Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, stated that we might have a re-run of the debate we had in Committee because, I understood him to say, it was late at night. Every night we have here is late at night. If we had to have a re-run of everything because it was late at night, it would not do. I also have to say, with great respect, that it might be out of order, especially on Report. I appeal to my noble friend not to accede to that request.

I have sat through many of the debates on this Bill and others. As noble Lords opposite have commented, some of these matters are complicated. However, on the whole our Ministers have dealt with them with great clarity. In those circumstances, I hope we can make progress. We, on these Benches, are anxious for the Bill to pass as soon as possible.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I support my noble friend's approach. I understand entirely the term he used; namely, "re-run", even though it is a shorthand term. On a number of occasions we have, indeed, sat pretty late debating this Bill. We have criticisms of that practice. I shall speak for our Benches. I do not wish to be too pejorative as regards other Members of your Lordships' House but, frankly, I have felt my own performance deteriorating as the hour has gone on. If one reads Hansard, it is perfectly clear that the later the hour, the shorter the comments and responses from the Government and the more one needs to work hard to understand what is said. Very often, answers seem to be given to points which have not been made but which the Government thought might be made.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for that thoughtful contribution about the way in which business is transacted in this House at a late hour. I must confess that the other night, when doing exactly that, I was struggling to stay awake even as I read the words. However, it was 1.30 a.m., so I believe that I was justified.

I am intrigued by this debate. It seems to have been hatched and formulated by way of being more of a conspiracy theory than anything based on reality. As the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, made plain in Committee, I can assure the House that the aim of paragraph 98 of Schedule 22 is to bring the statutory arrangements for consulting the public in London on policing matters into line with those which operate elsewhere. Those which operate elsewhere do so primarily to local government boundaries, as they quite properly should.

We oppose the amendments because they would create a situation inconsistent with police authorities outside London. The amendments, in effect, leave the responsibility for making consultative arrangements in the Metropolitan Police District with the commissioner. They also require separate arrangements to be made for each borough. Such

25 Oct 1999 : Column 46

provisions are inconsistent with the creation of the MPA. Our view is not that borough-based consultation is wrong--far from it--but that decisions on such matters should rest with the MPA. After all, the MPA is to be entrusted with conducting affairs on behalf of the Metropolitan Police Service. That, therefore, seems entirely logical. We do not believe that it should be determined simply by primary legislation.

Outside London, police authorities are trusted to take these decisions and it would be wrong to treat the MPA differently. I do not accept the argument that the size and diversity of the population of London justifies special provisions. Other police authorities are faced with populations which are also varied and spread over a much wider geographical area.

It might have made sense, in the absence of a locally and democratically accountable police authority, to require that the commissioner draw up separate arrangements for consultation. As pointed out by the Home Secretary at Second Reading in another place, the last Home Secretary with a constituency in the Metropolitan Police District was, oddly enough, the noble Lord, Lord Carr. But this argument can no longer apply from 3rd July 2000, with the advent and creation of the MPA.

I recognise the need for all sections of the community to have their voice and I have no doubt that it will be a top priority of the MPA to ensure that it has effective means of obtaining the views of local people. Indeed, our establishment of such a body demonstrates the importance we, in Government, place on consultation and can only increase the role it will play in the policing of London.

In practice, there are several reasons for believing that the MPA will adopt a borough-based approach to its consultation. First, it is a logical approach. Secondly, the Metropolitan Police is moving towards a borough-based system of policing, and in areas outside London, police authorities tend to establish consultation arrangements which fit in with the police force structure. Thirdly, each London borough has its own crime reduction strategy, in which the MPA will be a key partner. For that reason, if no other, it seems to us to make perfect sense for consultation to be based on borough boundaries.

At the same time, I have little doubt that certain common or strategic issues will arise where consultation needs to be carried out across several London boroughs, or even the whole police area, and other issues, again which are of concern to areas much smaller than a London borough, where consultation at a neighbourhood level would be the best solution.

In short, there will be many circumstances under which the need for consultation will arise and many ways of responding to them. But, as I have said, I would expect the MPA to view borough-based consultation as an important and critical part of this.

Concern has again been expressed about the future of police community consultative groups. This was a matter we discussed in Committee. As we have repeatedly stressed, the Bill does not adversely affect

25 Oct 1999 : Column 47

the status of PCCGs. Neither the transfer of duty from the commissioner to the MPA nor the removal of the requirement that consultation be borough-based jeopardises the position of existing PCCGs. I trust that that reassures your Lordships.

The purpose of PCCGs is to assist police authorities--or, in the MPD, the commissioner--in discharging their duty to obtain the views of the community on policing matters. It will be for the MPA to decide how best to discharge that duty. Many PCCGs in London do good work, and we warmly applaud them for it. I would be surprised if the MPA chose to dismantle the existing system of PCCGs for so long as it considered that they had a part to play in capturing the views of Londoners. No single method of consultation is likely to provide the MPA with all the input it needs from the public, but PCCGs can be a key part of the consultative system and will continue to be so.

My officials are in contact with PCCG representatives. We will ensure that the views of PCCGs are put fully and fairly to the incoming MPA members as part of the training and induction programme we will be putting in place.

Police authorities outside London are responsible for consulting the public about policing matters and are not constrained by local government boundaries; they are advised by them. The Government see no reason why we should discriminate against the MPA in the way proposed in these amendments. The MPA will be a local, democratic and representative body and we should treat it as such. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, will be reassured by what I have said and feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his considered reply. He gave us more than he did in Committee to provide reassurance to the community consultative groups. I recognise in the way the Minister used his words--talking about the valuable role that the PCCGs carry out--that it is probable that they will be borough based and that it is unlikely that, where those groups are effective, they will be discontinued; further, that the changes in the Bill do not in his view adversely affect the status of those PCCGs. However, at the end of the day the Bill seeks flexibility for the MPA in the way that those PCCGs are or are not treated. There is a discretion whether to treat them on a borough basis. In other words, the geography will be entirely in the hands of the MPA.

It is that lack of statutory underpinning which makes the PCCGs vulnerable. I recognise that the Minister does not believe that the Bill adversely affects the status of the PCCGs, but by its nature it must. They are borough-based PCCGs and could be disbanded and replaced with a PCCG based on two, three or four boroughs; their job could be changed. Therefore, though I accept that some reassurance has been given by the Minister, it is not the total reassurance that the PCCGs--which are based on a borough basis--are seeking. In the circumstances it is perhaps not

25 Oct 1999 : Column 48

appropriate to press the amendment, but we will consider the Minister's words and may well come back at a later stage. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 537A to 538 not moved.]

5.15 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 538A:

Page 325, line 10, after ("(1)") insert (", or
(b) if no agreement is in force under that subsection in relation to the function or functions in question, to a standard which the Secretary of State considers to be satisfactory,").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendments Nos. 538A and 538B seek to amend the Bill's provisions in relation to the Metropolitan Police's national and international functions. Amendment No. 538A enables the Secretary of State to direct the MPA to take specified measures when he is not satisfied with the Met's performance of its national or international functions, even where the functions in question are not covered by a service level agreement between the Secretary of State and the MPA. Amendment No. 538B ensures that the MPA's responsibilities extend to all the Met's national and international functions. It also makes clear that those particular functions are included within those of the force when the Secretary of State considers whether to set a minimum budget for the MPA under Clause 81 of the Bill.

Schedule 22, paragraph 99, which inserts a new Section 96A into the 1996 Police Act, provides at present that,

    "(1) The Secretary of State and the Metropolitan Police Authority may enter into agreements with respect to the level of performance to be achieved by the metropolitan police force in respect of any of its national or international functions.

    (2) If the Secretary of State is of the opinion that the metropolitan police force is not performing any or all of its national or international functions to the standard specified ... he may direct the MPA to take [specified] measures".

So the Secretary of State is able to make directions where he has a service level agreement with the MPA. But what happens if he is unable to reach agreement with the MPA on the performance of any or indeed all of those functions? As things stand, he would be unable to make a direction. That is a loophole in the legislation. Amendment No. 538A closes that loophole.

Amendment No. 538B closes a couple more loopholes. The functions of police authorities, which will apply to the MPA from next July, are generally framed in the 1996 Police Act in terms of the police force area. Some of the Metropolitan Police's national and international functions, by their very nature, take place or relate to matters outside the metropolitan police district. This amendment makes clear that the MPA's responsibilities apply to those particular functions as they do to the rest of the Met's work.

25 Oct 1999 : Column 49

Those responsibilities include the principal police authority function to secure the maintenance of an efficient and effective police force as well as the duty to produce local policing objectives, plans and annual reports by police authorities and chief constables. This amendment also ensures that the provision in Clause 81 for the Secretary of State to set a minimum budget for the MPA in order to maintain or restore an efficient and effective police force includes within its scope the MPS' national and international functions. That clause currently refers to maintaining a force for the police force area, so could otherwise have excluded from its scope some of the national or international activities. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page