New Clause 4 — Commencement of Part 1
Nick Herbert (Minister of State, Justice; Arundel and South Downs, Conservative)
If I may, I will come to that matter when we reach that specific group of amendments, because the Government have tabled amendments to address it. We must find a way to ensure that the Bill is consistent with the wishes of the Welsh Assembly, which it expressed in rejecting the legislative consent motion. I shall address that question at the appropriate time, but I wanted to respond specifically to the right hon. Member for Torfaen.
When moving new clause 4, the hon. Member for Gedling made a number of wider points in which he attempted to open up once again the arguments for and against police and crime commissioners. I shall not dwell on those other than to say that he has expressed support in the past for the concept of a direct component in police authorities, as was ably pointed out by my hon. Friend Michael Ellis.
In addition, in Committee, the hon. Member for Gedling moved an amendment for directly elected chairs of police authorities, and the previous Government twice proposed a democratic element. I accept that there is a difference between that Government and this one, but the difference is not that this Government do not believe in democratic reform of police authorities—it appears that all parties do. Rather, the difference is that the previous Government backed down twice, but we have no intention of doing so, because there was a Conservative party manifesto commitment, and as my hon. Friend Dr Huppert pointed out, because having directly elected police authorities was separately a Liberal Democrat manifesto commitment.
We now know that the latest proposal from the hon. Member for Gedling is for directly elected chairs of police authorities. In moving and voting for that amendment, the hon. Gentleman wholly undermined his argument on cost, because implementation of directly elected chairs of police authorities would cost not the same as police and crime commissioners, but more. Therefore, the most expensive proposal for democratic reform of police authorities in the House of Commons is from the Opposition spokesman.
What is wrong with proposed new clause 4—I agree with the right hon. Member for Leicester East on this —is that it would put in the hands of the inspectorate of constabulary the power to hold an inquiry, and thereby to delay implementation of the Bill. Constitutionally, that would be very difficult. It would place the inspectorate in an invidious position. Parliament should decide reforms of this kind, after taking into account the views of both Houses and consulting widely. The idea that we can somehow park these matters into an inquiry by an independent body that is meant to look at the effectiveness and efficiency of policing is wrong. It would be very wrong for that organisation to do that, as it would effectively set up the inspectorate as judge and jury on a decision that Parliament had made. We therefore believe that these measures are the right thing to do, and we intend to proceed with them. Nevertheless, we are listening and will continue to do so.
In conclusion, on new clause 4, I would like to point out that, when the previous Home Secretary, Mr Blunkett was proposing democratic reform of police authorities, he said that those who claimed to have the power, and who wished to hold the power, should therefore be accountable for the power. That is the right principle, and the basis on which we should proceed.