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Lord Elton: As the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, has brought forward the question of clause stand part, I should like to ask a simple question. If Mr Blunkett were today to say to Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary that he felt that it would be a good thing if a police force X were to be inspected and particular attention paid to its firearms section, would it not do so? Is not the provision entirely unnecessary?

Lord Bradshaw: I would seek to explain to the Committee that there are several types of inspection. There is a general inspection of the force, which takes some time and is very thorough. There are one-day

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special inspections, which we in Thames Valley have just had, which take the general pulse of the force through a number of tests and determine whether a general inspection should take place. There are thematic inspections, carried out by the chief inspector of, for example, roads policing. Latterly, we have had basic command unit inspections, where inspectors visit a police area and look at what is going on in great detail.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, I believe that the provision is totally unnecessary. Police forces are inspected very thoroughly, very often. Inspectors well know who are the weak links in the chain. I do not know this for certain, but I am sure that they are in fairly close touch with the Secretary of State and his advisers. The Secretary of State does not need this power and it should be struck out.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I listened with great interest to what the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, had to say. As ever on such matters, he spoke with great wisdom. Of course he is right to be suspicious of the intention behind any legislation. We are right to give the Bill the sort of careful scrutiny that we are this afternoon. The clause is no different from any other in that respect.

It is worth reflecting on what the clause is attempting to achieve and the effect of the amendment. The clause will allow the Secretary of State to require HMIC to carry out an ad hoc inspection of a force, part of a force or particular functions carried out by that force. The duty as it stands in the 1996 Act is to inspect and report on the whole of every force. HMIC could have fulfilled its duty in that respect but without necessarily providing the evidence to spot shortcomings in a particular part, function or exercise of that force. For the purposes of issuing directions to forces under the new Section 41A of the 1996 Act, inserted by Clause 5, that power is useful in considering the particular remedial measures required.

The amendment, as the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, and others said, would restrict the circumstances in which the Secretary of State could call upon HMIC to carry out an inspection of a force or any part of a force to occasions on which he considered that HMIC had failed in its duty under Section 54 of the 1996 Act to inspect and report on all forces. That would be difficult to demonstrate if in fact HMIC had inspected and reported on the efficiency and effectiveness of all forces.

The duty under Section 54 is to inspect all forces—the whole force in each case. That must be understood. However, the inspectorate will not necessarily have failed in its duty under that section if more information is required regarding the performance of a particular part of a force or a particular function of a force. The amendment, as the noble Lord said, would restrict the Home Secretary's ability to seek detailed information on a particular part. There is already a power in Section 93 of the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 to require an inspection of the Central Police Training

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and Development Authority. Clause 3 would also replace a power in Section 40 of the Police Act 1996 to commission a special inspection of a force.

We think it right that the Home Secretary should be able to seek that more detailed information. It would be helpful in the generality of things; inspectorate reports exist to assist the force that is being inspected to improve the service that it offers and the way in which it performs. In a sense, that is what we are trying to do here. We want to provide extra flexibility and enable the provision of support from the centre when it is required.

Lord Waddington: Is it not fanciful to suggest that the inspectors would refuse to carry out any sort of inspection that they were asked to carry out by the Secretary of State? Can the Minister assert that there has ever been a case in which HMIC has failed to carry out such an inspection?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I defer to the noble Lord's greater knowledge about such matters. He has experience of high office, and I am sure that he is right. However, we are seeking to put on the statute book something that may, in particular circumstances, be of use and assistance and will enable an inspection to be gone over in greater detail to elucidate and draw out more than was drawn out in the first place. It will enable the Secretary of State to do that. The noble Lord makes a good point, and he will reflect carefully on the points made in the debate.

Lord Waddington: I can see that it does not go to the amendment; it goes to the substance of the subsection. Other noble Lords have cast doubt on whether it was necessary at all. I concede that it does not go to the amendment.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I am grateful to the noble Lord for that further elucidation. It was most helpful.

Lord Dixon-Smith: We have had an interesting debate, but it causes me some concern. The amendment dealt simply with the principle of when the inspections could happen and whether the Secretary of State should have the power to whistle one up on the wind, so to speak. The noble Lord, Lord Borrie, is correct in the sense that, if we take the clause out, it does not matter how or whether we amend it. On the other hand, there is no certainty that we will want to take the clause out. If we are satisfied with the content of the clause, we might be prepared to leave it in.

I am not sure that what we propose would be an unreasonable restriction. We come to the issue of part inspections, which the Minister mentioned, in the next group of amendments. The question relates to what would be practised by reasonable people. I am appalled by the idea that, six months after an inspection, the Secretary of State could wake up and say, "Oops! We want a bit more information on this or that", and that, therefore, there should be another inspection. It would appal every practising police officer in the country. If the Secretary of State wants

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further information, he can request it, for Heaven's sake. He need only write a letter. He does not need an inspection to get further information.

I am not happy about the response to the amendment. None the less, we have had a useful discussion, and I hope that the Minister will do as his colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, is doing and study what has been said. They are important matters. We must ensure that we do not restrict or contain reasonable reform, while preserving the absolute operational integrity of the force. All the amendments form part of an attempt to make sure that that is what happens. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 18:

    Page 3, leave out lines 1 to 4.

The noble Lord said: Amendments Nos. 18 and 21 are aimed at the same thing, namely inspections of part of a force. As was pointed out to me, it could get so ridiculous—it never would, of course—as to go as far down as an inspection of a headquarters canteen. I am sure that, if that were necessary, any competent chief constable would have dealt with it a long time before. However, it goes into more difficult areas such as the firearms team, which has already been mentioned, and the traffic team.

There are two amendments, Nos. 18 and 21, which applies the same qualification to NCIS. In leaving out those lines, we would simply require the Government to consider carefully the proposals for the political power to influence the inspection process by demanding more inspections. That is the concern that lies behind the amendments. It is a proper concern and one that we need to look at with considerable care.

I do not think that I need to say any more on this. I do not know whether once again I shall tempt the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, to his feet, but I accept the point that he made. However, we shall come to the greater issue in a few minutes. I beg to move.

7 p.m.

Lord Mayhew of Twysden: I had not intended to speak on this amendment and I shall make only a few brief remarks. Having listened to what has been said, in particular with regard to the last group of amendments, I think that the matter is more important than I had considered to begin with.

I can see that if one is a chief officer, to have an inspection foisted upon one is a very considerable pain. It is expensive and distracts one from other matters. Furthermore, it represents something that one would probably like to avoid if one could. I am not persuaded by the arguments. Perhaps the Minister could direct our attention to any need for this power that was expressed and then recorded in the White Paper. If so then I am afraid that I have forgotten about it.

One is enormously tantalised by the presence in the Chamber of the noble Lord, Lord Condon, who has been present throughout our debates. It may be that

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we are talking absolute nonsense and he would be able to tell us that that is the case. However, as laymen we are doing our best. I can see a considerable potential danger here if the Home Secretary can hold out a threat over a chief officer or perhaps the director-general of the crime squad that he will order an inspection that will not prove to be a particularly pleasant experience.

I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Condon, will be able to confirm my impression that Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary keeps its ear close to the ground. It has a very professional and experienced ear and I suggest that not much can escape it. Why do we need this? Am I speaking unrealistically when I say that I foresee that there is here the real danger of possible abuse?

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