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Lord Mayhew of Twysden: My Lords, I believe that the Minister has given me the assurance that I need. It is not a matter of legislation; it is simply a matter of practice. If, on reflection, the noble Baroness finds that that is not the case, I should be most grateful to hear from her.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for the enlightenment that she has provided. However, as she herself said, this is a very complex matter. Although I entirely accept most of what she said, I have a feeling that the issues are not quite clearly understood by the various elements involved in these matters. I shall certainly study carefully in Hansard what the noble Baroness said. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 8 and 9 not moved.]

Clause 7 [Acquisition and disposal of land by Board]:

[Amendments Nos. 10 and 11 not moved.]

Clause 12 [Accounts and audit]:

Baroness Harris of Richmond moved Amendment No. 12:


(" .--(1) The Policing Board shall--
(a) keep proper accounts and proper records in relation to the accounts; and
(b) prepare a statement of accounts in respect of each financial year.
(2) The Board may delegate to the Chief Constable, or another body approved by the Secretary of State, responsibility for the functions under subsection (1).
(3) The statement of accounts shall contain such information and shall be in such a form as the Secretary of State may determine.
(4) The Chief Constable or any other body to whom power is delegated under subsection (2), shall submit the statement of accounts to the Board within such period after the end of the financial year to which they relate as the Board may determine.
(5) The Board shall send copies of the statement of accounts to the Secretary of State and the Comptroller and Auditor General within such further period as the Secretary of State may determine.
(6) The Comptroller and Auditor General shall--

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(a) examine, certify and report on each statement of accounts received by him under this section; and
(b) lay copies of the statement of accounts and of his report before each House of Parliament.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, Amendment No. 12 stands in my name and those of other noble Lords. I raised this issue in Committee, but it is such an important matter that I feel I must bring it to your Lordships' attention again.

My concern is to ensure that transparency and accountability exist in relation to police expenditure. The Government said that Patten was critical of the existing financial arrangements. Patten was critical--and rightly so--of the authority's role in supplying services directly to the RUC. However, that all changed under the 1998 Act. Since then, the role of the police authority has been the same as that of police authorities in England and Wales.

Under the Government's proposals, the police budget will pass through the police board. However, it seems that the board will not have overall financial responsibility. I should welcome the Government's assurance that under the new arrangements there will be a code of financial management which is as robust as the code which is currently in place. In particular, will the new code recognise, as Patten recommended in paragraph 6.46, the importance of the board having a strong internal audit department? That will be essential if the board is to fulfil a proper scrutiny role in ensuring that money is properly spent and that the force is making the most efficient and effective use of resources.

However, if, as the Government propose, the Chief Constable is responsible for the preparation of accounts, he will surely need his own internal audit function. Will that not lead to duplication? Is that really a good use of public funds?

In Committee, I asked who would enter into contracts, given that the Chief Constable is not a corporate body. If it is to be the policing board--I am not sure what else it could be--should not the board be accountable for that expenditure?

I am convinced that we all want to achieve the same end: to give the Chief Constable responsibility for day-to-day financial management and for the board to have a strategic role and to hold the Chief Constable to account for the use of those resources. But if the board is to exercise that important oversight, then, to my mind, it must have responsibility for accounts, along with the Chief Constable, as Patten recommended in paragraph 6.47. I beg to move.

8 p.m.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, Amendment No. 12 has been debated before in Committee. Clause 12 addresses the important but detailed issues of police accounting and audit arrangements. We are extremely grateful for the assistance that the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, has provided to us in discussing the detail of those important arrangements.

8 Nov 2000 : Column 1619

Amendment No. 12 requires the board, as the noble Baroness very fairly said, rather than the Chief Constable, to keep proper accounts and records but enables the board to delegate its functions if it chooses to do so. That would continue the present position, whereby the policing board's chief executive is the accounting officer for the police grant as well as the authority's own grant which Patten said should be changed in his 43rd recommendation.

The Government introduced the change recommended by Patten to require the Chief Constable to sign off the accounts in respect of the money he receives from the board. The Government support Patten's recommendation because it contributes to clarifying the role of the Chief Constable as the manager of the police service and the board as regulator.

Clause 12 still requires the Chief Constable to submit his accounts to the board (not the Secretary of State) and Clause 12(2) makes it clear that the function is being exercised by the Chief Constable on behalf of the board. The board is not circumvented; its financial accountability role is not diminished; and it can still scrutinise the police accounts to a level it considers appropriate to discharge its duties. I assure the noble Baroness that there will be a code of financial management as robust as the present one. I assure her also that the Government intend the board to have a strong internal audit role. Indeed, the best value provisions of the Bill will enhance the board's ability to assess whether police expenditure is being made effectively, efficiently and economically.

The board does not need to do the actual detailed record-keeping to exercise its role of financial accountability in respect of the police. The Chief Constable, under Clause 10, will have to submit estimates of police expenditure to the board for its approval. The money, under Clause 9, goes to the board to distribute to the Chief Constable and it will exercise detailed financial controls in doing so as the Police Authority for Northern Ireland does at present. That is not an arrangement which leaves the board without power. On the contrary it gives it control, which is one of the critical issues.

I would also quote the Chief Constable's useful comments in response to Patten's Recommendation 43 which were as follows:

    "No objection, although this recommendation seems to be on the basis that the Commission regards such an arrangement as improving visible accountability. Under current arrangements the Chief Constable already formally signs off final police accounts. These are then consolidated with the Police Authority accounts and signed off by the Chief Executive, as the sub-accounting officer. As the police budget will continue to be delivered through the Police Board and this is the body to whom the Chief Constable is primarily financially accountable, no change is anticipated in the process whereby end of year accounts are submitted through the Board. It is accepted that the proposed arrangements introduce a formal process, through which the Chief Constable might be called before the Public Accounts Committee, although he undoubtedly could be so called under present arrangements".

8 Nov 2000 : Column 1620

Noble Lords will see from that response that the Chief Constable does not believe that his financial accountability to the board is diminished by this change.

In a moment, I shall deal with the Chief Constable contracting out, or who contracts, which is a question that I must answer in the course of my remarks.

That change, albeit a small one, is part of the new beginning recommended by Patten. We must move forward and not simply stick to current arrangements because that is the way that things have always been done.

As to who will enter into contracts with the Chief Constable, the board will sign contracts for the police as the Police Authority for Northern Ireland does at present.

I am extremely grateful to the noble Baroness for raising those issues and, as I said before, for the genuine assistance which she has given, which we have found very helpful. I hope that she will read the detailed response that I have given in relation to this amendment and that, in the mean time, she will withdraw it.

Baroness Harris of Richmond: My Lords, I am grateful for the Minister's response. I shall indeed read with great care the response that he has given. It goes some way towards making sure that the code will be as robust as the present one--he has reassured me on that point--and that there will be an internal audit role for the policing board.

I shall read what the noble and learned Lord said with great care. I thank him for his very kind remarks. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 15 [Default of council]:

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