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( ) provision as to the times at which, and the manner in which, any progress report is to be made;"

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 38 not moved.]

Lord Rooker moved Amendment No. 39:

"(12) If the Secretary of State exercises his power to give a direction under this section in relation to a police force—
(a) he shall prepare a report on his exercise of that power in relation to that force; and
(b) he shall lay that report before Parliament.
(13) A report under subsection (12)—
(a) shall be prepared at such time as the Secretary of State considers appropriate; and
(b) may relate to more than one exercise of the power mentioned in that subsection."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 40, as an amendment to Amendment No. 39, not moved.]

15 Apr 2002 : Column 751

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 41:

    Leave out Clause 5.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it was quite coincidental, and not by arrangement, that a report was issued last week by the London School of Economics and the South Bank University about crime and disorder in London. The first paragraph states:

    "Narrow, centrally imposed priorities are creating a growing gap between what Londoners expect of the police and what they get. Unless the Metropolitan Police can be more responsive to the needs of local people, it will lose the community support it needs to tackle crime effectively".

I regret that I have been unable to get the full report, but the summary states:

    "One important factor has been the unintended consequences of the performance management systems that were imposed on the police throughout the 1990s. Quantitative performance targets were set by successive Home Secretaries, by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and by the Audit Commission; these generally gave primacy to crime-fighting objectives at the expense of order maintenance. Especially in the 1990s they also imposed the same priorities across widely differing areas regardless of variations in crime problems. This limited the capacity of local police to prioritise according to local need. If the flexibility of the MPS to respond to local problems was constrained by central government initiative, the problem was compounded by the high degree of centralisation in the MPS decision-making. Borough commanders were responsible for areas as large as some provincial forces"—

as the Minister has already said—

    "but with far more intense problems of crime and disorder. Yet at the time of fieldwork they had limited scope to use their own discretion to tailor their resource allocation to local need".

Clause 5 takes the business of central administration of what are essential local services too far. The truth of the matter is that the Home Office is in a muddle. That academically-based report highlights the difficulties of the police service. The police service is over-administered; it is having difficulty with policing. Regrettably it seems to be ineffective; regrettably it is not perceived to have adequate detection rates in criminal matters; regrettably it is not effectively preventing crime because it has not got time; and regrettably, as a consequence of all of that, it produces low conviction rates in the courts.

I sometimes think that if the Home Secretary were honest, he would be grateful that the police were achieving low conviction rates. The prison population is at its highest level ever and the prisons are bursting at the seams. Quite frankly, if the police were to double their performance rate and the consequence was that conviction rates were doubled, there would be nowhere to put the criminals.

One can look at other aspects; for example, the asylum services. We read in our Sunday newspapers that asylum seekers who are supposed to stay in this country regularly take trips across the Channel for vacations or family weddings. That system is not working properly. The Government's strategic services, which are responsible for providing the systems, are not working. Within that, in Clause 5 we see the legislative tentacles of the department stretching down desperately seeking something small enough to control.

15 Apr 2002 : Column 752

We believe that Clause 5 is wrong. There are jobs which central government can and should do, and there are jobs that they should not do. There is nothing that can be done from an office in Whitehall which will affect things dramatically on the streets, be it in London, Birmingham or even my local town of Braintree. Everywhere the circumstances are different. I accept that the Minister has done his best to ensure that the actions taken under Clause 5 would only be taken as a last remedial power, a long-stop to a long-stop, having given the local bodies the incentive, which already exists, to put matters right in the first place.

If we accept the new management systems, we will find the management information which is available is a recent phenomenon which was not available to police authorities or chief constables in earlier days. So those systems could not operate more quickly than the Home Office is now intending. Clause 5 is therefore completely unnecessary. It goes too far. It is taking central administration to the point where it is beginning to prevent the effective performance of these essential services.

Another report was published only one week ago saying more or less the same thing about the health service. This is a lesson we all need to learn fast and seriously. We have therefore come to the conclusion that the only sensible way of preventing this excess of action, which is damaging, is to delete Clause 5. I beg to move.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, we have made abundantly clear throughout the Committee stage and at Second Reading that it is our view that Clause 5 is unacceptable. We are therefore delighted to support Amendment No. 41 in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, myself and my noble friend Lord Bradshaw.

Clause 5 threatens the very basis of our tripartite system of checks and balances by placing too much power in the hands of the Home Secretary. I listened carefully in the earlier debate about the long-stop and the long-long-stop about which the Minister talked. But we have to be careful because the tripartite system has been constructed to ensure that no one party has complete control over policing. It is a unique system and works very well. That is not to say that the tripartite relationships may not be slightly adjusted from time to time, and the previous Home Secretaries have rightly done so. We recognise that that may be so and will work constructively with the Government to achieve the changes that are needed.

But Clause 5 goes too far. It rebalances the tripartite relationship in a way which places too much power in the hands of the Home Secretary. It diminishes local influence, local accountability and local control. The tripod which has stood the test of time is now to be removed.

Clause 5 allows the Home Secretary effectively to control local operational policy, despite the fact that the word "operational" has been questioned again and

15 Apr 2002 : Column 753

again. It empowers the Home Secretary to direct exactly what the chief officer or BCU commander must do through specifying the contents of action plans, targets and time-scales. It provides for the chief officer to report directly to the Home Secretary and it gives the local police authority, whose job it is to monitor and manage police performances, little say in the process. The police authority will only have to be consulted on the action plan, not agree it, and thus will have little say over the targets, time-scales or resources to be applied to the problem which the Home Secretary has decided needs to be solved. The authority will be copied into progress reports, but will have no effective role in managing performance.

We have already indicated that in bringing forward their amendments we recognise that the Government were trying to be responsive to the concerns rehearsed in earlier debates. But they do not address the fundamental problem with Clause 5; that is, that it subverts the existing tripartite relationship. I do not see how anyone can argue that that is not a radical change in our system of policing.

We heard in Committee the Minister's contention that this radical change in our system is needed because of the wide variations in police performance throughout the country. Various statistics were bandied about. But we all know that statistics can be used to support any case where needed.

We are fully behind the Minister on one point. We agree that all our communities are entitled to the best possible policing. We entirely support driving up police performance. We do not want to see postcode policing either. But we have to look at what the Minister is proposing and whether it will solve the issue.

There was an interesting exchange at Committee stage between my noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury who, sadly, cannot be here today, and the Minister. My noble friend asked why the Minister thought that the Home Office could do better than local police authorities and forces. The Minister's response was,

    "could the Home Office do it worse?"

Most of us believe that it could happen. He is not accountable day in and day out in the way that local police authorities and chief officers are to their communities. Where there are variations in performance we need to motivate local police authorities and forces to find solutions with their communities, not send in civil servants from Whitehall.

The Minister has assured us time and again that this is the nuclear option; the power of last resort. But Clause 4 already gives the Home Secretary all the power he needs while preserving the national/local balance of control over policing. We believe that our amendment to Clause 4 is the solution.

But given the establishment of the Police Standards Unit and experience elsewhere in government, it is hard to believe that the Home Secretary will not be tempted to use the new powers available to him.

15 Apr 2002 : Column 754

But this would have serious and unwelcome ramifications for local policing. Our system is unique in giving local people a strong voice in how they are policed. This is critical to policing by consent. We do not want to see our police under the control of central government or their activities politicised, which is what Clause 5 could ultimately mean.

We all want to improve local policing in our communities. No one disagrees with the Government about that. The question is how best to achieve that. We urge the Government to think again about how best to secure those improvements.

A partnership approach which builds on the relative strengths and responsibilities of local police authorities working with their forces and their communities is likely to prove more successful than any direction from Whitehall.

I return to a very important point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. Earlier in the debate I mentioned the report Policing for London which the noble Lord cited. The study follows the one carried out by the Policy Studies Institute about 20 years ago. The important theme in the report is that increased central control over the police does not guarantee more effective policing.

There has been an understandable sense of urgency on the part of successive governments to get to grips with crime and disorder and reforming the police is an important element in all this. But the risks and costs of the different options need to be publicly aired and properly discussed. We have done that at Committee stage. Centralising the policing function is not an option which we would approve. There is too much at stake if we get it wrong.

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