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As the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, has made plain, we have worked very hard to think of how we could accommodate this concern, which we not only accept but want to allay because it was not our intention. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, was right to raise the concerns expressed by ACPO and the Association of Police Authorities. In all fairness, I must tell your Lordships that the two government amendments in this group provide those associations with considerable and significant reassurance. They are now both in a position to welcome the Governments amendments.
Perhaps I may explore why they have welcomed them. Beyond choosing where to live, local people have no effective choice about the police service that they receive. The intervention powers therefore need to be in place to ensure that the Government have a means of driving performance improvement in cases where policing has fallen below an acceptable level. As I said, intervention powers are powers of last resort. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, gave exciting examples, but I think that even as she
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Our experience of last resort is borne out by the first five years or so of these powers being available to the Home Secretary. He has not needed to use them, as other non-statutory resolutions to performance issues have proved sufficient. A situation will require formal intervention only if results are not forthcoming or police forces or police authorities are unwilling to engage. The rationale for the Governments revisions to existing powers is based on experience of dealing with performance failings gained since the inception of the original powers. The revisions are about framing the powers to provide the most focused and effective response to performance failings in police forces and police authorities.
Amendment No. 38, tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, seeks to remove all the changes introduced in the Bill. We believe that the changes are necessary to better reflect how we work in practice with forces and authorities, and to ensure that they serve as an effective lever of continuous performance improvement. The Government have been concerned about the length of time that forces and authorities can take to put effective improvement plans into operation. Effective powers need to be available if performance improvements are not forthcoming. The changes to be provided by this Bill are merely intended to make the process more efficient and more in line with how they may be used in practice.
Amendments Nos. 39 and 46 propose a definition for the level of performance failing that would lead to intervention as serious and permanent failure. Furthermore, the intervention will occur exceptionally, only if there is no alternative. We realise that to clarify or define the type or level of failing may provide some comfort, although we are not convinced that it would be helpful to add such wording. Intervention powers are intended to be used only in the most serious cases, but it would be illogical to wait for any failing to become permanent before action was taken. It is worth reminding the House that there is no such test in the existing intervention powers approved by this House in 2002, which has not inured to our disadvantage.
There are a number of safeguards to ensure that the powers of intervention are used in only the most exceptional cases and when all other methods of achieving the necessary improvements in performance have been attempted. Most importantly, intervention will not take place unless the police force or police authority had previously been made aware of the performance failings and had been given the opportunity to remedy those failings. There is also the option of non-statutory engagement with the Police Standards Unit, which in practice is most likely to occur before any intervention is considered.
We have listened to the previous debate on the definition of a threshold that must be met before intervention powers are utilised. Moreover, we are
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I listened carefully to what the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, said about police authorities. I agree that the new requirement on the Home Secretary to seek the views of the Chief Inspector for Justice, Community Safety and Custody before issuing a direction in relation to the police force should also apply before any direction is issued in relation to a police authority. That makes sense, and I can see why the noble Baroness makes that suggestion. I can therefore assure the noble Baroness that we will bring forward an appropriate amendment at Third Reading. I endorse what my noble friend Lady Henig said. Inspecting police authorities and their function gives us a good avenue through which to ensure that we respond proportionately and appropriately.
The noble Baroness, Lady Harris, also said that the Home Office basically has the skills and knowledge to intervene in this way. I of course accept that this is new territory, but that should not stop us from doing the right thing. Elsewhere this Bill provides, for the first time, for police authorities to be inspected. These amendments go hand in glove with that change.
Amendments Nos. 41 and 42 would remove the ability of the Secretary of State to intervene directly with a chief officer of a failing force rather than via the police authority. Learning through our non-statutory work with police forces has demonstrated that the best way to deal with performance problems is to go straight to those, such as the chief officer, who can implement the changes necessary to turn around performance. That is more easily achieved if direct contact is made from the start. The same is true of initial direct contact with the police authority. The change we are making in the Bill is not intended to bypass the police authority or its critical role in holding the force to account for its performance. It has always been our intention that the usual route for intervention would be through the police authority, but we recognise that there might be some occasions when the police authority may not feel able or be able to take the necessary steps.
We are, however, sensitive to the concerns that this direct intervention has raised during the passage of the Bill. Government Amendment No. 43 makes our intentions clearer and will hopefully reassure the House. The amendment provides that the powers are routed directly to the chief officer only in two specific instances: first, where the police authority has also been shown to be failing; and, secondly, where the police authority has specifically requested
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Finally, Amendment No. 44 seeks to remove the Secretary of States ability to intervene without delay when he is satisfied that the chief officer or the police authority have, in respect of the police force or police authority, failings, having been given sufficient information and time to remedy those failings. Again, these revisions to the Police Act are not about removing safeguards, but reflect our experience of working with underperforming forces and what is needed to enable us to get to the heart of the problem quickly. Where a new performance issue arises, of course the expectation is that the force and the authority will be given the time and opportunity to address it, and we would work to help them were such a request for assistance to be made. However, when the force or authority has failed to address problems it has been made aware of and on which it has been given ample time to act, for example via an engagement with the Police Standards Unit or an earlier inspection report, a different solution would need to apply. We feel that it would be illogical, where a longstanding and known performance issue had persisted and gone unresolved, for our response at that point to be to hand back the problem to the force or authority without any stronger and more immediate requirement for its resolution. These provisions will ensure that the necessary action can be taken to address serious failings which have gone unattended.
In conclusion, we have listened very carefully to the concerns about these provisions and we believe that the government amendments meet them. We believe, too, that we have satisfied the concerns raised by the Association of Police Authorities and the Association of Chief Police Officers, both of which have welcomed our amendments. In those circumstances, we invite noble Lords also to welcome them and ask the noble Baroness not to press her amendments.
Baroness Harris of Richmond: My Lords, first I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and Members on the Conservative Benches for their support. I have listened carefully to the Minister and I am grateful for her long clarification. I acknowledge that she has given some reassurance about the role of HMIC in determining whether a force is failing. I also acknowledge that an authority must be failing before the Secretary of State can intervene in a force, or that the authority must first request such an intervention. Again, I agree that that is a significant step forward. However, having considered this carefully, and given the constitutional importance of this part of the Bill, I think that more is needed.
I have already rehearsed my fundamental objections to these proposals so I shall not dwell on them again, but these are matters of significant constitutional importance that, if implemented as they stand, could unbalance the tripartite relationship through which our policing in this country is governed. They also go to the core of the balance that needs to be achieved between central prescription and local determination in order to safeguard the interests
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We all want to ensure that the policing of this country is the most effective we can make it, but driving a cart and horse through key constitutional safeguards is not the way to go about it. I believe that this is a step too far in the direction of central prescription and direction. I wish to test the opinion of the House.
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