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Baroness Harris of Richmond: Indeed, it is very much the responsibility of police authorities to make sure that the force is being run properly. To enable that to happen, it is a very good idea that police authorities should have some locus in choosing the very BCU commanders who will be using up most of the resources of the force.
I am still not entirely convinced that putting BCUs on the face of the Bill is necessary. We shall come back to that on Report. The chain of command is understandable. I understand exactly what the Minister said. The chief constable must direct; he has direction and control of the force. But it is wise for the chief constable to take cognisance of what police authorities have to say about the abilities of the various commanders who he decides will sit on BCUs.
The noble Baroness said: I should explain as a matter of courtesy to the Committee that a short while ago I gave notice to the Front Benches and to the Deputy Chairman that I would not be moving Amendment No. 20. When listening to the Minister's response to the previous group of amendments, I thought that it would be precipitate to discuss the amendment at that stage. I want to make progress for exactly the same reasons as the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, and perhaps a substantial number of your Lordships because I will not have the opportunity to watch the match tonight between England and Sweden, which I understand others may be able to do in another part of this building on a big screenlucky them. I hope that my colleagues will let me know if there is a change to the score throughout any part of that occasion. But I am keen to make progress.
In moving Amendment No. 22, I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 24 to 30 and Amendment No. 32, all of which stand in my name. A large number of amendments in this group have also been tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, and the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey. I welcome them all. They are all extremely useful amendments, particularly because they focus in far more detail on some of the issues that I hope to raise. I shall listen carefully when those amendments are presented, and may come back later and ask one or two questions if they have raised new issues that I have not considered when drafting my own speaking notes. This group of amendments will be one of the most crucial in Part 1. I say one of the most crucial because there are some important ones on police directions, too.
My amendments are intended to probe the serious issues raised in Schedule 2 regarding the Government's intentions in shaping the membership of police authorities. Their role is to represent the interests of all local people, businesses and communities working with the police to secure the maintenance of an efficient, effective and locally accountable police force. That definition must be right because I took it from my own Surrey police authority's website.
My amendments fall into six sub-groups. First, to question the extension of the Secretary of State's powers generally and whether it is appropriate to place all matters regarding membership of police authorities into secondary legislation. Indeed, I note that the report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee concluded at paragraph 20 that it considered it inappropriate for the Bill to leave so much to subordinate legislation.
Secondly, who should decide membership of the police authoritiesthe Secretary of State, direct election, councils? Who should it be? Thirdly, should magistrates retain their place as of right or be cast into the melting pot of selection among all-comers? Fourthly, should the chairman and vice-chairman be appointed by the Secretary of State or elected by the
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police authority? Fifthly, what allowances should be paid to members? Finally, the amendment argues that the regulations on this section should be by an affirmative, not a negative statutory instrument.
The concern that underpins all my amendments is that the provisions of this part of Schedule 2 represent a constitutional change. The Secretary of State is extending his powers so far that there could be a significant shift in favour of the Home Secretary in the balance of power within the tripartite relationship between the Home Secretary, chief officers, and police authorities.
Amendment No. 22 would delete paragraph 3, which amends the 1996 Act such that the detailed provisions for the composition of police authorities, the selection and appointment of members, the choice of a chairman and the payment of members will be set down in regulations instead of being on the face of the Act as they are now. The flexibility that that gives the Secretary of State means in effect that he can extend his control as and when he pleases by way of statutory instrument to shape police authorities. We do not accept that that is appropriate. The Home Office has suggested that secondary legislation will stipulate that police authorities will still be able to elect their own chair and vice chairs subject to a competency test and that the remaining provisions are designed to make appointments more flexible and less cumbersome.
When the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, replied to our Second Reading debate, she said that outside London, the chairmen of police authorities would continue to be appointed by members of the authorities. Why then make the changes in this Bill? Why not leave well alone and put the appointment clearly in the hands of the police authority? The noble Baroness's assurance does not answer the fundamental objection that the balance of power is altered in the statute in favour of the Home Secretary. Future Home Secretaries might be inclined to use these powers differently. After all, there have been so many Home Secretaries appointed by the Government in the past few years that I am losing count. Who knows who the next one will be? Perhaps it will be the noble Baroness, the Minister. I am sure that we in this House would welcome that. We would trust her to carry out her assurances but we cannot necessarily say the same of others.
Amendments Nos. 29, 30 and 32 would ensure that police authorities continued to elect their own chairmen and vice chairmen. I note that the Delegated Powers Committee report at paragraph 20 recommended in particular that the Bill should specify by whom the members and chairman should be appointed. Will the Government accept that recommendation, even if they do not accept the basic proposal that this should be in primary, not secondary legislation?
Why should the Secretary of State impose the competency test? Would it not be better for him to leave it to police authorities to ensure that appropriate competency-based appointments and selection arrangements are in place before any member is
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appointed to an authority? There is then a built-in guarantee that any person elected by the authority would already have passed a competency test.
Amendments Nos. 25 to 27 draw attention to the question of who should be members of a police authority. At one stage, the Government said that they were considering introducing direct election of all members. Will the Minister say why that idea was abandoned? Paragraph 3 provides that there will be only two categories of members: councillors and other persons. What balance will there be between the appointment of councillors and other members? How will the membership be allocated by area? In what proportion? Surely this will be of great importance after any mergers take place.
How will the Secretary of State make decisions on how the long list of potential appointees is whittled down to a short list? Will he give his reasons for rejecting people from the short list? If not, why not? Although this is a large group of amendments, which is taking me some time to spell outfor which I apologiseI ought to insert a big thank you to the Association of Police Authorities, which took the time and care to come and brief me recently. This is one of the very points it raised in its comprehensive briefing.
The Government are removing the current category of magistrate members. While the Home Office suggests that magistrates can continue to sit on police authorities as independent members, the Association of Police Authorities has briefed noble Lords that it strongly considers that magistrates should remain as a category of membership in their own right, not least because of the valuable expertise they bring to authorities, particularly their links to the criminal justice system. Magistrates have invaluable local knowledge, toootherwise they would not have been appointed to their local bench in the first place. If the Government are keeping the appointments system rather than introducing a system of direct election, why throw away the guarantee of effective magisterial members? Why abandon a system that has worked well?
Cantering towards the end, Amendment No. 24 would ensure that magistrates would therefore remain members of police authorities in their own right. Amendment No. 28 probes whether the Secretary of State should have the power by regulation to set the payment of allowances and expenses to members. Why does he wish to put control of this into central hands by secondary legislation? Surely it would be better to leave these matters to local decision-making, to reflect local conditions?
Finally, the changes that can be affected by paragraph 3 have sufficient constitutional importance that they should only be made by the affirmative resolution procedure. I see that the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee's report agrees with that at paragraph 20, where it says,
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