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Lord Harris of Haringey: As we seem to be trading consultative groups, I spent at least 10 years as a member of my local police consultative group; I have not been a member for the past two months. I am slightly confused by the remarks made in the past few minutes. My understanding of the legislation is that nothing is being done that disrupts the position of the existing police consultative groups. They will continue.

However, it is important to recognise that in any local area at various times there will need to be in place appropriate consultative arrangements for the area concerned. The police consultative groups in many instances have done extremely important and valuable work, as the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, outlined at some length. But there are also circumstances where the police consultative group may not be the most appropriate mechanism.

The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, talked about the aftermath of the Brixton disturbances. I remember vividly the aftermath of the Broadwater Farm disturbances. In that circumstance, a much more precise geographical area of consultation was needed than a borough-wide consultative group: a consultative mechanism at estate level was needed, rather than one that spanned the whole borough.

I am sure that Members of the Committee would want to see a situation in which the Metropolitan Police at all levels was ready and willing to consult with the local community in whatever was the most appropriate fashion in appropriate circumstances. I see that as the intention of this legislation.

Examining this matter in the context of the Crime and Disorder Act, and the duty that is placed on police commanders in that Act to work with the local authority chief executive in drawing up crime and disorder audits and producing a strategy, that will also be deeply rooted in the process of community consultation. Given that the intention is to ensure that consultation is inclusive and adapted for the particular needs of particular circumstances in particular local areas, and that there is legislation ensuring local community safety strategies achieved after consultation, and given that, so far as I am aware, this legislation does nothing to disrupt the statutory basis of the existing police consultative groups, I am slightly confused as to what all the fuss has been about in the past few minutes.

Lord Dholakia: Before the noble Lord sits down, does he agree that when the matter was debated in the other place, Kate Hoey, in a reply to the Member of Parliament for Southwark, said:

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    It is the Metropolitan Police Authority that will decide whether or not they are working well. The groups are based at borough level, they are working well, and they ought to continue on that basis. Does the noble Lord dispute that?

Lord Harris of Haringey: What I said was that there are a number of police consultative groups which are doing excellent work, as a number of noble Lords have described. I also said that it is important to have appropriate consultative arrangements in each area.

I have not had the benefit of reading specific extracts from proceedings in another place. However, having heard the extract that the noble Lord repeated, as I understand it the Minister in the other place made it clear that arrangements were safe. But I assume that no one in this--

Lord Clement-Jones: Perhaps the noble Lord will indulge me. He said that nothing would disrupt the statutory basis of these consultations. Of course, if the statutory basis is taken away, as it is by the paragraph in the schedule, it will disrupt the statutory basis. There will be no statutory basis. It will be a purely voluntary arrangement. Does the noble Lord agree?

Lord Harris of Haringey: We will no doubt hear the definitive answer from the Minister but my understanding is that the statutory basis is not removed. The basis for the consultative groups is derived in a different way.

I am concerned about some of the comments made by Members of the Committee opposite in relation to the automatic assumption that arrangements will be working well when they might not be and that therefore they should continue. For example, if in some areas there is a police consultative group mechanism which is not working well, are we saying that it should continue because it works well somewhere else? Surely we should try to ensure that the consultative arrangements in particular areas are as effective as possible. I should have thought that in this legislation we are trying to achieve the intention to have effective consultation arrangements in every area; to build on the arrangements required under the Crime and Disorder Act for close local working, based on consultation; and to make use of the existing structures which, I understand, are not threatened by the legislation.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: As we are in Committee, I shall speak briefly again. I am in no doubt that the amendment which I moved attempts to keep in place the current statutory basis for consultation. One can argue, at a pinch, that there is a new statutory basis being inserted for the metropolitan area, but it is of a much more voluntary character.

Under Section 96 of the Police Act, at present the commissioner is under a duty to consult the council of each London borough as to the arrangements that would be appropriate for the borough. There are various other duties set out in that section, but the subsection and others adjacent are being knocked out by lines 45 and 46 on page 298. To some degree they are being replaced

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by the earlier part of paragraph 98 of Schedule 22, but that is not nearly such a direct statutory duty as that which has existed until now. That is what I seek to achieve. Members of the Committee on the Liberal Democrat Bench have used a rather different formula, but I believe that their aim is the same as mine. I prefer my formula.

Lord Tope: The noble Lord is right. We seek the same result but we prefer our formula. However, let us not argue about it. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones for giving me a trailer. I was not going to speak particularly about my borough, except that it is the London Borough of Sutton, which contrasts considerably with the London Borough of Lambeth in all kinds of ways--not least the fact that it has been under Liberal Democrat control for 13 years.

I have been a member of our police consultative committee. I was a founder member back in the early l980s and remained a member continuously until last year. So it is slightly longer service than the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey.

I wish to contribute to the discussion. The police consultative groups on the whole have done and continue to do a good job. There is widespread concern among many, probably all groups, about exactly what is to be the future. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, has given even more cause for concern. I can be more specific about the basis. The noble Lord, Lord Cope, is right, Section 96(1) of the Police Act 1996 states:

    "Arrangements shall be made for each police area for obtaining ... the views of people in that area about matters concerning the policing of the area". It has been confirmed that for that purpose the Metropolitan Police district is regarded as a single police area. In other words, Section 96(1) of the Police Act refers to arrangements concerning the whole of Greater London. The statutory basis under which the borough police consultative groups are set up is Section 96(5) of the Police Act. It states:

    "The Commissioner shall ... consult the council of each London borough as to the arrangements that would be appropriate for the borough". It is that subsection which is to be deleted by this Bill. What concerns the borough police consultative groups is that the statutory basis under which they are set up is to be removed. Whether or not that is the Government's intention we do not know. We shall hear the Minister's response in a moment. However, that is the effect of it. Therefore, if that provision is enacted, reliance on Section 96(1) will not ensure the continuation of consultation within each borough, by whatever means, because it deals with London as a whole.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, said that we all wanted the police consultative groups to be effective. Everyone wants something to be effective. But the noble Lord implied that some were not. That may or may not be the case. I hope that the Minister can tell the Committee--if he can hear what I say--who will decide whether a particular borough police consultative group is or is not effective. What criteria will be used to judge what is and what is not effective? The effectiveness of

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the police consultative group in the London Borough of Lambeth would need to be considered against very different criteria from the circumstances that exist in the London Borough of Sutton. If the police consultative group in my borough, which is an outer London suburb with one of the lowest ethnic minority populations in London, is to be judged against the same criteria as Lambeth, it will probably fail. However, that would be ridiculous and grossly inappropriate.

I ask the Minister to recognise the considerable concern among police consultative groups about the removal of the statutory basis under which they are set up and to make clear the Government's intentions as to their continuance. Talk about introducing other arrangements and criteria, as yet unspecified, to judge their effectiveness and appropriateness simply adds to that uncertainty and concern.

Whichever amendments are the most appropriate, they provide the Minister who is to reply with the opportunity to be clear and absolutely unequivocal, in a way that the Government have not yet been, as to the future of the police consultative groups? Are they to continue? If not, what else is to happen? If they are to continue and there is further discussion about judging their effectiveness and appropriateness, how is that to be done, by whom and against what criteria?

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