall be prepared by the chief constable for the area and submitted by him to the police authority for it to consider.
(6) Before issuing a best value performance plan which differs from the draft submitted by the chief constable under subsection (5), a police authority shall consult the chief constable.'.

Mr. Hayes: I am delighted to speak to the amendments, but I have no wish to delay the House unduly. Far be it from me to lay myself open to the charge of filibustering, whether justified or not. I have never filibustered on this Bill--at least, not deliberately--and I have no intention of doing so this evening.

The amendments address an issue which is at the heart of the Bill, and which was debated a number of times in Committee: the inappropriate application of the Bill to police authorities. The application is inappropriate not just because police authorities have been shoehorned into a Bill that was in essence designed to deal with local authorities, but because the premise of necessity on which the Bill rests simply does not apply to police authorities. The amendments go some way towards solving the problem, although we would prefer the Bill not to apply to police authorities at all.

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I say that the premise of necessity does not apply partly because of existing statutes. Hon. Members will be familiar with the Police and Magistrates' Courts Act 1994, which deals with issues of police management and efficiency, and with section 43 of the Police Act 1996, which gives the Home Secretary specific powers to require police authorities to report to him on matters connected with the discharge of their responsibilities. Moreover, section 106 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984--now section 96 of the Police Act 1996--makes specific arrangements for the obtaining of local people's views. Police forces also have a statutory responsibility to draw up local policing plans.

Because of the existence of those Acts, there is no need for the Bill to apply to police authorities. The Home Secretary already has powers to scrutinise the drawing up of plans and the requirement to consult. If the Government are saying that the aim is simply to satisfy the requirements of existing legislation, and if the current arrangements are effective and efficient, why include police authorities?

In addition, the Audit Commission publishes a seriesof performance indicators--measurements of police efficiency. I have a copy of the document relating to 1996-97, which all hon. Members doubtless regard as essential bedtime reading. [Interruption.] It appears that the Minister does not.

The Audit Commission, however, acknowledges that


and


    "must respond to the needs and expectations of their local community."

As those needs and expectations vary in different parts of the country, additional performance indicators--benchmarking--will be of limited use. The need for different approaches in different parts of the country is one reason why the Association of Police Authorities has expressed reservations about the Bill. It does not want a uniform set of targets to be applied nationally.

Hon. Members will be familiar with the work of the Policy Studies Institute. In a report on local policing plans, it says:


National objectives that are included in those plans already give us an opportunity to judge police authorities according to some standard criteria, while allowing enough flexibility for the necessary discretion to be exercised locally.

The questions currently asked by the Audit Commission strike me--and, indeed, chief constables and the Association of Police Authorities--as satisfactory. We do not think that additional legislation is needed. The police also come within the ambit of Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary, and there are questions to be asked about the relationship between it and the Audit Commission. Those questions were dealt with to an extent by a memorandum that was circulated in Committee. We were told that discussions were in progress, and that an accord was developing between the two bodies. As with other aspects of local government, however, we have a vision of finding a different inspector from a different organisation around every corner and in every corridor of

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police authorities. That, I think, is something of an insult to police authorities and chief constables, suggesting that they cannot manage their affairs properly.

That brings me to the nub of the argument. As I have said, if the existing arrangements are satisfactory, it is surely unnecessary to include police authorities; but a more fundamental objection to the Bill is that it challenges the current governance of the police. The time-honoured tripartite arrangement is at least challenged, and arguably weakened, by the Bill. The Association of Police Authorities has made that point as well. The Bill, moreover, has three further weaknesses.

First, there is the setting of additional national targets. We must assume that they are additional, because if they are not, they have no point. The setting of additional targets may endanger the independence of the constabularies, especially if the targets are uniform and based on the false goal of comparability. Comparability has some value, but it should not be worshipped like a god. Comparisons between a rural and an urban police force are of dubious merit: many aspects cannot be adequately or properly compared, and the comparison may be misleading rather than edifying.

Secondly, if operational matters are to be included in the assessment of best value, the Bill will also impinge on the discretion of chief constables. Chief constables have always had discretion over operational matters, and police authorities have traditionally recognised that. Their relationship with chief constables has been founded on the division of responsibilities.

Thirdly--and even worse--we must consider the Bill's possible impact on the style of policing and the character of police forces.

That which is most measurable is not necessarily that which is most desirable, or even most desired. Of course the logistics involved in dealing with offences are important, and highly measurable. Many aspects of input are also measurable--questions such as "how many?", "how much?" and "how long?" On the contrary, the value of community policing--police visits to schools, for instance, and the preventive policies of local forces--is harder to measure, because its effects are less immediately tangible.

Bobbies on the beat may not be particularly fashionable according to the accountants' view of policing that we seem to be adopting, but such non-adversarial policing is very popular in my constituency. Along with Gary Jenkins, editor of my local newspaper--I shall not waste this opportunity of naming it: it is the Spalding Post--I have been running a campaign to increase the number of bobbies on the beat. Some so-called experts have told us that is no longer seen as an important part of policing, because its value cannot be measured empirically, unlike other aspects of policing that relate easily to uniform targets and uniform methods of measurement.

The amendments attempt to limit the excesses of the Bill--by exclusion, in the case of amendment No. 55; by clarification of the Bill's interface with existing statutes, in the case of amendments Nos. 58 and 72; and by defending the role of chief constables, in the case of amendment No. 73. Of course we want effective and efficient police forces, but we also want police forces that preserve the best traditions of impartiality, independence

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and local accountability. We are justly proud of those things. They are a result of the current system of governance of police forces, which the Bill seriously jeopardises.


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