Committee (1st Day)
Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill
Viscount Brookeborough (Crossbench)
My Lords, I support the amendment and will make two brief points. The first concerns democratic accountability and community involvement with the police; and the other concerns whether a single commissioner can do the job. On accountability and community involvement, at the moment we are looking to a senior tier to link the police and the people. However, that accountability relies on their being connected at the very lowest level of the community. The panel we have for such a large area, dealing with more than 1 million people in many cases, simply cannot connect. Under the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000, the Government and the then Opposition enforced on us much more democratic accountability down the line than we ever wanted. That is why it worked. The point was that there is a level below the panel which we are discussing. We should not expect people, in open meetings with the panel, to travel 60 or 70 miles to say that their gated community is not working or that crime on the street last night is not happening. That will not happen.
There has to be some other form of panel at the divisional level of policing involving the local community. It is no good calling for it to be entirely elected. That may be democratic, but as far as I am aware, elections never favour minorities. Therefore, you have to appoint people who come forward from the minorities. That includes the obvious minorities, but it also includes those with disabilities and those from disadvantaged areas. We must encourage participation. Democratic accountability and involvement is one thing, but when you get to a certain level, you have to ensure something else. Noble Lords may remember that we had reverse discrimination, if you like, with the 50:50 in the police force. What happened? It worked.
Secondly, regardless of the sort of person who will be elected to be a police and crime commissioner, if he is utterly brilliant, middle of the road, not political and can keep all other things out of his mind, he may be a good person for that; but he will be out of this world if he can do the job. He is holding to account a police force with many different departments. There is not just the chief constable. The chief constable has his finance department, his estates department, his operational department and his crime department. Those are all run by different people in his organisation. How can one person possibly bring forward those people in succession to monitor them and hold them to account?
In our policing board, which was the same as a policing authority, we had committees which mirrored the departments within the police force. That is the only way that you can hold a department to account. In your Lordships' House, we have an EU Committee. The chairman of the committee is chairman of several sub-committees. If we had no sub-committees, he would be a very hard-worked man and could not mirror all the committees on Europe. He could not do the job. If we elect the chairman of the police panel, and he is able to use the police panel to carry out the functions, that is a different matter, but from our experience in Northern Ireland, it would be impossible for an individual to do that.