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Lord Hylton: I support the principle set out in Amendments Nos. 29 and 31 that authorities should elect their own chairmen and vice chairmen.

I should, however, like to say slightly more about Amendment No. 24. I have never been a magistrate myself. On the other hand, my late father was a magistrate for about half his life, and my noble friend Lord Tenby is probably the longest serving magistrate in your Lordships' House. It is important to have magistrates on these authorities because they are as much aware as most people, perhaps more, of the types of crime that are happening and reaching the prosecution stage. Magistrates also have the benefit of
 
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seeing how police constables and other police officers actually function as witnesses when cases come to court. So, for all those reasons, I very much hope that Amendment No. 24 will commend itself to the Government.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: May I say what a wide-ranging and important consensual debate this series of amendments has brought about? Some of the Government's responses have already been foreshadowed in our discussion about flexibility. I endorse the comment by my noble friend Lady Henig that one of the wonderful things about police authorities has been that they have been non-party political, in the main. We greatly value that. All the amendments relate to the police authorities and their membership.

Amendment No. 22 would entirely remove the provisions relating to police authority membership, although I understand why the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, pushes the point. The measures provide for greater flexibility in the appointment process by repealing the complex and cumbersome arrangements set out in the Police Act 1996. In past discussions with your Lordships, there seemed to be an understanding that there was unnecessary complexity in the 1996 Act and that it would greatly benefit from change. I do not think that what the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, said about that today detracts from that general belief.

The regulation-making powers specify that police authorities should be made up of independent members and councillor members, and that councillor members should be in the majority. It is important to remember that that is not being changed. Aside from this, they allow flexibility in the size of individual police authorities. I wholeheartedly agree with the comments made by my noble friend Lady Henig that police authorities cannot operate effectively if the membership is too large. In the longer term, we envisage that strategic police authorities will have about 23 members. We must accept, however, that the membership will vary from police area to police area and is subject to the outcome of the review of force structures, because we must reflect the needs of the particular area. I assure the Committee that the minimum number of police authority members will be 17, as now, so there will be no change in that respect.

Our approach in paragraphs 3 and 5 of Schedule 2 is wholly consistent with the more general move to make primary legislation more flexible. As the Delegated Powers Committee has acknowledged, there are many precedents for matters relating to the constitution of statutory bodies to be left to regulations. Just in case someone thinks that we did not read the whole report properly and that we are being selective, and in order to be fair, I also refer to the next passage. It says:

I wholly endorse those sentiments.
 
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The Committee went on to make specific recommendations. It recommended that the Bill should specify by whom the members and the chairman shall be appointed, a matter raised by noble Lords. It further recommended that if—I emphasise "if"—the number of members is to be left to subordinate legislation, any regulations specifying a number of police authorities generally should be subject to the affirmative procedure. I reassure noble Lords—and, I hope, give all noble Lords who have spoken pleasure when I say—that the Government are ready to give these recommendations favourable consideration.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: I hesitate to interrupt the Minister when she is trying to give us something we like, but when she says that the Government are minded to accept the recommendations of the Delegated Powers Committee, I am reminded of its first recommendation, in which it considers it,

The rest of its recommendations are based on the idea that the Government would do that if they were in doubt, as it is the "least worst" option. Are the Government minded to consider between now and the next stage of the Bill whether so much should be shifted to subordinate legislation?

6.45 pm

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: We think that the balance is about right at the moment, particularly if we use the affirmative procedure as I have indicated in those matters. However, I also reassure noble Lords that we pay the closest attention to the debate and discussions that we have in this House about these matters, particularly bearing in mind that so many who speak have real practical experience; I am thinking of the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, and my noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey—almost a brother Member of the House by name, if in no other way—and my noble friend Lady Henig.

I cannot say from the Dispatch Box that there will be change, but I can say that we will listen very carefully to what has been said. We think the balance is about right and that it is right to move from the negative procedure to the affirmative procedure on several of the issues highlighted by the amendments. I anticipate that that will deliver some comfort to all those taking part in this debate. Obviously we will continue to consider what has been said. I think it would be wrong to suggest to the noble Baroness that there will be more movement, but I certainly assure the Committee that we continue to consider these issues.

Amendments Nos. 23, 29 to 32 and 34—I appreciate that Amendment No. 35 has been withdrawn—and Amendment No. 36 all touch on the issues raised by the Delegated Powers Committee. If the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and my noble friend Lady Henig will agree not to press them, I would hope
 
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that we could move in the direction of the committee's proposals in time for Report. I cannot offer the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, as much comfort on these amendments as I can on other amendments in the group—several noble Lords have spoken to Amendment No. 24, for instance, which the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, has supported in view of the valuable contribution made by magistrates—but we are not convinced that retaining the separate category of magistrate members is necessary. The decision to remove this category was not taken lightly, but it allows the flexibility to broaden the skills and experience base of the membership. Ring-fencing a number of seats on police authorities for magistrates inevitably limits the scope to appoint non-councillor members with the widest possible range of relevant skills and experience.

Magistrates will still be able to apply for appointment to police authorities as independent members, as I hope I made clear at Second Reading, and I hope that a proportion of the current magistrate members will choose to do so. Magistrate members have made a very positive contribution to the work of police authorities over the past few years, which we celebrate and value. Our decision to remove the separate category of magistrate members is in no way a reflection on the contribution that they make. We believe that there is no longer any justification for dedicated magistrate members. I accept that they bring a wider criminal justice perspective to the work of the police authorities, but on that basis a case could be made for the chief Crown prosecutor or members of the judiciary to sit on the public authority.

The core functions of a police authority are to maintain an efficient and effective force and to hold the chief constable to account for the exercise of his or her functions—a point made very powerfully by the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond. Magistrates do not necessarily have the skill sets and competences to carry out these functions, although many magistrates have precisely those skills. They are better able to make a contribution through other fora. They are strongly encouraged to participate in crime and disorder reduction partnerships. This is the most appropriate forum to ensure that magistrates are regularly informed about the plans of local agencies in areas which impact on criminal justice and about initiatives that are being taken. By the same token, magistrates' knowledge and experience of the criminal justice system provides a useful input into the community safety strategies prepared by the crime and disorder reduction partnerships. These partnerships are the natural place to ensure the input of the magistracy to local decisions about crime and disorder priorities and initiatives.

Amendments Nos. 25, 26 and 27 provide that, instead of police authorities composed of councillor and independent members, there should be directly elected members or a single directly elected police commissioner or sheriff. We consulted on the option of directly elected police authorities in the November 2003 consultation paper, Policing: Building Safer
 
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Communities Together
. I have to tell Members of the Committee that there was an almost unanimous rejection of that option.

A number of objections were raised, including, first, the danger of extremist groups obtaining representation, particularly if there was a low turnout. If we needed that underscored, one has only to look at certain elections that have taken place in certain parts of London where extremist groups, with which no one in this House would feel entirely comfortable, are a presence. It is a real problem. Secondly, there is also potential for single issue groups to dominate. Thirdly, there could be a move to a more short-term approach. Fourthly, there is potential for the politicisation of accountability bodies. If there is one thing on which everyone in this debate seems to have agreed—although I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, has remained silent on it—it is that police authorities should not become the party-political football of any party in delivering safety and security. Knowing the noble Baroness's strong views on these sorts of issues, I cannot believe that she could possibly disagree with the good sense of that comment.

The amendments are also short on detail. How would these police commissioners be elected? Will it be by the first-past-the-post system, the alternative vote, or some other method? How long will be the term of office? How will their functions differ from those of existing police authorities? Looking at the list of elections we have already, I know that some people think that we can never have too much of a good thing. We have elections for MPs, county councillors, district community councillors, parish councillors, MEPs, mayors, the Greater London Assembly, the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, parent governors on school governing bodies and so on. There is a strong question about what the case is for elections in this instance. I say to the noble Baroness that this is one area where there are no empirical data to suggest that this would be a sound way to proceed. I agree that there is a need for strong local accountability but direct elections are not the answer in this context. Police authorities need to work closely with local authorities in their areas in tackling local community safety issues. Having councillors on police authorities embeds that link. We know that this partnership working has delivered real results and improvements to the people about whom we all care.

When we reach other provisions in the Bill, I will set out in detail how we are strengthening accountability at a local level. In brief, however, we are strengthening the effectiveness of crime and disorder reduction partnerships. In particular, we will ensure that the elected local authority members responsible for community safety issues play a full part in setting community safety priorities. Those priorities will be determined only after full consultation with local communities. The CDRPs will also be subject to periodic scrutiny by local authority scrutiny committees and inspection by the new inspectorate for justice, community safety and custody. We also propose that the basic command unit commanders
 
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and other senior representatives of the local authority hold regular public briefing sessions to respond to issues raised by local residents.

Finally, the Bill establishes the community call for action to trigger intervention by the local authority scrutiny committee if community safety issues have not been adequately addressed by the police or their partners. These measures, taken together, provide for a significant strengthening of accountability to local communities. I believe that they will be far more effective than the politicisation of policing through directly elected police commissioners.

On an issue that the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, highlighted as of concern, we will provide for all higher tier local authorities—that is, county councils and unitary councils—to have at least one seat on police authorities. For some strategic police authorities, that may result in slightly larger authorities than would otherwise be the case. We are discussing with the existing police authorities the appropriate level of representation on the new strategic authorities. We think that that is the right way forward. I absolutely understand why the issue has been raised and why the noble Baroness wanted an assurance on it.

I turn to Amendment No. 28. Under the provisions of Schedules 2 and 2A to the Police Act 1996, the payment of allowances to, and the reimbursement of the expenses of members of a police authority is left to the authority to determine. We do not propose to change that approach. In keeping with our general approach to introduce greater flexibility into the legislation governing the membership and functions of police authorities, we are repealing the whole of Schedules 2 and 2A to the 1996 Act.

We therefore need to include in the new Section 4 regulation-making powers to provide for the payment of expenses and allowances to the members of a police authority and to the members of an authority's standards committee. Without such regulation-making powers, police authorities would be precluded from paying any allowances or expenses not only to their own members but also to standards committee members. I know that that is not what Members of the Committee would have wanted. I see the quizzical look from the noble Baroness, Lady Harris. That is why I am confident that she wishes people to receive appropriate payment. That would be an unintended consequence, which I am sure that we can avoid.

I assure the Committee that when we come to make the regulations, they will provide that it will be for a police authority to determine the allowances and expenses to be paid to its members and those of the authority's committee. I wholly agree that there is no need for the Home Office to be involved in such matters. However, we need the regulation-making power to give effect to the approach that I have set out. I know that conspiracy theories abound, but I assure the noble Baroness that I am looking out for her erstwhile members in terms of the moneys that they are justly entitled to receive.

It is entirely appropriate that we should use the opportunity provided by the Bill to explore the accountability arrangements for policing. Of course
 
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there are other models, but the Government believe that, with some refinement, the police authority structure we have now is broadly the right one. It has been proven and tested. We really want to retain its essence to ensure that we can consolidate that. As I indicated, we will look again at the provisions in the schedule to see whether more detail can be put in the Bill.

Finally, Amendments Nos. 33 and 38, tabled by my noble friend Lady Henig, require that, when making regulations on the composition of police authorities, the Home Secretary consult the Association of Police Authorities in addition to the police authorities affected. We can see a case for this. I am happy to accept these amendments in principle. I see that I have given delight to the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, which always gives me pleasure. Arguably, if we make such a change to subsection (9) of revised Section 4 of the Police Act, we should also include a requirement to consult the Local Government Association—a point made by a number of Members of the Committee, not least the noble Baroness, Lady Harris.

I hope that I have given sufficient comfort to the Front Bench opposite and to my noble friend to persuade them not to press their amendments. I commend them on their unity of purpose.

7 pm


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