Police Reform Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Hawkins: I beg to move amendment No. 114, in page 4, line 45, at end insert—

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    '(4A) A report under subsection (3) shall set out fully the increased costs to public funds which will be required to make the police force or any part concerned efficient and effective and the full costs of any remedial measures recommended.'.

This is a matter of substance and not merely a probing amendment. I said before lunch that we would return to the issues of what the Government often refer to as so-called best value. The chief officers of my police authority in Surrey and the two local authorities in my constituency think that the current practice is very far from the normal and natural meaning in English language of ''best value''. They have found that the so-called best-value procedures have been incredibly expensive and have served no good purpose.

I suggest that the requirement that we propose in the amendment represents plain common sense. It is rather akin to the compliance cost assessment that is required in every statute. We must be able to know what it will cost to make things work. We should always have a weather eye on the cost to taxpayers of what is proposed. Nevertheless, when one knows the cost of something, it might still be the right thing to do. I do not suggest that something that would genuinely make a force efficient and effective should not be done because it is expensive. We want efficient and effective police forces. One should always be aware of costs so that value judgments can be made.

There are occasions when a marginal improvement would be very expensive. One could say that because a force is pretty effective, it is not worth while to spend a huge amount of taxpayers' money of the sort that was wasted on the dome or Wembley—as the House heard today—for only a marginal improvement. We must always be careful to examine costs, and I hope that we shall hear a constructive response from the Minister. I accept that the Minister may say that that would not be a good way in which to do it, and that the Government will bring forward Government amendments at a later stage to incorporate the concept, and if he were to say that we would listen to him. It is important, however, that the report should have a compliance cost assessment in it whenever such things are contemplated.

3.45 pm

Mr. Denham: We can take the amendment as a covert attempt to make the Home Office responsible for the costs that may be incurred by saying that a police force should do things differently. Let us remember, however, the basis on which the provision will work. From the outset, a police authority is funded to maintain an efficient and effective police force. Direction-making powers, including those introduced by the previous Administration, exist for use when a police authority fails to maintain an efficient and effective police force. That is wholly separate from a situation in which the Government may decide that a police authority should do something. In the spending review 2000, for example, we decided that there needed to be a greater focus on rural policing, and we introduced an additional £15 million of funding, which was allocated to forces according to how sparsely their areas were populated.

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If a police authority fails to use its resources effectively and has to invest extra money in order to correct its own failings, that is its responsibility and it should be accountable to the local communities that it serves. The amendment is misplaced and does not build on the purpose of either the HMIC inspection or the direction-making powers that we, and the previous Government, have framed.

Mr. Hawkins: I am not wholly convinced by the Minister's comments. He started off by saying that the amendment is a covert attempt to make the Home Office pay for the costs of the measure. If it were such an attempt, I am not sure whether it would be covert.

In the time of the Minister's predecessor, the right hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), there was a problem in my county when the previous Home Secretary, who is now the Foreign Secretary, decided that Senator Pinochet should be placed under house arrest. The former Home Secretary went on television and said that the costs of the house arrest would not fall on Surrey police or the council tax payers of Surrey, but would come out of Home Office funds. Unfortunately, it did not turn out that way. The total cost of that policing operation was £1.1 million, but the Home Office reimbursed Surrey police only £600,000. People in my area were very unhappy, and all the Surrey MPs went to see the former Home Secretary. We managed to get an extra £200,000 out of him, but we did not get the full cost. The Minister thinks that the amendment is a covert attempt to make the Home Office pay for things, but if we wanted that we would do it overtly.

That is not the point, which, with respect, the Minister has slightly missed. Even if a local police authority has to pay, Parliament and taxpayers are entitled to know the cost. There is always the question of who judges what is efficient or effective. I am not sure that my judgment of what is efficient or effective would always be same as that of the previous Home Secretary or, indeed, the current Home Secretary. Of course, the current Home Secretary has spent most of his time in office dismantling all the things that the previous Home Secretary did to such an extent that the press has described his actions as dismantling the house the Jack built.

I revert to what I said in moving the amendment. We want to see the text in the Bill. That may be a matter to which we return on Report, but at this stage I do not propose to press it to a vote. Before withdrawing the amendment, I hope that I can ask the Minister to reflect carefully. The amendment is not a covert attempt to make the Home Office pay. It is about transparency, and everyone being aware of the cost to public funds of such reports. I hope that the Minister will seriously reflect on that, and may be prepared to table Government amendments to similar effect. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: No. 130, in page 4, line 45, at end insert—

    '(5) The Secretary of State shall not give a direction under this section in relation to any police force unless—

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    (a) the police authority maintaining that force and the chief officer of that force have each been given such information about the Secretary of State's grounds for proposing to give that direction as he considers appropriate for enabling them to make representations or proposals under the following paragraphs of this subsection;

    (b) that police authority and chief officer have each been given an opportunity of making representations about those grounds;

    (c) that police authority has had an opportunity of making proposals for the taking of remedial measures that would make the giving of the direction unnecessary; and

    (d) the Secretary of State has considered any such representations and any such proposals.

    (6) The Secretary of State may by regulations make further provision as to the procedure to be followed in cases where a proposal is made for the giving of a direction under this section.

    (7) Before making any regulations under this section, the Secretary of State shall consult with—

    (a) persons whom he considers to represent the interests of police authorities;

    (b) persons whom he considers to represent the interests of chief officers of police; and

    (c) such other persons as he thinks fit.

    (8) Regulations under this section may make different provision for different cases and circumstances.

    (9) A statutory instrument containing regulations under this section shall not be made unless a draft of the regulations has been laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House.'' '.—[Mr. Denham.]

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Vera Baird: I want to raise a minor drafting point of the kind that will lead the Minister to regret having lawyers on the Back Benches. I do not suppose that anyone who is not an expert in reading legislation will actually read this clause, but if they did, they might hesitate at subsection (2). At the moment it says:

    ''Those remedial measures must not relate to any matter other than (a) . . . or (b)''.

Is there any good reason why it does not just say that those remedial measures may relate only to (a) and (b)? That is infinitely easier to read, more straightforward and easier to follow.

The Chairman: If there is not any good reason for it to be worded that way at the moment, I am that sure someone will find one. The point is well taken.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 4, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 5

Regulation of equipment

Mrs. Brooke: I beg to move amendment No. 138, in page 5, line 48, after 'vehicles', insert—

    '(aa) batons, CS spray devices and other items used for public order control'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 79, in page 6, line 1, at end insert—

    '(c) information and communication equipment.'.

Mrs. Brooke: Under the clause, the Secretary of State can make regulations for the use of equipment in order to promote the efficiency and effectiveness of

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police forces. As we know, he must consult the police chiefs and police authority groups, and have any regulations approved by Parliament. However, the current clause stipulates only vehicles and protective clothing as equipment. I suppose it is slightly odd for the Liberal Democrats to argue for more centralised control, but I shall force myself to do it. We would like to pinpoint the equipment that might be the subject of the Secretary of State's rules and regulations, not to impose uniformity of approach, but, in terms of the devices, to make an argument for some sort of national standard, whether we are talking about the dimensions of a baton or CS sprays—pepper sprays have been mentioned. Such things are either safe or are they are not.

Our amendment may not be accurately worded, but I should like the Minister to take the spirit of our points on board. The clause could quite genuinely work towards the efficiency and effectiveness of the police force by setting standards for the sort of items that might be used for public order control. The amendment is intended to make the clause more specific, and force the Secretary of State to consult relevant groups and obtain the backing of Parliament before making regulations relating to defensive weapons, on which so much relies. Our final point is that we want the police to have absolute faith in the equipment that they use.

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