Police Reform Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Denham: The hon. Gentleman started his intervention by talking about the ability to inspect particular parts of police forces, and I set out the logic behind that. He then shifted his argument and said that the Secretary of State should not have the ability to require an inspection to take place, so it is reasonable to ask why the previous Conservative Administration introduced such a power in the 1966 Act.

Mr. Hawkins: The difference, as my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton said, is that something might need to happen for a force as a whole, but at basic command unit level that is a step too far.

3 pm

Mr. Denham: Many forces have at least four or five basic command units, including a couple of large urban areas and a number of rural areas. If a problem becomes apparent in only one urban area, the hon. Gentleman is saying that he prefers the previous powers, which would require every aspect of the entire force to be involved. The clause allows us to look at where the problem is, which is sensible.

This goes further than my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham suggests, because in practice BCU inspections are conducted largely by acting BCU commanders working under the supervision of the

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inspectorate. They are the people who, on either side of their secondment to the inspectorate, actually do the job. Such peer inspection is valued in the police service.

Mr. Hawkins: That was a long intervention—almost a speech. Suffice it to say that I do not agree with the Minister, for the reasons set out by my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton. I shall not repeat them, because the point has been sufficiently made. We shall not call for a Division on clause stand part, because we called for one on amendment No. 112, which was the really serious issue. I am prepared to drop the matter at this stage, but I wanted to flag it up because it will be relevant to debates on other clauses. We are seriously concerned about attempts to micro-manage, and this seems to be yet another example of the Government getting it wrong.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 4

Directions to police authorities

Mrs. Annette L. Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole): I beg to move amendment No. 2, in page 4, line 28, after 'may', insert

    ', after consulting the police authority responsible for maintaining that force about the remedial measures needed,'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take the following: Government amendment No. 130.

Amendment No. 134, in schedule 1, page 90, line 18, after 'Ministers,' insert

    'and the NCIS Service Authority about the remedial measures needed,'.

Amendment No. 135 in page 90, line 34, after 'State,', insert

    'and the NCIS Service Authority about the remedial measures needed,'.

Amendment No. 136, in page 91, line 26, leave out from 'State' to 'as' in line 27 and insert

    ', after consulting the NCS Service Authority about the remedial measures needed, may direct that authority to take such measures.'.

Mrs. Brooke: We are pleased that amendment No. 2 may have provoked Government amendment No. 130. The amendment would provide a layer of consultation with police authorities about the remedial measures necessary for a force that might, unfortunately, be deemed not to be efficient or effective. That would mirror Ofsted, with which one would expect such consultation. As I understand it, Government amendment No. 130 places an obligation on the Secretary of State not to give any direction until there has been consultation and the police authority has been given the opportunity to make representations and proposals for remedial measures. That is important, and we are pleased about it.

Amendments Nos. 134, 135 and 136 are consequential on Government amendment No. 130. It is right to have equality of treatment not only for police authorities responding to any directions or suggestions from the Secretary of State, but for other national bodies—NCIS and the NCS. I note

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Government amendment No. 131, which we shall discuss later, but we shall pursue our amendments, because they go further that that.

The amendments are important, because they would add an extra layer of consultation about remedial measures. They are more inclusive and entirely match the sentiments expressed in amendment No. 2 and Government amendment No. 130. We want the relevant service authority to have some input right across the board into the improvement of the service, because we believe that there must be a two-way exchange.

Mr. Hawkins: Like the hon. Lady, my hon. Friends and I were pleased that the Government responded to amendment No. 2. My hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire and I subscribed to it because we were working on the same basis. As the hon. Lady rightly said, Government amendment No. 130 deals with part of the same issue. We support her comments. These are important matters, and she is right to say that we shall come back to related matters when we have the big debate on schedule 1, Government amendment No. 131 and Government new clause 4.

We support the hon. Lady's thinking. She is right to say that relevant matters are raised by amendments Nos. 134, 135 and 136. It is appropriate that the Government are moving in our direction in Government amendment No. 130, so we shall listen with interest to what the Minister has to say.

Mr. Denham: Given the suggestions of support for Government amendment No. 130, I shall not detain the Committee too long. However, as we are introducing new material in the Bill, I should probably set out the case for the record.

Government amendment No. 130 reintroduces safeguards in respect of the power to direct police authorities that were implicitly rejected in another place when it voted to remove the parallel power to direct chief officers. I believe that on that occasion the focus of attention was on what was then clause 5 and the amendment to it. However, the proposals that we have included here were effectively lost at the same time.

The power to direct police authorities to take remedial measures to correct underperformance is not new. Clause 4 simply re-enacts, with modifications, section 40 of the Police Act 1996. The power was originally introduced by the Police and Magistrates' Courts Act 1994. In putting the case for section 40, I can do no better than quote from the proceedings of the Standing Committee that considered the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill. The then Home Office Minister, Charles Wardle, said:

    ''New section 28D gives the Home Secretary the power to give directions to a police authority when an inspectorate constabulary has reported that, in his opinion, the relevant police force is, or is about to become, inefficient or ineffective. That aspect involves the power of last resort, which can be exercised only where there is an independent opinion from the inspectorate that the police authority is failing in its fundamental statutory duty to secure the maintenance of an effective and efficient police force for its area.''—[Official Report, Standing Committee D, 24 May 1994; c. 268–269.]

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Clause 4 is not breaking new ground, but section 40 of the 1996 Act as it stands includes few safeguards. We have already introduced a number of such safeguards in another place. New subsection (2) will restrict the direction-making power so that a police authority may only be directed to take remedial measures that are relevant to the shortcomings identified by Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary. New subsections (3) and (4) will require the Home Secretary to report to Parliament on the exercise of the direction-making power in any given case.

Government amendment No. 130 introduces further safeguards to ensure that the power to direct is a power of last resort. It places a duty on the Home Secretary to put to the chief officer and police authority the evidence that a force or part of a force is failing and afford them an opportunity to make representations. The Home Secretary is then placed under a duty to have regard to such representations.

If, having considered any representations, the Home Secretary remains of the opinion that remedial measures are required, he must afford the police authority the opportunity to put in place its own remedial measures before it is directed to do so. If the police authority identifies appropriate remedial measures that fully address the area of concern there will be no need for the Home Secretary to issue a formal direction.

The amendment also enables further procedural requirements to be set out in regulations subject to the affirmative procedure. Before making such regulations, the Home Secretary is required to consult the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Association of Police Authorities in the usual way. Such regulations would, for example, provide for further consultation with a police authority on the terms of any proposed directions. Those are powerful safeguards that were not included in the Police and Magistrates' Courts Act 1994. The safeguards built into Government amendment No. 130 effectively supersede the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) and moved by the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Mrs. Brooke), whom I urge not to press the amendment, because we are introducing the type of consultation that she seeks.

Further Government amendments will deal with the other issues raised by amendments Nos. 134 to 137. New clause 4 will introduce a parallel power to direct chief officers that will include a similar set of safeguards. I do not want to pre-empt the debate on new clause 4, but suffice it to say that the power to direct a police authority is not sufficient on its own to tackle underperformance. Police authorities have a variety of mechanisms by which to hold chief officers to account. In the first instance, we shall look to the chief officer in a police authority to address underperformance, but when a police authority has not been successful in working with a chief officer to improve performance, it is our view that the Home

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Secretary must have the option of directing the person responsible for the control of the force.

The revised section 40 and new sections 41A and 41B of the 1996 Act must be seen as a package. Whichever power is used, it should be used only as a last resort after close consultation with the police authority and chief officer concerned. Amendment No. 130 will ensure that that happens.

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