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Baroness Harris of Richmond moved Amendment No. 35:


The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 35, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 37 and 38. Amendments No. 35 and 38 stand also in the name of other noble Lords. I very much welcome the Government's recognition of the board's primary responsibility for best value. I can see that the Government have listened and tried to respond to the concerns which I and other noble Lords on all sides of your Lordships' House raised at Committee stage.

I have looked carefully at the amendment in the name of the noble and learned Lord the Minister. May I say that I fully understand the reasoning behind the Government's amendments. Therefore, I have tabled Amendment No. 37, which departs from the existing best value model elsewhere, but which seeks to provide the reassurance which may be needed.

I do not believe that anyone in the country, let alone in your Lordships' House, would claim to be an expert on best value. But I have some experience as chairman of a police authority, albeit in England, of the operation. I hope that I can help your Lordships by sharing some of that experience. Best value helps police authorities to focus on corporate priorities and monitor the performance of the police force against them by asking meaningful questions. To do that, the police authority members need to understand the way that the service is structured and how in broad terms

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departments operate, while at the same time recognising the sensitive role it must play in appreciating the chief constable's operational responsibilities.

That does not mean that police authorities should not question whether the chief constable is carrying out those functions in an effective and efficient way. Mutual co-operation and dialogue are the only way to achieve that and to make progress towards a properly accountable police service in which the whole community can have confidence. I assure your Lordships that best value reviews are not about reviewing or scrutinising decisions in individual cases; nor are they about investigating the chief constable's operational decisions.

Best value reviews involve rigorously examining broad functions such as procurement, estates management, people management and relationships with partner organisations, training, core management and so on. They are about asking questions such as: what does one do; how do we do it; and how can we give the community a better service? That is what best value is all about. Clarity of responsibility is absolutely essential. We must not create the possibility that there is a stalemate where there is no agreement on the way ahead. I fear that that could happen if we adopt the Government's proposed amendments. That could only damage the credibility of both the board and the police service in the eyes of the community.

My amendment adopts the approach and wording used throughout the Bill. Our aim is to achieve a compromise and strike the right balance. I beg to move.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I wish to speak to government Amendments Nos. 36 and 38 to 42. Other noble Lords have put their names to Amendment No. 38, which removes Clause 28(3) of the Bill. The effect of this is to give to the board the primacy for reviewing police functions to achieve "best value". There seems to be broad agreement for this change. I want to put it beyond doubt that the Government see the board as having the lead role in these arrangements, and the Bill will now reflect that.

Government Amendment No. 38 goes hand in hand with Amendment No. 36. This requires the board to act together with the chief constable in striving to achieve best value in respect of police functions. But again I wish to stress that the Government see the primary duty to achieve best value as falling to the board in respect of its own and police functions. In tabling these amendments, we have been influenced by what the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, has said to us. My right honourable friend Adam Ingram, the Minister of State, and I have found those discussions extremely valuable. There is now little between us, and the proposed provisions are very close to those in England and Wales.

There are two reasons for Amendment No. 36. The first is management. We want the board and the chief constable to work together to achieve best value on the vast resources it takes to provide policing in Northern

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Ireland. We want the board to lead in taking forward the best value agenda, including in reviewing police functions. We want the board fully to involve the police. It is simply good management practice that the organisation under scrutiny should be involved in looking at the way it does things rather than have someone come in and tell it how to do things.

The second reason for requiring the chief constable and the board to work together is that we have provided for the board to have very wide powers in this area. We need to ensure that a sensible balance is achieved between the chief constable's operational independence and the board's review power. Clearly, the board's review power should not extend to reviewing a particular arrest or second guessing the chief constable's operational judgment. That is not remotely what the best value provisions are about. I see that the noble Baroness agrees with that. The Government would not wish to leave any doubt that there are sensible limits to what should be reviewed within the context of the board's primacy in this area.

I turn to Amendments Nos. 35 and 37, which cover the same ground as the Government's Amendments Nos. 36 and 38. I have to say that we have moved a long way on the best value provisions. I think the noble Baroness acknowledges that. As I said earlier, I believe the noble Baroness shares our objective. We both want the chief constable and the board to work together to achieve best value and this will clearly involve the sharing of each other's views. It is our judgment that Amendment No. 36 takes better account of Northern Ireland's unique circumstances than does Amendment No. 35. While our goal is very much a normal security environment, until that position is reached we believe it is prudent to provide the explicit assurance that both parties will act together. That is, after all, an accurate description of how it should work in practice. Amendment No. 35 seeks to reinsert a reference to the chief constable in Clause 28(2). That is unnecessary as Clause 28(2) deals with reviews which are a part of the overall best value arrangements mentioned in Clause 28(1). Subsection (1) already requires the board to make best value arrangements in respect of police functions.

I shall now turn briefly to other government amendments in this grouping. Amendment No. 39 to Clause 29(4)(c) requires the Comptroller and Auditor General to assess the reasonableness of the board's performance indicators and standards in relation to its own and police functions. The Bill as drafted caters only for the latter. This responds to a suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Cope, in Committee. As I indicated at the time, I am grateful to him for highlighting the point. Amendment No. 42 makes a consequential amendment to Clause 31(1)(b) in light of that change.

Amendment 40, to Clause 29(6), requires the Comptroller and Auditor General to publish his audit of the board's performance plan rather than have the board publish it as currently required. Again, that anomaly was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Cope, in Committee. Perhaps I may say specifically

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that his contribution has helped to improve the drafting of the Bill in this area. Amendment No. 41 is a drafting change.

As is apparent, we have made a number of changes to the provisions dealing with best value. From where we are at the moment, we think that this is the right regime. But in the light of the assistance we have had from the noble Baroness, we shall consider carefully what she has said. That is not to give any suggestion that we will move. We think that we have reached the right place but it is only fair that we should consider carefully what she has said. In those circumstances, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, before the noble and learned Lord sits down, perhaps I may say that I think that he has got it right too. I am grateful to him for his remarks about my contribution in this area. I think that he is properly reflecting the special position of Northern Ireland, and particularly of the chief constable, at the present time.

Baroness Harris of Richmond: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Minister for his comments. We have indeed moved a long way. We are all learning about what best value means. I make no criticism whatever in suggesting that any help I might have given has not been understood. We share the same objectives. We may well differ on "act together with" and "have regard to". As the noble and learned Lord suggested, we may discuss the matter a little further to see whether before Third Reading we can agree on a form of words. I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for his remarks. I shall read carefully what he has had to say. We shall probably be in dialogue before Third Reading. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 36:


    Clause 28, page 13, line 21, at end insert--


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