Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill — Second Reading
Baroness Neville-Jones (Minister of State (Security), Home Office; Conservative)
I do not think that that is the case, my Lords, because there is nothing to stop meetings taking place in public. Indeed, the records have to be put into the public domain, so I do not think that somehow this relationship will be conducted behind closed doors. On the contrary, I think that it will be extremely transparent. One other point I would like to make is that the police and crime commissioner can require a chief constable to report on a particular matter, if he does not get co-operation from him, although I do not see why he should not. Both accountability and transparent accountability will be present in arrangements.
I should like to deal with some of the points where it was claimed that this new model would be costly and would introduce unnecessary bureaucracy, and to be clear about what the model involves. The PCP will not replace the police authority so those costs are gone. The PCC replaces the police authority and indeed will need support staff but, unlike now, they will be held directly to account by the public, so we will require them to publish details of their expenditure and the public will expect them to deliver value for money. This creates a very strong incentive to drive costs down, an incentive which does not exist at present.
If the House is concerned about costs, I say that the alternative models that have been suggested-an elected chair of a police authority or indeed an elected police authority-are no less expensive than what we are proposing, and would probably be more expensive. We also think they would be less effective.
Finally, I should like to put these reforms into their proper context. Some noble Lords have asserted that PCCs will only be concerned with the local agenda, neglecting national issues and protective services. I had hoped that I had spelt that out adequately in my opening remarks, but let me repeat that that is not the case. The Bill starts to rebalance the system from the Government telling local areas what their priorities are to focusing on those issues that are of national importance such as organised crime and counterterrorism. To that end, we have included Clause 79 which gives powers to the Home Secretary, as I mentioned, to set out a strategic policing requirement. That is obviously an important document. The strategic policing requirement will describe the collective capabilities that police forces across England and Wales would need to have in place in order to protect the public from serious harm and maintain national security; that is, the contribution that they would be expected to be capable of making to these national issues. The police and crime commissioners will have to have regard to the strategic policing requirement, which means that they may not ignore it when setting out their police and crime plans. It cannot be the case that their focus can be wholly local.
I cannot see how a police and crime commissioner who wished to be regarded as effective would see his duties as not encompassing the things that he needs when it is quite obvious to the public that he needs to be charged with doing them effectively. When he is setting out his police and crime plans, they will include the discharge by that police force of its national or international functions, and chief officers will be held to account if in any respect they fail to come up to the operational standards that are required. Furthermore, all this will be underpinned by the new backstop powers which currently apply only to the Metropolitan Police Authority for the Home Secretary to enter into an agreement with any PCC or the Mayor of London on their national and international functions, where it is deemed necessary, to direct them to take action. We hope that that is not the kind of thing that is going to be necessary, but clearly the power will be in place if it has to be exercised. At a later time, as the House is aware, we will be introducing the new national crime agency which will be a framework for the functions of national scope, and these will cover such things as organised crime.
I turn briefly to the points made on licensing, the first of which is the removal of the vicinity test. I know there is a fear that this proposal could lead to an increase in frivolous or vexatious representations, but I have to say that during our consultation, a very large number of respondents welcomed greater community involvement in the licensing process, and they were clear that the activity related to licensed premises can have an effect well beyond the immediate vicinity. The objectors, of course, have to make a case which is related to the full purposes of licensing.
On the issue of health bodies becoming responsible authorities, I can confirm that the Government will ensure that in the future this role is compatible with the changes being made to PCTs, but in the short term the PCTs will be the relevant health bodies. As regards the maximum fine for underage sales of alcohol, by doubling it, the Government are sending to retailers a clear message that we will not tolerate the sale of alcohol to children. The noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, asked a number of detailed questions focusing on why the Government were not doing more in other areas, and no doubt we will take those in greater detail in Committee. The point of the Bill is to do something simple, obvious and straightforward, and which is capable of being actioned in a way that we hope will be effective. However, I quite appreciate that there are issues other than those set out in the Bill which add up to an effective challenge to the increasing abuse of alcohol.
As for the levy, it applies across the whole licensing authority area because that is the simplest and fairest way of ensuring that all premises that benefit from selling alcohol late at night contribute towards costs. We have to recognise, as I have just said, that there is a problem of alcohol abuse in this country and it has to be tackled. That is why the emphasis in this Bill is on increasing our ability to do just that.
I hope the House will be willing to forego responses on the many points raised in relation to Parliament Square and universal jurisdiction. The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, has promised us a lively debate in Committee on the first and I have no doubt that we shall debate the need for the intervention of the DPP on the second. The DPP has made it clear that he would be willing and would have the capacity to act rapidly in any case and that his intervention would not act as a delay or a bar on issuing a warrant.
The core of the debate has been on the PCCs and I want to make two last points. First, the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, made the point, which I am sure the whole House accepts, that we shall need to come together on this Bill to ensure its passage. Secondly, while I did not accept many of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, he said something with which I profoundly agree; namely, that trust is crucial to the preservation of our tradition of unarmed, impartial policing. In making the changes, the Government are determined to preserve this long-standing principle and great tradition. I commend the Bill to the House.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.