Police Reform Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Paice: I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation. However, if that is the case, why has he included subsections (10) and (11)? What happens if the Secretary of State believes that the strategy is inconsistent with the national plan and consults the people listed in subsection (11)? If he cannot rewrite the strategy, what is achieved? Assuming those people all agree with him, what does he do? Does he just put a note on the strategy to say that he does not accept it?

Mr. Denham: The reason for including subsections (10) and (11) was to underline the fact that the national policing plan, though produced by the Home Secretary, is produced after consultation with the national policing forum, key members of which are tripartite partners at national level: the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Association of Police Authorities. We thought it advisable that the Secretary of State should consult ACPO and APA before he writes to a police authority to say that he does not like its draft plan or that it is inconsistent. Clearly, for a police authority to know that the Home Secretary had written after consulting police authorities at national level through ACPO and that they shared the view that

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there was a serious inconsistency in the plan would have greater force that what might be seen as the opinion of the Secretary of State. The point of the process, even at that stage of intervention, is to bring in the other partners who played a key role in drawing up the national policing plan, in addition to the Secretary of State.

Mr. Paice: I understand the reason for the consultation. However, is the Minister saying that the Secretary of State simply writes to the police authority after the consultation, assuming that it supports his view, and says that he does not believe that the police authority's strategy is consistent with the national plan and that all those consulted agree with him, but that, ultimately, if the police authority wants to stand by its strategy, it does so?

Mr. Denham: That is precisely the point. The Secretary of State relies on the force of the intervention based on his consultation with the other police service partners. He does not rely on an ability to require the plan to be amended in a specific way.

Mr. Hawkins: I would like the Minister to deal briefly with one further point. My hon. Friend has drawn out from the Minister who the Secretary of State will consult and what then happens. The Police Federation believes that it would be sensible for the Secretary of State to consult the Police Advisory Board and the Police Federation Joint Branch Board, in addition to the people who are listed in subsection (11). Has the Minister considered those suggestions?

Mr. Denham: I cannot imagine that it would usually be advisable to involve the Police Advisory Board. It deals with different matters, such as the non-statutory part of employment conditions in general and other wider issues. The Police Federation is involved, in that as a member of the national policing forum it will have advised the Home Secretary on the national policing plan. Sensibly, the legislation is probably better as it is. It requires the Secretary of State to consult the other two main tri-partite partners and leaves him some discretion.

It is always dangerous for Ministers on their feet to come up with examples but if, for example, the area of concern was that a police authority plan clearly neglected the importance of partnership with other local agencies—the entire Committee agrees that the police service must work in partnership with other groups—it might be appropriate to consult other organisations such as the Local Government Association or the health service before commenting to the police authority on what the expectations are. However, I would not want to give a commitment to the federation, the PAB or any individual members of the national policing forum that they would always be consulted. There is a substantial number of them, as I indicated earlier.

Norman Baker: As always, I am grateful to the Minister for his response, which was useful in teasing out the fact that a police authority may stand its ground if it wishes to do so. The Secretary of State will obviously be able to pull other levers, and will be keen

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to invoke the police standards unit, HMIC and anything else he can get his hands on, but it is important to establish that a police authority has the right to stand its ground.

Nevertheless, I am unhappy that there is still too much potential for interference after the guidance has been issued. The Minister talked about the national intelligence model, and picked an example that would, of course, find consensus in the Committee. It would obviously be a serious matter if a police authority did not opt in to a policy that needed to be operated nationally, but detailed interference may be inappropriate in other cases. A study in a small force somewhere in the country might, for example, conclude that police stations outside major towns should be closed, because they take up the time of officers who should be on the street. The national guidance might then recommend reducing the number of police stations and the working hours that they involve. However, a police authority might feel strongly that that was wrong, and that we should increase the number of stations and keep them open for longer because of the need for community support. The Minister will be aware of the recent reversal in Sussex. The previous chief constable closed police stations, but I am glad to say that the new chief constable is reopening them.

Those are matters for individual chief constables and police authorities, not for guidance from the Secretary of State. The clause would, however, allow guidance to be issued not simply in the initial stages, but as a comment on plans that were being produced. That would be inappropriate, and would put undue pressure on police authorities and chief constables.

The Minister did not like the phrase ''have regard to''. I agree that it is more subjective, but that is no bad thing; subjectivity is sometimes quite useful. Some police authorities and chief constables might want to take a different direction from the Secretary of State or a different route to the same end, as I suggested in my earlier analogy. They would still listen carefully to him; indeed, they would be foolish not to. None the less, they might ask, ''What is his purpose? Does he have a valid point?'' Having listened carefully and considered the matter, they might conclude that he is wrong and that their duty is to plough ahead.

Mr. Paice: The Minister feels that the words ''have regard to'' are too subjective, which is a subjective judgment in itself. Does the hon. Gentleman agree, however, that amendment No. 103 offers an alternative, and that the Minister could not possibly object to the phrase ''taken into account'', when he uses something similar in subsection (6)?

Norman Baker: We have not yet heard a Minister object to his own formulation, so I suppose that he will go along with that phrase.

Mr. John MacDougall (Central Fife): Does the hon. Gentleman accept that it would be inconsistent to use delegated responsibilities to give police forces the power to act in ways that were not consistent with a plan drawn up after extensive consultation? Would the Secretary of State not then intervene more often? Is it not better to have consistency once one has reached an

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agreed position? As the Minister explained, police forces will have room to stand their ground if they have credible reasons for doing so. Will that not allow for consistency and the freedom to act without intervention?

Norman Baker: If the hon. Gentleman is saying that the Minister's concluding remarks mean that a police authority can stand by its plan, I welcome that. However, I do not want to get into an argument about semantics, or about consistency and compatibility, because that would not be helpful.

I would like the Home Secretary to issue guidance, and the police authority to take it forward. The Home Secretary should have a right to intervene if the police authority goes way off beam into a different direction. However, if the police authority determines that it should take a different route to the same end, or go at a different speed in a different vehicle, I see nothing wrong with that.

Mr. MacDougall: Would the hon. Gentleman agree that if it is not consistent, then it must be inconsistent? We will end up in the position of saying, ''This is the agreed procedure, but we can be inconsistent with it.'' Does that not make a mockery of the consultations that lead to the agreed position?

Norman Baker: We are getting into semantics. It depends what it is consistent with—the overall aims and objectives or the micromanagement that the Home Secretary might wish to impose.

11.15 am

Mr. Stinchcombe: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. However, I shall return to semantics. There is a difference between a requirement to take something into account and an objective of seeking consistency. The former is a process, the latter a desired outcome. As a public lawyer, I have seen numerous judicial reviews in which somebody who is required to take something into account pays lip service to the principle and says that he has done it, but clearly has not.

Norman Baker: The alternative ''has not had regard to'' appears in one of the amendments. I do not think that a police authority will proceed in a way that is completely at variance with the Government of the day. No police authority is not going to take seriously the comments of a Home Secretary. When the tables were turned and I said that the Home Secretary could do one thing or another, the Minister's response was to say that no Home Secretary would ever do that. For the purposes of its deliberations, the Committee assumes that the level of variation from the norm by chief constables, police authorities or the Home Secretary is limited. Therefore, the problem will not arise.

I return to the point that there is too much potential for micro-management, although I welcome the Minister's confirmation that a police authority can, if it wishes, stand out. It will be judged by its decision and that will be subject to comment by HMIC and others, as is proper. I still believe that the clause goes too far in giving the Secretary of State the ability to intervene on a micro-management level. I shall not

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press amendment No. 71 but, given the comments of the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire, he may wish to pursue one of his amendments. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed: No. 102, in page 71, line 33, at end insert 'in preparing'.

Question put, That the amendment by made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 15.

Division No. 14]

Baker, Norman Brooke, Annette Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl Hawkins, Mr. Nick
Johnson, Mr. Boris Mercer, Patrick Osborne, Mr. George Paice, Mr. James

Baird, Vera Borrow, Mr. David Challen, Mr. Colin Denham, Mr. John Follett, Barbara Heppell, Mr. John Irranca-Davies, Huw Jones, Mr. Kevan
Kumar, Dr. Ashok Lucas, Ian MacDougall, Mr. John Munn, Ms Meg Prentice, Bridget Stinchcombe, Mr. Paul Stoate, Dr. Howard

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 77 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 78 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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