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Lord Borrie: My Lords, perhaps I may intervene briefly before the Minister responds. During Committee stage noble Lords on the Conservative and the Liberal Democrat Benches made a number of important points in relation to Clause 5, the power to give directions to chief officers. As the Minister explained and everybody agreed, it was a power that would only be used in the last resort. It was to be used if a police force, or part of it, were inefficient or ineffective or if it would become so unless remedial measures were taken.
But there were concerns, especially those expressed then and a moment ago by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, that the involvement of central government and the Home Secretary with the chief of police direct was a severe interference with the tripartite system. While some very strong concerns were expressed at Committee stage, I do not believe that either the Conservative or Liberal Democrat Benches have made out a case today in the light of Amendment No. 42, which the Minister has already explained but which we have not yet reached.
That is an example of the working out of the tripartite system and it is not in any way an attack on it. It involves giving every opportunity there could possibly be to the police authority in the first place and to the chief officer of police in the second, to make
Lord Elton: My Lords, when one wants to decide against whom an army is marching one looks to see in which direction the guns of its tanks are pointed. It seems to me that this clause is a tank. There has been an elaborate effort to camouflage it. There have been very praiseworthy efforts to hedge about its use. I recognise what the Minister has done and the difficulty he has no doubt had in persuading his right honourable friend and those who advised him. After three years in their company at the Home Office I hold them in high regard.
But in this respect I do not believe that the men at Whitehall know best because the tank is still pointing its gun at the solitary figure of the chief officer of police. The Secretary of State can tell his police authority what he is about and take advice from anybody. But in the end he has opted not to use the powers under Clause 4 and deal through the other part of the tripartite arrangement, which consists of people with a democratic responsibility, but to deal direct with somebody appointed as a public servant. He will find himself staring down the barrel along which is squinting the Secretary of State, the Permanent Secretary, the Under-Secretary and the Assistant Secretary, and all the authorities of the state who can wield their power on him.
I do not believe that the camouflage, even that expressed in what the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, said, actually conceals the fact that the gun is pointing at the chief constable. He should have the support of his authority and it should have a voice and a role in this matter, not merely to be consulted but to be the body at which the gun is pointed. I stand by my noble friend's proposition that this clause should not stand part of the Bill.
Baroness Harris of Richmond: My Lords, perhaps I can help the noble Lord, Lord Borrie. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for putting his concerns so succinctly on this matter. I wish to add a few words based on my past experience as chair of my local police authority. I was a member of the National Crime Squad Service Authority and also deputy chair of the National Association of Police Authorities.
In my view Clause 5 creates more problems for the Home Secretary than it could ever solve. At earlier stages the Minister told us that the Home Secretary believes that the tripartite relationship means that he
From the local perspective it is the other way round. The Home Secretary has the money and power while police authorities and chief officers struggle to provide a genuinely local policing service which meets the needs and aspirations of their communities.
My colleagues have already made clear our fundamental objections to Clause 5 and the equivalent provision in Schedule 1(4) which relates to the National Criminal Intelligence Service and National Crime Squad. Taken with the rest of Part 1 of the Bill and the new powers that the Home Secretary proposes to give himself elsewhere in the Bill, it radically shifts control of policing away from local people and communities to Whitehall.
We are told that the powers in Clause 5 are the last resort and that they are needed to drive up poor performance to the level of the best. As far as I can see, the Government have given us no hard evidence to show why such powers are necessary or in which circumstances they will be used. We have already discussed the extensive powers available under Clause 4. Can the Minister give a concrete example of why the powers under Clause 5 are needed and how they will be used?
While the Minister considers that, I shall turn to the recent street crime initiative. The Government are concerned about rising levels of street crime as I am sure are all noble Lords. The Prime Minister has instigated weekly crime summits involving key players from the Association of Police Authorities, the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Criminal Prosecution Service, the courts and other government departments such as the Department of Health and the Department for Education and Skills. The 10 forces identified as having the worst problems in this area are already developing action plans to tackle the situation. That is being undertaken at the moment without the powers proposed under Clause 5. I leave the Minister and your Lordships with a question: why on earth do we need Clause 5?
Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: My Lords, I apologise for not being able to attend the debate earlier, although I sat through many of the debates on this matter on the previous occasions when it was discussed. Your Lordships' House is rightly concernedI share the concernabout any attempt to try to centralise control of the police. With the greatest respect to your Lordships, I fail to understand much of the argument. Perhaps I may illustrate my point as simply as I can.
The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, said that there should not be policing by postcode, with which I agree. I suggest that the powers being sought in Clause 5 are to try to achieve that. To that extent, it is on the side of local policing. The report, Policing for London, to
It is fair to say that that report referred to the matter obliquely, but it should have gone a step further. Much more important than the manpower and the money is the leadership provided at the grassroots. I welcome, as I hope your Lordships do, the fact that this Government have encouraged the establishment of the operational command units, which break down police force areas into small sections, around which the police can walk without running out of breath. They will try to ensure that levels of policing for communities across the length and breadth of England and Wales deliver roughly the same service. As people are aware, at the moment that does not happen. Like the Minister, I know that that does not happen from my experience in another place, when I represented a constituency in Birmingham. Too much was left to the wit and wisdom of the incoming chief inspector or superintendent. Like new brooms, they come in and want to change things.
I readily confess that my experience of police authorities is totally different from that of other noble Lords. I can remember hearing from the West Midlands police authority only when it wanted more money. I do not knock the authority for that, as that is part of its role, but I was there for 23 years and I never noticed it ensuring that there was a local input to policing, although it may have done so behind my back. I understand the importance of that role, but I believe that it should be improved upon.
Time and time again it has been said in another place that the Home Secretary of the day carries the can when matters go wrong with the police. The previous Conservative government said that the Home Secretary should not set police force numbers. They said that money should be allocated and that it was up to the chief constables and to the police authorities to work out how that money should be spent. That appears to have changed because Home Secretaries in the present Government have volunteered to decide on the number of police officers. By next year we shall have an extra 5,000 police officers to establish record levels. I leave open the fact that extra officers do not mean less crime and do not mean better detection rates.
The powers being sought in this part of the Bill are to remedy failure. A Home Secretary cannot get out of bed one morning and say, "I do not like what is going on in the West Midlands or in the Kent Police force or whatever", and pick on them for no reason. There has to be an identified failure in a police force and either an unwillingness or an inability by the local police authority to try to put right that failure.
Today one of the principal partnersthe Association of Chief Police Officersprayed in aid by those who stand behind this amendment, has made clear that it welcomes the amendments that the Minister has tabled to the Bill. A press release issued by the association today says:
Those powers have been changed to meet the voices around the Chamber. When we first considered the matter I shared many of the concerns. If we are genuinely on the side of local policing, locally delivered, with everybody as far as possible receiving the same level of policing across the country, we should allow the Home Secretary to have the powers to enable him to do something about an identified failure on behalf of local people.
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