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Mr. Allen: Given that "operational" is an elastic term, will my right hon. Friend consider defining it so that the operational creep in the police service, which allows just about everything to be seconded to the powers of the chief constable, is limited? I realise that it might be too late to do that for this Bill.
Mr. Denham: My hon. Friend will see that we have approached the matter in a slightly different way in the Bill. It is much easier, in law and in practice, to define those matters that must be solely the responsibility of the chief constable rather than to define all those that might be called "operational" in a broader sense. In the clauses
Mr. Allen: My right hon. Friend knows that I am interested in a particular problem. The chief constable in Nottinghamshire has effectively been able to do away with the beat bobby service in the city of Nottingham by ending what we would all term "community policing". Is my right hon. Friend telling me that nothing in the amendment, the clause or indeed the Bill would have prevented the chief constable from doing something that he can do now with impunity? He can disregard the rhetoric that Ministers dispense at the Dispatch Box; is my right hon. Friend telling me that he will still be able to do so in future?
Mr. Denham: I hate to disappoint my hon. Friend, but the answer is yes. It is clear from the discussions on Second Reading, in Committee and in the other place that the powers of intervention will not allow us to say to a chief constable, "You must do things our way." They apply only where the quality of service and the results achieved for the public are not satisfactory. The Bill makes provision for codes of practice to which chief constables would have to have regard. That could cover several different areas of policing, but I would not like to speculate today on whether it would cover the issue raised in such detail by my hon. Friend. He has inadvertently given me the opportunity to make it clear that this is not the prescriptive, centralising Bill to run the city of Nottingham from Whitehall that Opposition Members make it out to be.
My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas) made valuable points about variation. The thrust of the Bill is to ensure that we bring the standard of all police forces up to that of the best.
Lady Hermon (North Down): I apologise for coming slightly late to the debate. Will the Minister elaborate on the nature of the representations that senior officers may make? He will know that under the rules of natural justice a person is entitled to a fair hearing. Given the seriousness of retirement or enforced resignation to an individual, surely it is acceptable and wholly reasonable that he is able to make representations in person as well as in writing.
Mr. Denham: Certainly we intend that the chief officer will be able to make such representations during the appropriate part of the proceedings, and I shall write to the hon. Lady with details about that. We do not intend to make available a full hearing at every stage in the proceedings, but it is obviously right that the rules of natural justice are followed if measures are taken to require a chief officer to retire or resign.
'an explanation in writing of'
'(1) The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 (c. 37) shall be amended as follows.
(2) In section 20(1) (application for a sex offender order in Scotland) for "in the area of his police force" there shall be substituted "who he believes is in, or is intending to come to, the area of his police force".
(3) In section 20(2) (conditions to be fulfilled), for "the public" there shall be substituted "the public in the United Kingdom, or any particular members of that public".
(4) In section 20(3) (court to which application must be made)
(a) after "application to" there shall be inserted "
(b) at the end there shall be inserted "; or
(b) the sheriff whose sheriffdom includes any part of the area of the applicant's police force.".
(5) In section 20(5) (prohibitions which may be imposed), for "the public" there shall be substituted "the public in the United Kingdom, or any particular members of that public,".
(6) In section 21(7) (time limit, variation and revocation of order)
(a) in paragraph (b), after "revoked" there shall be inserted "(in the case of a sex offender order, by the appropriate court for that order)";
(b) in paragraph (b)(i), after "the order" there shall be inserted " or, in the case of a sex offender order, any other relevant chief constable".
(7) After that subsection there shall be inserted
"(7A) In subsection (7) above
'the appropriate court' means
(a) the sheriff who made the sex offender order; or
(b) the sheriff whose sheriffdom includes any part of the area of the applicant's police force or of the police force of any other relevant chief constable;
'relevant chief constable' means a chief constable who believes that the accused is in, or is intending to come to, the area of his police force."
(8) After subsection (7A) (inserted by subsection (7)) there shall be inserted
"(7B) Where a sheriff makes a sex offender order in relation to a person who is already subject to such an order (whether made by that court or another), the earlier order is discharged by the making of the subsequent one."
(9) Subsections (5) to (7) apply in relation to applications and orders under section 20 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 (c. 37), whether made before or after the coming into force of this section.'.[Mr. Denham.]
Mr. Denham: In Committee we introduced amendments to sex offender orders made in England and Wales to bring more flexibility to the application process, to introduce interim orders and to extend the jurisdiction of sex offender orders to the UK as a whole. The five new clauses in this group provide parallel provisions for sex offender orders made in Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Scottish Parliament passed a Sewel motion on the 27 June allowing the UK Parliament to legislate on its behalf.
New clauses 2 and 4 make three changes to the application process. First, when police forces know that an offender intends to come to their area, they will be able to apply for an order prior to the offender's arrival. Secondly, police forces will be able to make an application to any court in their police area, rather than only to a court in the area in which some of the risky behaviour took place. Thirdly, police forces will be able to vary orders at courts in their own police area without having to go back to the original court that made the order. That is not necessary in Northern Ireland because there, there is no limitation on which court may hear a variation. New clauses 2 and 4 also make it possible for the prohibitions in Northern Ireland and Scottish orders to extend to the UK as a whole by amplifying the definition of "the public" to
Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): The Opposition are pleased that a Sewel motion was passed by the Scottish Parliament enabling the new provisions to be introduced in line with the Government's proposals in Committee. We agreed with the Government's action in Committee, but it is fair to say that although we welcome the Government's having taken the opportunity to use the Bill to expand the operation of sex offender orders and make them more flexible, the Government might need to do more. From discussions with Ministers, I know that the Government recognise the need to keep the issue under review; that, too, is welcome.
I pay a personal tribute to another Home Office Minister, the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration, who assisted me on an especially difficult constituency case that is relevant to the new clauses. In that case, a person who had committed serious offences was about to try to move from one part of the UK to another part of the UK. The Minister was extremely helpful. There is no doubt that the provisions relating to England and Wales that the Government introduced in Committee, and the new clauses and consequential amendments that introduce those provisions to Scotland and Northern Ireland, will help the police.
None the less, we ask the Minister to repeat on the record the assurance that the Government have not closed their mind to making further changes if it transpires that there are other loopholes. The case with which I dealt, and the not dissimilar cases with which my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) and my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) have dealt, have exposed potential difficulties in the law as it stands.
We all want there to be a really effective set of provisions in statute to control dangerous sex offenders and prevent their committing further offences. After the tragic Sarah Payne case, we are all especially conscious of the need for the law to be very tough and not to allow any loopholes to remain. Having said that, I welcome the Government's action, but ask the Minister to reassure us that if we propose further changes, the Government will consider our proposals seriously.