§ Order for Second Reading read.3.43 pm
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Michael Howard)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Crime and lawlessness pose a supreme challenge to all modern democracies—
§ Mr. Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie)
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. A substantial part of the Bill concerns Scotland. We in Scotland have been put into the Bill, as it were, in a most haphazard way. We do not even have a Scottish Office Minister on the Government Front Bench. Is not that showing contempt for the House?
§ Madam Speaker
It is not for me to determine which Ministers should be present. All Ministers have a collective responsibility for Government legislation. [Interruption.] I see that a senior Scottish Minister has now taken his place on the Front Bench.
§ Mr. Howard
Crime and lawlessness pose a supreme challenge to all modern democracies. As I have repeatedly made clear, the Government are determined to meet that challenge by taking action across the board to ensure that we have the most efficient and effective criminal justice system possible. That is why we have taken action to ensure that more crimes are prevented and more criminals are caught, convicted and punished.
The police service is at the centre of our strategy to meet that challenge. I believe that our police service is second to none in the world. And no Government has done more to support the police than this Government. Since we came to power, spending on the police has increased by 87 per cent. in real terms. The number of police officers has increased by more than 16,000. The number of civilians working in forces has increased by 16,000. What we now need to address is how we make sure that the huge investment that we make in our police service—amounting as it does to more than £6 billion a year—is deployed wisely and effectively.
To achieve that, we need to examine the framework within which the police operate and, where necessary, to bring it up to date so that it meets modern requirements. That framework has become out of date and needs reform. The financial arrangements for police forces and police authorities are antiquated and arcane. Too much detail must be referred to the Home Office. The arrangements for accountability are opaque. People do not know how to influence the priorities of their local forces, nor how the accountability of the police is exercised. Personnel and pay procedures are outdated. The rank structure is top heavy. Pay depends too much on length rather than quality of service. Technology and scientific advances offer enormous scope for fighting crime more effectively, but much local police information technology has been developed without co-ordination and is incompatible between forces.
111 The present programme of change affecting the police looks formidable, but much of it represents change which the police themselves have been actively seeking.
§ Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside)
I do not yet see a Welsh Office Minister present. The Secretary of State is concentrating on matters concerning the police. I hope that he will refer to magistrates courts and the Lord Chancellor's power compulsorily to amalgamate magistrates courts committees. I warn him that the proposal in north Wales whereby Gwynedd and Clwyd are to be amalgamated may not work because of cultural and linguistic differences and the massive size of the terrain. Will he ensure that there is a rethink on that matter in north Wales?
§ Mr. Howard
No Welsh Office Minister is on the Front Bench because I am responsible for policing in Wales as well as England. I assure the hon. Gentleman that, if he is patient for a little longer, he will hear what I have to say about the relevant provisions in the Bill affecting magistrates courts.
The reform programme has a number of strands. The local accountability of police forces must be strengthened and made clear to local people. The financial and managerial framework within which chief constables and forces operate must be modernised. The police service must have up-to-date personnel management and discipline procedures; and we need a national strategy for the development of information technology for the police.
Many forces are already modernising their management arrangements on lines recommended by the Audit Commission. More responsibility for decision taking is being pushed down the line to local commanders who are best placed to judge how to deploy resources locally to best effect. Increased use is being made of civilians to free up more officers for front-line policing. But some things, such as setting the legal framework for the exercise of police powers, can be done only by the Government.
The theme of our reform programme is clear—modernisation. But we must modernise in a way that keeps the key elements of British policing. The sharing of power between the Home Secretary, the local police authority and the chief constable will continue. Policing in England and Wales by local police forces, rather than some new national or regional structure, will continue. I have no plans to introduce a programme of amalgamations. The operational independence of police constables will continue, as will the tradition of combining a police law enforcement role with wider responsibilities to help local people.
Part I of the Bill will provide the cornerstone for modernising the arrangements for police accountability, finance, management and personnel procedures. It will buttress the local basis of policing in this country through creating strong, independent local police authorities. It will give chief constables greater freedom to manage their forces to best effect. It will enable people to see and influence local policing priorities and to judge the performance of their local force. It will provide for better personnel management and discipline procedures for the police service.
§ Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin)
On the basis of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's law and order policies, what is his latest estimate of how much longer they will 112 need to be in operation before crime in this country—and in my constituency, where it has doubled—returns to the level it was at under the Labour Government?
§ Mr. Howard
The hon. Gentleman will know that over the past 15 years crime has risen throughout the western industrialised world. I certainly hope that the various measures I am putting in place will help to make a difference.
Each police force will be maintained, as now, by a local police authority. Local police authorities will be strengthened and given clear responsibilities, which are set out in clause 4. There will be fewer financial controls from the centre. Each police authority will be required to set local policing objectives, to publish a local policing plan for its area, and to report annually on the outcome of that plan. For the first time, local people everywhere will be able to see clearly what their local police are doing with their money, and how well they are doing it.
§ Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West)
Will the Bill correct the disgraceful sort of activity that is going on in Cambridgeshire—and, I suspect, in other places—where Liberal or Labour-controlled county councils switch funds intended for the police to other purposes? Will the Bill put an end to that sort of scandal?
§ Mr. Howard
The Bill will give no guarantee that the irresponsibility frequently demonstrated by Opposition parties will not continue. With local policing, there will inevitably continue to be a local element, and that will entail a risk of the folly perpetrated by the Opposition parties—illustrated by the case of Cambridgeshire.
§ Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth)
Some local authorities, however, face a genuine dilemma. They are told by the Home Office that if they go to full establishment they will not be capped, but the Department of the Environment tells them a quite different story. Thus they find it difficult to judge what to do. Will the Home Secretary hold some discussions on that?
§ Mr. Howard
The answer to that dilemma is that local authorities should have proper regard to their priorities. If they give the provision of an effective police force the priority that that deserves, they will find a ready answer to the dilemma that the hon. Gentleman identifies.
As the role of police authorities is changing, I believe that their composition should change too. They need to be small enough to function effectively as decision-taking bodies. They should include local people with a wide range of experience and expertise who may not have the time, or the inclination, to be councillors or magistrates. Schedule 2 sets out the procedures by which independent members of police authorities will be selected.
The Government accepted in another place that the members of each police authority should continue to choose their chairman and that, in order to stress the independence of the new members, the Home Secretary alone should not select the independent members; but nor should they be selected by the councillor and magistrate members of the authority alone. So the procedures set out in the Bill reflect a balance between the influence of the Home Secretary and the influence of the other members of police authorities.
I reject entirely the view long held by members of the Labour party that there should be directly elected police authorities. That would be a recipe for politicising the 113 police service. It would also mean removing all magistrates from the work of police authorities. I believe that that would be a retrograde step.
The Bill abolishes unnecessary central controls—
§ Mr. Howard
I must make progress.
As I was saying, the Bill abolishes unnecessary central controls on police manpower by removing the power of the Home Secretary to set establishment levels. In future, the number of constables in a force will be a matter for local decision, not for the Home Secretary. Different forces have different priorities. For some the key to greater effectiveness may be investment in technology; for others it may be an expansion of the number of officers or civilians working on crime prevention. The best balance in resources for each force is a matter for them to settle locally with their police authority. It is not a matter for me.
I intend also to reduce central controls on capital expenditure by repealing requirements to obtain the Home Secretary's consent. There has been too much second guessing at the centre on the spending of capital resources by forces, and I want to see central provision reserved solely for major projects.
Clause 10 gives the chief constable management responsibility for civilian staff working within the force. This will encourage an integrated approach to the use of manpower and should foster a greater sense of cohesion between uniformed and civilian members of police forces.
We also propose to introduce a code of practice under clause 13 which will encourage police authorities to delegate day-to-day financial responsibilities to chief constables, as already happens in some, but by no means all, police areas. The Audit Commission and many senior police officers have called for that. These measures represent a considerable transfer of power from central Government to local police authorities and forces. They will give the police new flexibility to meet local needs.
The Bill also provides a clear framework for setting police priorities and measuring performance. Clause 13 also enables the Home Secretary to set key objectives for policing and to ensure that police authorities set performance targets for measuring the achievement of those objectives. Both the key objectives set by the Home Secretary and the local objectives set by the authority will be included in the local policing plan to which the chief constable will have regard. Police authorities and the Home Secretary have always influenced policing. The concept of a local plan—which I expect to be agreed between the chief constable and the police authority—simply crystallises existing relationships in a way that is visible to the public.
§ Mr. Douglas French (Gloucester)
For the benefit of the House, will my right hon. and learned Friend clarify what he means by the words "have regard" in the context of the attention that a chief constable must pay to the guidelines set by the police committee?
§ Mr. Howard
It is a well-known concept. In his decisions, the chief constable will have to take carefully into account what is in the local plan. His operational independence is unaffected.
§ Mr. Tony Blair (Sedgefield)
This is an important point. Will the Home Secretary confirm that the performance targets set by the Secretary of State in pursuance of the objectives will be mandatory and not discretionary on the authority?
§ Mr. Howard
In common with other aspects of the local plan, they will be matters to which the chief constable will have to have regard. I hope that chief constables and police forces will achieve those performance targets at which I want them to aim. As I have said, all these are matters to which the chief constable will have to have regard.
§ Mr. Blair
The important question asked by the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. French) related to the difference between having regard to them and being bound by them. Chief constables will have to have regard to the objectives, but will the Home Secretary confirm that if he directs them on the performance targets that are set in pursuance of those objectives they will be mandatory and not discretionary?
§ Mr. Howard
The Secretary of State's power of direction is a different matter. Police plans and performance targets are matters to which police constables have to have regard. Of course, the Secretary of State has power to issue directions, but that raises different considerations. It is a well-known concept and I am astonished that it causes the hon. Gentleman any difficulty.
§ Mr. Blair
Perhaps I can explain why it causes difficulties, not just for me but for the police. Clause 13, which inserts new section 28A in the Police Act 1964, gives the Secretary of State power to determine objectives. He is also empowered, at his own discretion entirely, to issue mandatory performance targets in pursuit of the objectives. Making those performance targets mandatory means that the police authority does not merely have to have regard to them, but will be obliged to follow them irrespective of whether it wants to do so.
§ Mr. Howard
As I said a moment ago, the direction making power contained in clause 13 of the Bill is different from the objectives and plans to which I have previously referred. There is a power in clause 13 to enable the Secretary of State to issue directions, not to the chief constable, but to the police authority, and the police authority may then have to take those directions into account and act upon them in the way in which it sets performance targets. That is a different matter from the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. French), who asked whether the key objectives contained in the plan and the plan itself were mandatory on chief constables or matters to which the chief constable would have to have regard, and the answer I gave him was correct.
§ Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)
Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that, before giving any directives, he will be obliged by the Bill to consult police authorities, for example, and those whom he considers represent the chief constables of the forces concerned?
§ Mr. Howard
My hon. Friend is right to stress the importance of consultation, and the Bill requires consultation to take place.
The Bill aims to make clear and to open the way in which chief constables will be held to account. Chief 115 constables have welcomed the parts of the Bill which give them greater management freedom. I believe that they should also welcome those proposals which enhance their accountability. The principles of greater openness and effective accountability are as important here as they are in other parts of the public sector.
Part I of the Bill also deals with police rank structure and conditions of service. Clauses 6 and 7 have the effect of abolishing two of the present nine police ranks. Clause 6 abolishes the rank of deputy chief constable. Clause 7, which was inserted in another place, would reduce the ranks between inspector and assistant chief constable from three to two.
The purpose of reducing ranks is to provide a less top-heavy management structure within police forces which would allow clearer and more direct communication, put more officers on the front line and enable the best officers to progress more swiftly through the management hierarchy.
The Government originally proposed to achieve that by abolishing three ranks. In considering the concerns which have been expressed about abolishing the ranks of chief inspector and chief superintendent, I have been encouraged by recent evidence of a change of attitude on the part of forces which are already thinning out middle management. Nearly 500 posts at inspector level or above were dropped in 1993, and the latest figures show a further reduction of more than 100 posts being achieved in the first two months of 1994 alone.
The recent decision of the Metropolitan police to cut about 450 posts in the inspecting and superintending ranks demonstrates the momentum behind the process. Other forces are also planning to thin out their management tiers.
In the light of the new evidence, I am now satisfied that it is not necessary for all three ranks to be abolished to achieve our original purpose. In assessing which rank to keep, I have been impressed by the strength of the Association of Chief Police Officers' argument that the rank of chief inspector provides the greatest management and operational flexibility. We intend, therefore, to retain the rank of chief inspector. There will be two ranks between inspector and assistant chief constable as clause 7 would require.
§ Sir Jim Spicer (Dorset, West)
Does my right hon. And learned Friend accept that there is a need to have someone designated as the number two to any chief constable if he should be away at any time? Could not that be achieved perfectly easily without great expense to any force? Without it, I am afraid that there will be a large number of other people wandering around. How does the chief constable lay hands on someone if he is not designated as the number two?
§ Mr. Howard
I have always recognised that need. It would be perfectly possible to meet it by the chief constable's designation of one of his assistant chief constables as his deputy for that purpose, but it is quite unnecessary to achieve the objective that my hon. Friend identified to have a separate and specific rank of deputy chief constable.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
In the light of the trends to which the Home Secretary has drawn attention—the thinning down of the ranks by chief constables themselves—why has he felt it necessary to minimise or restrict the flexibility of the police authorities 116 and chief constables to take those decisions in the light of local circumstances and to impose a legislative framework?
§ Mr. Howard
I do not believe for one moment that the effect of the changes that I am making is to reduce the flexibility of chief constables. On the contrary, in many ways their flexibility will be increased. But the decision that I have announced reflects many of their concerns.
Parts I and II of the Bill pave the way for revising the procedures for dealing with police officers whose behaviour or performance fails to come up to police standards. The aim is to reflect best personnel practice in the outside world while taking account of the need to protect officers from malicious or false allegations.
Concerns were expressed about the Bill as it was originally introduced and certain changes were made in another place. Those changes, as they stand, would make it impossible to introduce the new procedures. We would be left with the existing rigid discipline system which does not allow police managers to review an officer's behaviour and performance as a whole, nor to decide what action should be taken in response to a failure to meet proper police standards. That is totally unacceptable.
In particular, I shall invite the House to reverse the amendment introduced in another place which would prevent disciplinary proceedings being brought against an officer in respect of a matter for which he has been tried and acquitted in the criminal courts—the so-called, but wrongly so-called, "double jeopardy" clause. I believe that the arguments in favour of the amendment which were advanced in another place were fundamentally misconceived. I therefore intend to table an amendment to repeal subsections (1) and (2) of section 104 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act.
§ Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)
There is a parallel between what my right hon. and learned Friend has just suggested and the law of defamation. In the law of defamation it is possible for a defendant to justify a lesser meaning or to defend as fair comment a lesser meaning than perhaps the highest sting on which a plaintiff is suing.
For example, if a police constable were to sue a newspaper which had accused him of being corrupt and guilty of a particular offence, it would still be open to the defendant newspaper to say that, none the less, although it cannot prove that high sting, the plaintiff police officer is still unfit to be a police officer by virtue of other evidence and facts that are proved in the case short of the full sting.
Is not that a parallel which is of use to the police disciplinary system? If a police officer is aquitted of a criminal offence, there may still be findings of fact at the criminal trial which would allow the police service to draw the inference that he was unfit to remain in the police service.
§ Mr. Howard
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who draws an extremely interesting parallel from which there is much that we can learn which may well be of relevance to the proceedings that we are discussing at the moment and may well have a good deal of applicability to those proceedings. That is an extremely valuable point.
I am persuaded that police officers should continue to have the right to be legally represented if they are at risk of dismissal, requirement to resign or reduction in rank. Under my proposals, legal representation will still be 117 available both on appeal and at the hearing at which a decision to dismiss, to require resignation, or to reduce in rank may be taken.
I shall be seeking to make one further change to those provisions of the Bill that deal with appeals. As the Bill stands, an officer who is dismissed, required to resign or reduced in rank has a right of appeal to a police appeal tribunal.
In order to ensure that the composition of the tribunal continues to reflect the present position and the position under general employment law, I propose to bring forward amendments that would add a former staff association representative as an additional member of the tribunal. He would sit together with a legally qualified chairman, a serving or recently retired chief constable from another force and a member of the police authority for the officer's force. The chairman will have a casting vote in the event of a disagreement. Those changes will, I am confident, enable us to make important and much-needed changes in the area of police personnel management.
Part II contains purely Scottish provisions on the police. It makes various amendments and additions to the Police (Scotland) Act 1967 in pursuit of our policy for reform of the police service that are comparable to those made for England and Wales in part I. Those include provisions to give greater management responsibility to chief constables, provisions on rank structure and conditions of service, and on discipline. The Bill also makes provisions that are relevant only to Scotland. They relate to matters such as the subjects to be included in chief constables' annual reports, and the responsibilities of inspectors of constabulary in Scotland.
Part III of the Bill makes changes to the Police Act (Northern Ireland) 1970 to give effect in Northern Ireland to the Government's decisions on police rank structure and conditions of service. The changes are comparable to those being made in Great Britain to enable greater flexibility in making regulations, while taking account of the special and different circumstances of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
The Government's aim in part IV of the Bill is that magistrates courts should provide an efficient, high-quality and expeditious system of local justice that commands public confidence. We are committed to maintaining both the local nature of the system and the independence from Government of judicial decision making. That requires improvements in the management structure and organisation of the courts service.
§ Mr. Howard
If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me for a moment, he may find that I am about to deal with the point that I suspect he has in mind.
The changes will achieve four main objectives. They will guarantee the judicial independence of magistrates and their legal advisers, yield improvements in the efficiency and effectiveness of the service, secure maximum co-operation in the management of the service with other parts of the criminal justice system and improve the accountability of the service—both locally and to Parliament.
The day-to-day management of the magistrates courts service remains in the hands of local committees, 118 consisting almost entirely of local magistrates, but the Lord Chancellor is accountable to Parliament for the operation of the service. At present, lines of responsibility both locally and with the Lord Chancellor are inadequate. The Government's proposals, which are based on those published in a White Paper in February 1992, will provide the Lord Chancellor with the minimum level of control over the service consistent with his accountability to Parliament.
Clause 62 will enable the Lord Chancellor to initiate the amalgamation of magistrates courts committee areas. There is at present a power to amalgamate magistrates courts committees, but only where the committees themselves so wish. In fact, no such amalgamations have ever happened. The power provided by the Bill will not be used arbitrarily. It is obvious that an amalgamation will work best if it has the full backing of the local people involved, and local consultations will take place in each case. But we have a duty to consider the best interests of the service as a whole.
Where, for example, some of the smallest committees cannot use their resources as flexibly as larger ones, the opportunity for a higher level of service to the public and improved value for money might make an amalgamation appropriate even where not all local interests agree with such a move.
§ Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)
Will my right hon. and learned Friend ask the people who are to consult on those matters to pay more attention to distance in rural areas? The closure of Garstang magistrates court has been universally deplored by all concerned.
§ Mr. Howard
My hon. Friend makes an important point, as usual, and I will certainly draw it to the attention of my noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor.
§ Sir Roger Moate (Faversham)
Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that many of us are sceptical about the proposition of greater parliamentary accountability over magistrates courts? If a closure is proposed by the magistrates court committee and it is not objected to by the county council, the matter does not come to Parliament and we have no say. Does my right hon. and learned Friend propose to improve on that?
§ Mr. Howard
My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I will refer it to my noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor and to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, who is seated beside me and who will reply to the debate. I am sure that he will be seized of my hon. Friend's point.
Magistrates courts committees will be restructured so that they can better fulfil their task of providing strategic direction. They will no longer be primarily representative bodies. Instead, members will be chosen for the particular experience or skills that they can bring to that management body.
Committees will be strengthened by a full-time head of staff to take responsibility for the service's day-to-day administration, although always subject to a committee's direction. That head of service, to be known as the justices' chief executive, will be the manager of all the committee's staff. A number of committees have already structured their staffing on that basis, so far as is possible within the existing legislative framework.
§ Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones
I want to question the Home Secretary on a different point which arises from clause 66. It provides that the Lord Chancellor may give directions to magistrates courts committees so that they can meet specified standards of performance. Some people regard that as the green light to close many rural courts. Will the Home Secretary give me an assurance that that is not the proper interpretation of the clause?
§ Mr. Howard
Having had the opportunity just a moment ago of refreshing my memory about the precise contents of that clause, I do not think that it contains any justification for the inference that the hon. Gentleman seeks to draw. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department will be able to enlarge on that point when he replies.
§ Mr. Barry Jones
Will the Secretary of State confirm that I have persuaded him that he and the Lord Chancellor would be unwise to seek to merge two areas—Gwynedd and Clwyd—in terms of the magistrates courts committee? Will he undertake to reconsider that proposal, because on linguistic, cultural and geographical grounds they will not able to do it?
§ Mr. Howard
My right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor has no proposals to make any such amalgamation. Should the time ever come when he has, I know that he will particularly take into account the hon. Gentleman's representations.
§ Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)
Will the Home Secretary assure me that where, because of the shifting nature of the problem, fine collection in industrial and urban areas becomes a problem the magistrates courts in those areas will not be penalised on an efficiency basis simply because they cannot find the people to collect the fines from?
§ Mr. Howard
I am quite sure that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, who was listening very carefully to the hon. Gentleman, will ponder at length on its implications and give full weight to its significance before he reaches any decisions on the point raised by the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)
I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for giving way before he leaves this phase of his speech. He seems to be saying that our hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will give some guarantees later. He is, of course, aware of the worry about amalgamation of the magistrates courts committees in the outer London boroughs. He said that my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor is simply seeking a power to amalgamate, but I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will realise that amalgamation of the outer London magistrates courts committees, only 10 years after a complete restructuring following the abolition of the Greater London council, would be very ill timed and ill considered.
§ Mr. Howard
I am delighted to see such keen anticipation in all quarters of the House of the speech of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department. He is listening extremely carefully to all these points. Indeed, he has told me—I confess that I was not entirely familiar with them before 120 —that negotiations are under way in relation to the outer London boroughs and that they are making excellent progress. I hope that that will give some reassurance to my hon. Friend. No doubt my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will have more to say on that point, too, in due course.
§ Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South)
I broadly support my right hon. and learned Friend's proposals on the future of the magistrates courts, but what are his proposals for the proper cover of stipendiary magistrates throughout the country, because some parts of country, such as Teesside, have very large lay benches and the progress of cases sometimes is inordinately slow, while other parts of the country hardly ever have delays and have an overprovision of stipendiary magistrates? May we have a little more even cover throughout the country, please?
§ Mr. Howard
I have no proposals to make for the appointment of stipendiary magistrates. I understand, however, that the attitude that the Lord Chancellor takes to the matter is dependent on whether an approach is made by the lay magistrates in the area concerned. If my hon. Friend thinks that that approach needs modification, I am sure that he will address that subject if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
The magistrates courts service inspectorate has already been set up; the Bill will place it on a statutory footing. It will also enable the Lord Chancellor to issue in regulations standards of performance that he expects the magistrates courts service to achieve.
Part IV of the Bill deals exclusively with the administrative structure of the service, not with what goes on in the courtroom. But, in the light of fears—which I must say that the Government do not share—that the changes may in some subtle way undermine the independence of the advice given to lay magistrates, there is a declaration on the face of the Bill that in giving advice to magistrates in court, or in exercising the delegated functions of a single justice, justices' clerks may not be subject to direction and will remain utterly independent in those facets of their work.
All parts of the Bill will help crucial public services in the United Kingdom to operate with the benefit of up-to-date thinking about management and public accountability. No organisation can afford to ignore the constant search for more effective ways of getting people to work together to achieve common aims. In the private sector, any organisations that ignore it are likely to go out of business; in the public sector, they ossify and are in danger of becoming self-serving bureaucracies.
The public service reforms introduced over the past decade have all been designed to allow the people who are running the services to get on with the job, free from unnecessary political or bureaucratic interference from outside. But the people running our public services should not dictate what the standards offered by that service should be. All our successful public-service reforms have proceeded on the basis that some person or body outside the service should have a role in setting standards. That is the way to make our public services more efficient and accountable.
The changes being introduced in the Bill will ensure a modern, efficient and accountable police service, better able to tackle crime in the rest of the current decade and into the next century. We believe that the Bill's provisions 121 —which are an important part of our strategy to combat crime—will enable both the police service and the magistrates courts to function more effectively.
The Labour party's attitude to the Bill calls for particular attention. For Labour to pose as an ally of the police is rather like Eugene Terre'blanche posing as a friend of Nelson Mandela. For years, Labour local authorities railed against the police; in the House, Labour Members have consistently voted against the measures to strengthen police powers that we have introduced. They called the Criminal Justice Bill unacceptable, and refused to support its passage through Parliament. The police called it "first class", and an essential measure in the fight against crime.
When I made my statement in the House on the Sheehy report, the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) attacked it vigorously; yet on the very same day, in another place, Lord McIntosh—his party's spokesman on home affairs—said that it wasa very welcome basis for future discussion of the way forward for the police service".—[Official Report, House of Lords, 28 October 1993; Vol. 549, c.944.]That evening, on Channel 4 News, the hon. Member for Sedgefield had already started to shift his position: he explicitly supported the decision to abolish the three police ranks. But he had reckoned without Lord McIntosh's ability to change his mind. Within months, Labour was voting against the abolition of the ranks in another place.
The Labour party's attitude to the two Bills is evidence of a party whose commitment to law and order and to supporting the police is poll deep. It simply cannot be trusted to give the police and the fight against crime the unrelenting support that they require. We alone in the House are prepared to give them that support. I commend the Bill to the House.
§ Mr. Tony Blair (Sedgefield)
I thank the Home Secretary for his speech. I felt that it began to come alive when he was attacking the Opposition rather than defending his own measure, but that is not surprising, given that the Bill comes before us in a badly wounded and limping state—severely mauled in the other place, but none the less still dangerous. Thankfully, it has been changed; but it has not been changed nearly enough.
I note that the Government have adopted a new ploy when attempting to justify a measure that has very little support: they make the very claim for it that its opponents cite as the reason for their opposition. Thus, the Bill becomes a measure to reduce political interference and improve local policing, just as the health service reforms become measures to cut bureaucracy. We reached the very height of justification the other day when I heard the junior Minister for the Environment say on the radio that the purpose of the value-added tax on fuel was to assist the elderly in the campaign for a more green, ecologically friendly environment.
The Bill is now presented to us as delivering better local policing. The Home Secretary said today that, where it had been changed, change had occurred through a process of consultation. Let us be very clear about why the legislation has been changed, because that is the only way to secure further changes to it.
122 In truth, since the moment that the proposals were first spoken about in December 1992, they have come under more sustained attack than any set of proposals virtually in living memory. The attack was renewed every time that the proposals were reissued—which was frequently. I think that I am right in saying that the consultative process yielded no one in support of the proposals, and when the Bill was published nothing from the consultation resulted in changes to the Bill. Not one single change of any substance occurred until the clock was almost striking midnight in the other place and, under pressure of defeat and humiliation, change was announced. It was secured not through a listening Government, but through a scared one.
Although the changes have been numerous—my office estimates that there have been about 23 changes during the passage of the Bill, but we may be underestimating—the legislation remains deeply flawed. The Bill is flawed simply because the thinking and the ethos that underpin it are flawed. With one or two exceptions—such as the proposals about greater flexibility in the financing of police authorities—the Bill represents the most determined and least popular attempt ever made to centralise policing in Britain, to give Ministers unprecedented control over the way that the police do their work, and to undermine police independence. It is driven not just by short-term cost cutting, but by an ideology that resents local freedom and has an aversion, bordering on paranoia, to local government.
That is why the Bill has been opposed, not just by the Labour party or by Labour councillors, but by Conservative councillors; by the police, where the proposals have had the extraordinary effect of uniting almost every rank of serving police officers against them; by magistrates and their clerks, neither group noted revolutionaries in any area; and by virtually all independent commentators. Of course, the Government may dismiss their objections as special pleading, but that is unfair.
The police are prepared to change and adapt—indeed, they have done so in many ways in the past few years. When magistrates are concerned about the independence of their clerks, it is not a vested interest speaking. When they express their concern about amalgamation, they do not speak out simply for their own convenience. They do so because they sincerely hold the view that their independence and, hence, that of the judicial system is being undermined by the proposals.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Among his catalogue of criticisms of the Bill, will he tell us about one or two Labour proposals—in particular, the proposal to have elected police authorities, which will do more to politicise those authorities than anything in the Bill?
§ Mr. Blair
That is not the Labour party's proposal. As I have made absolutely clear in debate, I do not believe that the priority in policing today is about fiddling with the structure of police authorities. It is about getting the right local partnership between police and local communities in order to fight crime. That is what policing is about.
§ Mr. Howard
The Labour party certainly fought the last general election on a policy of directly elected police authorities. The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but if he 123 looks at page 20 of his election manifesto for 1992 he will find a specific commitment to that effect. Will he now tell us when his party's policy changed, if change it has?
§ Mr. Blair
I have made it absolutely clear all the way through the debate that that is not our policy. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman stopped fighting the Opposition over these proposals and started listening to what is being said, not just by the Opposition but by others, he would find that they got broader agreement.
The opposition that the Bill has aroused has been passionate not because of special pleading but out of a genuine belief that the proposals are not only wrong in themselves but will harm the fight against crime in local communities, and that their effect would be not only a denial of constitutional principle but contrary to the practical ways in which crime can be countered. It is, in other words, literally a counter-productive measure because crime is fought most successfully locally, where police and the local community work together. Every measure that ruptures or weakens that link diminishes our primary purpose which is to fight crime. I now illustrate with reference to the Bill how that occurs.
Let us first consider the composition of police authorities. The original proposals were very much worse —I accept that entirely. Originally, the Home Secretary was to appoint the chairman of a policy authority and a third of its members. That suggestion has now been dropped—it was one of the parts of the Bill that were most savaged in another place—but the size is still to be reduced significantly.
Let us consider also the provisions for the five so-called independent new members. Of course, these provisions are a vast improvement on the original ones, but, although the procedure for determining the new independent members may be an improvement on direct appointments by the Home Secretary, surely the whole process has been cobbled together by someone with an extravagant sense of humour. The way in which the proposals will work is one of the most extraordinary things I have come across.
A panel of selection is to be established in every police authority area to select the independent members. There is a complicated procedure for appointing the panel; it, in turn, has very complicated procedures for deciding who is qualified or disqualified from serving on it. When the panel has, by this means, drawn up a list of 20 people, that list is put to the Home Secretary who then draws up a further set of regulations on how it is to be worked through. He then considers the 20 and reduces the number to about 10 or perhaps fewer. Further complicated regulations follow, and the list then goes back to the police authority to determine who the five independent members should be.
All this extraordinary rigmarole, including special provisions for the Home Secretary to nominate where the numbers on the original list submitted to him are not sufficient, is to secure what? It is to secure the interpolation of people on to the police authority that nobody—not one single independent group of people—has ever said is necessary or wanted.
I pose one simple question. Let us suppose that the Bill had never been thought of and that no word about reforming the police authority had reached the Home Secretary's office at Queen Anne's gate. Let us then suppose that an enthusiastic official had bounded into his room with a procedure of such complexity for reforming policy authorities. What would have happened? Would not 124 that official even now be in a padded cell with his arms stuck behind his back while he was examined by a range of psychoanalysts?
What I have outlined is an extraordinary, expensive and wasteful procedure and it comes from the party of deregulation, from the party which claims to want to cut red tape and undermine bureaucracy; and for what? It is in order to ram through a proposal that no one supports and for which no one has ever asked. The absurdity of the process lies not only in the fact that it will foist on police authorities the duty to select colleagues with whose very existence they disagree; it lies also in the fact that it will undoubtedly reduce local involvement.
§ Mr. Shersby
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Bill also contains provisions under which the Home Secretary can agree to a larger composition for a police authority, depending on the constituent area that the authority will cover?
§ Mr. Blair
The hon. Gentleman is right. I read the debates in the other place carefully, and I think that I am right in saying that Earl Ferrers made it clear that that power would rarely be used. We cannot say that, as a matter of course, the Home Secretary intends to expand the number. I do not believe that that is the proposal.
In County Durham, there is a range of different villages in an area, and there are almost 30 councillors on the police authority. It is important to recognise that those councillors, whether they are Conservative or Labour, give local people an input into local policing. Within their areas, those people are certainly more approachable than the average business chief. Considerable concern is shared by the police, never mind local authorities, that the change will weaken the interest and engagement of local people.
Although we have no prospect of achieving it, I must say again that the fact that we still have no proper strategic police authority for our capital city of London represents an omission from the Bill.
§ Mr. Fabricant
I know County Durham well. It is a beautiful area, and I have stayed in Witton Gilbert.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the whole point of the Bill is to give local police authorities greater powers? Does he not also concede that any police authority, like the board of a company, will be more effective if it is smaller rather than larger?
§ Mr. Blair
May I try to achieve at least the following consensus? If the hon. Gentleman says that the test of the Bill should be whether it gives power to the locality or takes it away, he should follow my argument and see 125 whether the new measures give power to local people or to the centre. If, at the end of that argument, he can find it in himself to be reasonable enough to accept the fact that the Bill gives power to the centre rather than to local people, perhaps he will join us in the Lobbies tonight.
The policing objectives are important and it must be understood that there is no objection to chief constables and police authorities setting goals and objectives, or to their producing a local plan. Many, in effect, already do so. The objection is to the wholly unprecedented power that the Secretary of State is taking to overrule local objectives and to insist that national objectives, which he lays down, should be followed instead.
It is important to read those objectives in line with the performance targets that are supposed to be published in accordance with them, in line with the power—which is not wrong in itself—that will direct grants to police authorities in aggregate from now on, and in line with the fact that chief constables will be on short-term contracts. The effect of all those measures together will be, for the first time in our history, substantially to remove local discretion in determining local policing priorities and to replace it with central control.
The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown) spoke about objectives and performance targets. With all due respect, I think that the Home Secretary is not being entirely open with us about the effect of the provisions that he wants us to pass. Although it is correct to say that the police authority merely has to have regard to the national objectives that he will set, the new section 28B that clause 13 would add to the Police Act 1964 makes it clear that the performance targets set in pursuit of the national objectives—contrary to what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said earlier, the two are directly linked—are obligatory. Indeed, under new section 28B(3) the Home Secretary may impose directions, which will also be mandatory, in order that the performance targets set in pursuit of the objectives may be met.
What examples are there of the type of performance targets and objectives that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will set? What will he do? Will he set specific targets, such as specific cuts in burglaries in a particular area? Should forces be told to concentrate on certain types of activity? The concern is not only about those powers, but about how they will link in to the present investigation into what are called the core activities of the police.
The agenda here, however hidden it may be, is that under the Government's proposals the police will become increasingly a law enforcement agency and less of a public service. What of working with local youth projects or old people's homes? How will those activities tie in with the type of objectives and targets that the Home Secretary wishes to impose?
§ Mr. Howard
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that it is extremely important that there should be no misunderstanding about the provisions, that unnecessary anxiety should not be aroused and that false alarms should not be raised. The position, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman will—on reflection—agree, is this: the new section 28B empowers the Secretary of State to direct that a target should be set in relation to a special objective. The level at which that target should be set is a matter for the police authority. The target is something "to be aimed at".
126 Those are the words in section 28B(1), so there is no question of the force being required to achieve that target on a mandatory basis, regardless of any other problems that the force may face.
It is very important that we should not give any misleading impression of the effects of the legislation. I have set them out as clearly as I can.
§ Mr. Blair
That is not what I am saying. It is true that the authorities are merely obliged to aim at the target, but that in itself is important and must inform the nature of their local policing. However, the target is obligatory. What is more, it is backed up by proposals under subsections (2) and (3) of the new section for directions to be given by the Secretary of State for conditions to be imposed under which the performance targets must conform. It is not merely that the performance targets are, as it were, obligatory, but that they may have conditions attached to them under the direction of the Secretary of State.
§ Mr. Howard
The hon. Gentleman's analysis leaves out of account the fact that the levels are to be set not by the Secretary of State, but by the local police authorities, having regard to local conditions and to their other local priorities. It is perfectly reasonable for the Secretary of State to say that those are matters in respect of which targets should be set. It is for the local police authority to decide on the level at which the target is to be set and it is then for the police authority to aim at achieving that locally set target. That is the important point and if we are to achieve transparently accountable policing, that is an extremely sensible way in which to go about it.
§ Mr. Blair
I do not think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is studying carefully exactly what he is legislating. Of course, I am not suggesting that there is some arbitrary level that the authorities, as a matter of absolute obligation, must achieve. To meet the point that was raised earlier, he was suggesting that the objectives of the police authorities that he would set were merely something that they had to take into account, but not follow. In fact, that is not entirely correct, because the authorities are obliged to follow the performance targets that are set in pursuit of those objectives. What is more, under subsection (3), the Secretary of State may give the authorities directions on how they achieve those targets. Therefore, the idea that that does not give him centralised power over policing is absolute nonsense.
§ Mr. Blair
May I finish the point? Obviously, the right hon. and learned Gentleman may convince his hon. Friends, with the help of Whips, but the people that he must convince are the police and those outside the House who have constantly raised the matter— and he has refused to give them a proper answer.
§ Mr. Howard
There is no substance in that at all. If the Bill provided that the Secretary of State could set the levels at which the targets should be aimed, there might be some substance to the criticisms of the hon. Gentleman. However, it is for the local police authority to set the levels. That is an absolutely crucial component of the series of changes. It is a sensible way—there is nothing sinister about it—in which to achieve transparent accountability. I have set out with some precision the sequence of events that will occur. The hon. Gentleman is, I am afraid to say, misrepresenting them.
§ Mr. Blair
We may prolong the argument for ever, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman is wrong; the performance targets must be aimed at the objectives that he sets. In other words, it is not correct to say that the local policing authorities set their own targets and then merely aim at them. The targets are governed by the objectives. The correlation between the targets and the objectives means that the police are, in effect, following his instructions rather than those of the local policing authorities. No doubt the matter will be considered at length in Committee, but if the Home Secretary desires the authorities to have complete freedom in setting their own performance targets, irrespective of the objectives, he will agree to the amendment that we shall table.
If I may turn to the amalgamation—
§ Mr. Howard
Of course I will not accept any amendment to that effect, because I think it absolutely right that the Secretary of State should be able to identify the targets; but the levels at which those targets are to be aimed —that is the key point—will be set by the local policing authority. It was very noticeable that, in the hon. Gentleman's most recent summary of his version of the effects of the provisions, he left out all reference to the levels. The levels are critical. I will not accept any amendment along the lines that the hon. Gentleman has advanced, because it would subvert our entire objective of transparent accountability in which the local police authority, which would have the responsibility for setting the levels, would have a key role.
§ Mr. Blair
I shall give way in a moment, but I should like to press on. The Home Secretary is not dealing with the point that has been made, which is that the objectives that he sets determine the targets. I think that if the right hon. and learned Gentleman reads it carefully, he will find that he is wrong.
In relation to amalgamation, there is the sense—
§ Mr. Cunningham
An interesting point is being raised and the Home Secretary is a little confused. If he knew 128 anything about police authorities, he would know that funding can often determine the level of targets. That is what the Home Secretary is obscuring.
§ Mr. Blair
My hon. Friend is absolutely right and, if I may say so, he injects a welcome note of practicality into the debate on the construction of the Bill.
The amalgamations are also extremely important. The sense of a hidden agenda is stronger in this area when we encounter the new fast-track procedure for amalgamation. When the Secretary of State announced the consultation in June, he never mentioned the issue of amalgamation of police authorities. In fact, there is an entire chapter devoted to amalgamation in the White Paper, which preceded press reports about the desire to whittle down the number of authorities from 43 to 25 or even fewer. What is absolutely clear from that White Paper is that, although the Government do not intend—for fairly obvious reasons—to press forward with amalgamation now, it is by no means clear that, as soon as the Bill is conveniently out of the way, they will not proceed then. May I simply ask the Home Secretary this: if it is no purpose of his to amalgamate authorities, and if that is not what he desires, why have the new procedure in the Bill? What is the purpose of the streamlining?
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Wardle)
The new procedure is more efficient.
§ Mr. Blair
The Under-Secretary says that it is all to do with a more efficient procedure. Let us see what the new procedure does. It strips away the public inquiry element of the procedure for amalgamating authorities so that the voice of the people—I need not say of the quiet majority —is not heard. The basic right given to the most minor local property developments is denied in the case of something as important as local policing. It is a disgraceful and anti-democratic measure. If police authorities are to be amalgamated, there is no reason whatever why there should not be a proper public inquiry. Of course, the reason why the Government do not want public inquiries is that they throw up opposition of, usually, a fairly co-ordinated type, which is usually backed up by local newspapers, the regional media and so on.
Exactly the same criticism can be made in respect of the part of the Bill dealing with magistrates courts—a point which my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) will no doubt develop later.
§ Mr. Maclennan
Lest the hon. Gentleman provide the Home Secretary with an opportunity to represent him as being totally in favour of the status quo, will he acknowledge that when the existing 43 police authorities were created the then Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins, found it perfectly adequate to reduce the number and to involve the public in the process?
§ Mr. Blair
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. There may well be a case for police authority amalgamations from time to time, but such action should be taken on the basis of local consent and not simply because of a desire to centralise, to push matters further towards central Government.
The magistrates courts procedures are exactly the same. Again, for the first time, we have the possibility of wholesale amalgamation of areas. Conservative Members will be very foolish not to take account of the genuine 129 concern in many places, particularly rural areas, at the idea that, as a simple administrative measure, magistrates courts can be pushed together.
I should like to turn now to what remains in the Bill with regard to the Sheehy report. It is still unclear exactly what the changes that the Home Secretary announced last year will amount to, in practical terms, for the average police constable, particularly in relation to matters such as pensions. However, it is clear what they will mean for people in different ranks.
I should like, briefly, to discuss specifically the fairly shabby attempt to persuade the public that these reforms will yield another 3,000 police officers on the beat. That claim has been made frequently. It was the most important justification given by the Home Secretary and other Ministers for part of the Bill, and it was the answer to the criticism of the freeze on police numbers and to the claim that the Bill runs counter to community policing.
Having looked carefully into the matter, we believe that the claim that the Bill will deliver an additional 3,000 officers on the beat is utterly bogus. And so do the police. As can be seen at page 171 of his report, Sheehy anticipated that 3,000 officers might be released to be put on the beat as a result of the changes in rank structure, but only on the basis of the short-term severance package that he outlined. Letters to several of my hon. Friends from serving police officers—in particular, chief superintendents and others—seem to me to suggest that no such severance package has been agreed. Therefore, the idea that all these officers on the beat will be released is erroneous.
Indeed, the matter goes further. I realise that the alteration in rank structure is a difficult area. It is one in respect of which we proceed with care. There is clearly a case for rationalisation of the structure. Let me put to the Home Secretary what must be the test when the matter is being examined in detail in Committee.
First, it is important to understand that rationalisation of the numbers in the ranks of chief inspector and chief superintendent is already taking place. There has been very significant change over the past three years—a reduction of about 300. However, that has been achieved not by a blanket weeding-out of ranks but by case-by-case reorganisation.
It may well be that in some forces not all the ranks are needed or there should be fewer people in a particular rank. However, not all services are the same. There will be exceptional situations in which the senior ranks are necessary—for example, spontaneous public disorder or disasters, where somebody must take charge and where there must be a local chain of command. The danger that has been put to me and will be examined in Committee is that, with the method by which the Home Secretary has chosen to proceed, either there will be no proper control in these situations or there will be an informal procedure by which someone is appointed as a senior superintendent. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman understands that we are not criticising the objective of streamlining, but are concerned about the inflexibility of the method proposed.
We shall also scrutinise most carefully the changes in disciplinary procedures for serving police officers. Here, too, we must strike a balance. We want to examine the 130 appeal process for officers being disciplined. It cannot be stressed too often that, in what is a monopoly service, disciplinary action will stay with a police officer for his entire career. In some cases—by no means all—the people who make complaints are convicted criminals with serious records. I yield to nobody in my desire to see incompetent, corrupt or abusive police officers weeded out. That is important to the entire police service, which is brought down by such people. However, we must ensure that there is a fair procedure.
In the annual report of every police service this year, there is a recurring theme—the belief that the battle against crime can be, and is being, more successfully prosecuted, coupled with an absolute conviction that emphasis on local policing, in partnership with local communities, is essential to achieving that aim.
Modern policing is about partnership, shared responsibility and a service fully integrated into the life of local communities. Those are not just fine words; they are an essential part of the fight against crime. To fight crime, people must have confidence in their local police. They must be confident not just that the police are fair and honest but that they are approachable and in touch. The police cannot fight crime on their own; the whole community must be enlisted on their side. The law-abiding majority —and, even in the areas with the highest crime levels, the majority are law abiding—must be put back in control of communities. Anything that facilitates the local link between police and people is welcome, and anything that harms it is to be deplored.
The Bill harms that link—not as seriously as it would have done in its original form, but seriously enough. Some of its worst aspects have been neutered, but its fundamental philosophy and purpose remain. I suspect that the Government will not admit to wanting to use many of its powers today, but they may well be used—and used ruthlessly—in the future, if the Bill becomes law.
Let hon. Members just think what the Home Secretary could have done if he had so chosen. He could, for example, have implemented the report of the standing committee on crime prevention—the Morgan report—and won support across the spectrum. He could have saved the millions of pounds that will be wasted through this legislation and used them to undo cuts in the youth service, to provide drugs education, to finance inner-city programmes or to put more police officers on the beat—this time for real rather than in theory. Instead, the right hon. and learned Gentleman is taking the police not just down a diversionary route but in the direction opposite to that in which he should be travelling.
The people of this country do not want a centralised police service, under a Conservative or any other Government.
§ Mr. Howard
Just a minute ago the hon. Gentleman complained that the redundancy package on the basis of which the middle ranks are being thinned is not sufficiently generous. Now he is accusing us of spending money that should not be spent. The truth is that we are achieving the reduction in the middle ranks without the package that the hon. Gentleman has identified. That is leading to the recruitment of more police constables—452 in the first two months of this year—and that is exactly the objective of our reforms.
§ Mr. Blair
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is wrong on both points. First, the severance package was crucial to the 3,000 officers to be released. But more important are the Bill's expenditure implications. The cost will run into tens of millions of pounds. I am suggesting that the Home Secretary could have won support for the expenditure of the money that is to be wasted on a Bill wanted by no one on such matters as education for young people about the dangers of drugs—measures that people do want.
The Bill imposes measures of centralisation. Surely there is a terrible irony here. A decade ago, Conservatives alleged that Labour local authorities engaged in political interference. That is the very policy of their flagship today. What they are doing in the Bill is the very thing that they used to decry.
There is another irony. In the report on the Los Angeles riots of a few years ago, Warren Christopher, who is now the United States Secretary of State, referred in glowing terms to the success of British police in pioneering local community policing. As the rest of the world moves towards such policing, the Home Secretary is undermining it at its birthplace.
The Bill is a foolish exercise in mistaken ideology. Indeed, the only reason for its continued existence is not that it is wanted but that no one in government has the political courage to dump it. It will do nothing to fight crime or make our communities safe. It is without support outside Government and without reason inside Government, and it should not be given a Second Reading.
§ Sir Anthony Durant (Reading, West)
First, I declare an interest: I represent chief superintendents and superintendents in the House.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary rightly said that our police are the best in the world. I entirely agree. Several police officers have travelled to South Africa to give advice on the problems that are being experienced in that country in respect of law and order. It is a great credit to the United Kingdom that the South African authorities asked for those police officers to go and give their advice.
My right hon. and learned Friend has told us that the rank of chief inspector will be retained while the rank of chief superintendent will not. When the Association of Chief Police Officers was asked about the matter, it initially wanted to keep both ranks. The effect of the amendment in the other place was that only one of the two ranks could be kept, and my right hon. and learned Friend decided to retain chief inspectors.
The police have been through a period of great anxiety and great damage has been done to morale during the past few months. There are many worries about the future of the police service. The Sheehy report created mayhem within the police service: I have never known the police in such an anxious state following its publication. I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for reading the report carefully and eliminating many of the nonsensical findings that it contained. I saw Patrick Sheehy, and he tried to convince me that he was right. I had to tell him that the police are a service and not a business; he seemed not to understand that.
The police have been doing much restructuring, of their own volition—that has been taking place for some time.
132 The remaining problems for the superintendents are rank, legal representation and double jeopardy. I shall deal with each of those issues in turn.
Chief superintendents will, of course, be disappointed that their rank is being abolished. They will not be very happy about it. They have given me a list of reasons that they feel support retention of the rank of superintendent. First, the rank is in place and well understood both within the police service—which is within society in general—and among the organisations with which the police interact.
Most forces in England and Wales have been through —or are in the process of or planning—major reorganisation involving considerable reductions in the numbers of superintendents. Indeed, 264 superintendent posts have disappeared. That is a reduction of about 13.3 per cent. The remaining chief superintendents are an essential part of the restructured forces. The retention of chief superintendents will mean a continuation of the operational command structure at senior level, which is essential for running major events such as large public events, major public disorders and large or complex inquiries. The retention of chief superintendents would assist in the devolvement of responsibility from chief constable level while at the same time providing management and command resilience in supporting assistant chief constables, especially during their absence. When senior officers are away, who is in command? That is something that concerns police officers.
The retention of chief superintendents would ease administrative matters when personnel issues such as appraisals and career development, both for superintendents and inspectors, were being dealt with. Their retention would resolve potential difficulties in respect of appraisals and staff management, especially in larger forces.
§ Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)
As the hon. Gentleman has some knowledge of the area that I represent, he will appreciate the point that I am about to make. I am sure that he knows that the South Yorkshire force is divided into divisions, which are commanded by a chief superintendent. To facilitate local policing, the divisions have seven sub-divisions. My constituency largely forms the appropriate sub-division, as it were, of the South Yorkshire force. The sub-divisions are properly commanded by a superintendent. I believe that we could more easily be managed without chief inspectors than we could without a chief superintendent to command the division.
There are superintendents commanding inspectors in the various divisions. The structure has made for an effective force in south Yorkshire despite some unfortunate comments made by Conservative Members. The Home Secretary's decision to disband or do away with chief superintendents may not help to provide well-structured policing in many parts of the country.
§ Sir Anthony Durant
That is the point that I am making, which I will continue to make. The retention of chief superintendents would ensure that there are officers to carry out investigations of superintendents in criminal or disciplinary matters. Their retention would considerably ease operational command and management problems that are likely to be experienced by assistant chief constables, especially in larger forces where the number of operational command areas will be large. Some police forces, such as Thames Valley, are extremely large.
133 The retention of chief superintendents would provide a higher command level for senior posts in forces where there is shown to be a clear need for such a level—for example, basic command units divisions with large numbers of officers and/or particular socio-economic problems. The hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) has made that point for me.
The retention of chief superintendents here would resolve the issue of retaining that rank in the Royal Ulster Constabulary; for some reason, the rank is to be retained in the RUC. I am not against that, but it is odd given that we are to do away with it.
The retention of chief superintendents would assist in resolving concerns expressed by the Police Complaints Authority over the availability of senior officers to carry out major inquiries. Many chief superintendents are heavily involved in such inquiries. A key difficulty with the work that is being carried out by many chief inspectors is that their conditions of service, linked to hourly rates of pay, overtime and other payments, are not appropriate. The agreement reached by the Police Federation with the official side at the police negotiating board has removed that difficulty.
The pay agreement reached for superintendents with the official side of the police negotiating board lends itself to easy accommodation of the rank of chief superintendent, as it clearly allows for posts carrying higher levels of responsibility. In other words, the police pay negotiations may have to return to the drawing board. As I have said, agreements have been arrived at after considerable discussions. It seems that they may have to be examined again. That will cause considerable concern and difficulty within the police service.
It is an essential element of change in any organisation that those people tasked with managing that change are motivated and feel properly recognised and rewarded for their efforts. The morale of superintending ranks is currently extremely low. The pay agreement has gone some way to restoring morale. Retaining chief superintendents would further lift morale and place the organisation in the best position to implement all the major changes that are envisaged.
The Police Federation has no wish to retain the rank of chief inspector—that is on public record—but there has been a consistent argument for the retention of chief superintendents. As I have already said, ACPO argues for the retention of both ranks.
The advent of single-line budgets and national criteria for posts, coupled with police authority and Her Majesty's inspectorate involvement, will result in posts being available only where there is a clear need for them, thus giving the best value for money and a good deal of commonality of structure.
In New Zealand, they did away with the ranks of chief superintendent and chief inspector. That caused great difficulty for the police in New Zealand; as a result, the new post of command superintendent has been created. Effectively, that officer is the senior superintendent: he deals with the command of the various divisions of the New Zealand police force. The name has been changed from chief superintendent to command superintendent but 134 the net result is exactly the same. It was found that doing away with those two ranks caused difficulties within the New Zealand police.
§ Mr. Bermingham
Does the hon. Gentleman agree with me about what the effect will be if the Bill becomes law—and I hope that it will not? If a chief superintendent retires, the person who takes over his command job will expect to be remunerated accordingly for the more difficult task. Under the Bill, that would not happen. The New Zealand example would apply and chaos would occur in the ranks.
§ Sir Anthony Durant
The hon. Gentleman is right. In New Zealand, pay had to be increased according to experience and as a reward, so superintendents were on all sorts of pay levels. That also caused difficulties because nobody knew who was in charge. They had to introduce the post of command superintendent so that people knew who was in charge.
On disciplinary matters, I am delighted that the Home Secretary has agreed to legal representation all the way through. That is a great concession. I compliment the Home Secretary on realising the importance of that matter to the police. The hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham), who often deals with the courts, will know that villains often wait until a case is near fruition and then lodge a lot of complaints about the police officer concerned to try to get him taken off the job. Sometimes that happens, and it must be admitted that villains are becoming increasingly sophisticated in these matters.
A matter that still worries chief superintendents, despite some of the Home Secretary's concessions, is the fact that the definition of "unsatisfactory performance" and "misconduct" is still unclear. I urge the Home Secretary to look again at that matter and discuss it with representatives of the different associations.
Once those matters have been resolved, we need a period of calm so that the police can get on with the job. There has been too much alteration, discussion and change. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary said, the police want to get out and deal with the criminals. They welcomed the proposals in the Criminal Justice Bill and felt that the increase in their powers was useful. I hope that the Home Secretary will consider the points that I have made. I realise that he may have made a cast-iron decision but, on behalf of the chief superintendents, I hope that he has not.
§ Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)
Certain phrases came to mind when I first read the Bill, which in its original form I found ghastly and in its amended form I find a little less than ghastly. The two phrases were "the Big Brother approach" and "big is beautiful": those seemed to be the themes flowing through the Bill.
The police half of the Bill deals with amalgamations. May I declare an interest as a practising barrister? I remember when amalgamation first began in south Yorkshire. The first amalgamation to take place was of Sheffield and Rotherham, which then became the South Yorkshire force. There was no evidence of increased efficiency as the force grew in size. Sometimes, forces can become too big. One can draw an analogy with the Crown Prosecution Service, which used to have some 40 area services and now has just 13. That created its own 135 problems. The South Yorkshire force now covers an area that stretches from Sheffield to Hull—a massive area with Lincolnshire included in the middle. Problems inevitably arise. I do not propose to discuss the Crown Prosecution Service this afternoon—simply to draw on the mistakes made in its amalgamation and restructuring policy and to show how the same mistakes are about to be made in the Bill.
By taking away public inquiries, the Bill seems to open the way to amalgamation in both petty sessional and police areas. At the back of some people's minds is the idea that there is a creeping concept of a national police force. If the Bill removes the element of public participation, it removes the safeguard. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House are vaguely worried about the question of a national police force.
§ Mr. Fabricant
Does the hon. Gentleman recall a recent case in which a high-speed chase took place between Staffordshire and the west midlands in connection with a kidnap in Birmingham? The Staffordshire police were unable to communicate well with the west midlands police because they use different telecommunications equipment and frequencies. Although I do not advocate wholesale amalgamation of different police forces, would the hon. Gentleman not concede that there can be advantages in acquiring police cars or equipment through volume purchases not only in terms of cost but in terms of standardising equipment?
§ Mr. Bermingham
The hon. Gentleman, whose interventions I always welcome, pays me the compliment of thinking that I know every case that occurs in the country, which I do not. The answer to his question lies in his final remark. Why not simply standardise equipment, thus allowing the Staffordshire police to communicate with the west midlands police? It is incredible that that has not happened, but I take what the hon. Gentleman says to be absolutely correct.
That does not destroy the simple argument that I seek to advance—that when forces begin to be amalgamated, particularly without public participation, we see the worrying feature of a national police force: the more command is taken away from the locality, the more it is distanced from the problems of the locality. That has happened time and again in many areas. For example, as the various hospital services became area health services, command began to disappear. There is an argument in favour of bringing command back to the people. Police officers who know their locality know the problems that exist there. For that reason, removing the question of public inquiries negates the influence of public opinion. In a democracy, public opinion must always play a part in the decisions of government, whether at national or local level.
The second part of the Bill concerns me greatly. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Reading, West (Sir A. Durant) for allowing me to intervene in his speech. The reduction in the number of ranks poses a great problem. Again, I draw an analogy with the Crown Prosecution Service. If we reduce the number of chief crown prosecutors, the number of deputy crown prosecutors and, in turn, the number of specialist posts, we begin to create a career blockage.
We have seen what happened when New Zealand tried to remove chief superintendents—it resulted in chaos. Let us be realistic and admit that nobody will do a more 136 difficult job without getting paid for it. If a force has 15 superintendents, one of whom is to replace the chief superintendent who has just retired, the person who will replace him will want to be paid properly. So 14 other superintendents—and perhaps a 15th who may be an inspector doing a superintendent's job—will say that they deserve the appropriate remuneration, and the New Zealand problem will occur. Moreover, the problem of career development will also arise because if a chief constable goes through the ranks of serjeant, inspector, superintendent and then chief constable, he has not made many career steps. So people in the 35–45 age bracket will find that there is nowhere for them to go.
§ Mr. Bermingham
The Home Secretary shakes his head, but that has happened time and again. I have met people in the legal profession and the Crown Prosecution Service who have suddenly found that they have no chance of promotion and nowhere to go.
§ Mr. Howard
There would be every opportunity for people in that position to obtain posts of greater responsibility—and greater remuneration to reflect it. To achieve greater responsibility or greater remuneration, it is not necessary to be promoted to a particular rank. The hon. Gentleman leaves that out of account.
§ Mr. Bermingham
The Home Secretary leaves out of account the fact that human beings like their posts to be called what they are. The managing director of a company likes to be called that because, although he is a director, he is also the chap who is the managing director. That is only human nature. What the right hon. and learned Gentleman suggests is that the new scheme, stripped of the ranks that he wants to take away, will still contain posts graded all the way up the scale—they will all be called by the same name, but the increments will remain. That makes the whole exercise an utter waste of time. In a sense, the Home Secretary has conceded that it does not matter what a job is called as long as it carries with it a certain pay packet. In that case, why are we all wasting our time?
I welcome the idea of representation at disciplinary hearings. We practising lawyers are well acquainted with the problem of the malicious complaint—I have seen it time and again. People's careers can be wrecked by the malicious complaint. Some are driven to illness; others have to live with the lurking suspicion that there is no smoke without fire. Removing that from the system will be well worth while.
If I went further, the Home Secretary would accuse me of being a perfectionist. I am a perfectionist: I want anyone accused of anything in any court or disciplinary tribunal to be allowed to choose his or her representative. There is an old saying: "Physician, heal thyself." In other words, a lawyer who acts for himself has a fool for a client. To act for oneself is extraordinarily dangerous; people need an independent, trained mind to present their case. Appearing before a disciplinary tribunal they can rest assured that those who are "prosecuting" have a great deal of experience of prosecuting.
Leaving the police half of the Bill and turning my guns on the Lord Chancellor's half of the Bill, I must tell the Minister who speaks for the Lord Chancellor that he is making the same mistake as his colleague, the Home Secretary. He is adopting the Big Brother approach. The 137 magistrates courts of this land have worked extremely well for many centuries. Why do we need to interfere with them? What I have already said about amalgamation is equally true here. In parts of Lincolnshire, which I know fairly well, and of the north-west, which I know equally well, local problems which are peculiar to the areas can arise. Amalgamating such areas into bigger ones serving rural communities does not work.
The magistracy is rooted in the populations of the areas that it serves, and that is a good thing. Arbitrary amalgamation of such places runs the risk of creating something that is big and may look beautiful but will not reflect local needs. The Yorkshire-Derbyshire border is a case in point. The local knowledge of magistrates in rural areas around Bakewell and Chatsworth is different from the knowledge that magistrates will need if they operate in Sheffield, an industrial area.
To trespass on happy memories, I might add that, years ago, someone who appeared at Bakewell on a scrap dealing charge got a fine. In Sheffield he risked imprisonment for the same charge. If he appeared in Sheffield for poaching the odd rabbit on the Wentworth estate, not much happened to him; but if he appeared before Bakewell magistrates for pinching a trout out of the river or poaching a pheasant, these were virtually hanging offences.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Mr. John M. Taylor)
Never having poached a ferret myself, may I point out that the hon. Gentleman would be entirely right if he were arguing in favour of amalgamating petty sessional divisional areas —is that what he is talking about?
§ Mr. Bermingham
The Minister should know what I am talking about—it is his Bill. It has been pointed out already that there has been no amalgamation of petty sessional divisions for some considerable time. And why? Because amalgamation is not needed.
What is the purpose, under clause 63, of allowing the Lord Chancellor to place someone on a magistrates courts committee? Such committees have for years been made up of the magistrates of an area who know the area and the courts in the division. So why must an outsider be brought in? Is the person appointed to report back to the Lord Chancellor? What is his or her function to be?
I was a trifle amazed, when I read clause 68, to learn of the need for a justices' chief executive. What is the point of it all? We are just putting in another bureaucrat. In the old days the clerk to the justice ran his own court and advised his magistrates—he had total independence. Suddenly, a chief executive to the justices rears his or her ugly head.
New section 25(2), in clause 69, stipulates that justices' clerks may be appointed only if the Lord Chancellor says so. For years, magistrates courts committees have been picking their people. Why do they suddenly need vetting? Does Big Brother have to tell us how to do everything? Will we be told that so-and-so is unsuitable because she has the wrong views, or that so-and-so is unsuitable because he is awkward?
§ Mr. Bermingham
Bluntly speaking, my hon. Friend is right. What was a simple and straightforward system is becoming complicated.
The next little clause presents us with the lovely idea of fixed-term contracts which, of course, are the death knell of independence. The analysis goes: if someone works in industry and performs well, his contract will be renewed. The problem with that is that people in the professions sometimes have to take decisions that other people do not like. A justices' clerk, for the sake of argument, may encounter a rogue magistrate—we all know of such cases —and that rogue magistrate may be a powerful voice on a certain committee. The justices' clerk is on a fixed-term contract—but I note that the Minister is shaking his head.
Mr. John M. Taylor
There is no proposal for magistrates clerks to have fixed-term contracts. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is looking at an old edition of the Bill.
§ Mr. Bermingham
Perhaps I could have an assurance that there will be no fixed-term contracts for magistrates clerks. I got this copy of the Bill from the Table Office about 20 minutes ago. The committees will have a discretion to introduce such contracts. I should be happy to hear from the Minister that that is wrong.
There will be no fixed-term contracts by virtue of the Bill. The thrust of the Bill is to put authority for magistrates courts in the hands of magistrates courts committees, which will determine the terms of reference of their staff. If they want fixed-term contracts for their chief executives, neither the Lord Chancellor nor I will interfere because we think that that is their province and their right.
§ Mr. Bermingham
When one goes fishing it is wonderful what one sometimes catches. Here we have it. Some committees will be able to introduce fixed-term contracts. That should not be allowed, and for all the reasons that I have given the Bill should be amended to ensure that it does not happen.
The various rules about the dismissal of magistrates' clerks need to be examined to ensure the independence of those clerks, because that is needed if the system is to run properly. In a magistrates court the independence of the clerk is crucial. His advice often guides the decisions of the magistrates in respect of law. Of course, the magistrates make up their own minds on the facts, and that is the way it has always been. There should be no interference or potential interference or a power to allow—
§ Mr. Bermingham
I wish that I could have finished the sentence, but I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman.
The hon. Gentleman says that he is anxious to retain the independence of justices' clerks in giving advice to their benches. Clause 71 relates to the independence of the justices' clerk and staff in the context of legal functions. The reassurance that the hon. Gentleman requires is in the Bill.
§ Mr. Bermingham
The Minister misses the point, which is a problem that can arise when hon. Members intervene before a sentence is complete. I know that clause 71 is about independence and that the Bill appears to allow 139 independence. The issue I am dealing with is the one that I tickled out—the question of fixed-term contracts. If clause 71 is to be effective, the Bill must state that there cannot be fixed-term or performance-related contracts. That is why I intervened on the Home Secretary and asked whether the difficulty in collecting fines would relate to performance and the performance contract. The right hon. and learned Gentleman did not know the answer and had to be briefed rather quickly. I understand that because I cannot expect the Home Secretary to know all about the Lord Chancellor's Department—any more than I can expect the Lord Chancellor's Department to know all about the Home Office or, for that matter, anything else. The minute we begin to introduce performance-related terms to the justices' clerks or the chief executive—whatever he will do—we begin to interfere with independence. I want that link to be broken.
The Bill contains dangers. The concept that big is beautiful is being promoted, but big can be disastrous, as we have seen in many other areas. There is also promotion of the concept that the state knows best. The Lord Chancellor can put his man or woman into a particular committee and the Home Secretary will have a say in who should or should not serve and how big a committee should be.
The system has its flaws and could be tidied up, but it has worked well. Do we need a Bill that interferes with many parts of a system that has worked well for a long time? Such a measure wastes the time of the House. The real battle ground is in ensuring that police forces have adequate funds and structures to fight crime. That can be done only by detecting criminals. The detection rate over the past 14 years shows that there is much to be desired.
The Home Office would be better employed in ensuring that the equipment and other resources that are necessary to detect criminals are in place than in tinkering with the structures of the police service. Bearing in mind what is happening in the Crown courts and the magistrates courts, the Lord Chancellor's Department would be better employed thinking not about making the Crown court clerks an agency service but about providing adequate clerking in those courts and adequate staffing and money in the magistrates courts. Conservative Members say that that would cost money, but detection and successful prosecutions would become a deterrent and we would not need so many police officers. That would save much money, but that part of the equation does not seem to cross the minds of some Conservative Members. I do not wish the Bill a fair wind: I wish it foul seas.
§ Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst)
Thus far, the handling of the Bill has not exactly covered my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary or my noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor with glory. I say that in sorrow rather than in anger because I have great respect for both of them. Those responsible for putting the Bill together seem to have been remarkably insensitive to the opinions of those who will be affected by it. After all, it is no small achievement to produce a measure that is greeted by the united opposition of all the police organisations, the Magistrates Association, the justices' clerks and a cross-section of knowledgeable and experienced members —including a particularly distinguished former Home Secretary—of the other place.
140 After pressure in the other place a number of amendments have been made, but there is scope for considerably more improvement to what is not one Bill but two. Presumably the combination was effected for the convenience of the Government's business managers. I can certainly think of no other reason. The measure deals with two different aspects of law and order, covers two Government Departments and is being dealt with in the House, as in the other place, by two different Ministers.
The task of the police is to maintain order, investigate crime and apprehend suspects. The task of the courts is to hear the evidence, decide on guilt or innocence and, if guilt is found, to impose a sentence within the constraints of the law. The essence of our system is that those are two separate procedures. We have been trying for years to get away from the concept of "police courts". I am afraid that that has been quite unnecessarily undermined by my right hon. and learned Friends between them producing the Bill and creating completely avoidable confusion. However, it is clearly too late to split the Bill, so we have to deal with it as it is.
Some concessions have been made in part I of the Bill, but a number of aspects still concern police officers. Most police officers belong to bodies which have a voice in the House. We have already heard one of them, in the shape of my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Sir A. Durant), and I suspect that we shall hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) before the evening is out.
The most senior police officers have no such parliamentary representation; they do not seek it, nor do they feel that they need it, as they have direct access to the Home Secretary himself—on the assumption that he will take heed of their views. I find it sad that some of them found it necessary to approach Members of Parliament because, although they say that their views have been listened to, they do not feel that they have been taken into account.
One proposal which concerns the most senior police officers appears in clause 6. It would abolish both the rank and the office of deputy chief constable. Apparently, an assistant chief constable will not be a deputy chief constable, yet the assistant can be given all the powers and duties of a chief constable in his absence. If that is not a deputy, what is? If he is to be a deputy chief constable, why not call him that and retain the office?
§ Mr. Fabricant
I wonder on how many occasions a chief constable is absent. If one assumes that it is eight, 10 or 12 weeks in a year, does it make sense to employ someone full time for just 12 weeks' work in a year?
§ Mr. Sims
I should have thought that 12 weeks represents quite a substantial proportion of the year, but it would vary between chief constables. It seems highly desirable that there should be one specific person who, obviously, will have other duties within the force, but is clearly known and accepted as the deputy to the chief constable.
We have already discussed the concern about the possible abolition of other ranks by regulation. That issue was also fully debated in another place. It is one thing to reduce the numbers in each rank—we heard from my right hon. and learned Friend that that is already happening and is a continuing process—but it is quite another to remove 141 certain ranks altogether. It is essential that there should be no possible confusion as to who is the most senior person present and in charge.
The chief constable is operationally independent. Surely he should decide the ranks he needs according to local circumstances and the policing necessary in his area. He should not have a rank structure imposed upon him.
Clause 13 places on the Secretary of State responsibility for setting national objectives for police authorities and performance targets. That worries me on two counts. First, as has already been mentioned, local circumstances clearly differ, and objectives which are appropriate in one area may not be in another. A county may have a spate of car thefts, a city may have a drug problem and a county town may suffer from an outbreak of vandalism. They cannot all work to the same national objectives and performance targets.
Inherent in the proposal seems to be the danger that chief constables will be tempted to move their forces from one task to another simply to improve the figures and meet performance targets, even though it may not be in the best interests of efficient policing or that expected by the local community.
§ Mr. David Congdon (Croydon, North-East)
I have been listening carefully to my hon. Friend's argument. Does he agree that the wide disparity between forces in terms of clear-up rates—between 17 per cent. and 53 per cent. according to the Audit Commission report published in 1993—is proof enough that the Secretary of State is right to include in the Bill measures that enable him to set performance targets?
§ Mr. Sims
I shall move on to local targets, but I would need persuading that to meet the circumstances my hon. Friend describes it is essential to have national targets because circumstances vary so widely in different parts of the country.
Secondly, targets imply measurable achievements and figures. Much police work is not measurable. To take a simple example, if a couple of officers are sitting in the police station and get an emergency call, they might dash out and apprehend a shop breaker or someone burgling a house. That clearly is measurable, but if those two officers had been patrolling the streets, they may have deterred the potential offenders from committing the offences in the first place. That would have been better policing, but it is not clearly measurable.
All sorts of preventive work are not measurable. I have been particularly impressed by the junior citizen scheme, which has operated in my constituency for successive years. Schoolchildren are taken to a building where various scenarios are set up and their reactions are noted and discussed. For example, they open what they are told is the kitchen door and smoke pours out of it. What do they do? How do they react? They are told to stroll up the road as if they were on their way home from school. A man is lying down on the road asking for help. As soon as one of them goes towards him, the child is grabbed. That scenario is discussed, with the children. They decide how they should react. Such schemes are ideal for teaching children responsibility and how to behave in certain circumstances. It is good policing work, but it is not measurable.
142 The logical next step after performance targets is league tables. I confess that I have reservations about the value of league tables for schools; so often they do not compare like with like. I would have even stronger reservations about league tables for police forces, because conditions can be very different, even in adjacent areas.
A further dimension has already been touched upon. If, under clause 16, the chief constable is on a fixed-term contract with performance pay, how will the existence of league tables influence his judgment? Will he still fulfil an entirely independent role, as is intended?
If there is doubtful merit in having national objectives and performance targets, obviously it is right that there should be local ones, but how they are set is crucial. The obvious method is detailed discussion between the chief constable and the police authority. Since they have operational responsibilities, chief constables would obviously like complete agreement between themselves and the authority. That may be too much to ask, but at present clause 4 requires only that the authority shall "consult" the chief constable, who will have the eventual task of implementing the policy. The Association of Chief Police Officers would like to substitute the words "to have regard" to the views of the chief constable, which does not seem an unreasonable suggestion. Surely any policy is likely to be more successful if the objectives have been reached by agreement rather than imposed. I listened carefully to the exchange between my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), but I think that I am even more confused now than I was before that exchange took place. I hope that the point can be clarified before the debate is completed.
With regard to part IV, the Lord Chancellor has gone a long way to meeting many of the concerns of the magistracy and the justices' clerks, some of which were voiced at a special conference called by them in October, so strong were their concerns, but some still remain.
Under clause 66, the Lord Chancellor can issue directions specifying standards of performance by magistrates courts. Exactly what does that mean? Does it mean that the Lord Chancellor can specify court sizes or the frequency or length of sittings? Again, local circumstances vary and, while it is reasonable to set certain performance objectives after consultation, we must leave it to the local magistrates courts committees to decide how to meet them.
I return to the point raised by a number of hon. Members that under clause 62 the Lord Chancellor can make orders amalgamating magistrates courts committees. It says that he shall do so after consultation, but nevertheless the power is there in the Bill for him to act unilaterally. He can do so on grounds of efficiency, but I do not find in the Bill any specification of efficiency. What are the criteria for efficiency?
My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, will be well aware of the alarm that the existence of that power has provoked in south-east and south-west London among the magistrates and their clerks, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey) referred earlier. At one time, there was one magistrates courts committee for south-east London and another for south-west London. In 1986, they were broken up so that there was a magistrates courts committee for each of the London boroughs. That system has worked well. It has been effective and efficient.
143 But a year or two ago, before the Bill was published, indications were given that the Lord Chancellor was considering steps to amalgamate the magistrates courts committees in south-east and south-west London. I have in my hand a letter from the Lord Chancellor's Department dated 27 July 1993, which says:The Lord Chancellor has concluded that Merton magistrates' courts committee area should be amalgamated with Bexley, Bromley, Croydon, Sutton, Kingston upon Thames and Richmond upon Thames"—in other words, south-east and south-west London.
The letter goes on to say:An order of the Lord Chancellor is required to effect the amalgamation. At present such an order can be made only at the request of the magistrates concerned. Primary legislation"—the Bill before us—
will be introduced to enable the Lord Chancellor to initiate the order.There were strong objections to that proposal throughout south-east and south-west London and at the meeting that I mentioned on 9 October the Lord Chancellor was handed a petition signed by 273 justices from south-east London alone. Discussions took place about that conclusion of the Lord Chancellor, including a meeting of a number of my hon. Friends led by my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) when we met the Lord Chancellor to convey the concerns that had been put to us.
We had some indication that the Lord Chancellor was prepared to have second thoughts. When I inquired of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary at Question Time on 14 March 1994, he said:we are still exploring with the outer London action group the details of its proposals … The Lord Chancellor and I are hopeful that it will be possible to find a system that delivers our objectives in restructuring the outer London service but falls short of amalgamating committees. We are working with the service to that end."—[Official Report, 14 March 1994; Vol. 239, c. 612.]It will be extremely helpful if my hon. Friend could say, perhaps when he replies to the debate, what the present state of play is with regard to those discussions, whether a conclusion has been reached or when we can expect some concrete result from the consultations. He will appreciate that at the moment the only thing on record is the letter from the Lord Chancellor's Department stating his conclusions.
Mr. John M. Taylor
I give my word that I shall respond to my hon. Friend in the manner that he requires during my reply. I regard my reply to him in Hansard as being very much on the record. I meant that then and I shall have more to say to him later this evening.
§ Mr. Sims
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. However, I still suggest that, in Committee, clause 62 should be amended to ensure that no order for amalgamation can be made unless it is not only in the interests of efficiency but without detriment to the delivery of local justice.
The Bill has not had an especially happy history so far. I give credit to the Government for at least having made the changes that they have, albeit some of them a little reluctantly. I hope that Ministers will not stop at that point because there is scope for more improvement to the Bill. I shall support the Bill on Second Reading, but, as I said, with a number of reservations, and I hope that by Third Reading I shall have none.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
The hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) made a remarkable speech, with not one word of which I disagree. Neither his speech nor that of the hon. Member for Reading, West (Sir A. Durant) can have been music to the ears of Ministers, but they are a valuable reminder of the wisdom of proceeding in matters concerning the police with a strong basis of cross-party agreement.
It is worth reflecting that, before the Police Act 1964, the present basis of Britain's police, there was a wide-ranging debate. There was a royal commission and a debate in Parliament in which the views of all parties were broadly similar. What a contrast with this Bill.
The Bill is the first major attempt for 30 years to reshape policing in Britain. It is unnecessary, it is unwise and it is quite without friends. It was launched by the Government as a flagship, but, following its inspection in another place, it was deemed unseaworthy and subjected to unprecedented amendment. It remains gravely defective and unfit to put to sea.
The police and magistrates courts are the bastions of society against crime and disorder. Few measures could be potentially more damaging to British society than one which undermines the effectiveness and responsiveness of the police and the magistrates courts. The Bill, by its dangerous, centralising purpose, is just such a measure. It was conceived by two senior Ministers—the Home Secretary and the Lord Chancellor. Their common characteristic appears to be remoteness from the good sense of those who make the criminal justice system work. They display a common desire to draw into their hands the power which, under our long-tested constitutional provisions, has been carefully balanced in favour of local policing and local justice. Their only threadbare justification is their express concern to secure greater efficiency. Efficiency is necessary, but centralisation is not necessary to efficiency.
I recall to the Home Secretary the wise words of his predecessor, Mr. Henry Brooke—the father of the present Secretary of State for National Heritage—on Second Reading of the Police Bill, which became the 1964 Act, which is the secure base on which policing has been conducted ever since. Mr. Brooke reminded the House that the Royal Commission on the Police had recommended that the Home Secretary should be made legally responsible for police efficiency, but that all political parties had rejected that recommendation. He said:To support such a specific responsibility as the Royal Commission recommended the Home Secretary would need powers of detailed direction which could not, in my view, live along with the continuance of a system of local forces. I see the police service continuing to develop as a partnership between central and local government; not as a service in which local authorities or chief constables act as agents of the Home Secretary."—[Official Report, 26 November 1963; Vol. 685, c. 89.]That careful balance is jeopardised by the Bill.
The most offensive instrument that the Home Secretary has chosen to impose his will on local policing is the power that he will take under clause 13 to determine national policing objectives. That is coupled with the provision in clause 4 requiring that those national objectives be included in policing plans for local areas. To secure their implementation, the Bill provides for performance targets 145 to be linked to the attainment of those objectives in local policing plans. To secure police compliance, the pay of senior officers will be performance-related.
There are no advantages in that scheme for the public, the police or the Home Secretary himself. For the public, there will be a blurring of local accountability and a loss of influence over local policing objectives, which could damage the trust between police and public which is so crucial to effective policing. Any perception that the police are pursuing arrest quotas to meet their targets could, for example, breed fear of wrongful or unreasonable arrest. Paradoxically, it could also damage police effectiveness. Criminals will be aware that the police are occupying themselves arresting burglars, for instance, because they are the national target. Criminals may simply turn to car crime in the belief that the backs of the police are turned.
For the police, there will be a loss of flexibility and a diminution in the chief constable's authority. Some targets are already set by the police themselves—for example, response times or measures of satisfaction from surveys of victims and witnesses. The police set and pursue those targets as a means of improving their own service.
Some targets cannot and should not be set—clear-up and arrest rates in particular. There is a world of difference between the work of a police officer in responding to 9999 calls and talking to victims and enforcing the law. A police officer's legal powers are, in the words of the 1962 royal commission, original and not delegated. No one—not even the Home Secretary—can lawfully require an officer to arrest anyone.
For the Home Secretary—who is, willy-nilly, establishing league tables of performance—that provision will unleash constant criticism that his national objectives are not those of the nation, still less of the locality. The Home Secretary is already under fire for apparently differing with the Prime Minister over his introductory national targets, in not treating the elimination of drug crime as a national objective.
A virtue of the present tripartite structure of policing is that it recognises the danger to civil society of placing in political hands the extraordinary powers of the police. Police officers alone possess the power of arrest and detention. They intervene in private matters between individuals. They ask questions and can expect answers. They make requests and can expect compliance. They may use force on our behalf. They are ordinary citizens, but they have extraordinary powers.
From time to time, those powers come under strain. In the last decade, for example, during the miners' strike and the violent demonstrations against the poll tax, our policing system remained resilient and ultimately proof against the charge of political motivation. The success of the police and public confidence in their fairness rests on public perception. As Lord Carr of Hedley said in the other place, they are "our police", not "the police".
The second virtue of the present tripartite balance is that it recognises the inappropriateness of trying centrally to measure the effectiveness of particular policing activities. The police are not a commercial organisation whose efficiency can be measured like profits in crimes solved per pound spent. An officer who defuses a punch-up is not a bad officer because he fails to add a few charges to the record. Nor is an officer who comforts a victim a bad 146 officer because she chooses not to join her colleagues in chasing the attacker. An officer who persuades schoolchildren of the dangers of drugs is no less important than the officer who stalks the dealers outside the school. High arrest rates alone do not a good police force make.
The third virtue of the present tripartite system is that it allows chief constables and police authorities to establish their own priorities for the policing of their areas. The 1964 Act gives chief constables, who are appointed by their local police authorities, the legal authority to direct and control the force under their command. The Act also requires police authorities to secure an adequate and efficient force. That creates an identity of interest between the chief constable and police authority.
Controls over policing policy available to police authorities and to the Home Secretary are indirect. The system relies more on influence than legal force to encourage locally managed and locally sensitive policing. I regret that the Home Secretary did not take the opportunity in the Bill to underpin and enhance the effectiveness of local policing, for there are glimmers of sense in some of its proposals.
The concept of a local policing plan is valuable. If it is truly local, it could form a type of contract—a statement of priorities—between the police and public. I welcome the proposal in clause 2 that all police authorities should be established as independent corporate identities. That should avoid another threat to the independence of the police, of which we saw a nasty example in Derbyshire, where the police authority is wholly subordinated to the financial dictates of the local authority.
I also welcome the lifting of the central control of police numbers—the establishment of particular authorities. But there, too, the Home Secretary points in two directions, as he seems hell-bent on following the bad advice of Sir Patrick Sheehy by centrally reducing the number of ranks available to chief constables. Enough has been said about that by the hon. Members for Reading, West and for Chislehurst for me to refrain at this stage from adding my objections. We shall return to the matter of rank in Committee.
Although the Bill is almost wholly unnecessary, the Home Secretary could have used it as a vehicle for reinforcing the effectiveness of local policing by writing into the requirement that the local police plans be published a specific obligation to co-ordinate and promote practical crime prevention measures within its area. My right hon. and hon. Friends and I will seek to amend the Bill to achieve that purpose.
I deal now with part II of the Bill, which deals with Scotland. The structure of the Scottish police is laid down in the Police (Scotland) Act 1967. The Government of the day did not simply make an administrative omission when they failed to run Scotland into the Police Act 1964. They reflected the fact that Scotland has a separate legal and criminal justice system from England which needs, therefore, to be treated separately. Yet the Bill runs the two together as though there were no such difference. The consequence will be that, as with the Criminal Justice Bill recently, Scottish Members will play a limited part in the shaping of the Government's legislation. That is constitutionally unacceptable. It strengthens the case for a Scottish Parliament.
Spliced on to the Bill—the hon. Member for Chislehurst drew attention to the misfortune of these two matters being handled in the same legislation—are the provisions for 147 managing magistrates courts. They are no more welcome to the magistracy than are the police provisions to the police. It is true that the Lord Chancellor has already met some of the objections, but he has not removed the reasonable concern about future political meddling in the administration of local justice.
The efficiency of the magistrates courts is crucial. Some 80 per cent. of the 2 million people who were prosecuted in England and Wales in 1991 went before a magistrate. The trebling in volume of the cases before the magistrates courts in 50 years has increased the challenge. But the Lord Chancellor has more than a managerial problem. The state of the criminal law itself, uncodified, notwithstanding the recommendations of the Law Commission, contributes to the complexity and length of trials. The Home Office's own figures show that, in 1992, the average number of days from first listing to disposal for indictable offences has risen from 41 days in 1985 to 64. Many of those facing trial will be on bail during that time—many of them still out there committing crimes. The less time that they have to do so, the better.
At the centre of the debate, provoked by the Government's proposals in the Bill, sit the justices' clerks, who are responsible for giving legal advice to the lay magistracy. They are, however, also responsible for the management of the courts. That includes, for example, the scheduling of cases, which has a direct impact on the quality of justice. Here, as with the police, subsidiarity should apply. Those best placed to secure the efficient management of courts within a locality are the courts themselves, acting in concert through the magistrates courts committees. Justices' clerks hold their posts at the pleasure of the courts committees and it seems natural that they should be answerable to them, and them alone, for the efficiency with which they discharge their duties.
Yet the Lord Chancellor will, through the Bill, be able to involve himself in these local matters. He will be able to appoint two of his friends, who need not be magistrates, to every local committee. The courts committees are to be subject to performance objectives and targets set by the Lord Chancellor. He is also to acquire for himself the unlimited power to amalgamate court areas without any legal duty to justify his reasoning or pay regard to the views of those involved. That level of intervention is unacceptable. There needs to be a new constitutional settlement to protect the independence of the judiciary and secure the greater accountability of responsible Ministers for the management of their budgets for the criminal justice system. The Lord Chancellor in particular has an anomalous role as the head of the judiciary and a partisan member of the Cabinet. The functions must be separated.
I accept that the Minister who speaks in this House for the Lord Chancellor is right. He has a third function. But it is not one that impinges directly on the administration of justice and the independence of the judiciary. Those functions of the Lord Chancellor should be separated. A Minister of Justice in the Commons should be appointed to secure the proper administration of the criminal justice system and take charge of the enactment of a modern codified criminal law. The present Lord Chancellor, who, in some respects, is less political than most, has shown himself to be surprisingly insensitive to the dangers in the duality of his role.
To my mind, the Bill embodies a dangerous tendency —that the public will see their local police forces and magistrates courts drifting out of their reach. Yet local 148 policing is good policing, and local justice is also where justice is best done. To centralise in the manner proposed is wrong in conception and would be damaging in practice. We shall oppose it.
§ Mr. David Atkinson (Bournemouth, East)
I applaud my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and his team for the many new initiatives that they are taking to reverse the rise in crime, which is threatening the very quality of the daily lives of our constituents—and, of course, I welcome the fall in recorded crime which was announced last week.
After 14 continuous years of extra funding for the police, the Government are now right to pause and consider how better value for money can be obtained from existing resources through improved police structures and organisation. When a chief constable admits that the scenes of 60 per cent. of burglaries in his area have not been visited, yet police manpower is used to crack down on car licence dodgers, it must be right to review police priorities.
I mean in no way to criticise our police forces. The increase in police manpower since 1979 of 16,600—an average of 1 per cent. a year—lags a long way behind the rise in crime during that period. Our police have been running ever faster just to stand still, frustrated by ever-increasing paperwork, the apparent leniency of the courts and the perceived inadequacy of the law, particularly towards young offenders.
I pay tribute to the local police in Dorset, where crime fell and the rate of detection rose last year. Despite that, serious crimes of violence and robbery rose by 10 per cent., officers were shot and wounded on the streets of our conurbation and, for the first time, IRA terrorism threatened residents and holidaymakers during the height of our holiday season last summer. Yet the new Liberal Democrat-controlled Dorset county council was prepared to reduce our police budget, by £500,000, and police manpower. What utter irresponsibility.
I echo the welcome given by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Sir A. Durant) to the way in which my right hon. and learned Friend has responded to the concerns expressed by the police about some of the recommendations of the Sheehy report. They are far happier about those recommendations now.
§ Mr. Shersby
I am aware that Dorset's local authorities have reduced the police budget by half a million pounds. Can my hon. Friend give us some idea of the likely impact of that on the security of his constituents?
§ Mr. Atkinson
I assure my hon. Friend that, although the local authorities were prepared to reduce police resources by that amount so that they could be spent elsewhere, my constituents and those of other Conservative Members did not allow them to get away with it.
I welcome the streamlining of the composition of police authorities, and the amendments introduced by my right hon. and learned Friend to allow chairmen and the majority of representatives to be elected by authorities. I must say that I have not been impressed by the input of local democracy in the present authorities, whose response to local needs and demands seems most frequently to be yet more calls for more police on the beat. Unlike my right hon. and learned Friend, they do not give much thought to the more efficient use of existing manpower and resources.
149 The new smaller, stronger authorities will have a greater commitment to achieving locally the targets and objectives that the Home Secretary will set nationally, on the advice of and in consultation with chief constables. But—I hope that I do not misunderstand the Bill's proposals—the chief constable, not the police authority, must ultimately be personally responsible for both the planning and the undertaking of operational matters. I look forward to hearing an assurance to that effect from my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department.
I look to the new authorities to pursue bolder initiatives in creating safer public areas—for instance, the installation of video cameras, and the injection of new life and direction in our neighbourhood watch schemes. I hope that they will build on the excellent "crimeline" confidential information services in newspapers such as the Bournemouth Advertiser, which is published in my area. Such schemes do very good work in requesting the public to come forward with the confidential information that the police need in order to track down criminals.
§ Mr. Fabricant
Is my hon. Friend aware that some 90,000 neighbourhood watch schemes have been set up in the United Kingdom? Should we not congratulate citizens on taking responsibility into their own hands and working alongside the police?
§ Mr. Atkinson
I have news for my hon. Friend: if he checks the facts, he will find that 115,000 neighbourhood watch schemes have been set up.
My hon. Friend is right to point out that those schemes are making a major contribution to the combating of crime in our communities. It must be said, however, that there remain too many unsecured homes that constitute a soft touch for the burglar, especially the homes of vulnerable elderly people living alone.
I am very surprised that insurance companies do not encourage the installation of continental-style shutters: such shutters, which are widespread in Europe, strike me as the best protection available for domestic property. Surely burglar alarms and shutters should be standard on all new premises, just as alarms are now standard in all new motor cars.
Once again, the Government have responded positively to the fear of magistrates courts that their judicial independence might be threatened. My local magistrates courts committee in Dorset is much happier now that the terms of employment of its justices clerk and the appointment of its chairman remain at its discretion, although it is still anxious for the work of the proposed courts inspectorate—which would be appointed by the Lord Chancellor—to be seen to be wholly independent of his Department in the making of recommendations. I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will clarify the grey area between judicial functions and administration.
My local committee is also concerned about the possibility that, if boroughs such as mine in Bournemouth and neighbouring Christchurch revert to their former county of Hampshire—I understand that both authorities will submit proposals to that effect to the Local Government Boundary Commission—the new magistrates court committee area that might result will no longer coincide with the area and boundaries of the police and 150 probation authorities. That would make liaison between them much more difficult. I hope that my hon. Friend will respond to that point as well.
Finally, let me repeat a complaint that I have made in the House many times before—on behalf of my constituents and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill), other hon. Members representing party conference towns, and their police authorities. It concerns the continuing extra financial burden imposed on council tax payers by the cost of making our national leaders secure at their annual party conferences. The complaint was most recently made just a couple of weeks ago by the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock), in an attempt to amend the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill. Although she made her complaint to the right Ministers, I thought that she was seeking to amend the wrong Bill: this is the Bill that deals with police funding. Anyway, her amendment was negatived.
I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will allow our right hon. and noble Friend the Minister of State to receive a group representing all three of the county councils involved—Dorset, Sussex and Lancashire—as requested by my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West in his letter of 30 March.
Our principal argument remains that the 1984 Brighton bomb tragedy made this a national issue whose costs should be borne entirely by the nation. As I said earlier, last summer the IRA targeted Bournemouth—my constituency —for the first time. Fortunately, there were no casualties, but the incident brought it home to us that we on the mainland are also on the front line in the war against terrorism.
What thought has been given to supplementing police manpower with troops from our armed services to man the security zones that are now a feature of all major party conferences? That would reduce both the number of police required—which includes police from other counties, at overtime rates of pay—and the cost to the council tax payer. It is one of the proposals that I wish to put to my right hon. and noble Friend when we meet him.
I warmly welcome a Bill that, together with the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill, has already done much to allay our constituents' fears that not enough is being done to combat crime. I look forward to safer communities, and a reduction in crime that will restore the confidence of those constituents.
§ Dr. Tony Wright (Cannock and Burntwood)
It did not occur to me that the Home Secretary possessed a touch of comic genius until I heard him in Home Office Questions the other day. When congratulated on the comprehensive nature of his retreat on the Bill, he said:The changes that have been made to the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill are changes of detail. The principles are intact, and they will deliver us the objectives that we have always sought to achieve."—[Official Report, 10 March 1994; Vol. 239, c. 387.]Yet what is happening today? Every time that issues of principle are raised, we are told, "Ah, those have been resolved. They are no longer issues of principle; they have been taken care of. Some of the detail remains, but there is nothing to worry about." I prefer the remarks of the noble Lord, the Earl Ferrers, who, when the Bill left the other place, said: 151Your Lordships were good enough to explain your anxieties … in a manner which even the most, shall I say, dim-witted Minister could not fail to understand."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 24 March 1994; Vol. 553, c. 796.]It is well to remember for a moment the sense of outrage that the Bill occasioned when it first surfaced. Other hon. Members have referred to the way in which other organisations responded to the Bill. They responded in that way because people who understood and were involved in this area sensed that something of major constitutional importance was taking place.
A whole tradition of running the police and the local constabulary—enshrined in the Municipal Corporations Act 1835, the Police Act 1964 and the Local Government Act 1888—was endangered by what the Government proposed and the way in which they proposed it.
As has been said, in 1964 there was a royal commission and three years of the most detailed inquiry and discussion about the proper arrangements for policing. But none of that took place in this case; it was not thought necessary.
In the Bill, we also have the quite illegitimate amalgamation of the police and the magistracy. Given the inappropriate amalgamations that are consequential to the Bill, perhaps that is a rather telling kind of amalgamation.
There is something quite uncanny about the range and variety of opposition that this measure has called forth. Even a Government who managed, in the same week, to alienate both the Royal British Legion and Dame Vera Lynn still have to be admired for their ability to alienate at the same time every organisation concerned with policing and the magistracy.
As we consider the Bill, it is well to remember what was said by those who understand these things when the Bill arrived in the other place. The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Taylor—it was quite exceptional for the Lord Chief Justice to talk in this way—said:A cult seems to have developed and to be invading the whole of the public sector whereby fixed-term contracts and performance pay are seen as the panaceas which will give us managerial efficiency. They may indeed be useful tools in a purely managerial context, but in a judicial context, or where there exists a judicial element, they can have no place."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 18 January 1994; Vol. 551, c. 476.]Perhaps we might refer to the remarks of a couple of former Conservative Home Secretaries. Viscount Whitelaw talked about a "major change" in the "whole history" of policing in this country and called it a "very dangerous move indeed". Lord Carr said:If I were still Home Secretary today, I would not accept the offer of powers of this kind. I would resign rather than accept them".—[Official Report, House of Lords, 18 January 1994; Vol. 551, c. 491.]
Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. I clarify for the hon. Gentleman that it is not in order to make direct quotations from Members of another place unless they are quotations from a Minister. That applies only to quotations in this Session. I am not quite sure whether the hon. Gentleman was making indirect or direct quotations, but I make that point.
§ Dr. Wright
I am grateful to you for making that point, Madam Deputy Speaker. Fortunately, I have traversed so far in the wrong direction that it is now irremediable; but I understand and accept what you say.
Against those words that were never spoken, I should like to celebrate—as we all should—the House of Lords. Perhaps it is most appropriate for someone on this side of 152 the House to say that. Let us be quite honest: if this monstrous Bill had started in this place and been driven through in the way that Bills are driven through the House, it would now be inflicted upon the police and the magistracy of this country.
It is all very well for hon. Members opposite to celebrate the changes that have taken place. Having noted their behaviour in relation to everything that comes before the House, I am fairly certain that they would not be so robust if the original version of the Bill were before us now. So let us celebrate the House of Lords, because it certainly deserves to be celebrated.
Upon the Bill leaving the House of Lords after Third Reading, the unanimous view of the noble Lords was—I shall not quote directly—that this Bill, which they had done something to save and insert some sanity into, was still unsatisfactory, and that measures still had to be taken to make it more workable. I refer particularly to the central unsatisfactory element of what remains: the proposals relating to the constitution of police authorities.
I hope that it is quite inconceivable that the constitution of a police authority of such Byzantine complexity could ever leave the House in the way that it has entered it. That would do the most terrible damage to an efficient and effective police force and to its status in the local community.
I will not quote him directly, but the noble Lord Harris of Greenwich—who was responsible for the amendment that saved us from the original horror of the Bill in relation to the constitution of police authorities, and landed us with the Byzantine mess that we have now—said of the Bill as it left the other place that that was the price we had to pay for damage limitation. But let us hope that we can still sort it out further down the road.
§ Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)
In view of the horror that the hon. Gentleman expresses about the present proposals, what would he say if he were faced with a proposal to have a police authority whose members were all appointed by a Secretary of State?
§ Dr. Wright
Although I do not want to be totally diverted by that intervention, the resentment and antipathy felt on this side of the water about the extension of appointed government in place of elected government is felt doubly in the north of Ireland.
Let us think for a moment about why the complexity of these police authorities is so undesirable and unworkable. We have an extraordinarily elaborate and cumbersome procedure which is guaranteed to alienate at least 10 people —those who are the rejects from the Home Secretary's cull. We have no idea what will happen about casual vacancies. In every respect, the procedure is not sustainable. Whatever else the Committee stage of the Bill achieves, I hope that it brings forward a proposal which is at least workable, because the present proposal is not.
There was a much more sensible way in which to proceed. I speak as someone who was, and is, very keen on trying to reconstitute police authorities in new and interesting ways. The germ of progress in this area is to be found in the White Paper itself, which says:The membership will not be confined to those who have been able to go into local government or to sit on the bench.I agree with that sentiment. For a number of years, I have wanted to explore new ways of reconstituting police 153 authorities—rooted in their local authorities and anchored in their local communities, but bringing in far more people to represent the diverse strands of local communities.
Starting with that germ of a good idea, all that the Government had to do was allow the local committees to become more genuinely representative of the community. The Government could even have had the option to specify the categories of people they wanted on the authorities, as they have done with every other kind of public body. That was the way forward, but the Government failed to take it, which is why we have this mess.
We have this mess because we suffer from the disease of "ministerialitis"—ministerial fingerprints have to be put on everything that moves. That is the contemporary curse that afflicts the Bill, as it afflicts so many other pieces of legislation introduced by the Government. In fact, there are two curses, and perhaps I may spend a little time on each.
Earlier today, someone said that the Bill was a microcosm, or perhaps a further extension, of the Government's public service reforms. In some ways it is, and in some ways it is not. Perhaps the two ways in which it is and the two ways in which it is particularly dangerous are due to the fact that it suffers from the curse of centralism and from the curse of managerialism, a managerialism that was born in the private sector, a philosophy which it was believed could simply and easily be translated into public services. Both approaches are misguided, and both are the source of error in the Bill.
In this context, centralism means another instalment of the patronage state. There are about 20,000 or 25,000 elected councillors across the country, but already about 60,000 people have been appointed directly by Ministers to run public bodies and public services. Indeed, the new magistracy, as those people have been described, often have no local roots; they are certainly not elected; and they lack any organic connection with the local community in which they are appointed.
The only way in which Ministers know how to respond to the organisation of public services is to wonder how they can appoint some of their own people to run them. We have seen how that works under the present Home Secretary. When he wanted to appoint a prison ombudsman, a number of distinguished candidates presented themselves. A short list was assembled—I shall not embarrass the people involved by naming them, but they were all very distinguished people. The problem was that none of them was politically acceptable to the Home Secretary, so we had to wait and wait, until, rather like waiting for the puff of smoke in the Vatican, a retired admiral was found last week.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with retired admirals but the irony is that the choice took so long and many were rejected before the Home Secretary could find someone who was politically acceptable for that post. That is an example of centralism, amalgamation and "the Minister knows best", which is why he is alienating every constituency in sight.
I could not even begin to recount the feelings of magistrates in Staffordshire, who are now being told that the Lord Chancellor has decided that they should be amalgamated with the magistrates in Warwickshire. When I asked the Lord Chancellor how that could happen, and suggested that it would be unhelpful to the magistracy in 154 Staffordshire, I received an extraordinary letter from his representative on earth, who said that the problem was that the Warwickshire magistracy was so inefficient that his Department wished to amalgamate it with the Staffordshire magistracy. That is profoundly insulting to Warwickshire and Staffordshire magistrates.
§ Mr. Mike O'Brien (Warwickshire, North)
Would my hon. Friend let me have a copy of that letter, because I am sure that magistrates in Warwickshire, many of whom are Conservative councillors, would be interested to know what the Lord Chancellor and his representative on earth think of them?
§ Dr. Wright
I am rather alarmed to discover that the earthly representative does not even remember the exchange, because it was thought to be one of particular interest, significance and danger to the magistrates in my constituency and my county.
§ Mr. Maclennan
Does the hon. Gentleman think it possible that the Lord Chancellor, who spends more time north of the border than south of it, relies on Shakespeare's account of the magistrates of Warwickshire, and has in mind Justice Shallow?
§ Dr. Wright
I am sure that that is an excellent intervention, if only I could understand it. I move quickly on.
One of the curses of this wretched Bill is that of centralism and patronage. I should like to pass on to the House a sentence that I came across only the other day. It comes from what I think is the only detailed book to be written about ministerial patronage in Britain. It was written 30 years ago, by someone called Richards, and contains the following sentence:At present the abuses are not grave due to adequate ethical standards in the conduct of public business … Perhaps the greatest danger for the future is the possibility that one party will exercise uninterrupted power for too long a period.That is a very prescient remark from a rather grey academic, who thought that, on the whole, the way in which patronage worked was acceptable, but that the danger would occur when Ministers thought that they were the state and began to appoint their own people in a partisan way to every public body they controlled. That is precisely what has happened; it is precisely what underpins the Bill; and it is precisely why people are so antagonistic towards it.
§ Mr. Fabricant
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who is my near neighbour, for giving way. Will he concede that patronage is sometimes confused with public service? He will know that, in Cannock as well as in Lichfield, it is the Conservative—not Labour—members of local associations who play an active role in the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and in the Women's Royal Volunteer Service. They do so not because of patronage but for reasons of public service.
§ Dr. Wright
I am grateful for that neighbourly intervention, but I fear that the hon. Gentleman makes my point rather than his. The tradition of disinterested public service, which was often not about political parties, has been corrupted by the partisan abuse of patronage. I hope that all hon. Members will recognise that danger, because 155 it is a House of Commons matter; and it will still be a House of Commons matter when shadow Ministers become Ministers.
The second curse underpinning the Bill is the translation of a managerial business philosophy to a service for which it is entirely inappropriate. It is a microcosm of a tendency towards public service "reform"; it is the move to a contract culture, the setting aside of traditions of professionalism, of trust and of local and political accountability and their replacement with short-term contracts, performance-related pay, performance indicators, audits, targets and chief executives. In a sense, all that is contained in the Bill, which is why it is a microcosm of the trend towards public service changes.
I ask hon. Members to reflect on a statement that is all the more remarkable because it comes from an accountant. In The Independent last week, the Coopers and Lybrand fellow at the London School of Economics, who has just written an interesting pamphlet for the think tank Demos, wrote:According to opinion poll evidence, politicians and accountants are distrusted far more than professionals. In practice, much of the audit explosion has involved a very distrusted group—politicians—using an only slightly less distrusted group—accountants—to tighten control over groups which still enjoy relatively high public esteem, such as doctors and police.I ask hon. Members to reflect on that wise remark, especially as it came from an accountant, and to reflect on whether the introduction of such measures enhances the standing and the legitimacy of public services or erodes them.
One has only to ask whether the fact that the chief executive of the Child Support Agency earns performance-related pay enhances the legitimacy of the agency or erodes it. The answer is perfectly clear. In so far as we extend the same principles across the public services as a whole, the same results will follow. Those principles are wholly inappropriate for police and magistrates.
I recently spent a Friday night on patrol with the Cannock sub-division of Staffordshire police, going from incident to incident. We went to a domestic violence dispute, which was intelligently sorted out, and then to a fracas at a public house, which was magnificently sorted out. We went to a car that had been broken into, and then dealt with the people who had suffered that fate. Possibly none of those incidents would have figured in any kind of performance tables or targeting that one could have devised for the police force, but they were all examples of intelligent, prudent and humane policing of the kind that sustains local people and local communities.
My closing theme is the translation of a business ethic into public services, whose reductio ad absurdum is to be found in clause 23, headed:Acceptance of gifts and loans",which says:The terms on which gifts or loans are accepted … may include terms providing for the commercial sponsorship of any activity of the police authority or of the police force maintained by it.What an extraordinary statement. We have only to think what it might mean. Will there be police cars sponsored by Group 4, all the better to get away in?
§ Mr. Fabricant
The hon. Gentleman will be aware of SPACE—Staffordshire Activity and Community Enterprise—which is designed to keep young people busy in the summer. I have been to Alton Towers with the young 156 people on the scheme, as doubtless he has, too. The Staffordshire police would certainly welcome sponsorship for that admirable scheme, which other police forces should also operate.
§ Dr. Wright
Excellent community schemes such as the SPACE scheme are exactly the sort of activity that will suffer if we go down a certain route on reward and performance in the police service. That is not my view alone; the police themselves say that. Having spent a good deal of time with the Staffordshire police, and having discussed the Bill with them, I should be happy to relay in private some of the more robust sentiments that police officers expressed about it.
We could have cars sponsored by Group 4, and uniforms by Kwik-Fit. After all, Kwik-Fit fitters are the quickest, and that would be consistent with performance-related pay and target hitting. And at the moment of arrest, there could be a new way of putting things: "This arrest comes with the sponsorship of Bloggs and Bloggs, your friendly local solicitors, who will be glad to do you a service any time you like."
There we see the future—the translation of that philosophy to a core public service. Perhaps the best final comment comes from Sir John Smith, the deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan police, who is also president of the Association of Chief Police Officers. He may also be the man who arrested me about 20 years ago, but I am not entirely sure about that. Writing for the Fabian Society, Sir John Smith recently said:We must never lose sight of the fact that the police service is a public service, indeed a social service in the widest sense. It operates with the consent of the community it serves and can never be run or evaluated on purely commercial lines. There are qualitative aspects to public policing that can only be assessed subjectively and not by productivity measures alone. Its fate must never be left to be decided solely by market forces".I hope that the authority of that remark gives it some credence, even with Conservative Members.
As I have said, there are considerable difficulties and dangers associated with the Bill. But there is a different model available—a model that builds on the old tripartite tradition but extends it into local communities; a model that treats the police as a local public service, and builds on all the considerable changes that the police service has achieved in the past 10 years or so.
That model builds on the principles enunciated by Lord Scarman in his 1981 report—thetwo well known principles of policing a free societyone of which he called "consent and balance" and the other "independence and accountability". The sad thing is that we—or rather the Government, in the Bill's approach to the organisation of policing—have lost sight of those principles.
The community will be strong if the police are strong, but equally the police will be strong if the community is strong. If we are serious about dealing with the factors that lead to the erosion of communities and the disintegration of our society, we must be serious about doing all we can to re-establish some living, real, authentic meaning to that notion of community.
It is interesting that, when the House passes legislation, at the end of each Bill we have to say how much it will cost, both in financial terms and in manpower terms. I suggest that we should have a third category. We should have to say how much each Bill will cost in community terms. Ultimately, it is our ability to renew our 157 communities that constitutes our ability to renew our society. The Bill forgets that. At best it is an irrelevance, and at worst a dangerous irrelevance.
Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. Before I call the next hon. Member to speak, may I point out that a number of hon. Members wish to speak, and that speeches will have to be a little shorter if many of them are not to be disappointed.
§ Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)
As the House knows, I am a parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation of England and Wales and I wish to declare that interest.
The Bill is the most significant police Bill since Parliament passed the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, 10 years ago. I had always hoped that such a Bill would be the result of the deliberations of a royal commission. For some years, I have pressed Home Secretaries of the day to set up another royal commission. I think that the last one was the Willink Royal Commission of more than 30 years ago. Royal commissions have not been in vogue very much in the past few years, although we have had a splendid Royal Commission on Criminal Justice, which reflects great credit on those who served on it. However, the Bill is the result of the thinking of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and his colleagues in the Home Office and we must consider it as it stands.
I am especially glad that the Bill was introduced in another place, because that is a revising Chamber. Those who serve with great distinction in another place have the opportunity to bring their considerable experience of such matters to bear on legislation. The House of Commons may reflect that no fewer than four previous Home Secretaries were able to offer their advice, as well as a number of other senior and distinguished Members of the House of Lords.
The Bill contains proposals for far-reaching changes in the organisation of police forces, for the establishment of new, free-standing police authorities and for the composition of those authorities. I welcome the aspect of those free-standing police authorities which confers on chief constables and members of the police authorities much more local decision making on how public money is spent on the policing of the country. It will be for those chief constables, in consultation and co-operation with their police authorities, to decide how public money is spent, to determine priorities, to decide whether money is to be spent on computers or vehicles and where the priorities lie in manpower. All those powers are being delegated.
I welcome that change, as do a large number of senior and junior police officers, because they feel—as I feel—that those decisions should be taken locally and not in the Home Office. Whatever the controversy surrounding that decision, it is basically right to delegate to the police authorities and to the chief constables the decisions for determining priorities. I want us to get away from the endless wrangling about police establishments. It should be decided locally. Having said that, we all know that 158 police authority budgets will not be open ended. They will be capped, but within that capping there will be considerable opportunities for flexibility in determining priorities.
The new police authorities will not be elected police authorities of the kind which were talked of a few years ago and which, as we have heard today from the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), are no longer the policy of Her Majesty's Opposition.
We are considering a new kind of free-standing police authority, which, it has been determined after much debate in another place, shall have a membership of 17. Nine of the members will be local councillors who will reflect the balance of the parties, for the time being, on the council or councils that appoint those councillors to the police authority. That means that the councillors appointed will not only be from one political party, but will reflect the membership of the council or councils concerned. So, even in local authority areas where one party or another dominates—as we all know, there are a number—there will be opportunities for local councillors representing minority parties to serve on their local police authority. That is absolutely right. There will be three magistrates and, as we also heard, five members who will be co-opted by the councillors and the magistrates from a list to be supplied by the Home Secretary.
The hon. Member for Sedgefield had a good deal of fun in his speech while describing the rather convoluted manner in which those individuals are to be co-opted. Of course, that formula emerged from debates in another place. Although I must say that I agree that it is a little convoluted, I still do not think that it is too complex or that it will prevent local councillors and magistrates from having a good deal of choice about whom they co-opt. Above all, they will have the right to elect their own chairman, which is very important.
What sort of people will the Home Secretary be looking for when he prepares his list? It would be interesting to hear a little about that from my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary in his winding-up speech, if he has a moment or two, because there are many people in the community who would come forward to serve on police authorities. As I thought I heard one of my hon. Friends say a few moments ago, there will be a lot more admirals about in months to come. That may well be so. I have a close connection in my constituency with the Royal Air Force and I can think of one or two suitable senior RAF officers. They have valuable experience and would be able to contribute meaningfully towards the operation of the police authorities. However, I am not for a moment suggesting that membership should be confined to ex-service men or women.
One aspect of the Bill which is of special interest to me as an hon. Member who represents a London constituency —as I look around the Chamber, I do not think that there are any other hon. Members here who represent London—
§ Mr. Shersby
One of my hon. Friends has just left.
May I say a word or two about the proposed Metropolitan Police Advisory Committee, which is not referred to in the Bill, but which, as has been made clear by the Home Secretary, will be set up? As I understand the position, it will not be a police authority of the kind referred to in the Bill, but it will be simply an advisory 159 committee of about 10 or 12 individuals who will advise the Home Secretary in his capacity as the police authority for the Metropolitan police area. They will, to a large extent, replace the advice that the Home Secretary receives from the civil servants in the Home Office.
Bearing in mind the fact that the police advisory committee will be set up by administrative means rather than by legislation, it would be appropriate if the House knew something about it, about the kind of people to be appointed, about the extent to which it will be required, if at all, to set any local objectives and the extent to which it will be subject to any directives, performance targets or other directions of any kind by the Home Secretary.
Londoners do not want a police authority of the kind proposed for other parts of the country, for several powerful reasons. The Metropolitan police are uniquely responsible for the area covering the seat of government; they are responsible for diplomatic and royalty protection and other unique aspects of policing that do not apply elsewhere in the country. Nevertheless, I think that the setting up of the committee is of interest to the House and is certainly of interest to every hon. Member representing a London constituency. I should like to know more about it.
The Bill gives the police authorities the powers to set local policing objectives after consulting the chief constable. There has been a certain amount of misunderstanding about that proposal among officers in various parts of the country. In his speech this afternoon, the Home Secretary went some way towards trying to clear that up.
I want to refer again to one or two aspects of this matter, as it is vital that they be crystal clear. Police authorities, in setting local policing objectives, must have regard to any objectives set by the Home Secretary of the day and to any code of practice that he may issue or any direction that he may make. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary said that this would not change the operational responsibilities of the chief police officers concerned. I was very glad to hear that. It is vital that chief officers should be operationally responsible for what their members do. We saw this during the miners' strike, and, as the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) pointed out, it occurred again during the poll tax disturbances in London not very long ago. The operational independence of chief constables must be maintained, and the relationship between a chief constable, his local police authority and the Home Secretary must be clear beyond any shadow of doubt.
§ Mr. Charles Wardle
I have been listening carefully to my hon. Friend. No doubt he welcomes the fact that clause 5 reproduces a provision of the Police Act, which states:'The police force … shall be under the direction and control of the chief constable".
§ Mr. Shersby
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. I welcome that very much indeed. In a sense, there is a slight contradiction between that provision and the current Bill, which requires the chief constable to take account of targets set by local police authorities. I hope very much that my hon. Friend will make it clear beyond peradventure that local police officers will have a powerful input to the published police plan. That plan will be the basis for policing of the area, and it must be clear that both the members of the police authority and the chief constable have agreed to it—that it is not being imposed.
§ Mr. Mike O'Brien
The hon. Gentleman is quite right. Immediately after the words to which the Minister has referred there is the following provision:In discharging his functions, every chief constable shall have regard to the local policing plan issued by the police authority".
§ Mr. Shersby
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who, like myself, is a parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation. That is the point that I am drawing to my hon. Friend's attention. I hope that it can be cleared up during the Committee stage.
There is an aspect of this matter about which I was not going to speak, but which ought to be mentioned. I refer to the fact that, in future, chief police officers will be on short-term agreements. One can envisage a chief police officer on a short-term agreement—a person with perhaps quite a number of years to go before he or she might expect to retire—feeling under pressure from the local police authority to accept and adopt certain targets. As human beings, such people must be concerned about their careers. I hope very much that nothing in the Bill will put a chief police officer under pressure to accept or be party to local targets about which he or she might otherwise feel unenthusiastic.
I turn now to a totally different subject—the proposal to change the arrangements for the amalgamation of police forces. These arrangements, which are contained in clause 12, will enable my right hon. and learned Friend to carry through a major reorganisation of the police service—something that would be of very considerable interest to the population of the area concerned. We have heard today that my right hon. and learned Friend has no immediate plans to carry forward any such major reorganisation. However, legislators know that once a law is on the statute book it can be used at any time.
Clause 12 will enable the Home Secretary of the day to alter police areas by order and to inform the police authorities and the local authorities of his intentions. I am sure that he will want to take account of their views, but that is all he will have to do. This proposal replaces the present arrangements under which a local public inquiry is held. As the change that my right hon. and learned Friend seeks is so substantial, it would be helpful to the House if he were to make clear his medium and long-term intentions with regard to any question concerning reorganisation of the police service.
The next matter with which I want to deal is a happier one for me. I compliment my right hon. and learned Friend for demonstrating once again that he is a listening Home Secretary. In recent weeks, he has been subjected to a certain amount of unjustifiable media criticism for being prepared to change legislative proposals as they proceed through the House and through another place. I do not share that criticism. The mark of a good man or a good woman is that he or she is prepared to listen to expert advice and, if convinced by the arguments, to make changes. I welcome very much my right hon. and learned Friend's announcement that police officers involved in discipline cases will continue to have the benefit of legal advice at hearings.
There is a history to this proposition. In 1984, the House advised the then Home Secretary, Sir Leon Brittan, that this benefit should be accorded to police officers. When its removal was proposed in the Bill, I took a few modest steps and asked my right hon. and learned Friend to reconsider the matter, as did the Police Federation and the other staff 161 associations. My right hon. and learned Friend has demonstrated his understanding of the unique nature of police disciplinary procedure by his announcement today that police officers will continue to have the benefit of a barrister at hearings.
My right hon. and learned Friend has accepted that police officers are exposed to a unique degree of hazard by way of allegations, many of them false, from the criminal fraternity. At such a hearing, the officer's whole livelihood is on the line. If he is found guilty he loses his job and will be unable to get another in virtually any occupation. In my judgment, it is absolutely right that he should have proper legal representation. Therefore, my right hon. and learned Friend deserves a large bouquet not just from the police but from the House for his wise, sensible and humane decision.
I should like to mention one or two other matters of police discipline. The Police Federation accepts that it would be unreasonable for a tribunal to be convened for just any appeal. However, where a punishment as severe as, say, a fine amounting to a week's wages or more is involved, an aggrieved officer should be able to appeal outside the service. At present, fines are limited to 13 days' pay for each offence, but, even in the case of a constable, that can amount to approximately £700 in respect of each offence. The Bill as it stands does not provide for the appeals tribunal to include a former member of the appropriate police staff association. That is why I was so glad when, this afternoon, the Home Secretary again demonstrated that he has listened to the Police Federation and to the Superintendents' Association, as well as to my right hon. and hon. Friends, by announcing that the tribunal will have a fourth member who is a retired police officer, probably of senior rank. That is important. I suggest that someone who is not a retired police officer might be reluctant to overturn a decision of his serving colleagues. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has been extremely wise and has listened.
It is proposed that a police appellant must pay the whole of his or her costs unless the police tribunal directs otherwise. That is a reversal of the present position. If the proposal is implemented, I believe that it will discourage officers who have been dismissed, or required to resign or reduced in rank, who have suffered a severe financial penalty, from appealing to the police appeals tribunal. I hope that during the passage of the Bill my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will again be in the excellent listening mode which I have described, and will be persuaded to accept the point of view that I have outlined. Many officers would be unable to afford the cost of an appeal. That could have a serious effect on the confidence of the police in the discipline system.
My right hon. and learned Friend has announced that he intends to retain the rank of chief inspector. The Police Federation will want seriously to consider that. The decision is something of a disappointment to the federation. Its evidence to the Sheehy committee rather supported the abolition of the rank. Knowing the federation as I do, I am sure that it will consider my right hon. and learned Friend's view with its customary fortitude and will have regard to the arguments that he advanced in support of his view.
I am sure that my concluding remarks will be of particular interest to the hon. Member for Brent, South 162 (Mr. Boateng), who takes such an interest in all my speeches. I have always firmly believed that the police service is a fine public service. I believe also that it should remain a public service. I say that in all sincerity. That does not mean, however, that the service should not have the benefit of good management procedures. It should not be insulated from the developments in management techniques that occur throughout society in general. Some of the proposals of my right hon. and learned Friend will be beneficial to the police service nationally.
I return to my fundamental point: our police provide the best police service in the world. I want to see it stay that way. As the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland said, the Bill contains certain provisions that could lead to important changes being made, notably in the setting up of new free-standing police authorities, which, as they develop over the years, will be of benefit to the police and to the people that they serve—the men and women of this country.
§ Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)
I welcome the fact that the Bill extends to Northern Ireland and deals with matters that would normally be covered by Orders in Council. My colleagues and I welcome the fact that there is to be proper legislation on an important subject. However, the Bill extends to Northern Ireland only in a couple of clauses which could be described as taking up Sheehy-type matters.
The Bill does not deal in Northern Ireland terms with two important areas of the constitution—police authorities and police discipline. Indeed, those matters are still subject to consultation in Northern Ireland. A paper on police discipline was published last year and we are still awaiting a Government decision. As for police structures relating to police authorities, a consultation paper has been produced and the consultation period will expire at the end of May.
§ Mr. Trimble
Indeed. We in Northern Ireland, however, have not had the benefit of the provisions that are set out in the Bill and the benefit of the Home Secretary's statement today.
I am especially concerned about consultation on police authorities because the period for consultation, as I have said, expires towards the end of May. That holds open the possibility—it is one that concerns me—that new clauses may be introduced towards the end of the Bill's Committee stage that relate to a Northern Ireland police authority.
In principle, we welcome the approach that such matters should be the subject of a Bill and not of an Order in Council, but I must caution the Government against introducing new clauses at the tail end of consideration of the Bill in Committee in circumstances which would not give us the opportunity properly to debate them. It should be remembered that the Bill has already completed its passage through another place.
I hope that the Minister who responds to the debate will make a statement on the Government's approach to matters that are still the subject of consultation in Northern Ireland. Do the Government have any intention of introducing new clauses in Committee, or even on Report, to extend certain provisions to Northern Ireland?
163 It is rather paradoxical that there are provisions in the Bill to change police authorities in England and Wales, which will move them slightly in the direction to which we moved in Northern Ireland. That will be done by introducing appointed members where there is central Government influence bearing on the persons to be appointed. It will move the authorities in England and Wales a little towards the model in Northern Ireland, where the entire police authority is appointed by Government —by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
The move is paradoxical because in Northern Ireland the police—the Northern Ireland Police Federation, the police authority and other persons—would like to see the Northern Ireland model move towards the old English model. They would like to have a police authority that is representative of local government rather than one which is appointed. It is ironic that we wish to proceed towards the old English model when the English model is moving towards us.
We used to have a position rather similar to the one that obtained in London, where there was no police authority. That situation was criticised heavily by the Hunt report in 1969, and changed by the ensuing Northern Ireland legislation.
My colleagues and I support the existence of a tripartite system of the chief constable, the police authority and the Secretary of State. We recognise that accountability, policy and control over the police are complex matters. The police must first discharge their duties under the law. The operational requirements of any particular situation are for them to judge. There is, however, difficulty and uncertainty about where operational matters end and policy matters begin, in so far as the law allows scope for policy. As for policy, there is a national interest and a local interest. It is right that there is both.
I am speaking of matters that come within what has been described as a grey area, one which has related to the pressures and personalities of any particular situation. For the first time, as far as I am aware, the Government are legislating in an area which in the past has not been the subject of legislation. There have been no express provisions. Instead, there has been an interplay of different forces and variations from one situation to another. The Bill reflects an attempt to legislate in that grey area, and that carries dangers with it. There is the danger of inflexibility, apart from anything else.
We do not disagree with the general thrust of the policy that is set out in the Bill. It is right that there should be scope for a national policy input. We do not find it objectionable that some members of a police authority should be other than local councillors. Such persons can represent special areas of expertise or help to round out, as it were, the balance of a police authority. As I have said, we do not find that objectionable in principle. The detail is something that can be discussed. It is important that there is a tripartite system that enables there to be a balance and diffusion of power.
Objectives and targets have been discussed at length, but we must wait and see how they work out in practice. They must be realistic and responsible, and set according to the responsibilities of those concerned. They should not interfere with operational matters, which chief constables or police authorities should decide, but should be contained in a policing plan. It is good that an opportunity exists to set such objectives.
164 The Secretary of State recently published a consultation paper entitled "Policing in the Community: Policing Structures in Northern Ireland" on the setting of objectives by the Secretary of State and the police authority. I was unhappy to find, in paragraph 5.10, thatany differences between … the Authority's objectives and those of the Secretary of State, will need to be resolved by the Secretary of State.The setting of objectives by the police authority is undermined if the Secretary of State can override those objectives. The consultation paper goes on to say:If the Secretary of State is unable to accept any objective proposed by the Police Authority, he will be required by law to give the Police Authority reasons for his decisions.If those current proposals of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland are put into effect, we shall have no police authority in Northern Ireland. Rather, we shall have a body like that to which the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) referred for the metropolitan area—a metropolitan area advisory committee. It is significant that the Northern Ireland Office consultation paper concludes that the police authority in Northern Ireland should be renamed the Police Commission. The title "Police Advisory Committee" may be more accurate if those proposals are carried out.
A few months ago, the Northern Ireland Office proposed to abolish the police authority entirely. At least it has stepped back a little from that, although it is trying to neuter the police authority in other ways. We disagree with that. A substantial police authority should be assimilated as far as possible to the Great Britain model. We do not want to be left in the same position as another jurisdiction in the British Isles, the Republic of Ireland, where there is no police authority whatever but extensive political control over policing. The Garda has called for years for the creation of a police authority, but that has been denied.
The unfortunate consequences of that are brought to mind strongly by reading the communique issued yesterday by the Anglo-Irish intergovernmental conference. I shall quote a sentence that is interesting given that it comes from a diplomatic document of an intergovernmental conference. Referring to policing, it says:Particular matters covered"—they are covered by two Governments discussing an internal affair within the United Kingdom—included the building works at the combined RUC Station and army base at Crossmaglen; recent reports published by HM Inspector of Constabulary concerning the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and by the Independent Commission for Police Complaints, as well as the consultation paper on Policing in the Community issued by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland; policy issues regarding use of lethal force, noting the recent judgment by Lord Chief Justice Hutton in the Clegg case; and forthcoming parades.It would hardly be considered appropriate for a police authority to consider such detail, yet an intergovernmental conference has discussed such detailed matters of policing. That gets dangerously close to political control. That would be dubious if it were done by a country's own Government, but the fact that a foreign Government is engaged in such an activity is deeply offensive.
The Northern Ireland Office's arguments against a police authority for Northern Ireland being assimilated to the British model are invalid. First, it argues that we cannot operate on the general British model because, in real terms, there is no local government in Northern Ireland. The simple answer is to create some. In the meantime, persons appointed to the police authority could be nominated to a 165 more representative body in a more representative manner by outside interested parties. That should happen across the spectrum, including the political spectrum.
Secondly, it argues that, unlike in England and Wales, finance in Northern Ireland is provided exclusively by the Northern Ireland Office rather than by local government. That argument does not hold water either because English local government finances come largely from central Government. Given that clause 15 provides for the Home Secretary to pay grants to police authorities, I see no reason why a similar clause should not provide for the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to pay a grant to a Northern Ireland police authority. It is important that finance be routed through the police authority because power and control often follow finance.
I agree entirely with the Home Secretary's announcement about discipline, particularly with regard to legal representation and the double jeopardy rule. Although that is not popular with policemen, there is more to being fit to be a policeman than being acquitted of criminal offences. A person may be acquitted yet still not be fit and proper or of sufficient character to be a member of the police force. Therefore, although I understand the police resentment, I understand the reasons for the provision.
Clauses 59 and 60 relate to Northern Ireland and deal with Sheehy-type matters. We welcome, in clause 59, the deletion of Treasury concurrence in the making of regulations. I hope that that will lead to a more liberal approach to such matters. Clause 59(3) deals with the making of regulations with the consent of various persons. Who are the persons referred to in that clause?
Clause 60 provides for regulations on full-time reservists of the RUC. We hope that that power will be used to rectify an injustice that has lasted for the past 25 years—that of the pension rights of full-time reserve constables in the RUC. It is a scandal that people who, in many cases, were asked 20 years ago to become full-time reservists and gave up other occupations to serve the community at considerable physical risk are now left without a pension. After years of service, they must draw unemployment benefit or income support while waiting for an inadequate state pension, and they have no opportunity to obtain other employment because, once they have left the RUC, they become unemployable.
Two years ago, at the conference of the Northern Ireland Police Federation, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland promised that that injustice would be rectified. Last year, he had to apologise to the conference that he had not yet managed to do so. I advise him to do so before going to the next conference, otherwise strong opinions may be expressed to him.
§ Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Bill provides an opportunity to table new clauses that will allow us to debate the Government's repugnant privatisation of the police at the Northern Ireland national airport? That discriminates against Northern Ireland because its airport will have the only privatised airport police in the United Kingdom. Privatisation of police at Gatwick or Heathrow would be unacceptable. Will the hon. Gentleman and his party explore the question whether we could debate in Committee a new clause that would restore the police at the Northern Ireland airport to public ownership and control?
§ Mr. Trimble
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his keen interest in Northern Ireland matters generally and in this particular issue. One of the great advantages of proper legislation, as opposed to Orders in Council, is that it provides opportunities for further debate and for tabling new clauses as a way of exploring issues. I am delighted to have that opportunity on this occasion.
I wish to end by reminding the Government that I want to know whether they have any intention of tabling new clauses to implement any of the provisions described in the consultation papers to which I have referred.
§ Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)
It is always a pleasure and a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), especially in debates on law and order. He always poignantly reminds us of the law and order issues in Ulster which should be at the forefront of our minds, given all the tragedies that the people of Ulster have experienced for far too long.
I see that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department has temporarily left the Chamber to speak to his officials—[Interruption.]—but now that he has returned I should like to tell him what a joy it is to see him on the Front Bench for this debate. I thank him for responding so favourably to all the representations which I and many others have made to him about the magistrates courts parts of the Bill. I want, however, to ask him to keep an open mind on the subject of lords lieutenant. I should like them to remain as ex officio members of magistrates courts—but I shall write to my hon. Friend again about that.
Hon. Members have rightly concentrated on the police aspects of the Bill, which, after all, can seldom have been so much in the news. Sad to say, much of today's press comment on our police is critical, focusing as it does on police involvement in miscarriages of justice, on possibly poor detection rates and on the fact that there may be too few police officers on our streets. There is also a suspicion that some of the retirements on grounds of ill health have taken place to avoid disciplinary action.
As a result of these and other matters, public confidence in our police is not what it was; I dare say it is not what many right hon. and hon. Members and I would like it to be. The truth is, however, that the public has never had greater cause to be thankful to our police. The demands of policing a modern society are intense, and there is a continual threat of violence. I make no apology for raising the subject of violence again—indeed, I am rather surprised that no one has mentioned it thus far. It is a serious problem that we must bear in mind when we consider the subject of police resources and the number of officers there should be on our streets.
Only yesterday Sergeant Gary Boughen had his face battered in a grave and tragic attack by young thugs outside a fish-and-chip shop in west Yorkshire. He was merely attempting to quieten down some rowdy behaviour. I hope, Madam Deputy Speaker, that it is in order to hold up this photograph—I am indebted to the Yorkshire Post for it —to show hon. Members the scene. Plenty of other copies are available in the Tea Room and in the Library; hon. Members may want to look at them just to remind themselves of what can happen to a police officer at any time of day or night in any town, city or village in this country.
167 What is the solution, and why is this issue so important to the Bill? The Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill introduces tougher penalties for young thugs. This Bill underwent a great deal of change in the other place, but I hope that their Lordships will be more charitable to the proposals in the criminal justice Bill. They certainly command the support of Conservative Members and the general public alike.
Those Bills in themselves do not represent the complete answer; nor does telling the parents of young thugs that they should have more responsibility for them. If a police sergeant is attacked in the way I have described while trying to deal with rowdy behaviour, only two conclusions are possible: either he will not go in on future occasions —hardly a realistic proposition—or there will have to be more than one police officer. If three or four had gone in, I do not believe that the youngsters would have reacted as they did. We just do not have enough police officers to deal with incidents of this kind in rural areas. Three or four at a time, in the mobiles that we sometimes see in town centres, may prove necessary.
The crucial issue for the House is whether this Bill will deliver more police officers to patrol our streets. That is what the public want, and in the end it will be the acid test. I say, not grudgingly but with enthusiasm, that the Government deserve credit for the fact that, in the past 14 or 15 years, we have acquired the best-paid police force in Europe. But that has contributed to the problem that we do not have as many officers as we might like—
Mr. John M. Taylor
I thank my hon. Friend for the gracious words at the beginning of his speech. May I point out to him that, in the first two months of this year alone, 452 more police constables joined the force?
§ Mr. Greenway
I was coming to some of the improvements that have taken place even before this Bill is enacted. My hon. Friend anticipates me. I wanted first to refer to the fact that recruitment of special constables is playing an invaluable part in putting more police on our streets, especially late in the evening and at weekends. But that, too, is not the whole answer.
We must also consider the equipment that our police have. Today my right hon. and learned Friend talked of serious structural problems in the funding of police capital expenditure. If I remember rightly, he referred to information technology. We need to co-ordinate and speed up its introduction throughout the police force.
Police authorities have been reluctant to fund common police services. You, Madam Deputy Speaker, will remember the inquiries that the Home Affairs Select Committee has undertaken over the years. National initiatives in this area do not happen as speedily—if they happen at all—as they should, because of this reluctance. The fact that the national criminal intelligence service arrangements are so far behind schedule proves my point.
The Minister's intervention just now leads me to the point that there have been a considerable number of efficiency improvements in the force already, particularly since the Sheehy inquiry was launched. No one should say that Sheehy did not bring about some benefits. At least it made everyone sit up and ask what they should be doing. Many of us may have disagreed with many of its conclusions, but the atmosphere that it created—unhelpful in the sense that it affected morale—had the long-term 168 benefit of helping to ensure a better use of resources. That, as the Minister reminded us, is putting more police officers on the streets.
This, too, is still not the complete answer. We have to face the fact that the present tripartite system is not delivering the resources required: it needs reform. This Bill introduces that much needed reform. None of the three parties to the present arrangements has overall responsibility. The mechanisms for funding provide no guarantees. For example, the Home Office and the Treasury control Government expenditure through the authorised establishments and, of course, through capital expenditure controls. Those controls have become increasingly nonsensical in the past two or three years, affecting the purchase of fairly inexpensive items, and they have caused havoc in the funding of police vehicle fleets. As the Home Secretary said, that is now acknowledged.
The Government can also influence expenditure through the standard spending assessment and their capping powers, but there is no guarantee that the local authority will spend up to its SSA, and that has caused problems in some police forces. We heard in the debate how some local authorities have to be publicly shamed into making sure that they spend up to their SSA. This is one of the key points about the Bill's funding arrangements, and it has not been addressed in the debate. Clause 26(1) provides:The power of the Secretary of State to give directions under section 28D of the 1964 Act to a police authority established under section 3 of that Act shall include power to direct the authority that the amount of its budget requirement for any financial year … shall not be less than an amount specified in the direction.That could be called a centralising power, but it provides the one guarantee that is essential to ensuring that the police know what their budget will be and that it will not be subject to the whim of local politicians. That is important.
The cash limit of Government funding will require the Government to state clearly what they think the minimum budget should be. The Government percentage of the budget will be 51 per cent. of X. One does not have to be brilliant at algebra to know that, if 51 per cent. is £100 million, £198 million is needed to fund a police force's authorised expenditure. For the life of me I cannot understand why there has been such opposition to that proposal because it makes Government support for the police service extremely transparent, and that is what is required.
Other matters need to be addressed. One problem that has not been solved, even post Sheehy, is the funding of pensions. In the North Yorkshire force alone, whose total yearly budget is about £50 million, in the 10 months from December 1992 to September 1993 no less than £4.4 million was paid in lump sums to retiring officers, most of whom were retiring on the ground of ill health. In the past couple of years such payments have rendered many police authorities unable to recruit up to their authorised establishments.
North Yorkshire has a fine record of supporting the police through the local authority and making sure that there are as many policemen on the streets as the authorised establishment will allow, but such pay-outs have made a huge hole in the budget. According to today's issue of the Yorkshire Post, the chief constable of West Yorkshire has threatened officers who have retired on the ground of ill health that if they recover they will be asked to go back into 169 uniform on the streets or have their pension stopped. That may be a rather graphic description of precisely what the chief constable intends, but a Select Committee on Home Affairs inquiry into police sickness found that, sadly, too many officers who retired on the ground of ill health did so in circumstances that gave rise to some concern about the authenticity of the sickness. It will do no harm to ensure that the position of officers who recover is reconsidered.
The Bill is about funding and the Government should be robust on the use of the precept. When the Government have established by an examination of their cash-limited grant what the budget ought to be, Ministers should not underestimate the public's willingness to pay a specific precept for the police. Those of us who ask our constituents at the weekend, "What would you be prepared to spend a bit more money on directly?" receive the reply, "More police officers." That is certainly the reply in my constituency, and the result of following it up could be quite dramatic.
North Yorkshire has about 500,000 charge payers and a police establishment of 1,400 officers. If each charge payer contributed an additional £10 a year precept, it would raise £5 million. Police officers are paid about £25,000, so that money would provide another 200 policemen on our streets. I am highlighting, perhaps in an over-simplistic way, the fact that a little extra directed at employing more police constables and sergeants could have a dramatic effect on manpower and the ability of the police to fight crime.
The Home Secretary made announcements on three matters that were overhangs from the other place. I agree with all three of his decisions. It is crucial that officers are represented throughout the disciplinary process, not least because police officers, more than anyone else in the public service, run the risk of mischievous and malicious allegations. Sadly, that happens all too often. The second issue is double jeopardy. When I was a police officer in the west end in the 1960s two officers were charged with living on immoral earnings. If my memory serves me correctly, they were found not guilty but the evidence adduced in court was so strong that I do not think that any other police officer would have wanted to serve with them ever again. Even if there is evidence to show that people are unfit to be police officers, it does not necessarily follow that the burden would be sufficient to meet the standard of criminal proof that would enable them to be convicted in court.
My right hon. and learned Friend has made the right decision on the issue of ranks by saying that the rank of chief inspector should be retained. Much has been said about the need to ensure that officers on the ground need to know who is the senior officer. In the great majority of cases the senior officer will be a chief inspector, not a chief superintendent, and that is the rank that can be disposed of.
Another issue relates to the rank of deputy chief constable. It is fascinating that the Bill goes so much with the grain of what is happening in the police service. Almost two years ago North Yorkshire abolished the rank of deputy chief constable because it was felt that the money could be better spent on providing more policemen on the streets. Armageddon has not hit the administration of the North Yorkshire police force. I suspect that its chief constable and two assistants have to work more hours and 170 a bit harder than they did when the chief constable had a deputy, but the decision not to have a deputy chief constable is generally regarded as a great success.
In conclusion, I want to refer to what has been said this afternoon and evening about police relations with local communities and the need for them to be strengthened. I do not accept that the police authority has anything to do with that. Police and local community relations are being strengthened through the liaison panels set up under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and through the divisional command structure that police forces are operating.
The Metropolitan police—a huge police force covering an enormous area—has some of the best local policing schemes in the country, such as the domestic violence unit in Islington and the racial attacks unit in Plumstead, which are extremely effective.
I do not believe that the police authority issue affects the relationship between the local community and its police force. In any event, that would not be possible in a huge county such as north Yorkshire.
These days, the police are confronted by organised national and international crime syndicates which do not respect boundaries or the niceties of how we structure our police authorities. Our police forces can respond to such a threat only if they have a more focused and structured police service. The modernisation of the police service is overdue. There are many good measures in the Bill which will help to deliver it, and I shall certainly support the Bill in the House tonight.
§ 8 pm
§ Mr. Mike O'Brien (Warwickshire, North)
I join the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) in declaring an interest. I am a parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation of England and Wales.
My concern is not just for the Police Federation; it is also for my constituents. Crime in Warwickshire has trebled since 1979 and burglaries and car thefts have quadrupled. The number of police officers has increased by 16.4 per cent. in the same period. In the face of such crime, it is important, in my view and that of my constituents, that the Government are seen to support the police.
Maintaining police morale among those who do an increasingly difficult and complex job, often putting their lives at risk, should be a Government priority. The Sheehy report, the White Paper on policing, the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill and the Home Office inquiry into the core functions of policing are not the way to maintain police morale. The effect has been the opposite. The police have had to fight off successive Government attempts to restrict and cut their salaries, cut out ranks and undermine their role.
The Government have now, to some extent, disowned the Sheehy report, although some of its recommendations are in the Bill and others are likely to see the light of day in the Police Negotiating Board in the next few years.
There is great concern among the police that there is still a Government agenda on policing. That agenda is evidenced by Sheehy, the White Paper, the Bill and the inquiry into the core functions of policing. Let me say something about that inquiry, which is important as it is part of the context of the Bill. Taken as a whole, it is part of a series of policies which cause considerable concern to the Police Federation.
171 The general secretary of the Police Federation, Mr. Lyn Williams, has said that he foresees Government policy reducing the number of fully trained professional police officers in England and Wales from 126,000 to 80,000 by the end of the decade—a cut of 46,000 officers. He sees that as the way in which the Government will develop their policies. The Home Office has not maintained the number of authorised establishments in a number of forces and there is increasing sub-contracting of functions to the private sector.
A recent paper presented to the Bolton conference on policing earlier this year written by Dr. Peter Moran and Mr. Alex Alexandrou stated:There is little doubt that creeping privatisation of police functions is taking place with the tacit assent if not active encouragement of the Home Office. Attested police officers are a homogenous group with regard to training and vetting: private security guards are not".The concern is that there is a great temptation for the views about privatisation that have been all too apparent in a number of our public services to be moved into the area of policing. In some American cities, if someone phones the police because he is locked out, someone answers the 911 number and the caller says, "I am locked out, can someone assist?" The telephonist presses a button and the call goes to "Get You In Ltd.", or whatever company it is. If the caller has a cat up a tree or a problem with a licence, he gets put through to We Get Your Cat Down, We Assist You To Get Across the Road or We Provide a Licence For You. Private companies carry out many of those roles.
It is tempting for the Government to say that the core function of policing should be defined, that the police should concentrate on that core function and that the other functions—obviously, if we define core function we shall also have non-core functions—should be hived off to the private sector.
The effect of that, and the concern of the Police Federation at the erosion of police functions and the number of police officers, is to erode the many non-confrontational links that the police have with the community. The way in which we develop community policing in Britain is that the police are part of and integrated with the community, and, in order to fight crime, we are trying to encourage the public constantly to co-operate with the police.
The effect of restricting the police to core functions would do two things. First, the public would deal with the police primarily if a serious offence had occurred and not in the non-confrontational cases where people needed help or a licence to be issued, for example. Secondly, the police deal with the public only when they have to go in hard, carrying out their core functions. In those circumstances, there is a danger that the police could develop the same attitudes as have been seen in places such as Los Angeles, where there have been problems in recent years. If we restrict the police to core functions, we shall, to some extent, change attitudes within the police. That is a considerable danger of which the Police Federation is aware.
There is another developing problem that many people have experienced and that many hon. Members have seen in their constituencies. We are suffering increasing plagues of security guard company representatives knocking on doors saying, "For £1.50 a week we will watch your house because you have no policing in your area". That has occurred in several parts of my constituency.
172 At the moment there is little or no regulation of those private companies. I hope that during the passage of the Bill I will be able to persuade the Clerk to accept an amendment to address that problem. It is possible at the moment for someone to come out of prison, after having committed a series of burglaries and with a long criminal record, to buy himself a dog, knock on doors and say that he will protect people from burglaries. That is not the sort of person one wants to protect one's house.
The chief constable of Avon and Somerset, David Shattock, said recently that he was powerless to stop a private security company run by a man with a long criminal record, including a prison sentence, from operating street patrols in his area. He was very concerned that the growth of untrained and regulated companies patrolling streets was an open invitation to criminals. He said:What better way of committing a crime than buying a van, putting on a white peaked cap and patrolling people's houses? If you are caught shining a torch through the back of a building, it is the perfect answer".We need to ensure that we have proper regulation of those companies, but we also need to ensure that the build-up in the past century of a professional police force which has links with the community is not undermined by moving from community policing towards forcing the police into dealing only with their core functions.
The Bill must be seen in the overall context of Government policy on policing. I accept that many of the Police Federation's key concerns have been dealt with in another place. The Bill that went into the other place was, humiliatingly for the Government, not the Bill that came out. The federation's main concern was that the Bill as it went into the other place would have politicised the police, putting them under effective Whitehall control.
That fear was based on the fact that various proposals, justifiable to some extent in themselves, when put together were worrying—fixed-term contracts for senior officers; Home Office-appointed chairmen to police authorities; performance targets; policing plans; and amalgamations. To some extent, many of their Lordships shared those concerns and, to be fair to the Government, the Bill as now presented is somewhat emasculated. None the less, it is still worrying and dangerous.
It must be remembered that the proposals come not from any royal commission, independent inquiry, Select Committee or any body outside the House which requested such changes. They come with the opposition of all the police staff associations and police authority members of all political parties as well as all the groups involved in policing and the magistracy.
Why do we have the Bill? There does not seem to be any real explanation, other than an ideological one. Major constitutional changes seem to have been made at the service of a half-baked ideological nostrum. The Bill seems to have been concocted from the Sheehy report. That is not the way in which to run a law and order policy in Britain.
The Police Federation's concerns about the Bill centre on five main areas—discipline; local police plans; amalgamations; the role of the police negotiating board; and the disqualification of certain police authority members with previous convictions abroad.
Discipline is a major concern because it directly affects all serving police officers. The Government's concessions on the appeals tribunal and on legal representation are 173 welcome. I just wish that the proposals had never been put forward in the first place. But there is concern about the cost of appeals. Under section 37(5) of the Police Act 1964, the police fund meets the costs of police officers who mount appeals against dismissal, reduction in rank or required resignation. But under the Bill, the appellant will be liable for the whole of his or her costs unless the police appeal tribunal directs otherwise.
The federation believes that that will have a markedly discouraging effect on appeals and that is to be regretted. It is right that officers should be able to undertake appeals that are open to them and costs should not be allowed to prohibit such a course.
Double jeopardy is another concern which I am sure will be debated at some length in Committee. I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), but, to some extent, he missed the point. Tbe issue is not so much whether the policy is right in terms of the criteria of balance of proof or beyond reasonable doubt in court. I accept that there is a distinction there. But the police officer is in a unique position. Moreover, he will clearly be subjected to a number of allegations that are patently untrue. It is wrong that he should be forced repeatedly to go through what is in effect a trial for the same thing. Therefore, double jeopardy is the issue rather than the balance of proof in any one situation. It is wrong that an officer should be tried twice for the same thing. That is against most of our common law principles developed over many centuries.
The federation is also concerned about the police plan, local policing objectives and performance indicators. The federation wishes to preserve the operational independence of chief constables in relation to the setting of local policing objectives and performance criteria. The responsibility for producing an annual report should belong to the chief constable. The federation argues that the chief constable, having overall responsibility for operational policing, is in a better position to handle information concerning his or her area and is free from political restraints. Consultation and co-operation between police authorities and the Home Office is essential, but not guidance in that sense.
Amalgamations are an essential and important concern. As a Member of Parliament for a Warwickshire constituency, an area with one of the smallest police forces in the country, I know that it is important to clarify the amalgamations issue. When the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) was Home Secretary, he said that he wanted to cut the number of constabularies in England and Wales from 43 to about 20, the better to be able to manage chief constables. Ministers now deny that they have such plans, but the Home Secretary still refuses to drop the new process that he has instituted which prevents a proper public inquiry into any amalgamations. Why?
The Home Secretary should be required to show at a public inquiry that any proposed amalgamation should enhance police efficiency. The present local inquiry procedure proposals to alter or amalgamate police forces should remain. The procedure allows the relevant police authorities and local constabularies to voice concerns and possible opposition to proposed alterations. The Home 174 Secretary's proposals, on consultation procedures and timetables, are clearly inadequate to allow that to happen properly.
The Bill proposes a consultation period of approximately two months. That appears unrealistic and undemocratic as an announcement on proposed alterations could be made during a holiday period, making it virtually impossible for local authorities, police authorities and local communities to make a proper considered response. The proposed changes as outlined in the Bill will enable the Home Secretary to carry through a major reorganisation of police forces against the wishes of substantial sections of local opinion and the police and could well be against proper police efficiency. The Bill gives the Home Secretary powers to create super-forces, covering eight or 10 regions. Who knows? There would be no local inquiries and very little opportunity for proper parliamentary scrutiny.
The federation has a number of other concerns. At the moment, the police negotiating board is restricted in its ability to deal with aspects of pensions. Given that a police officer contributes one third of the cost of his pension, it would seem right for police pensions to be fully negotiable. But the Government do not appear to be willing to allow that. That is illogical and I hope that we shall be able to discuss it in Committee and in due course to propose amendments.
One minor point worrying the federation which caused problems when it was raised in another place, perhaps because of definition—I doubt whether the Government would be opposed to the federation's aim—relates to a person who has committed an offence abroad not being allowed to sit on police authorities. That is not dealt with in the Bill and I hope that in due course we shall be able to rectify it.
§ Mr. Fabricant
How does the hon. Gentleman suggest that the Home Office or the Committee should handle a situation where an offence committed abroad is not an offence here? I agree with the hon. Gentleman's point, but that would have to be taken into account.
§ Mr. O'Brien
I accept that there may be circumstances in which an offence committed abroad would be regarded here as perfectly proper—for example, a political offence in another country such as a protest against a dictatorship or other such regime. That should not result in disqualification from membership. We would have to find a way to evaluate each case individually rather than simply saying that every person who had committed such an offence would be blocked. The principle is important. People who have committed abroad serious criminal offences, which we recognise as such, should not serve on police authorities.
The Bill is not what is needed in the fight against crime. It creates uncertainty where continuity and certainty are needed. It undermines morale where morale needs to be enhanced. It fails to address the need for more resources and to put more police on the beat, when that need is crying out to be addressed in the face of rising crime. The Bill is flawed and, like my right hon. and hon. Friends, I will vote against it tonight.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)
Order. Before I call the next hon. Member, may I point out that exactly one hour remains before the wind-up speeches. 175 Seven hon. Members hope to catch my eye, which leaves just under 10 minutes for each of them. I hope that hon. Members will bear that in mind.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to catch your eye.
When my right hon. and learned Friend made his 27 announcements at our party conference, my constituents were overjoyed. [Laughter.] Opposition Members may laugh, but I suspect that their constituents also were overjoyed because unfortunately they, like my constituents, will suffer from the rising tide of crime to which I shall refer later.
I spent many a long hour on the Standing Committee that considered the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill. That excellent Bill implemented 19 of my right hon. and learned Friend's measures. The other part of the double-barrelled approach to reforming our criminal justice system is the Bill before the House. It will implement a further six of my right hon. and learned Friend's proposals—all those that require legislative change. [HoN MEMBERS: "Hallelujah."] I am grateful for that salutation from Opposition Members, who obviously approve of my remarks.
The Bill deals with the overall structure of the police, which has not changed to any measurable extent for the last 30 years, and reforms the magistracy system, which has not changed to any measurable extent for the last 50 years. It is clear that both are long overdue for a long, hard look. I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department on the extent of their consultation and their ability to listen to sensible representations. I do not accept the criticism made this evening that the fact that they amended the Bill as it passed through the other place means that they are weak. In fact, that showed their statesmanlike character and willingness to make sensible changes to their proposals as they went along.
My right hon. and learned Friend said that crime has increased throughout the western world over the past few decades. The number of notifiable offences in 1993 was 5.5 million, which is 119 per cent. up on the same period in 1977. The number of clear-ups increased by only 38 per cent. during that time. Worse still, the number of indictable offences proceeded with rose by only 3 per cent. and the number of cautions increased by 88 per cent. Clearly, not everything is perfect in this country's criminal justice system and I welcome a long, hard look at the nuts and bolts of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill and the overall structure of the Police and Magistrates Courts' Bill.
In common with the hon. Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Dr. Wright), I spent a whole night out with the police, in Cheltenham. We arrested a person who was in possession of drugs—[HON. MEMBERS: "We?") The constable arrested the suspect, and he was still dealing with the paperwork at the police station four hours later. That cannot be sensible. The police on the beat were well overstretched that particular night. It is incumbent on us all to ensure use of the latest technology available to the police —video recordings, sound recordings, electrostatic document analysis techniques and DNA fingerprinting—so that the amount of paperwork and wasted time is reduced.
176 Anyone who has been involved in business knows that the best way to run a company is with the flattest, shortest command structure possible. I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend's proposal to reduce the number of police ranks by two. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary intervened to say that that has already enabled another 450 extra constables to be put on the beat in the past two months alone. It is estimated that, in an entire year, that change will put an extra 3,000 police on the beat. That is precisely the improvement for which my constituents have been calling—more police in the front line, on the beat, to detect crime and to arrest potential criminals.
I make a special plea to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. In Gloucestershire, a large number of police officers are deployed on royal protection duties. My constituency contains no fewer than three royal households. I have already written to my hon. Friend on the matter, but I ask him again to give my county police force a few extra supernumerary officers to perform those duties. Surrounding counties do not have such a responsibility.
Royalty is considered a permanent risk, whereas any Minister of the Crown is considered a temporary risk for supernumerary purposes. My county is not considered for supernumerary officers, so I again ask my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to consider that request. In fact, I will write to him again, to see whether something can be done. That issue causes great annoyance to my constituents.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary set out his overall policy for the new system of police authorities. Much of tonight's debate has centred on the way that the balance has shifted between local police and local authority responsibility and the Home Secretary and chief constables. Replying to the Second Reading debate in another place, my noble Friend Lord Ferrers said thatthe Home Secretary must retain some powers in the event of things going wrong. After all, he is responsible for the £6,000 million of public money which goes to police authorities … but this is not a centralising measure … it gives powers, responsibilities and accountability to the local police authorities and local chief constables."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 24 March 1994; Vol. 553, c. 808.]Overall policing objectives will be set by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, but under new section 28A of the 1964 Act, the objective of local policing will be set by the local police authority. Subject to any particular directive under new section 28A, the local police authority must set out its own objectives, which may be different from, and additional to, the foregoing, and then produce a local policing plan. In addition, it must produce an annual plan.
That seems a wholly transparent, local procedure. To demonstrate that, clause 11 provides for one local police authority member to answer questions from any member of the local council. That wholly transparent and democratic local procedure is established by the Bill.
The flexibility displayed by my right hon. and learned Friend and hon. Friends in listening to sensible proposals during earlier stages of the Bill means that there will be five Home Office appointees. I admit that the system is rather cumbersome, but we want somebody other than a magistrate or local councillor to sit on a police authority. There is a wealth of experience in our communities. All sorts of trades and professions are represented by people who are perfectly capable of sitting on police authorities. Mention was made earlier of admirals, but many business 177 and professional men, doctors, nurses and others would be perfectly well qualified to sit on a police authority and would considerably enhance its work.
As has already been mentioned, the chief constable, who is appointed by the local police authority, still has complete operational independence. I cannot stress that too highly. It would be intolerable to do anything different. If a sudden emergency arises, who will make the decision? Of course, it must be the chief constable. He now has an additional new power in that, subject to sticking within the budget laid down within the standard spending assessment system, he is able to exercise his discretion as to how many police officers he employs. Hitherto, he would have had to obtain permission from the Home Office to do that.
§ Mr. Fabricant
Does my hon. Friend agree that this is a good example of decentralisation, not centralisation? Does he not think it an absolute irony that Labour Members keep saying that this is a centralising Bill?
§ Mr. Clifton-Brown
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that observation, but, as time is moving on and as Mr. Deputy Speaker will constrict me if I go on for too long, I shall simply say that I welcome the part of the Bill that deals with magistrates. Some 30,000 members of the lay magistracy give freely of their time to dispense an excellent system of summary justice in this country. I welcome the proposed reforms in that respect.
I challenged the Labour party to tell us what its policy is. We learnt one thing from the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair): the Labour party is no longer in favour of elected police authorities. But we did not find out what is to take their place. The Labour party has consistently opposed every single such Bill since 1984, including the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill. It opposed the Public Order Act 1986; the Criminal Justice Act 1988; the Criminal Justice Act 1991; and the Asylum and Immigration Act 1993. And, almost at the very moment when the mortars were going off at Heathrow, Labour Members trooped into the Lobby, within moments of hearing that announcement, to oppose the renewal of the prevention of terrorism Act. That is disgraceful.
There is no doubt that the Liberal Democrats opposed many of those aspects as well. We have already heard this evening that the moment that they get into power in local councils, they reduce the budget for the local police authority—time after time. They are no friends of the police either.
I welcome whole-heartedly the Government's bravery in taking a long and hard look at how our criminal justice system should be run, so that we can go forward together —the public, police and magistracy—and detect and convict more criminals and make our streets safe places on which to walk.
§ Mr. Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie)
It is fun to follow the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown), who praised the Home Secretary for being a listening Home Secretary. It seems to me that the Home Secretary is a listening Home Secretary much in the way that Evander Holyfield was a listening ex-heavyweight champion to Michael Moorer. The Home Secretary was mugged in the House of Lords. Anyone who 178 wants to read an account of a genteel mugging should read the report of the Bill's Second Reading in the House of Lords.
The Bill has been very badly damaged, but I shall concentrate, after several hours of debate, on the Scottish section of the Bill, which no one has talked about. Unfortunately, that part of the Bill has not been mugged. It has not been talked about or touched on. It deals inadequately, as far as this House is concerned, with Scottish legislation. If one wants to see why the Tories do so badly in Scotland, one should look at the way in which the Bill is presented. One of the special pillars of Scottish society is its separate and distinctive legal system, which, in many areas, is demonstrably better than the English system.
We see the arrogance of a Government who try to introduce changes to Scottish law simply by inserting them into English legislation. When the Home Secretary moved the Second Reading earlier, he made no reference whatever to its contents as far as Scotland is concerned, apart from something vague about bringing it into line with England. That is not adequate. There is no equivalent to the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department who can reply to the debate on behalf of the Scottish Office.
I suspect that, any moment now—probably in 20 seconds—a Minister from the Scottish Office will come to the debate, and may or may not listen to this speech. We need some justification from the Government for why the Bill applies to Scotland. Which Scottish concerns does it meet? Who asked for it in Scotland? Nobody did. It has simply been put in the Bill. It does not meet any of the problems.
There is a need for a Bill that deals with problems in the Scottish legal system, but this is not it. We are crying out for parliamentary time to deal with the problems and issues that arise with regard to the system on children's hearings. There is a need to consider whether there should be an equivalent in Scotland, or something especially Scottish, to the Police Complaints Authority, because Scotland does not have one. But we do not have such a Bill.
What bothers me about this Bill is the depth of the contempt that the Scottish Office shows the people in Scotland in the way in which it has been introduced. They have not even attempted to make the case for the law change in Scotland. I am pleased to see the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) in his place. If he can point out to me where any Scottish Minister has attempted to make the case for the Scottish clauses, I will be pleased to give way to him now. I think that the fact that the hon. Gentleman does not wish to speak demonstrates my point.
§ Mr. Phil Gallie (Ayr)
Having served on the Standing Committee on the local government Bill, I would have to say that those issues were mentioned on occasion, but not in depth. The detail of the Bill refers to the structure of the police force in Scotland. It aligns with the rankings in England. I am quite sure that my hon. Friends have had many discussions with the Home Office on that issue.
§ Mr. Worthington
That just demonstrates to me that even though the hon. Gentleman is present, he does not know what the Bill is about. It says nothing about the structure of the police force in Scotland. 179 We have to find a better way of dealing with Scottish legislation. A fortnight ago, during the debate on the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill—
§ Mr. Worthington
No, I will not.
At 1 o'clock in the morning we had a debate on the concept of aggravated trespass. That subject has produced a considerable mail bag in Scotland, because of legitimate fears that the Government are acting on behalf of a large number of absentee landlords and simply incorporating into Scottish law something to deal with the problem in England of hunt saboteurs and new age travellers, and also because the Government are interfering with what is a traditional and very valued freedom in Scotland—the freedom to roam.
One Scottish Member was able to talk about that in Committee—my good and hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman). Imagine the uproar if only one English Member of Parliament was able to speak on an issue affecting English law.
Last week, at 1 am, the rest of us could say something. We had a 90–minute debate, which was pathetically inadequate. But then the Minister got up to reply—he has still not turned up tonight—and took only three minutes, under clear instructions to get up and shut up. The vote took place. The Secretary of State for Scotland did not even bother to turn up. That is how we deal with Scottish legislation.
Today, we continue that charade. It is a contempt for democracy. It is a V-sign at the Scottish electorate. It is a major change to the law in Scotland with regard to the police, with no discernible reason put forward for it. There will be one, or even two, Scottish Members on the Committee. No Minister from the Scottish Office will speak today. No Scottish Minister has spoken on the issue in public and made the case. Big changes will be made to the constitutional position of the police in Scotland. There will be yet more centralisation of the controls of the Secretary of State for Scotland, on the basis of no argument whatever, and being done independently of the Local Government (Scotland) Bill, referred to by the hon. Member for Ayr.
Joint boards will be set up. That will mean more joint boards in many parts of Scotland. My area—Strathclyde —is to cover at least 10 separate unitary local authorities. There will be absolutely no sense of partnership: that is bound to lead to much more remoteness, and to yet another democratic deficit in Scotland.
As a result of the Bill, we are even losing the requirement for a chief constable to consult the police authority when determining the number and ranks of men in the force. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Ayr knew that. Furthermore, as clause 46 makes clear, in future the annual report will be made not to the police authority but to the Secretary of State: it requires such matters to be reportedas the Secretary of State may prescribe".It will not be a question of what the police authority thinks important, or even a question of what the chief constable thinks important.
The relationship between police and state is one of the most difficult constitutional issues that any society must face. The police must be under the control of the state—they can never go their own undisciplined way—but they 180 must be free to feel the collars of the most powerful in the land. If the Secretary of State behaves in an inappropriate and illegal manner, he must be arrested without hesitation.
To cope with that, we in Britain have invented a subtle tripartite system involving the control of operational matters by the chief constable: some powers for local authorities, some for the Secretary of State and some for Her Majesty's inspector of constabulary. If we wish to change the relationship between those three powers, we should do so only in the most measured, calm and reasonable way.
§ Mr. Gallie
Will the hon. Gentleman tell us precisely where the Bill states that the chief constable, or the constabulary, cannot take the Secretary of State for Scotland into custody if he commits a misdemeanour?
§ Mr. Worthington
I do not often alarm the hon. Gentleman this much. I did not say that; I said that there must be a three-way balance of power in the system that we have invented, so that the chief constable has operational responsibility and—within that responsibility—does not feel threatened by one of the other powers. What alarms me is that, with fixed-term contracts and with the Secretary of State determining what is to be in the report delivered to him, a picture is building up of too much control going in one direction. We are seeing a Secretary of State who acts as God, with contempt for both the police service and local authorities.
When debating this issue, we must bear in mind both the fact that local government is being reorganised, and the Government's plans with regard to payment for results. Payment for results in itself constitutes a formidable centralisation of power: it means telling officers how they will be judged worthy of receiving extra money. I should be astonished if the Secretary of State said that they should be given extra money for investigating City fraud, for example; we are already seeing the Government's attitude in their relaxed attitude to tax evasion, as opposed to DSS fraud.
The Government must spell out to us why the Bill applies to Scotland. The Home Secretary has not done so today. In particular, we must hear some reasoning about what is currently going wrong in terms of Scotland's police forces. Only last week, Her Majesty's chief inspector of constabulary produced a periodic report on the forces in Scotland. It included a glowing report on Strathclyde, which pointed out that in 1993 there had been a 20 per cent. drop in violent crime. It has been claimed that crime has fallen in England and Wales, but that did not include violent crime. This is in spite of all that the Government can throw at us in terms of unemployment and growing inequality.
The finding, however, does not result from any action taken by the Home Secretary. Today, we have heard reference to the underfunding of the police forces; the chief inspector points out that in Scotland the Home Secretary substantially underfunds the capital requirements of Strathclyde police force, in comparison with those of similar metropolitan police authorities elsewhere. However, the report states:Despite the effects of the Sheehy Inquiry, morale within the force is high with a belief that real progress is being made at last on the crime front.181 Crime is a real worry, in Scotland and elsewhere; but the level has remained static and fallen in Scotland, while it has soared in England. A huge amount of that development has been due to the partnership between local authorities and the police—a partnership which the Government will damage with this Bill and the Bill to reorganise local government.
Although Second Reading is a bit late in the day, the Government must explain why the Home Secretary knows best. Just why does he, rather than the local authorities, know how much to spend on the police? Just what knowledge does he have? Ministers have taken no steps to meet local councillors directly, even after the publication of the Bill; they certainly took no such steps before its publication. We are seeing wrong-headed action by those who want to centralise control even further.
Policing in Britain is one of the institutional miracles of which I think we should be proudest. Unlike most societies in the world, our police work on the basis of consent: typically, they do not carry arms, and they constitute a social service as well as a force. Everything in the Bill will weaken that trend—that central cultural feature of our policing. Payment will go not to the social service aspects —not to community policing—but to other, as yet unspecified, sectors.
We send our police around the world. They are in South Africa and Somalia now, teaching the doctrine of policing by consent. What I find extraordinary, and what bothers me, is the weakening of the central relationship between police, local authorities and local people by this Home Secretary and his aide de camp the Secretary of State for Scotland—who has not even shown up today—with no reference to the Scottish people. They have not even had the common decency to make a case for the Bill. When will they do so?
§ Mr. Michael Fabricant (Mid-Staffordshire)
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important issue. My hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown)—together with other Conservative Members—pointed out forcefully, in his customary manner, that we are, indeed, the party of law and order. The Bill is designed to make it easier for the law enforcers, both police and magistrates, to clear up crime, streamline procedures—that seems logical enough to me—and modernise the organisation and management methods of the police and, indeed, magistrates courts.
Having said that, I am mindful of those who have a number of reservations about the Bill. I welcome the fact that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has taken into account some of the anxieties felt by some of our friends in the other place. Tonight, therefore, I wish to focus primarily on the reforms of the police—on why they are needed, and on why so many of the reforms will benefit both the police and the population at large. Too often our opponents, in their desire to oppose for opposition's sake, seem to forget that these reforms are designed to make it easier to tackle crime—to make it easier for our constituents to sleep safely in their beds at night or walk the streets without fear of mugging or sexual assault. Why do those on the Opposition Benches seem so ready to forget that fact?
182 The Government have made great strides in recent years to ensure that the police have a better deal. Not only has the number of police risen by close to 16,000 since 1979—to a record 129,000 but police pay has risen by nearly 40 per cent. during that period. The Conservative party has a record to be proud of in these matters.
I very much welcome the Government's decision to enhance community policing. Thousands of police have been put back on the beat. The neighbourhood watch, safer cities and urban crime fund initiatives have been a tremendous success. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) said earlier this evening, there are now more than 115,000 neighbourhood watch schemes, including many in Lichfield and Stone which I have the honour to represent.
The purpose of the reforms is clear: to devolve power away from the centre—not to centralise—down to the local police authorities and the local chief constable. It is surprising that Opposition Members who so often spout the rhetoric of devolution seem to oppose it when it is introduced. Perhaps even more important, the Bill once enacted will unshackle the police from huge amounts of paperwork and bureaucracy, freeing police officers to combat crime.
I have seen it myself at Lichfield police station. I am not the only hon. Member from Staffordshire—an Opposition Member spoke earlier—who has been on the beat with the police. I, too, have seen at Lichfield police station and elsewhere the huge sea of paperwork under which the police could drown. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to Inspector Colin Bailey, who is based at Lichfield police station in Frog lane and who has taken me on a number of police patrols in the area.
Paperwork can be damaging. As the writer Joe Orton once said, reading should not be an occupation that we encourage amongst police officers. I guess that the same goes for writing, too. Only three or four months ago, the Home Office provided guidelines to the police about how their paperwork could be reduced. That initiative is to be applauded.
The strengthening of the police authorities is an important step, particularly as the original proposals have been refined still further. The deepening of local accountability is a key feature. Police authorities will have a legal obligation to consult the local community about matters of importance. Opposition Members who have said that local authorities will not be accountable to local people are wrong. I argue that the police authorities will be more accountable as a result of the Bill.
Accountability is enhanced by the duty of the police authority to publish a local policing plan each year and to explain whether its objectives have been achieved. It is wrong that police objectives should be shrouded in secrecy as, to some extent, they have been in the past. This is not a centralising Bill just because the Home Secretary will have some say in local police authority affairs. I am sure that if Opposition Members were ever to get their hands on the police budget of £6 billion, even they would want to have some say in how the money was spent.
There has been inconsistency on the Opposition Benches. Earlier in the debate the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) said that the Bill was centralising power, but almost in the same breath he criticised the fact that the magistrates courts would be 183 given the freedom to provide contracts of employment. It seems to me that there is some dichotomy in what Opposition Members believe.
A further agreeable aspect of the proposed reform is the simplification of procedures for the amalgamation of police forces, with the appropriate checks and balances, so as to avoid wasting resources. I have seen for myself how neighbouring police forces use different vehicles and different telecommunications equipment which does not allow them to communicate with each other properly.
There seems to be some concern among Opposition Members when they speak about a national police force. I emphasise—it is made absolutely clear—that there are no plans at present for the amalgamation of two or more police forces. In any event, speaking as an individual and not on behalf of the party, I do not see what is wrong with the idea of a national police force. Hon. Members will recall that the police force was begun by Robert Peel on a local basis. [Interruption.] I am very pleased that I have finally woken up those on the Opposition Front Bench. The local police forces were set up to show their difference from the Army which had formerly undertaken policing. We have moved a long way since then. [Interruption.] I am honoured that the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng), compares me with my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor. I take that as a great compliment.
The amalgamation of police forces can be advantageous because buying in volume and having integrated systems must make for a major improvement. Nevertheless, we should take into account the views of the Police Federation on this point and ensure that there is adequate parliamentary scrutiny and possibly local inquiries if any local amalgamation is to take place.
The implementation of some important Sheehy proposals should do much to ease bureaucracy and streamline management. The abolition of the ranks of deputy chief constable and chief superintendent will allow chief constables to engage close to 3,000 extra police constables on the beat, if they so choose. I, for one, hope that they will choose to use their extra resources to put extra police on the beat.
Although this is an important and worthy aspect of the Bill, I nevertheless think that it is important that we recognise that there are those who have some genuine anxieties about certain parts of the Bill.
§ Mr. Gallie
My hon. Friend is talking about restructuring within the police force and perhaps disposing of ranks. Given the words of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) to the effect that there is no restructuring of the police force in Scotland, does he realise that that is contained in the Bill?
§ Mr. Fabricant
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. It displays yet again how Opposition Members are aggressive but their aggression is based on fallacy. Chief police officers—including the chief constable of the Staffordshire police, Charles Kelly—are concerned that the abolition of ranks will enhance operational difficulties rather than diminish them. The Association of Chief Police Officers may have a point when it states:Removal of the Chief Superintendent and Chief Inspector ranks—we now know that the chief inspector rank will not be removed— 184could lead to an informal rank structure which could give rise to the formation of 'Seniors' and 'Juniors' within the remaining ranks.It is feared the loss of clarity could seriously compromise efficiency in certain situations particularly in instances of spontaneous public disorder and major disasters which require instant response and do not allow for pre-planning.Nevertheless, I have worked in organisations where there were far too many chiefs and not enough Indians, and I remain to be convinced by the arguments presented by the Association of Chief Police Officers, especially now that the Home Secretary has made this major and important concession.
Junior ranks, too, are concerned about the new disciplinary procedure. The Police Federation made the valid point, which has been mentioned by hon. Members of all parties, that safeguards are needed in relation to disciplinary procedures. It correctly said that police officers are in a "monopoly employment situation"—if they are dismissed, they lose the right to practise their profession.
I therefore fully accept that it is important that, when police officers are accused of alleged misdemeanours, there are high procedural standards. They should include the right to cross-examine witnesses and have legal representation. The Police Federation states:Policing in the United Kingdom is normally conducted by officers acting alone and if the burden of proof and the procedural standards required to prove disciplinary allegations are reduced to that of ordinary employment law, police officers will be reluctant to act knowing that a complaint, perhaps corroborated by some other ill-disposed person, could quite easily lead to a loss of livelihood.That point has also been taken on board, thus proving the flexibility of the Home Office and its ability to listen.
The vast majority of our police offer a first-rate and excellent service and do not deserve to have the weight of the law unfairly balanced against them, in the form of disciplinary procedures.
My near neighbour, the hon. Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Dr. Wright), made great play of clause 23, which deals with the acceptance of gifts and loans. He spoke at great length about companies such as McDonald's possibly sponsoring police cars and so on. SPACE—the Staffordshire Police Activity and Community Enterprise —is an excellent initiative introduced by the Staffordshire police. It helps to look after children during the summer recess. I would argue that it could well do with sponsorship, which would enable resources to be put back into policing on the streets.
I have travelled and lived all over the world, but I believe that our police force is second to none. It carries out its duties admirably. In true Peelite spirit, the Bill will do much to modernise the force and equip it for the 21st century. As with any major reform, there are bound to be anxieties but, as he has shown with his alterations to the original Bill, I am sure that the Home Secretary will take any apprehensions on board. We would do well to remember Gilbert and Sullivan's warning:When constabulary duty's to be done, A policeman's lot is not a happy one".That is sometimes the case even in Staffordshire.
§ 9.1 pm
§ Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South)
I now know why this is called Second Reading. I thought that I had heard that speech before and then I realised that it resembled J. 185 Arthur Rank's "Look at Life" series from the 1960s—both offered an idealised version of what was happening in the world.
I am deeply offended by the hon. Members who try to make political capital out of any divisions within the Labour party or of our supposedly being anti-police. Having watched at first hand the party that is supposed to be the party of defence and of law and order, I suggest that we should not be regarded with such disrespect. I say that because the police are in a critical period: the police, private security, the non-Home Department police forces, the military and all the organisations that have a responsibility for policing and security are uncertain about their future.
In the past few years, we have had a royal commission, a White Paper, nonsensical speeches at party conferences and legislation, but I do not believe that the police are any nearer being able to resolve the problems that they need to resolve in order to tackle crime effectively. The Bill will not take them any further down that road.
The Home Office and the Government need to demonstrate a degree of imagination in defining policing in the next five or six years, and in defining the relationship between the police and the private sector. The most important activity undertaken by the Home Office has nothing to do with the Bill. I should have liked the Bill to be postponed until the internal inquiry into core responsibilities has been published because that will determine the nature of policing in the years ahead, the size and functions of the police force, and what functions will be handed to or usurped by the private sector. Some serious analysis is required but the Bill does not provide it.
We have heard some remarkable examples of Toryspeak. The climbdown in the House of Lords is described as a great piece of statesmanship, in the same way as I suppose a full-blooded and fast retreat could be described as a tactical regrouping.
The other great piece of Toryspeak is, "We are the party of law and order." The Tories need not look far in their own constituencies to find out about the perception of crime, and regrettably the reality of crime is coming closer and closer to the perception. People are extremely anxious, and if the Bill is to reassure them, the Government will have to re-examine it much more closely.
There may be a return to basics, but regrettably we are returning almost to the basics of the pre-1830s, before the modern police force and modern municipal government were established. As has already been said, in those days policing was the responsibility not of the police force but of the watches or of the military. Otherwise there was self-protection. Then the police and municipal government were established, and our system for 140 years or so has rested on them.
Now we are reverting to a position in which the private sector will have a greater role than the official sector of policing. I am sorry to bore the Minister further on that subject, but if the private sector is to be expanded, as has happened exponentially over the past 10 years, the minimum that the Government must do is to bring it within the framework of regulation.
The Bill, far from being a decentralising measure, is in some ways a piece of centralising legislation. It is not quite as bad as it was before it went to the House of Lords—I 186 congratulate the other place on having done a good job on it—and we should bear that fact in mind. But the Bill is still centralising.
I do not like the idea of force amalgamations, or of the reform of the police boards; it will still be possible to pack a committee. I do not like the idea of what will happen to the town that I represent. Until 20 years ago it had a close and complete relationship with the police force and with the watch committee—in other words, with the "controlling element". Now we are not certain that we shall have even one member on the new police authority. I believe that in Manchester there will be more members available than there will be places, so we are going in the reverse direction, away from local accountability. That is greatly to be regretted.
I should like to speak at greater length, but time does not permit. The Government have got it wrong. Some of the deficiencies in the Bill have been partially remedied, and I hope that in Committee the Government do not take the opportunity to reinsert some of the more obnoxious features that have received universal criticism. I can think of few Bills, even among those introduced by the Government, that have attracted so much criticism. I also have considerable criticisms of the sections dealing with magistrates courts, on which we have all been lobbied.
We have heard much about the Government consisting of "listening Ministers". I have recently been reading about the rise of Chartism, and one of its demands—annually elected Parliaments—has still not been achieved. However, 120 years later we have annually appointed Home Secretaries. Perhaps some degree of stability could be introduced if the people who make the initial decisions were around to try to implement them.
I hope that the Committee will do a good job of work, and that the Act that emerges from the House will strengthen the law. I repeat my request that the people in the Home Office should have a little vision, and should look further than the end of their noses, and further than what might happen next week or next month. I ask them to look at the future shape of policing and security. That is imperative, and I hope that the Home Office will meet the challenge.
§ 9.8 pm
§ Sir Roger Moate (Faversham)
May I concentrate for a few moments on the part of the Bill that deals with the reorganisation of the administration of Her Majesty's magistrates courts? While I thank my hon. Friend the Minister and the Lord Chancellor for the courteous way in which they have received representations from me and others, they will not be surprised to know that I view that part of the Bill with something less than enthusiasm.
I must make it clear that, if there was evidence of great inefficiency in the system, or evidence of something fundamentally wrong, or evidence of wastage, I would certainly support fundamental reform of the magistrates court system. However, I do not believe that there is any such evidence at all. I must put on record the fact that this otherwise excellent Bill would be no worse, and would probably be much better, if the whole section on magistrates courts were to disappear altogether. It does not add very much to the sum total of the administration of justice.
Of course, one is not saying that there is not some inefficiency and some wastage. Even allowing for the 187 possibility of that, one must balance any such costs against the enormous saving that our society makes from the remarkable system of voluntary justice that we enjoy in this country.
It is a remarkable system in which so many thousands of people give service of the highest order freely and generously and handle—I forget the exact figures—90 or 95 per cent. of cases brought before our courts. Against minor inefficiencies, one must balance those enormous advantages to our society of the present voluntary system. When we seek to impose new criteria, cash limits, performance indicators, amalgamation and business plans, let us be careful that we are not discouraging those who have given—and we hope will give in future—service of that high order.
What is clear to me, and what motivates my criticism, is that the closure of local magistrates courts in many towns and rural areas—it has certainly happened in Kent, and is likely to continue throughout the country—undermines what I believe to be, and what most people perceive as, truly local justice. It leads to the undermining of the magistracy. I am not saying that there is a hidden agenda for the closure of courts. It is a very open agenda, certainly in Kent, where plans have become widely known and a number of courts are lined up for closure, and I have no doubt that what is applying in Kent is likely to apply throughout the length and breadth of the country.
If there should be any doubt, we were informed in a note from the Justices' Clerks Society that, in the briefing paper prepared by the Lord Chancellor's Department for the Select Committee, the suggestion was made that the Lord Chancellor could, under clause 66,'specify a minimum level of courtroom use—.The clerks go on to say:This could lead to the widespread closure of local courts and courts offices. One of the effects of smaller towns losing their magistrates courts will be, particularly in rural areas, a loss of the availability of fair justice to defendants who may have difficulty reaching a distant court. Witnesses also will be deterred from attending".What that means in plain English is the closure of smaller courthouses, not only through the effects of the Bill, but through the effects of the Bill coupled with the cash limits that the Lord Chancellor's Department has already been applying. If one combines those supposedly more efficient and businesslike structures with cash limits, the threat to the smaller courthouses arises.
It is not only that the Bill will create new chief executives—the term applied to justices' chief clerks—of newly amalgamated committees that alarms me. Those chief executives can, and I hope will, be made fully answerable to the magistrates courts committees in their areas. What is alarming is that those committees will in practice—perhaps not in theory—be impotent in the face of a more professional chief executive, whose principal job is to administer the cash, which is provided under cash limits by the Government in conformity with performance indicators laid down by the Government.
Mr. John M. Taylor
I am well aware of my hon. Friend's long and strongly held views on those matters, but is it not trespassing slightly into an area which would demean our magistrates to suggest that they would be powerless in the face of a clerk? I hold a much higher opinion of magistrates than that.
§ Sir Roger Moate
We all have a high opinion of magistrates, but this is a very serious point, to which I hope 188 we shall return in Committee and on Report. I believe that I am right and that my hon. Friend is wrong. We have been over this ground before.
The difficulty is that, as a result of clerk and cash limits, the magistrates, however powerful and determined, will face the closure of some smaller courts. This is not hypothetical; it has already happened in my county, and I believe that it is likely to continue.
I am not saying that the problem is insoluble; I am making the point that we shall have to face up to it. The result of the legislation will be the closure, over the years, of many courthouses throughout the country.
Court closures often take place one at a time. When I want to object to a closure in my constituency, other people are not worried about closures in their areas. As the process is piecemeal, the House never gets to grips with what is a very significant change in society. Indeed, Members of Parliament often do not have the right to object as cases do not even reach the Lord Chancellor.
This is a very serious problem. A courthouse in Faversham that had been going for many hundreds of years—it housed one of the oldest benches in the country: a small and very efficient and cost-effective court—was closed down. We could not object, as Kent county council —the local authority paying 20 per cent. of its costs—did not object.
This is something for which I do not forgive the county council. Had the matter gone to the Minister, he might have reversed the decision. In my view, this will happen increasingly as we move into the whole new era of cash limits based on certain very rigid criteria, some of which I still think are rather peculiar, and the new structure.
What will happen under local government reorganisation? Who will have the right to object to a closure? At present, we do not know. Who will then contribute the balance of the costs of the magistrates courts? Again, we do not know. Would it not be sensible to wait for local government reorganisation before embarking on this restructuring of the magistrates courts committees?
We ought to require simply that every magistrates court closure is automatically referred to the Lord Chancellor. That would not be a very great change. I hope that there will not be many such proposals, and that we shall learn to resist those that are made. I should like to have it confirmed, preferably in the legislation, that there will not be high pressure for amalgamations. I cannot see great reason for amalgamation on the scale that is envisaged, resulting in a drop from 100 magistrates courts committees to 50 or 60.
Most important of all, as we embark on this new era, is that we should get rid of the formula—which I think has been suspended—that imposes on magistrates courts committees throughout the country certain performance requirements that do not make sense. It does not make sense for central Government to say, "This is the total available cash, and we shall reallocate it county by county, taking from some areas and giving to others where there is probably no need or no crying need, and disregarding history and the number of small towns, as well as the number of small local courts."
We have been in danger of centralising. No doubt the motive was good: the aim was to secure efficient justice and financial savings. However, I believe that we got it wrong. Thus, I hope that, in Committee and on Report, we shall have a chance of putting the situation right. I hope 189 that my hon. Friend will not resist those opportunities, but will respond to the many representations that he has received from hon. Members and from people outside.
§ Mr. Paul Boateng (Brent, South)
This unappealing and unacceptable Bill was introduced by the Home Secretary in his customary way—cynicism, complacency and calculation in large and equal measure. There was cynicism in the rationale which he applied in justification of the measure. There was complacency in the face of its manifest failure to deal with real concerns about crime and the administration of justice. There was calculation because at the heart of all that the right hon. and learned Gentleman does is not the interests of justice, not the proper and real concerns that need to be addressed about crime, but a cynical calculation of his political future.
Those of us who listened to all the speeches during the debate will have noted that the most striking feature was that only two Conservative Members could be found to give unequivocal support to the Bill. I refer to the hon. Members for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown) and for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant). That says that all that needs to be said about the merits of the Bill.
§ Mr. Boateng
All that the Government could dredge up was, as I have said, the hon. Members for Cirencester and Tewkesbury and for Mid-Staffordshire.
§ Mr. Boateng
I am the last to say anything in response to the barracking about that order, but at least I know the origins of my nose.
I listened to the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway). It was a memorable speech in its way, but even in that there was a moment of concern or doubt—I am glad that he is now in his place—about the proposals for the special role of the lords lieutenant. Of all the things to find wrong with this measure and of all the agonies to be shared with the House, the hon. Gentleman was able to find one concern, which was the slight withdrawal of the importance and status of the role of lords lieutenant.
Such is the world in which some Conservative Members live. It is one far removed from reality, from the real concerns about crime and crime prevention. There are real concerns about the deplorable morale in magistrates courts and in the administration of justice generally.
Some important points were made by the hon. Members for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims), for Reading, West (Sir A. Durant), for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby), for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) and for Faversham (Sir R. Moate). There did not seem to be an unequivocal welcome from those hon. Members for the Bill. There seemed to be some concern.
190 I fear for the hon. Member for Faversham, who made an important and serious speech. He expressed the desire that certain matters would be raised in Committee. I saw the expression on the faces of the silent ones who sit on the Treasury Bench. Expressions of concern may well be made in Committee, but they will not, I fear, be made by the hon. Member for Faversham. The reality is—
§ Sir Roger Moate
I referred to consideration on Report. I have no particular ambition to serve in Committee.
§ Mr. Boateng
The hon. Member has been a Member of this place for a long time—for much longer than I—and he clearly knows the way it works.
The Home Secretary was only too anxious to share with us the anticipation of the contribution of the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department. The right hon. and learned Gentleman was only too anxious to palm off on him the difficult issues and the real concerns—
§ Mr. Boateng
Indeed. The Parliamentary Secretary will drink deep of that draught. He has been anticipating the drop for some time. That is surprising, bearing in mind his experience and position. He knows that there is widespread concern throughout the country and on both sides of the House about the provisions on reorganising magistrates courts. That is not surprising, given the measures in the Bill.
The Bill is a battered edifice. It was knocked about quite a bit in the course of its introduction in the House of Lords. The Home Secretary and his noble and learned Friend may rue the day that the measure was introduced there, because the robustness of mind in the other place has long since been quelled on the Conservative Benches.
The octogenarian tendency in the other place shows remarkable signs of life, and great spirit. We owe Members of the House of Lords a debt of gratitude, and we do not intend to let them down. The Bill was assaulted on both sides of the House. Although some of its edges were knocked off, and it was made a little smoother in parts, it remains an obstacle to the proper administration of justice, which is why we shall oppose it.
The Bill represents, in so obvious a form, the twin pinnacles of Toryism, on this and many other issues. The first pinnacle is the Tories' adulation of market forces and belief that the rules and disciplines of the market should be applied wherever possible. That is their approach to all issues. The second pinnacle is their obsession with centralisation, and loathing of local administration.
§ Mr. Boateng
The hon. Lady has only just manifested herself in the Chamber. Her comment accords neither with what Ministers have said in this debate so far nor with the lip service which the Home Secretary has paid to the notion of local accountability. I expect that the Parliamentary Secretary will rise to his feet and say how much the Lord Chancellor supports the input of local magistrates courts committees. The reality, however, is different.
Let us see what is left now that the other place has had a go at this edifice. The power to remove directions to a 191 magistrates courts committee remains, as does the power to remove the chairman and members of a magistrates courts committee and replace them with appointees.
We are discussing not just the two co-opted persons —the Lord Chancellor's placepersons—who will have all the necessary qualifications required to be the placepersons of any Minister in this House: they will be paid-up members of the Tory party, preferably the spouse of a Conservative Member. There will doubtless be plenty of willing nominees for that post.
We are discussing not just the power to co-opt but the power, in certain circumstances, to replace the magistrates courts committees entirely by people who are not even justices of the peace. That is an incredible power, when one considers its constitutional implications.
The Bill still contains the power not to approve candidates for the post of justices' chief executive and justices' clerk. Then there are the powers of the inspectorate, and the indirect monitoring of justices' clerks by the chief executive. All those aspects remain intact, despite the amendments in another place, which were eventually accepted—although initially opposed—by the Lord Chancellor.
§ Mr. Mackinlay
What my hon. Friend describes must be seen against a backdrop of the growing concern, in this House and especially in another place, about the power of the Lord Chancellor and his office. Is there not widespread concern about the politicisation of his duties in administering justice, and is there not a case for a root-and-branch review of his roles, in respect both of the magistracy and of the administration of justice generally? Is my hon. Friend aware that their Lordships are holding a debate on that very point tomorrow evening?
§ Mr. Boateng
My hon. Friend has tabled a number of important questions in the House, and I know that the Lord Chancellor has met him to discuss his concern about the latter's role in relation to the late president of the Employment Appeals Tribunal, and the real concerns among the judiciary and the public alike about the fact that the Lord Chancellor is being given powers that lie outside his proper judicial functions.
It will therefore not be good enough if the Parliamentary Secretary dismisses as unworthy of consideration the idea that the Lord Chancellor might be tempted to misuse the considerable powers that this Bill will give him. Moreover, there are real anxieties about the extent to which the Treasury has its dead hand on the administration of justice. Increasingly, the Lord Chancellor is becoming the agent of the Treasury in matters of justice.
These are not fanciful notions; they are a real reflection of the worries expressed by Lord Ackner, a former Lord of Appeal in Ordinary, who has referred to the role of the Treasury and how it works against the interests of justice. He has also talked of the importance of the Lord Chancellor being a bulwark against this encroaching tendency.
In the House of Commons, we suffer from the fact that we do not have the Lord Chancellor before us: we have only his Parliamentary Secretary. Fond though we are of him, the Lord Chancellor's valet is no substitute for his own presence. [HoN. MEMBERS: "His batman."] I did not use that word, because it would imply that there was a Robin—and he does not even have that. He does not even have someone to sit behind him—
§ Mr. Boateng
No, we have heard more than enough from the hon. Lady. This is not the place for her strictures on the bomb or the family. We are concerned here with the administration of justice.
Concerns have been expressed by no less a body than the Justices' Clerks Society, which has no political axe to grind. The Home Secretary cannot suggest that it is in the vanguard of revolution—a body subverted by the Labour party and used for our own political purposes. The society has a legitimate professional interest in the proper administration of justice.
That body and the Magistrates Association, a body of the utmost respectability, say on behalf of their members that they are concerned about the powers on amalgamation, and we look forward to some assurances from the Minister on that issue.
It is interesting to note the way in which the two parts of the Bill reflect the centralising and anti-democratic tendencies of the Conservative party. The Lord Chancellor will have power to amalgamate magistrates courts committees and petty sessional areas. Not only will there not be a local inquiry before that happens, but there will not even be an opportunity for magistrates courts committees to express a need or desire for amalgamation. It can be imposed willy-nilly.
How many magistrates courts committees are for the chop? Concerns have been expressed on all sides by hon. Members who have a particular regard for the work carried out in their areas. My hon. Friends the Members for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones), for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham), for Walsall, South (Mr. George) and for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) all reflected the concerns that have been expressed by me and by my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield, (Mr. Blair) about this power. How many committees do the Government have in mind to be left at the end of the day? Will there be 50 or 60, or fewer than that? What criteria will be applied in choosing?
The Lord Chancellor will have power to issue directives. What criteria will he apply before issuing them? Will they relate to the quality of justice or will there be a cost-cutting exercise? Will there be a gradual and steady encroachment by the private sector on the administration of justice?
The hon. Member for Faversham was wrong about that, because it is part of the hidden agenda. We are debating the privatisation of justice, and my hon. Friend the Member for Warwickshire, North (Mr. O'Brien) rightly expressed the concern of his constituents and the Police Federation about that.
Those of us who have had anything to do with the administration of justice and policing appreciate the importance of the establishment of local priorities. I make no bones about declaring my interest as a practising barrister, and declaring that we need to preserve that local accountability. We must also preserve the judicial independence which ensures that the functions of the magistrates and the court clerks are not usurped by a centralising force that has the interests of the Treasury at heart. We want cast-iron guarantees on that.
It would not be right to accept the palliative in clause 71, and it is not accepted by many of those who have good reason to know and to be concerned about the current state of morale among magistrates, their clerks and the communities they serve. They do not accept the assurances 193 that were given by the noble and learned Lord in the other place. We shall not accept them either when they are parroted tonight by the Parliamentary Secretary. We want an assurance in clear and unequivocal terms that the Parliamentary Secretary will be prepared to accept a strengthening of that provision, so that judicial independence—the integrity of the system—is preserved.
There is a favourite word—one of those buzz words or market words—that has been imported by the Tories into the administration of justice. It is the notion of a stakeholder. That is what they teach, and that is what will be peddled by the chief executive in his role envisaged by the Bill—the notion that they are stakeholders in the administration of justice.
They believe that the main stakeholder is the Treasury, the people who pay the bill, the Government Department responsible for the money. We do not accept that. We do not believe that Treasury considerations should predominate over the interests of justice. There is one stakeholder in the administration of justice: the citizen—each and every one of us. The citizens, together as a community, demand that the administration of justice be protected; they demand that it be independent and secured.
We intend, in the course of our opposition to the measure tonight and in the weeks that lie ahead in Committee, to make sure that the administration of justice is secured, its independence is maintained, and its integrity upheld.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Mr. John M. Taylor)
My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson), in an excellent speech, asked me two questions and I will answer him. My hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims), who has kept me so scrupulously posted regarding the anxieties of outer London magistrates, asked me a question and I will answer him. My hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) was as robust and listenable as ever, as indeed was my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown) and I shall pass on what he said about policing in Gloucestershire.
My hon. Friends representing police interests as well as their constituents did so most effectively and my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) got the point entirely about devolved powers and the local plan. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and I are grateful to all those and others, too.
My hon Friend the Member for Faversham (Sir R. Moate) recorded his strongly held views about magistrates. I assure him that I am a keen student of the final Adjournment debate of the last Parliament when he discussed these issues in the context of his local magistrates court.
My hon. Friend was right to say that 94 per cent. of criminal justice in Britain is dispensed by magistrates. Frankly, it is the jewel in the crown of the British judicial system. That we should have 94 per cent. of criminal justice dispensed by a peer group on a voluntary basis is a miracle. Nobody writing a written constitution would dream of presuming that, and we often forget to say thank you to our magistrates who provide that service.
194 The Bill confirms control of magistrates' administrative function where it should be: in the local magistrates courts committee. Any attempt to represent the proposals otherwise is fanciful. Anyone who does so cannot have read the Bill. In those terms, I reject the main drift of the comments of the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng).
We have heard a wide range of views from all parts of the House about the Bill. I shall not attempt to respond to every point. We shall have further opportunity to consider the Bill in detail, but I want to reply to some of the most important points raised.
I shall address first the points made on the parts of the Bill containing the provisions affecting the police. It has been suggested that the Bill will centralise control over the police. The opposite is true. The Bill gives greater responsibility to local police authorities and their local police forces. The Bill abolishes central Government controls over manpower numbers and all but the largest items of capital expenditure. It gives greater freedom to chief constables to manage the resources available to meet local needs.
The Bill makes clear the way in which the chief constable will be held to account by the local police authority, and the way in which the local police authority must account to local people for the quality of the service that the force provides.
It has also been suggested that the proposals in the Bill are unnecessary or irrelevant to fighting crime, or that they are damaging to the police service. That is also untrue. The Bill will ensure that we have the right statutory framework for effective and efficient policing.
The key changes in the Bill are essential if we want to have the best possible police service in the 21st century. It will create strong, independent local police authorities; greater freedom for chief constables to manage their forces; a clear framework for setting priorities and measuring performance; a new funding system and a strong inspectorate; and it will pave the way for better personnel management and discipline procedures—for a start.
§ Mr. Worthington
Will the Minister now do what the Home Secretary did not do and explain how the Bill applies to Scotland and justify it in the Scottish context, and do that now?
Gladly. The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) and the hon. Gentleman mentioned the Scottish part of the Bill. The Scottish provisions mainly cover issues that are dealt with on a Great Britain basis, such as rank structure and conditions of service. Therefore, it is appropriate for them to be included in a Great Britain Bill. [Interruption.] I must press on because time is limited, as I am sure hon. Members will understand.
The changes proposed will result in a police service which is better able to respond to what the public want because it is better organised and better run. By making accountability clearer, local people will be better able to see how well their local police are performing and whether they are meeting the needs of local communities. The Bill will help police forces to focus their efforts more effectively on those things that are of greatest public 195 concern. Together with the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill, the Bill represents the most significant assault upon crime by any Government for many years.
It has been claimed that there was no consultation before the Bill was introduced. That simply is not the case. There was a full and open public debate about the future of the police service for more than a year before the Bill was introduced. The issues that the Bill addresses go back several years before that.
§ Mr. Bermingham
Will the hon. Gentleman, in a moment of sanity, tell me what the Bill does to improve the efficiency of the police force or to aid the prevention of crime?
I have been telling the hon. Gentleman all that. Furthermore, the Bill improves structures, the career of policemen and accountability, and it makes for greater clarification, more local contact and more transparency. That is just a few of the things that it does.
Another suggestion tonight has been that national and local objectives together with local policing plans will interfere with operational independence. But let me reassure the House that nothing in the Bill compromises the operational independence of the chief constable. Clause 5 reproduces the provisions of the 1964 Act, which states that the forceshall be under the direction and control of the chief constable".The Bill increases his responsibility for running the farce. Central controls over manpower numbers are abolished and clause 10 makes it clear that all civilian staff who work in support of the force are also to be under his direction and control.
Police authorities and the Home Secretary have always influenced policing. It is essential for the accountability of the police service that they should. It would be absurd to argue that a chief constable should not have regard to the publicly expressed opinions of his police authority and the Home Secretary. The Bill will make clear, open and public the way in which the chief constable will be held to account. The principles of greater openness and effective accountability are as important here as they are in any other part of the public sector.
The procedures for the selection of independent members of police authorities have been ridiculed in some quarters. However, it is now widely accepted that there should be a substantial independent presence in local police authorities. That will ensure that there is an opportunity for people from all walks of life to make a contribution. It will allow people with relevant skills or expertise to serve, without first requiring them to be local councillors or to sit on the magistrates bench. We need a procedure that allows them to be appointed, while ensuring that they are independent and not subject to any form of political patronage, whether from central or local government. That is what the Bill's selection procedures will achieve.
My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) asked what sort of people will be appointed to police authorities. We expect the authorities to appoint people from all walks of life who have valuable skills.
The Home Secretary will remain the Metropolitan police authority, safeguarding the national interest in the Met's work, and fully accountable to Parliament. For the Met, as explained in the White Paper, we are establishing 196 a new and non-political body, outside the Home Office, to help the Home Secretary and Londoners to get the best from the reforms in London.
My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge also asked whether there should be a quota of councillors or other members on the Metropolitan police committee. It will be an advisory body, with 12 members selected for their individual skills and ability to help the Home Secretary to hold the commissioner to account—not as representatives of any particular organisation or group.
On the subject of chief constables, we fully appreciate the need to ensure that there are safeguards to prevent any police authority from acting capriciously. Those safeguards are likely to include a requirement for it to be clear at the outset whether the expectation is renewal, non-renewal or open competition—and a requirement to make it clear at the outset on what grounds decisions about renewal will be taken. The details of the new arrangements are currently under discussion with the Association of Chief Police Officers. In due course any regulations will be subject to consultation in the Police Advisory Board.
It has been suggested that there is no need to change procedures if there are no plans for police force amalgamation. It is important to realise that the Bill will lay the basis of policing for many years to come. It is sensible to allow for the possibility that in future it may be in the interests of police efficiency or effectiveness to alter existing police force boundaries. That is the purpose of the new procedures in the Bill.
The existing procedures are cumbersome and involve unnecessary delay and expense, which would be detrimental to the quality of policing. The experience of the 1960s shows that, under existing procedures, changes can take two or three years to implement. The new procedures in the Bill provide a full opportunity for any proposals for change to be considered, interested parties to raise objections and any proposals to be subject to approval by Parliament.
The hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) asked what are the Government's intentions for the police authority in Northern Ireland. The Bill's Northern Ireland provisions make no change to the role of the police authority. In late March, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland published a consultation paper that set out views on the improvements necessary to clarify roles, responsibilities and lines of accountability within the structure of policing within Northern Ireland. Responses are invited by 31 May. We would not expect to bring forward provisions on that issue in this Bill.
The hon. Member for Upper Bann asked why police discipline in Northern Ireland is not included in the Bill. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State published a consultation paper on police discipline procedures and is considering the responses. Future legislation will be necessary to implement any changes and we would not expect to include such provisions in the Bill.
Part IV contains provisions relating to the magistrates courts service in England and Wales.
§ Mr. Maclennan
In respect of part II, which deals with Scotland, the Minister has sought to justify a United Kingdom Bill on the grounds that it deals with matters such as ranks on a United Kingdom basis. But the whole of part II amends Scottish legislation, the Police (Scotland) Act 197 1967. Does he realise that he is acting in a matter that will be widely regarded as unconstitutional and inappropriate in Scotland?
I have seldom been rebuked with that degree of vehemence. I referred to the Scottish issues earlier, by request.
A number of hon. Members expressed concern at the provision in clause 62 which enables the Lord Chancellor to initiate the amalgamation of magistrates courts committee areas. The White Paper, "A New Framework for Local Justice", announced the Government's intention of reducing the number of magistrates courts committees to achieve the right balance between operational needs and maintaining the local nature of the service. It was quickly apparent that many committees found it difficult to plan their future in the light of it, because they did not, and could not, know whether they were to remain as they were or be amalgamated.
Later, in 1992, on the basis of criteria for the appropriate minimum size for a committee area—criteria on which negotiations took place—the Lord Chancellor invited committees to make proposals on how the reduction in the number of separate areas could be effected. On the basis of those recommendations, he reached a number of conclusions on where the amalgamations might take place.
The Lord Chancellor has made it clear that amalgamation of magistrates courts committee areas would be contemplated only if it was in the best interests of the service. That is reflected on the face of the Bill in clause 62(4). However, he has made it equally clear that he would not require amalgamation if the improvement in service that would flow from it could be achieved in other ways. The magistrates courts in outer London have been keen to explore that option. Their representative—the outer London action group—has met my officials on a number of occasions and has developed proposals, which have not yet been seen or discussed.
The White Paper, which the hon. Gentleman will have read, anticipated that the number of magistrates courts committees would come down from the present 105 to something in the order of 50 to 60—[Interruption.] It is in the White Paper. It has been out for two years. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has read it.
The progress of and approach to those discussions have attracted the approval of the outer London action group. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that those discussions have been sensitive. I did not wish to debate them before the courts in outer London had knowledge of them. The Lord Chancellor and I are confident that we are well on course to provide for outer London a scheme that should deliver the benefits of a larger administrative base without the amalgamation of committee areas. I shall report further developments to the House as the Bill progresses, and especially to my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst.
§ Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones
The Minister will recall that I challenged the Home Secretary on the provisions of clause 198 66. Will he now tell the House whether the provisions in that clause make it more or less likely that rural magistrates courts will close?
Any decision about closure of a magistrates court—this may come as a surprise to the hon. Gentleman—is made locally by the magistrates courts committee. The Lord Chancellor has no locus in it.
Part IV contains provisions to bring up to date the administrative structure of the magistrates courts service. Such reform is well overdue. The reforms will better enable the service to deal with the challenge that it faces now and in the future without losing its essential nature as a local service in which the key management decisions are taken locally by local magistrates themselves. In that way, I believe that the magistrates courts, which have a long and proud history of public service, will continue that service in a secure and well-managed way.
The Bill—both the parts that deal with the police and those that deal with the magistrates courts—has a unified theme. Its purpose is to improve the management and organisation of the public services that play a key part in the fight against crime, so that they can provide the public with a better service. Together with the provisions in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill, it represents the most significant assault on crime by any Government for many years. I commend it to the House.
§ Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 290, Noes 247.201
|Division No. 219]||[10 pm|
|Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey)||Butler, Peter|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)||Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry)|
|Allason, Rupert (Torbay)||Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)|
|Amess, David||Carrington, Matthew|
|Ancram, Michael||Carttiss, Michael|
|Arbuthnot, James||Cash, William|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Chapman, Sydney|
|Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)||Churchill, Mr|
|Ashby, David||Clappison, James|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)|
|Atkins, Robert||Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey|
|Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E)||Coe, Sebastian|
|Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)||Congdon, David|
|Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)||Conway, Derek|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North)||Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)|
|Baldry, Tony||Coombs, Simon (Swindon)|
|Banks, Matthew (Southport)||Cope, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Banks, Robert (Harrogate)||Cormack, Patrick|
|Batiste, Spencer||Couchman, James|
|Bendall, Vivian||Cran, James|
|Beresford, Sir Paul||Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Davies, Quentin (Stamford)|
|Body, Sir Richard||Davis, David (Boothferry)|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Day, Stephen|
|Booth, Hartley||Deva, Nirj Joseph|
|Boswell, Tim||Devlin, Tim|
|Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)||Dickens, Geoffrey|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia||Dicks, Terry|
|Bowden, Andrew||Dorrell, Stephen|
|Bowis, John||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James|
|Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes||Dover, Den|
|Brandreth, Gyles||Duncan, Alan|
|Brazier, Julian||Duncan-Smith, Iain|
|Bright, Graham||Durant, Sir Anthony|
|Brooke, Rt Hon Peter||Eggar, Tim|
|Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)||Elletson, Harold|
|Browning, Mrs. Angela||Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter|
|Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)||Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)|
|Budgen, Nicholas||Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)|
|Burns, Simon||Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)|
|Burt, Alistair||Evans, Roger (Monmouth)|
|Evennett, David||Lilley, Rt Hon Peter|
|Faber, David||Lloyd, Rt Hon Peter (Fareham)|
|Fabricant, Michael||Lord, Michael|
|Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas||Luff, Peter|
|Fenner, Dame Peggy||Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas|
|Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)||MacGregor, Rt Hon John|
|Fishburn, Dudley||MacKay, Andrew|
|Forman, Nigel||Maclean, David|
|Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)||McLoughlin, Patrick|
|Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S)||McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick|
|Forth, Eric||Madel, Sir David|
|Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman||Maitland, Lady Olga|
|Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)||Major, Rt Hon John|
|Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)||Malone, Gerald|
|Freeman, Rt Hon Roger||Mans, Keith|
|French, Douglas||Marland, Paul|
|Fry, Sir Peter||Marlow, Tony|
|Gallie, Phil||Marshall, John (Hendon S)|
|Gardiner, Sir George||Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)|
|Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan||Martin, David (Portsmouth S)|
|Garnier, Edward||Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian|
|Gill, Christopher||Mellor, Rt Hon David|
|Gillan, Cheryl||Merchant, Piers|
|Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair||Mills, Iain|
|Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles||Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)|
|Gorman, Mrs Teresa||Moate, Sir Roger|
|Gorst, John||Molyneaux, Rt Hon James|
|Grant, Sir A. (Cambs SW)||Monro, Sir Hector|
|Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)||Montgomery, Sir Fergus|
|Greenway, John (Ryedale)||Neubert, Sir Michael|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)||Newton, Rt Hon Tony|
|Grylls, Sir Michael||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn||Nicholson, David (Taunton)|
|Hague, William||Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)|
|Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie||Norris, Steve|
|Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)||Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley|
|Hampson, Dr Keith||Oppenheim, Phillip|
|Hanley, Jeremy||Ottaway, Richard|
|Hannam, Sir John||Page, Richard|
|Hargreaves, Andrew||Paice, James|
|Harris, David||Patnick, Irvine|
|Hawksley, Warren||Patten, Rt Hon John|
|Heathcoat-Amory, David||Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey|
|Hendry, Charles||Pawsey, James|
|Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael||Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth|
|Hicks, Robert||Pickles, Eric|
|Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence L.||Porter, David (Waveney)|
|Hill, James (Southampton Test)||Portillo, Rt Hon Michael|
|Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham)||Rathbone, Tim|
|Horam, John||Redwood, Rt Hon John|
|Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Renton, Rt Hon Tim|
|Howard, Rt Hon Michael||Richards, Rod|
|Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)||Rifkind, Rt Hon. Malcolm|
|Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk)||Robathan, Andrew|
|Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W)||Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn|
|Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)||Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)|
|Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)||Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)|
|Hunter, Andrew||Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)|
|Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas||Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela|
|Jack, Michael||Ryder, Rt Hon Richard|
|Jenkin, Bernard||Sackville, Tom|
|Jessel, Toby||Sainsbury, Rt Hon Tim|
|Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey||Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)||Shaw, David (Dover)|
|Jones, Robert B. (W Hertfdshr)||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Jopling, Rt Hon Michael||Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)|
|Key, Robert||Shersby, Michael|
|Kilfedder, Sir James||Sims, Roger|
|Knapman, Roger||Skeet, Sir Trevor|
|Knight, Greg (Derby N)||Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)|
|Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)||Soames, Nicholas|
|Knox, Sir David||Speed, Sir Keith|
|Kynoch, George (Kincardine)||Spencer, Sir Derek|
|Lamont, Rt Hon Norman||Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)|
|Lang, Rt Hon Ian||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Legg, Barry||Spink, Dr Robert|
|Leigh, Edward||Spring, Richard|
|Lennox-Boyd, Mark||Sproat, Iain|
|Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)||Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)|
|Lidington, David||Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Steen, Anthony||Viggers, Peter|
|Stephen, Michael||Waldegrave, Rt Hon William|
|Stern, Michael||Walden, George|
|Stewart, Allan||Walker, Bill (N Tayside)|
|Streeter, Gary||Waller, Gary|
|Sumberg, David||Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)|
|Sweeney, Walter||Waterson, Nigel|
|Sykes, John||Watts, John|
|Tapsell, Sir Peter||Wells, Bowen|
|Taylor, Ian (Esher)||Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Taylor, John M. (Solihull)||Whitney, Ray|
|Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)||Whittingdale, John|
|Thomason, Roy||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)||Wiggin, Sir Jerry|
|Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)||Wilkinson, John|
|Thornton, Sir Malcolm||Willetts, David|
|Thurnham, Peter||Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)|
|Townend, John (Bridlington)||Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'fld)|
|Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)||Wolfson, Mark|
|Tracey, Richard||Yeo, Tim|
|Tredinnick, David||Young, Rt Hon Sir George|
|Trimble, David||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Trotter, Neville||Mr. Timothy Wood and|
|Twinn, Dr Ian||Mr. Timothy Kirkhope.|
|Vaughan, Sir Gerard|
|Adams, Mrs Irene||Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)|
|Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)||Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John|
|Allen, Graham||Dafis, Cynog|
|Alton, David||Dalyell, Tam|
|Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)||Darling, Alistair|
|Armstrong, Hilary||Davidson, Ian|
|Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy||Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)|
|Ashton, Joe||Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)|
|Austin-Walker, John||Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l)|
|Battle, John||Denham, John|
|Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret||Dewar, Donald|
|Beith, Rt Hon A. J.||Dixon, Don|
|Bell, Stuart||Dobson, Frank|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Donohoe, Brian H.|
|Bennett, Andrew F.||Dowd, Jim|
|Benton, Joe||Dunnachie, Jimmy|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth|
|Berry, Roger||Eagle, Ms Angela|
|Blair, Tony||Eastham, Ken|
|Blunkett, David||Enright, Derek|
|Boateng, Paul||Etherington, Bill|
|Boyes, Roland||Evans, John (St Helens N)|
|Bradley, Keith||Faulds, Andrew|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Field, Frank (Birkenhead)|
|Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E)||Fisher, Mark|
|Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)||Foster, Rt Hon Derek|
|Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)||Foster, Don (Bath)|
|Burden, Richard||Foulkes, George|
|Byers, Stephen||Fraser, John|
|Caborn, Richard||Fyfe, Maria|
|Callaghan, Jim||Galbraith, Sam|
|Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)||Galloway, George|
|Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)||Gapes, Mike|
|Campbell-Savours, D. N.||Garrett, John|
|Cann, Jamie||George, Bruce|
|Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry)||Gerrard, Neil|
|Chisholm, Malcolm||Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John|
|Clapham, Michael||Godman, Dr Norman A.|
|Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)||Godsiff, Roger|
|Clelland, David||Golding, Mrs Llin|
|Coffey, Ann||Gordon, Mildred|
|Cohen, Harry||Graham, Thomas|
|Connarty, Michael||Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)|
|Cook, Frank (Stockton N)||Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)|
|Cook, Robin (Livingston)||Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)|
|Corbett, Robin||Grocott, Bruce|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Gunnell, John|
|Corston, Ms Jean||Hall, Mike|
|Cousins, Jim||Hanson, David|
|Cox, Tom||Hardy, Peter|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||Harvey, Nick|
|Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy||O'Neill, Martin|
|Henderson, Doug||Parry, Robert|
|Heppell, John||Patchett, Terry|
|Hinchliffe, David||Pendry, Tom|
|Hoey, Kate||Pickthall, Colin|
|Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld)||Pike, Peter L.|
|Hood, Jimmy||Pope, Greg|
|Hoon, Geoffrey||Powell, Ray (Ogmore)|
|Howarth, George (Knowsley N)||Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lew'm E)|
|Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)||Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)|
|Hoyle, Doug||Prescott, John|
|Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)||Primarolo, Dawn|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport E)||Purchase, Ken|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark)||Quin, Ms Joyce|
|Illsley, Eric||Radice, Giles|
|Jackson, Glenda (H'stead)||Randall, Stuart|
|Jamieson, David||Raynsford, Nick|
|Janner, Greville||Redmond, Martin|
|Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)||Reid, Dr John|
|Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)||Rendel, David|
|Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)||Robertson, George (Hamilton)|
|Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW)||Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)|
|Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald||Roche, Mrs. Barbara|
|Keen, Alan||Rogers, Allan|
|Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn)||Rooker, Jeff|
|Kirkwood, Archy||Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)|
|Lestor, Joan (Eccles)||Rowlands, Ted|
|Lewis, Terry||Ruddock, Joan|
|Litherland, Robert||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Livingstone, Ken||Sheerman, Barry|
|Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)||Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert|
|Llwyd, Elfyn||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Loyden, Eddie||Short, Clare|
|Lynne, Ms Liz||Simpson, Alan|
|McAllion, John||Skinner, Dennis|
|McAvoy, Thomas||Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)|
|McCartney, Ian||Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)|
|Macdonald, Calum||Smith, Rt Hon John (M'kl'ds E)|
|McFall, John||Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)|
|McKelvey, William||Snape, Peter|
|Mackinlay, Andrew||Soley, Clive|
|McLeish, Henry||Spearing, Nigel|
|Maclennan, Robert||Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)|
|McMaster, Gordon||Steinberg, Gerry|
|McWilliam, John||Stevenson, George|
|Madden, Max||Strang, Dr. Gavin|
|Maddock, Mrs Diana||Straw, Jack|
|Mahon, Alice||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)|
|Mandelson, Peter||Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|Marek, Dr John||Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)|
|Marshall, David (Shettleston)||Turner, Dennis|
|Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S)||Tyler, Paul|
|Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)||Vaz, Keith|
|Martlew, Eric||Wallace, James|
|Maxton, John||Walley, Joan|
|Meacher, Michael||Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
|Michael, Alun||Wareing, Robert N|
|Milburn, Alan||Watson, Mike|
|Miller, Andrew||Welsh, Andrew|
|Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)||Wicks, Malcolm|
|Moonie, Dr Lewis||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Morgan, Rhodri||Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)|
|Morley, Elliot||Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)|
|Morris, Rt Hon A. (Wy'nshawe)||Wilson, Brian|
|Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley)||Wise, Audrey|
|Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)||Worthington, Tony|
|Mowlam, Marjorie||Wray, Jimmy|
|Mudie, George||Wright, Dr Tony|
|Mullin, Chris||Young, David (Bolton SE)|
|Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon||Tellers for the Noes:|
|O'Brien, Michael (N W"kshire)||Mr. Peter Kilfoyle and|
|O'Brien, William (Normanton)||Mr. John Cummings.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).