Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill — Commons Amendments
Baroness Browning (Conservative)
My Lords, this Government are committed to radical police reform, to ensure that the police are first and foremost accountable to the public. This is, of course, not new: there is a consensus among the parties in favour of the democratic reform of police authorities, albeit differences of view about the best model. In Committee in the other place, the Opposition, too, proposed directly elected policing governance, albeit only chairs of police authorities. This Bill seeks to establish clear and democratically accountable leadership for police governance, but amendments in this Chamber removed those provisions.
I am proud to be a Member of a House that is known for revising and improving Bills. However, the amendments that removed the Government's provisions did not try to increase local accountability of the police. They said that the status quo should be preserved and that the chair of a police authority should be called a "police and crime commissioner".
However, apart from this instance, this House once again demonstrated during our proceedings how much value it adds as a revising Chamber in a truly meaningful way. I thank Peers across the House for their very constructive and conscientious contribution to those debates. There has been some very thoughtful and considered debate both in this Chamber and in meetings outside. The Government have listened carefully, with well over 100 amendments made to this Bill as a result.
The numerous amendments tabled by Peers emerged from the recognition that there is indeed consensus that the status quo will not suffice; that the public do not know that they have somewhere to go to make their views on policing known; and that the public want the police to be subject to greater accountability. Let me be clear: these amendments were also born out of an appreciation that the model that the Government proposed initially could be improved. Peers rose to that challenge and for that we are grateful.
I will touch on just a few of the many improvements that this House has helped make to the Bill. We have strengthened checks and balances and the powers of the police and crime panel, most obviously by lowering the veto threshold from three-quarters to two-thirds.
We listened carefully to the debate on operational independence and, as a consequence, placed the vital policing protocol on a statutory footing. We reacted to points of detail on important issues which we agreed could have been clearer and so introduced a requirement on PCCs or the MOPC in London to hold chief constables to account with regard to their duties under the Children Act 2004 in particular. We have inserted a statutory obligation for the police and crime panel to support the PCC when performing its functions. We have inserted a right for a chief constable to appear before the panel and make representations prior to a proposed dismissal. We have amended the Bill to allow deputy PCCs to be appointed, and the Bill introduces a requirement that such appointment should be subject to a confirmation hearing by the police and crime panel.
There is now also a requirement on the police and crime panel to hold confirmation hearings for the appointment of the chief executive and the chief finance officer. We have inserted a power for the London Assembly to veto a non-Assembly candidate for deputy mayor for policing and crime. We have strengthened transparency arrangements by obliging forces to release information, not just reports.
We have placed a duty on PCCs and community safety partners to have regard to one another's priorities, and we have altered the composition of police and crime panels so that the necessary flexibility to achieve political and geographical balance is achieved. We have returned to the democratic principles that have guided this reform and removed the two-term limit on PCCs. Finally, after quite a bit of lobbying, we are allowing noble Lords to stand as PCCs, should any choose to do so.
The collective will of this House has been made known to Members in the other place. They have listened to us and in all but one respect have agreed with us. However, in one key area they have disagreed with us.
I come now to the most pertinent argument I must put to noble Lords today. The other place-the democratically elected Chamber-has now put the model of a single elected individual to us, not once, but twice. The first time, this House saw fit to reject that model. But our elected colleagues have disagreed with us and have put that model to us again for approval. I do not believe that it is for this Chamber to override the will of the people's elected representatives when it has been put forward so clearly.
I turn now to my noble friend Lady Harris. I am sad to see that my noble friend feels that the amendments that Peers have successfully pressed for and that the other place has agreed are not sufficient for her to agree to the elected Chamber's will-296 to 220 votes is not an insignificant amount of democratic will, particularly when one considers that the origin of the proposal is a coalition agreement on the back of a general election.
By voting for these amendments, we will be respecting the will of the elected representatives of the people, and respecting our precious democratic tradition as a revising Chamber that has significantly done its job and improved a key government reform with more than 100 amendments. I therefore hope that the House will vote for the government amendments to stand part of the Bill.
In reflecting on the debate in this House the Government also tabled a further set of amendments that were considered and agreed by the other place, and these are before us now to consider. The other place moved a government amendment to change the date of police and crime commissioner elections from May 2012 to November 2012, thus allowing enough time to ensure that all necessary preparations are in place. These reforms cannot wait, but they must be effective. The elections must be properly administered. A November election will ensure that this is the case, without having to wait a further year for these urgent reforms.
As many noble Lords will be aware-and many in this House are involved in policing-November is a key time in the business planning process for the forthcoming financial year. It is vitally important that the PCC is involved as early as possible in planning and setting the budget for policing in their area. November is the ideal time for them to identify and be part of that planning for the following financial year.
A November election is also important in this first round of elections for police and crime commissioners. It would remove much of the party politics to which noble Lords have referred during the course of our debate. When other elections take place, party politics start to consume not just the representations made to the electorate but the media, both local and national, and it is difficult for people to have a full understanding of what the first elections are about and of the candidates standing for them.
A November election would allow both local and national media to focus any coverage on the reason for the elections-what they intend to do, what the role of a police and crime commissioner would be-and, most importantly, the candidates. This would be very important for those candidates who do not have the support and the organisation of an organised political party behind them. We genuinely want to see good candidates-I have made this point before in the course of our deliberations. Political parties will of course field candidates, but among the pool of good candidates I believe there will be many independent candidates, who will be encouraged to put themselves forward because of their experience and ability to do the job, not just because they carry a party political tag. Elections held in November, unconstrained by local government or other elections taking place at the same time, will give independent candidates much more opportunity to be seen and heard, both at local and national level, so that they stand a chance of being able to get their message across.
I will move on to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Condon. I would like to thank the noble Lord for his constructive contribution to the debates we have had on this Bill, and more specifically to the improvements to the reform that have been generated as a consequence. I appreciate that he has not agreed with every measure that we have brought forward, but he has agreed with some, and he has played a constructive role in helping us to shape amendments that have been passed. In particular, I appreciate the noble Lord's views on the protocol. Our amendments to give the protocol statutory cover were heavily influenced by those discussions.
In the true tradition of this House, I very much welcomed the noble Lord's revisionist intentions from the outset, and the fact that he did not want to undermine the ambition of the Government in the Bill, because, as the noble Lord put it,
"there is ample scope for improving the democratic accountability and performance of local policing".-[Hansard, 11/5/11; col. 911.]
To that end the noble Lord set about seeking change, including a desire that PCCs be located within a more supportive and collaborative framework locally. I hope the noble Lord sees some of his hard work in our amendment that creates a statutory obligation for the police and crime panel to support the PCC when performing its functions and minimises the risk that policing may suffer as a result of political infighting.
I will now turn to the noble Lord's amendment seeking further revisions, this time to something which the noble Lord had not raised previously, namely the date of the election. This is of course a debate that we have had during the course of our deliberations on Report and in Committee, with regard to an amendment that sought to move the election to October 2012. It is important to note that moving the elections to later than November 2012 as is suggested by the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Condon, would deny PCCs the opportunity to be fully involved in the 2013-14 planning process: they would not be able to develop their own plan and set the budget or direction for the force-one of their responsibilities-until 2014.
Holding the election in November 2012 will in fact cost £25 million more than holding it in May 2012. Over the PCC term this equates to 0.05 per cent of the annual policing budget. I can assure the House that the funding for the election, including this additional sum, is not coming out of the money that goes directly to paying for the cost of policing. We believe that these additional costs are worth paying to ensure that PCCs are in place to be fully involved in the planning for 2013-14 and, of course, in planning how that £12 billion police funding budget is best spent. I know that many of your Lordships, including those who have previous experience in policing, such as the noble Lord, Lord Condon, will want to be reassured that this money does not come from the police budget. Let me be absolutely clear: this is an additional one-off cost and would not come from what would otherwise have been spent on policing.
I want to take this opportunity to put the costs of elections into context. I know from one or two comments which have been made to me already outwith this House that people have some views on this issue. For example, the cost of the referendum on the introduction of the Greater London Authority, and the subsequent set-up costs, was around £30 million in today's money. The most recent London elections, in 2010, cost a total of £18 million. So, if the GLA were established today, the combined cost would be a little short of £50 million-and that is for the capital alone. When we view the cost of democracy in those terms, I would suggest that £75 million is a reasonable and justifiable cost for the whole of England and Wales. We must not forget police and crime commissioners will make savings for taxpayers by driving value for money more strongly. Their running costs will be no more than police authorities at present, because we will no longer be paying allowances to councillors. The only additional costs will be those of holding elections once every four years.
Some have expressed concerns about extremist parties. The argument is that holding the election in November 2012 risks making it easier for extremists to be voted in. I do not believe this is the case. If we look at other elections we will see that some of the parties that stand for election but would perhaps be regarded as extremist, poll in the region of some 2 per cent of the national vote in a general election. The electoral system and size of constituencies mean that their candidates will not succeed. Many police force areas represent almost the equivalent of about 20 parliamentary constituencies.
The point has also been made that November is not a good time of year to hold an election. Of course all Governments exercise their discretion on calling elections for one reason or another. I did some homework on this and just remind the House that in 2008 a by-election was called in November in the constituency of Glenrothes. As I hope those who are familiar with seats north of the border will understand, one might have fought shy of holding an election in November in Glenrothes-but there was a 56 per cent turnout in that by-election.