Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 380 - 399)



  380. Yes.
  (Ms Leech) We are fundamentally opposed to the idea that the Home Secretary should take a judgment about efficiency and effectiveness and what needs to be done to improve it in a force without reference to the local body which is statutorily responsible for delivering efficiency and effectiveness. Therefore, we would think it wholly inappropriate for such targets to be set without reference to and through the police authority, which is the statutory local body responsible for delivery.

  381. Had this power been in existence for, say, the last ten years, could you hazard a guess as to how often it might have been used?
  (Mr Peel) I think on three or four occasions it might have been.

  382. Will it, in fact, make a difference?
  (Ms Leech) I imagine that the Home Secretary intends that it should. In practice, we struggle I think to understand how it is, as Mr Peel said, that the Home Secretary operating remotely will be able to come to a different judgment from a judgment that the local body, which is there day in and day out overseeing performance, would come to about what measures were necessary to tackle poor performance in the force. In practice, it is difficult to see how the power could operate effectively, although it may be easy to see how it could operate where it was being used because it was there and the Home Secretary wanted to use it.

  383. On a slightly different topic, the Home Office is seeking the power to require forces to use only specified equipment. Perhaps you would like to comment on that and how there might be any incompatibility between the equipment used by different forces and if that might be overcome, whoever is the appropriate person to answer that?
  (Ms Leech) I think that we can see that there may be cases where it is appropriate, whether it be for economies of scale in purchasing, procurement and so on or whether it be because there is an appropriate national standard which should be set that can effectively only be met through a single procurement. There may be cases where it is appropriate to actually think about commissioning and operating through equipment of a particular type so we do not, as a matter of principle, entirely oppose a structure which enables that to happen and allows that to happen. What we say is that if it is to happen it should be a tripartite decision, it should not be something imposed unilaterally by one part of the structure, the tripartite partners who are responsible jointly for delivery of policing should jointly make those decisions and, therefore, we should be consulted by the Home Secretary before he considers a measure to mandate a particular type of equipment.

  384. You think there should always be reference to local circumstances and local needs?
  (Mr Peel) I think it should be allowed to happen rather than imposed. It may be, for example, I want to use a different car from the one they use in Lancashire. I want to be able to make that decision. I want that freedom to say it. For example, Northamptonshire do not use CS spray. I happen to think they are wrong and that it is a good thing but, on the other hand, they have a right to decide whether they want to use it or not. I do not want to see that imposed upon them.

  Angela Watkinson: Thank you very much.


  385. I think the example that comes to mind is police radios where you have forces that cannot talk to each other because they have got different equipment. There might well be a case for imposing that kind of technology, might there not?
  (Dr Henig) The partners would agree with that. We all did agree at national level that we did want to make that change and introduce those radios for exactly the reason that you say and there was no disagreement. Because we had agreed nationally we were able to make sure that across the country police forces and authorities signed up to this.
  (Mr Peel) Admittedly there was one authority that did not. I think the answer to that one is financial pressures. If the Secretary of State says "there is x million pounds if you do it" then you have got to have a jolly strong case for not doing it. Certainly in the case of the Airwave service, that eventually worked.

  386. What is the role of the police authorities in selecting equipment?
  (Dr Henig) It derives really from our role in helping to set the strategic direction of the force. It is important that before certain types of equipment are used locally, whether it be CS spray or whatever sort of batons, that the police authority knows what the chief constable is going to do, what sort of strategy they are going to adopt, what weapons they are going to use, because you after all are accountable to the public for the kind of policing that is taking place. Our role, therefore, I think, is to be consulted by the senior officers, to be shown the equipment and to give our consent.

  387. How have they all ended up with different radios and IT and so forth?
  (Mr Peel) With respect, of course, they will not. Once Airwave is fully in they will not.
  (Dr Henig) We have signed up to changing. Originally there were no such things in place.

  388. When did you sign up?
  (Dr Henig) Last year.
  (Mr Peel) It is going through at the moment. By 2005 we will all have the same equipment for radio communication.

  389. What do you say to what Jeff Rooker has to say about tripartite systems at present where one third of the system has the money, one third has the power and the Home Secretary gets all the blame?
  (Dr Henig) I was very interested in that because in the House of Lords the assumption was that the people who had the money was the police force whereas I think the Home Secretary thought the people who had the money were the police authorities. There seems to be some disagreement or misunderstanding about precisely who is who in what the Home Secretary said except I think probably we all understand his sentiment, his frustration that perhaps he gets some of the blame.

  390. When you pick up about the force with, say, 65 per cent medical retirements, it is possible the management of the force themselves might be blamed for that? It is possible somebody could ask what the Home Secretary is doing about that. It is not considered a very adequate reply to say "I do not have the power to do anything about it".
  (Dr Henig) Is this not a general problem? There are a whole number of areas, it seems to me, of which you have quoted one, where Home Secretaries, or indeed any ministers are going to come under pressure to take action to respond to a situation. Surely they do that by citing whatever arrangements are in place. The fact is in policing there is a tripartite relationship and actually to make that work effectively the Home Secretary knows that actually the key players on that particular one that you cite are the police authorities because they are exercising the pressure at local level to bring those levels of sickness down. Indeed many of us have been working really hard in those areas. The key, therefore, to improvement in that area is a very close working relationship between the Home Secretary and the police authorities and he knows that and we know that. So in a sense I would have thought he has to make it clear to whoever is putting pressure on that that is the realistic situation that is facing him.

  391. My information is a little out of date but it has always been my impression that in some police forces, often those where there is most need for some change, the chief constable has the authority eating out of his hand.
  (Dr Henig) I think you might be somewhat out of date nowadays.

  392. Do you remember when that was so?
  (Mr Peel) Yes, I do.
  (Dr Henig) I think the old-style police committees, which were much larger of course, were perhaps somewhat different animals. I have to say since 1995 the new police authorities are different. I have to hold my hand up and say that one of the great differences is the five independent members who many of us were not happy about at the time but who nonetheless have actually made a great impact in terms of strengthening some of the skills and professional input that members can make in this area.

  393. It is not just a question of a few free rides in a police helicopter.
  (Dr Henig) Not at all. Police authorities are really genuinely holding their senior officers to account to such an extent that we do, when we talk to our colleagues in ACPO, have every now and again to discuss with them tensions arising out of relationships across the country where police authorities are exercising their powers most vigorously and are often not necessarily disputing but perhaps challenging—constructively—some of the powers the chief constables and chief senior teams are exercising. There is a genuine challenge, I think. One of the reasons for that, of course, is the best value legislation. The best value legislation has put the responsibility for best value on police authorities. Through the exercise of best value police authorities are now required to go through the whole operation of their police force within five years and look at the various processes and challenge them. That has given an entirely new orientation to the relationship. Do you agree with that?
  (Mr Peel) Yes, I do.

Mr Cameron

  394. I just want to explore this for a second. It is the "why" question. Why do you think the Home Secretary wants to bypass police authorities in this way? It is striking under the headings: giving directions to police forces, regulating equipment, operating procedures. If, as you say, police authorities have raised their game in the last five years, why do you get so little mention in this Bill? Why do you think you are being so bypassed?
  (Dr Henig) I think in a sense he has answered that question, to some extent, because somewhere he has said he wants more levers. He feels he is not able to make as constructive an input as he would like. I think he has used this phrase that he wants to be able to pull on more levers. In a sense pulling on more levers implies a direct line which at present is not there and would have the effect of short circuiting some of the present arrangements.

  395. Do you believe that if he has direct levers that will reduce your ability to call police forces to account?
  (Dr Henig) I think inevitably this is where we started. It is going to create very strong tensions between national imperatives and what he would like to do at the centre and local accountability and what different communities up and down the country would like to see in terms of the policing of their areas.

  396. Do you think you just have not got your message across to him? What is making him produce a bit of legislation which sidelines you in this way?
  (Dr Henig) If I could come back to where we started. I would say that we support a lot of the legislation, a lot of the changes which have been put forward. We do genuinely feel that this is the time for reform, that there are a lot of things that do need to be improved. A large number of these reform proposals we do support very strongly. Just because we may not be mentioned here or there as we would like, that is not a reason for throwing this out. We do genuinely go along with most of the reform proposals. Here and there we think to make them more effective, they can be perhaps slightly changed, they need to bring perhaps the police authorities in in a different way or spell the powers out in a different way.

  397. If through this Bill the Home Secretary is able to sack every chief constable in the land, instruct every police force what to do, tell you what equipment to buy, bypass you when it comes to reports, what is left for police authorities to do? How can you support this Bill? What is left for you if this goes through unchanged?
  (Mr Peel) Effectively what we are saying is "Please take out Part 1". Most of the rest of it is very much a matter of detail. It is this whole question of, as I say, the tripartite arrangement being pulled into a single straight line rather than the triangle, the Home Secretary bypassing almost, going rapidly through the authorities, down to chief constable. It is the remainder of the Bill that we are supporting.

  398. The first seven pages.
  (Mr Peel) It is about that, yes. It is Part 1.
  (Ms Leech) I think what is left is what is there already which are two very strong statutory responsibilities: efficiency and effectiveness of the police force in the 1996 Police Act and the best value responsibility from the Local Government Act 1999. Those powers and those responsibilities on police authorities are unchanged and police authorities will continue to deliver them to the best of their ability. The danger is that you will have another whole set of processes going on in parallel which may or may not be properly aligned. Our argument has consistently been that there is no need for a tension because you can have a system which properly aligns national and local accountability if you have a partnership approach and that is what we have argued for throughout and the decision we have taken on the Standards Unit for example where we have welcomed the introduction of the Standards Unit as an enabling tool to make sure those responsibilities are fully aligned. Unless you have the mechanisms to align them or at least to have the debate where there are tensions and they do not align properly but sorts that out, then you do potentially have a horrible mess. Most importantly where you have a horrible mess is for the poor officers on the ground who are trying to police, trying to work out to whom they are accountable, what their targets are and which priority comes first.

Mr Watson

  399. It was just on your purchasing policy, Mr Peel, I think you said you would want discretion to purchase your own cars. Do you accept that if there was a national purchasing plan for cars you could have huge economies of scale?
  (Mr Peel) Indeed, so long as I can go into that voluntarily. It may be a situation would arise where I would say "Okay, yes, if I go into that I will get my cars at X but the car I am going to get is Y" whereas I want a different car and I am prepared to pay more for it. I want that local choice.

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