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I still fear that the Bill is a little too interventionist and centralist, but it is in the nature of politics to compromise and make concessions to make progress, so I shall wait to see the outcome of the negotiations. I have been interested to watch the chess game taking place across the Dispatch Box, and I shall await instructions from my pager.
Mr. Letwin: I should begin by repeating the statement that I made in response to the exchange that the Minister and I had a little while back, which was that these proceedings have justified the process that we go through in Parliament of gradually teasing out the issues. It is enormously welcome that the Minister has suggested the possibility of having at least a circumscribed discussion about alterations to his proposed amendments. I hope that, by those means, we can achieve some consensusif not here tonight, at an early date in another placethat will enable the Bill to move forward.
The other feature of this evening's discussions that has been very interesting was highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) a moment ago. There is no doubt that the underlying theory hereso far as both the principle and the practice are concernedhas reversed itself. There was a time when the Labour party believed that there was a real argument for localismat least in the context of policing, if not of many other issues. There was also a time when the Conservative party believed that there was much to be gainedon this issue, if not on many othersby trying to bring about more effectiveness from the centre.
The present Labour Government have become more and more disenchanted with long-term strategies to create sustainable structural solutions that will bring about sustainable improvement through local pressure and professional independence. They have also become more and more enchanted by the idea of taking action from the centre. At the same time, as the Conservatives look back on the many difficulties that we experienced in achieving results from the centre, on the great advances that we made in the many areas that we liberated to operate more independently of the centre, and on the sustained failure of the Government over five years to achieve improvements in many domainsstretching from education to the Home Officethrough increased intervention, we have become increasingly sceptical of the value of centralised intervention and increasingly attentive to the long-term sustainable advantages of localism. That is a most interesting shift in the character of politics. The only difference is, to my mind, that we were once mistaken in this area and generally right, although we are now right in this area, whereas the Government, having been generally wrong but right in this area, have added this area to their list of wrongness.
That is a pity, although it is interesting as a matter of reflection. The good news is that we may be able to reach a consensus on a position very far removed from that at which the Government began, as the Minister rightly and
Mr. Hogg: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for drawing the House's attention to the fact that both parties have changed their view and to the relative merits of centralism and localism. The truth is that all Governments find that it is difficult to delegate downwards because they get blamed for the mistakes made by the devolved authorities. Should not all Governments be ready to distance themselves from decisions made locally simply by saying that such is the nature of devolved administration? Governments should not seek to control the minutiae of policy where that is properly left to local authorities of one kind or another.
Mr. Letwin: I am persuaded by my right hon. and learned Friend's argument. That is a logic that we, in government, amply demonstrated and implemented in another sphere. There is no doubt that we leapt over how the Department of Trade and Industry could take responsibility for the performance of the whole of British industry, or a substantial part of it, without controlling or owning it by denying the validity of that question through privatisation and the removal of the Department's effort to take responsibility for the performance of any large part of British industry. In doing so, we admitted the long-term sustainable advantages of the marketplace compared with the long-term unsustainable disadvantages of centralised control. That is where we are now in relation to the new clause, in a quite different domain in terms of policing.
I might say, Madam Deputy Speaker, that you have been peculiarly forbearing in not stopping me during that excursion, which was a propos the precise details of the new clause, although it is relevant to understand the conceptual framework being discussed in this interesting and useful debate. I hope that you will permit us to press not new clause 1much as I am attached to it, I recognise that it represents a position that the Minister is unlikely to accept, all the more so in respect of "shall" rather than "may"but amendment (a) to Government amendment No. 111 to signify that, as it stands, we are not satisfied that the amendments go far enough.
However, we enter the proviso that we are more than willing to discuss with the Minister, in some detail and in the spirit of co-operation, and as he so generously suggested, how we could further amend the amendments to the amendments to reach the point at which there is consensus in another place.
Mr. Denham: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his comments, but I do not accept his description of the debate's conceptual framework. I do not accept that one political party started on a journey from Newcastle to London while the other started on a journey from London to Newcastle and that they are about to cross somewhere in the vicinity of Grantham.
One of the myths surrounding the Bill is that it is overbearing centralism from a party that used to believe in localism. Once the Bill is out of the way, once we see how the police reform process works in practice and as we develop a more effective performance assessment
Provided that the Secretary of State is able to direct a police authority to take action, there is room to discuss the wording of the direction, as we suggested earlier. That is helpful. It is important to remember that there is a real advantage in making progress on the Bill. People out there in local communities, local police forces and local authorities want to be able to implement many measures at the earliest possible opportunity, not least those on antisocial behaviour orders and on community support officers, which the Metropolitan police are already recruiting. The debate on such issues and on how we can proceed has been valuable, and we shall discuss those other measures in more detail in a few moments.
Interesting concepts have been introduced to the debate. The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) referred to the non-tribal nationalist, which is a new one on me, but we shall work on it. My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby referred to performance assessment in the police service, and she will follow events with interest as we develop the broader and more balanced approach to it that was flagged up in the White Paper and which is being discussed with the police service.
The hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) tried to set out how the Government have changed their position since the Bill was introduced. I must say in return that when the Bill was introduced the Conservative party was denying the existence of any problems that might require the powers of intervention that we have discussed tonight, so there has been movement on both sides.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones), the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) and others took us into an area of debate that is not, strictly speaking, to do with the new clause, as it involves the nature of police authorities. That debate will continue, but it is the Government's view that this is not the time to change the composition of police authorities. However, let me say on the record once more that we recognise their important role in the tripartite structure. If the changes that we propose provide reassurance that there is no threat to that structureundoubtedly, the Association of Police Authorities and police authorities themselves will see the matter that waythat is welcome.
We have had a useful debate on an important and controversial part of the Bill. It is good that we continue to make progress even at this late stage, and the powers that the public want to be available should be available in, I hope, the not too distant future. With that, I urge the House to resist the new clause. In turn, I hope that our amendments will be accepted, as we need them so that they can be reconsidered in another place. Otherwise, there will be no change to address. We recognise, however, that we need to examine some of the drafting.