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Peers dealt the government a blow last night in an often strongly worded debate on the Police and Magistrates' Cour...
Peers dealt the government a blow last night in an often strongly worded debate on the Police and Magistrates' Court Bill during its second reading. (Lords, 18 Jan, col 456-569).

Lord Callaghan attitude was typical of the chamber's mood when he criticised the Home Secretary's intentions in this bill: 'We have had so much second-rate legislation during this parliament..that I believe we are suffering from a wilful and ambitious group of young ministers.

'I am bound to say that I think that is particularly true of the Home Secretary in the bill,' he said.

The main concern was the demise of the 'three-legged stool', the tripartite control of police authorities. Lord Whitelaw remarked that the proposals to make the authorities smaller and have five independent members appointed by the Home Secretary, 'appears to upset the political balance which has been so carefully preserved over the years.'

'The Chairman will surely be regarded as the Home Secretary's man, particularly in moments of stress in policing operations. This arrangement would surely run the risk of involving the Home Secretary directly in police operations and that has always been carefully avoided in the past,' warned Lord Whitelaw.

'Why is the Home Secretary - who, with his announcement yesterday, has now recognised the danger - still determined to seek that power, with all the risks which his predecessors have deliberately and carefully avoided over all these years?'

Why was the crucial role local authorities played being undermined? asked many Peers. Lord McIntosh of Haringey said: 'At all stages, it has been recognised by those who have been involved in the service and in controlling the service that local authorities play a crucial part in an accountable police service.

'If it is suggested that local authority members do not have an involvement in their community, all I can say is that provisions which are now proposed do not carry much conviction. After all local authority members (38%) of them according to a recent survey have business interests in their local authorities. Some 62% of them are school governors. All of them are involved in the other activities of the local authority which have to inter-relate with policing.

'Yet the Home Secretary now proposes that it should be a responsibility of the police authority to ensure that there are effective arrangements for consulting local communities about policing.'

Lord McIntosh questioned the implications of the bill on local government finance: 'The bill is proposing that the precept on local authorities needs the approval of half the total membership and five out of eight local authority members.

'This means that the nominated members of the police authority, plus the chairman placing his casting vote can block a precept on the local authority in the area.'

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