The Lord Speaker (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, I have to inform the House that the Clerk of the Parliaments has received notification from the court manager at the Crown Court at Southwark informing him that Lord Taylor of Warwick, having been convicted of six counts of furnishing false information relating to accounts, was sentenced on 31 May to a term of 12 months' imprisonment.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Earl Howe): My Lords, the Government are currently pausing to consider possible improvements to the Health and Social Care Bill. However, our proposals will reinforce the NHS as an integrated system, joining up working between the NHS, public health and social care locally. A new NHS commissioning board will set national commissioning guidelines promoting greater consistency. All NHS bodies and providers of NHS services will remain bound by the NHS constitution, and the Secretary of State will remain accountable overall.
Lord Kennedy of Southwark: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. Does he understand the issue of low morale within the NHS that is being caused by these proposals, as well as the concern and worry among patients? Let us be clear that the record of the Conservative Party on the NHS, now supported by the Liberal Democrats, is a great worry to citizens and to anyone who values and cherishes this House.
Earl Howe: My Lords, I accept that a number of aspects of the Government's proposals have caused concern in many quarters, and that is why we have chosen to pause in order to listen and reflect on those concerns. As I have said, we will be bringing forward proposals shortly to improve the Bill. I hope that those proposals will meet with widespread acceptance. I think that it is fair to say that it is not the main principles which the Government have laid out that have been the subject of controversy but rather the detail and the implementation, which we are looking at most closely.
Lord Patel: My Lords, does the noble Earl agree that if we are going to make the proposed savings in the health service of £20 billion, some form of reconfiguration of how health services are delivered is inevitable? If that is so, which would he prefer: a market-driven reconfiguration, or a planned one that will contain costs in the future?
Earl Howe: My Lords, the way we have set out the Health and Social Care Bill means that, wherever possible, decisions on service reconfiguration will be taken at the local level. That will mean that all stakeholders locally, not only the NHS but local authorities, social services and patient groups, will buy in to and contribute to whatever decisions are taken. So my answer to the noble Lord is this: it should be a considered process of decision-making taken locally.
Baroness Hussein-Ece: My Lords, as we know, the NHS is the most valued public service in this country. It is one that we all rely on from the cradle to the grave. What are my noble friend's views about the fact that it
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Earl Howe: My noble friend has made a key point. As she will know, patient and public accountability is one of the themes of the listening exercise that we have been conducting. I anticipate that Professor Steve Field and his NHS Future Forum will come forward with some substantive recommendations on how we can improve the arrangements for accountability in the service. I agree with her that it is in practice less than accountable at the moment, and our view is that it should be accountable primarily to patients in the local area but also, crucially, to Parliament as well.
Earl Howe: My Lords, if the noble Lord remembers, we consulted extensively last year when we published our White Paper. However, as the Bill progressed though Parliament, it became apparent that concerns on the detail of the Bill gave rise to matters of implementation which could have legislative implications. That is why we have taken a second chance to look at that detail.
Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, would my noble friend care to cast any light on the fact that I have received criticisms of the Bill from virtually every health professional body but not one from a patient?
Earl Howe: My Lords, the criticisms that my noble friend has received have no doubt been considered under the umbrella of the NHS Future Forum. I can tell him only that I have personally received many expressions of support for the key principles that we have outlined.
Lord Sutherland of Houndwood: My Lords, the NHS makes a considerable contribution to the health of patients through its participation in major research projects, working with drugs companies and those concerned to improve the quality of care in hospitals and outside. What protection is there for this continuing?
Earl Howe: The Bill states that the prospective NHS commissioning board will have a duty to promote research and continuous improvement in the quality of care. As the noble Lord will know, that duty will be underpinned by the role of NICE, which will be tasked with producing quality standards that are informed by the latest innovations coming through from the research agenda.
Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, I am sure that all of us await with considerable interest the outcome of the review that was recently undertaken and its proposals relating to the changes proposed in the Health and Social Care Bill. May I take it that, in addition to the bodies which the noble Earl listed, the
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Earl Howe: The noble Lord is quite right. The vital importance of education and training is one of the four main themes of the listening exercise. We have received some very interesting and significant proposals from the academic sector which Professor Field will no doubt reflect in his conclusions.
Baroness Thornton: According to information provided in response to a recent freedom of information request, in Hull GPs have 17 per cent of the budget whereas in the East Riding they have 69 per cent; in Derbyshire there are 12 finance officers supporting GPs, whereas in Bristol there are none; and in London there are 10 executive directors, of which three are public health directors, but nobody knows to which of the 32 boroughs they belong. How will the Government ensure patient safety in what I hope the Government might recognise is possible impending chaos resulting from the de facto implementation of key parts of the Bill, the dismantling of the SHAs and PCTs, the patchwork of growth of new organisation and the leaching away of experienced staff?
Earl Howe: My Lords, we are putting patient safety at the centre of the NHS by moving it to the NHS commissioning board. In that way, patient safety will be embedded into the health service through GP commissioning and their contracts with providers. We are strengthening the Care Quality Commission so that patients know whether providers are meeting minimum standards of safety. We are also developing outcome measures for patient safety so that everyone can see how organisations are performing and can be held to account by the people that they serve.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Earl Howe): My Lords, we welcome the important work of the Brittle Bone Society in raising awareness of this distressing condition and in providing advice and help to patients. We would be pleased to consider any request from the society for support.
Lord McAvoy: I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. As he is aware, the society works in the field of osteogenesis imperfecta, which is not to be confused with osteoporosis. I know the Minister is also aware that a particular problem in this field is the transition from childhood to adulthood and that there is definitely
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Earl Howe: My Lords, I should be more than happy to see the noble Lord and representatives of the Brittle Bone Society to discuss those matters. I am well aware of the issue he raises. I understand that when an application was made to designate specialised services for children with brittle bone disease as a national specialised service, no similar case was made for adult services. However, if the society or leading clinicians in this field now feel that an application should be made, we would be pleased to refer it to the Advisory Group for National Specialised Services against the normal criteria.
Lord Alderdice: My Lords, given that osteogenesis imperfecta is a genetic disorder and that real progress in proactive treatment for sufferers will require progress in genetic medicine, is my noble friend reassured that we retain in this country sufficient researchers, funding and facilities to ensure that sufferers from osteogenesis imperfecta and their families can look to research from this country to see progress in proactive treatment rather than simply to elsewhere, particularly the United States of America?
Earl Howe: My noble friend is absolutely right. As he knows, the UK is one of the pioneers of genetic research; it takes a lead role in the international human genome project and its application to medicine. The human genome project has sequenced the 25,000 or so genes that make us human and research is now looking at how groups of genes interact not only with each other but with environmental factors to cause disease. We remain absolutely committed to genetics research and aim to make the UK the best place in the world for that research to continue. If there are proposals relating to this specific condition, my department will be very pleased to receive them.
Lord Willis of Knaresborough: My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister accept that the charitable sector is absolutely fundamental to medical research in this country, putting over £1.4 billion a year into research? The Brittle Bone Society is one of the charities that does exactly that. However, many of these charitable research organisations fear that the resources that go in through the charitable support fund may be lost at the end of this comprehensive spending period. Will
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Earl Howe: My Lords, the voluntary sector investment programme has a confirmed budget of £25 million for 2011-12. That is the same as the budget allocated last year. I hope that that sends a strong message to commissioners about the role that the voluntary sector plays in health and care. We are sending a message to local authorities and PCTs that the voluntary sector should not shoulder a disproportionate share of any funding cuts that they may have to implement.
The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Sassoon): My Lords, the Payments Council has made a clear statement that cheque facilities will continue to be available until the alternatives that are put in place, including a paper-based system, are available, acceptable and widely adopted. Many users continue to rely on cheques, particularly small businesses, charities and the elderly. The Government believe that cheques should not be phased out unless suitable alternatives are in place for all users.
Lord Naseby: Is my noble friend aware that the Payments Council is little more than a bankers' quango? Is it not extraordinary that this proposal takes no account of the Federation of Small Businesses, which has 200,000-plus members, who are totally against such a change? It takes no account of the hundreds of thousands of clubs, and their treasurers, up and down the country-I declare an interest as treasurer of the Lords and Commons Tennis Club. Furthermore, there are certain technical issues in the City, where those who fail to take up a rights issue have to be presented with a cheque and where, for takeover bids that fail, there has to be a cheque drawn. There are myriads of activities that require cheques, affecting tens of millions of people. Is it not time that the bankers for once thought about the public? Should not the Government consider putting further pressure on the Payments Council to make sure that cheques remain a normal method of doing business in this country?
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, it is correct that the Payments Council is an industry body. It is the banks and the other industry players who pay for and maintain the payments system, but it is a body with a chairman and four other independent members, and the Bank of England is an observer on the board. Back in December 2009, the Government welcomed the commitment made
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Lord Hughes of Woodside: Is the Minister saying that the alternative would have to be a paper-based system? If so, why on earth is the Payments Council bothering? Is this not an example of a body to which responsibility has been handed over without any control or thought? How much is it all going to cost? Why do they not just abandon it now and be done with it?
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, the facts of the situation are that the number of cheques being used has declined dramatically in recent years. There were approximately 4 billion cheques in use in 1990 and by 2009 that had reduced to approximately 1 billion-and it is expected to reduce very significantly again over the next few years. The fact is that the system has declined in use and it will require a very expensive rewrite of the clearing systems if it is to continue in its present form. The last thing that the Government or users of cheques would want to see is charges being passed on to users of cheques if that was a result of banks having to put in place an expensive new system. So one has to be pragmatic about this and give them the time, which they are taking, to come up with an alternative, including a paper-based alternative, that is acceptable to small businesses, charities and other individuals.
Lord Lawson of Blaby: My Lords, I am sure the whole House will have welcomed the Answer that the Minister gave to my noble friend's initial Question, but will he go a little bit further? Will he undertake to use the power of the Government's holdings in a number of banks-and the way that those banks are privatised, as I hope they will be-to encourage competition in retail banking in this country and, as part of that competition, to try to encourage at least one of the new entrants to continue to provide a checking service?
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, I am happy to confirm to my noble friend that competition is key to so much of making our banking system work better than it has in some respects in the recent past. That is precisely why the Independent Commission on Banking was given competition as the heart of its remit. Whether in relation to alternative payment mechanisms or to so many other things in banking, I completely agree that competition has to be at the heart of it. Again, when it comes to the Government's shareholdings in the banks,
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Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, does the Minister agree that our forebears might regard the capacity to extract Treasury notes from a hole in the wall as the greatest miracle since Moses struck the rock? Will he undertake, however, that if this matter is raised seriously again by the banks there should be a wholesale study into the question of third-party rights in relation to bills of exchange, choses in action and garnishee orders?
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, we are straying a bit from the rather important and focused question of cheques and the Payments Council, which those other forms of payment extend rather beyond. The critical thing is that no decisions are to be taken precipitately. As I have said a couple of times, the banks recognise what they have to do. This issue will remain a matter of considerable public focus, not least because the Treasury Committee in another place recently announced that it is reopening its own inquiry into the future of cheques. The issue will remain very much in the public eye and the pressure will be on the banks and the Payments Council to come up with a solution that works for the whole country.
Lord Eatwell: My Lords, the Minister said just now that it was the Government's view that cheques should not be phased out until suitable new arrangements have been made. Can he tell us what criteria the Government will use to judge the suitability of any arrangements? If those criteria are not met, will the Government require that cheque payments be maintained?
Lord Sassoon: To those noble Lords who were listening to some of my previous answers, forgive me for repeating myself: the criteria which the Payments Council itself put forward and which the previous Government welcomed back in December 2009-I echo that welcome-were that the new system had to be generally available, generally acceptable to its users and widely adopted. There also has to be, in the view of the Government, a paper-based system. Those are the criteria that have been set and we are making sure that the Payments Council sticks to them.
Baroness Kramer: My Lords, as the Minister will know, Germany has already withdrawn cheques from general use. I called German relatives to ask how they deal with payments that they either do not wish to make online or cannot make online, and the answer was to keep a lot of cash at home and in your pocket. Given the vulnerability of people and our whole desire to move away from cash being in the home or on people who are frail and potentially at risk, will he make sure that the Payments Council understands that this is not one of the answers?
Lord Sassoon: I am grateful to my noble friend for drawing attention to that issue, which is one of the important issues that the Payments Council must take into account. I am sure that it will be listening carefully to what is being said today. If anyone wants to go on to the Payments Council website, there is probably a paper-based system for submitting suggestions to it on all these matters.
The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Sassoon): My Lords, six legislative proposals aimed at strengthening co-ordination on financial and economic matters across the EU have already been agreed by the ECOFIN Council. These are currently the subject of discussion and negotiation with the European Parliament. The measures would strengthen the stability and growth pact and formalise the monitoring of economic imbalances. The Government recognise the importance of strengthening co-operation and co-ordination, and fully support the package agreed by ECOFIN.
Lord Dykes: My Lords, I thank the Minister for the way in which the British Government have strongly supported in ECOFIN the various measures that are being taken by both the ECB and the member Governments. Does he agree that advanced countries like the United States and other leading countries like Britain were already heavily indebted before the financial crisis and are even more so now, and that it is important for this country to stand in support of the eurozone countries and the ECB to defeat the ruthless international speculators wherever they may be, especially as-you never know-we might need their help in the future?
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for what he says about the Government's approach to these matters. It is indeed in the country's interest to ensure that the eurozone is strong-it is, after all, where more than 40 per cent of our exports go-and we will continue to work constructively on ideas to strengthen the framework. At the same time, we want to make absolutely sure that it is understood, as the Council has recognised, that the UK stands in a special relationship to the eurozone and that we will not have the fiscal sovereignty of Parliament in any way infringed on these matters.
I agree with my noble friend that fiscal discipline is key to ensuring that we do not get into problems like this again, whether within the eurozone or without it,
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Lord Harrison: What information have the Government given under their obligation in the broad economic guidelines about sharing information with the 26 other EU members? Under the European semester, which concludes this month, what activity have the Government shared with their partners, again in terms of providing further information on economic and financial matters?
Lord Sassoon: I preface my answer by thanking the noble Lord and other noble Lords for their participation in the recent report of your Lordships' European Union Committee on the future of economic governance in the EU, which provides an excellent commentary and analysis on these matters. The UK has submitted what we were required to submit as part of our national reform programme, and that will be the subject of the next round of debate along with all the other members of the EU 27. Critical to the whole construct and its various strands is ensuring that there is much greater transparency throughout the fiscal architecture. The UK will play its full part in ensuring that we not only contribute to getting the architecture right and submitting the data that are required but, equally, are clear that any budgetary information that we submit comes here to Parliament first and that we are not held to sanction, as are members of the eurozone.
Lord Lamont of Lerwick: Does my noble friend agree that, as well as greater co-ordination, greater observation of the existing rules would also be welcome? Does he agree with the statement by Christine Lagarde, the French Finance Minister, that the first bail-out mechanism violated the rules of the EU treaties and, if so, that this would mean that Britain was dragged into supporting the euro by an illegal mechanism? Does he also agree that if the rules had been observed in the first place, Greece would never have joined the euro?
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, the Government have secured a very clear agreement with the European Council. Whatever the analysis of Article 122 has been in the past, the Council of Ministers has been completely clear that Article 122 will not be used in the future. That is the critical thing. It is probably not right to go on raking over decisions about who was not in the eurozone in the first place. We have to make it work now, and one way of doing that is to get a proper interpretation of all the relevant articles in the treaty.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that the previous Government made a very expensive mistake two years ago when they failed to veto the overall supervision of our financial services passing through Brussels? Is it not grotesque that an outfit that has not been able to get its own accounts signed off for 16 years should now be in a position to dictate to the City of London, and thus cause lasting damage to its profitability and tax revenues?
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, we have had a number of opportunities in recent weeks and months, and I am sure that we will again. We have to get the EU budget under control. The rules of accountability and audit need considerable improvement. The Government are actively working on the case. Drawing a connection between that and the regulatory architecture of the financial institutions is somewhat tenuous. We are cleaning up the whole mess left behind on financial regulation, which starts at home. That is why, very shortly, the Government will publish a next round of consultation and a draft Bill to show how we are putting in place a proper system of financial regulation for the UK.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I would have called the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell. However, this happens from time to time as we approach 30 minutes. We have now reached 30 minutes and ought to move on to the next business.
Lord Shipley: My Lords, in moving Amendment 81 I shall speak also to Amendments 88A and 89A. Essentially, these amendments are about a similar thing. They are about who consults whom and who co-operates with whom between the four bodies of the police and crime commissioners, the chief constables, the local police and crime panels and local authorities. Amendment 81 simply tries to make it clear that:
Amendments 88A and 89A seek to add, alongside paragraphs on obtaining the views of victims of crime, that the views of victims and witnesses should be secured on matters concerning the policing of the area. There is a view that witnesses are extremely dependent upon responsive and sensitive police support to keep them updated on investigations, prepare them for giving evidence in court and provide protection if there is any perceived danger to them. It would be a good thing if consultation about a plan did not take place just with victims of crime but also with those who might have witnessed those crimes. These three small amendments seek better ways of ensuring that consultation occurs and that witnesses and victims of crime or those who have received a crime reduction grant can all feel that due consultation on the process being followed has taken place before decisions are made.
Baroness Henig: My Lords, first I declare an interest as a former chair of a police authority, a former chair of the Association of Police Authorities and the current president of the Association of Police Authorities. I wish to speak to Amendments 83ZZA, 83C, 85B, 92AA and 167ZA in this group. As the previous speaker said, I hope that my amendments are also considered non-controversial as they are extremely important. They are a constructive attempt to ensure that the Bill helps to deliver effective public consultation on policing and build on the strong relationship between police authorities and local crime and disorder reduction partnerships; and on our knowledge, after a dozen years or so, of what works best at local level in terms of co-operation between different policing bodies.
I believe that effectiveness is most likely to result from arrangements that are transparent and co-ordinated between different agencies and that make a meaningful link between neighbourhoods and the strategic force level. Amendment 83ZZA sets out to ensure that the local policing body works as effectively as possible with the local crime and disorder reduction partnerships and community safety partnerships. This amendment would remedy the Bill's proposal to break the link which exists under the current arrangements between those local crime reduction co-ordinating bodies and the strategic level of the police authority.
In many ways the Bill builds on the innovation of crime and disorder reduction partnerships that were introduced almost 15 years ago, with their simple premise that tackling crime and disorder requires the concerted insight and action of a range of local public, private and third-sector agents. I was very surprised to find that, in trying to join up agencies concerned with crime, the Bill does not carry forward the requirement
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I will not repeat the concerns voiced by many noble Lords that a single police and crime commissioner would be too remote from communities spread across literally hundreds of miles in areas such as that of which the Minister has exemplary knowledge, the Devon and Cornwall force area, or the 2.4 million people within Greater Manchester. Meaningful links between the members of the panel and the local crime and disorder reduction partnerships or community safety partnerships can help to bridge the gap and tackle perceptions of remoteness. Panel members being on these partnerships at local level can ensure that the strategic oversight of the police is not excluded from but can be influenced by, and benefit from, the insight of local partners working together to tackle crime. As I have said, I hope that this is non-contentious. To me it is common sense.
Amendment 83C sets out the important minimum arrangements for police and crime panels to hold public meetings. This seeks to keep the public accountability of the police public, not reduce it-as the Bill that came to your Lordships' House effectively proposed-to off-camera conversations between just two central characters, the chief constable and the commissioner. Again, this amendment seeks to make good the Government's stated desire to bring the public and the police closer together to bridge an oft-cited and worrying gap between the two.
My noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey spoke eloquently on past Committee days of the efficacy and, indeed, constructive power of ensuring that the public cannot only hold to account politicians on the police authority or any future panel, but interact with and hear from senior police officers in a public forum. To reduce public accountability of the police to what could amount to a private chat between the chief constable and the elected commissioner behind closed doors is to diminish, not augment, the public's everyday access to seeing, understanding and trusting that the force they rely on is being held to account. Public trust and confidence in this most essential of public services demands that the police are not only held to account, but are seen to be held to account. It was therefore strange that there was no requirement in the Bill that meetings of the commission should be in public.
We often hear that people no longer come to meetings. Indeed, attendance may not be what it was, but that is no reason to shut the public out. Thanks to the web,
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Amendment 85B expands the scope of the annual report that the local policing body must produce to include the extent to which crime has gone up or down at both the force level and divisional level. During our previous deliberations in Committee, the Minister made deservedly fulsome praise of the popularity of the crime-mapping website by which people can learn the facts about crime in their immediate vicinity. In fact, we are told that this is the most popular government website ever. This excellent facility was developed by the soon-to-be-disbanded National Policing Improvement Agency and piloted with excellent results by the West Yorkshire Police force and authority. This demonstrates that the overwhelming focus of people's interest in crime is local. By that we mean micro-local: my street, my immediate neighbourhood or the estate around my workplace.
This amendment therefore builds on the success of the service, of the Government and of what the public have made clear they want by making the policing body produce an annual report that is meaningful for every community, showing crime's rise or fall at the local divisional level that people can relate to and understand. The alternative of policing reports focused on the force level will have at best limited traction and relevance for the people of an area such as Humberside, which no longer exists in local government form, or police forces that cover two areas, such as Avon and Somerset-to say nothing of the relevance of statistics about all of Hampshire for the fortunate residents of the Isle of Wight. In other words, force statistics will not be meaningful for a lot of people. Such relevant local clarity will only facilitate the Government's stated goal of ensuring that the police are held to account and trusted on the firm basis of relevant evidence that must be taken at a local, as well as a force, level.
Amendment 92AA proposes that the local police and crime body should fill an important gap in the Bill-that of co-ordinating the plethora of consultations about crime and community safety carried out by a range of local actors, thereby reducing unnecessary duplication and assisting joint working. A number of agencies-not least the police, a future police and crime commission, local authorities, organisations representing victims and a victims' network-will all seek to consult the public about their perceptions of local crime and disorder and what should be done about it. This multiplicity of approaches is not necessarily harmful, but it is only by those agencies bringing their
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Finally, Amendment 167ZA proposes that, having consulted the chief constable, the local policing body should ultimately decide which neighbourhoods are in the local police area. That is intended to ensure that co-ordination between the police, local authorities and other relevant local agencies is not hindered by different partners having non-coterminous borders. It enables partner agencies to take advantage of stronger working relationships, clear lines of contact and publicly understood limits of responsibility. Although the chief constable's view must of course be taken extremely seriously in these matters, the determination of neighbourhood boundaries will inevitably involve political and public sensitivities, not to mention practical issues of co-ordination with the boundaries of various other agencies, such as health and local authorities. I doubt that the chief constable's time is best spent negotiating that potential political minefield. Decisions about local boundaries, which may be controversial, should be publicly accountable.
Lord Beecham: I shall briefly endorse what my noble friend Lady Henig said and refer to three short amendments in the group: Amendments 86A, 86B and 86C in Clauses 12 and 13, which would reinforce the principle of accountability which my noble friend addressed, in this case to involve the chief constable in that accountability. All of us in your Lordships' House are persuaded that there needs to be enhanced accountability affecting policing. The amendments are intended to contribute to that by providing, in respect of annual reports, that in addition to, in the phrase of the Bill, the "elected local policing body", attending before the crime and disorder panel at a public meeting arranged by the panel, the chief constable should appear before the panel to answer questions on the report and, similarly, to,
I cannot see any intrinsic difficulty in that. Many chief constables already attend council meetings within their force area. They address them and answer questions. The amendment simply reflects good practice in a number of areas.
The third amendment relates to the provision of information for police and crime panels. Again, under the Bill, that duty rests solely on the elected local policing body. I think it necessary for the same duty to be laid on the chief constable. I hope that the Minister will take these points away and give them sympathetic consideration. I commend the amendments in my name.
Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, I shall speak briefly to the amendments. Although I have not taken
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I want to pick up three issues. First, I echo the remarks of my noble friend Lord Beecham about the importance of chief constables being required or encouraged to attend key meetings. That ties in with Amendment 83C, to which my noble friend Lady Henig referred. It is about the visible answerability of the police in public: the police being seen to be accountable. The Government's original arrangements did not create a mechanism whereby the police would be seen to be accountable. The amendments would write that into the Bill, either under the model of a police and crime commission or whatever other model one chose. That is extremely important. I have discussed this matter with a number of senior police officers and they, too, are conscious that when they take difficult decisions it is important that they are seen to answer for them in a public forum, that they are seen to justify why they have done what they have done, and that they are seen to answer questions from those who are informed and empowered to ask questions about that specific point. That is why the visible answerability of chief officers of police needs to be found a place in whatever arrangement finally emerges from this Committee's and Parliament's consideration of the Bill. I hope that, in replying, the Minister will be able to indicate the Government's thinking on this and tell us where it is envisaged that the visible answerability will take place.
Finally, I want to pick up on Amendment 83ZZA, which relates to membership of crime and disorder reduction partnerships. The current legal framework has built on the concept that local crime and disorder reduction partnerships should, first, be centred around the local police commander and the local chief executive of the local authority working together to solve problems to reduce crime. Various key stakeholding parties have been added over time, one of which is currently the police authority. Whatever emerges from consideration of the Bill regarding how the police service is governed and held accountable, we will have the rather strange situation that the body which holds the police service to account and which, so far as concerns the public, is responsible for most of the key decisions on the direction and strategy of the police force will not have a seat as of right on local crime and disorder reduction partnerships. There is then the complication of who exercises that right, although it is important to have that input at that level in crime and disorder reduction partnerships. Again, I should be grateful if the Minister could indicate how he envisages that this will happen in the future.
I have already said that by and large these amendments do not relate to Greater London, although similar points apply. There is a need for the visible answerability of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis to be seen to take place in some forum, whether it is the London Assembly panel which is created for that purpose or anything else. There will also be a need for input into local crime and disorder reduction partnerships from the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime, because in many London boroughs those partnerships are the engine for delivering crime reduction.
Lord Rosser: My Lords, the purpose of this group of amendments in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and my noble friends Lady Henig and Lord Beecham is, as they have said, to increase transparency and accountability through providing requirements in the Bill for the provision of information and consultation with and between the relevant bodies and individuals referred to in the Bill and with the local community. This group of amendments in effect comes back to the heart of much of the debate on the Bill that we have had so far and, in particular, the extent to which the Government's proposals for a police and crime commissioner concentrate so much virtually unchallengeable power and authority over wide geographical areas in the hands of one individual.
The amendments seek to provide for consultation and taking account of views expressed before crime and disorder reduction grants are made, taking account of the views of witnesses, as well as victims, of crime on policing, appointing a member of the police and crime panel to sit on each crime reduction partnership or community safety partnership within the relevant police area, holding public meetings at which the business of the commissioner may be conducted and decisions made, the production of an annual report showing the extent to which crime has increased or decreased, obtaining through co-ordinated consultation the views of the community, and provision for the chief constable to attend a panel meeting when the annual report is presented and for the chief constable to provide information to the panel to enable the panel to carry out its functions. The local policing body appointing a member of the panel to sit on each crime reduction partnership or community safety partnership within the relevant area is to ensure that the functions of the local policing body are exercised effectively, as there must surely be a need for the local policing body to be aware of the concerns of the partnerships and their priorities and that the links between them are strong. Other amendments are designed to ensure that business is conducted in a public setting, and is seen to be done in public, to ensure greater transparency and accountability.
The arguments for these amendments have been made powerfully by noble Lords who have already spoken and I certainly do not intend to go through all the points made again. Like noble Lords who spoke on this as well as those who have listened with interest to this debate, I await to hear what the Minister has to say in reply. If the Government do not accept the amendments, I hope that the Minister will say which of the proposals in the amendments the Government find unacceptable and why. If the Government do not object to any of the proposals in the amendments, but do not feel that they should be in the Bill, I hope that the Minister will say why the Government are confident that each and every body and individual referred to in the Bill will carry out, as a minimum, the level of consultation and the provision of information and will take into account the views expressed, as called for in these amendments, when there is no apparent requirement in the Bill for them to do so. We look forward to the Minister's response with interest.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: I am grateful for that set of questions. I spent much of Friday with the local police team in Leeds talking about crime reduction and the very effective role of the crime reduction partnership in the region. I very much have in my mind the value of working together with different agencies in these areas. Incidentally, that answered, to my satisfaction, one of the questions that was raised in earlier Committee sessions, which is whether directly elected PCCs would want to push active policing into only the middle class, wealthy areas. The clear answer is that on the whole that is not where the burglars, who burgle the middle class areas, come from, so anyone who was that short-sighted would not be very effective as regards crime reduction. As one policeman put it to me, "After all, they have motorcars and it is quite easy to travel around the region".
I very much appreciate the concerns about ensuring that scrutiny mechanisms are in place and that people in different agencies and those who work at different levels work together to control local and regional crime. This model is about accountability but not always about consultation. The role of police and crime panels is to review and to scrutinise decisions made or actions taken by the relevant police and crime commissioner or police and crime commission in relation to the exercise of that person's functions. That duty certainly applies to the award of grants by the PCC. The Bill gives the panel the power to obtain information from the PCC and to summon the PCC and her staff to appear before it so that it can discharge its duties effectively. It then goes on to talk about the role of the chief financial officer and the statutory duties which the chief financial officer has to carry out, such as the right to insist that the local authority makes sufficient financial provision for the cost of internal audit.
We accept that there are large questions about how much detail should be on the face of the Bill and about whether particular actions should be required under statute or should be recommended in practice. Amendment 83ZZA, for example, requires the local policing body to appoint a member of the police and crime panel to sit on each crime reduction partnership or community safety partnership in their police area. The police and crime panel will represent every local authority in the police force area. There will be representation in one direction or another. We think that the amendment ties up the links further than is needed. I remind noble Lords that in the largest police force for these purposes, Thames Valley, there are 18 community safety partnerships. Working together will be something that the police and crime panel, as well as the police and crime commission, will have to do. However, we do not necessarily need to make sure that there is two-way traffic in terms of appointments: there will be representation between the different levels.
The Bill introduces provisions in Clause 89 and Schedule 11-I trust that all noble Lords have read Schedule 11-to ensure that local police bodies work effectively with their community safety partners. Schedule 11 sets out a framework in which commissioners will be enabled to develop strong relationships with their local community safety partners. It will be important for commissioners to establish such relationships to get the best out of their force-wide role.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I am sorry that the Minister has slightly confused me-or rather, I have become confused, because I am sure that the Minister was clear. I did not understand his point about the necessity for two-way communication and representation, but not necessarily the involvement of people from both bodies. I cannot see how information could flow both ways if there were not people at both ends to ensure that.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: I may be misinformed, but I cannot imagine a community safety partnership that does not have representatives from the local authority. Since each local authority will be represented on the police and crime panel, there will be representation. I will check and make sure that I am correctly informed.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: There is representation. The idea that local authorities should appoint people to the police and crime panel which would then appoint representatives back to the community safety partnerships on which local authorities are represented makes life more complicated than it needs to be. The important thing is, first, that there should be some form of representation, and, secondly, that the two should work together.
Lord Beecham: Is it not the case that what is sought in the amendment is that the police and crime panel should be represented on the community safety partnerships? That is the point of the amendment.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: I recognise that police authorities traditionally have had this role. We are proposing a new model. Local authorities will be represented both on police and crime panels and, as they are now, on community safety partnerships, the importance of which we entirely recognise.
Lord Harris of Haringey: I suspect that the Minister has been mesmerised by trying to work through how the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, would work in practice. I treat this as an entirely positive development from the government Front Bench. However, the core of Amendment 83ZZA is that an arrangement should be facilitated whereby the local policing body, whatever it ends up looking like, will be represented on crime and disorder reduction partnerships. With this legislation, the Government are removing from each local crime reduction partnership the presence of a representative of the body that holds the police service as a whole to account. That is the gap that has been created. The amendment is trying to fill it. If the Government think that it is a good idea to remove from the crime and disorder reduction partnership the body to which the police service as a whole is held accountable, perhaps they could explain succinctly why.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, there is a question about whether police and crime panels, which are constituted from and representative of local authorities, should then appoint people back to local authorities. It is argued that the appointment of local authority
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Lord Harris of Haringey: I am sorry to interrupt the Minister in full flow. However, he has responded in terms of the position of the police and crime panel, whereas the amendment specifically says that a "local policing body" is to appoint, in this case, a member of the police and crime panel, because that is the model of governance that the Committee is currently working on. If the Government were to revert to something else, we would have a system whereby the local policing body would not have a status in individual local crime and disorder reduction partnerships. Is the Minister telling us that it is government policy that these magic new police and crime commissioners, if that is what we are to have, at the end of the day will not be represented on local crime and disorder reduction partnerships; and if so, why?
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: It is very much the Government's proposal that police and crime commissioners should work in partnership with community safety partnerships. However, in places where-as, for example, in Thames Valley-there are 18 community safety partnerships, the idea of requiring the police and crime commissioner to be a member of each of those CSPs and to attend each meeting seems to us to be writing too much into the Bill.
Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, my recollection from when I was chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority is that we built relationships and appointed representatives to 32 crime and disorder reduction partnerships in Greater London-we did not have the pleasure of having representation on the City of London Police crime and disorder reduction partnerships, if such a thing there be. However, the point must be that if you want those relationships to exist and if you have settled on a process whereby there is a single police and crime commissioner, that person must be enabled to have someone-presumably a member of his or her staff if it is not going to be a member of the police and crime panel because the Government do not fancy having police and crime commissioners-and a mechanism to enable them to be directly represented. Those crime and disorder reduction partnerships are where local decisions are taken by the police, the local authority, the health service and the other responsible bodies on what has to be done in the local area. That is precisely the area where you would expect there to be collaboration and the police and crime commissioner, the local policing body, to be represented.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: We are well aware of the very central role of CSPs in managing the problems of crime reduction at local level, and naturally we expect and anticipate that PCCs will regard co-operation with CSPs as a central part of their role. However, we resist the proposal that they should-by statute, on the face of the Bill-be a member of each CSP. We will look at this again but it does not seem to us that, in asking and requiring them to work together, we need to put it on the face of the Bill.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I hope that the Minister will take away and consider very carefully the points that have been raised. I consider this question from my experience as a Lancashire county councillor, serving on the council at the same time as not only my noble friend Lady Henig but as the Minister's noble friend Lord Greaves. Were there to be a perceived inequality of treatment and representation between his noble friend's Pendle, my noble friend Lady Henig's Lancaster or my own part of Preston, it would undermine exactly what the Government are trying to achieve. Perhaps the Minister will forgive me, but I think that the Government have looked at models around the world, not least at one in America. This problem would not arise in America because, in most parts of the country, with the exception of large conurbations-London, for example, would be a comparator-local communities have a local police commissioner who is elected. The Government, in trying to look at the appropriate model, must have regard to the fact that this structure is different-it is on a bigger scale. I hope that the Minister will think about what I have said and, if he does not believe me and the strength of my feelings, I suggest that he talks to his noble friend Lord Greaves.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, the Government will certainly take this matter away and look at it in detail. I go to my neighbourhood police forum from time to time, on which the police are also represented, and I hope and assume that in areas of particular concern PCCs will find it very useful to attend by invitation neighbourhood police forums as well as community safety partnerships. These are the ways in which we hold the different levels of policing together. As the noble Baroness will know very well from her extensive experience, when we talk about crime reduction we are very often talking about a number of different levels which we all have to operate, and operate together.
When I was a graduate student in the United States, I experienced all the benefits and disadvantages of elected local-very local-police commissioners changing from time to time. The Bill does not propose a model of a local police commissioner for a local, very small borough, which would not suit our organisation of policing. We are attempting to provide a different model to work with the different levels at which local crime reduction and local community safety partnerships operate, which are, as noble Lords are aware, smaller than our current police force areas. That is the issue with which we are concerned.
Baroness Henig: Does the Minister accept that the problem here is that, as his comment suggests, the role of the police and crime panel is simply to review the actions of the police and crime commissioner? If that is the case, all the problems that we have identified will follow. Will the Minister look at this again? This is a completely inadequate role for the police and crime panels. They need to work with the police and crime commissioner and to have some responsibilities at local level. If that is acceptable, they could liaise with the panels, as we have been suggesting, and there would not be a problem. The problem is the Government's hang-up that police and crime panels can only scrutinise the commissioner and do nothing else. That is the issue that would facilitate more sensible discussion.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I recognise that throughout the rest of today we will discuss the relationship between the PCP and the PCC, and the relationship that the police and crime panel has with all the other agencies. The Government are certainly prepared to look at that again to make sure that that we get this right, as it is very important. However, we also recognise that practice, as well as statutory requirements, will make a great deal of difference to how this new model works. We have to make sure that PCPs and PCCs work together.
On whether the police commissioner is required to have public meetings, the PCP and the police commissioner will have public meetings together. It will be perfectly acceptable-indeed, desirable-for the police and crime commissioner to invite the chief constable to accompany her to public meetings with the police and crime panel, and that that will become part of the pattern. Again, how far that should be on the face of the Bill is something we need to consider further, but we are happy to talk off the Floor between Committee and Report on the precise role which these will have.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: Should communication break down, that will become difficult. The Minister is perfectly proper in suggesting that the chief constable would normally be invited to such public meetings. Should things enter a difficult phase, which occasionally happens with the best laid plans, our concern would be that surely the public have a right to know that there is that expectation on the head of the service, rather than having to rely on an invitation being given.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, the design of this Bill is that the accountable body that is directly elected will be the police and crime commissioner, and that the police and crime panel holds that police and crime commissioner to account. The operational autonomy of the chief constable is answerable both to the police and crime commissioner and, as a backstop, to the Home Secretary, as monitored by the Chief Inspector of Constabulary. However, the accountability of the police and crime commissioner is first to the police and crime panel, which is the key relationship designed in this Bill.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My thinking was to do with the presence of the chief police officer at particularly major public meetings. At the moment,
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Lord Wallace of Saltaire: Most of us who have dealt with chief constables will know that chief constables would be unlikely to be shrinking violets and absent from public meetings on such occasions. In the type of instances referred to by the noble Baroness, it is evident that the chief constable would be there to answer for his force alongside the police commissioner. However, it is the model of this Bill that, formally, accountability runs from the police and crime commissioner to the police and crime panel. We do not wish to muddle the line of accountability by establishing a direct link in which the chief constable on her own answers to the police and crime panel.
Many noble Lords have met chief constables far more regularly than I at public meetings and public consultations. In practice, when meeting CSPs and other bodies, chief constables naturally play their part in regular consultation: that is, consultation that answers to the public at large but is different from the relationship between the PCP and the PCC. We are, however, willing to take this away and to consider in detail whether there are ways in which the Bill can be tweaked to answer some of the issues that have been raised by those on the opposition Benches.
Lord Harris of Haringey: I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way and for the point he has just made. His explanation of how the Government envisage this working is as clear as it can be in the circumstances. He is telling the Committee that there is no requirement under this Bill for the visible answerability of chief officers of police. Visible answerability does not exist. It exists only if the chief constable, the chief officer of police, accepts an invitation to attend a panel. That is not going to be seen by the general public as being answerable in the same way as being called before representatives of the public to respond to questions is. That is the weakness of the Government's proposals.
I understand the purity of the argument whereby a directly elected police and crime commissioner holds the police service to account, and that individual is then held to account by the police and crime panel. That is a wonderful concept, but it loses the visible answerability of the person with direction and control of the police force. That is what the public expect to see and what is missing from the Bill. If that is what the Government are proposing, that is fine; we understand
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Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, we will take this away. However, the principle of the Bill is that the chief constable is responsible to the police and crime commissioner. It does not exclude public consultations and public meetings, but that is the principle of the Bill. Of course chief constables meet a whole range of people on a regular basis, but democratic accountability in this form is from chief constable to police and crime commissioner, with the police and crime panel scrutinising the actions of the police and crime commissioner. That is the purpose and design of the Bill.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, in taking this point away, will the Minister please have regard to the public perception that if policing has become difficult in an area, the public wish to see the person who is the professional in charge of operational decisions being held to account in public and in their locality? I apologise for interrupting the Minister so often, but I am deeply committed to ensuring that, in whatever form the Bill is eventually enacted, people out there do not suddenly discover that there is less accountability, particularly if the Government do not intend that to happen.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I am happy to give that assurance. We are all concerned to ensure that the operations of the police at all levels are visible and accountable. This is intended to make the mechanism of accountability rather more visible than it has been with police authorities. That is the purpose of the Bill. Having given that assurance, perhaps I may invite those who have moved and spoken to this group of amendments to withdraw them so that we may return to the issue on Report.
Lord Soley: My Lords, I have been trying to make sense of this exchange, and I think that my noble friend has been quite kindly in her interventions. I have to ask the Minister rather more directly whether it is the Government's policy that the chief officer of police should not appear before the public in the way described in these interventions. Is that the intention or not? If it is not the intention, how will it happen?
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: It is certainly not the Government's intention that they should not appear in public. Incidentally, I am not aware that the precise current relationship between the police authorities and chief constables is written down in as much detail as some of the amendments might suggest. Some time ago I asked a chief constable how often he spoke to the chair of his police authority, and he replied that he did so on most working mornings. That is good practice, not a legal requirement. Chief constables speaking at public meetings, to community safety partnerships and so on again is regular, normal and desirable practice, and we hope and intend that it will continue to operate.
Baroness Henig: My Lords, I want to address the issue of crime figures being provided at divisional as well as force level. I am sure that this is completely uncontentious in that it is simply common sense that
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Lord Wallace of Saltaire: I apologise. I did not get through all my notes; I was a little distracted at one or two points by former members of Lancashire County Council. It is our view that this requirement is already covered in Clause 12(1)(b), which requires PCCs to report the progress that has been made in meeting the objectives set out in the police and crime plan.
Lord Shipley: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for his response. I had not realised that this matter would be quite so complicated or contentious, because I said in moving the amendment that I thought that it was relatively straightforward. The amendment goes to the heart of something very important: the nature of scrutiny. The Minister said that scrutiny was of the commissioner by the panel, but that raises the question where the panel gets its information from, because panel members need to be involved at all levels. When the number of bodies involved in running or managing something is increased, the level of consultation, scrutiny and representation has to be improved, otherwise things will go wrong. Scrutiny cannot just be about what happened; it has to be scrutiny of what might happen and what people feel should happen. The only way of delivering that kind of scrutiny is through a more formalised mechanism for consultation. Therefore, to have members of panels who are members of a partnership body is central to enabling the scrutiny function to take place.
However, we have had an interesting debate. My noble friend the Minister has given a commitment that there will be further discussion prior to Report. I remind him that I raised a point about witnesses, which will no doubt be discussed as well. Given that we have had a detailed discussion of the issue and that those further discussions will take place, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
"( ) A local policing body is to appoint a member of the police and crime panel to sit on each crime reduction partnership or community safety partnership within its police area to ensure that the functions of the local policing body set out in subsection (1) are exercised effectively."
Baroness Henig: The Minister said that the Government were anxious that everything should be seen to be thought through. None of the provisions seems to have been thought through at the local level. They
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"(c) the local authorities in the area (including parish and town councils),"
In the last debate, my noble friend Lord Shipley referred to the tools that police and crime panels need; I would add to that ammunition. From time to time ammunition is needed-although preferably not used-and the knowledge that it is there can sometimes work wonders. My noble friend did not use the term "outward looking", although it was implicit in what he said. Panels need to relate-I appreciate that I am in part reflecting the previous debate as an introduction to the points that I am about to make-not only to the police and crime commissioner but to everyone else, including the communities involved in, in the jargon, the policing landscape, although one might just say life.
Amendments 91 and 92 deal with obtaining views in connection with the precept. Under the Bill as drafted, the police and crime panels have to obtain residents' and business's views; my amendments provide that they should also obtain the views of local authorities and, in London, the London boroughs. Again, this is blindingly obvious. The local authorities are there at the most local level-by definition they are the most grass root-and they send out the bills that incorporate the precept. If the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, is agreed, they will send out separate bills with the precept. So my first point is about more extensive consultation.
Amendments 117, 118, 119, 120 and 121 relate to Schedule 5 and concern what I might summarise as the realities of approving or blocking the precept. In our view, if the police and crime panel is to provide the right checks and balances, it needs to be able to do more. I have always thought of the precept as the last point in a discussion about local authority and equivalent budgets. One has to think about what needs to be spent, how it should be spent and what is available to be spent before one comes to the precept. In order to go through those thought processes and apply their logic, the panel needs to be able to bring other issues into the public arena for debate and have tools to deal with more than just the precept-in other words, to deal with the whole budget and the steps on the way to creating it. The budget is essentially the spending to be undertaken using the local funding-the precept-and the central grant. Of course, in the policing world, the central funding is enormously important. It would be a great pity if the panel were taken down the road of thinking that what mattered was what people were charged instead of also looking at the totality of the budget. I know that that attitude is very widespread, but I would always do anything that I could to stop it being perpetuated.
My amendments propose that the panel should have a role in looking at the heads of expenditure within the budget. That may not be the right way of expressing it, but noble Lords will understand what I mean if I refer to "press and PR" as one budget head, and perhaps the "commissioner's office". Then there is the "back office", if one can ever define what the back office is, and things such as sickness rates. My amendments intend to give the panel the opportunity to make a reality check on what is proposed and to
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Amendments 146 and 147 would change the majority needed to block or veto the budget from three-quarters to two-thirds, although as this debate has gone on I have become more and more persuaded of the need for that veto to be exercisable on the basis of 50 per cent plus one-not 50 per cent, which is different, but 50 per cent plus one.
I have provided for an iterative process for the panel to give its approval or not, built on the procedure and drafting with which I am familiar from the Greater London Authority but also from other authorities that have directly elected mayors. I do not like the word "iterative", but noble Lords will understand it.
I think that the two-thirds level is counterintuitive, which is a term that has been very much used-and other noble Lords will have heard this-by our then colleague Bob Neill, who is now a Minister. In criticising the way in which the GLA budget had to be dealt with because of the legislation, he talked often very powerfully about how constituents had spoken to him on the subject of his having a direct electoral mandate but not being able, as a Member of the Assembly, to block the mayor's budget. Other noble Lords, as Members of the GLA, will have heard about the budget being in a common-sense way defeated when it came to us from the mayor but having to be approved technically because there was not the sufficient majority against it.
Baroness Henig: I shall speak to Amendment 116ZA and, briefly, Amendment 122A. We have heard a lot about checks and balances in the debate thus far and
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Put simply-this relates to a point that the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, made on the previous group of amendments-how can the panel fulfil its duty to scrutinise and shape the precept, drawing on its own local public consultations and knowledge, and to make sure that it will meet local expectations if the panel is not told how it is to be spent? In other words, you need information to be able to carry out that scrutiny role. When it comes to life's fundamentals or even the simplest purchasing, do we not all start out by identifying the very basics of what we need before working out how much we shall spend? Yet the Bill proposes that the panel should consider only the overall amount to be spent, rather than what is needed and what it should be spent on. Frankly, this seems a not very sensible way to conduct the scrutiny of budgets of many millions of pounds within a total national policing spend of something over £12 billion a year.
Let us be clear: the panel is there to provide scrutiny in some detail. It is not there to provide a rubber stamp for generalisations or headline figures. While the level of precept is of course of enormous influence and importance, and will rightly command significant space in the local press, what is as important in policing terms is the detail of what that money is to be spent on. If the panel is not equipped to engage with this level of detail, it is in danger of being consigned to being little more than a forum for the exchange of generalities and political knockabout.
I hope that the Minister will forgive me for saying that police authorities and recent surveys have demonstrated that the public want not a single commissioner dictating a budget according to his or her preferences but a broadly based range of local people, with the skills and experience of a range of communities across the force area, who can shape the police budget and priorities according to the needs of the public-particularly in local terms. We have spoken many times about the near impossibility of a single politician providing an effective funnel for the needs of vast and differing communities across the widest police force areas. That is why the panel is so important, being drawn from each district or subsection of the force area. The panel members will bring their local perspective to bear on strategic decisions and there are no more strategic decisions than on the budget and the precept, matching resources to evidenced needs.
Incidentally, noble Lords here will attest from personal experience that, far from the London experience providing a test bed for the single-commissioner model where, it is claimed, one mayor provides an exemplar for the
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Let us be clear: right now, every subdivision within the force area has a local link member on the police authority who can constructively influence the force budget with knowledge of the public's policing priorities for their local area. Authority members can ensure-and, under my amendment, so could panel members-that the budget is fit to address local objectives within the police and crime plan. If the Bill is not amended by your Lordships, this meaningful local influence will be lost because the panel will have no say over the detail of the budget-how it is divided and spent-but will have influence only over the overall size of the public purse. In these days of austerity we know only too well that how the contents of the public purse are spent is just as important as the overall size of the budget.
Subsection (4) of my amendment makes explicit reference to the need for the draft budget to explain how the commissioner proposes to ensure that the budget is effective and efficient. Efficiency and effectiveness are two requirements currently at the heart of police authority oversight of budgets-to considerable success, it should be said. Authorities have delivered on every efficiency target set by central government and, while there is much more to do, they continue to drive innovation in collaboration and procurement, which fosters efficiency. I am puzzled about why now, of all times, amid unprecedented budget cuts in peacetime, the Government should consider dispensing with the simple, highly efficient and effective maxim that budgets must be efficient and effective, which is why I suggest putting it back in again.
In Amendment 122A, I am proposing a majority vote rather than a vote of two-thirds. That is what I am used to in local government. The only reason for two-thirds, or, originally, three-quarters, was the model that the Government set up. I have already indicated that I think that is a very poor model; it is not very workable and will not be effective. A half-or a half plus one; I could be pushed to that-is a much more normal majority in terms of local government. It is what I am used to, it is how local government works and I see no reason why we should depart from it.
Lord Beecham: My Lords, we heard at Question Time that the House gave considerable support to an issue about cheques, in a different context. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and my noble friend Lady Henig have again raised the issue of checks in the context of checks and balances-that is, other than bank balances. My amendments to Schedule 5- Amendments 116A, 117A, 117B, 121A and 121B-are intended to complement those proposed by the noble Baronesses. I entirely adopt and endorse what they say about the need for the budgetary process to be a proper process, not simply a matter in which the precept is determined.
I make no apology for once again reminding your Lordships that 11 per cent of council tax in England and 15.5 per cent in Wales goes on policing, a significant proportion of local taxation. My initial amendment is in the interests of transparency to make it clear who is levying what on local taxpayers, rather than for a combined precept to be issued, which many will assume is the entire responsibility of the billing authority-that is, the local council.
There is another aspect to this that will arise when we come to discuss the Localism Bill. I have to say that the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill is a model of brevity, clarity and simplicity compared with the Localism Bill, which we will begin to debate tomorrow. The latter Bill contains a difficult provision in this context, because it provides for a compulsory referendum to be held if the Secretary of State deems an increase, either by a local authority or by a police commissioner, to be excessive. It will be a little difficult, I suspect, for a local authority if its precept is deemed acceptable by the Secretary of State but the police precept is not. If it is all in one bill, one can see complications arising. There would have to be a referendum on the part of the bill that people are expected to pay, which would presumably hold up payment of the rest of the bill. There are practical as well as philosophical reasons for separating the two precepts. That is the object of the first amendment.
The other amendments deal with the process of determining what the precept should be. They go beyond the Bill's present proposal, which is simply that the commissioner-assuming there is one-notifies only the panel of the proposed precept, without notifying, or apparently being under any obligation to consult, the local authorities about it. As many of your Lordships have pointed out, policing is not a stand-alone service. It is intimately connected, if it is to be effective, with the other services of a local authority. For that matter, the totality of the fiscal burden to be placed on the local community has to be looked at as well, and judgments made about the balance between different heads of expenditure. It is entirely appropriate, therefore, that local authorities should be involved in discussing the proposed police precept. This provision and the subsequent amendment, which requires the commission to have regard to those representations made by local authorities, will, I hope, deal with that. It is remarkable that there is no obligation on the police commissioner or commission to take account of representations made by local authorities in the relevant area.
The next amendment deals with the power of the panel to veto or amend the proposed precept. The previous amendments referred merely to the veto. I would be very comfortable with a smaller majority, as proposed by the noble Baronesses, of 50 per cent plus one, as opposed to two-thirds. There is a hierarchy of preference here. The least desirable is the 75 per cent in the Bill; slightly more desirable is the two-thirds proposed here. The ideal would be 50 per cent plus one, but it is perhaps sensible to have a fall-back position against the remote contingency that the Government might not be entirely happy with 50 per cent plus one. They may be slightly more sympathetic towards the middle position. However, the major feature of this is the
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Taken together, the amendments in my name would make the situation more transparent from the point of view of the taxpayer and more efficient in the involvement of local government in the process. Indeed, it would be both more transparent and more efficient in terms of the proposed role for the panel.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I have two amendments in this group: Amendments 118A and 122AA. I also support the thrust of the other amendments in this group that we have already heard about this afternoon. We are talking about a considerable sum of money. As my noble friend Lord Beecham said, it is 11 per cent of council tax in England-millions of pounds. We are giving considerable power to two people to spend this budget. We have two corporations sole in the PCC and the chief constable, and one person to set the precept-the police and crime commissioner-again, as a corporation sole. Huge power over resources is being given to two people without any recognisable corporate governance safeguards. It is a most extraordinary proposal-one for which I have yet to hear any persuasive argument at all.
If this Government last their full five-year term, it is clear to me that before the end of that term another police Bill will be introduced to safeguard the public purse as this structure will undoubtedly cause problems with the budget and the way in which the money is spent. I guarantee that the Government will have to come back to this, which is why it is so disappointing that so far we have had little sense that the Government are prepared to listen and introduce amendments to secure the public purse.
First, I very much agree with what my noble friend Lord Beecham said about the need for transparency. Why should the police and crime commissioners hide behind the council tax levied by the relevant local authority? Surely, this matter should be completely transparent. As my noble friend says, there should be two completely separate precepts. Secondly, he referred to the relationship between this Bill and the Localism Bill, the Second Reading of which we are to have tomorrow. It is a very large Bill indeed. Although it is entitled the Localism Bill, it seems to give enormous power to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. The freedom that local authorities are being given seems to me to be freedom to act as the Secretary of State instructs them so to do. However, as my noble friend remarked, there seem to be inconsistencies in the way that issues around the precepts are dealt with. Will the Minister assure me that there has been close understanding and contact between her department and CLG to ensure that the proposals on precepts and local referendums run together? My reading is that there is a conflict between the two Bills on this matter.
I turn to the role of the panel in scrutinising the precept proposal. I very much agree with my noble friend Lady Henig on this. I do not see how the panel
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As regards the veto power, a three-quarters proportion is too high. I can think of very few circumstances where the veto power is likely to be exercised at that level. It is not even a case of 75 per cent of those present and voting, but 75 per cent who are members of the panel, so the bar is set higher than if it were those present and voting. There are a number of suggestions: two-thirds, 50 per cent and 50 per cent plus one. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has convinced me that 50 per cent plus one is the right figure. I am sure that when we return to the matter on Report, we will have to see which proposal commands the most support. Clearly, if the panels are to have any leverage whatever, they must have the ability to veto, and the bar must be set sufficiently low to make police and crime commissioners understand that it is possible for that veto to be applied. No police and crime commissioner will think that that is the case if the 75 per cent bar stays.
Finally, I come back to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, on the previous group. He moved the argument on. We have understood that the PCP was there to scrutinise the police and crime commissioner. The noble Lord went further today and said that the police and crime commissioner is accountable to the police and crime panel. If that is so, surely we have to give those panels the ability to hold the police and crime commissioner to account. The Bill as it stands does not do that.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Browning): My Lords, I sense that I have been tempted to enter into something of a Dutch auction. Many figures have been bandied about in terms of the veto. I should say that this is an area where I am genuinely listening, but I think that noble Lords on all sides of the House have colluded this afternoon to try to beat me down to a particular figure. I will promise to look at this, because I realise that there are strong feelings about it. However, I cannot make any promises. If I were able to move, I am sure that I would be unable to move as far as some of the figures that have been suggested. I do not want to raise expectations unnecessarily, but I recognise that in this area there is feeling on all sides of the House. I will genuinely look at this.
The word "accountability" has been mentioned a lot. I must reiterate that police and crime commissioners should be accountable to the public, first and foremost. That is the whole thrust of this legislation and change-I quite accept that it is a big change. We are talking
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In this debate I am grateful for the constancy from Members of this House on the importance of getting the balance right on the limits on the police and crime commissioners' powers. Members from across the House have raised this-particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Henig. I can assure her that I will hold a round-table meeting to which I hope she will come, because I want to make sure that we get these checks and balances right-although I doubt that I will be able to satisfy her on everything she asked for.
Noble Lords will remember that in the original Bill, as drafted, the Government intended that panels would have provided a robust overview of police and crime commissioners' decisions. I must emphasise that we intended for these panels to be constructive and supportive relationships. In this vein, if the first time that the police and crime commissioner discussed the police budget with the panel was the point at which the precept was being agreed, that was not the model we proposed. Members have raised many concerns about heads of budget and other matters to do with the precept. Our intention would be for a series of discussions to be held, not just one blanket meeting at which, for example, the precept or the budget was discussed and a decision taken without the panel having a lot of background information that it would clearly be entitled to ask for. I hope that that will reassure noble Lords that it is not the Government's intention for there to be one blanket meeting, nor was that the intention of the Bill as originally drafted. Having a veto is a back-stop for when these relationships break down-no more. If the provisions had stood, I would have looked forward to hearing noble Lords' views on the level at which this could best be achieved but, as we all appreciate, we are now talking about something rather different.
I can promise your Lordships that we will take another look at the figure of three-quarters. I note that many references were made to the figure of two-thirds, although this was in the Bill. I gently remind your Lordships that the figure in the Bill is three-quarters. We seemed to get to a much lower level than that this afternoon, but that is where we are at the moment. I promise to take that away to look at it. Given that, I hope that noble Lords will not press their amendment.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I am certainly not setting out to beat the noble Baroness down, up, across the Chamber or in any direction; I am seeking to persuade her. This is not a Dutch auction but to do with what the public would expect. I referred a few minutes ago to it being counterintuitive in the minds of the public when a proposition is, in commonsense terms, defeated by a simple majority but is not actually defeated. Public expectation in all this is very important. If the new model is to be successful, people need to be persuaded to buy into it. They need to be persuaded
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Baroness Browning: I should clarify something, because I do not want in any way to mislead the House. Although of course it is right that the panel has information and that there are meetings leading up to the decision on the precept and discussion on the budget, nothing in the Bill would allow the budget as a whole to be overridden by the panel. It can override the veto, and regulations will address how that would then be managed. I did not want to lead my noble friend into thinking that I was suggesting that the panel could override the budget as a whole.
This debate has dealt with seeking information about the budget. We have previously discussed amendments about the panel's right to seek information and require attendance to deal with wider issues. I had assumed that, in dealing with those amendments, all noble Lords had the budget in mind as well as other matters, which would make the narrower amendments unnecessary. The noble Baroness has given us welcome news, in the way that she put it, about resisting a Dutch auction but thinking about the merits of the arguments. I hope that, when the points that we have made have settled in people's heads, the merits will be obvious. For this afternoon, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Baroness Hamwee: I shall speak also to Amendments 139, 150 and 226, and shall perhaps mention the other amendments in this group. Amendment 93 is very short. It seeks to understand
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Amendment 139 relates to Schedule 6 to the Bill. Paragraph 32 of the schedule deals with regulations made by the Secretary of State to modify or exclude the application of enactments. That seems to be a rather extreme way of putting it without a limitation regarding, for example, the modification being only as necessary for the particular requirements of the panels. I put down this amendment to give the Minister an opportunity to give some assurances on that. I tabled it before seeing the report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, which deals with this issue at paragraphs 11 and 12 of its report and recommends that regulations under paragraph 36 of the schedule,
I overlooked taking the matter to the next stage. If the Minister can give us the assurances that we need, perhaps we will not have to come back to this at the next stage, although we may need to do so.
Amendment 150 would take out paragraph 6 of Schedule 7 to the Bill. The paragraph says that regulations may apply to amend or modify Part 2 of the Police Reform Act 2002-I am abbreviating the wording-and may apply such other enactments,
I heard what the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, said about that phrase in the previous debate. I have proposed substituting the phrase "safety and security" because I think that it goes wider and deeper than, and encompasses, "efficiency and effectiveness".
We will hear from other noble Lords about their amendments but I think that Amendment 226AA, which will perhaps be dealt with by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, seeks to retain performance targets for police strategic priorities. I have never been much of a fan of targets but I am a fan of reporting, so I go a little way along the road with him on that. I beg to move.
Lord Beecham: My Lords, I break the habit of a brief parliamentary lifetime by suggesting that the Secretary of State retains the two powers which she proposes to dispense with under Clause 82. This
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Similarly, accountability is repeatedly averred to be the core of the Bill. At some level the Secretary of State needs to be informed about what is going on nationally in terms of policing so that, in Parliament, she can answer issues that are her responsibility, particularly when they relate to strategic concerns. My noble friend Lord Rosser will be moving an amendment precisely relating to those strategic priorities. There are national and local priorities and it seems to me axiomatic that the Secretary of State should have the information available in the form of reports which she can digest and which Parliament can also read and discuss. This is another aspect in which transparency and accountability can be reinforced, somewhat paradoxically in this case, by restoring to the Secretary of State powers which, at the moment, she is happy to lose. I hope that the Minister will consider this modest accretion to the functions of central government in the wider interests of accountability and transparency in respect of these matters.
Lord Blencathra: We now make rapid progress because my amendment jumps to Clause 80 but it is in this group for discussion. Clause 80 contains the general duty of the Secretary of State and states that it is to be best used,
I take a quite different view. It is not the duty of the Home Secretary to promote the efficiency and effectiveness of the police because this Bill seeks to have elected police and crime commissioners to do that. Even if the first amendment on which we voted were to be accepted in another place and by this House when the Bill returns, and we had the continuation of police authorities, surely it should be their duty to promote the efficiency and effectiveness of the police.
I say to my noble friend that I would not dream of pushing my amendment to a vote because I seek to use perhaps an extreme form of words. I take the totally contrary view, suggesting that it is not the duty of the Home Secretary to promote the efficiency and effectiveness of the police but that she should interfere only to prevent the safety of persons in a police area from being put at risk. I suggest that the Home Secretary should intervene and use her powers generally in the Bill only in those dire circumstances. I accept that that goes to a more extreme position than even I might believe in at times. However, somewhere between that position and the general power which, I suggest, continues in Clause 80, of total interference by the Home Secretary in anything that he or she likes, there may be a balanced,
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As soon as I got the Bill, I turned to look at what powers of the Home Secretary would be abolished. I found Clause 82 and thought, "Jolly good. What about the rest?". Unfortunately, I could not find many other powers of the Home Secretary that were being abolished, and there were still too many powers for the Home Secretary to call for reports from chief constables and elected police and crime commissioners, to call for statistics and to call for this, that and the other. Members of this House who have served in another place will know that if a Member of Parliament asks the Home Secretary for a single statistic about a police force, inevitably it will be replicated for other police force areas. The Home Office will then invent 10 forms so that the Home Secretary is never wrong-sighted, and we will build up a plethora of information gathering that will be excessive and unnecessary. This is not germane to the amendment, but I use it as an example to say that the Home Secretary's powers could be further circumscribed in the Bill without any risk to national policing and the proper co-ordination of policing throughout the country-a role that is better promoted by HMIC than by the Home Secretary.
I conclude by referring to Clause 80, much further down the line, which gives the Home Secretary the power and duty to promote the efficiency and effectiveness of the police overall. If the Home Secretary has and exercises that duty, what is the point of police authorities, and what is the point of the elected crime commissioner? That is what their job was supposed to be. I do not suggest that my amendment is perfect-it is far from that-but it adopts an extreme position in the hope that I can make a point to my noble friend and that, possibly by Report, we may have a slightly different form of words for what the duty of the Home Secretary may or may not be.
Lord Rosser: My Lords, the amendments in this group deal with the powers of the Secretary of State. I tabled Amendment 226AA on police strategic priorities, but will speak to others in the group. Among other things, the Bill deletes the regulation-making powers and provisions relating to seeking the views of the community on policing. It deletes the powers of the Secretary of State in respect of performance targets for police strategic priorities, codes of practice for police authorities and reports from police authorities to the Secretary of State-as my noble friend Lord Beecham said when he moved his amendment. The amendments seek for the most part to preserve these powers for the Secretary of State, although I accept that the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, has gone down a different road.
The Bill also places a general duty on the Secretary of State to exercise powers in a way that appears to the Secretary of State to promote the efficiency and effectiveness of the police. One amendment in the group seeks to replace the efficiency and effectiveness duty with a duty to exercise powers in a way that best ensures safety and security, which one would have thought was a rather more important consideration in relation to policing.
We have already had a debate today on consultation, with the Minister agreeing to look again at certain areas of concern. I hope that, as part of that further look, he will also reconsider the proposal in the Bill to delete the regulation-making powers and provisions on ascertaining the views of the community on policing. In the context of our previous debate, one would have thought that they were important powers for the Secretary of State to have.
As for my amendment on performance targets for police strategic priorities, there are national strategic police considerations, in particular relating to more serious crimes, to be taken into account and that would not be assisted by these powers being taken away from the Secretary of State. Unlike police and crime commissioners dotted up and down the country, the Secretary of State can take national strategic policing considerations into account. Surely there must also be a need for some consistency on basic strategic objectives over policing, which does not necessarily appear to be the way that the Government are thinking of going in the future. It is also not clear why there should be an efficiency and effectiveness duty on the Secretary of State rather than, as I said a moment ago, a duty to exercise powers in a way that best ensures safety and security, which is surely more important.
These amendments, as has already been said, obviously raise the issue of the future role of the Secretary of State in relation to policing powers in the light of the likely advent of police and crime commissioners. We hope that, in response, the Minister can explain why the Government take the view that the current powers of the Secretary of State to which I have referred, and which are referred to in these amendments, should be reduced rather than retained in the way that this group of amendments proposes.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, in looking at the response that the Minister is about to give, will forgive me for referring back to my experience for a short time on the government Front Bench. It was my experience that sometimes it was not the Secretary of State who wished to retain powers quite as much as it was the department-particularly the senior officials in the department-that wished to retain the powers. Perhaps I was slightly biased because my background was in education. I am sure that we can reassure him that both Ministers serving the House on this Bill will, when they have considered what has been said in this debate today, consider carefully whether it is the Secretary of State or the department officials who wish to retain the string.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: I start by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, for that immensely helpful intervention; I think that we can all recognise where that came from. Perhaps I should also, with this and the next group in mind, congratulate a number of noble Lords, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, and my noble friend Lady Hamwee, on the immense care they have taken in going through the
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In this group of amendments we are discussing in detail the question of how far we should loosen central controls on the operations of the police and the forms of local accountability for the police. The coalition Government's general approach is that, in the relationship between central and local government, we have wandered too far in the direction of allowing Secretaries of State or, in their name, departments to require a great deal of information and a great deal of detailed controls, which should, where possible, be loosened. However, we all recognise that some back-stop powers are necessary for central government to retain.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: I deeply regret having to tell the noble Baroness that I shall not be speaking on the Localism Bill. I think that, for the time being, the EU Bill and the police Bill are sufficient for me-although I do occasionally miss the House on the one day a week that I am not here on my feet.
The Government's general approach on the issue is that where possible we should reduce the level of the detailed oversight that the Secretary of State has on the operation of local policing. For example, police and crime commissioners will be subject to a general duty regularly to consult and involve the public. That is in the Bill. However, the Government take the view that it is not appropriate for the Secretary of State to prescribe how this should be interpreted at a local level. Where possible, necessarily, one has to look back through previous Acts and consider how far they need to be amended in the light of the new procedures. However, I should note that Clause 80, with its reference to efficiency and effectiveness, mirrors Section 36 of the Police Act 1996. We are not introducing new language; we are amending, but continuing, language from previous Acts. This therefore imposes an identical duty on the Secretary of State in relation to the way she exercises the powers conferred by that Act, but I am sure that noble Lords will understand that there are a number of previous Acts that have to be amended or adjusted in the light of the new provisions in the Bill.
Amendments 225A and 226 require the Secretary of State to use the powers conferred by Part 1 to safeguard public safety and security in addition, but the crucial considerations of public safety and security are already provided for, where necessary, in the provisions that contain the individual powers covered by Clause 80. For example, the strategic policing requirement under Clause 79 sets out national threats, which include any threat to national security or public safety. Clause 22 allows the Secretary of State to intervene where force budgets are set too low, but she can do so only where it is necessary to prevent public safety being put at risk. The power under Clause 93 is not a public safety
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The new accountability structures allow individual police and crime commissioners to decide for themselves how to carry out their duties in the light of local circumstances. That is the purpose of this Bill. They leave it to the public, not central government, to assess the performance of commissioners in detail. To that end, the Bill requires the commissioner to provide information to the public to help local people assess how their force is performing. That is set out in Clause 11. The police and crime panel provides additional scrutiny of the commissioner from the local perspective. The commissioner must attend the public meeting to present an annual report on the progress that has been made in meeting the objectives in the police and crime plan and must answer the police and crime panel on the report. That is required by Clause 12.
Lord Beecham: Will the Minister indicate whether he thinks it useful, in terms of informing the public, for the public to know what other police authorities are doing? Would it not therefore be sensible to have a point at which the information is collated generally so that those comparisons could be drawn? Would that therefore not be a good reason for police authorities or commissioners to report to the Secretary of State so that the information can be made more widely available and accessible?
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: I think the noble Lord wishes to tempt me down the road back to what his noble colleague, the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, suggested about detailed and excessive reporting to the Secretary of State. I take the point that he is making in terms of comparison, but this will be available in public. I think it highly unlikely that scrutiny committees in another place, and in this place, will not begin to look at the comparisons. That is part of the process of scrutiny. Perhaps I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, who challenged me on accountability, that I have always understood that scrutiny is part of the process of accountability. I am afraid that I am not immediately able to quote Professor John Stewart on this question, but I think he would agree with me that scrutiny and accountability are indeed parts of the same process.
Clause 92 ensures that the Secretary of State will retain powers to intervene as a last resort when a police force is failing, but that is a backstop clause for the Secretary of State. In the event of serious or systemic failure of a police force, backstop powers will remain in place so that the Secretary of State can give directions to the police and crime commissioner. These existing powers, currently applicable to police authorities, are applied to police and crime commissioners under this clause.
Where the Secretary of State is satisfied that the police force is failing to discharge its functions in an effective manner, she can direct the police and crime
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Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend's time on his allotment was well spent and he should not fret about that. I agree with him that scrutiny and accountability are closely related. This is one of those replies when one needs to read the detail, which I will of course do, rather than attempt an off-the-cuff response.
However, I shall mention one thing that is not apposite but I cannot resist it. When Section 36, "General duty of Secretary of State", of the Police Act 1996 was enacted, the Secretary of State was a man. Therefore, it reads:
and so on. The drafter of this Bill finds it difficult to accept that the Secretary of State might not be a man. Although the word "her" appears sometimes, the wording is not precisely the same and does not change "him" to "her". It changes "him" to "the Secretary of State", which is rather sad. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Baroness Henig: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments 101B and 101C, Amendments 234ZZA to 234ZZE and Amendments 234R and 234S. I find myself at a bit of a disadvantage in that some of the amendments in this group are consequential, arising out of another group of amendments dealing with chief officer appointments, suspensions, professional standards and dismissals. The explanation of their effect will therefore be disconnected from the main body of the debate but I will outline their effect briefly and perhaps refer back to them when we come to the appropriate group.
Amendments 101A to 101C revise the proposals in the Bill in relation to the delegation of functions by police and crime commissioners. They would enable a police and crime commissioner to delegate functions to a police officer and to another local policing body-I will explain shortly why I think that this is necessary. They would also enable the appointment, suspension and removal of chief officers to be delegated to police and crime panels in certain circumstances, which are set out in a separate group of amendments that we shall come to later.
Amendments 234ZZA to 234ZZE deal with redefining the meaning of local policing bodies and elected local policing bodies in the interpretation part of the Bill. They would include police commissions in this definition rather than police and crime commissioners, as currently drafted. That would, of course, affect the use of these phrases throughout the Bill.
Amendments 234R and 234S affect Schedule 16 by reamending the changes set out in the schedule to the Police Reform Act 2002 dealing with chief officer appointments and like matters. As I mentioned, these are the subject of a separate group of amendments that I shall bring forward. The Bill as drafted removes the definition of "senior officer" and replaces it with "chief officer" in relation to the roles of local policing bodies in appointments and removals. My amendments would effectively revert back to the current position whereby the local policing body appoints all ACPO-rank officers, not just the chief officer.
I believe that my amendments in relation to the delegation of functions by the police and crime commissioner are important. Noble Lords will recall that, on the previous day in Committee, I argued that chief officers should not be corporations sole. I am not going to go over those arguments again but, if they are not to be separate corporations, some other mechanism is needed by which they can be given responsibility for the day-to-day management of police finances and other matters by the governing body. This would make it essential to be able to delegate functions to chief officers. At the moment, the police and crime
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My next amendment would remove the prohibition on delegating functions to another local policing body. This is intended to be used within the context of collaboration where it is currently not possible to formulate a lead authority model of collaboration-that is, where one authority deals with a particular collaboration agreement or a particular aspect of collaboration on behalf of other authorities. The Bill would continue this prohibition into the new model of police governance. That means not only that every collaboration agreement has to be signed by every party to it, but also that every one has to be managed by every party to it. This will greatly increase bureaucracy, so it would streamline the processes if one governing body was able to manage an agreement on behalf of the others. My amendment would enable this to happen. That seems a matter of common sense and good management practice, as well as a way of reducing the burden of administration in difficult financial times.
I suspect that the Minister sympathises with the desire to reduce bureaucracy but will tell me that this would be tantamount to abrogating responsibility for collaborative matters. He may also say that it could be used to abrogate responsibility for other types of functions, which could be disastrous. I do not think so. As I think I have mentioned, a delegation agreement is a tightly drawn document which is very specific about what functions can be delegated, in what circumstances and to what extent. It is not a casual carte blanche. However, if the Committee thinks that there are loopholes, I would be happy to consider putting conditions around this to ensure that it could be used only in the context of collaboration agreements, which is the intention of the amendment.
The third amendment in this group is effectively a consequential amendment to those on chief officer appointments, which fall in a different group to be debated later. It would bring consistency to an amendment that I am going to propose in that group, which is that in certain circumstances, where the police and crime commissioner has a conflict of interest in appointing, disciplining, suspending or dismissing the chief officer, the police and crime panel or police commission may undertake this function.
My next five amendments relate to earlier changes voted on by this House to create police commissions. They would change the definition in the interpretation part of the Bill so that the phrases "local policing body" and "elected local policing body" became synonyms for police commissions rather than police and crime commissioners. This would have a significant effect on
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As previously noted, the final amendments in my name are effectively consequential on the group of amendments dealing with senior officer appointments. They would ensure that the local policing body retained police authorities' current responsibility for appointing, disciplining, suspending and dismissing all police officers of ACPO rank-that is, assistant and deputy chief constables as well as chief constables. The Bill proposes that chief constables take this role in relation to deputy chief constables and assistant chief constables. I shall not take the time now to set out my arguments about why I believe that this is a mistake, but I shall certainly do so under a later appropriate group of amendments. Meanwhile, I beg to move.
Baroness Harris of Richmond: I support the amendments put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Henig. If many of us in the Committee are concerned about the unfamiliar concept of corporations sole and giving this status to chief officers, it makes absolute sense to look at alternative approaches. I would support an amendment that allowed a PCC to delegate certain functions for the management of police budgets and related issues to a chief officer.
I have been concerned in the past about the way in which collaboration agreements and arrangements work. I fondly recall putting forward some amendments about exactly that while the House was considering the then Policing and Crime Bill two or three years ago. They suggested that a police authority should be allowed to delegate certain responsibilities for managing collaboration agreements to another police authority, which is currently prevented. I complained at the time that this made managing better collaboration unnecessarily bureaucratic and burdensome. The same argument applies to PCC functions for managing collaboration agreements. I strongly support the amendments.
I also congratulate the noble Baroness on her amendments to the interpretation part. They are exactly the sort of thing that is required to give force to the more collaborative approach to police governance that I intended by my amendment creating police commissions. Amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, suggest that a PCC and a panel should share responsibility for handling of force complaints and conduct matters. I support that, but the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, goes just that little bit further.
I am also happy to support the other amendments in this group to which the noble Baroness has spoken. However, as many of them relate to ACPO-rank
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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am indebted to my noble friend Lady Henig for her amendments. As she said, some are consequential and some help with interpretation, particularly in relation to the vote on day one in Committee. I also share her concern about the corporation sole concept and delegation to chief officers and I welcome her proposal to streamline collaborative processes.
My amendment in this group, Amendment 211ZB, returns us to a matter that I have raised a couple of times before. It relates to one of the most bizarre provisions in legislation that I have ever seen before your Lordships' House. Clause 62(2) states:
If we track back to Clause 30, we find the circumstances in which a police and crime panel may suspend the relevant police and crime commissioner. They relate mainly to whether a commissioner has been charged with an offence that carries a maximum term of imprisonment exceeding two years. We shall come back to the issue of whether two years should be reduced to six months, which it ought to be.
In essence, in circumstances where the commissioner is either incapacitated in one way or another or has been charged under the provisions of Clause 30, the panel is to appoint an acting commissioner who will be a member of the staff of that commissioner. This is extraordinary. Who will the people appointed be? I do not want to repeat what I said on our last day in Committee, but who will they be? Who will the commissioners appoint? They will be media people, because the commissioners will want to be re-elected and so a great deal of their focus will be on communications. We should look at the staffing. There is no control over the police and crime commissioners. There is no corporate governance and there are no non-executives; it is solely up to the commissioners whom they appoint. Clearly they are going to appoint people who will help them in their political endeavours-and yet it is suggested that, if the police and crime commissioner is no longer able to carry on in the job, a member of their staff will be appointed.
What would happen if a police and crime commissioner was charged with corruption and the sentence carried more than two years? What would happen if the senior members of the commissioner's staff were also charged with corruption? Who then would the panel turn to? Even if it was only the police and crime commissioner who was charged with corruption-and, as we are giving so much power to one individual, with very few checks and balances, it is not impossible that one of the PCCs may find themselves in that situation-are we saying that the public would have confidence if a member of the staff of the person so charged were then to become the police and crime commissioner?
So far, apart from the issue of the memorandum of understanding and the clear hint that the Government are prepared to reduce the veto requirement on the precepts from 75 per cent to two-thirds, we have had very little give from them about recognising some of the serious concerns being put forward. On this one, surely the Government must think again.
Lord Shipley: I can speak briefly on Amendments 234T onwards because they are all broadly the same. They are consequential amendments that relate to the fact that the description "police authority" has been changed to "local policing body", obviously because that is the basis of the Bill. The difficulty with this is that a police authority has a number of members whereas a local policing body will have many fewer members. There is a major issue of principle, both about the centralisation of power in one person and about how the scrutiny, representation and consultation are all undertaken. We think it is clear that it is essential that the policing body should operate in conjunction with the police and crime panel. That gives it a more democratic legitimacy, but also enables it to make better decisions, because it enables the views of the panel to be fed in as part of scrutiny at an earlier stage than that at which a decision might get made.
Finally, there is an important issue of public perception and confidence in the new structure, which goes right to the heart of what the Government are trying to do. The public would expect a police and crime panel to be at the heart of decision-making before decisions are made. This is in conflict with what the Government are intending, but communication and consultation is central to making good decisions. That is why the set of amendments to this schedule, Amendments 234T to the end of the group, stand in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Hamwee.
Lord Condon: My Lords, I support Amendment 211ZB proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. I agree entirely with him that it is not just a theoretical possibility. If this legislation was enacted, over time there would probably come a set of circumstances in which it would be totally inappropriate for the acting commissioner appointed to be a member of the commissioner's staff-if the commissioner had been charged with corruption or a related offence. I urge the Government to think of redrafting this in a way that does not exclude the possibility of a member of the commissioner's staff being acting commissioner if he or she is the appropriate person in seniority and there is no role conflict, but not to insist on their being the only candidate who can be appointed in those circumstances.
Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, I also speak to Amendment 211ZB on the basis that the principle that the Government should look to in this case is that the person who deputises under such functions must be an elected individual. If the principle of the Government's legislation is that policing and crime commissioners are directly elected, the consequence must be that if they cannot carry out those functions, for whatever reason, the person who fulfils them in their absence
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There are certain ways in which that aim could be achieved. If you had a direct election model for the commissioner, you could also require that a deputy was elected on the ticket at the same time, in the same way as a president and vice-president are elected at the same time in the United States. It would be a very simple change to make and would provide all sorts of additional sensible opportunities for delegation in the administration that was required. Alternatively, you could specify that it should be a member of the policing and crime panel who deputises, because they would have a personal electoral mandate and would be accountable in that way. However, the idea that individual officials, even if there is no cloud over them personally, could set the precept is an extraordinary one. I am sure that that is not what the Government have in mind and I am sure that we would all earnestly hope that there would never be circumstances in which a non-elected person set the precept. However, if the concept of the Bill is to vest these immense powers in a single individual, including the immense power of setting the precept, whether the veto is at 75 per cent, two-thirds or 50 per cent does not matter. You are vesting that power in one individual, and at the very least that person should have a personal electoral mandate.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I hope that the Minister on this occasion-and I mean no offence to the noble Baroness, Lady Browning-will also quote what Professor John Stewart has to say about this idea. I agree totally with my noble friend Lord Harris about the confidence of the public in someone who has been elected. I also speak as somebody who was a member of a county council when an allegation was made about a chief constable and the chair of the police authority. Nobody knew where the ends of that ball of string would end up, and it is conceivable that somebody who was later drawn into the same allegation of corruption would have been the natural person to have been appointed instead. Flexibility has to be there because of the danger. It is not always clear at the beginning that it will go in a direction that involves members of staff.
The other points I put as questions to the Minister. I am a person who can see the potential for conspiracy, having been in politics so long, but it is possible that somebody would step aside with a spurious excuse in order that a member of their staff could act for a period of time and then stand for election themselves. You could see a situation in which the person concerned who had been elected was not aware of that. The Minister is looking puzzled, but it is quite possible that there could be collusion about the possibility of one individual appointing another individual into a post in their stead. That could lead to a form of nepotism, and that worries me unduly.
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