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Lord Whitty: I suppose that I should declare a non-interest in that I have never been a member of a PCG. Nevertheless, some confusion has arisen in this debate. Certainly, the amendments in both merged groups cut across the intention that the Metropolitan Police Authority and district should be, as far as practicable, under the same statutory obligations as elsewhere in the country.
There are two main differences between the Metropolitan Police and others in the field of consultation. First, in London the duty rests with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, whereas in other parts of the country it rests with the police authority. Secondly, there are specific requirements on the Metropolitan Police Commissioner to make separate consultation arrangements for each of the London boroughs. We see no good reason why the police authority in London should be under a different statutory obligation from police authorities elsewhere in this area.
We understand the anxieties that effective consultation arrangements should not be disrupted. We are strongly in favour of improving the links between public consultation and local police objectives, and believe that the new and, for the first time, explicitly democratically accountable police authority should hold the police to account for the objectives set. It is important that the police authority in its operations and strategy is aware of the priorities and concerns expressed by local people.
Consultation is also a central component of the crime reduction strategies in which police authorities are one of the key partners. Section 96(2) of the 1996 Act, as amended by the Bill, will require the MPA to consult the commissioner, so the commissioner is still consulted. As to the rest, it is similar to other police authorities.
In regard to the future of police community consultative groups, there is some confusion, because they are non-statutory bodies. They are based on models proposed in the Home Office guidance issued in 1985. The Bill does not affect their status either way. Their future role will depend on the arrangements set up by the police authority, as is the case with consultative arrangements in other areas. Many police authorities outside London have PCCGs in their area, and we would certainly expect the MPA to continue to operate in that way. Placing a statutory function on the MPA would be to treat it differently from police authorities elsewhere, which do not have an equivalent prescription placed on them.
Lord Whitty: What I am saying is that Section 96 requires the commissioner, as the situation is now, to establish appropriate means of consultation for each London borough. That will be altered, but there is no prescription that that should be done by a PCCG in London, any more than anywhere else. The PCCGs are bodies that arise from Home Office guidance, and not from the statute, as I understand it.
In practice, we are quite clear that the Metropolitan Police Authority will continue to operate a system of borough consultation. The Metropolitan Police are already moving towards a borough-based structure. There are separate crime reduction strategies for each London borough. Therefore, it would be inconceivable that the Metropolitan Police Authority would not continue to have a borough-based consultation arrangement, which presumably will involve the PCCGs. But there is no prescriptive requirement on other police authorities to consult in that way, and there is no statutory basis, therefore, for the PCCGs in the metropolitan area, any more than there is for those in other parts of the country.
(a) for each London borough". I had always thought that that was the basis of PCCGs; certainly the PCCGs think that that is the basis.
I am also saying that it is inconceivable, given that the police force itself is being managed on a borough basis to a greater extent and that the crime reduction strategies are based on boroughs, that the consultation
Lord Tope: The noble Lord the Minister is telling us that there is no statute which says that there shall be a police community consultative group. I understand that. May I be clear that the noble Lord is saying that the Metropolitan Police Authority will determine the appropriate consultative arrangements in each London borough, which may or may not mean the existing police consultative group; that it will be up to the MPA, in consultation, we hope, with people in the borough, to decide on the appropriate consultation arrangement in each borough and that, therefore, the police consultative groups may or may not continue? In other words, they are as uncertain as to their future existence now as they were before this debate, and they will have to await the establishment of the MPA and the time when it is in a position to consider these matters in respect of each of the 32 London boroughs.
Lord Whitty: I can give the noble Lord even less comfort than he assumes. The MPA will be under the same requirement as other police authorities across the country to consult. The Bill does not provide that it should consult on a borough basis, nor that it should consult the PCCGs, and those are not statutory requirements for any other police authority.
As a matter of practice, it is clearly sensible for the Metropolitan Police Authority to continue to consult on a borough basis, for all the reasons that I have outlined, and in many cases--possibly most or even all cases--that will be under the existing PCCGs. However, as my noble friend Lord Harris indicated, the MPA may develop different and more appropriate methods of consultation. The main point is that we will have a democratic police authority in London which should be treated and trusted in the same way as police authorities elsewhere.
Lord Clement-Jones: Why is it appropriate that the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 requires a statutory partnership on a crime and disorder strategy on a borough basis for London, but the Minister now says that that will not be required for consultation purposes? I do not understand the logic of the Government's proposals in the light of what they have already done in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.
Lord Whitty: The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 requires strategies of all local authorities all over the country, not just in London. I return to the point that we are trying to treat London the same as the rest of the country in the way in which duties are placed on the police authority. The statutory consultation under that Act, as elsewhere in the country, includes the local
Lord Cope of Berkeley: The Minister has done his best to tell us, with his usual fluency, "Don't worry, it'll be all right. We are changing the statutory basis and taking away the specific statutory requirement, but it will be all right". I was put in mind of when I started my national service. When we all stood terrified on the square, a certain drill sergeant would come round, put his face very close usually to one of the smaller members of the troop and say, "You look worried, lad. Don't worry until I tell you to worry". Then he would go round to the back, put his mouth close to the ear of the person in question and say, "Worry now". It is not surprising that the boroughs, and the consultative committees in particular, should be worrying now.
The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, expressed his bafflement at what was happening. To express it as clearly as I can, what is happening is that under the present law--Section 96 of the Police Act 1996--the commissioner is under a statutory duty to make separate arrangements for each London borough to obtain the views of the people in the area about matters concerning the policing of the area and to obtain their co-operation with the police in preventing crime in their borough. That is a specific statutory duty on the commissioner that will be abolished by the Bill. It will be replaced by a duty on the new authority to make arrangements after consulting the commissioner.
The Minister says that that process is the same for other parts of the country, but London is different. The forces outside London do not have to deal with 32 different authorities. The police in my part of the country, the Avon and Somerset Police, have to deal with five different authorities--Somerset County Council and the four unitary authorities in what used to be the county of Avon. It is easier to deal with five councils than with 32 separate boroughs.
However, there is another fundamental difference. Those five councils, as in the rest of the country, are represented on the police authority. They are in a position to ensure that consultation takes place. They are the police authority. They are the majority of the police authority who decide how this consultation should take place in the future. But the boroughs, as we heard at the start of our discussion of the clauses dealing with the Metropolitan Police, are not to be represented at all.
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