Police Reform Bill [Lords]

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Schedule 2

The Independent Police Complaints Commission

Mr. Paice: I beg to move amendment No. 80, in page 96, line 32, leave out sub-paragraph (3).

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 81, in page 97, line 16, leave out sub-paragraph (5).

Mr. Paice: We come now to the constitution of the commission. The two amendments follow our earlier theme of the amount of power taken to the centre by the Secretary of State. If the commission is to be not just independent but seen to be independent, that will be seriously undermined by the obligation for the Secretary of State not only to approve the chief executive but to decide how many staff should be employed by the commission and what their terms and conditions should be.

That might seem to be a small subject area, but it is fundamental to the perception of the independence of the commission. If it is to be independent, it must make such decisions itself. At the core of the issue is the Government's belief that people cannot make judgments for themselves and that they must have the power to overrule them. It is tempting to believe that the commission might make a bad appointment. It might employ too many staff or too few. It might pay them too much or not give them adequate holidays. However, surely if a commission is to be appointed, it should have the responsibility for such decisions. The constant temptation of the Government to intervene and overrule is a temptation that should be strongly resisted, but at the heart of the Government's attitude is the belief that they should have those fundamental, ultimate powers. The two amendments would simply remove two paragraphs from schedule 2, but they exemplify an issue that runs throughout the Bill—the centralisation of powers. Let us have a police complaints commission that is independent, seen to be independent and in charge of its affairs. I do not believe that the Secretary of State should have detailed powers to decide who should be chief executive, how many staff should be employed and what their terms and conditions of employment should be.

11.15 am

Mr. Ainsworth: I agree that the IPCC must be independent. Nevertheless, let me try to persuade hon. Members why the amendments are unhelpful.

It is essential that the Secretary of State is able to appoint the first chief executive of the commission. I hope that the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire accepts that that is common practice for newly-established non-departmental public bodies. The chief executive will need to be in post well before the commission is formally established to take forward the work of appointing staff, finding accommodation, establishing management and operating procedures and managing the transition from the current Police Complaints Authority. The alternative would be for the Home Office to undertake that work and then hand responsibility over to the chief executive when he or she is appointed, but that approach would be less satisfactory. The first chief executive should be heavily

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involved in setting up the body, along with the chairman, who should be in post before the commission comes into existence.

Mr. Hawkins: I assume that any such appointment will be dealt with under the Nolan rules on scrutiny. There has been some concern about that. An article in the law supplement in The Times last week referred to the appointment of the head of the new National Crime Squad. It questioned whether the appointment of the former Member for Wyre Forest, a Minister who lost his seat at the last election, was another Tony crony appointment.

Mr. Ainsworth: Despite the fact that I have been made a Home Office Minister, the law supplement in The Times is not at the top of my morning reading list. However, I am glad that the hon. Gentleman asked that question because I can assure him that the appointment will be made in line with the Nolan rules. I hope that that deals with Opposition Members' concerns about the proposals. The Home Secretary will not be able to put his man or woman into the post. The first chief executive will be recruited in an open and fair process, according to established practice, following public advertisement and the proper sifting and interviewing procedures. The commission will appoint all subsequent chief executives, and no person can be appointed if commission members do not want that person to be appointed. The Secretary of State can only approve or not approve the commission's nominee. There is no suggestion that the Secretary of State's approval will compromise the commission's independence or that the Secretary of State will be able to place his own person in the organisation to mould it according to his wishes. The appointment of the chief executive is not the most important determinant of the independence of the commission. The body's independence comes from the commission's constitution and membership. The commission will be able to make decisions without reference to Ministers and will act in relation to the police complaints system separately from the police and the Government. The chair and the other commission members—the public face of the body—will give it its independence. The chief executive will, as is usual, play a secondary, internal management role.

It is right for the Secretary of State to play a role in the appointments process. In establishing new non-departmental public bodies, it is important to have in place checks to ensure that due consideration has been given to the governance and accountability responsibilities of the chief executive. The chief executive will be the accounting officer and it is important for the Government to be satisfied that the selection process is open, fair and in line with established best practice.

The hon. Gentleman went even further in his objection to the Secretary of State having any input into the appointment of the chief executive. He said that the Secretary of State should have no input whatever into how many people were employed and on what salaries. Listening to him, I thought, ''Is he a member of the party that introduced rate-capping? Am I hearing right?'' I was surprised, because he seemed to be suggesting that the police complaints

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commission should be allowed to be any size it wants and pay its members whatever it wants.

Mr. Paice: The Under-Secretary is stretching even his usual disingenuity. The question of rate-capping—

The Chairman: Order.

Mr. Paice: Allow me a sentence, Mr. Stevenson. The question of rate-capping is wholly different from that of my amendment, because the Secretary of State will still set the budget. The equivalent of rate-capping in this case is the Government's determination of the size of the independent commission's budget. No previous Government have set out to decide how many staff any local authority or anybody else should employ.

The Chairman: Order. The issue is not only different, it is not contained in the amendment.

Mr. Ainsworth: You are absolutely right, Mr. Stevenson. Rate-capping is not in the amendment, but I was thinking about the hon. Gentleman's remarks rather than just the content of the amendment.

The Home Secretary has an oversight role in the operation of the commission and the police complaints system generally. The Home Secretary is accountable to Parliament for the body's effectiveness and efficient running and its maintenance of appropriate standards. Parliament will be in a better position to hold the Government to account for the commission's effectiveness if the Home Secretary has been able to approve the commission's selection of a chief executive. That is the main point on which our argument rests.

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Lady Hermon: I am grateful to the Under-Secretary for giving way. I appreciate, for the reasons that he outlined, the necessity of the Secretary of State's involvement in the appointment of the first chief executive, in order to get the commission up and running, but the amendment concerns the subsequent approvals. Why is the Secretary of State's approval required for the subsequent appointments?

Mr. Ainsworth: For the reason that I have just set out—to ensure the system's accountability to Parliament. The chief executive will be the accounting officer and I should have thought that Members would want the Government to be responsible for their decisions and the systems that they have set up and able to answer to Parliament for them.

Norman Baker: On accountability, if the commission makes a recommendation and the Secretary of State vetos it, will that be made public?

Mr. Ainsworth: I am not trying to avoid giving an answer, but there are items further down the agenda that will allow us to discuss exactly what will and will not be made known. We are talking now about the Secretary of State's narrow element of oversight over the appointment of a chief executive.

Norman Baker: Will the Under-Secretary answer the question?

Mr. Ainsworth: The hon. Gentleman is inviting me to raise issues that are not within the amendment.

It being twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at half-past Two o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Stevenson, Mr. George (Chairman)
Ainsworth, Mr. Bob
Baker, Norman
Brooke, Annette
Challen, Mr.
Follett, Barbara
Gillan, Mrs.
Hawkins, Mr.
Heppell, Mr.
Hermon, Lady
Irranca-Davies, Huw
Johnson, Mr. Boris
Jones, Mr. Kevan
Kumar, Dr.
Lucas, Ian
Mercer, Patrick
Munn, Ms
Paice, Mr.
Stoate, Dr.

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Prepared 13 June 2002