Police Reform Bill [Lords]

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Norman Baker: The amendments relate to the national policing plan. My colleagues and I are in favour of that concept, and the amendment is one example of where we wish to go slightly further than the Government. If there is to be a national policing plan, it should be just that—a plan that takes account of all policing. Our difficulty with the clause is that the policing plan covers the 43 police authorities, but does not take account of the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the National Crime Squad. Obviously, what those bodies do relates to the 43 police authorities and the work of the 43 forces. It is difficult to understand how a policing plan could be comprehensive if those bodies are not included in it.

From April 2002, the Home Secretary has been able to set national objectives for the Central Police Training and Development Authority under section 89 of the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001. He can also set objectives under sections 26 and 71 of the Police Act 1997 for NCIS and the NCS; he already has those powers. However, three sets of national objectives, produced separately, do not suggest the coherent national policing planning that perhaps should be achieved. We fear that the clause misses an opportunity to bring those sets of objectives together, and to produce a comprehensive and coherent message for policing across the country.

The clause also has the disadvantage of reinforcing the doubtless inaccurate impression that the Government are more concerned with keeping as much control as they can over 43 police authorities than with paying attention to NCIS and the NCS in the way that we would like. I am sure that the Minister will say that that is wholly inaccurate, and that it is scurrilous of me to have even thought of the

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suggestion; nevertheless, that is open to that interpretation, given the way that the provisions are set out.

Amendment No. 133 is rather different from amendment No. 132, and we are surprised that they have been grouped together. Amendment No. 133 relates to the words ''plans and advice''. A theme of the Committee will perhaps be, as it certainly was on Second Reading and in the Lords, the extent to which it is appropriate for the Home Secretary of the day to micro-manage or intervene on the police's day-to-day operational activities, or in any way curtail improperly or unwisely the activities of a chief constable.

My colleagues and I—and, I am sure, Conservative Members—will be defending the traditional tripartite arrangement between chief constables, police authorities and the Home Secretary, and will argue that we change that at our peril. The Minister will therefore understand that we are always on the look-out against back-door methods of changing that arrangement. It may not be the Government's intention to do so, but the provision would nevertheless give an avenue for a Home Secretary, now or in the future, should he or she wish to go down that track.

I have concerns that the words ''plans and advice'' in page 2, line 24, give the Home Secretary of the day wide powers to include practically anything that he or she wishes in the national policing plan. The words ''plans and advice'' could go against the spirit of that tripartite arrangement if the Home Secretary were determined that they should. After all, the powers that the Home Secretary is being given under subsection (6) are already significant, especially when added to the powers that he already has under previous legislation, such as the Police Act 1996. Subsection (6)(c) still allows further information to be given, so I am not quite clear about the necessity for including ''plans and advice''.

The Minister will know that this matter was raised in the House of Lords; this is a duplicate amendment from the other place. My colleagues in the Lords felt that Lord Rooker, perhaps uncharacteristically, had not addressed the point, and that is why amendment No. 133 was tabled again. I look forward to the Minister's responses on those subjects.

9.45 am

Mr. Paice: I wish to speak to amendment No. 76. Clause 1 introduces the concept of the national policing plan. In many ways, it is the precursor to the whole of part 1, and to some other parts of the Bill. It sets the framework for the powers that the Secretary of State seeks to take in later parts of the Bill. They add considerably to the powers in the 1996 Act, which was passed under the previous Conservative Government, and to which we will frequently refer. That aspect of the 1996 Act was contentious, because the Secretary of State took new powers, but this Bill, and this clause, go a lot further.

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The Home Secretary already has powers to set objectives and performance targets, to issue codes of practice, and even to require the retirement of a chief constable—a point that we will address later. Those are immense powers, but the power to issue a national policing plan builds on them, and takes them quite a lot further.

We do not object to the overall principle of a national policing plan, but we have reservations with regard to the amount of detail that it might contain. Amendment No. 76 seeks to insert into the clause an obligation for the plan to include an explanation of the resources that the Home Secretary will make available in order for it to be executed. It is perfectly reasonable to expect that. Other amendments—some of which have not yet been dealt with—address some of our other concerns.

A plan that does not include any indication of the resources that are available will be relatively meaningless, because it will be impossible to judge whether there is a realistic chance that it will be fully and successfully carried out. The clause includes an obligation on the Home Secretary to lay the plan before Parliament: when hon. Members judge it, they will want to know what resources are attached to it.

I suspect that, when we debate the police settlement each year, the Minister is already armed with all the information that comes forward annually. However, that is usually debated in February—or in January—which is far too late to be able to assess the national policing plan for any year.

We shall, of course, need to have information about the overall total standard spending for the police force, but we will also need to know the individual standard spending assessments, and whether the Government are making assumptions about efficiency savings. We will also need information about any changes in the formula of allocation, and about capital budgets and top-sliced amounts. During the past few years, the Government have had a tendency substantially to increase the sums that are top-sliced for specific funds—most notably the crime fighting fund, with regard to which they said, ''This is taken off the top, and we will distribute it according to our own criteria, outside the total standard spending.''

Funding for centrally provided services, and any transitional arrangements, must also be taken into account. It will also be necessary to be able to assess the resources against what has already been allowed for in previous years—I have referred to the huge increase in top-slicing.

Individual police authorities have been worried over the years about the late indication that they receive on the amount of resources that will be available. That occurs late in proceedings, which makes it difficult for them to make necessary calculations and judgments on council tax decisions. Amendment No. 76, which is different from the other amendments, has been tabled to suggest that no national plan can be complete without an indication of the resources that are available to implement it. Indeed, as the amendment

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says, the plan cannot be complete without the provision of information about constraints that may be put on those resources by the Secretary of State.

I referred to top-slicing funds for central allocation, and a later group of amendments addresses the ways in which the Secretary of State could constrain how the resources are used. It would be right to insert an obligation into the national plan that it should include information about the planned resources that the Government will make available and allow to be spent. I hope that the Government understand the need for cohesion between a plan and its resources and that they will look favourably on the amendment.

Mrs. Annette L. Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole): I shall primarily address amendments Nos. 132 and 133. I broadly welcome the annual national policing plan. However, we are discussing a strategic document and such a document should be coherent and comprehensive, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) mentioned. I fail to see why we do not include the three other bodies that we suggested.

I took the opportunity to read about the NCS. It is strange to have separate plans that are not dovetailed into the national plan. For example, the squad is staffed by 1,450 officers who are seconded from police forces throughout England and it has 36 locations throughout the country. In terms of accountability, there are 10 elected members of local police authorities, who are nominated by the Association of Police Authorities, on the NCS authority. Such facts are among the reasons why one must look at the whole.

If one reads the section of the NCS website entitled ''Added value'', one sees a vision of how everything must been seen under one umbrella at some stage. The squad is described as

    ''a national police agency under single command with overall responsibility for direction and control and with sufficient mobile resources to undertake large scale protracted operations''.

The squad's own technical support is

    ''capable of deploying sensitive and sophisticated technical equipment and assisting other police forces as appropriate''.

Again, links are there all the time. The squad supports

    ''other police forces as appropriate in their investigations of serious crime.''

In other words, there is continuous interlocking, which is also true of NCIS. One of its strategic aims is

    ''The provision of services to enhance the co-ordination and development of criminal intelligence to combat serious and organised crime.''

The details show that the NCS and NCIS are not stand-alone organisations because there is a single objective to which we are all signing up: reducing crime and tackling it effectively. I ask the Minister to consider seriously the amendment.

With regard to amendment No. 133, I share the worries of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes about the term ''plans and advice''. Perhaps the word ''plans'' has a specific connotation because we can always consider the word ''advice'' in terms of additional guidance. However, when the words are put together, the phrase is open-ended about what could

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be incorporated under it. That is my concern, and if the Minister agreed to something more precise, we would know where we stood and what the phrase asked for.

With regard to amendment No. 76, we have a problem of timing throughout the process. If we have separate plans for all the different bodies, they will be published at different times of the year. Equally, the timing must be right on financial constraints so that it makes some sense of the annual policing plan. The plans must go together, which is what links the three amendments.

 
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