Policing and Crime Bill

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The Chairman: I am happy to call the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon, so long as the matter is entirely relevant to the programme motion.
The Chairman: I thank the hon. Gentleman and ask the Minister to respond to that point in particular. Sadly, matters relating to Report are not in the hands of Committee Chairmen, but rest with the Speaker, the Deputy Speakers and the Leader of the House.
Mr. Coaker: I again thank members of the Committee for the way in which they have begun deliberations, and I thank Mr. Ruffley for his comments. He and I have worked together on several Committees, as he said, and I have also worked with Mr. Brokenshire. We have at times had fervent and passionate disagreements, but only when fervent and passionate disagreement was needed and because we believed in the arguments—that is unlike the grandstanding that sometimes takes place. Hopefully, that will help proceedings in this Committee.
I say to Mr. Ruffley, and partly in answer to Dr. Harris’s question, that we will always consider ideas that emerge as we go through the Bill and that appear to be sensible. I know that Mr. Campbell and Mr. Fitzpatrick are of the same view. I cannot always guarantee that we will accept an amendment, but as Members know, I have at times changed certain things in Bills in that way, not only in Committee, but on Report.
In order that the Committee’s proceedings are meaningful, I intend to address any good ideas that Members come up with, as it has always seemed to me ridiculous not to include a good idea at some stage. The point of the Committee is to improve and adapt the Bill, notwithstanding the fact that there are sometimes disagreements. I hope that that is helpful to Dr. Harris, Mr. Ruffley and other members of the Committee.
I cannot say how much time will be available on Report, but I, like everyone else, want an appropriate amount, because, as Dr. Harris will know, if matters need to be brought back on Report, I bring them back. If necessary, we will try to ensure that sufficient time is available.
My understanding is that the debates on the police grant and the local government grant will be held on the afternoon of Tuesday 3 February, but that is not yet 100 per cent. certain. The usual channels will keep it under review and, if necessary, bring forward an agreed amendment so that we do not lose any time if it is necessary to change the timings on the programme motion in the sub-committee. To be fair both to Mr. Ruffley, given the amount of time he would spend on his feet, and to me, given the amount of time I would spend on my feet, I hope that the usual channels will consider us in their deliberations. The commitment to the Committee is that, if we do need to change the business that afternoon, we will obviously do it with the agreement of the Committee, but in such a way that no time is lost.
The Chairman: I am sure the Committee is grateful to the Minister for that helpful response.
Question put and agreed to.
That, subject to the discretion of the Chairman, any written evidence received by the Committee shall be reported to the House for publication.—(Mr Coaker.)
Written evidence to be reported to the House
PC 02 UK Network of Sex Work Projects
PC 08 Association of Police Authorities
PC 09 Object and the Fawcett Society
The Chairman: Copies of memorandums that the Committee receives will be made available in the Committee Room. I can tell hon. Members that eight have been submitted so far and have been circulated.
That, at this and any subsequent meeting at which oral evidence is to be heard, the Committee shall sit in private until the witnesses are admitted.—(Mr. Coaker.)
The Chairman: I now request those witnesses seated in the Public Gallery, and members of the public, to leave for a short while.
10.50 am
The Committee deliberated in private.
10.57 am
On resuming—
The Chairman: I welcome our witnesses to this first session of the Policing and Crime Bill Committee. They are representatives of the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Association of Police Authorities and the Airport Operators Association. Just as a formality, will each of you state your name, position and the body that you represent?
Ian Hutcheson: Good morning. I am Ian Hutcheson, security director for BAA. I chair the security committee for the Airport Operators Association.
Robert Siddall: I am Robert Siddall, chief executive of the Airport Operators Association.
Bob Jones: I am Bob Jones. I chair the Association of Police Authorities.
Sir Norman Bettison: Good morning. I am Norman Bettison. I am chief constable of West Yorkshire police, representing the Association of Chief Police Officers this morning.
Dave Whatton: I am Dave Whatton, chief constable of Cheshire, representing ACPO on the transport and aviation side this morning.
The Chairman: I am not biased in any way, but Mr Whatton is the chief constable of my authority. You are welcome, and we will start the evidence session with Mr. Ruffley.
Q 1Mr. Ruffley: Good morning. I would like to ask Sir Norman about the principle of collaboration in this Bill, making it easier for forces to collaborate, which you should be aware has cross-party support. However, the history of voluntary collaboration is not particularly a success story, which is why we have these clauses. Do you believe that the provisions in this Bill would allow a Home Secretary, whether Labour, Liberal Democrat or Conservative, to divide up the country on a regional or sub-regional basis and say to a cluster of forces, “You have not been collaborating well and have been dragging your feet. There have been personality clashes between police authorities, and we Ministers are determined to make collaboration work.”? Could a Home Secretary in effect mandate the five forces and give them a lead force to collaborate on whatever five things they think should be imposed, whether IT procurement, non-IT procurement or fixed-wing helicopters, and then impose that on the five forces that they think are dragging their feet? Speaking for ACPO, do you think that that can be delivered by the clause and, more importantly, that it is desirable for Ministers to mandate in that way?
Sir Norman Bettison: My interpretation is that, because of the way the Bill is drafted, that could be the ultimate end of the spectrum of influence. The Bill will place requirements on chief constables and chairs of police authorities and contains various nudges and pushes that could be used before the point of mandation was reached.
The other thing that the Committee might like to think about is that it seems to ACPO that at the mandation end of the spectrum there would come some transfer of accountability, which currently is fairly and squarely on the shoulders of individual chief constables in all operational matters. If they choose to collaborate, that accountability remains with them collectively, but it seems to ACPO that the Bill will create several clauses that will encourage, nudge and push them towards collaboration. Our reading of the Bill is that ultimately the Home Secretary, who currently has the power, will have a mechanism by which to mandate collaboration.
ACPO sees collaboration not as an end in itself, which we are in danger of lighting upon, but as a means to an end—a means of providing either more effective policing services at the serious and strategic end of our business, or creating more cost-effective services by collaborating on procurement and back-office services.
Q 2Mr. Ruffley: Do you see a problem with police authorities buying into more collaboration, because for collaboration to take place there needs to by a buy-in from the chief constables of the forces that might be part of a regional or sub-regional collaboration and from police authorities? Why has the record been so dismal, taking the whole of England and Wales, when it comes to collaboration for the right end, which is squeezing efficiencies that mean more money for the front line? Is it to do with clashes between police authorities or disagreements between police authorities and chief constables? Is that a fair characterisation?
Sir Norman Bettison: No, that is not a fair characterisation. Chief constables and police authorities often see the benefit of collaboration. The problems are threefold. The first problem is that the current 43 police forces have differential and variable costs, so collaborating on an issue is rarely a fair and equitable discussion, because different authorities and police forces have different costs sunk in operations, equipment or plant. The second problem is that there is variability in the vision of priorities. For example, I am the chief constable of a large metropolitan police force that is prepared to stand up and say that it has a problem with serious and organised crime. When engaging with colleagues in neighbouring forces and police authorities in more rural areas, we often have different priorities. It might be for the general good to collaborate on serious and organised crime, but there are different views on the priorities.
The third problem, which is probably driven by the first two, is something that I refer to as the net donor syndrome. Every individual force and authority imagines that they will contribute to a collaboration and that they will be a net donor. If I were chief or chair of a big force, I might consider that my current assets would be diluted. If I were chief or chair of a smaller force, I might consider that my contribution would be sucked into the bigger metropolitan forces.
Along with a tendency towards local sovereignty, those three problems are barriers to the voluntary end of collaboration. For the greater good, there must be some nudges, pushes and pulls within the process.
Q 3Mr. Ruffley: Can I take it from that that ACPO would not object to mandation by Ministers—whoever they may be—at the extreme end of the scale and that some forces would have to take it on the chin? Is it fair to say that ACPO would say that mandation by Ministers will deliver the benefits that the amalgamation and merger process would have delivered?
Sir Norman Bettison: The strategic threats and risks that mergers were intended to address are still present in policing. ACPO believes that collaboration around some of those risks would be a good thing. We see mandation as the extreme end of the spectrum. The Bill allows for consultation, discussion and negotiation with chief constables and chairs of police authorities before that point is reached. I ought to answer your question directly, however. If ACPO is convinced of the general good, we are prepared to concede to mandation. ACPO would be vociferous in pointing out to Ministers of any hue where the common good was being compromised rather than advantaged.
The Chairman: Although we want to make progress, Mr. Ruffley, do you want to put a similar question to Dave Whatton for a brief answer, because he represents a rather different police authority to Sir Norman?
Q 4Mr. Ruffley: I know that Mr. Whatton has had experience of this matter as deputy chief constable of Greater Manchester police. I do not wish to hog the Committee’s time and will allow other hon. Members to ask questions. However, I have a final question for Sir Norman.
Sir Norman Bettison: Not unless the intention is to mimic the military approach of moving people to posts around the country against their will. For that reason, ACPO does not necessarily think that the senior appointments panel measures should be contained in primary legislation. The aims of the senior appointments panel are supported by ACPO. However, unless talent management is taken to the extent of directing who applies for which jobs—there are personal and domestic barriers against doing so—it is not clear that the senior appointments panel arrangements will affect the number of people applying for particular posts. Many different reasons play into this. First, the differential between deputy chief constable pay in a larger force and chief constable pay can be so small that moving family and house makes no sense.
Secondly, the imposition of a five-year fixed term appointment on postings affects the number of people applying for particular posts. Officers are very careful these days to ask themselves, “Is a five-year window appropriate for me at this particular time in that particular place?” Because it could be that, at the end of that five-year fixed-term appointment, they will be left somewhere high and dry where they do not want to be and, possibly, before reaching pensionable age. So, the constraints in previous legislation that have been placed on the employment of chief constables and deputy chief constables are in themselves a barrier to free movement.
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Prepared 28 January 2009