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Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) (Con): The central premise of the Bill is that Ministers believe that they know what is best for local communities. They make the mistake of thinking that extending Government control over policing will cause standards to rise. If the Government had a record of excellence in administration, the people might be willing to trust them in the matter, but they do not: the Home Office is a shambles, and the National Audit Office has failed to sign off on its accounts. In addition, there have been the catastrophic failures to deport foreign offenders and to deal with offenders on release from prison.
What is in the Governments record that makes them think that they will do a better job of running the police than police authorities or forces? The centralising measures in the Bill are clear, and include new powers for the Home Secretary to shape police authorities and to intervene in them. The powers of CSOs will be standardised, and the National Policing Improvement Agency created.
On the other side of the equation, there are very few decentralising measures. The only one that I can see is the community call for action, but the former police Minister said that that involved powers of last resort and that it was not a
mainstream way of doing business.
We had real concerns about some of the proposals in the Bill. They include the extension of summary justice, which we debated this afternoon, and the combined inspectorate of justice, communities, safety and custody. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) noted in a point of order before this debate, we did not discuss that latter provision this afternoon. Thus, the timetable for this Bill denied debate on a very important matter that is causing wide concern outside the House, especially in relation to the prisons inspectorate. There is concern about that inspectorates independence and the calibre of the inspector himself. In addition, the need to inspect prisons is a special case, as it is important to ensure that performance targets are met and human rights observed. We will have to leave to another place all those serious matters, which were barely discussed in Committee.
We tried to improve the Bill with amendments that would have made it clear that the Home Secretary should intervene in police authorities only as a last resort and given chief constables more discretion over the powers of CSOs. They were rejected, as was every Conservative and Liberal Democrat amendment. Although the Minister said that he thought that the Bill had been improvedI accept that our debate has
been good naturedthe truth is that the Government have not accepted a single Opposition amendment. I recognise that the Government exhibited good will in relation to the amendment on child protection measures tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink), but that is the exception that proves the rule.
A distinguished former Member of the House, Tony Benn, set three tests for institutions. He asked: who has power, where does it come from, and how does the citizen call an institution to account? Being able to communicate with local policing teams is no substitute for a proper link between citizens and chief constables. This Bill, together with police force amalgamation, seriously weakens that link. I therefore regret very much that we have been unable to improve it.
There is just enough in the Bill for us not to want to oppose it outright; in particular, there are the provisions on computer misuse and the forfeiture of indecent photographs of children. But that was a finely balanced decision on our part, and I regret that we have not had more opportunities to debate some of the more contentious measures.
represents a centralisation of power over policing, which has never been experienced in this country since the founding of modern policing in 1829.
I emphasise that he is the spokesman for ACPO on the matter. We know, because the Minister confirmed it, that the Government are planning to introduce a national policing board with the Home Secretary in the chair. Let us be clear
The Home Secretary is steadily assuming control of policing. That is the choice that the Government have made. Ultimately, that will make the Government, the Home Secretary and Home Office Ministers accountable for the performance of the police. That is their choice, and we will hold them accountable.
Lynne Featherstone: Our debates on the Bill have been good natured, especially in Committee, and some interesting amendments were proposed. Unfortunately, the Government took none of them on board, although I have to correct the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) in one respect. The former Minister produced the same version of our amendment on computer hacking but it was very cold comfort in a Bill that will give the Home Secretary the biggest ever centralisation of power over the police.
Why were the Labour Government so unmoving on provisions that were eminently sensible and obvious to the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives? With their complete centralisation of power, the Government seem to be getting tenser and tenser. Their grip on control is the result of fear. It has nothing to do with winning the arguments; it is fear of headlines. They need to legislate and interveneto be seen to be activerather than really getting to the bottom of a problem, or allowing the democratic processes of accountability and the police to do their job properly. There is a complete undermining of professional opinion and practice, which will spiral down and bring less effective and less local policing.
It is a great tragedy that we did not have time to debate the inspectorates. The changes to the prison inspectorate hold dangers for prisoners in future. That inspectorate casts a light where no light shines through its expertise and independence, both of which will be compromised in a joint inspectorate. The chief inspector of prisons, Anne Owers, said that it would be a dilution of all the special protection for prisoners. Well trained prison inspectors can spot human rights abuses in a way that will not be possible if the inspectorates are merged. I am sorry that we did not have time to discuss a joint amendment to provide that prisons were not included. Prisoners need special arrangements to protect them.
Sadly, we are now dependent on the other place to put into the Bill all the proposals that the Government would not acceptamendment after amendment. Although the debate has been informative and interesting, it has not been at all rewarding for Liberal Democrats. We tried to work with the Government but all our good work and good intentions were rejected, so it is with a heavy heart that I leave it to the other place to make amends.
That, at this days sitting, the Motion in the name of Mr Jack Straw relating to Conventions (Joint Committee) may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour. [Mr. Roy.]
That the Lords Message [25th April] relating to Conventions be now considered.
That this House concurs with the Lords in the said Resolution;
That, accepting the primacy of the House of Commons, a Select Committee of 11 Members be appointed to join with a Committee appointed by the House of Lords as the Joint Committee on Conventions, to consider the practicality of codifying the key conventions on the relationship between the two Houses of Parliament which affect the consideration of legislation, in particular:
(A) the Salisbury-Addison convention that the Lords does not vote against measures included in the governing partys Manifesto;
(B) conventions on secondary legislation;
(C) the convention that Government business in the Lords should be considered in reasonable time;
(D) conventions governing the exchange of amendments to legislation between the two Houses;
and that the Committee should report by Friday 21st July 2006;
That the Committee shall have power
(i) to send for persons, papers and records;
(ii) to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House;
(iii) to report from time to time;
(iv) to appoint specialist advisers;
(v) to adjourn from place to place within the United Kingdom; and
That Mr Russell Brown, Mr Wayne David, Mr George Howarth, Simon Hughes, Sarah McCarthy-Fry, Andrew Miller, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Mr John Spellar, Ms Gisela Stuart, Mr Andrew Tyrie and Sir Nicholas Winterton be members of the Committee. [Mr. Byrne.]
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): I am very interested in the motion, and I am disappointed that the Minister did not rise to say something about it. There are certain assumptions that I find puzzlingone is to try to reform the conventions between the two Houses of Parliament, without knowing what the shape, form, powers or responsibilities of the House of Lords will be. At the moment it is at a discount, because it is accountable to no one. If the proposals for the reform of the House of Lords, which I understand are under discussion, suggest that it should be legitimised by being accountable to the electorate, the question of its being a subordinate House does not necessarily arise. It will be what it was historically: co-equalthe two parts of Parliament. I just make that point because it is very important. We are now trying to reform our constitution in the absence of any knowledge of what the House of Lords will be after the deliberations between the major parties. That is the first thing.
the Salisbury-Addison convention that the Lords does not vote against measures included in the governing partys Manifesto.
Every hon. Member who has heard the doctrine of the manifesto and served in the House for a long time knows indeed that it is a very thin concept for a variety of reasons, one of which is the nature of party manifestos. I must confessit often shocks people that, until the last election, I had never read my own partys manifesto from beginning to end, and I will give the House an indication of why.
I travelled the Library for a few minutes to look at some of the past manifestos. In 1997, my partys manifesto, under the glorious title of You can be sureor somethingwas 56 pages long. The Labour party was more realistic; it recognised that, in fact, the electorate would probably grasp only five concepts, so it issued a pledge card. Make the Difference was the Liberal Democrats manifesto63 pages. By 2001, we had learned something. Time for Common Sense was the Conservative manifesto46 pages. I could not find the Labour manifesto for that election, but I looked at Ambitions for Wales and I take it that it was identical, because the Scottish one was Ambitions for Scotland, and I guess that there was an Ambitions for England. That was 44 pages.
By 2005, the Conservatives got down to Its Time For Action28 pages. The Labour party had made great advance with Britain forward not back, which it published as a paperback, retailing at £2.50. I cannot imagine the warehouses filled with that important document.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): The hon. Gentleman refers to Britain forward not back112 pages, and it is a right riveting read, I can assure the House, but does he accept that length does not necessary imply detail? Even a manifesto of that length will include something like:
We will ensure that councils are organised in the most effective way...to deliver high-quality services.
Mr. Shepherd: I am glad that the very point is reinforced by what the hon. Gentleman says, because of course a generalised statement is not a detailed policy, so the consent to the general proposition does not of itself mean consent to the interpretation of what that general proposition means. I always explain that to my constituents by saying that the Government proposeit is in our manifestoto build a new road to Birmingham; let us say, and we all say, Hurray!
When the detailed Bill comes before the House, we discover that the road goes by way of Ipswich. Am I going to vote for a road that goes to Birmingham via Ipswich? I put it in such simplistic terms because the truth is that the doctrine of the mandate is a wearisome concept that cannot bind Members of Parliament from dutifully examining the detail of legislation and, if necessary, rejecting it. However, that is what is inscribed in the motionthe doctrine of the manifesto.
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): We have not yet heard from the new Leader of the House, but my understanding is that the job of the Committee will be to discover what it is thought that
the conventions are and simply to offer that wisdom to both Houses of Parliament so that they can decide whether to keep them or change them. Like the hon. Gentleman, I am not signed up to a convention that says that whatever the manifesto is, Parliament has to follow it, but surely an academic exercise cannot do too much harm.
Mr. Shepherd: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and I notice that his name sits on the listhe is the only representative of the Liberal Democrats on it. I will leap to the part of the Order Paper that is of substance. It names a number of Members to sit on the distinguished Joint Committee. I notice that there are seven Members from the Labour party, three from the Conservative party and one from the Liberal Democrats. That is no longer representative of the many passions and interests that this House, of necessity, as a representative body, must have in the construction of our constitution. Where are the disparate souls from Scotland, Wales or the other parties? It looks to the observer like a carve-up between the three principal parties.
Mr. Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): I thank the hon. Gentleman for making that point. The Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru, which have been to the fore in cleaning up the scandals that are happening in the far corridor, are not on the Committee at all.
Mr. Shepherd: I had hoped that I was not going to be the only one to speak in the debate. I hope that I have encouraged wider participation. The very fact that the motion was moved formally is an indication that it was expected that it would go through on the nod. However, I look to the Leader of the House, because I know of his concern. I am delighted to know that we have a man who is much respected in the House to make a case for the motion. We have a genuine Leader of the House of Commons and we should respect that. I certainly do and I wish him well in his great appointment. The Leader of the House was someone who represented not only the interests of the Government, but the interests of the House as a personality and an authority in its own right. I remember, as he will, John Biffen standing in the Chamber when guillotines were being proposed and saying, as the Leader of the House, that the routine guillotining of Bills would undoubtedly benefit the Governmentand he was absolutely right. However, we have to remember that todays Government may be tomorrows Opposition.
I hope that we will hear a little more about the thinking behind the motion. As it stands, we are examining the conventions against the background of a sudden lurch and rediscovered interest in reform of the House of Lords by the Prime Minister, no less, who ruled out an elected element. That is being discussed between the leaders of parties and not by any constitutional forum, as is the tradition of this House and other great constitutions.
Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): My hon. Friend has just used the word examining the conventions. That word does not appear in the motion that was moved so briefly. Will he tell me whether he understands the word codifying to mean examining or to mean something more elaborateperhaps institutionalising or institutionalising in a code that is binding? That is an important element of the proposal before us.
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