Select Committee on Home Affairs Second Report



5.  Of the clauses in Part 1 of the original Bill (Powers of the Secretary of State), the most significant was the clause which would give the Secretary of State the power to direct a chief constable to submit an action plan to tackle inefficiency or ineffectiveness in any part of the force. This clause was removed from the Bill by the House of Lords on 15 April. The original explanatory notes for the Bill described this clause:

    Directions to chief officers
    29. This clause amends the Police Act 1996 by inserting new section 41A into that Act.
    30. Section 41A(1) empowers the Secretary of State to require a chief officer to take remedial measures where he is satisfied that the whole or any part of the force either as a whole or in any aspect of its operations is not efficient or effective (or will become so unless such measures are taken). The intervention power takes the form of a requirement on the chief officer to prepare and submit an action plan to address those aspects of the force's performance that the Secretary of State considers inefficient or ineffective (section 41A(2)). Under section 41A(9), the action plan must be prepared in consultation with the relevant police authority. Under section 41A(4), the Secretary of State may require changes to be made either to the draft plan as originally submitted, or to resubmitted plans. Section 41A(8) specifically limits the Secretary of State's power to intervene by providing that he cannot require action in relation to particular cases or individuals.

6.  It is not just the power of direction which matters: the fact that it can be targeted at a specific part of the force—usually understood to be a Basic Command Unit (BCU) headed by a police superintendent—has been controversial. This is linked closely to the work of the new and non-statutory Police Standards Unit. The Minister described the arrangement thus:

    "if the Police Standards Unit is working with a Basic Command Unit where there are problems, things are likely to be sorted out at that level through discussion between the Police Standards Unit and the chief superintendent in charge of the area and possibly, if necessary, discussion...with the chief constable about the issues and with the police authority. That is what we would expect to be the norm in the vast majority of cases...having the back-up to intervene, if all else fails, is necessary".[8]

7.  There are two possible objections to this central direction down to superintendent level within individual police forces:

  •   that it should be the police authority (rather than the chief constable) who should be told to put things right
  •   that the power of direction should not go down to the level of a Basic Command Unit.

8.  The Chairman of the Metropolitan Police Authority asked in the Lords: "why do the Government need to intervene directly in forces rather than work with and through local police authorities?"[9] The Minister told us in oral evidence that police authorities "do not have responsibilities over some of the operational aspects of policing" and so the power to intervene should lie with the Home Secretary.[10]

9.  This goes to the heart of the relationship between police authorities, chief constables and the Home Office. A former Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police commented:

    "The tripartite structure for the governance of policing...has not only stood the test of time; it has provided the checks and balances that underpin our policing system...the cumulative impact of the clauses in the Bill which give the Secretary of State new powers to direct and control policing will dramatically alter that balance of power in favour of the Secretary of State".[11]

10.  The Association of Police Authorities, another part of the tripartite structure, said it is:

    "a system of carefully constructed checks and balances—which ensures that policing is not subject to partisan political control...the proposals...would radically shift the current balance within the tripartite system—away from local people and local accountability, towards greater central direction and control by the Home Secretary".[12]

11.  It is seen slightly differently by a Home Office minister:

    "The tripartite system will remain as at present where one-third of the system has the money, one-third has the power and the Home Secretary gets all the blame...".[13]

12.  On whether directions should be given to police authorities and whether it should reach down below the authority of the chief constable to individual Basic Command Units, the Association of Chief Police Officers has said:

    "great sensitivity...exists in the Service about an organisation apparently designed to intervene between the chief constable and superintendents in so direct a fashion. Direct intervention in failing Basic Command Units is at odds with the declared intention of sharpening chief constables' accountability for their forces' performance. The implication that Basic Command Units are somehow autonomous town police forces is wrong. Basic Command Units are dependent upon the force as a whole for many of their services, both administrative and operational".[14]

13.  The Police Superintendents' Association's view is:

    "We understand the need for the Home Secretary to have "the ultimate power to intervene" in a failing Basic Command Unit, but would be surprised if a chief officer waited for such an intervention before taking action".[15]

14.  The Association of Police Authorities told us:

    "In practice, we understand how it is...that the Home Secretary operating remotely will be able to come to a different judgment from a judgment that the local body, which is there day in and day out overseeing performance, would come to about what measures were necessary to tackle poor performance in the force".[16]

15.  The Police Federation said:

    "We believe that it is necessary for the Home Secretary to have this power [to require a chief officer to take the action necessary to address under-performance] and that the existence of the power will itself have a salutary effect. Although we doubt if a situation is likely ever to reach the point where, following the full process, a chief officer refused to implement a plan or requirement of the Home Secretary, there has to be the ultimate sanction that he or she be required to leave the force".[17]


16.  The House of Lords voted on 15 April to remove from the Bill the clause on directions to chief officers about which we have heard much evidence. We expect the Government to reintroduce this clause in the House of Commons. The Government had put forward its own amendments to meet points made about this part of the Bill. These included a new clause (amendment no 42 in the Lords) which would govern the procedures for the Home Secretary giving directions to chief constables. This new clause was not added in the Lords but may re-appear in the Commons. It provides for greater consultation with chief constables and police authorities before any direction is given:

17.  We share the general concern that central interference in running individual forces is not desirable. We believe that the tripartite structure and operational independence of police forces are essential safeguards against politicisation and centralisation of the police. We welcome the safeguards proposed by the Government and hope it is clearly understood that these powers should only be used as a last resort. As originally proposed, this clause (directions to chief officers) was unacceptable. If it is eventually restored to the Bill with the additional safeguards on consultation, we will watch carefully to see how these powers are exercised.


18.  The Minister told us that these powers would be used if the new Police Standards Unit had not achieved the desired result in its direct work with a Basic Command Unit.[18] The unit itself has already been established in the Home Office without a statutory basis. We understand that its origins lie with a similarly-named body in the then Department for Education and Employment which introduced the literacy and numeracy hours. While there has been general support among our witnesses for measures to improve police performance, the differing roles of the Standards Unit and the long-established HM Inspector of Constabulary are not widely understood. We have heard from a former Chief Inspector of Constabulary:

    "The proposal to set up [a Standards] Unit...seems to cut across the central role of HM Inspector of Constabulary...many within the Police Service will see the potential for conflict".[19]

19.  The Vice-Chairman of the Association of Police Authorities shared this view:

    "we are concerned about the Standards Unit. We are already subject to inspections by Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary and to some extent the two are doing the same job. I think there is a case for saying that we do not need them both".[20]

20.  The General Secretary of the Police Federation identified one possible problem:

    "one of the difficulties with having two units is if they both demand different sets of figures...produced in different ways. It would be a nightmare...".[21]

21.  The Minister explained:

    "There is a difference in role between the Inspectorate and the Standards Unit. The independent Inspectorate is responsible...for inspecting and monitoring the overall performance of every single police force in the country, and more recently has developed a similar system of inspection for Basic Command Units. The Police Standards Unit is going to concentrate much more specifically on particular areas of performance, identifying what works particularly well in some forces, working with other areas with poor performance to enable them to increase their performance. You could say in that sense it has a more directly interventionist and supportive role and one that is focussed very much on performance improvement in specific areas rather than the overall inspection of forces".[22]

22.  We recognise that this direct involvement of the Home Office in Basic Command Units provides both risks and opportunities. While the Home Office will be able to tackle perceived poor performance in individual boroughs, it will also make the Home Secretary responsible for a more detailed level of operational policing than has been the case in the past.

23.  We do not think the Home Office has made out a convincing case for a Police Standards Unit separate in the long term from HM Inspectorate of Constabulary. There is much to be said for providing the resources for this role to be carried out by an expanded Inspectorate. That Inspectorate already conducts, in addition to routine inspections, thematic inquiries on issues which cut across the entire police service. We believe it is inevitable, and desirable, that the Inspectorate and the Standards Unit should eventually merge.


24.  There are two other related powers in this part of the Bill on which we have heard evidence: the powers on regulation of equipment (now clause 5) and on regulation of procedures and practices (now clause 6). Although there is an obvious case for the former, concerns have been raised about the latter. As originally drafted, it allows the Home Secretary to make regulations that will apply to operational procedures and practices in all police forces. There is disquiet about how the power might be used and whether it would be done without consulting interested parties. The President of the Association of Chief Police Officers told us it was the greatest issue in the Bill for him.[23] Before the Bill had been amended in the Lords, he said: "You could read the Bill and see that operational policy could be written without any reference to police officers".[24]

25.  The Minister described this as "a back­up power if we are not able to make the progress we would like".[25] He gave two examples of how the power to make regulations might be used:

    "The National Intelligence model is more than a computer system for...receiving police intelligence and information...There are forces which are making very good use of the National Intelligence model and there are areas where progress has been very slow. The that the failure to have a consistent approach in using intelligence does not just have an impact at force level, it has a wider one...If you have a police operation, for example, around armed robbery, which might involve tracking suspected robbers from one police force area to one many miles away, across several police force boundaries where the robbery is due to take place, one needs to be able to ensure that there is a consistent quality of armed support available throughout that journey...".[26]

26.  The Association of Police Authorities wanted to be consulted in advance on the use of this power. Although they did not think it was intended to use the power to enable politicians to influence individual investigations, they conceded there was a possibility that it could be.[27] The Minister said : "We are very clear in the Bill...that it is not our intention and we do not want to be able to intervene to direct the way a particular operation is carried out or if Bill Smith is to be arrested or whatever".[28]

27.  The Government moved amendments in the Lords to address concerns about the regulation of operational procedures and practices. These include the removal of the word "operational", inserting a requirement that such regulations may only be made where it is necessary in the national interest, and requiring prior consultation with police authorities, chief constables and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary.[29] The Government has accepted the recommendation of the Lords' Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee that the first use of the power to make regulations on procedures and practices should be subject to the affirmative resolution procedures.[30]

28.  We welcome the changes to clause 6 (regulation of procedures and practices) made by the Government in the Lords and believe that as currently drafted it is satisfactory.

8   Q520-1 (John Denham). Back

9   Lords Hansard, 28 February 2002, col. 1624 (Lord Harris of Haringey). Back

10   Q. 513 (John Denham). Back

11   Lords Hansard, 5 February 2002, col. 524 (Lord Condon). Back

12   Ev 118. Back

13   Lords Hansard, 28 February 2002, col. 1606 (Lord Rooker). Back

14   ACPO briefing on the White Paper para 6 (not printed). Back

15   Police Superintendents' Association briefing on the White Paper, para. 12 (not printed). Back

16   Q. 382 (Ms Leech). Back

17   Police Federation briefing paper on the White Paper, para. 29 (not printed). Back

18   Q. 517 (John Denham). Back

19   Ev 125. Back

20   Q. 376 (Mr Peel). Back

21   Q. 156 (Clint Elliott). Back

22   Q. 526 (John Denham). Back

23   Q. 22 (Sir David Phillips). Back

24   Q. 36. Back

25   Q. 538 (John Denham). Back

26   Q. 538 (John Denham). Back

27   Q. 414-5 (Dr Henig, Ms Leech). Back

28   Q514 (John Denham). Back

29   Lords Hansard, 15 April 2002, col. 784. Back

30   Twelfth Report, 2001-02, HL 73, para 5. Back

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