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4.51 pm

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North): I have a brief point to make to the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it in your power to direct the Clerks to total up the time used by the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) during many, many

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programme motion debates so that they can tell the House how many hours, and possibly days, of serious debate on matters of substance he has denied other Members?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): The hon. Gentleman may care to read through past editions of Hansard, where he will find the answer for himself.

4.52 pm

Norman Baker (Lewes): I shall, I hope, be reasonably brief. As you know, Madam Deputy Speaker, I have been a stout defender of the Government on many occasions in the House.

Dr. Howard Stoate (Dartford): Quite right too.

Norman Baker: Well, one or two.

I am afraid that I take issue with the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), as the Bill is not being rushed through at, to use his words, an unreasonable and undemocratic speed. I am the first Member to object to unnecessary reductions in the time available to the House to debate Bills. Such an example was the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, which was rushed through. This Bill is not being rushed through. We have had 28 hours of debate in Committee, and we have the opportunity here to debate, as it happens, relatively few amendments for a day and a half. I believe that the time allocated is appropriate, so I have no problem at all with the timetable motion.

The objections to timetable motions surely apply only if the timetable is so tight as to have the consequences to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred. That is not the case on this occasion. My only concern is one mentioned by the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice)—the guillotine at 6 o'clock tomorrow. I understand that there is likely to be a statement tomorrow on cannabis, or something of that nature, or there may be a private notice question, so a situation might develop in which the debate on part 1 is curtailed, which would be unfortunate, although not what the Government intend. Will the Minister respond on that particular point? I hope he will, as it would put my mind at rest.

I am sure that it was scurrilous of the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire to raise the point that the Government might be involved in media manipulation. I cannot imagine the circumstances in which they would

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resort to such tactics. Well, if I try hard I cannot imagine them. I note that tomorrow's controversial matters will be dealt with after the statement on cannabis, which means, of course, that the media will have gone home to write about that.

The other, more serious point is that the Government have managed to timetable this business to coincide with the all-party parliamentary beer group dinner, which will take place tomorrow evening at the same time as a number of important Divisions in the House. For that, I am not very grateful to the Minister.

4.53 pm

Mr. Denham: May I respond briefly? The right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) set out his reasons for opposing timetable motions, although I have to say that, in the process, he reminded many of us of why we are generally in favour of them.

On the issues raised by the hon. Members for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) and for Lewes (Norman Baker), I had understood that the programme motion was the subject of discussion through the usual channels. On the assumption, for the moment, that we would none the less wish to complete our business with Third Reading at 9 and a 10 o'clock finish tomorrow night, if there can be discussions through the usual channels about flexibility over the 6 o'clock knife in the programme motion, we are willing to entertain that.

Although I cannot speak for the business managers, I cannot rule out the possibility of a Government statement tomorrow. If some adjustment within the normal finishing time were desirable, we would consider it after the debate this evening. The issues are too important for people to be left with a sense of not having discussed them properly. However, the fact remains that there are only eight substantive amendments in the groups to be discussed in these two days.

With regard to the media, people living in glass houses should be careful with their stones. Those of us who spent a good part of Sunday being rung up by people saying that they understood from sources not connected with the Government that some deal or arrangement had been reached, and asking about the Government's intentions on these issues, are well used to the briefing that has been going on around the Bill. It is better that we concentrate on the matters of substance before the House and move on.

Question put and agreed to.

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Orders of the Day

Police Reform Bill [Lords]

[1st allotted day]

As amended in the Committee, considered.

Clause 33

Removal etc. of senior officers at the instance of the Secretary of State

4.57 pm

The Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety (Mr. John Denham): I beg to move amendment No. 20, in page 35, line 45, at end insert "a notice in writing".

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments Nos. 21 to 23.

Mr. Denham: The Government have tabled these amendments in response to a point made in Committee by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar (Vera Baird), so I shall deal with them as a group.

Subsection (2) provides that if the Secretary of State proposes to require a police authority to exercise its power to call upon the chief officer to retire or resign, he must give the chief officer concerned notice of his intention to do so and an explanation of his reasons.

The point raised in Committee by my hon. and learned Friend was that the provisions under new subsection (2A) to section 42 of the Police Act 1996, as inserted by clause 33(2) of the Bill, place a requirement on the Secretary of State to give a copy of the notice to the police authority while not explicitly requiring that the notice include his grounds for acting.

Theoretically, a situation could arise in which the police authority was not notified of the grounds on which the Secretary of State wished to proceed, while the chief officer had received both notice of the Secretary of State's intention and the grounds for acting. That situation would obviously be undesirable, and these amendments will ensure that the notice given to the chief officer includes the Secretary of State's reasons for acting, so when a copy of the notice is sent to the police authority it will be aware of those reasons.

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire): I note that the hon. and learned Member for Redcar (Vera Baird), who raised these issues in Committee, is not present. I am not sure whether she is on the Select Committee on Home Affairs. I welcome the Minister's introduction to the amendments, but I want to press him a little, especially on the question of what is in writing and what is not.

At column 182 of the Committee's deliberations, the Minister clearly said that the Secretary of State would have to give reasons if he wished to remove senior officers. That was during the discussion on what was then clause 29. He later resisted the Opposition's attempts to introduce further rights for inquiries to be held and for the

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chief officer in question to make personal representations to the Secretary of State, accompanied by a professional adviser, if the Secretary of State intended to use his powers to remove a senior officer or require his resignation or retirement. The Minister also said at that time that he would seek to make regulations under what was then clause 33, now clause 34, which would lay down the procedures to be followed.

Clause 42 of the 1996 Act, as amended by this Bill, gives chief officers the right to make representations in person if they are to be forcibly retired or required to resign. That right to make representations in person does not extend to the new part of section 11 of the 1996 Act, introduced by clause 32(2) of the Bill, which relates to suspension of chief officers.

The Chief Police Officers Staff Association, CPOSA, is extremely concerned that, in effect, suspension from duty is tantamount to a requirement to resign. It is extremely difficult for any chief officer who has been suspended—whatever the outcome of the case—to be reinstated with the credibility necessary to carry out their very important duty, and almost every case of suspension will end in resignation. The association is therefore concerned that the right to make representations in person does not extend to the issue of suspension.

The amendments appear not to extend the inquiry system to suspension, nor do they appear to require the Secretary of State to give notice in writing of where suspension is to take place. They are limited to the specific circumstances in which resignation and retirement are required, but not to the stage of suspension.

That brings me to the draft protocol, which has been sent to CPOSA. The association is now considering the procedures relating to suspension of chief officers. I will not detain the House by going through the protocol, with which the Minister is obviously familiar; at least, I sincerely hope so. [Interruption.] He is laughing, obviously to inform us that he is familiar with it. He will know, therefore, that nowhere does the protocol refer to an inquiry, to the chief officer being given the reasons for their suspension, or to the opportunity for the chief officer to make representations either in writing or in person if they are to be suspended.

My challenge to the Minister concerns the very narrow sense of the amendments. From his opening remarks, I understand the specific reason raised by the hon. and learned Member for Redcar that gave rise to the amendments, but behind that is a much bigger issue. The Government are consulting on a protocol that does nothing whatever to fulfil what at least was the understanding of Committee members: that a number of these issues would be addressed in regulations or in guidance.

I stress again that it is widely believed—Members of this House will accept it—that if a chief officer has been suspended, as with any other profession, it is very difficult ever to regain the credibility that was held before, regardless of the outcome of the case that led to the suspension. Resignation may be the only sensible way forward, regardless of the outcome. That is why I would argue that the opportunity for the chief officer in question to be given reasons why he is to be suspended, the opportunity to make representations in writing and in person, and the opportunity for an inquiry, are important adjuncts to the power that the Secretary of State is taking in the Bill to provide for suspension.

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I challenge the Minister, even at this late stage, to respond to the real concerns of chief officers, expressed through CPOSA to me today, that the protocol is wholly inadequate, and if he is not prepared to alter the Bill, at least to amend the protocol.

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