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Earl Ferrers: My Lords, the Minister said that he was surprised that I was now taking the view that the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, had taken some years ago. I should remind him that I was obliged to take back the first eight clauses of my police Bill because it was considered too dictatorial and too government oriented. The noble Lord should not be too worried if he has to take back a few clauses.
Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, in this House we should not allow the noble Lord to get away with the implication that the issuing of directions or codes of practice by a Minister improves policing. What it does do is satisfy the egos of the relevant government departments and gives them the feeling that they are doing something. There is a clear distinction.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 22, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 27, which concerns Clause 4 and is the substantive amendment on which I wish to speak. I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 35 and 38it would have been better had they been grouped separatelywhich deal with similar issues under Clause 5, and to Amendments Nos. 59, 62 and 67 and their application to the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the National Crime Squad. I hope that is clear.
Amendment No. 27 stands in my name and that of my namesake and former APA colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey. He regrets that he is unable to be in his place today. It stands also in the names of my noble friends Lord Dholakia and Lord Bradshaw.
I followed your Lordships' discussions in Committee very carefully and with close interest. It was striking that a similar amendment to this one, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, received widespread support. Even the Minister felt moved to remark that the noble Lord, Lord Harris, had done the House a service in tabling the amendmentwhich was praise indeedand he undertook to take away a number of the issues raised in the debate on Clause 4. True to his word, he has come back with substantive proposals and we warmly welcome government
Welcome though the amendments are, Amendment No. 27 and Amendment No. 41, which relates to Clause 5, are designed to cure a rather different problemthe problem being Clause 5 itself. Indeed, Amendment No. 27 aims to help the Government to find a way through the difficulties that they have created for themselves in the clause. I trust that your Lordships will bear with me if, in addressing Amendment No. 27, I pre-empt some of the discussions that we may have later about Clause 5, about which I shall speak only briefly.
This amendment is intended to replace Clause 5. I hope that that is clear. Clauses 4 and 5 both give the Home Secretary powers to intervene directly where a force or part of it is identified as ineffective or inefficient. Clause 4 provides for the Home Secretary to make such intervention through the local police authority. Under Clause 5, the Home Secretary would intervene directly in the force, presumably using his new police standards unit. That is the fundamental objection to Clause 5. It represents a substantial change in the current tripartite arrangements.
The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, put the point admirably in Committee. The amendment seeks to replicate part of what is proposed in Clause 5; but it does so in such a way as to support and enhance the tripartite relationship rather than undermining it. The Minister has assured us that it will not be the intention of the Home Secretary to intervene in and seek to micro-manage forces. He nevertheless intends to impose targets, time-scales and action plans. The amendment makes that the responsibility of the local police authority. After all, that is precisely what the police authority is there to do. However, the amendment recognises the Home Secretary's legitimate interest and gives him a chance to work with and through the police authority to put matters right. The amendment does away with the need for Clause 5, unpalatable as it clearly is to your Lordships.
I read with considerable interest, and no small surprise, the Minister's response to the amendment in Committee. I do not want to put the Minister on the spot, but his response bears some examination. We may find that it helps us to identify whether our amendments can resolve the problems which both Clauses 4 and 5 seek to cure.
The Minister's objection to the amendment was that the police authority should be kept away from operational matters because it administers funding. He went on to say that this represented a fundamental difference between police authorities and the Secretary of State, who, he suggested, could therefore have a role in operational matters. That concerned me somewhat. It seemed to suggest a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of police authorities and the concept of operational independence.
Thirdly, I am absolutely confident that everyone in the House will agree that the operational independence of the police service is the bedrock of our policing system. None of us wants that undermined in any way. The Home Secretary is in exactly the same position as the local police authority. The Home Secretary must not interfere in operational decisions on particular cases or events. They are a matter for the chief officer. But both the police authority locally and the Home Secretary nationally have a role in setting operational policy. Therefore, it is not clear to me why the powers available to the Home Secretary under Clause 4, as supplemented by the amendment, are insufficient; or why the Home Secretary should bypass the police authority and intervene directly in forces.
The Minister has said previously that the Home Secretary wants more levers to impact on police performance, and that he needs them because of variations in performance across forces and BCUs. There were a great many discussions in Committee about whether the Minister was in a position to make those judgments. We all know the difficulty of comparing like with like. But that said, we all want our local communities to have the best possible policing services. We can do that without undermining the constitutional settlement and the tripartite relationship.
Local police authorities are responsible for managing and monitoring local police performance. It is they who must answer and are accountable on the ground, day in, day out, to their communities for the policing services provided. The amendment enables the Home Secretary to work through and with the local police authority to improve performance if there are deficiencies, and to give his views on what needs to be done. Ultimately, the amendment would ensure that the action taken reflected the needs of local communities which the local police authority and the chief officer are best placed to judge.
I am sorry to have taken up so much time, but we are dealing with the most critical part of the Bill. I hope that your Lordships will agree that the Government's proposal and the constructive alternatives that we have sought to bring forward should be fully explored. I beg to move.
The other amendments in the group apply the proposal to the National Criminal Intelligence Service and to the National Crime Squad. We believe that that is perfectly reasonable. We believe also that the director of the National Criminal Intelligence Service ought to have the agreement of his service authority before putting in place any plan to implement a direction from the Home Secretary. This, again, is a matter of natural, good internal administrative relationships. The Government could concede these amendments without any difficulty or embarrassment. I hope that they will. I beg to move.
Lord Rooker: My Lords, given not just the number of government and opposition amendments in the group, but the debates we had in Committee, I imagine that many noble Lords regard this as the most important debate today. I shall set out the Government's approach to the points made in Committee. We have taken issues on board and have tried to find an acceptable solution indicating exactly what we are seeking to do. A further group of government amendments, not contained in this group, remove the words "operational procedures and practices" from Clause 7. Those words sent the wrong signals. That is not what we are about. We think that the content is OK, but even the title gave all the wrong vibrations when we discussed the issue. To the extent that we have tried to get the message, I hope that we have come up with a package that can be viewed as a whole, and I trust that your Lordships will see that we are at one.
As we explained in the White Paper, it has always been the Government's intention that the use of the direction powers in relation to police authorities, chief officers, the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the National Crime Squad would be governed by a protocol, which would set out clearly the steps that must be taken before the Secretary of State could issue a direction.
Noble Lords from all sidesincluding those behind me, to my left and my rightexpressed grave reservations about the permanence of such a protocol, even were it to be negotiated and signed up to by all three of the tripartite partners. That is why we have tabled amendments to place those steps on the face of the Bill. The key amendment in the group is the lengthy Amendment No. 42, which inserts a new clause after the present Clause 5. It governs the procedures for giving directions under the revised Section 40 of the Police Act and the new Section 41A. In shorthandlawyers should not take too much noticethe new clause inserted by Amendment No. 42 will govern how the Home Secretary proceeds.
The amendment was put together as a result of your Lordships' deliberations in Committee. It requires the Home Secretary to put the evidence that a force or a part of a force is not efficient or effective to the chief officer and the police authority and to afford them the opportunity to make representations. The Home Secretary will be obliged to have regard to any such representations.
The amendment further requires the Home Secretary to afford the chief officer or the police authority the opportunity to put in place their own remedial measures before they are directed to do so. It is almost a long stop to a long stop. As I have said repeatedly, this is a last resort action by the Home Secretary and it would constitute almost a failure of local policing by the chief officer, the force or the police authority for the whole of the force or particular parts or functions. We want them to put their own house in order. It would not be a surprise to the locality that there was a problem.
The amendment provides a further impetus on the face of the Bill to give all the bodies involved on the ground the chance to put their own remedial measuresnot the Home Secretary'sinto force before they are directed to do so. The Home Secretary would move to a direction only if the measures proposed by the police authority or the chief officer were considered inadequate or if those measures failed to remedy the poor performance. Further procedural steps could be laid down in regulations, subject to affirmative procedure. Matters that could not be dealt with on the face of the Bill and had to done through secondary legislation would be dealt with by the affirmative procedure.
Also in response to arguments made in Committee, amendments have been tabled to amend the current Clause 5 to ensure that progress reports on any action plan from the chief officer must be submitted to the police authority as well as to the Home Secretary. I think your Lordships will agree that we are proposing a robust and effective system to ensure that powers of direction cannot be used lightly. The proposals will not enable any Home Secretary to operate on a whim or a hunch. We have said that that cannot happen and that we do not want it to happen, but we have repeatedly been told that perhaps not all future Home Secretaries will be as nice and benign as the present Home Secretary. We are locking in that process. The powers of direction cannot be used lightly. We have given assurances time and again that they will not be used lightly and that provision is now being put on the face of the Bill. These are powers to be used in the last resort when all other mechanisms have failedand are clearly seen to have failedto deliver at local level. That is why we have no problem in transparently operating the powers by a clearly set out process that gives the police authority or the chief officer every opportunity to correct the under-performance at issue.
We are also happy to be held to account for those powers. That is why I propose that the Home Secretaryor Scottish Ministers, where they have the power to direct in relation to the National Criminal Intelligence Serviceshould be required to report the use of those powers to Parliament. I accept that that is important. My colleagues in government agreed in discussion that being accountable to Parliament means more than just answering Questions or being subject to written Questions and Statements. There must be a requirement to report on the use of the powers to Parliament. We intend to produce the reports as early as is practical after exercising the powers of direction, if those powers are used.
However, the opposition amendments would require the Home Secretary to prepare his report in six months. I am not nit-picking about a technical deficiency. Under the amendments, he would not be required to lay the report before Parliament within six months. That is an important point. If the powers are ever used and there is a sniff that the report to Parliament has been delayed for what I might call political purposes, all hell will break out in both Houses of Parliament, given the nature of the amendments under consideration. The amendments spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, would not lock in the Home Secretary in respect of the reports being laid before Parliament.
I respect the absence of my noble friend Lord Harris. His initial amendment was very important and gave us an opportunity to look at another way of dealing with a very difficult issue. However, we think that Amendment No. 27 is the wrong approach to use of the powers. It would be more time-consuming, routing the direction and the action plan via the police authority, rather than the Home Secretary agreeing the form of direction and the contents of the action plan in consultation with the police authority. There are two stages to the process under Amendment
The Home Secretary has a strategic overview which the police authority does not have, being, as it is, closely involved with the police force. Once under-performance reaches the stage at which directions are necessarywhen there is an up-front and knowing failure which the local public will know aboutthe police authority will have already had its chance to drive up performance. As I said, the power is for use only in the last resort. We have also built in a further stage in which the police authority and chief police officer can propose their own way of delivering an action plan.
I have not had a chance to discuss the government amendments with my noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey, but I hope that his concerns about the police authority's involvement in the process are dealt with in the proposed new clause in government Amendment No. 42.
As to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, in relation to some of his later amendments, the Home Secretary will not be requiring the directors-general of the National Criminal Intelligence Service or the National Crime Squad to implement impractical action plans. Moreover, the government amendments build safeguards into the procedure for issuing directions to ensure that the directions and action plans are carefully thought through in terms of deliverability. Those safeguards will provide the directors-general of the two services and the service authorities with an opportunity to make representations and proposals to the Secretary of State before he issues a direction.
Therefore, like police authorities and local chief officers, the other two services will have an opportunity to propose their own action plan. It would be in no one's interest for the Home Secretary to make unreasonable demands of the National Criminal Intelligence Service or the National Crime Squad. He will therefore consult with both organisations before issuing any directions. That is why there is no need to specify in the Bill that a direction must be achievable before it can be issued. As I said, the Home Secretary will work with the directors-general and the service authorities to ensure that a direction is achievable before it is issued; it would be too late to do so after it is issued. However, the Home Secretary has a right to expect a direction, once issued, to be implemented. Amendments Nos. 81 and 91 would subvert that expectation. As such, I do not commend them to the House.
I freely admit that our discussions in Committee were of considerable help to myself and my colleagues in trying to enshrine the Government's intention, rather than what people believe is our intention, in statute. I also freely admit that things are not always drafted as clearly as they could be. Moreover, even
I hope that, because of the way in which we have locked down these issues in this group of amendments, chief police officers will be confident that the Home Secretary is not seeking to do their job. I also hope that police authority members will be confident that they perform an extremely valuable function at the service level of the 43 police authorities. The Home Office is in no way seeking to do their job; that is not our intention. The amendments provide last-resort powers. Moreover, we have built in further checks and balances in their use; we have provided a long stop to the long stop. I genuinely believe that we have used our very best endeavours in developing this package to try to meet the demands that noble Lords made in Committee. I therefore hope that the government amendments in this group will find favour with noble Lords.
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