Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill — Second Reading
Lord Patten (Conservative)
My Lords, I wish to address two points: first, the matter of Parliament Square; and, secondly, the matter of police commissioners. However, before that, following the example of the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, I wish to make one foray into generalities. I do not speak as a police expert, as your Lordships will know, but I believe that we need a police covenant in this country to parallel the military covenant, when that is finally formalised and published, as the Government have undertaken to do.
This excellent Bill, making provision for the administration and governance of police forces, will in the end be effective only if we move successfully back towards a new settlement in the public mind about the police, who do a difficult and dangerous job, sometimes getting killed at home in the civilian front line exactly as do our servicemen and servicewomen in their front lines abroad. We seem to have gone from Dixon of Dock Green to the idea that the police are somehow devils in uniform in just about a generation, as we also seem to have lost that intrinsic British balance between the right to a quiet life and the right to demonstrate.
We saw that not too far from my West Country home near Bristol on Good Friday, with crowds wishing to express their displeasure at a particular supermarket chain morphing from retail nimbys into stone, then bottle, then firebomb-throwing yobs in an instant, injuring police heads and breaking teeth with abandon. A nanosecond later, out came the usual suspects to blame the police for it all, locally and nationally-for violence, for pushing too hard, for using the wrong tactics, for being too heavy-handed or too light-handed, for kettling or not kettling enough. Strange how in fiction the police are often alleged in times of difficulty to go out to round up the usual suspects-no need for that on Good Friday, because the usual suspects were out in numbers, often on autopilot, coming out to speak for anarchist, community, liberal or human rights groups, blaming the police for all the ills of the demonstrations that took place.
I think that we are very lucky to have the police that we have and believe that we need to find ways both nationally and locally to formalise a covenant with them. That is something that we need to think about in government and that chief constables and the new police commissioners will need to do.
That generality explored, I turn to Parliament Square, where we have seen, and I have witnessed, violent and unreasonable protests leading to injuries to the police and an appalling misdirection of police effort and resources away from fighting crime in other parts of the capital. Knowledge that there is going to be another demonstration in Parliament Square outside the Palace of Westminster is a much welcomed burglars' charter to those in that trade who want to operate in our outer boroughs, so I applaud the action that my noble friend is taking with the Government to strengthen our powers in Parliament Square to remove nuisances and to try to prevent them from happening there in the future.
I have looked with interest at the map of Parliament Square, published as an annexe to the Explanatory Notes. Having had some interesting maps in an earlier professional manifestation, I studied this map with care. Sadly, it lacks the traditional indication of where true north lies. The map is produced by the Greater London Authority, so I suppose that we can fairly blame Mr Mayor for that failing, unlike some of what I think were rather unfair criticisms made by the noble Lord, Lord Blair of Boughton-he is not in his place, but I hope that one or two of his noble friends will draw my remarks to his attention. Also, there is not much detail at the edges of the map; there is terra incognita. The ancients, drawing their maps cartographically in the old days, had this problem. They used to run out of knowledge of what was at the edge of their maps, so they would put, "Here lie dragons, here lie monsters, here lie supporters of AV", or whatever else.
We need some reassurance that the police with their new powers over Parliament Square will be able to act with the same determination in the matter of the pavements immediately opposite Parliament Square, for fear that there may be displacement activity and that those people removed from Parliament Square may move to Bridge Street, St Margaret Street or Great George Street-new betented encampments may spring up by the displacement of activity in Parliament Square almost as traditional as morris dancing to the streets around the margins. That is the one question that I would ask the Minister to think about letting me know the answer to, in future if not tonight.
Thirdly, lastly and briefly, I, too, am prepared to come out and be unpopular. I declare myself as very much in favour of police and crime commissioners. Indeed, had I not made the pledge to dear Lady Patten, I would have thought it an appealing post to stand for, but I do not think that I shall. The problems for police commissioners are excellent and interesting and I predict that, after all the huffing and puffing that has suddenly erupted in your Lordships' Chamber, unlike in another place, such commissioners will very quickly become part of our civic warp and weft. It is important for people to have the opportunity truly to recommend local views and to be truly accountable to local people. The Government's plans for police commissioners chime with the new, or at least reborn, Tory localism, meeting the honourable Liberal Democrat localism, which I thought was well established until I heard some Liberal Democrat views of dissent this evening. This is an excellent Bill and it has my strong support.