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Baroness Henig: I speak to all the amendments standing in my name, in particular Amendments Nos. 23, 31 and 40. I am quite new to this stage of proceedings, so I hope that Members will bear with me if I do not get the technicalities correct. I start by asking whether, with the permission of the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, I can elect not to move Amendment No. 35. I see that the noble Baroness is agreeable.
Like the previous speaker, I am alarmed by clauses which move key constitutional measures from primary to secondary legislation so that they become subject to regulations made by the Secretary of State. I am particularly concerned about proposals to deal in this way with the membership of police authorities. In general terms, however, key principles, powers and functions which guarantee the continuation of the tripartite relationship should remain in primary legislation. That is one of my key points in speaking to these amendments.
Amendment No. 23 is intended to spell out, in primary legislation, how a police authority should be constituted. Some key principles here are based on the successful operation of police authorities in the past 11 years. I tabled this amendment in the sure knowledge that police authorities have been effective, one of the reasons for which is that they have been more focused bodies. The reason for limiting membership from 13 to 23 is that I genuinely believe that the larger a police authority becomes, the more difficult it is to have the strategic focus which has stood police authorities in such great stead. They have operated more and more like non-executive boards of directors, holding chief constables to account. That model is appropriate for police authorities, and something I want primary legislation to underline.
I draw your Lordships' attention to subsection (2)(a), which is fundamental to the success achieved by police authorities in the past 10 or 11 years. It has meant that they have to be constituted along the lines of proportionality to the political make-up of their areas and sub-regions. That has meant that police authorities have operated on consensual lines, operating politically but not party-politically. That was one of the great changes intended when new legislation was passed in the early 1990s. It has turned out to be correct: party politics have played no part in police authority operations. In passingit is nothing to do with my amendmentwe must stand against anything that would politicise policing, and I have some worries about direct elections in that respect. Subsection (2)(a) has been one of the major subsections underlining how police authorities have matured and become effective as organisations. It ought to be in primary legislation.
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On subsection (2)(b), police authorities have operated on the basis that they need to be as diverse as possible. It has been noticeable that the more diverse the authority and the more communities they have represented, the more successful they have been. It is absolutely essential that that should be spelt out in the Bill. I think that what I am trying to achieve in Amendment No. 23 is fairly clear.
Amendment No. 31 follows my theme that we all want to uphold the tripartite relationship. But it is no use just saying that: we must act in accordance with our words. One of the major factors underpinning local accountability is a police authority being able to appoint its own chair and vice-chair. I cannot believe that that should have anything to do with Secretary of State level. It must be dealt with at local level; it gives ownership to local people and Amendment No. 31 therefore spells out that a police authority should elect its chair and vice-chair. Even if the Minister were to stand up and say, "That is not the intention; the intention is to have flexibility", it may be the intention in five or 10 years' time. We cannot say what the intentions of future governments might be. Home Secretaries should be in no way involved in the election of the chair and vice-chair of a local police authority. Echoing the previous speaker, appropriate competency-based appointment and selection arrangements should be in place before members are appointed to authorities. That is how to deal with competence. My amendment should be read as endorsing that principle.
There is a parallel provision to Amendment No. 31, reflecting arrangements in the Metropolitan Police Authority. I will not speak to that at any length, because I obviously have no experience of that authority, but it is to duplicate the provisions for authorities operating outside London.
Baroness Harris of Richmond : The amendments in this large group deal with membership of police authorities. I listened carefully and attentively to what the noble Baronesses, Lady Anelay and Lady Henig, said in support of their amendments. I particularly support Amendment No. 22, but I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 23, 24 and 31 which are also tabled in my name.
Amendment No. 22 deals with a dangerous concept: some future Secretary of State can by a stroke of a pen irrevocably change the carefully constructed make-up of police authorities. We face the spectre of the Secretary of State taking totally unnecessary powers. What will happen if we get the larger police authorities envisaged by the amalgamations that we so vehemently oppose? They will be unrepresentative of local communities, yet, under the Bill, the Secretary of State can add, subtract or otherwise amend the membership of police authorities. That is a very dangerous concept. Alterations in authority numbers should not be made without a reasoned debate in both Houses.
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Why should the Secretary of State be able to appoint members of selection panels? How much more work does he need? He has enough on his plate at the moment and does not need to start meddling with selection panels. Every member of the selection panels that I chaired over a number of years was carefully and appropriately chosen from among their colleagues and thoroughly trained to the same standard. They knew their law. I pay tribute to the enormous help given to all police authorities in this matter by the Association of Police Authorities. Therefore, there is no need for the Secretary of State to do something that is the responsibility of the police authority.
It is the responsibility of the members of police authorities to choose their chair and vice chair. At Second Reading, I spoke of the long battle I had when stand-alone police authorities were constructed. We had to persuade the Secretary of State that it was wrong for him to tell police authorities who should be their chair. I strongly oppose any power to change that sensible way of going about the selection of chairs of police authorities. I strongly support what the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, said on that point.
Amendment No. 23 covers the appointment of police authority members. It specifies where they should come from and the number of members needed to fulfil the police authority's statutory duties. It is necessary to ensure that police authorities for large, amalgamated forcesshould they ever come into beinghave a sufficient number of members to cover a wide geographic area and do what the Government want them to do. The Government have promised that there will be places for local authorities at district level as well as at county or unitary level. I do not believe that even 23 members will be enough. Police authorities have been successful in making sure that their members are fully representative of their diverse communities. I hope that Amendment No. 23 eventually finds favour with the Government.
I was very fortunate in the magistrates who sat on my police authority. Their varied experience and commitment were enormously helpful, and when we had difficult timesthere were somethe magistrates encouraged, enthused and played a totally non-political part in our decision-making. They played a full part in all our deliberations, and I valued their presence enormously, which is why I put my name to Amendment No. 24.
Lord Harris of Haringey: I intend to speak briefly in support of Amendments Nos. 23, 31, 33, 36 and 38, to which I put my name, and to Amendment No. 37to which, if I did not put my name to it, I meant to.
The principle has been made extremely clear. There is an importance in having these matters in primary legislation, not because we have any doubts at all about the present Home Secretary's benign intent in how police authorities operate, but because, several successors down the road, if these matters are dealt
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with in secondary legislation, it will be that much easier to make changes that could seriously disrupt the tripartite arrangements and the balance of membership of the police authorities.
On Amendment No. 23, it is important that there is political proportionality among the elected membersthose who are councillors or, in the case of the Metropolitan Police Authority, who are members of the London Assembly. People need to understand that there is a choice between having political balance and representing areas, and guaranteeing that every district or local authority will have a seat on a police authority. You cannot do both without having enormous police authorities that are far larger than anything we are contemplating here. If each one has one representative, then that representative would be from the majority party there, and that is likely to mean that the smaller parties are not fully represented. Furthermore, sizes may differ greatly. In the West Midlands, for example, some authorities are very much larger than others.
This is a serious dilemma and a choice has to be made about whether we are looking for political balance or for every local authority to have a representative. Simply providing for every local authority to have a representative will make it more difficult for the authority to take a strategic overview of the direction of the force and will not improve matters. There is a choice. I think that Amendment No. 23 goes correctly in the direction of political balance. The other part of the provision is also critical. It ensures that there is some representation of the diversity of the communities and the range of people who need to be represented on a police authority. It is largely through the independent members on police authorities that the vast majority of black and minority ethnic members of police authorities have been appointed. That is not universally so, but it is largely so.
I shall refer briefly to Amendments Nos. 33 and 38, which require that if there are changes in any of these provisions, the Association of Police Authorities should be one of the bodies consulted. Other than that, I think that all the points have been made on these amendments.
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