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In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, said that the Government were 100 per cent in favour of independence. That must surely mean what it says. This is probably the most sensitive of any appeal tribunal in this country and it is essential that it should be transparent. The power of the Secretary of State to
Lord Rooker: My Lords, I appreciate the noble Viscount's point about this being an important independent body and it must be seen to be so. As we said earlier, it will be much more powerful and much better resourced than the existing complaints authority.
It is essential for the Secretary of State to be able to appoint the first chief executive of the commission. I am not making a big thing about this, but it is sometimes the practice for the Secretary of State to appoint the first chief executive of a non-departmental public body. I may have used the analogy in the pastit is the one I had experience of as a Ministerof the Foods Standards Agency although I was at MAFF and therefore not responsible and had left MAFF by the time the agency was set up. However, I took the legislation through its various stages and it was my baby as a White Paper as well. I was very conscious of the fact that that was not a non-departmental public body. It was set up as a non-ministerial department, so the structure was slightly different in the way the department went about making the appointments.
There is a good case for making an early appointment of a chief executive in advance of the appointment of the board members. The chief executive will need to be in place well before the commission is formally set up to take forward the establishment of the commission and its operating procedures. The chief executive will be the accounting officer of the body. If the chief executive is not in place to do that, I have to say to the Houseresting on the prejudices of some noble Lords, although of none presentthat it will be left to the Home Office to do it; and some people may not like the Home Office doing that work and then handing over to the chief executive. It is a less than satisfactory way of proceeding.
However, I want to make it clear that there is no suggestion that the Home Secretary will be able to put his own man or woman in the post. The first chief executive will be recruited in an open and fair process according to established practice; that is, by public advertisement and proper sifting procedures.
As with other members of the staff of the commission, the chief executive will be an employee of the commission and under its direction and control. Obviously the chief executive will have to satisfy the commission that he is performing satisfactorily. The commission's chair and members will then select subsequent chief executives. It must be borne in mind that, whatever the process of the Secretary of State approving the appointment, the Secretary of State will be in no position to put forward his own person as the chief executive. The commission will put forward the name. It may be that it puts forward a name to which the Home Secretary objects. But the Home Secretary is not then allowed to put another name in position. It is the commission's right to do that. The Secretary of State's right is only to refuse or approve a nomination.
Furthermore, the chair and commission members will define the role and duties of the chief executive. The Secretary of State will only be able to refuse or approve the role rather than prescribe it. There is no suggestion that the Secretary of State's approval will compromise the independence of the commission or that he can place his own representative there to mould it according to his wishes. He cannot. The commission will be appointed by the Commissioner for Public Appointments through the proper process.
The power of the Secretary of State to give approval is an important safeguard for the Government, mainly to ensure that the appointee is appropriate to the position. In establishing new non-departmental public bodies, it is important to have in place checks and balances. I do not say that this is the same process in every case, but there are many non-departmental public bodies in existence.
As I said, the chief executive will be the accounting officer. The Government need to be satisfied that the selection process was open and fair and in line with established best practice. At the end of the day the Home Secretary has an oversight role of the operation of the commission and the police complaints system generally, for which of course he is accountable to Parliament. Parliament will be in a better position to be able to hold the Government to account for the commission's effectiveness if the Home Secretary is in the seat for approving the commission's selection of the chief executive. The Home Secretary will not be able to run away and say, "It was nothing to do with me, guv. The commission appointed this person". From Parliament's point of view, that is a better position than any of the alternatives, which would mean that the Home Secretary had no role at all.
The noble Viscount said: My Lords, in Committee the Minister gave an assurance that in the delivery of reports there would be a presumption in favour of publication, and that was very much to be welcomed. But taking into account what the Minister said about the previous amendment, this is a very much more subjective decision for the Secretary of State and we must once again look to future Secretaries of State whose armour may not necessarily be shining with the brilliance of that held by the present incumbent. We would be very much happier if the presumption of publication could be enshrined in this clause. I make a further suggestion to the Minister that it might be possible to have the condition turned around so that
This amendment would require the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament and cause to be published every report that it receives from the Independent Police Complaints Commission. On the face of it that seems to be a reasonable proposition, but we argue that it could be potentially harmful to the public interest if the legislation demands that all reports are published.
It is highly likely that this amendment would result in reports not being written at all by the commission or useful information being excluded because it would be considered as potentially harmful. It is right that the commission's annual report will have to be laid before Parliament and published.
As regards other reports, the Secretary of State should have some discretion as to whether to publish or not, having considered all relevant factors. For example, a report might contain sensitive, potentially harmful information or recommendations about police practices, which, were they to be made public, would damage future police operations. I believe that this House is agreed that the police must have flexibility over police operational matters. After all, it is their domainpolicy on one side and operational matters on the other.
The discretion provided in the clause allows the Secretary of State to balance the need for conflicting public interest arguments for and against disclosure of such reports. In this context no doubt he will be aware that it would be possible for reports to be released with any sensitive information removed.
The amendment could be self-defeating and that is the kernel of our argument. Normally, we would want to argue for maximum disclosure, but in certain circumstances where that disclosure would be harmful to the service or operations, we believe that the Home Secretary needs to have that flexibility and to exercise his or her discretion in future. For those reasons I invite the noble Viscount to withdraw the amendment.
But we believe that this is a very sensitive area and there must surely be provision for the informed whistle-blower. That is not provided for in the complaints catchment at the moment and in certain circumstances it could be very useful. Will the Minister consider this amendment? I beg to move.
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