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Lord Harris of Haringey: I, too, believe it to be essential that the indication by the Home Office of what it would like police authorities to do should be given at the earliest possible stage. As the Committee is aware, I chair the Metropolitan Police Authority. Today, we spent a happy half-hour wrestling with issues relating to the setting of our own policing priorities and the targets for individual borough command units. We were faced with a situation whereby, quite recently, the Home Office had indicated the priorities it is seeking in the coming financial yearwhen we were already well into the process of discussion, debate and consultation at local level about local priorities.
There should be a proper sequencing of these events. The ideal arrangement is that the national tone is set first. That allows for consideration at police authority level and then local discussion about what it means in practice at local level.
Lord Tope: My Lords, perhaps I may follow my noble colleague Lord Harris of Haringey, although I am not allowed in this Chamber to call him "my noble friend". As this is the first time I have spoken on the Bill, I should declare that I too am a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority and the Association of Police Authorities. More relevant to this debate is the fact that, as a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority, I chair a committee with the grand title, the Finance, Planning and Best Value Committeethe word "planning" being a reference to the production of the annual police plan for the Metropolitan Police Authority. Indeed, I chair the planning panel which does the detailed work.
I want to reiterate and emphasise the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey. He referred to our half-hour discussion during the full authority meeting this morning. As he will recognise, that is but a small part of the total discussion that has taken place throughout the year on the production of a police plan for a service as large and complex as that in London. During this morning's discussion, we commented that the production of the police was virtually an all-the-year-round event. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, told us that we "could have April off"although I suspected that he was being a little optimistic.
This is a complex business. We are keen that it should beto use an awful expressiona bottom-up process. The consultation with the London boroughs is important. Meaningful consultation takes place not only with the operational command units but also with the PCCGs, the crime and disorder partnershipsof which there are 32 in the Metropolitan area. Next year, they will have their own bespoke targets. That is important. It gives them a degree of ownership. We have to take full account of the Metropolitan Police Service's own prioritiesof the MPA's priorities. In London, for better or worse, we have the added complexity of the mayor's priorities to consider as best we may. Therefore, when we come to consider the Home Secretary's prioritiesthe national policing planit is extremely important that we receive those indications in good time and that they properly set the strategic framework in which all the consultation, discussion and consideration can take place.
This year, we did not receive the Home Secretary's priorities until January. These are of national concern and do not relate merely to London. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, is right to say that effectively that is looking at the year beyond. We are so far down the process by that stage that they can have little influence, and it is disruptive. Not having those prioritiesin
Therefore, I strongly support whichever amendment is chosen. Both seek to achieve the same end. We should receive the national policing plan in good time. The date suggested is 31st October. From my experience in the Metropolitan Police area, that is the latest date by which we should receive it. The Bill as drafted suggests that we could receive the plan before 31st March. I know that it is not the intention, but it would be absurd if we received the plan in March. The intention as stated in the White Paper is that the plan should be published by 31st December. That is significantly too late. It would mean us actually receiving it on Christmas Eve and not beginning to consider it until the early part of January. That is too late. But even that date written on the face of the Bill as a requirement, as distinct from a good intention in a White Paper, would be a step forward.
The Bill should contain a requirement that the national policing plan is produced in good timeby 31st Octoberso that all police authorities can take the strategic framework properly into account in the lengthy consultations that some of us, quite properly, have to undertake. I hope that the Minister can be as accommodating with this set of amendments as he sought to be with the previous set.
Lord Dholakia: Perhaps I may put a short question to the Minister. The White Paper said that the Government would produce the national plan by the end of the calendar year. Yet there is no specific commitment in the Bill. What were the reasons for omitting a time-scale? Effective plans require effective deadlines. One would have thought that essential. Why is no deadline laid down in the Bill?
Lord Rooker: First, perhaps I may respond to the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. It relates to a point raised at Second Reading. The Bill is not exclusively about implementing the White Paper. The White Paper goes way beyond the material in the Bill. Issues contained in the White Paper are being taken forward daily which are not included in the Bill. I ask the Committee to bear that in mind.
As to the date, I well understand that Members of the Committee who have spoken have first-hand experience of drawing up local plans for police authorities, which I do not have. I appreciate the constraints that they feel they are under.
If either of the amendments was on the face of the Bill, it would without question cause us considerable difficulties. It would make the overall process extremely tight. We do not believe that it is realistic.
Lord Rooker: In terms of a yearly publication that would be a failure of public administration. To publish between Christmas and the new year would be even worse, or to publish the week before Christmas, when meetings will not be taking place. There is not much leeway, therefore, between that period and 31st October. I am not going to the stake over six weeks, and I do not believe that Members of the Committee should.
It is not as though the plan will appear without any warning. I must make that clear. The framework for local plans to achieve consistency in performance among police forces is important. However, to return to the previous set of amendments, the national policing forum will be drawn from the very organisations whose members prepare the local plans. So they will be more than aware of the content of the national plan before its formal publication. As I say, it will not appear without any warning whatever to the members of police authorities, who will be responsible for drawing up their plans. We are determined to stick to our commitment to publish the plan well before the end of each calendar year, so that there is a reasonable period before the end of the calendar year. We have no secret plan to dump the plan on police authorities so that they do not have an opportunity to consult. I know nothing about existing plans. However, today is 28th February and I wonder why in London it has been left so late to discuss these issues. I suspect that this is not the first discussion on the forthcoming year. That is my little tease; please do not hold it against me!
I hope that this comment will be useful to the House. The White Paper states that the publication of the plan could provide the basis of an annual parliamentary debate on policing. I am new to this House; I am still learning. I asked the Whip whether this House has those important annual debates on the Army, Navy or Air Force, as does another place. My noble friend replied, "Not unless someone asks for it". I welcome debates in another place on policing and the penal side of the Home Office agenda. It is important to change the way in which Parliament considers the issue. We need to provide a fulcrum for debate to help those who are providing input into their local plans.
I cannot go beyond that. I admit that the consultation on priorities for best value performance indicators was delayed because of the planning and publication of the White Paper and the reform process contained within it. That is wholly exceptional and is not likely to arise again. I apologise for that delay. I realise the pressure it will have put on police authorities.
We want to publish the plan a reasonable period before the end of the calendar year so that we are not seen to "pull a fast one". We do not want knowingly to have poor conduct of public administration. We shall do our best to have plans published in a reasonable time. However, in their unpublished form the plans will be well known to members of the organisations who will prepare the local plan. They will not surprise anyone. I hope that I have taken a
Lord Harris of Haringey: In order that my noble friend's tease does not become part of perceived wisdom, I assure him that today's discussion by the Metropolitan Police Authority was the third by the full authority and followed numerous discussions by the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, the planning group and many others.
I hope that this issue is not developing for the Minister into one of those lines in the sand. For a policing plan to have local support there must be local consultation if it is to be implemented locally. My noble friend's offer was that the framework in which police authorities should operate would be published by mid-December. That is very late if there is to be meaningful local consultation informed by national priorities. That is why the amendments are framed as they are. I hope that my noble friend will ask whoever draws lines in the sand to consider whether an earlier date could be offered.
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