Howard heads for conflict with police over Bill: The Home Secretary is determined to avoid more concessions on issue of local control. Patricia Wynn Davies reports

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Indy Politics
MICHAEL HOWARD, the Home Secretary, is set on a collision course with the Police Federation over his determination not to make further concessions on the controversial Bill to reorganise the service.

Mr Howard is unwilling to give ground over Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill proposals to end local council control of police authorities, despite Tuesday's retreat in the House of Lords when Earl Ferrers, the Home Office minister, was forced to withdraw key clauses in the face of all-party opposition.

Mr Howard is determined to keep the power to appoint 'independent' authority members who would serve alongside elected councillors and magistrates, but is willing to listen to suggestions about how shortlists of candidates could be drawn up locally to avoid attacks over 'political placemen'.

Earl Ferrers will spell out the Home Secretary's stance in a meeting with Labour opposite numbers today.

The likely bottom line for Opposition peers is that local authority representatives on authorities should be in a majority, but Mr Howard is not expected to agree to such a concession.

He believes his proposal is acceptable because shortlists of candidates, including those with no party political affiliations, would be drawn up at arm's length from the Home Office, while the Home Secretary of the day would be accountable to Parliament for choices made. But while Mr Howard is no longer wedded to the much-criticised idea of Lord Lieutenants of counties identifying potential candidates, no alternative method has yet surfaced.

Mr Howard is prepared if necessary to endure an embarrassing defeat in the Lords and push the provision through in the Commons.

Mike O'Brien, Labour MP for Warwickshire North and an adviser to the federation, which represents rank-and-file officers, warned yesterday that the organisation would not only continue its opposition to the Bill but step up the pressure.

The federation, which is expected to unleash an intensive lobbying campaign on MPs, opposes almost all the Bill's provisions on the police. It would take only 10 Tory MPs to vote against the Government for a Commons defeat.

Mr O'Brien said that, despite earlier concessions, the police were still deeply unhappy about the Bill, which was an attempt to enhance political control.

'It is of no particular help in the fight-back against crime,' Mr O'Brien said. The Bill was a device to blame the failure to tackle crime on the police and the courts.

During yesterday's Lords Committee Stage, a Labour amendment to create a Greater London Police Authority was defeated by 151 votes to 112 (Government majority 39). But Earl Ferrers disclosed that the Government would appoint an advisory Metropolitan Police Committee of 12 to 16 members.

The committee - originally proposed in last year's police White Paper - would be appointed by the Home Secretary to advise him on budget details, a costed policing plan, monitoring performance and holding the Commissioner to account for the delivery of policing objectives.

Viscount Whitelaw, the former Tory Home Secretary, opposed the Opposition amendment, saying that only a politician with the authority of the Home Secretary could deal with matters such as Buckingham Palace security.

In a modest concession to cross- party demands, Earl Ferrers agreed that the consultation period prior to the amalgamation of police authorities should be doubled from two months to four.

Labour plans to table a new clause to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill providing for 'victim protection' injunctions to be imposed on defendants convicted of indecent assault, rape, grievous bodily harm, murder or manslaughter.

Convicted persons would be banned from entering within a 10- mile radius of the usual home of the victim or, in the case of a killing, the usual home of the victim's close family or legal guardians.