Police Reform Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Hawkins: I understand what the Minister is saying. As I said, we are not discussing issues of principle, and perhaps the Government may consider tabling an amendment if they are persuaded by our argument. It might provide an extra safeguard if reference were made to ''the organisation that is generally considered to represent the interests of chief officers'', rather than relying on the discretion of the Home Secretary of the day.

Mr. Denham: I have a feeling that parliamentary counsel would throw a fit if we asked him to write that into legislation. The formula has been used since the 1996 Act, and has never given rise to any problem or confusion. It has enabled us to deal flexibly with the

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restructuring of an organisation to deal with staffing and employment. It is well understood, everyone knows what it will do, and it is satisfactory.

Mr. Hawkins: As I said, the amendments are probing. In the light of what the Minister has said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Norman Baker: I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 2, line 32, at end insert—

    '(ba) the Service Authorities for the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the National Crime Squad;

    (bb) the Director General of the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the Director General of the National Crime Squad.'.

This is part 2 of our earlier discussion about NCIS and the National Crime Squad. Hon. Members will recall that the Minister accepted that there is a need, in producing a national policing plan, to take account of their activities, and that it is impossible to separate what is done by those two bodies and by the 43 police authorities and police forces. The amendment would ensure that NCIS and the NCS are consulted as part of the plan's preparation. Unless I am mistaken, the Minister recognised the need for that consultation, so I look forward to his accepting the amendment.

Mr. Hawkins: We certainly see some benefit in the amendment. We would be happy for it to be in the Bill, for all the reasons that the hon. Gentleman has given.

Mr. Denham: Hon. Members will be aware from discussions in another place that the original draft of the Bill did not specify long lists of people to be consulted, on the basis that if it did, everyone would want to add people. We accepted the strength of the argument that it was important to specify chief officers and police authorities, and we were pleased to table amendments to that effect.

This amendment, however, takes us into slippery slope territory. One could refer to a variety of interests—such as representatives of witnesses and victims—that the Government said in the White Paper would be consulted in drawing up the national policing plan, and ask why they are not listed in the Bill. Indeed, I can see the hon. Member for Lewes drafting an amendment for Report stage as I speak. However, I hope that the Committee accepts what I said earlier. We recognise the kernel of the issue. Developing the national policing plan relates to the 43 police forces, but we must ensure that that is not a disparate or separate activity from the work and priorities of NCIS and the NCS. The flexibility in the Bill about who is consulted will enable us to ensure that those bodies have an opportunity to contribute to developing the national policing plan as appropriate.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman accepts my assurances. I accept that he has raised an issue worthy of discussion, but adding more and more consultees on a statutory basis, as would inevitably happen if the amendment was accepted, would not be helpful.

Norman Baker: I hear what the Minister says and I suppose that his argument about a potentially endless list is valid. However, it was not entirely fair to

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compare victims and witnesses, important though they may be, with direct parts of the police family, drawn in many ways from existing police forces and police authorities, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole said.

Once again, the Minister asks us to rely on his assurances and good will. As I have said, I have no problem with his assurances and good will, but how long will he or the Home Secretary be in office? We are not here to draft legislation based on the personalities who happen to be in office at the moment and what they are likely to do. Our role is to draft useful legislation that will stand the test of time.

Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham): Half an hour ago, the hon. Gentleman argued that local police authorities should be the supreme bodies. How can he reconcile that with his request for a national body to be consulted on the national policing plan?

Norman Baker: I can do so for the very reasons that I gave half an hour ago, if the hon. Gentleman was listening. If a national policing plan is to make sense and be accepted, it must indeed be national and take account of all police who are active throughout the country. It is not sufficient simply to pick up on the police authorities in the plan and ignore the rest. The Minister says that he will consult the bodies to which I have referred and take their views into account, but he is not willing to make that explicit in the Bill. He may take what they say into account, but what is to prevent a future Minister or Home Secretary from declining to do that? They might say, ''I'm not in favour of all this consultation nonsense: it takes up the time of the Home Office officials, and I have better things to do.'' They might then ask their officials, ''Who do we have to consult? Who can we get away with consulting? Let's get this thing out of the way quickly.'' The officials might reply, ''Well, Minister, you must consult these authorities and the chief police officers.'' Then they might begin to recount what the Minister's predecessor had said about the matter, but the present Minister might interrupt them and say, ''Never mind what my predecessor said. We will cut off the process there.''

That could happen, which is why the Minister must base legislation on what could happen, rather than on what he wishes to do in the next three months.

11 am

Mr. Jones: As is usual for a Liberal Democrat, the hon. Gentleman is saying one thing to one audience and another to another.

If NCIS or the NCS were to argue for something in the policing plan, and the local police authority said that it wanted something else, which of them would get supremacy? Would the local police authority have more say than the national police?

Norman Baker: The Home Secretary would have the final say, because it is his plan. However, the Home Secretary should listen to local police authorities and

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the NCS. If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that the Home Secretary should not listen to those bodies, I do not know what planet he is on.

If we are going to have a proper national policing plan, it should not incorporate only the Home Secretary's views, nor only the representations of chief police officers and police authorities. It would be sensible to insert what the amendment proposes.

We have already had a Division this morning, so I am not inclined to put this matter to a vote, but I think that what the Minister has said is wrong, not because I do not believe his good intentions but because, if this is not written into the Bill, he will not have a national policing plan that is a plan in the true sense of that word.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Denham: The Committee covered most of the substantive issues during its discussions of the amendments, so I do not intend to speak for long.

The hon. Member for Surrey Heath asked about the Metropolitan police service, which has begun a publicity campaign today that will lead to a recruitment process for CSOs. The position is simple: the decision was taken by the Metropolitan police service. Any powers that those CSOs have when they are employed will be determined by the Bill in its final form—as enacted. If there are no such powers in it, they will have no statutory powers; if there are limited powers, only limited powers will be available to them.

The Metropolitan police force made a judgment. It has the resources, and it wishes to go ahead with the process of recruiting CSOs. It will take time to advertise the concept of CSOs—to explain what the job is about and to attract interest in it. Therefore, it will take time to get people into training. The force wants to start the process now because it believes that having such people available as soon as possible is good for the people of London.

Mr. Hawkins: Can the Minister think of any other examples of situations in which a new type of authority is being established, and a recruitment campaign is going on for something, when there is not yet any statutory authority for doing that? I cannot.

We all recognise that the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis is doing a splendid job in difficult circumstances, and that he is anxious to increase the number of people available to him. However, as it is clear from all the debates in the media that this whole issue is controversial, does the Minister think it wise—

The Chairman: Order. Interventions must be as short as possible. The hon. Gentleman has made his point. If he catches my eye to indicate that he wishes to take part in the debate, I will happily try to accommodate him.

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Mr. Denham: The Metropolitan police are acting under section 15 of the 1996 Act, which was introduced by the Conservative party when it was in Government. That section enables it to employ civilian staff.

I come to the powers that CSOs would be able to exercise. If the Bill were to fall for some reason, there would be civilians who were called CSOs. They would not be statutory CSOs under an Act, but under current legislation the Metropolitan police are perfectly entitled to go ahead with the recruitment process. As I said, it is a matter for the Metropolitan commissioner and the Metropolitan police authority.

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