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Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I meant to say the United States of America. Will the noble Baroness make it clear that we do not want to emulate the United States by joining a United States of Europe? I think I got it right that time. Will she underline what she has just saidthat the Conservative Party, as well as, I hope, the Labour Party, do not favour a European superstate and will ensure the sovereign integrity of this country?
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, that was a notable slip of the noble Lord's tongue. Knowing what he really meant to say, I can tell him that certainly there is no question of a United States of Europe. He has heard me say that on many occasions and I can repeat it firmly and without contradiction today. I believe that the member states of the European Union should learn to work together ever more closely. By our greater understanding we can help to prevent many of the problems which have bedevilled Europe, albeit thankfully, more than 50 years ago now.
Lord Molloy: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that we have special relationships with the United States and the British Commonwealth of nations and that acting together, the United Kingdom, many of the Commonwealth countries and the USA represent one of the best bastions of freedom and democracy ever created?
The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch): My Lords, all new appointments to the ranks of chief constable and assistant chief constable after 1st April 1995 will be for fixed terms. Serving officers in those ranks may, by agreement with their police authority, move to a fixed-term appointment on or after 1st April.
Appointments for fixed terms, especially for the top managers of an organisation, have important benefits for both the individual and the organisation and reflect established arrangements in other walks of life, including the public sector.
Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: My Lords, will the Minister acknowledge that the Government's policy has received a serious setback with the refusal of the Chief Constable of Hampshire, a most distinguished police officer, to sign a short-term contract? Given what the Minister said about benefits, in what way does she believe his performance would be improved were he to do so?
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I do not believe that there has been a setback. The Chief Constable of Hampshire has an absolute right under the arrangements to make the choice as to whether he wishes to sign up for a fixed-term appointment. He is perfectly free to exercise that choice. We have made it possible for him to do that, and he has done so. It is also important to note that that was a personal choice. Many of his chief officer colleagues will choose to participate in fixed-term contracts.
Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, Mr. Hoddinott is not only Chief Constable of Hampshire but also President of the Association of Chief Police Officers. Is the noble Baroness aware that in a letter which has been published in the press Mr. Hoddinott has drawn attention to the fact that he proposes to refuse the new contract on the constitutional grounds that it would fetter his independence from undue political interference? Is that not why we opposed this proposal so strongly when we discussed the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill?
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I have noted that Mr. Hoddinott is president of the association. I made the point that he acted in a personal capacity and that many of his chief officer colleagues will make a different choice. I also made it clear that there were benefits. It is worth recording that the association of which he is president agreed, in the Police Negotiating Board, to both fixed-term contracts and performance related pay.
To address a hypothetical situation, if an authority strayed into areas which were properly the preserve of the chief constable and interfered with his proper duties, there would have to be complicity between all the different representatives on the police authoritythe elected members, magistrates and appointed members. That would be unthinkable.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, to follow the answer that the Minister has just given, is it not the case that the position adopted by the Association of Chief Police Officers, and by the Opposition at the time of the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill, was that it was the combination of fixed-term contracts and performance related pay which presented the threat to the independence of Chief Police Officers? Secondly, is there not a curious contradiction between the Government's view that accountability of chief police officers is
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, it is worth recording that the Director of the Prison Service is also on a fixed-term contract and is accountable for his performance. Speaking from this Dispatch Box recently I explained the reason why, when that appointment was first made, accountability for performance was not put in place. It has now been put in place. I repeat, that it was the police authorities and the Association of Chief Police Officers who agreed that arrangement as part of the new pay structure for the police, within the Police Negotiation Board, and in fact made the recommendation themselves. Therefore, I am not sure that the comparison the noble Lord makes is a valid one.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, there is absolutely none. When chief police officers or assistant chief police officers come to the end of fixed-term contracts they are entirely free to apply for reappointment.
Lord Knights: My Lords, if, as I believe is the position, performance related pay is to be part of the chief police officer's contract, can the Minister tell the House by what criteria his performance is to be measured and who will make the assessment? Bearing in mind the importance of his relationships not only with his police authority but also with many other bodies such as the councils within his area, the Crown Prosecution Service, Home Office officials and perhaps the Home Secretary himself, how is that aspect to be fed into the assessment of performance?
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the noble Lord, who has a great deal more experience of these matters than I have, knows that there is such a thing as the police plan. That will form the basis for the work of the police authority in the course of a year. At the end of the year, in negotiations between the police authority and the chief police officers themselves, a judgment will be made as to whether performance was good, bad or indifferent, and whether it was at the median level or above average. Up to 7.5 per cent. of salary is available for recognising outstanding performance above the norm.
Earl Russell: My Lords, will the noble Baroness agree that in showing such apparent indifference to the loss of a distinguished officer she risks sounding like the Australian Government which, on being told that one of its policemen had been eaten by cannibals, issued a statement saying that there were plenty more where he came from?
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the performance of Cabinet Ministers is reviewed for reappointment every four or five years by the British electorate. That is how they are accountable. It is a very sharp accountability indeed.
When a chief police officer or assistant chief police officer comes to the end of a fixed-term contractand it should be remembered that the contract is for up to 10 years for assistant chief police officers and up to seven years for chief police officersthere is an automatic review. It will be a matter for the officer concerned as to whether he wishes to be considered for further appointment. The post would have to be advertised and it would be for the authority to determine whether or not there should be a reappointment.
The Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern): My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to provide for the admissibility of hearsay evidence and the proof of certain documentary evidence in civil proceedings and for connected purposes. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.