Police Reform Bill [Lords]

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Norman Baker: The Minister is responding constructively and making a persuasive case for the provisions. What is the attitude of the Association of Police Authorities? Is it satisfied that a correct balance has been struck?

Mr. Denham: I would have to refer to the ACPO document to answer that question, and I do not have it with me. I think that ACPO is content that we should move in that direction. Individual forces may share some reservations about how far to go, but such matters cannot be prescribed in primary legislation. There is a professional recognition of the need to move in that direction throughout the service. In its report on the National Crime Squad in 2001–02, Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary said:

    ''It soon became clear that the constant turnover of staff, in whom the National Crime Squad had invested significantly in specialist training, was causing operational difficulties for the organisation . . . Unless arrangements can be made for generally longer secondments, the demand for direct entry will become unanswerable.''

That is the independent view of the inspectorate. I have rehearsed the reasons why longer-term secondments cause a problem. Officers are reluctant to take them up because they are not sure about their career position when they return to their home force at the end of the secondment.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 71 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 72 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 73

Regulations for NCIS

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

Mr. Hawkins: Once again, I wish to refer to some points about which the Police Federation of England and Wales contacted my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire and me. They apply to clauses 73 and 74. The federation is pleased that the Government have responded to its wish for regulations. It has argued that regulations governing the terms and conditions of the National Criminal Intelligence Service and National Crime Squad terms should be identical to regulations that govern the terms and conditions for forces made under section 50 of the Police Act 1996.

The Police Federation anticipates that the Home Secretary may intend the regulations applicable to NCIS and NCS to be similar in structure to those that will apply to forces as a consequence of the recent police negotiating board agreement on pay and conditions of service. That is, it anticipates that the regulations will provide the structure and appropriate

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safeguards, and that the details will be set out in determinations made by the Secretary of State, which will be informed by police negotiating board agreements.

The Police Federation says that if that is so, the wording of clauses 73(1) and 74(1) would have the following result: three sets of determinations would be made by the Home Secretary, and three sets governing terms and conditions of service would apply separately to the 43 home forces, NCIS and the NCS. The Police Federation says that a simple way of avoiding the additional bureaucracy of legislating separately would be to bring NCIS and the NCS within the scope of section 50 of the Police Act 1996. It has suggested various ways in which that could be done by amending and combining clauses 73(1) and 74(1).

I am sure at the Minister and those who advise him have considered the matter, and have also looked at clauses 73(2) and 74(2), with which the Police Federation do not agree. That is because those subsections enable the Independent Police Complaints Commission to bring and conduct disciplinary proceedings. The Police Federation says that it is far from ideal to give a body powers both to investigate and prosecute disciplinary matters. The Minister will remember that I raised a similar point under another clause.

The royal commission on criminal procedure reported in 1981 that it is unsatisfactory for the person who has investigated the case to be the person responsible for the decision to prosecute. As I told the Minister in an earlier debate, that is a fundamental principle of criminal justice.

Clauses 73(2) and 74(2) confer

    ''a right to participate in, or to be present at, disciplinary proceedings on such persons as may be specified''.

The federation is concerned that the proceedings might be made open to the public. We raised that issue earlier, and I remember that the Minister said that there could be exceptional cases in which that might be considered, but that that would not be the norm. For the sake of clarification, it would be helpful if he would say on record that he believes that that also applies to the provisions under discussion. His comments could then be referred to if anyone considered our discussion under the ruling of Pepper v. Hart.

Another issue raised by the federation is the withdrawal of the right to silence without adverse inference at disciplinary proceedings. We had quite a debate on that earlier, and I do not think it would be sensible to repeat it. I simply note the issue, as the Police Federation has raised it once again. The Minister will, no doubt, want to say a word or two confirming what he said on that earlier occasion. Having put that on the record, I shall not detain the Committee further.

Mr. Denham: The hon. Gentleman raises two main issues: one is whether we should automatically align the regulations for NCIS and NCS employees with those for the wider police service in England and Wales, and the second is about the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

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I acknowledge the hon. Gentleman's point on the first issue; certainly, we want to avoid bureaucracy. The service authorities will be the employers of police officers working for NCIS and NCS. It would be sensible to allow some discussion with them on the way in which regulations should be shaped before committing ourselves absolutely. I anticipate that a similar general approach will be taken to the regulations applied to Home Office police forces in England and Wales. We should be sensible and ensure that regulations are properly tailored to specific requirements of, and specific circumstances experienced by, the organisations, if they would not arise elsewhere. Powers exist to consolidate the regulations should we decide to do that.

10.30 am

I know that the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth), led for the Government during the sitting in which we considered the IPCC. There are issues of principle about the IPCC's ability to pursue a disciplinary case if it has worries about the way in which it might otherwise be conducted. We discussed exceptional circumstances relating to opening things up to the public. I should expect the approach taken on NCIS and the NCS to reflect the same approach that we take with regard to the IPCC. During discussions, it was decided that the sheer complexity of drafting primary legislation for every different part of every police service for which we want an IPCC approach would be an enormous job, which is why some will be addressed through regulations. However, we want the approach to be the same for all police officers, wherever they are.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 73 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 74 to 76 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 77

Police authorities to produce three-year strategy plans

Mrs. Annette L. Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole): I beg to move amendment No. 68, in page 70, leave out line 36 and insert

    'In considering the draft plan, the police authority'.

The position of the police authority is absolutely crucial throughout the Bill, and the amendment emphasises the role that we think the police authority should play. The clause is clear that the police authority will be responsible for issuing the three-year strategy plan. Naturally, the chief officer will produce a draft and must be mindful of local opinion during that process. We want to ensure that the police authority makes contact with the local community. That is its legitimate role and such input is an important part of the tripartite system that we have discussed so much.

The Bill confuses the roles of the police authority and the chief officer in many ways. The amendment would reinforce with whom we believe the consultation should occur and the police authority's role, rather than that of the chief officer.

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Mr. Denham: The Government took the line in another place that the amendment adds nothing to existing arrangements. Under section 96 of the Police Act 1996, consultation with local people on policing in their area is done by the police authority in conjunction with the chief constable. We expect the same arrangements to be used—and improved, if necessary—when developing the three-year plans. Most people believe that the consultation system works satisfactorily for the one-year plans.

The amendment would bring in the police authority's assessment of consultations at a very late stage—after the chief officer had produced the draft plan. At the moment, the arrangements in place in most local areas are that those views are

fed into the draft plan while it is being prepared by the police authority in conjunction with the chief officer, which is a sensible arrangement. I ask the Committee to reject the amendment because it does not helpfully add to the arrangements that have been in place since 1996.

Mrs. Brooke: That argument is a matter of opinion, but as future amendments require further debate and we will return to the issue, I shall withdraw the amendment. I am sure that the Minister has been involved in compiling many local authority plans and knows that there is interaction at an early stage. When draft plans are being produced right across the range of services in my local authority, councillors go out and consult the local authority early in the plan's preparation. That would be good practice for a three-year strategy plan. The matter gains significance with the additional time in the plan. I ask the Minister to give the matter further consideration, but I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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