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Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale): I am glad to have the opportunity to contribute briefly to proceedings on the Bill in relation to the Metropolitan police. These are important amendments because we need there to be public confidence in the Greater London Authority and in the Metropolitan police authority which the Bill creates. There must be confidence in and support for the leadership of the commissioner, his deputy and senior officers. Equally, there must be a structure to ensure that those important appointments are not subject to unnecessary political interference. On the whole, the way in which the Bill will be structured if the amendments are passed strikes the right balance.

The importance of leadership in the Metropolitan police has been debated recently. We have exchanged views in the House about the Macpherson report, to which the Minister referred; particularly its sixth recommendation. Following the publication of the report, some called for the commissioner to resign. The general view in the House was that that would have been a retrograde step. The House sought to strike a balance between an acceptance that some criticism was valid--that the police had made mistakes and were willing to accept that, in some respects, leadership may have been lacking--and a

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reaffirmation that the police service in London was one in which the people of London and the country as a whole could take justifiable pride.

No one could have anticipated the circumstances of the past two or three weeks, and the extent to which those events have enabled the police to show how professional, resilient and courageous they are. All of us would rather that that professionalism and leadership could have been displayed without so many lives being ruined by the bombs in Brixton, east London and Soho--a part of London that I used to police all those years ago.

The House must reflect that such is the nature of policing: it will always be like that. The tragedies, the unforeseen incidents and the terrorism in London over the past 10 or 20 years--including some high-profile, almost catastrophic incidents--have been where the importance of the leadership of the Metropolitan police has been most evident. I should like to place on record tonight our overwhelming support for and tributes to the work of Metropolitan police officers in recent days.

I have been with the commissioner and the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) at a police and parliamentary scheme dinner in the other place. It would be fair to reflect that everyone supported what the police have achieved. We must ensure that the arrangements forthe appointment of the commissioner and deputy commissioner reflect the importance of the job that they do.

10.45 pm

I know that the Government have thought long and hard about how the appointments should be structured. There was a desire to ensure that the arrangements for the police authority should reflect the Police Act 1996 provisions while acknowledging that London is a special case. My right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) pressed that point in Committee. The events of the past two or three weeks are a stark reminder of that.

How can one ensure that those who have a valid contribution to make in the appointment process for the commissioner and the deputy--who will from time to time perform the functions of the commissioner and may later go on to become commissioner--can have that opportunity, while maintaining the final say in the right place?

In other forces, the police authority effectively chooses the chief constable and the Home Secretary approves. The amendments would set up a system that is better for London, whereby, effectively, the Home Secretary recommends to Her Majesty and she appoints--the public will have more confidence in that, given the special nature of London--but there is a mechanism for the police authority to make recommendations. The emphasis is different.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster did a noble job of speaking for the Opposition on these matters in Committee. In preparation, he and I cast our eye carefully over the relevant clauses to ensure that the balance was right. The one glaring deficiency was that there was no mechanism for the police authority to be consulted. I have read the Hansard report, and I am glad that the Minister said not that there had been an oversight but that the Government intended to deliver such a mechanism. The time spent in finding the

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right form of words has been well spent. We are comfortable with the provisions as they will stand under amendments Nos. 146 and 147.

The provisions of the Police Act 1996 are relatively recent. We are glad that the Government have decided to replicate those provisions. Such early confirmation of them is welcome. The Minister may smile, but it is important that, as far as possible, there should be cross-party agreement on such matters, given the seriousness and importance of what we are trying to achieve. That is equally true for the arrangements under which commissioners and senior rank officers, in any police force, could potentially be required to retire, but it is especially true for the four Association of Chief Police Officers ranks in the Metropolitan police, from commissioner down to commander.

It is important that the House understands how the mechanisms work. While it is right to make a different case for London for the appointment of commissioner and deputy commissioner, it is probably fair that the mechanisms for their removal are the same as those elsewhere. For reasons that I shall explain in a moment, that will give some added protection.

Under section 11 of the Police Act, the police authority can ask a chief officer to go, but it requires the Home Secretary's approval, and he can say no. Under section 42, the Home Secretary can require a police authority to exercise its section 11 powers. That is a valuable reassurance for London, because if the power lies in the hands of the Home Secretary rather than the police authority, it underpins significantly the operational independence of the chief officer of police--in this case, the commissioner or his deputy. It also minimises the risk of any politically motivated witch hunt against such a senior officer.

The events of the past few weeks graphically illustrate the importance of ensuring that the structure is as it appears in the Bill. It also makes sense to ensure, as in Government amendment No. 149, that assistant commissioners and commanders are treated the same, because a commander is of equal rank to a chief constable. Indeed, many commanders go on to become chief constables. They are ACPO rank officers and should have special arrangements.

When I read Government new clause 47, I was surprised that we had not realised earlier that the Bill contained nothing about the appointment of commanders, who have an important role in the Metropolitan police. It is important for the House to note that a commander may not exercise the powers of commissioner, and that justifies the police authority appointing commanders, rather than the Home Secretary being required to do so.

We welcome the spelling out in Government new clause 48 of the ranks that will be maintained in the Metropolitan police. It is worth confirming that those ranks will continue. Of course, the chief superintendent rank was abolished in the aftermath of the Sheehy recommendations. There is some concern among serving police officers that as we move to a flatter management style--the Minister knows that we have discussed the issue before in police debates--the opportunities for promotion and advancement are reduced. I hope that the police service in London will be reassured by the inclusion in the Bill of the retention of those ranks.The continuing drive for greater efficiency in the police

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service has meant that the shake-out of officers at senior ranks has led to fewer police officers overall in London, but there are more constables. There certainly were more constables when the previous Government left office, as I shall go on repeating at every opportunity.

As the Minister said, the remaining two amendments are entirely technical. They seem to be in order, in terms of the Police Act 1996.

I am glad to have had the chance to say a few words about the matter, as the creation of a police authority for London is an historic step. As we heard earlier, the political argument about it has gone on for years. Conservative Members have endeavoured to take a constructive approach, and the Bill's structure is as good now as it is likely to be. I know how much the commissioner is looking forward to having the support of the police authority. We wish the authority all success in its work of supporting the police in London.

Mr. Simon Hughes: As has been stated, this short debate is effectively the only one that will be held on the police in London. I have only a couple of remarks to make but, like the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), I shall preface them by repeating what I said in Committee: all of us owe much affection and gratitude to the police officers who serve us every day.

The events of the past three weeks remind us of that. The first incident took place in Brixton, in the Minister's constituency, and was followed by bombs in Brick lane and Soho. All hon. Members have constituents and friends who visit those parts of the city regularly, as we do ourselves. I was invited to visit the Brick lane community the morning after the incident there, and the people I met were clearly very grateful for the regular service that the police provided. If the person who has been arrested and charged is found, by due process of law, to be guilty of the offences, that will be a further tribute to the speed of the police's detection and intelligence processes. It shows how quickly the police can act to deal with people who put at risk civil liberty and peace.

I do not want to repeat the debate in Standing Committee about the differences between the Metropolitan police and the other services. However, the Minister referred to one other recent event, the Liberal Democrat interpretation of which differs from hers. The report of the inquiry into the death of Stephen Lawrence, which has been debated in this House, referred to the way in which policing in London should be organised. We believe that police appointments in London should be made in a way that reflects the pattern of the other police services in England and Wales.

The Minister did not claim that the Government were implementing exactly the recommendations of the Lawrence report. She claimed--fairly, I think--that the Government's recommendations reflected the report. We acknowledge that and, although we think that the report wanted the Government to go further, that argument is for later. However, I accept that Government amendments No. 146 and 147 show that the Government have taken on board the point made in Standing Committee that the Metropolitan police authority and the mayor should play a part in the appointments of the commissioner--London's senior police officer--and of the deputy commissioner.

Liberal Democrat Members may differ with the Minister about whether the commissioner should be a royal appointment or a police authority appointment but,

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given that the Government want the appointment to be made by the monarch, we are grateful for the wider process of deliberation and consultation that will be undertaken before it is made.

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