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Baroness Harris of Richmond moved Amendment No. 15:

The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 15 stands in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Dholakia. I also speak in support of Amendments Nos. 18, 19 and 21. Some important players have been left out of the Bill. Earlier, we discussed the superintendents' association and the Police Federation. It is therefore difficult for me to see the Government's reasoning behind ensuring that BCUs are separate statutory constructs. BCUs are certainly important, but to deliberately put them into the Bill is unnecessary. If the intention is only to make them coterminous with local authority boundaries, I am not convinced that that needs legislation.

Is the Minister able to help me? Wanting to put BCUs on a statutory footing rather gives the impression of preparing them for future developments. Perhaps the Secretary of State has it in mind to eventually fund BCUs directly from central Government. That would be most unwelcome, as it would undermine the already fragile tripartite relationship, which I spoke about at Second Reading. It would also undermine accountability to the public through their police authorities, and to chief officers by their BCU commanders, who could almost do what they liked with directly funded moneys. I use that as an example. It could be the beginning of an unacceptable series of events, and we do not like that idea at all. I beg to move.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Lockwood): If the amendment is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment Nos. 16 to 21 due to the pre-emption rule.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: I support Amendments Nos. 15 and 19 and shall speak to my Amendments Nos. 16 to 18, which are grouped with them. My amendments ask the Government to justify the proposals for, first, placing BCUs on a statutory basis and, secondly, setting out the number and operation of BCUs. I tabled the amendments in response to comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, on Second Reading—credit where it is due; I see him in his place. He made some pertinent remarks at col. 1062. Last Friday, he tabled some helpful amendments to this part of the Bill which essentially address the same points that I wish to raise. I know
 
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from private conversations that he has wondered whether he is going to survive my supporting him. Perhaps that works for me as well. I am not used to finding myself in such radical company, but it is an interesting time of life.

BCUs are operational constructs, and the vast majority are already coterminous with local authority boundaries. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, I am concerned about the intention behind putting BCUs on a statutory basis and its consequences. In its briefing, ACPO said that it saw the proposal as part of the hollowing-out of the chief constable's direction and control of his or her police force that the Bill advances in general. It points out that, as ever, there is an order-making power for the Secretary of State to amend the schedule. If BCUs have a statutory basis, it surely is possible that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whoever that might be at the time of the next Budget, might announce an allocation of budget to specific BCUs for specific services. Whereas we will certainly not object to more funds being passed to BCUs, we are concerned about the Chancellor of the Exchequer having a route by which the tripartite balance of influence and direction of the police service could be upset. If the commanders of certain BCUs are given specific sums of money for which they are personally accountable as statutory bodies, that is bound to alter their relationship with chief constables and the overall responsibility for the delivery of services.

When the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, responded at Second Reading—and I note that the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, is to respond today—she stated that there was only one reason why the Government were putting BCUs on to a statutory footing, which was,

Even if that is the only reason for the Government's proposal in Schedule 2, a by-product of that proposal is the potential to disrupt the relationship between a BCU and its chief constable. It could have a detrimental effect on local accountability if BCU commanders have to account only to central Government for how that funding is used.

I note that the Association of Police Authorities recommends that, to help to ensure that accountability remains local, there should be a provision by which chief officers should consult police authorities before appointing BCU commanders. I have tabled Amendment No. 18 to achieve just that. I agree with the association that this should not interfere with direct managerial accountability between BCU commanders and chief officers, but it should help authorities to maintain an oversight of policing style at that level, particularly that of neighbourhood policing.

Whatever happens as a result of the Division a few minutes ago on the Police Act 1996, it is likely that there will be some new strategic forces as a result of voluntary mergers. Also, I would hope that some forces would act in a formal federation, at least until the Government have determined the way forward. Therefore, it is likely that the public will increasingly
 
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see the local BCU commanders, rather than chief officers of police, as the figureheads of local policing. To ensure that the views of local people are represented, it would be helpful if authorities had a voice in appointing local police leaders.

Amendments Nos. 16 and 17 simply replace a "shall" with a "may"; as a result, police areas could be divided for operational purposes into two or more BCUs, but that would not be compulsory. BCUs could be coterminous with local authority areas, as provided for by paragraph 1(1) of new Schedule 1A, but, again, that would not be compulsory.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, has tabled amendments. I added my name in support of Amendment No. 19, because, I assume, it is a probing amendment. I was intrigued by his first sub-paragraph, which gives the police authority a role in appointing the officer who is to be in command of the BCU. I look forward to hearing what discussions the noble Lord has had on this with the APA and, perhaps, ACPO. When the Minister responds, I would be grateful if he indicated whether he believes that that is an appropriate role for the police authority to play and whether the Government believe that the measure would go too far in interfering in a chief officer's operational duties in deciding how to deploy his resources.

Amendment No. 21 refers to the distribution of resources for each BCU. I wonder what the noble Lord, Lord Harris, intends to be the basis on which police authorities would expect allocations to be made. Would it be by size of population, special needs—and, if so, what would they be?—existing levels of crime or an assessment of future levels of crime as it may occur?

All of us in our amendments refer repeatedly to "councils". I have been reminded today by my own county council in Surrey that we have not always been particularly clear whether, by "local councils", we mean to include county councils, because, as they say robustly, county council work is all about local accountability. Perhaps we should bear that in mind in our own amendments, but, in particular, it should be made clear in the Government's response. It is important that the Government justify their proposals in this part of the Bill.

Lord Harris of Haringey: I will speak to Amendments Nos. 19, 21 and 57 in my name. On Amendment No. 21, which relates to BCU resources, I do not know whether I automatically subscribe to the conspiracy theory that the noble Baronesses, Lady Harris of Richmond and Lady Anelay, have put forward about what may or may not be in the next Chancellor's Budget. However, I have noticed that in previous Chancellors' Budgets, the direct allocation of resources—

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: As we are in a teasing mode, I cannot help but say that I hope that the Official Report does not change the order of the noble
 
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Lord's words. He talked about the "next Chancellor", rather than the "next Budget". Perhaps he knows more than I do about the future of the Labour leadership.

Lord Harris of Haringey: I doubt that. I have to say that it is slightly concerning to have been described as "radical" by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and I am not quite sure whether I should be flattered or worried by such a comparison.

In previous Budgets, the present Chancellor, who may or may not be the next Chancellor or Chancellor for life, has made it clear that he has been keen to allocate resources directly to basic units—in some cases to schools and in some cases to hospitals—so as to be seen to deliver particular elements of government policy. I understand the reason why central Government would wish to do that, but it raises some difficult issues when it is applied to policing, particularly given the views that many of us hold about the importance of the tripartite relationship—the balance—between the Home Office, local accountability through the police authority and the responsibility of the chief officer in respect of operational matters. The purpose of Amendment No. 21 is to ensure that, if BCUs are statutory, the Home Office's allocation of resources will not be able substantially to distort the plans and allocations that would otherwise have been the case.

The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, asked how I would envisage the allocation of resources for each basic command unit being determined and what factors might be included in that. Due to the risk of boring your Lordships—and I am keen to make progress for a variety of reasons—I shall not go into the lengthy process that the Metropolitan Police Authority has on two previous occasions, to my certain knowledge, engaged in, in terms of consulting on the allocation of resources, and in particular the number of police officers, to the London boroughs. On those occasions, a number of different factors were taken into account. I certainly would not suggest that the process was perfect, but it was intended to balance population, physical area, size of area and some of the social and crime factors that applied in particular areas. So, it is possible to do that. It is not a simple process, but I—and this is the purpose of Amendment No. 21—would not want to see something that would be seen clearly as overriding local and force priorities as a result of a change in the status of BCUs.

Amendments Nos. 19 and 57 essentially say the same thing as each other, but are alternatives which depend on what happens to other amendments before the Committee. The point of these amendments is to ensure not only that the appointment of BCU commanders is very much influenced by the views of the police authority, but that the views of the local councils in the areas concerned are taken into account. This is important because the basic command units, particularly those with responsibility for a locality, are the public face of policing in those areas; they are the key policing commanders in respect of those areas. How they relate to all the other agencies, such as local authorities and health services, will be critical to the
 
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way in which partnerships will operate in those areas. Because BCU commanders are such public-facing individuals, it is important that the police authority, which will set the overall tone, has a role in appointing them. It is also right and proper that there should be some consultation with the relevant local councils. I shall not get into the question of precisely which ones will be relevant in each case.

During my period as chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority, some small steps were made in this direction, in that, when it was known that there was to be a vacancy for a borough commander, the commissioner would write to local Members of Parliament, to the local authority chief executive and to the local authority council leader to seek views on the required nature of the post holder, given the tasks that those individuals saw as being faced by the police commander in that area. When that happened—sometimes people forgot to send such letters, which was perhaps unfortunate—I know that the local authorities and the Members of Parliament welcomed the opportunity to say what they saw as being priorities. That was helpful in influencing the decision ultimately made by the commissioner on who would take on basic command responsibilities in those areas. That is why I proposed Amendments Nos. 19 and 57, and I commend them to the Committee.

6 pm


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