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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, 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

Public Bill Committee

Thursday 5 February 2009


[Sir Nicholas Winterton in the Chair]

Policing and Crime Bill

Written evidence to be reported to the House
PC 12 Rights of Women
PC 13 National Organisation of Residents Associations
PC 14 C. Hargrave
PC 15 Toynbee Hall
PC 16 City of London Corporation
PC 17 Robyn Thompson
PC 18 Peter Schevtschenko
PC 19 Laura Kane
9 am
The Chairman: I welcome all hon. Members to the sitting. This is an early start. Some of us have made it and others have not. I congratulate the Committee on making good progress on Tuesday afternoon. I am confident that we will make further constructive progress today.

Clause 5

Police collaboration
Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.
Mr. David Ruffley (Bury St. Edmunds) (Con): It is early in the morning, hence my uncharacteristic lack of sharpness. I will redress that temporary deficiency by opening in a positive spirit on clause 5, the subject of which is collaboration. The Committee will be happy to know that the Minister and I agree on the principles that the clause will bring into effect. The Government and I believe that it will improve the quality of policing across the board. With your permission, Sir Nicholas, I think that it is worth spending some time in the clause stand part debate airing the recent history of collaboration and what the clause will do to take the argument forward. The clause has new and interesting powers, which I will ask the Minister about.
In September 2005, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary published a famous report, “Closing the Gap: A Review of the ‘Fitness for Purpose’ of the Current Structure of Policing in England and Wales”. Primarily and importantly, it examined the provision of protective services known in the trade as level 2 services. To some minds that is a sloppy shorthand, but I will use level 2 interchangeably with protective services to ensure that the Committee is not detained for too long. Those services relate primarily to serious and organised crime, child protection issues, terrorism and so forth. That important report came to the conclusion that
“when viewed from the context of the range of challenges and future threats now facing the service and the communities it polices, the 43 force structure is no longer fit for purpose. In the interests of the efficiency and effectiveness of policing it should change. Whilst some smaller forces do very well, and some larger forces less so, our conclusion is that below a certain size there simply is not a sufficient critical mass to provide the necessary sustainable level of protective services that the 21st century increasingly demands.”
At about the same time, the Bichard report into the Soham murders highlighted the ineffective co-ordination between police forces in tackling cross-border crime, which had the tragic consequences that we all recall. In 2006, the chairman of the Association of Police Authorities, Bob Jones, wrote:
“unequivocally that there is a gap in the capacity and capability of the service to tackle adequately level two criminality”.
He aired that view at some length in volume 12 of “Policing Today”.
In short, there is a general consensus across the tripartite structure that there are gaps at level 2. The consequences that flowed from HMIC’s report “Closing the Gap” ended in a recommendation that the then Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), took forward with a plan for force amalgamation. I shall not detain the Committee with, in my view, the unfortunate history of that Government initiative for merger, because now is not the time to go over old, controversial party political ground, and it would detract from the import of what is immediately at issue in the clause, which is collaboration.
However, it is important to understand the failed attempt to close the level 2 gap. It is up to all politicians of good will who want a sister service to do the job better to work out what we can do as a country to close that gap. It is impossible to envision a Government, whether the current Administration or an Administration of a future stripe, in the near or medium-term future, returning to the suggestion that there should be forced amalgamations or mergers whereby nine or half a dozen strategic forces are compelled to merge. For example, Cheshire constabulary would be stripped of its cap badges and independence and put into a north-western strategic force. That proposal was proffered by the then Home Secretary, following the report to which I referred. Unambiguously, it is not on the Conservative party agenda, whether in Opposition or should we be in Government, to revisit such matters.
It is worth repeating that there will be no mergers from us. I accept that the Minister will have his own views, but my understanding is that Her Majesty’s Government are not seeking to rerun the failed attempt at force merger. That is why the solution proffered by the clause must be seen as a direct response to the fact that we need an answer, although we do know that merger is not that answer.
After that brief historical reminder, I shall move to collaboration. On 17 July 2007, the Minister’s predecessor announced that 22 bids for demonstrator status had been received from which a total of 10 demonstrator sites collaborating on matters ranging from back-office services to serious organised crime had been selected. On 12 December 2007, the then Minister with responsibility for policing said that those initiatives had been selected from 22 bids to provide a balanced programme throughout England and Wales to explore and develop the models of collaboration between forces that can deliver vital level 2 services.
Above all, I emphasise that I am not advancing a dry argument about organisational structures and the process of machinery. Why was the collaboration process moved forward by the then Minister? He was right to stress that it was to protect the public more effectively and efficiently. His colleagues at the Home Office were also right to say that collaborative working was a key part of a national programme that the Government wanted to take forward and that it had the support—as it does now—of her Majesty’s Opposition. It was done in consultation with the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Association of Police Authorities. The selected demonstrator sites were offered £3.7 million of Home Office funding to contribute to the start-up costs and to cover the evaluation process managed by the National Policing Improvement Agency, which I should say, parenthetically, I find from my work on the Front Bench is an admirable organisation. It gives valuable advice to Her Majesty’s Ministers and to shadow Front-Bench Home Office Ministers.
The Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing (Mr. Vernon Coaker): I thank the hon. Gentleman for that remark. If a problem emerges, everyone says that it should be given to the NPIA, which—under Chief Constable Peter Neyroud who runs it—works exceptionally hard. Sometimes it is criticised because it goes into difficult areas. It is good that he congratulates it and I join him in doing so.
Mr. Ruffley: I am grateful to the Minister. I wish to go further. This is in order, Sir Nicholas. You are a very strict Chairman and we all admire you for that. I shall talk of the NPIA for a minute in the context of its being an important part now of the collaboration that I hope will happen more often if this clause is enacted.
Picking up on the Minister’s point, some people in ill-informed quarters, who are not as familiar with policing as the Minister and my shadow Front-Bench colleagues, consider it fashionable to call the NPIA a quango, which is a term of abuse quite often used by the media and some politicians. The NPIA is not in my view a quango. It is a high-quality organisation which acts in the public interest, not just by giving confidential and private advice at a high level to Ministers. It has always been available to hon. Members, certainly in my party and, I fancy, in the Liberal Democrat Opposition. That is part of the ethos of British policing. It has been refreshing in my 18 months as shadow Minister to see on a day-to-day basis, with one or two very rare exceptions, that party politics is really of no interest to the policing community. It wants effective solutions and it looks to Parliament and Ministers and even shadow Ministers to advance the effectiveness of British policing, to give the police and the whole policing family the tools needed to do the job, and collaboration is one part of it. The NPIA is important and we respect and value the work it does.
The NPIA is part of the monitoring process looking at the progress of collaboration and the tangible benefits that it can bring. The NPIA has to ensure that the shared knowledge—the success of certain collaborations—is spread more widely to parts of the country where that collaborative process is perhaps not known. So the NPIA is important in our deliberations and in the development of this policy should this clause be enacted.
The current legislation relating to collaboration agreements is set out in section 23 of the Police Act 1996. Under this section, two or more chief officers may—subject to the approval of the relevant police authorities—make collaboration agreements between their forces in the interests of the efficiency or effectiveness of policing. In addition, two or more police authorities may make collaboration agreements for the provision of premises, equipment or other material or facilities. A collaboration agreement under the existing legislation may be varied or determined, as one might expect, by a subsequent agreement. The Secretary of State has the power, after considering any representations made by the parties concerned, to direct those parties to enter into a collaboration agreement or an agreement to vary or determine an existing agreement.
It might be useful if I illustrated what the concept of a collaboration agreement means in the real world. I shall refer to two examples of collaboration agreements that I have been briefed on. However, because I have chosen these two specific examples does not mean that they are the only ones in England and Wales, nor does it mean that they are necessarily the best, or examples of collaboration that have yielded the biggest financial benefit so far—they are merely the two examples that I am familiar with.
9.15 am
After the Committee, I shall be looking at other examples of collaboration around the country. For the moment, I draw the Committee’s attention to the five east midland forces: Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire and Nottinghamshire. They have a history going back to 2001, when the east midlands special operation unit was formed to create one of the largest and most significant collaborations in the country. The collaboration of those forces goes well beyond special operations and the unit that was set up in 2001. The five forces also collaborate in areas relating to state management, fleet management, training of officers and staff, and procurement. They work together operationally in areas even more specific than that, such as water search, air support, hostage and crisis negotiation and firearms. Additionally, Derbyshire is a lead force for the east midlands counter-terrorism intelligence unit.
The collaboration is overseen by a collaboration board, comprising the chairs of the five police authorities that I referred to, and the five chief constables. This is important, because it goes to the heart of my earlier remarks about the need for specificity in collaboration agreements. It is not just on a nod and a wink; if these things are to work they need to be properly nailed down in writing and a clear government structure put in place. That is why the experience of the east midlands collaboration is worth studying.
The east midlands chief constables and police authorities are proud of the proactive approach to collaboration that they have taken. One reason why this clause, with its new powers—I will get on to them in a minute—is important is because not every part of England and Wales is as proactive as the east midlands. At the moment, collaboration operates in an unsatisfactory patchwork quilt way, which is what the clause seeks to remedy. East midlands police authorities give two reasons why they have been specially proactive. They say that it is a direct response to the operational risks identified in the HMIC “Closing the gap” report, to which I referred at the start of my remarks. Its main author, Sir Denis O’Connor, described the region as the most at risk in the country as far as protective services were concerned. Therefore, forces in the east midlands have a particular reason for wanting to get on with collaboration.
Moreover, the collaboration approach in the east midlands is a response—this is important—to the financial position facing those police authorities and forces in the region. The five authorities stated that over the three-year period 2010-11, they received—and will receive—£57 million less in Government grant than the raw funding formula indicated that they should get. We touched on that matter yesterday in the police grant debate, so I will not divert into a repetition of the floors and damping arguments. It is well-rehearsed argument because some police authorities feel aggrieved. If I can continue the grown-up and consensual relationship that I currently have with the Minister, I will say that it is not a problem that will go away with a change of Government. Under the current damping arrangements, there are winners and losers, and there are no easy solutions to that that will please every police authority or force. It is a technical issue that admits to no party political fiddling—if I can put it that way. There are Conservative and Labour areas that do better than they should under the current grant arrangements, and there are Labour and Conservative authorities—[Interruption.] The Minister points to his own in Nottinghamshire. There are authorities which are, in their view, disadvantaged and do less well than they should. When I say that, I mean that they do less well than the raw application of the formula grant suggests.
Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): I understand that this is not a debate about police funding or police performance, but I want to put on record the fact that having looked closely at such matters over the past 10 years I can say that some of the hon. Gentleman’s statements are quite misplaced. In Northamptonshire, although the pattern has been up and down, the authority has received substantial financial assistance, and great assistance in the form of interventions from the Home Office with which to support improvements in its performance. Without going into the whole debate, I just wanted to put that fact on the record.
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Prepared 6 February 2009