To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they intend to bring forward proposals for incremental urgent reforms that would improve the functioning of the existing House of Lords, notwithstanding their proposals for more fundamental changes.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Strathclyde): My Lords, we have no plans to bring forward additional legislative proposals to reform this House, but we look forward to considering the recommendations of the Procedure Committee to provide for permanent voluntary retirement and to make amendments to the arrangements for leave of absence.
Lord Steel of Aikwood: My Lords, I assume that the Leader of the House is aware that the wording of my Question is lifted completely and exactly from the seventh report of the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, which urges those proposing radical reform to address immediate issues and concludes:
Lord Strathclyde: Not entirely, my Lords, which is why I said in my initial reply that we were looking forward to some of the incremental changes, many of which were born out of the Bill that my noble friend originally proposed several years ago, such as permanent voluntary retirement and improving leave of absence. The draft Bill that the Government published on 17 May includes a whole range of proposals that, given a fair wind, could get Royal Assent by the end of the next Session.
Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, since the proposals set out in the Bill tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, are indeed contained within the draft Bill that the Government have produced, how can the noble Lord the Leader of the House not embrace them enthusiastically here and now? Would it not be sensible to make progress in reform as rapidly as possible in those areas where there is broad agreement?
Lord Strathclyde: It is all a question of time. I dare say that if we rushed through the welfare Bill, the Localism Bill and the health Bill, and found ourselves with a few extra days at the end of the Session, we might be able to look at this more constructively.
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Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Steel's Bill is before the House. It has had its Second Reading and awaits a Committee stage. If my noble friend Lord Hamilton were to table an amendment, I am sure that it would be debated if the Committee stage came forward. I have no idea what the Government's view on that would be, nor indeed what the House's view would be.
Lord Lea of Crondall: Given that there has been no recent statement, as far as I am aware, that no further Members will be appointed for the next six years, is not the question of a statutory appointments commission urgent for the here and now if we are not to keep escalating numbers, which has such a disastrous effect on all aspects of the workings of the House?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I do not recognise the words in the noble Lord's preface to his question-that there would be no more Peers for the next six years. I am sure that there will be. I have said in the recent past that no government list is being worked on at the moment. The independent Appointments Commission has its own ways of producing names and I do not think that there is a moratorium on it. I and many other Members of this House were Members of a House of Lords that had far more Members than this one and it managed perfectly well.
The Lord Bishop of Exeter: My Lords, given the Government's commitment to reducing the number of Members of this House, and faced with the rapidly increasing numbers, is there any intention to learn from the splendid example of these Benches and to bring in a facility to enable Members of the House to retire or to petition for the withdrawal of the Writ of Summons?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, there is certainly a proposal, which we shall be debating in the next couple of weeks, for permanent voluntary retirement for all Peers. I am not entirely sure that that will include Members on the spiritual Benches of the right reverend Prelates, who of course retire from this House not entirely voluntarily but when they reach their 70th birthday.
Lord Grocott: On Tuesday, the Leader of the House was emollient and relaxed about when the Joint Committee should report, the date being 28 February, as in the Motion that was passed, yet he has just told us that it is quite possible that a Bill could become an Act in the second Session of this Parliament and that this House could be on its way to being fully elected in the next Session. It seems to me that there is a bit of a conflict between his not worrying too much about the Joint Committee reporting by 28 February and his
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Lord Strathclyde: Although it is rather flattering to be called emollient and relaxed by the noble Lord, what I actually said earlier this week was that it was entirely in the hands of the Joint Committee when it decides to report back to both Houses. I hope that it will do that as quickly as possible. The words that I used in response to my noble friend Lord Steel were, "given a fair wind". If the committee were to report and the Government were to decide to go ahead with a Bill, it could be in place by the end of the next Session.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, can my noble friend explain why the Government are sending out a message that they are against reform of this Chamber, for which there is substantial support and which is set out in the Steel Bill, and are instead going headlong down a path towards what can only be described as abolition of this House?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, this is where we get into a discussion about semantics. The Government are mad keen on reform. That is why they published their Bill. My noble friend Lord Steel's Bill would create a wholly appointed House. I remind the House that no major political party stood at the last election in favour of those plans. All political parties stood for a wholly, or largely, elected House.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the next part of the "mad keen" process will be consideration of the draft Bill by the Joint Committee. Can the noble Lord the Leader say whether all proceedings of that committee will be in public and whether all the papers pertaining to that committee will be made available to the public?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I understand that it is normal for these sorts of Joint Committees to hear evidence and deliberate in public. I suppose that it is up to the committee exactly what rules it decides on. No doubt those who sit on it and whoever chairs it will take into account this debate and, if representations are made, I am sure that they will wish to be as open as possible.
The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Sassoon): My Lords, the Government have no plans to introduce a new tax exemption for private healthcare insurance where it is provided as a benefit in kind.
Lord Flight: My Lords, will the Government look into the financial arithmetic here, which, on my estimates, could produce a benefit to the NHS of some £3 billion per annum? The data are quite confusing, because there is the question of how many people in total have had and still have private health insurance and how much is provided by employers. I well recollect that back in 1997, when employer-provided insurance became a benefit in kind, in the case of my company all those other than the top earners withdrew from the scheme because they did not want to have tax bills when they might not necessarily use the scheme. My estimate of the £3 billion saving-
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, I am always happy to see evidence on any matter that could save the public purse considerable sums of money. The study has not been done but I am happy to look at any evidence that my noble friend has. However, I caution him that our general thrust is to get rid of reliefs and to simplify the tax system. That is why my right honourable friend the Chancellor announced the abolition of 43 reliefs in the recent Budget. The latest figures indicate that 2.3 million employees are still provided with private medical insurance by their employers. That would probably cover 4.3 million people in total, so the benefit is still widely offered.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, will the noble Lord the Minister, if his noble friend provides the additional information, have regard to the fact that, to my knowledge, no private healthcare system provides totally comprehensive cover? Will he bear in mind the anger that a consultant in an intensive care unit expressed to me at the fact that people coming in from the private sector for intensive care were blocking his beds? He accepted their right to do that, but people cannot opt out of the National Health Service, so the proposed measure would not necessarily save the money to which the Minister's noble friend referred.
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, I am happy to confirm the position, which is quite clear and obviously will not change. As I say, we are not looking at this, but I never say no to ideas that would save considerable sums of money, however remote the possibility that the scheme would work. However, individual choice is the issue around private medical insurance. There is no plan to alter the role of private medical insurance in healthcare provision and there is no loss of entitlement to NHS care for those who take out private medical insurance.
Lord Newby: My Lords, leaving aside the financial implications of the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Flight, does the Minister agree that to move in that direction at this time would send completely the wrong signals? At a time when we should be supporting and strengthening the NHS, if the Government were in effect to encourage people who could afford it to have nothing to do with it, that would take us in exactly the wrong direction.
Lord Sassoon: I am grateful to my noble friend for allowing me to say again that we have absolutely no
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Lord Palmer: My Lords, is that not a terrible shame? In order to ease the pressure on the National Health Service, would it not make sense, particularly for those who are self-employed, to allow their health insurance premiums to be offset against their income tax?
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the health reforms seek to ensure that the sort of situation that the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, described, whereby the National Health Service has had to pick up all the failings of the private sector, will not happen again?
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, they may to some extent at the margin remove a burden off the National Health Service, but, equally, under the previous arrangements where partial tax relief was given, there was considerable additional cost to the taxpayer. It is estimated that putting in place some new allowance would immediately cost the Exchequer at least £700 million-probably considerably more-because of the dead-weight effect of offering that relief to people who already have medical insurance.
Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, does it remove the burden on the National Health Service if it is the same surgeon who performs the treatment, whether private or public, because then the privately insured person jumps the National Health Service queue?
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, that was not the point that I was arguing at all. I stress again that there is no intention to change the existing relationship. We are not studying any plans to bring in a new benefit in kind in this area. These are all interesting points, and some are important, but I hope that the position is clear.
To ask Her Majesty's Government, in the light of the adoption of the European directive on human trafficking, what specific measures they will take to combat the trafficking of children and to support those trafficked.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Browning): My Lords, the UK already has a comprehensive system in place to combat this terrible crime and to ensure that child trafficking victims are identified and receive the necessary support. The Government will shortly be applying to the European Commission to opt into the directive. If the application is accepted, Government will work with the Commission on implementation of the directive. Arrangements will also be strengthened further through measures in the forthcoming human trafficking strategy.
Baroness Massey of Darwen: I thank the Minister for that response and I am delighted by the news that the Government are going to try to opt into the European directive. However, does she agree that there are issues that still need to be looked at and explored? One of these is guardianship. Will the Government support the article in the directive that requires a child victim of trafficking to have a legal representative, advocate or guardian to support them-as they do in Scotland?
Baroness Browning: I can assure the noble Baroness that we have studied very carefully the situation in Scotland, and we are continuing to monitor it-although so far, it looks from what happens in Scotland as though the term "guardian" is probably more represented by the term "advocate". A "guardian" has a slightly different connotation to "advocate", but we are continuing to look at this matter. Our view is that the UK is already compliant with the directive in terms of child guardians. Local authorities have a statutory duty to ensure that they safeguard and promote the welfare of children. However, I must tell the noble Baroness that while I have been encouraged by what we will do when we are able to opt into the directive and by what is coming forward in the new strategy, I am fully aware that in the welfare of children there is a need for a holistic overview, over and above issues such as the roof above their heads, security, food on the table, education, and those core things that statutory agencies of course supply. I will be following this very carefully to make sure that the holistic view is represented.
However, at Barnardo's, in which I declare an interest as vice-president, we have found that trafficked children are still being placed in unsafe hotels, hostels and bed-and-breakfast accommodation. As the study by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection agency showed, this is likely to be the main reason why a high proportion of trafficked children still go missing, when they really should be safe in local authority care. What do the Government intend to do to ensure that the practice of putting vulnerable children into unsafe accommodation is stopped as soon as possible?
Baroness Browning: My noble friend is quite right. The number of children in inappropriate care, resulting in children who have been identified as being trafficked going missing, is a very serious problem on which we
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Baroness Browning: My Lords, I can give that assurance. It is something that we are already looking at. As a new Minister, I had my initial briefing from the UK Border Agency. One of the first questions I asked was: what happens at passport control for children coming into this country who are not accompanied by a parent? Of course, there are quite legitimate reasons why children would come in from overseas with an adult relative, but we are aware of some of the case histories-the Victoria Climbié case comes to mind in particular. It is very difficult to say how we address in the short term the passport arrangements for other countries, but we should focus on it to ensure that we pick up those children at that early stage, at the border when they come into this country, rather than later when so much damage has been done.
Lord Rosser: My Lords, the Government have just announced proposals to merge the highly effective Child Exploitation and Online Protection agency into a new national crime agency. Of course, the previous head of CEOP resigned from the agency after seeing the Government's plans and has said that the submerging of CEOP within a far greater entity will not allow the critical child protection focus that we need. Where will responsibility for combating child trafficking lie within the proposed national crime agency? Does the fact that the Government have said that the cost of the new national crime agency will not exceed the aggregate cost of its predecessors, when the Child Exploitation and Online Protection agency is to suffer a 10 per cent reduction in its budget, simply confirm that it is highly vulnerable children who are likely to be in the firing line from the Government's decision to ram through cuts that are too fast and too deep?
Baroness Browning: My Lords, I quite disagree with the noble Lord. The announcement yesterday of the national crime agency means that we will set up a body which will have four pillars-which will not be silos; they will work together-of which child protection is a key part. The whole agency will be responsible for gathering intelligence, analysis of that intelligence and a crime-fighting force that will not just be based in the capital but will interact with police forces around the country.
The problems that we face in areas such as trafficking do not confine themselves to local police force borders. Children and adults who have been trafficked are moved around. They are, in effect, in slavery and may not be in the place where they came into the country. That is organised crime and it recognises no borders. I believe that the national crime agency will bear down on that, as it will in other areas of organised crime.
Lord McColl of Dulwich: My Lords, we have already had First Reading of my Bill to implement the human trafficking directive. When will we have Second Reading so that we can get transposition under way?
Baroness Browning: My Lords, I would have to consult the usual channels on the timetabling of any legislation in this House. I hope that my noble friend will be reassured by the fact that, in opting into the directive, if that is accepted, we have already identified several changes that will need to be made in order to be compliant with the directive. They include: widening one existing offence of trafficking for forced labour; amending existing trafficking offences to confer extra-territorial jurisdiction over UK nationals who commit trafficking offences anywhere in the world; making mandatory some measures which are currently good practice-for example, appointing special representatives to support child witnesses during police investigations and criminal trials; and setting out the rights of victims to assistance and support.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): My Lords, we remain extremely concerned at the situation in Yemen. Recent events have shown how quickly the security situation can deteriorate. Since 12 March this year, we have been urging all British nationals to leave Yemen without delay by commercial carriers. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary issued a statement on 3 June repeating the message in our travel advice to all British nationals to leave by commercial means, adding that people should not plan for or expect the British Government to be in a position to assist them to reach safety. In the other place, on 7 June, he repeated the message that an assisted evacuation will be extremely unlikely. The embassy in San'a retains a core complement of staff. With consular staff in London and at our passport processing centre in Paris, we are working with the embassy to ensure that all those eligible for British travel documents receive them as soon as possible.
Lord Clinton-Davis: I thank the noble Lord for that Answer, but will he be more specific about the situation in relation to members of the embassy staff, who face a particular threat from the authorities in Yemen? Does he agree that, with a president who nominally heads a discredited regime-I witnessed it myself several years ago-and is ignored by Governments of all persuasions, the position there is extremely dangerous and uncertain?
Lord Howell of Guildford: The noble Lord is absolutely right: the extreme danger is unquestionable. We have drawn down the staff at our embassy to a small, core team and a further withdrawal of staff may be necessary if conditions dictate-we are watching the situation very carefully indeed. For obvious reasons, which I know the noble Lord will understand, it would be wrong for me to comment in detail on any contingency plan, but that is the position.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords, are the Government minded to support opposition demands for a presidential council to be established in Yemen to ease the transition from power and to send a clear message to President Saleh that he is no longer fit to rule? Will my noble friend also tell the House whether he believes that the Friends of Yemen group has any further usefulness, given that it is so closely aligned to the old regime?
Lord Howell of Guildford: Our general position is strong support for the Gulf Cooperation Council's plans, which have been brought forward with considerable detail and support from the neighbouring countries and the whole region. We believe that, for the moment, that is the best plan on the table. I certainly concede to my noble friend that it is not working well at the moment, but that seems to be the best possible avenue through which one could begin to see some kind of settlement emerge. That is all that I can say at the moment, beyond the fact that, of course, the United Nations remains very interested and is watching the situation closely as well.
Lord Dykes: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is essential for the British Government to be even-handed in their attitude to all the countries involved in the Arab spring revolution and to wish the local population well in that process? Should that not also include Israel? Have the Government taken steps to ask the Israeli military to exercise restraint and not to shoot at unarmed civilians?
Lord Howell of Guildford: This Question is about Yemen. We certainly aim for even-handedness in pursuing our own principles and values but, unfortunately, as every country has different situations that require delicate and different handling beyond the general principles, we have to appreciate, respect and understand the inner workings of these countries to be effective.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the situation in Yemen has been very grave-it has been a fragile state-for a long time. We all owe a debt of gratitude to those members of the Foreign Office who are still prepared to stay in the embassy, given that it has come under attack on a number of occasions. I know that this is very difficult, but, given that we
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Lord Howell of Guildford: That clearly would be the ideal. I cannot go into precise contingency arrangements for the channels and passage of our information. Obviously, we need to get high-quality information of the best kind. On the question of al-Qaeda involvement, there is constant concern that al-Qaeda training groups are operating in the area. Some people have an interest in pursuing and purveying the story in one way and others in presenting it in another, so getting accurate information is bound to be difficult. Of course, the noble Baroness, with her considerable experience, is right to urge that our channels of information should remain as good and direct as we can possibly engineer.
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been tabled to the Bill and no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Unless, therefore, any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.
"(b) may issue guidance on matters relating to-
(i) the conduct of chief commissioners, members and co-opted members of police and crime panels and the Police Commissions in England and Wales; and
(ii) the qualifications and or experience that monitoring officers should possess."
Lord Rosser: My Lords, I hesitated before speaking because I intend to be very brief and I was of the view that I would probably finish before everybody had managed to leave the Chamber if I started straight away.
Police authorities currently are covered by the Standards Board for England, but this will not be the case with the new police and crime panels provided for in the Bill. The amendment provides for guidance to continue to be given by the Standards Board for England in relation to the conduct of chief commissioners, members and co-opted members of police and crime panels and the police commissions in England and Wales, and also on the matter of the qualifications and experience that monitoring officers should possess. The current legislation states:
"In exercising its functions the Standards Board for England must have regard to the need to promote and maintain high standards of conduct by members and co-opted members of relevant authorities in England. ... The Standards Board for England ... may issue guidance to relevant authorities in England and police authorities in Wales on matters relating to the conduct of members and co-opted members of such authorities".
If the situation is that while police authorities are currently covered by the Standards Board for England but that this will not be the case for the new police and crime panels-indeed, I understand that it is the Government's intention to abolish the Standards Board-the purpose of this amendment is to ask what the Government intend to do in future in relation, for example, to the new police and crime panels. Is it intended to replicate the functions currently carried out by the Standards Board as far as, for example, the new police and crime panels are concerned and, if so, by which individual, body or organisation? One would have thought that since one of the key functions of the
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Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, I rise first to speak in support of the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Rosser. To some extent, we touched on these matters at an earlier stage. The absence of a standards regime for these new bodies which are going to be responsible for the oversight of the police service in England and Wales is really rather extraordinary. In the previous day in Committee, I gave an example of the sorts of things that could happen where having a robust standards regime would be a better solution than one that says that, if these individuals step over the line and actually break the law, they can be investigated by the police-for whom they have a direct responsibility, of course, which raises some interesting questions-and, if necessary, prosecuted. A standards regime that is going to protect the integrity of those individuals and provide assurance to the public that they are acting properly and appropriately is clearly important. It will be interesting to hear from the Minister how the Government envisage that this will be dealt with.
Grouped with this amendment-rather strangely, I have to say-is Amendment 234. Some of the groupings in this Committee stage have been rather strange, but a group of two amendments on two completely different topics is something that one should perhaps be surprised at. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, will want to speak to Amendment 234 in a moment, and I have also put my name to this amendment. Amendment 234 raises the very important, separate issue about how complaints against police officers are to be handled. I suspect that the unsatisfactory arrangement now contained in the Bill, whereby the chief officer of police or the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis will act as both the complaints authority and the appeals body for their own officers, will run contrary to principles of natural justice and cause problems in the way in which the police service operates. It will also produce a minefield of arguments, litigation, industrial tribunals and so on-all the sorts of things which the police services are already rife with, for one reason or another. This will actually make matters worse and it will not provide protection for chief officers of police who may be accused of not handling a complaint properly or an appeal properly because they will be seen as part of the same process. So it is really rather important that there is a separate and independent mechanism as part of that.
The other element contained in the amendment which the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, has put forward and to which I have put my name is the question of information. This specifically refers to London but the same principle applies outside London. One of the very important functions of whoever is responsible for oversight of the police must be to know of, and have information about, the nature of complaints that are being made against police officers in a particular area. The second part of this amendment provides a requirement that that information is automatically provided, in this instance to the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime, but I suspect the Government would want to ensure that it was also provided to elected police and crime commissioners, if that is what we have, or to police and crime commissions, or whatever the final model is. One of the very important functions of holding a police service to account is to know the nature of the complaints that are being received, to know what is being done about them, to monitor trends and perhaps to dip-sample some of them to make sure that those complaints are being handled properly. That is why this amendment is important.
I hope that the Minister, in responding, will recognise that that function of monitoring complaints and understanding what is going on will be a critical and necessary part of any body that has oversight of the police service.
Baroness Doocey: My Lords, I fully endorse everything my noble friend Lord Harris has just said. I just add that I find it quite extraordinary that this Bill proposes a system whereby the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police would effectively be judge, jury and executioner. It puts a huge amount of power in the hands of one person, which is bad enough without a system where there are absolutely no checks and balances of any description. The proposal is deeply flawed. It also lacks an effective framework to safeguard impartiality.
At the moment complaints against senior officers are dealt with by the Metropolitan Police Authority. There is a very good system and it is dealt with by the Professional Standards Cases Sub-Committee. If officers are unhappy with the rulings of that sub-committee, there is a very clear, very transparent appeals system to the police appeals tribunal. This amendment would restore equivalent safeguards, which I believe is absolutely essential. It would make the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime the appeals body, and I endorse again what my noble friend Lord Harris has said: that in order for that to work it is absolutely essential that the MOPC would have statutory access to information and systems where complaints are recorded. The Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime simply cannot be sitting there waiting for the Metropolitan Police Commissioner to advise it of complaints and conduct matters. It must be able to have statutory access. Without this, I do not believe that it is possible that it can discharge its functions in the Bill; namely, to ensure that chief constables have fulfilled their duty in the handling of such complaints. I believe that it is absolutely essential to put independence, transparency and impartiality back into this process.
Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington: My Lords, I support the amendment in respect of one issue in particular, which is the issue in terms of judge and jury where the commissioner would decide on a case and then be the appellant authority. It flies in the face of natural justice. All I ask is that the Minister has a look at that and takes legal advice in relation to it. I am quite sure that at some stage there might be room for changing that part of the Bill.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, the noble Lord from the Cross Benches interestingly reminds us of the two limbs of the item in the coalition programme for government. The second, which in my view is of equal status to the first, is the strict checks and balances on the first limb.
I support what has been said on Amendment 234. On Monday, I put forward an amendment which specifically addressed the monitoring of complaints to which the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, has referred. It is important to look at how complaints are handled overall as well as individually.
The theme of Amendment 220ZZA surfaced strongly when we debated the Localism Bill a couple of days ago. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, is right to draw our attention to this. Assuming that there will be different codes of conduct, and there should be, how such codes are to fit-when you have members of a panel who will be subject to particular standards and provisions, we hope, in their capacity as local councillors-with any separate code of conduct in this capacity and the need for a chief commissioner to be subject to some sort of arrangement requires a lot more thinking through.
The noble Lord's point about the monitoring officer, who will I assume be appointed by the commissioner or a member of the commissioner's office-perhaps we will hear whether the Government have any different idea in mind-is important. I have seen monitoring officers a little out of their depth. It is important that they should have both the tools and the qualifications to be able to carry out what can often be a difficult and sensitive role. I have also seen monitoring officers who are absolutely splendid at the job because they are so sensitive to the huge range of issues that not every monitoring officer spots is going across her or his desk as part of the monitoring process.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Browning): My Lords, following the decision on the first day in Committee, this Bill now removes the current arrangements for policing governance. The Government's intention in relation to Schedule 14 is to ensure that there is a proportionate and effective police complaints system with responsibility for responding to complaints resting at the appropriate level. The Independent Police Complaints Commission will be responsible for the handling of appeals in cases where the complaint is of a description set out in regulations. Such cases may include those where the allegation may amount to a criminal offence or would justify the bringing of disciplinary proceedings. In low level complaint matters, it is appropriate that the chief officer of the force concerned should be responsible for ensuring that there has been an appropriate response to a complainant's concerns.
The amendment to Schedule 14 would mean that the responsibility for dealing with appeals against low level complaints in the Metropolitan Police would be handled by the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime rather than it resting with the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. While the Government recognise that this is one way of providing some independent scrutiny of such matters, we are not persuaded that the responsibility and duty to consider individual appeals should be different in London and rest with the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime. The Bill already provides a power to the relevant local policing body to enable it to direct the chief officer to take such steps it considers appropriate if it determines that the complaint has not been appropriately dealt with. The local policing body also has functions to ensure that it is kept informed about the handling of complaints within its force and to ask for information being held on the force's systems related to complaints. The Government consider that these safeguards are sufficient and achieve the same effect as the amendment suggests. It is the Government's view that the responsibility for the handling of low level matters should rest with the chief officer of a force, with the local policing body holding the chief officer to account and vested with the power to intervene if it is not satisfied that a specific complaint has not been dealt with by the chief officer to a satisfactory standard.
Moving on to Amendment 220ZZA, this Labour amendment which seeks to insert a new clause after Clause 78 would give the Standards Board for England a role in providing guidance relating to the conduct of chief commissioners, members and co-opted members of the police and crime panels, and the police commissions in England and Wales. It would also be able to issue guidance relating to the qualifications and/or experience that monitoring officers should possess. However, Clause 15 of and Schedule 4 to the Localism Bill will abolish the Standards Board so there would be no practical effect in accepting this proposal.
However, I take the points made about the Localism Bill, which has come before your Lordships' House in the past few days. In the Localism Bill, with the abolition of the Standards Board regime, it will become a criminal offence for councillors deliberately to withhold or misrepresent a personal interest. This means that councils will not be obliged to spend time and money investigating trivial complaints while councillors involved in corruption and misconduct will face appropriately serious sanctions. This will provide a more effective safeguard against unacceptable behaviour. In order to retain confidence in the policing system, any allegations of criminal behaviour against police and crime commissioners will be referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. It will then be for the IPCC to determine the appropriate method of investigation. Allegations of criminal behaviour against members of police and crime panels will be investigated by the police service in the normal way.
Lord Beecham: I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. It is possible, under the Localism Bill as it stands, for councils to constitute standards committees. It will not be a requirement on them but they could do so. In that event, could a complaint against a councillor member of an authority in respect of his or her service on a police and crime panel be investigated by the standards committee of the council on which he or she serves?
Baroness Browning: That is a good question. As I indicated to the Committee, we would expect the police to investigate serious complaints so far as the panel is concerned. As I said, however, we are in discussions with colleagues and will come back to the House with a decision on where would be the appropriate place to make amendments to the Bill.
Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply, which raises quite a number of issues. Let us deal first with the question of standards and what is to happen. I accept that the Committee is in the very difficult position of considering a piece of government legislation that is possibly going to change the law in respect of standards, and trying to deal with a piece of legislation where we have already slightly altered the direction of travel, which may or may not revert. The principle that the Minister seems to be enunciating is that there is nothing below the threshold of criminal activity which will be investigated. That is a very worrying situation to create in areas where there will be all sorts of difficult arguments to be had about the extent to which the functions of overseeing the police service are being properly fulfilled. That is a genuine difficulty.
A further genuine difficulty is who will investigate such matters. In the context of the Localism Bill, if we are talking about the investigation of misbehaviour by a local authority member, then the local police force may well be the adequate route to follow. However, where it is the individual or individuals with responsibility for the oversight of the police service in question who are being investigated, for that force to investigate that individual will raise some real and difficult issues unless it is also being said that, under all those circumstances, the individuals will be suspended. Again, I am not sure that that is the import of the other part of the Bill.
Two questions need to be addressed in respect of the Minister's answer on standards. First, is there anything below the threshold of criminal activity on which there should be some guidance on standards of behaviour? Secondly, what safeguards exist for the police investigating the people who are responsible for oversight? The latter situation could work both ways. It could be the police going soft on the person who is responsible for oversight, or it could be the police investigating more rigorously than might otherwise be the case the person who has been giving them a hard time in their role of oversight.
That is one group of issues that has been addressed in these amendments. I say to the Committee that we really must look at what items we bring together in amendment groupings because it is getting a little bit
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The second set of issues related to the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey. Quite understandably, she characterised it as being just about London. But this is Committee stage. Yes, the amendment is cast in terms of London, but the principles apply to everywhere else in the country. If there is a real issue here, we need to look at it across the country and not just in terms of London. Is the Minister saying that there will be mechanisms for an independent appeals process, or will it just voluntarily be done by chief officers of police or, in London's case, the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis? How will the power of the local policing body be exercised if it feels that a complaint has not been dealt with properly? Will it simply be a matter of complainants coming to the local policing body and saying, "Hey, our complaint is not being dealt with properly"? In virtually every instance where a person feels that they have a complaint against the police, they will first complain to the police service and then go to the local policing body, which will have no power to do anything about it other than to go back to the chief officer of police and say, "Look at it again". I suspect that police and crime commissions and commissioners, and the MOPC in London, will end up having to do an enormous amount of complaints work because they will be seen as the route down which you will have go to prod the police to take your complaints seriously.
The final and, I hope, the easiest point for the Minister to answer is on the powers of the local policing body to require information. Is she able to give us an undertaking that that information is about not only mechanisms and numbers but also, potentially, individual cases? There are two reasons for saying that it needs potentially to be about individual cases. First, an individual case may be a matter of local importance-in which case it is important that specific information can be obtained by the local policing body; and, secondly, there is enormous value in local policing bodies having the power to dip sample what has happened in terms of complaints because the dip-sampling process often tells you all kinds of extra information about the way in which the police service is operating in that case.
Baroness Browning: My Lords, perhaps I may begin with that last point. We all understand complaints which involve criminality-that is fairly clear-but below that there are issues about complaints to do with, for example, time-keeping, absenteeism, rudeness and that kind of thing, which I regard as low-level complaints. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Harris, will accept that those within policing are able to make that distinction quite clearly without too much written information in the Bill.
The noble Lord mentioned standards. A PCC will be subject to interrogation by the IPCC and the local police for criminal allegations, and the IPCC will decide which are the less serious allegations. So the
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On the points the noble Lord, Lord Harris, made about London, the Government recognise that sometimes people feel that the independent scrutiny of such matters should be in the Bill but, as I said earlier, we do not agree. We are not persuaded of that and it is not our intention to make any changes in that respect.
Lord Harris of Haringey: Let me be clear: the amendments are couched in terms of London but the principle of an independent element in matters where there are appeals against a chief officer's decision is important and should apply across the Bill. Clearly there is not an amendment before us which deals with outside London-there may have been one in one of the many groups we dealt with the other day but we lost it in the wash. However, it is an important principle to which we will have to return on Report, as the noble Lord, Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington, has indicated.
The point made by the Minister about PCPs-or, in the case of London, the London Assembly-dealing with lower-than-criminality level complaints about the elected police and crime commissioner or the MOPC in London will create a situation where there will constantly be a party political row in the police and crime panels and the London Assembly panel as to whether the person concerned has performed their duties appropriately. If that is in the absence of a centrally laid down and agreed framework of standards, it will be a constant, politically damaging and wasteful process. There is still a need for a centrally laid down framework of standards for the behaviour and actions of police and crime commissioners.
Lord Soley: The noble Lord is quite right in saying there is potential for political conflict of the type that he describes. Does he foresee that there could then be a danger of a continuing battle over that, which would, in the end, go to the courts?
Lord Harris of Haringey: It is certainly possible that it would go the courts. However, I was thinking more of an equally completely draining and pointless political toing and froing over something when, with a clear framework or set of guidance and standards against which any of these allegations could be judged, the situation would be better for all concerned. It seems to me that a PCC, for example, or the MOPC, may have a particular view of the standards they should follow while the PCP or the London Assembly panel might have a different view-that would just lead to endless political argument and rows, rather than saying, "Here is a set of guidance and that is the way we should operate".
Baroness Browning: In reply to the noble Lord, standards and governance would not be something we would wish to put in the Bill. It might well be something that would come out later in guidance, but I would not expect it to be in the Bill itself.
Lord Rosser: First, I thank all those noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, which has clearly raised a number of serious and important issues. I am left with the impression that the Government, in their enthusiasm in the Localism Bill to abolish the Standards Board, probably overlooked the significance of that decision for this Bill. I think that is why the Minister has been a little on the defensive during these exchanges. I do not think there has been as much joined-up thinking as the Government would sometimes wish us to imagine that there is. A fairly powerful case has been made for continuing guidance in order to promote and maintain high standards and conduct by the members of the bodies that we are talking about within this particular Bill.
I have to say I am not entirely clear-and I would be grateful if the Minister could clear this up-what she has or has not agreed to do. She has made references during this debate to still being in discussion with colleagues. However, I am not clear what the Minister is saying she is still looking at and, by inference, whether she might be coming back to this House at a later date; or even if she is saying that she is looking at some of the issues that are raised by my amendment and will be coming back to the House with further thoughts. There may be no further change at all, but will she be coming back to this House to let us know the result of these discussions she is having with colleagues?
Baroness Browning: I am grateful to the noble Lord and perhaps I can just clarify that. These discussions between the Home Office and CLG are ongoing and I cannot give the House a definitive answer today as to the conclusions. However, I will promise that as soon as they are concluded-which I hope will be shortly-I will write to noble Lords and place a letter in the Library.
Baroness Browning: My Lords, I do not want to be too defensive on this but it is a matter that we are looking at. With the abolition of the Standards Board, we need to make sure that that piece of legislation does not have an adverse effect on this particular Bill, therefore there are some discussions going on as to how we resolve the matter and in which piece of legislation we may or may not want to make any changes. It is on that basis that discussions are being taken forward.
Lord Rosser: I will at this stage leave it at that. I thank the Minister for that further information. I hope that it does lead to some changes to the Bill because the case has been made fairly strongly and powerfully for at least the continuation of guidance on promoting and maintaining high standards of conduct in relation to panels that certainly will be subject to a
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Baroness Henig: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 220ZA, 220ZB, 221B, 228B and 228C. These amendments can be split into two groups, though both parts seek to foster appropriate safeguards which will protect the public from the possible whims or vagaries of an individual commissioner exerting inappropriate influence over the police. The first group, Amendments 220ZA, 220ZB and 221B, seek to strengthen the idea of the strategic policing requirement or SPR-a concept supported across the House but one which many think needs to be strengthened to enable it to succeed.
First, my recollection is that the Policing Minister in the other place said in Committee there that a draft strategic policing requirement document would be available to Peers at Committee stage. There has been no mention of this document in discussions in your Lordships' House thus far. Can the Minister tell us when we might expect to see that document? It is very important that we see it because it will set out the police's approach to dealing with national and regional threats and help us to understand what the role of police governance needs to be at this level. At present, we are being asked to approve an approach in principle to legislation without being able to scrutinise the detail in this area, when we do not know what the national police landscape might look like. I hope that the Minister might be able to tell us a bit more about that document.
The strategic policing requirement is a crucial component of the changes proposed by the Government. Under a new regime of accountability, driven by a focus on public perception and visibility while constrained by cuts, that requirement could help to ensure that less visible cross-border and specialist policing functions are not neglected while issues such as antisocial behaviour predominate in planning and local police resourcing. Amendments 220ZA and 220ZB therefore propose practical changes that would ensure sufficient time elapses between the Home Secretary producing the SPR and each local policing and crime plan being finalised. The idea is that the timescale would help to ensure that the strategic policing requirement could be wholly and thoughtfully reflected through each force's local planning, not as an afterthought but as the core consideration that it must be if the public are to be kept safe from what are commonly known as level 2 or protective service threats.
Amendment 221B goes further in embedding the worthy idea of the strategic policing requirement by making all the members of the panel have regard to it. It is hoped that this will assist in balancing the necessary tendency towards parochialism on the part of those with an explicit role to represent a certain area with the duty to have regard to the bigger picture. It could prove a useful factor in ensuring that resources sufficient to protect the public are devoted to less visible or immediate local areas of policing. Finally, on the strategic policing requirement, Amendment 221B makes sure that although the entire police and crime commission must have regard to it, it is the commissioner who must ensure that it is fully,
I believe this requirement on the commissioner to lead from the top in delivering the strategic policing requirement is an essential component in its success if neighbourhoods are not to be consigned to a postcode lottery of unfairly inequitable levels of local protection from serious threats, such as terrorism and cross-border crime or issues such as domestic violence. That is my first set of amendments.
The second pairing of amendments, Amendments 228B and 228C, relate to the functions of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary. We heard from the Minister at a much earlier stage in our deliberations about the importance of that inspectorate's assessment of police authorities as one means of driving improvement. Noble Lords might recall that it was urgently necessary to change from the present structure because of the inspection results that had so far come forth. It is worth detouring here just a little, if I may, to meet these criticisms: I remind your Lordships that 22 out of 43 police authorities were inspected and not one failed either an Inspectorate of Constabulary inspection or an Audit Commission inspection. I recall that the same level of success has not been achieved by the Government in their departmental inspections, or even by local authorities. So police authorities did extremely well in these inspections because the vast majority of scores assessed their performances as more than adequate or doing well, and a number attained the rank of excellent. That, not surprisingly, was reflected in a recent YouGov poll undertaken for Liberty, which revealed that 65 per cent of the public, on a nationwide sample of more than 2,300, think that the present system of police accountability is serving them well and is preferable to that proposed by the Government.
Whatever the results of these inspections, everybody has agreed that they were important, rigorous and thorough. If they have revealed the case for change, then why on earth should they not be engaged to continue driving improvement and measuring the success or otherwise of the new system? It is by no means clear to me that the Government wish the inspectorate of constabulary to have any duty to inspect police commissioners as they propose to abolish the ability and, indeed, the duty on HMIC to inspect police authorities.
By this stage in our deliberations, I think I can anticipate the Minister's reply. I might be wrong, but I think it will go along the lines of saying that a commissioner's fundamental accountability is to their electors and it is these electors who should have the
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Every time we try to put a check or balance in place to rein in a commissioner, the response is always that that runs counter to the Government's concept that in the last resort, were we to have a directly elected commissioner, they can be accountable only to their electorate. If you accept the logic of that model, it means that you cannot have any strict checks and balances because ultimately it will all be up to the electorate. Under that model, 43 individual party politicians deploying huge resources will be able to exercise fairly decisive and possibly capricious pressure on policing and on the force senior and divisional command teams.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, quite rightly reminded the Committee earlier, the coalition agreement wording refers to strict checks and balances by locally elected representatives. The model currently before the Committee-the one outlined in the earlier amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, which found favour with your Lordships-actually provides these strict checks and balances and does so much more effectively than anything else that the Government have so far come up with.
The amendment seeks to provide another check by restoring the requirement on HMIC to inspect police commissioners who will not just be spending public money but setting public budgets and priorities for the emergency service of last resort in every community. It is important that they should be able to allow any part of the police commission to call in the inspectorate to inspect itself or a component part of the commission, as it can for any part of the force. It is an essential requirement that these inspections should be allowable. I believe that these simple changes could make a world of difference to public trust and confidence in the new system, providing, as they would, requirements on all forces to address the fullest range of threats to the public and also to provide independent verification of the efficiency and efficacy of those charged with overseeing the police and their substantial budgets. I beg to move.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I have Amendments 223, 224 and 225 in this group. I support the amendments in the group that would extend the duties to observe the strategic policing requirement to commissioners, for the reasons of which the noble Baroness has reminded us and on which many noble Lords spoke powerfully on previous days. Perhaps I can summarise those reasons as being the temptation for the commissioner to play to the local gallery, which is one of the dangerous aspects of the politicisation of policing to which many of us referred. I share, too, the concern that the words "have regard to" are insufficient. The Constitution Committee put it tactfully, saying that,
the wording "is sufficiently compelling". Those of us whose natural inclination is to go local are concerned about this; it is quite significant. As we come to the end of Part 1 of the Bill, I shall mention the need for strict checks and balances again, even though these are of rather a different kind.
within this provision, is intended to seek assurances from the Minister on the approach to the work that is currently within SOCA. I chose that wording because I did not want to single out one area of criminality above others. I have said this before in Committee. For example, the noble Lord, Lord Laming, referred on the second day of Committee proceedings to child protection. I acknowledged then its importance. He acknowledged that child and adult trafficking, for instance, are-I hesitate to say of equal importance-within the same category. My noble friend Lady Walmsley will speak to a specific amendment on this in a moment.
It might be worth mentioning a letter that I am sure other noble Lords will have received from the Howard League for Penal Reform as we approached Second Reading. It is certainly useful to realise that some of the points that we make over and again are not just ones that we have dreamt up but are of concern outside this House. The letter mentioned the concern that the proposed elected police and crime commissioners would find it,
seems too restrictive. One would not want to see an argument over whether that criterion was satisfied when common sense says that the likelihood is that a national policing capability is required with regard to the matter. They may look like two rather small and insignificant amendments, but I am concerned that this part of the definition is too narrow and too restrictive. I hope this is something that the Government might take away and think about again.
Baroness Doocey: My Lords, I have tabled Amendments 221 and 222 in this group, concerning the duty of the Home Secretary to deal with national threats by issuing a strategic policing requirement. As my noble friend Lady Hamwee has already said, the words "have regard to" in the Bill are definitely too weak and need to be changed to a firm obligation. Allowing a PCC to disregard national threats in favour of political expediency or re-election strategies is not a good idea. PCCs are directly elected. There will be political incentives for them to behave partially, particularly in the run-up to an election. Decisions based on a PCC re-election strategy will not necessarily be the best way to address major threats and public order problems.
Imagine a scenario whereby a PCC has been elected on the promise of putting significant additional police officers into an area of high crime and then, two weeks before the next election, is asked to extract those same officers in order to deal with the policing of a major demonstration in London. At best, they will be very torn between the necessity of trying to get themselves re-elected and whether they should "have regard to" sending the officers to London. It is a difficult issue that really needs to be clarified, and to become a firm obligation rather than a suggestion. Under the Bill, the PCC would be free to disregard strategic policing requirements. We cannot afford to have dealing with national threats undermined by decisions taken for reasons of political expediency.
Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, this part of the Bill is one of the most important. I speak to Amendments 229 and 230 in my name, and also in support of Amendments 221 and 222 to which I have put my name.
This issue is extremely important because, for most citizens, interaction with the police is obviously about what happens at the most local of levels. It is about what is going on at their street corner, the threat of violence in the streets, burglary and anti-social behaviour. However, people take it for granted that more serious crime is being dealt with somewhere. They take it for granted that terrorism is being dealt with somewhere. However, every part of the country must be making its contribution to that effort. If it does not, there is a real danger that terrorism or serious and organised crime cannot be dealt with effectively. There is a need for a national strategic policing requirement. The Government are quite right to place it in the Bill as they have done.
However, there is a danger in the overall governance proposals in terms of whether the same level of priority will be given under the new governance structure to what the current Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis calls the "balanced policing model": the balance between the handling of the immediate concern of the local citizen and these national contributions to making the country safer. There is a fear-which has just been expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, and by others as well-about the extent to which a directly elected police and crime commissioner, or the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime, will necessarily place the same priority on that national obligation as
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I give your Lordships an example. At the moment, police services around the country are facing extremely difficult budget rounds. In those areas of the country without a counterterrorist intelligence unit, questions may well be phrased as to what the appropriate level of requirement for those areas to maintain a level of Special Branch commitment is compared to the past. Local policing bodies, whether under the current model or-even more so-under a directly elected model in the future, may well make a judgment that these issues are not currently significant in their part of the country and that they can reduce their commitment to them. That would be a perfectly sensible and, in many ways, rational judgment.
However, the reality is that even-indeed, especially-in the most rural areas of the country there have been organised terrorist training camps. It is a fact, regrettably, that one of the most difficult threats that counterterrorism now faces is the individual who chooses to radicalise themselves on the internet, is not in ready communication with groups which might otherwise be monitored, who decides to build an explosive device following a recipe obtained on the internet, and who then goes out and does something in a local town centre. There have been a number of such individuals in the past few years. Those are precisely the circumstances under which you suddenly discover that that force would have been very well placed to have retained a good, high, strong Special Branch capacity. Yet that is the sort of thing that is vulnerable at the moment. No doubt the Minister will counter that this is not actually a problem, but it is the sort of thing that should be looked at in terms of the level of budgets that have been allocated for those sorts of things.
Similarly, it may not be apparent that activities and organised crime will impact on, say, a rural village, or even some of the leafier suburbs of London. Apart from the fact that these are often precisely the areas where some of the most serious criminals decide they want to live, it is not the case that they do not impact on those areas. Indeed, we have to take into account the insidious way in which serious crime operates, whereby quality of life is diminished over quite a long period. That requires long-term investment in tackling those problems. It is not something that you can just send in a task force to handle; you have to continually work on those areas. There is a risk. There is the sort of conversation which goes, "Why should we, in this force area, maintain a kidnap unit of this capacity and quality, able to deal with these sorts of incidents? Why do we need to do this?". The reason is that if you do not, or if you do not contribute to something that is provided on a regional or national basis, when something goes wrong it will be your citizens who are potentially vulnerable.
Yesterday, the Home Secretary produced proposals for a national crime agency. One of the central planks is the ability of the national crime agency to direct resources. This will be an interesting way forward, and it will be fascinating to watch some of the discussions which will no doubt take place with chief officers of police as to how this is to be managed and who will have operational control, and all the sorts of counterterrorism issues that have had to be resolved over the past few years. It will be an interesting and exciting set of discussions.
I have no problem with the concept in principle; all I am saying is that it will be that much harder to direct resources if, when you contact the chief constable concerned, you say, "I am sorry. I just don't have that capacity because I decided I didn't need that number of detectives or that number of specialist units in my force area because it is not a day-to-day priority as far as I'm concerned. I know there is a problem as this group seems to be operating across my territory but I no longer have the resources". That is why the strategic policing requirement is so important. I do not believe that sensible police and crime commissioners or the MOPC will deliberately say, "We are going to run down these things", but when you are faced with difficult budgetary decisions and you are facing a difficult election campaign, having more police tackling day-to-day street crime and anti-social behaviour is a very compelling argument.
In the long distant days when I was a local authority leader, I remember that whatever my personal priorities were in terms of the value of education or the big spending items, the important thing in the run-up to an election was to divert resources to street cleaning as that was the key driver on how people voted. I hesitate to say that there will be similar key drivers in the election for police and crime commissioners or the MOPC in London, but I suspect that there will be. The danger is that the strategic policing obligations will be put to one side, even if for a temporary period, in the run-up to an election. Therefore, there has to be something in the Bill which gives the strategic policing requirement real teeth and real obligations.
My specific proposal is that we should give more powers and responsibilities to Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary. I say that for two reasons. One is that I think that is the sensible way forward. It would mean that the inspectorate would look at the way in which individual forces had chosen to meet their obligations under the strategic policing requirement, and would then report no doubt to the Home Secretary but also to the elected commissioner, the PCP and anyone else involved. Certainly those parts of the report that can be made public should be made public because, if there is a failing in this area, local electorates will want make to take account of it in determining whether they should re-elect a particular individual or deciding whether it is an important issue for their locality. That should be a regular process. Given the pliability of budgets, it should be done at least once a year; otherwise, I am not sure that you will necessarily resolve the matter. That seems to me the appropriate mechanism and it is consistent with the way in which the police service operates.
The other important reason why I think this is the right way forward is that it gets the Government off the hook as regards how much they specify in the strategic policing requirement. I have heard Ministers say-vehemently in the case of the Minister of State-that they do not want to put an enormous shopping list into the strategic policing requirement. As a general principle, that is right. This is not the way to do it because people will simply follow the shopping list, if that is what they are told to do, rather than necessarily working out what is the best way to deliver their obligations under it. However, I have heard counterarguments from chief constables who say that we have to have a document. They are busily preparing volumes of material which they say should underpin the strategic policing requirement.
I propose that there should be a police-led discussion on the most effective way of meeting a strategic policing requirement. The inspectorate would have the key role in determining what it is looking for as it goes round forces to see whether the strategic policing requirement is being met. The Government would not have to specify in mind-boggling detail how many officers should patrol a regional airport, for instance-expect that in that case the airport ought to be paying for them-or specify in enormous detail the size of a force Special Branch or how many detectives it is necessary for each force to maintain so that they have the capacity to receive instructions, guidance and requests from the national crime agency or from the local counterterrorist unit. Those matters would be determined within the police service in discussions led by the inspectorate.
Unless you have this sort of mechanism, it seems to me that despite having a strategic policing requirement there will be no means of making that happen. As a consequence, there is a real danger that over time we will find that we do not have the resources that the country needs to deal with serious organised crime or terrorism.
Baroness Walmsley: As my noble friend Lady Hamwee said, I have an amendment in this group-Amendment 225ZA-which seeks to add to the list of threats to public safety specified in Clause 79 against which the police must devise a coherent strategy a threat to the welfare of children.
The important role that the police carry out in child protection processes was emphasised in the 2009 Laming review. On the second day in Committee on this Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Laming, who is not in his place, spoke about the role of the police in relation to child protection. His comments highlight why my amendment is important. He said that,
A democratic process for electing police commissioners will not guarantee that the protection needs of the most vulnerable are considered. Many of the people, including all children, who rely on the police for
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Baroness Harris of Richmond: My Lords, in supporting my noble friend's amendment-my name is added to Amendment 225ZA-I remind the House that the Home Affairs Select Committee in its December 2010 report, Policing: Police and Crime Commissioners, stated that it saw,
This amendment would help to ensure that child protection is prioritised by police and crime commissioners and would grant the Home Secretary powers through the strategic policing requirement to ensure that that was the case.
The NSPCC strongly supports this amendment and maintains that there should be a provision within the strategic policing requirement to promote the welfare of children as defined in the Children Act. While we are talking about the wider responsibilities that the police and crime commissioners will have and will need to take cognisance of, I should tell the House that I intend to bring forward an amendment on Report that will address the equally important matter of ensuring that victims of crime are properly considered. My noble friend Lady Hamwee has already spoken about victims and I want to reinforce her concerns. Yesterday, I met the Victims' Commissioner, Louise Casey, and was deeply concerned to hear that victims of crime have absolutely nowhere to go if they wish to make a complaint or, indeed, ask for advice about what they should do. The police can, of course, ignore low-level crime. It is important that the PCC is properly apprised of the responsibility to look after victims of crime as well as the desperately vulnerable children whom this amendment addresses.
Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I must apologise to the Committee for not being here when Clause 5, on the requirement on the police and crime commissioners to issue police and crime plans, was discussed. Had I been here, I would have referred to Clause 79, on the strategic policing requirement. The police and crime plans, whoever draws them up, must always be an amalgam of national, international and local policing requirements. It is always going to be a difficult balance to decide which of those has priority and how the resources are to be allocated to them. That is one of the reasons why I have always been a supporter of the dissenting comments of Dr Goodhart in the 1962 police commission on the need for a national police force to cover the fact that crime does not observe local boundaries.
The time has come to look nationally at these issues and then to make certain that they are covered properly. The question is who will cover them. You could be forgiven for thinking that the proposal for elected police commissioners in areas around the country is putting the local policing issue at the top of the pack. Is that actually so? The Home Secretary, quite rightly, will insist that international terrorism or international drug dealing, for example, are given due recognition. What worries me is that I do not see this issue being resolved by the Bill as drafted or the guidance. I had hoped that I might have found it in the draft protocol. It states that local police commissioners have the,
My concern is that the person who will lose out, if we are not careful, is the person who will have to carry the can through the heat of the day-the chief officer of police or the chief constable. To my mind, there is only one person in an area who should draw up these plans-the chief constable. It should be done necessarily in draft and then it should be cleared with those who have to provide the resources. However, it should also be cleared with those with responsibility for influencing the balance between the international, national and local requirements of policing in that area. We will be doing a great disservice to the chief constables and chief officers of police if we do not make that clear and if we set them the problem of having to resolve something that is not resolvable, with a whole lot of competing people around them who may not necessarily come together in a way that will resolve the matter. This issue is too important for the public to be left not properly resolved.
in exercising their functions. One of my amendments adds that the police and crime commissioners must also take into account the Secretary of State's strategic policing requirement document in exercising their functions.
A further amendment to Clause 79 provides for Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary to report annually on how each police and crime commission and the mayor's office is fulfilling the strategic policing requirement. The clause places a requirement on police and crime commissioners and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner to have regard to the findings of the HMIC report. The final amendment would retain a
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Under Clause 5(5), a police and crime commissioner must, in issuing or varying a police and crime plan, have regard to the strategic policing requirement issued by the Secretary of State. My amendment, however, makes it clear that account of the strategic policing requirement has to be taken by the police and crime commissioner not just in issuing or varying a police and crime plan but in exercising all their functions. For that reason, it would provide a much clearer and stronger form of words. I do not wish to repeat the points made by my noble friends Lady Henig and Lord Harris of Haringey, but it is surely necessary to have some checks against any potentially maverick police and crime commissioner and, in short, some acceptable consistency in strategy and approach.
Yesterday, the Government announced their proposals for a national crime agency. In the Government's view, the new agency represents a major change. It is surprising that in the middle of the Committee stage of the Bill the Government should announce proposals that could, depending on what their intentions are, have a significant impact on the powers and functions of the bodies and organisations that are referred to in the Bill, including police and crime commissioners. Perhaps the Minister can tell us whether the Government see the national crime agency as the creation of a new enhanced national policing force or whether it simply brings together under one roof a number of key organisations that are largely working well at present and will not be helped by the distraction of the cost and time of the creation of a new organisation and its associated bureaucracy.
The Government have said that the national crime agency will be a crime-fighting organisation that will tackle organised crime, defend our borders, fight fraud and cybercrime, and protect children and young people. With a senior chief constable at its head, it will harness intelligence, analytical capabilities and enforcement powers and will have strong links to local police forces and police and crime commissioners. The Secretary of State yesterday said that the national crime agency will comprise a number of distinct operational commands, one of which, the organised crime command, will,
"For the first time, there will be one agency with the power, remit and responsibility for ensuring that the right action is taken at the right time by the right people-that agency will be the NCA. All other agencies will work to the NCA's threat assessment and prioritisation, and it will be the NCA's intelligence picture
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That is quite a build-up for an organisation that will have no more money than the aggregate cost of its predecessors, which already face significant reductions in their budgets, including a cutback in a number of front-line staff as a result of cuts made by the Government that are too deep and too fast.
What change does all that mean in reality? Was the Secretary of State's Statement yesterday jazzed up by her spin doctors to sound much more than it really is; or does it mean fundamental change which will impact on the bodies, organisations and individual positions referred to in the Bill, including police and crime commissioners?
If the national crime agency will be the single agency with the power, remit and responsibility for ensuring that the right action is taken at the right time by the right people, and that all other agencies, including the police, will work to the NCA's threat assessment and prioritisation; that the NCA's intelligence picture will drive the response on the ground; that the NCA will tackle organised crime groups that operate locally; and that the NCA will be accountable to the Secretary of State, where does that leave the Government's apparent intention that policing decisions will be made locally with the advent of police and crime commissioners?
Who will decide whether crime is organised crime and therefore, apparently, the responsibility of the NCA? Will it be the NCA or a police and crime commissioner? What powers will the NCA have to direct police and crime commissioners if the NCA has the power to ensure that the right action is taken at the right time by the right people? Will we have the appointed chief constable, who will head the NCA, or perhaps the head of the organised crime command or another command, directing police and crime commissioners, who the Government think should be elected? Or will a police and crime commissioner be able, if he or she chooses, to ignore the wishes or directions of the NCA? Issues will not always be sorted out over a cup of tea between a police and crime commissioner and the NCA. Sometimes, there will be conflict. Where will the final decision-making power lie: with the police and crime commissioner or with the national crime agency?
I hope that the Minister will be able to throw some light on those issues, because the proposals announced yesterday by the Government, if they mean significant change, as opposed to hype, seem to make the case for my amendments even stronger, in the light of the Government's apparent intended role for the national
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means what the Government appeared to be saying, it clearly creates potential clashes with a police and crime commissioner. We are entitled to a response from the Minister as to who will have the final decision-making power where there are such clashes. It would be in the Minister's interests to accept my amendments, which are clearly in the spirit of the Government's intention for what the powers of the national crime agency should be.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, that this is one of the most important debates we are having in Committee and raises some of the important underlying issues with which we need to come to grips in the Bill. I know that we have covered some broad and important issues which concern the balance between local, regional, national and, increasingly, international policing. There is a whole range of issues about the balance between flexibility and direction. There is a constant tendency in almost every issue with which we deal in Parliament to demand devolution of power with very detailed direction from the centre as to exactly how that devolved power should be used. If I may say so, we have heard quite a lot of that over the past hour. Then there is the question of accountability. Several noble Lords have asked where the checks and balances lie and how inspection is conducted. Again, there are some important issues there.
The strategic policing requirement will support police and crime commissioners in effectively balancing local and national responsibilities and driving improvements in their force's response to serious cross-boundary criminality, harms and threats. How that is done and how tightly that is drawn is, again, a question of balance. I remain of the view that "to have regard to" is the correct way to deliver that balance. The phrase "to have regard to" has been used in a great deal of previous policing administration. It is intended to provide that that is something that you must take into account, but you have flexibility in how you take it into account on a day-to-day basis. That seems to us to be the balance that we need of giving direction but not tying people down too far.
The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, asked about the balance between the local, the regional and the international. With much less knowledge of policing than most of those taking part in this Committee, but having looked at the growth of the international dimension
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As we all know, the international context of policing has been transformed over the past 25 years by the continuing growth of international travel, by the continual revolution in communications, and by the arrival of the internet. Every local policeman has to have some regard to the international dimension. I recall reading in the Yorkshire Post not long ago about a well-known criminal in Liverpool who had been followed by the Dutch police in Amsterdam and arrested and convicted in Jersey, but the crime he was engaged in impacted on Liverpool. That is local and international crime. I was concerned with the question of who would pay for him being sent to prison in England from Jersey. Those are the sort of difficult questions we get engaged in.
The answer, we know, having had a debate about whether we should move towards a national police force or yet another round of amalgamation of police forces down to about 20 rather than 40 in England and Wales, is to promote co-operation. We have a range of shared regional units, and I have happily visited a number of them in recent months, which deal with the specialised units-for example kidnapping, helicopters, dog units, organised crime units and counterterrorism units, all of which are shared by the smaller police forces. To us, that is the way forward.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, that the announcement of the formation of the national crime agency yesterday was not a further stage towards a national police force; it was part of the continuing process in which we have to handle the balance between international policing and national, regional and local policing. The creation of SOCA and the whole growth of that dimension has been part of the response over the past 25 years to dealing with international co-operation. It was not an important factor for policing 40 or 50 years ago. A balance has to be struck, although no doubt it will change again. The duty to have regard is one that we defend as striking the right balance between flexibility and direction. I cannot answer the many questions which the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, raised about the NCA, but we shall return to it in more detail.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: The noble Lord asked about 65 questions and I fear that it might take a great deal of time to answer them all in detail. We shall extensively discuss the exact role of the NCA on a later occasion. I hope that, in general terms, I have answered the question about this not being a road to a national police force.
Lord Rosser: When the Minister says that we will discuss the national crime agency on a later occasion, does he mean as part of our discussions on this Bill? If he is not quite sure of the answers to my questions, I can tell him that they relate to the potential impact on, for example, police and crime commissioners. Can he assure us that we will have a discussion about the impact of the national crime agency on the Bill that we are currently discussing, or is he talking about discussing it only after we have dealt with this Bill?
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: Perhaps I may remind the opposition Front Bench that we could have taken the Statement on the national crime agency yesterday but that the opposition Front Bench declined to have the Statement repeated in this House. We could have usefully discussed that yesterday. We shall take the whole issue of the role of the national crime agency further. We can certainly give answers in writing to some of the questions that he has raised on the Floor of the House.
Lord Rosser: It is certainly true that we did not take the Statement yesterday but there was other rather important business to discuss. I hope that the Minister will accept that, even if the Statement had been taken, it would hardly have been a substitute for discussing the implications of the national crime agency on the provisions in this Bill, which can be discussed properly only during the discussions on the Bill.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, the Serious Organised Crime Agency already exists and the national crime agency will be an expansion and revision of the role of the Serious Organised Crime Agency. This is evolution and not revolution.
Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, the issue is that the national crime agency will have the ability to direct resources which would otherwise be under the control of chief constables. That is precisely the substance of the group of amendments that we are discussing now about the strategic policing requirement, and in this instance we will ensure that those resources are available for the national crime agency to direct.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, most people here know a great deal more about this than I do, but we all know that there is a golden thread between local and international policing which is based, however one organises and restructures the forces, on a necessary degree of co-operation not only among police forces but also between police forces and a range of other agencies. The NCA will help to strengthen the national and international dimension of policing; it is an evolution of where SOCA has already taken us in this regard. We shall discuss this in great detail in due course when we bring forward the necessary legislation next year to establish the NCA. The NCA will be part of this balance, but it will not provide the sort of detailed direction which deprives local and regional forces of the flexibility which they need.
I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, raised a question about planning cycles and the strategic policing requirement. It is well understood that wherever possible one should issue a strategic policing requirement in order to fit in with the financial and other planning cycles of elected police bodies. The reason why flexibility is written into the Bill is that new threats or new events may happen between October and April which will require some changes to the strategic police priorities. That is why there is flexibility in the Bill in this regard. However, it is understood that, as far as possible, revisions in the strategic police requirement should fit in with the requirements and the cycles which local forces are going through.
Amendment 222 seeks to place a specific duty on the Home Secretary to identify national threats based on objective criteria and to draw up a strategic policing requirement based on those threats. We recognise the entirely honourable intention of this. It is absolutely proper for any Government to use an objective methodology to identify national threats for this purpose, but we think that the Bill as drafted, particularly in Clause 79, answers the case. These requirements require, not enable, the Home Secretary to set out national threats and the appropriate national policing capabilities to counter the threats as identified. Clause 79 also provides that the Home Secretary must obtain advice from representatives of chief police officers and of local policing bodies before issuing the strategic policing requirement.
I say to those who raised the issue of checks and balances that we understand that accountability is a process and not just an event. Checks and balances require a number of formal processes which are reinforced by the informal processes, which is why transparency and publication, particularly the publication of HMIC reports, is written into the Bill. The role of the police and crime panels, through scrutiny, is part of the continuing process of checks and balances. The role of HMIC is part of that continuing scrutiny and publication provides informal scrutiny through press comment and other less formal mechanisms. That is fully intended to be part of the Bill.
Liberal Democrat Amendments 223 and 225ZA raise the question of safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children. We are all aware that human trafficking in relation to children is a growing problem which requires national and international co-operation as well as co-operation at the local level. The strategic policing requirement is intended to focus on those areas where the threats and the criminal activity cross the borders of local police authorities. Where problems are within the boundaries of single police forces, they are not within the strategic policing requirement. The question of child trafficking is clearly a strategic policing issue. The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre-I have great difficulty remembering what CEOP stands for-will be an important part of the NCA. It will be part of the evolution of SOCA into the NCA.
Amendments 224 and 225 have the collective effect of broadening the scope of the strategic policing requirement to include threats that can be countered effectively by local policing capabilities acting in isolation from other police forces. This would risk broadening
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There have been a number of useful discussions on the role of HMIC and whether HMIC inspections should be exactly timetabled. Again, we return to the question of whether we should have flexibility or absolutely require inspections once a year. We consider that the phrase "from time to time" strikes the right balance. It does not put inspections on a totally regular basis, but allows additional inspections from time to time. Local police commissioners may also invite HMIC to come in and inspect. HMIC will thus become more independent from government and more accountable to the public. Inspectors of constabulary will report for the benefit of the public rather than simply reporting to the Secretary of State, and a local policing body will have the power to request an inspection of its police force, supplementing the power of the Secretary of State to do so. These arrangements do not mean that HMIC will not have a programme funded by the Home Office. A programme of work will be approved by the Secretary of State, laid before Parliament and published by HMIC. This is a supplementary provision to enable local police bodies to invite inspectors in when they feel that it is desirable. The question of how often inspections should take place merely repeats existing legislation. I did not hear any noble Lord in the Chamber say that they were dissatisfied with the current pattern of HMIC inspections. Therefore, I suggest that the case has not been made for a change in the arrangement.
I hope that I have now answered all the points in this interesting and important debate. We will look again between Committee and Report at what was said in the debate. I have listened very carefully to what has been said and I hope that noble Lords will not press their amendments.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: There were so many questions that I missed that point in my notes. My understanding of what was said in the Commons was that the draft protocol was to be published during the passage of the Bill. Several drafts of the strategic policing requirement have been written. They are undergoing extensive consultation and the Government are concerned that they get this right. This will take some time, but I assure the noble Baroness that the process is under way. I was warned that it was quite possible that a Member of this Committee would get up and wave her copy of the report, but perhaps Members of the Committee have not yet seen the drafts. I assure noble Lords that work is under way and that consultations are taking place.
Lord Harris of Haringey: I may have missed it, but I do not recall the Minister responding to my point in relation to Amendment 230 about placing an obligation on HMIC to report on the way in which the strategic
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Lord Wallace of Saltaire: I will take that back before I start to drop my notes. My understanding is that the question of how local forces fulfil the range of their functions will be part of what HMIC will naturally report on; it will necessarily be part of an HMIC report. We will look at that again and make sure that we can satisfy the noble Lord.
Lord Harris of Haringey: My reason for pressing the point is that it is extremely important. It is a mechanism that will enable a proper discussion about the real requirements for the strategic policing requirement. It will obviate the need for that to be written into a document that emanates from the Home Office. It will be a process that the police service owns through the inspectorate that will identify and report on whether the spirit of the strategic policing requirement is being honoured. I hope that this will be taken back and considered seriously, because I will press the point on Report unless the Government come forward with a response.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: The strategic policing requirement is intended, among other things, to inform the inspectors on the sort of things that they should be looking at. We are all aware that the strategic policing requirement feeds into a range of discussions. The question of whether there is a division between local and national policing is one that begins to dissolve once you get into it. I had a fascinating briefing some while ago about traffic policing and the extent to which it has to be a co-operative activity between different forces. I had not thought it through before. There was a great deal of linkage all the way through. I am impressed by the extent to which our forces already co-operate in the sort of specialised units that the noble Lord talked about, outside London where there are many forces smaller than the Metropolitan Police. We will look at this and make sure that it is fully in the Bill.
Baroness Henig: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply and I thank all noble Lords who participated in the debate, which covered some serious and important issues. That is why we have gone on at such length; it was necessary to cover the topics that we did. I will start with the point about having regard to the strategic policing requirement. My concern is that having regard to something is fine: "Yes, I have had regard to it, Minister, and then I have gone and done something else". That is not the same as being inspected against it. It is not a matter of balance, but of what happens in practice on the ground. The words "have regard to" will not make people who want to have local policing requirements as a very important part of their menu do anything other than that. Being inspected against it would be the really important measure. I found the arguments of my noble friend Lord Harris compelling when he talked of the national threats that face us and the way in which they cover the whole country. Judging by the
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Baroness Hamwee: I am sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness, who has gone on to another point. Does she agree that it would be helpful if the Government could produce before the next stage a briefing on how the term "have regard to" has been interpreted in other contexts? Like the noble Baroness, I have a difficulty with it. However, if we are told that the courts have given it a greater importance and weight than she and I fear, that might be very useful.
Baroness Henig: I accept that point. If it is a legally backed concept that has a very clear set of conditions attached to it, it is a very different matter from the way that I have been interpreting it, so it would be useful to have that clarification.
On the timing of the issuing of the document, I hear what the Minister says about flexibility, and that is obviously important. However, part of me has a suspicion that documents are sometimes delayed for convenience rather than flexibility. We have known that in the past. Documents have not been available in a timely way, particularly when they have come from the centre. I wanted to emphasise the importance of forces getting the document as early as possible. I accept the flexibility issue provided that that is the cause of the delay, rather than convenience at the centre, which has sometimes resulted in documents appearing late.
I listened very intently as regards the inspections role. My concern with inspections is that they should not be optional. If they are optional, then the good commissioners will have them, because that is how they work, while those who need them are precisely the ones who will not ask. I listened intently, as I said, and I got the sense that the Minister is saying that inspections will carry on very much as they are now, which is exactly what I want to happen. If that is what he is saying then I am delighted. However, I have not found that in the Bill-perhaps I am not looking in the right place. If inspections of commissioners and commissions are to continue as they are now, I am very pleased, because I think that that is the right way forward.
Baroness Henig:I am very happy about that, in particular, but also about the other issues because there are going to be further discussions. In the light of what has been said, I am very happy to withdraw my amendment.
Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, many of us are hungry for news, so naturally local newspapers, radio stations and television services play a vital and nourishing role in communities across the country. Their ability to scrutinise and hold local institutions and officials to account is an essential part of a healthy democracy. This is why rules to protect the choice and variety of local media have long been a feature of the UK regulatory landscape-in particular, the securing of plurality of voice through media-specific ownership rules. I know that the House of Lords Communications Committee gave great consideration to these rules in its 2008 report The ownership of the news. While the committee concluded that there remained a strong case to continue controls over the ownership of news providers, it recommended that local cross-media ownership restrictions should be lifted and that the impact of local cross-media mergers could be examined through the application of the more flexible public interest test. Although differing views within our media remains important, we believe that some of the ownership rules currently in place are a barrier to choice as they are stifling innovation and competition. This is because they no longer reflect the markets to which they apply-specifically, the local media markets.
Recent years have seen a significant decline in the revenues of local radio stations and newspapers. Local and regional newspaper advertising revenues decreased by 5.4 per cent in the second quarter of 2010 and the Advertising Association forecast that their revenues may continue to drop throughout 2011. In addition to this challenging market, local media companies are facing increased competition driven by the growth of digital technologies. Consumers now have, in many cases, free access to a wide selection of digital content that is available whenever and wherever they are able to receive a mobile signal or access a broadband connection. The changes to the local media landscape in terms of declining profits and increased competition represent a permanent reshaping of these markets, and if they are to prosper, they will need to adapt and be given the flexibility to grow. The Government have made a commitment to help the market deal with these issues. In the coalition programme for government we made a commitment to enable,
It has always been the intention to keep under review the media ownership rules to make certain that they remain appropriate. This is why the Communications Act 2003 requires Ofcom to review media ownership rules every three years and assess the extent to which they remain relevant. The last such review was carried
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to the success of the local media sector. Ofcom's recommendations were also supported by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. In fact, its report Future for Local and Regional Media, published in 2009, urged the Government to go further, pursuing, "more far-reaching reform". Taking account of Ofcom and the committee's recommendation, this draft order will remove all the current local cross-media ownership rules-local, not national. Under the deregulated regime to be created by the draft order before the House today, local newspapers, radio companies and owners of Channel 3 licences, subject to competition law, will be able to consolidate, reduce costs and build successful businesses that could otherwise face the possibility of closure.
We are of course conscious that such changes must not in turn have a significant impact on the plurality of local media. Therefore, it is important to note that the public interest test which the noble Lords in this House so vocally championed during the passage of the Communications Bill will still apply under this framework. The Secretary of State, too, retains the capacity to intervene in media mergers on plurality grounds where a merger could give rise to public interest concerns. I would also reassure noble Lords that the national cross-media ownership rules, which restrict the concentration of national newspapers and Channel 3 licences, will remain in place. These rules will continue to protect against the excessive influence of a national media and to safeguard a diversity of views and opinions across the most influential national voices.
However, this draft order will remove the unnecessary and complex local radio media ownership rules which were designed to make certain that listeners in a given area had access to a minimum of two commercial radio operators and the BBC. These restrictions were designed for an analogue world and do not take into account the emerging digital radio landscape. Nor do they reflect the growth of the community radio sector, with over 200 community stations operating in the UK. Listeners now have access to a wide range of radio stations at local, national and indeed global level. We believe seeking to regulate in micro-local markets no longer reflects the wealth of choice available to listeners.
Finally, and again in respect of digital radio, this draft order will remove the rule preventing the ownership of more than one national multiplex. This Government have been clear about their intention to support the radio industry in realising the potential of digital technologies. We believe that the removal of these rules will support the launch of a second national commercial multiplex, which will provide greater choice for listeners and opportunity for radio companies.
Collectively, these measures provide a possibility to promote a successful model for the future of local media and will encourage greater innovation, investment and security for the provision of media at the local
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Lord Fowler: My Lords, I declare a past interest as chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee to which the Minister has referred, and also a past interest as chairman of two regional newspaper groups, the Birmingham Post group and the Yorkshire Post group.
It always seemed strange to us in the regional press that intricately detailed regulations were set in place for local and regional press, compared with the position nationally where not only has one owner been able to control almost 40 per cent of national newspaper circulation but where the last Government suddenly changed the rules on the purchase of media companies in this country. For years the policy had been that United States companies were prevented from taking over television companies here until proper reciprocal arrangements were in place. Overnight that position was changed, and although there are no reciprocal arrangements and we are prevented from taking no more than 25 per cent of a company in the United States, a company in the United States can take control of a television company here.
The last Government would have done much better to have looked at the position of the regional and local press, which were then under very considerable pressure-and indeed still are. Its advertising has been hit by the internet, its readership has been impacted by the fact that young people are looking for their news elsewhere; and its circulations have been damaged by changes in social habits. Whereas once people brought back their evening newspaper almost automatically after work, now the regular hours of work have changed and habits have changed. Exactly the same thing has taken place in the United States, not only with their newspapers, which face exactly the same pressures, but with their once-dominant evening television programmes.
As far as this country is concerned, all this has been very much to the public harm. Regional newspapers have had to cut back and in my view the public have suffered as a result. I emphasise that regional newspapers have not been the phone hackers employing private detectives to pry illegally into private lives. The regional press has had a very different tradition; it has stood up for local communities and has guarded the public interest against councils and others who have abused their power. It is for that reason that all the opinion polls show that the regional press is in fact much more trusted than the national press.
The irony of all this has been that the regional press has had to fight the commercial battle for survival with one arm tied behind its back. We have all talked about the multimedia world and the fast-changing media, but regional newspapers have been prevented from adapting to that world. This is what this order allows now to happen, and it is for that reason that I strongly support what the Government are doing and what my noble friend Lady Rawlings has said.
My noble friend referred to the argument of no organisation having no more than 50 per cent of local
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Finally, this is an entirely sensible, first-class reform. It will be widely welcomed certainly in the industry and is very much to the benefit of the public generally. I congratulate the Government on it.
Lord Gordon of Strathblane: My Lords, I, too, welcome the draft order. I have no current interest to declare, except membership of the Select Committee on Communications, but it would be wrong to conceal the fact that I was for 33 years chief executive and subsequently chairman of a group of radio stations. The commercial radio industry, which has recently gone through a fairly rough patch, welcomes this draft order. Advertising revenue is down, in common with most media. Some of it may be down permanently with the arrival of the internet and some of it may recover if there is an economic upturn.
At the moment, more than half of local radio stations are losing money. Well over half the industry is off the stock market and controlled by private companies, one of which is Global and the other being Bauer Media in the United States. That is propping up companies which otherwise would go bust. Worse still, audiences have slumped, partly because far too many radio stations have been created by the Radio Authority and, to a lesser extent, by Ofcom.
I think I can prove that point by taking the House back to 1994-98 when, with 120 stations, commercial radio had a 50 per cent-plus share of audience against the BBC. Let us fast forward to 2008 when there were three times the number of stations-another 250-and the commercial radio share of the audience had slumped to 41.1 per cent. The problem was that the extra stations did not increase commercial radio's share. It cannibalised commercial radio's share and nibbled away at the successful stations which then, in my view mistakenly, cut back on their local output, which was why they got their audience in the first place.
It is good fortune for the radio industry that this draft order gives the industry a chance to reshape itself and to get it right this time. Stations faced with declining revenue and the high costs of running two transmission systems, one analogue and one digital, made the mistake of cutting back on the variable-the local output. I am referring to chains of stations which perhaps owned
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This draft order gives the radio industry a chance to regroup. It is permissive and not mandatory. No one has to do anything but if they want to do something they now can. I hope that my colleagues in the radio industry will realise that vertical chains do not make much sense for the public or themselves. Some station swaps will go on and there will be groups which own perhaps four stations in one town.
If you are one owner with four stations it is in your own interest to make those four stations different from each other, as do the BBC with Radio 1, Radio 2, Radio 3, Radio 4, Radio 5 and so on. At the moment, four separate owners all chase the same market and duplicate themselves. One owner would serve four markets, so already there is a gain to the public good. More importantly, with four revenue streams coming in, there would then be no excuse for not amortising the costs of local news provision over those four revenue streams. It can be required by Ofcom to return to the glory days of ILR when a first-class local news service was creating the audience.
There will be a gain for both the industry and the public because we are all concerned about the democratic deficit in terms of local news coverage. If we have local radio playing its full part as it once did in local news coverage, we have done something to reduce the democratic deficit. For that reason, I very warmly welcome the draft order.
Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, I want to add the support of these Benches to the order. I do not have anything like the experience of my noble friend Lord Fowler in local newspapers or the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, in radio, but the importance of local media is obvious to all of us, whether it is radio, television or newspapers. Surprisingly, we are looking at this order rather late in the day. The other place looked at it in March and, in view of its importance, I do not understand why it has taken us quite so long to consider it.
It is clear that this is extremely evidence-based. As the Minister mentioned, we had the CMS report in April 2010 and the Ofcom report in August 2010. Although the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, did not refer to it, the Communications Committee, of which I declare current membership but was not at that time a member, looked at this whole area and was rather more prescient, strangely enough, than the Newspaper Society. The Newspaper Society's evidence was described as rather upbeat but the committee was rather more sceptical. It said that such figures which were produced by the Newspaper Society showing buoyant advertising revenue and so on can be deceptive. Of course, 2008-09, in terms of the dropping away of classified advertising
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In a sense, Ofcom was told to go away and do its homework again by the Secretary of State. I shall come to what I think the reasons are for that. Ofcom acceded to the argument to deregulate further than it originally thought it would on the basis that it thought that local TV, which is very much the brainchild of the Secretary of State, would impact positively on diversity and plurality. I suppose the other argument it gave, quite apart from the competition points that the Minister mentioned, was that the BBC will always be there to provide plurality, and it is very much to be hoped that the BBC will be there. But there is no doubt of the scale of the crisis or of the necessity, exactly in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, mentioned, to have cross-media businesses that really get to grips with the need for these organisations not to concentrate just in one area of media. In debate, I remember a positive speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, on free sheets. Perhaps it may have been rather over-regulatory as regards local authorities. Nevertheless, I am sure that the greater regulation of those free sheets from local authorities will help local media organisations, which would be a positive effect.
I move on briefly to the direction in which I think we are heading. The whole purpose of relaxing the cross-media rules is to allow investment in new forms of media, in particular in local television. I am rather more sceptical about this. I am probably somewhere along the lines set out in the Shott report, which was quite sceptical about the future. It said that advertising revenue would support the establishment of only something like 10 to 12 local television stations, but I see that Greg Dyke is rather more bullish about the possibility. In the end, however, this is probably not going to be digital terrestrial television, but local internet television, which is a lot more practical both in terms of the revenue it can raise and the delivery mechanisms. I hope very much that that is the direction in which many of the media groups, which will now be freed up to invest in other forms of media, will go. If the Minister has information on where we are headed in terms of local television and where the Secretary of State is planning to take us, I should like to hear it.
Finally, the question in all our minds is the definition of the public interest in these circumstances. If we are relying on general competition rules to make sure that we have plurality of local media, what is the public interest? What considerations will the Secretary of State, who now of course has all the powers of competition intervention necessary, take into account when looking at what is regarded as "sufficient plurality" in these circumstances, which is the other phrase on which Ofcom placed considerable reliance in its August 2010 report?
Lord Prescott: My Lords, I cannot declare any interest in the radio, media or press. What a pity that they did not have less interest in me over the last 40 years. But I want to refer to the debate about the public interest. I read the Hansard report on the discussion
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The noble Baroness quoted those words today, and said when repeating the Statement regarding BSkyB that these principles would govern how they would make a judgment on whether to hand over or sell BSkyB to the Murdoch press. In reality and in my view, to achieve a vibrant media in a healthy society, plurality and diversity are not enough. There is the definition of public interest, and there is the issue of competition, which has been dealt with and referred to. The Minister claims that all these are just as relevant today.
I think not. It is not sufficient just to have those principles. Today we are witnessing criminal activity on a massive scale by our press. It involves thousands of our people, subject to criminal acts of phone hacking conducted by the press. It is a matter of major concern to us. It is worrying enough that our press feel that that they can conduct these criminal acts, and pay for information to sell papers. It is precisely what they have been doing. Indeed, they have admitted it today in the apology made by News International. It has said that it should not have asked for this information, it should not have paid for it, and it should not have printed it. That apology was made in regard to Sienna Miller. It is an apology by one of the major papers in this country, explaining what News International was doing at that time.
But it is not only that, although it is bad enough in itself. We need to condemn it, and many inquiries are under way. What worries me is that it has polluted a number of our own institutions in this country in the process, and it is all connected to the hacking of phones. The first, of course, is the Metropolitan Police, which in the initial stages refused to accept the case, even though it had evidence to show that this had been going on. It was said constantly, for years, that it was a rogue reporter. We now know that to be untrue. Even the media themselves said that it was not true, saying that it was a rogue paper or a rogue reporter, and concentrated on the News of the World. But it was not true. Information was withheld by the Metropolitan Police from the proper authorities in that matter, and now another inquiry is under way. One inquiry having told me personally that my phone messages had not been tapped-that there was no evidence for it-the next inquiry comes along and tells me that it happened on 44 occasions. You cannot trust the police if they are in fact deliberately giving misleading information. But another inquiry is on the way, and I welcome that.
What then worries me is the role of the Crown Prosecution Service, which has actually played a part in this by agreeing with the Metropolitan Police, although knowing that the information was there and withholding it. Even today, there is more information, and the
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The courts have been polluted by this process. Indeed, I did not believe the police in my own case and I wanted to go to judicial review. The first judicial review was refused. Why was that? It was because the police did not give up all the information that they had. It took another judge and another inquiry to overrule that first refusal and grant the review. What is worrying is that our police authorities can fail to give up information after all the offences that have gone on and allow a court to be kidded into thinking it was making a judgment. But not all the information was available. It took another judge to change that. In the circumstances, those are very serious charges.
We might talk about the Press Complaints Commission, a body that is there to hold the press to account of some kind. That is the job Parliament decided to give the commission, but it did not give it any powers to do it. Editors are allowed to appoint their own people. The chair of the commission, the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, is a Member of this House. Even the Press Complaints Commission failed to investigate anything to do with phone hacking, something which I believe it has the authority to do. Indeed, it is even worse than that because the chair was fined for libel and damages of £20,000 for being misleading, in libellous statements, about the inquiry that was going on into phone hacking.
That is the body that should have something to report. The police are meant to investigate. The Crown Prosecution Service is not doing its job properly. We are right to say that something is rotten in the state of England at present-that it is not an acceptable proposition. If you talk about a healthy democracy and a healthy media, you had better start doing something about the people who control it because they are in contempt. News International publishes the News of the World, whose owner is-can I say it?-Rupert Murdoch. Nobody wants to use his name; that is the scale of power in the way it is distributed at the moment. When he made that apology, Rupert Murdoch made it for the company. It is no longer just the News of the World; it is the company itself. He is making an apology for the criminal acts that his company was carrying out. This is the very man, when we talk about media ownership, to whom we propose possibly to pass over BSkyB. All the noble Baroness would say when we questioned her about it was: "plurality and diversity". Well, that is not enough. It does not put any fear into Mr Murdoch. He knows how to use and control that power. We should now be saying that.
For example, when we talk about the fair distribution of information, we are now all agreed that News International was involved in criminal acts. Just look at the papers. You get pages about it in the Independent and the Guardian-the one justification for our good media system is these two papers, which have exposed it years later. But if you look for the apology, where is it in the "Thunderer", the Times? I invite you to look for it. It is 11 lines stuck on a quarter of a page. Eleven
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