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Lord Rooker: In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, in so far as I am ableI am not one of the business managersI intend to ensure that the Bill is passed in a considered and mature manner, after tranquil debate. I also hope that, when we are able, we suitably improve the legislation. I shall certainly make it my business to make good use of the gaps that we shall have between the stages. Noble Lords should therefore receive no surprises about the Government's view on what has been said in Committee. I think that it would be much better for our consideration on Report if advance warning were given. If that entails holding some joint meetings or one-to-ones, I shall be happy to do so. I shall endeavour to operate such a process.
I am and have always been a fan of the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, but I am even more so now. Once, in the other place, I almost had my legs chopped off for suggesting that Parliament should take a year off from passing new legislation to put right and bring together the great body of law that we had already passed but was a mystery even to practitionersalthough it should not have been, because the practitioners have to serve the great British public. Ultimately, we are here to serve the public. Consequently, I am a great believer in consolidation. However, I do not know about any plans for such legislation.
Lord Rooker: I am not in charge. However, I think that the way in which we legislate is crazy, inefficient and a mystery to the public, although we legislate on behalf of the public. Legislation is not necessarily intended only for the cognoscenti. Finance lawyers get away with building one Act on anotherthe Finance
As for the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, I cannot list the national policing plan's contents or go beyond what is stated in the White Paperwhich is a little more detailed than the legislation. I should, however, say a little about the plan's purpose. Currently, there is no single document in which the Government are able to state their priorities, performance indicators and plans for new development. Police authorities and chief officers have a plan for coming years on the basis of various requirements set out in different places at different times without necessarily having a clear sense of the Government's intended direction for the police service. The national policing plan is intended to fill that gap.
The national policing plan will provide an overarching strategy within which the local force and basic command unit area plans can be prepared. We also hope that it will give the police a sense of direction and coherence. It will supply a framework at national level for continuous improvement and the achievement of strategic policing priorities and objectives. As such, it will be a mechanism to help minimise variation in performance. As the Home Secretary has said, one of his biggest concerns is the variation in performance between various police forces. However, that is not to say that we are seeking to create a national police force, as that is not our intention in the legislation. Nevertheless, we want to use the plan as a basis for consultation on proposals for regulations and codes of practice. The plan will, of course, not interfere with the operational independence of chief officers.
If we can provide the same information about all police forcesthere are currently 43and authorities at the same time and in the same format, it will certainly be beneficial to Ministers who are subject to parliamentary Questions. Ultimately, the blame lies with Ministersthat is our bit of the tripartite arrangement; the other bits are the money and the power. It will help if we have that information in one place. As the debates continue, we can further elucidate the content. However, the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, will not be able to see the bigger picture until the first plan is published.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: I should like to say how grateful I amingratitude would be very churlish in these circumstancesto the Minister for his accurate and elegant description of our legislative methods. He has earned everyone's gratitude for that, and I am most grateful to him.
The noble Lord said: The temptation to use verbiage is not confined exclusively to the matter of legislation but can appear also in regulation and, as we see in Clause 2, codes of practice. Whitehall's temptation to use verbiage all too often creates considerable administrative difficulty for those who are on the receiving end.
I recall that the education service came pretty close to mental collapse because of the plethora of education Bills that Whitehall has insisted on passing with monotonous regularity. It was not exclusively one political party that brought about that situation. Schools were just beginning to deal with the consequences of one education Bill, and all the consequent guidance issued by Whitehall, when Parliament concluded passage of the next one. Before schools had even started to discover whether one Act worked, another came along to change everything. The situation with codes of practice can be precisely the same.
Amendment No. 12 may seem small and trivial, but it is simply an attempt to try to produce a little bit of procedural stability. It requires that if a code of practice is to be revisedthere will be consultation on the revision in due courseit should not be revised at intervals of less than 12 months. That measure seeks simply to make life at the coal face a little more straightforward and easier for practitioners.
It is a simple and straightforward matter. I hope that the Minister will co-operate on it even if he does not accept the detail of the amendment. Such an assurance would go a long way to help those who are responsible for the administration of these services at the local levelthat is, chief officersto work more smoothly as they would know that if a revised code of practice were issued they would have time to put it in place and see whether it worked before the next one was issued. That is an important point. I beg to move.
Lord Renton: I support my noble friend who has moved the amendment. I also support the other two amendments with which it is grouped. There is a theory on the part of some people that a code of practice
Lord Dholakia: We on these Benches support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. Our aim is simply that the codes of practice we are discussing should conform to those which are issued for police authorities generally. We are now discussing codes of practice for chief officers. The consultation process that the Home Office has in mind would probably take longer than 12 months. However, there are a number of issues here which we need to identify. A good code of practice will need to bed down and its effectiveness will have to be monitored before anyone proposes any revision of it. I believe that 12 months is probably the minimum period of time that should elapse before such an exercise is undertaken. As we argued earlier, it is sensible to introduce an adequate time-scale. It would be a tragedy to tinker with revision before a code of practice had had time to settle down. Will the Minister say why a code of practice would need to be revised before 12 months had elapsed? Where does all this lead? Where does the ultimate accountability of a chief officer lie under such codes of practice? Does it lie with the police authority or with the Home Secretary?
Lord Rooker: I say to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, that we do not plan to issue codes of practice in under 12 months. That is the whole point of the drafting of the clause; there is no specific time-scale. If a code of practice had been issued on, for example, equipment, and it was known to be out of date, it would not be efficient for chief police officers to be required to use a code of practice that was known to be out of date and for the law to prevent our updating it because we were stuck with some 12-month rule or some other time limitation. It is necessary to be reasonably flexible.
However, it is not the intention to shower police officers with codes of practice on a monthly basis or to impose change for change's sake. Each code of practice has to be subjected to a test before it is introduced. It is unreasonable for the Committee to proceed on the assumption that we would without good reason issue and reissue codes of practice on the same subject at intervals of less than 12 months. However, if an issue of good practice needs to be revised, surely it is important that we can revise it so that chief officers are not working with information and codes of practice, to which they are required to have regard, which everyone knows are out of date. I believe that any reasonable person would consider such a situation to be grossly unfair on them.
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