Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill — Second Reading
Lord Morris of Handsworth (Labour)
My Lords, batting at number 36 in the order for this debate, I can offer very little that is new. The House will have heard the collective experience of retired Metropolitan commissioners and chief constables, and we will hear from past members of police authorities and many others in the field of law enforcement. Many of the contributions have been informed by first-hand experience of policing and in the criminal justice system. I declare an interest in that for a year I chaired a public inquiry into the professional standards and workplace practices of the Metropolitan Police. I pause here to pay tribute to all those members of police authorities up and down the country who gave evidence to my inquiry.
In the light of my experience of chairing the Morris inquiry, and having listened to the wealth of retired chief officers and others, I ask myself whether our police service is broken. My certain answer is no. Can it be improved? Of course, the answer is yes. Is this Bill the vehicle for that improvement? To that question, I conclude that the jury is out. What then is the added value of the policing Bill before us? What is the value of replacing police authorities? We have argued over many years that democratic accountability is important and it was said earlier in this debate that the missing link was the election of the authorities. We must now ask ourselves whether the elected police and crime commissioners will fill that void and that vacuum. How will an elected commissioner change the daily crime experience of the people in many of our communities-those who live in St Pauls in Bristol, Toxteth, Brixton, and Handsworth in my home city? Will the citizens of these communities feel any safer because the commissioner is now elected? I fear not. I ask these questions because these provisions will be measured by the experience of the citizens. That is how the Bill will be tested and measured.
Perhaps the Minister can clarify for us the method of election because, as we read in the impact assessment note from the Home Office, it is not necessarily going to be first past the post, nor AV. Indeed, the note advises that elections will be held using a supplementary vote system and will cost, as we have been told, some £50 million over four years. The striking fact here is that the SV system will cost by itself an additional £5 million. Perhaps the Minister can also enlighten the House with a gentle tutorial on the SV system because it is not popularly understood, or indeed popularly promoted. I ask myself whether that £5 million might make a tremendous difference to a number of officers-front-line serving officers-who are leaving the service because of the budget cuts.
We look to our police chief officers not only to walk the beat, as they say, but to be trusted builders of social capital in our communities. I doubt that the elected commissioners will deliver the social capital, reassurance on concerns, understanding and sensitivity to our communities that are so vital if we are to maintain cohesion in them. Our police service is not perfect by any means but it is a changing force that is much more responsive to the public whom it serves. The recent TUC demonstration, for example, was typical of the change taking place in our police services. They invited over 100 observers to be present in the control room to observe the demonstration, to give advice and to be consulted. They are getting closer to the people and becoming much more accountable.
I am aware that elected commissioners, even by another name, are common practice in the United States. While I am not saying that everything that happens in America is bad, what is good for American society and its community is not always good for Britain. Politics and policing do not mix. Our police deserve our support; they do not need our politics.