Mr. Denham: Yes, I believe that the hon. Gentleman's police authority has got that wrong, although I recognise the concerns about the Bill that were expressed by a number of police authorities. In part, that was a wrong reading of the intents and effect of the Bill. In part, some of those concerns were addressed in another place by making it explicit in the Bill that there would be consultation with police authorities. We had always intended to do that and had made it clear in all previous speeches on the matter.
At present, the Home Secretary sets policing priorities; he determines the performance indicators under best value, but there is no single place where all the Government's strategic priorities for the service come together. The national policing plan will set out national priorities for policing: the Home Secretary's policing objectives, best value performance indicators, proposals for issuing guidance, codes of practice and regulations. It will look forward to other priorities, such as the development and roll-out of new IT systems or new targets for police numbers.
The plan will be developed after wide consultation with the national policing forum. The forum will include the APA, ACPO, other police staff associations and representatives of the voluntary sector and victim support groups. We hope that the national policing plan will be debated annually in Parliament.
Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington): Is it the intention of Ministers to make the Mayor of London one of the people who has to be statutorily consulted, and to include such a provision in the Bill?
Mr. Denham: It had not been the intention to include provision for consultation with the Mayor of London in the Bill. Part of the measure provides for consultation with appropriate local authoritieswhere that is the Mayor of London, he would be included in the process. No doubt the matter can be discussed further in Committee if Members choose to raise it.
The national policing plan will identify priorities for the issuing of guidance, codes of practice and regulations and will help to deliver consistently high standards across all 43 forces in England and Wales. I shall deal with the three types of measure in turn.
Regulations, which will be binding in law, will be made when, and only when, it is in the national interest that all forces adopt common practices or procedures to facilitate effective cross-border co-operation. Part 1 also extends the existing power to make regulations in respect of equipment. Regulations could determine a particular type of equipment, where it is the best available, and could also prohibit the use of certain equipmentfor example, where there are concerns about its suitability on health and safety grounds.
Codes of practice will bring together established best practice and will be produced after full consultation with the police service, often using the new national centre for policing excellence. Chief officers will have to have regard to those codes, but will retain the professional discretion to decide on their application to local circumstances. Finally, guidance will continue to be issued, as at present, on a purely advisory basis. Much of it will be issued on a non-statutory basis, not only by the Home Office, but by the inspectorate, ACPO and others.
In another place, the original clause 5 was removed from the Bill. We believe that that was a wrong move. It cannot be right that a Government, or Home Secretary, who are rightly held accountable, in the public eye, on issues of law and order, have no means of taking action in support of a community suffering unacceptable levels of crime and unacceptably poor policing performance. No one would suggest that such a power is routinely needed, nor that, in the vast majority of cases, the existing means
Simon Hughes: Do the Government not yet understand the principle that was behind the Lords removing clause 5 of the Bill? Law and order is not the responsibility only of the Home Secretary; that responsibility is shared with police authorities. When things go wrong, therefore, people do notand should notlook only to the Home Secretary to put it right. We do not have a national law and order policy; we have a national framework within which law and order is delivered locally. That is the basis of policing, and it has been for many decades.
Mr. Denham: Indeed. I am not sure, however, that the hon. Gentleman understands the nature of the debates that took place in another place. It was never suggested, and has not been suggested today, that the Home Secretary should be in the front line of addressing every problem that arises in a local police force. The issue is this: what happens in a situation in which the chief constable has clearly failed to respond and in which a police authority has failed to respond effectively? Under those circumstances, should nothing be done, or should the Home Secretary, within the constraints of the Bill in terms of giving people the ability to respond to representations and the chance to put their house in order, be able to act? The Government's view is that, at the end of the day, we should be able to act. The view of the Opposition parties, as I understand it, is that it would be better to leave people with a high crime level and a poor policing service than to do something about it. That is not acceptable.
Mr. Denham: The hon. Gentleman says that that is silly, but that is precisely the logic of the Opposition parties on this matter. They have been so desperate to whip this up into a mythological story about centralisation, national police forces and central direction that they have failed to grasp the central issue: if chief constables and police authorities are not able to deliver, who can act on behalf of local communities? None of us expects the power to be used regularly. Clearly, it is a reserve power, as we made clear to the Select Committee, but that power should exist.
Mr. Denham: We will no doubt discuss this issue at greater length in Committee, but the hon. Gentleman's analysis is wrong. I do not believe that the powers available to police authorities under the current legislationthe Opposition parties have made no proposals to change itgive police authorities the ability to tackle some of the issues relating to how chief constables respond not, of course, to individual crimes and individual criminals, but to particular types of crime. Nor do I believe that it is appropriate to see the proposals in the Bill for retirement and suspension as necessarily the best way of dealing with problems of poor performance and policing practice. I believe that the powers in the original clause 5 are necessary to complete the picture.
Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South): One of the points repeatedly made to us was that many chief constables feel that the bureaucratic burden is still increasing rather than diminishing. The creation of a standards unit separate from the inspectorate is part of that problem. Does my right hon. Friend envisage a day when the standards unit and the inspectorate will merge?
Mr. Denham: My hon. Friend's question raises two issues. On the burden of information, I accept that a challenge for the police service is to rationalise the number of types of informationoften similar but not identical informationthat it is required to provide. That would create one set of information that would be useful for the police service in managing its affairs and in responding to various inspectorates, including the Audit Commission and others. We have some way to go, but that is the way in which we want to go.