But, announcing the White Paper on police reform, Mr Howard confirmed that plans to create a new representative police authority for London, announced by his predecessor Kenneth Clarke in March, have been dropped. Instead, Mr Howard will be advised by a 16-strong body appointed by the Home Office.
The proposals, which involve reducing the role of local councillors on police authorities, were attacked by Tony Blair, the shadow Home Secretary. He said Mr Howard was 'conducting a vendetta against local authorities when what was needed was a crusade against crime'.
The Association of Chief Police Officers welcomed plans to give authorities and chief constables greater control over budgets but criticised the 'creeping centralisation' of the structural reforms. John Burrow, Chief Constable of Essex and president of the association, said: 'We seriously question the need to reconstitute the membership of police authorities.'
In the House of Commons, Mr Howard brushed aside criticisms from Mr Blair over the about-turn on the London plans, which he said was due to 'careful consideration of the unique national responsibilities' of the Metropolitan Police. He emphasised that the new body would be able to engage in a direct dialogue with Paul Condon, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, who has said he supports a London authority.
Key points of the White Paper:
Chief constables will be 'empowered to determine a service which responds better to local needs'. Anticipating the introduction of fixed-term contracts for senior officers, the White Paper bluntly states: 'Chief constables will be judged by results.'
Police authorities will be reduced by about half to 16 members, comprising eight councillors, three magistrates and five members appointed by the Home Secretary, who will also appoint the chairman. Mr Howard told a press conference that he did not favour simply business people but wanted to see 'a headmaster or two'.
The authorities will be 'required' to consult local people and publish local policing plans. They will also be 'obliged' to develop strategies for involving the public. They will also be responsible for setting and publishing local performance indicators and objectives and ensuring that they are met by the force. Performance indicators and targets are expected to involve response times and victim care.
Both authorities and forces will be given greater freedom to decide how to spend their financial allocation from the Home Office. The White Paper said the Government intended to relinquish its highly detailed controls on both total expenditure, capital allocation and the proportion spent on manpower. Chief constables will no longer have to apply to the Home Office for manpower increases.
The White Paper also contains proposals for simplifying the amalgamation of police forces. Despite speculation in March that Mr Clarke favoured reducing the existing 43 forces by about half, no proposals were announced. The White Paper says the Home Secretary will make decisions 'when the time is right'.
The White Paper also includes a number of developments which are already taking place - such as sector policing and the devolving of power to local commanders as well as much that remains to be resolved, including the Sheehy Report on pay and responsibilities, which is published tomorrow, and proposals for an improved discipline system, still subject to a consultation exercise.
Mr Howard told the Commons that the measures were needed to revitalise community support for the police. There was insufficient distinction between the roles of chief constable and police authority and a lack of priorities. 'These proposals will lay the basis for the police service of the 21st century,' he said.
Leading article, page 17