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Session 2008 - 09
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General Committee Debates
Policing and Crime Bill

Policing and Crime Bill

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairmen: Hugh Bayley, †Sir Nicholas Winterton
Austin, Mr. Ian (Dudley, North)(Lab)
Blackman-Woods, Dr. Roberta (City of Durham) (Lab)
Brokenshire, James (Hornchurch) (Con)
Burns, Mr. Simon (West Chelmsford) (Con)
Campbell, Mr. Alan (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department)
Cawsey, Mr. Ian (Brigg and Goole) (Lab)
Coaker, Mr. Vernon (Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing)
Dorries, Mrs. Nadine (Mid-Bedfordshire) (Con)
Fitzpatrick, Jim (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport)
Harris, Dr. Evan (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD)
Holmes, Paul (Chesterfield) (LD)
Keeble, Ms Sally (Northampton, North) (Lab)
Kirkbride, Miss Julie (Bromsgrove) (Con)
Ruffley, Mr. David (Bury St. Edmunds) (Con)
Waltho, Lynda (Stourbridge) (Lab)
Wilson, Phil (Sedgefield) (Lab)
Chris Shaw, Andrew Kennon, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee


Mr. Vernon Coaker, Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing
Mr. Alan Campbell, Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department
Mr. Jim Fitzpatrick, Under-Secretary of State for Transport

Public Bill Committee

Thursday 29 January 2009


[Sir Nicholas Winterton in the Chair]

Policing and Crime Bill

1 pm
The Committee deliberated in private.
1.8 pm
On resuming—
The Chairman: I welcome our witnesses who are changing places: having been part of the Committee questioning witnesses in the earlier sessions, they are now to be subject to questions from other members of the Committee. I welcome particularly Vernon Coaker, the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing, Alan Campbell, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, and Jim Fitzpatrick, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport.
We are going to take the various sections separately. The first will be policing, the second airport security, the third prostitution, the fourth alcohol, the fifth proceeds of crime, and the final one extradition. We have agreed to spend a certain amount of time on each one, and we will start with questions on policing from the spokesman for Her Majesty’s Opposition.
Q 162Mr. David Ruffley (Bury St. Edmunds) (Con): Thank you, Sir Nicholas. My questions are addressed to the Minister of State in the spirit of honest inquiry that we have had on so many occasions—not always, but most of the time. On the issue of collaboration, I think there is one thing we can agree on. We all heard the evidence from Sir Norman Bettison on how mandation would be looked at by any Home Secretary or Minister from whichever political party. He suggested—I put the idea into his head—that Ministers in the Home Office should draw up a map dividing up England and Wales and say that those regions or sub-regions will collaborate on five issues that will be mandated across those forces. He suggested that that was at the hard end of the collaboration procedure that is provided for in the Bill. My question is a straight, practical one and it is not in any sense party political, as I am sure you will concede. Is it in the mind of the Home Office to do what I have suggested, to divide up England and Wales and have a structured programme of mandation, with specific forces for specific activities?
Mr. Coaker: Good afternoon, Sir Nicholas, and members of Committee. In answer to that question I wish to make the point, as Mr. Ruffley did, that we have constructive engagement. I say that at the beginning of every meeting, but it is important to put it on the record. Given that this is an evidence session rather than a regular Committee sitting in which it sometimes becomes a bit more them versus us, I will try to engage in the constructive way that he suggests.
The first thing to say is that the mergers debate was about closing a gap that everybody accepted existed. If that was not the correct route and the Government withdrew from proposing the mergers because of the resistance, the problem of what to do about protective services and serious and organised crime was not necessarily resolved. That fundamentally goes to the heart of the question, because if you are not going to sort this by mergers, how will you? How will you deal with serious and organised crime, cross-border issues and all those types of things?
The approach over the past few years, and our approach, has always been that we need to encourage collaboration. I am sure that if members of the Committee thought about it they could point to really good examples in their own areas of when their police forces have collaborated with other police forces to tackle problems. Certainly our view, in line with what Sir Norman said, is that the best way forward is to bring about that collaboration by voluntary means—by agreement. Alongside that, work is going on to look at what decisions are best made to help inform the choice that local police forces will make. For example Denis O’Connor, the acting chief inspector, has under a letter from me been asked to consider at what level decisions are best taken, so that we get the subsidiarity debate out into the open and looked at. So work is going on, in the first instance to inform the debate about whether a decision should be taken at the local, regional or national level. We are not looking at a master plan, but we are looking at the best way to ensure collaboration.
In the Bill we have given some certainty to the legislative framework because police authorities and police forces tell us that it is not clear. That is the reason for many of the clauses. We have tried to be clear in the Bill that mandation is not a first resort. It is something that we need to consider when it is clearly in the public interest and when there just seems to be obstruction to something that everyone agrees would be of benefit to not only those police forces but the local areas. It is a last resort, based on an informed choice at a local level, rather than being some sort of great master plan that is sent down.
Q 163Mr. Ruffley: In using the words “master plan” I was not luring you into a trap, Minister. I did not mean to be pejorative. I wanted to ask whether there was something more structured than just the voluntary ad hoc collaboration arrangements that we have had up to now. Behind these clauses is the recognition by the Home Office and the observation of outsiders that voluntary collaboration does not work. It does not get enough collaboration quickly enough. You are speeding that up and facilitating it. It therefore follows logically that if the voluntary arrangements are not satisfactory after the strategic merger debate—and they have not been—the Home Office might want to force the pace. In my view, it would be right to do that. I think that you have answered the question, but I want to know whether you are aware of any work that seeks to mandate a master plan or a structured plan for England and Wales.
Q 164Mr. Ruffley: May I ask again how these clauses will help the police service in practice? I have in mind clause 11 and related clauses, which firm up the powers of direction for Ministers. To make this real for people who are following the debate, the clauses give more centralised powers to Ministers. That need not of itself be a bad thing. I am not saying that all centralisation is bad because it clearly is not.
Would it be fair to say that you could use these powers to mandate what Sir Ronnie Flanagan correctly said in his interim report—not so much in the final report—that there should be a national suite of forms for the most frequently committed offences that officers can use with minimum reporting requirements? As you will recall, in the interim report, Sir Ronnie said that he expected the national suite of forms that would save police time to be drafted by the Association of Chief Police Officers and the National Police Improvement Network by July 2008. That has not happened. Would the powers in clause 11 and related clauses tempt you to mandate a national suite of forms and similar time-saving measures, which need an element of centralisation?
Mr. Coaker: You can clearly use them for the purposes that you think appropriate.
Q 165Mr. Ruffley: Would the national suite of reforms be such an example?
Mr. Coaker: If you wanted to use the powers to introduce that, you could. However, we do not think that we will need to. There will be announcements from Jan Berry in the next few weeks that will deal with some of the issues with bureaucracy. Sir David Normington’s report into reducing the annual data requirement will also be released soon. There will be a number of measures that do not require the compilation of templates for a national suite of forms that could be mandated. The purpose of clause 11 is to inject a sense of momentum, urgency and pace into the procedures and processes. It is correct that there has been progress. We want to enhance that progress and push it further. We will mandate where necessary, but that will be a last resort.
Q 166Mr. Ruffley: I gave the example of the national suite of forms, which you have discounted. Just so that these clauses are brought to life, will you give the Committee a couple of examples of how this power might be used? In what areas of policy would you seek to use these powers to direct and mandate in ways that the Home Office does not already? I would like real-life practical examples.
Mr. Coaker: You could mandate the IT systems and software that are used by some forces.
Q 167Mr. Ruffley: Have you contemplated mandating IT solutions?
Mr. Coaker: If anybody looked at police forces across the country, they would have to be persuaded that having 43 IT solutions to a problem was for the best.
Mr. Ruffley: I happen to agree with you.
Mr. Coaker: I know.
Q 168Mr. Ruffley: So, IT is a real-life example.
Mr. Coaker: IT could certainly be looked at and there are other operational things that we can do. If you look, as I know you have done, at some of the clauses dealing with collaboration, you will see that they try to address some of the practical problems of, for example, police moving across borders and issues of direction and control. It is about trying to come to an agreement voluntarily and looking to see what needs to be mandated where necessary.
Q 169Mr. Ruffley: So, not forms but maybe IT. That is very interesting.
I am not seeking to make a party political point, but my final question is about the very detailed proposals that were in the Green Paper that do not appear in the Bill about direct elections of crime and policing representatives. I am sure that others will want to pick up on that. Instead, in clause 1 there is a
“requirement to have regard to the views”
of the public on policing. Can you give an indication of where the Green Paper proposals stand? Should we expect them to be enacted after David Blunkett’s report? Although they are not in the Bill, I understand that they are still alive in some netherworld. What is the status of those Green Paper proposals?
Mr. Coaker: Clearly, as you say, they are not in the Bill; we took them out for the reasons that you and I have rehearsed. We worried about the politicisation that could result from direct elections of that type and, frankly, about the lack of consensus. I am not trying to make a party political point, but you know from different authorities across the country how controversial they are. In a sense, all three Front Benches of the major political parties were completely at odds with their local parties and their local authorities. We have moved to what we think is a more sensible approach to police authorities.
You asked about David Blunkett’s review and the issue of direct elections. The proposal will not be brought back in the near future and, clearly, there will be a general election before they could be brought back, so we will see what happens after that. The Home Secretary has asked David Blunkett to look at direct elections and see whether we, within the Labour party, can move from complete hostility towards a model that will meet the concerns people have raised about politicisation and the election of minority or extremist groups to police authorities. You are aware of many of the arguments.
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Prepared 30 January 2009