Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill — Commons Amendments
Lord Beecham (Labour)
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lady Henig who, along with my noble friend Lord Harris, is an astounding example of the work, service and commitment of a non-directly elected former chair of a police authority. They are not the only such members in this House, of course; the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, also held such a position. They illustrate very vividly the capacity of elected councillors to serve in that role.
In his thoughtful and reasoned speech, the noble Lord, Lord Condon, referred-as others have done-to recent events, effectively confirming the wisdom of avoiding the intrusion of politics into policing. We saw some of those dangers when the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary claimed to have instructed the police to increase the number of police on the streets. In fairness, those claims were subsequently withdrawn, but they illustrate starkly the risk of political interference. The Prime Minister and the Home Secretary did not cross the boundary but who is to say that less experienced, less statesmanlike figures would not succumb to the temptation? It is a very real risk.
In the debate in the other place two days ago, the Police Minister, Nick Herbert, said:
"The coalition agreement pledged the introduction of directly elected individuals, subject to strict checks and balances, by locally elected representatives".
In opening, the Minister made exactly the same comment. However, the reality is that those checks and balances are insufficient. What is surprising is that the Minister in the other place went on to claim:
"The Lords amendments do not try to increase the local accountability of the police. They do not even try to ensure that there are adequate checks and balances".-[Hansard, Commons, 12/9/11; col. 780.]
Only the word "effrontery" can describe that statement. If the checks and balances are not sufficiently strict, it is because the Government ensured in your Lordships' House that they were not put in place. They were moved from various parts of the House and they were rejected.
The proposals for police commissioners owe much to the partial-although no doubt not the only-begetter of the Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, who in these matters is a sort of ermine-clad Mephistopheles to the Prime Minister's Faustus. He is an enthusiast for American-style policing, of which he has experience. I defer to his knowledge of it. He is also an enthusiast for Bill Bratton. Indeed, if the noble Lord had his way, I hazard that we would have congratulated Mr Bratton on his appointment as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police today, instead of the gentleman whose appointment we have commented on and to whom we all send our congratulations. However, as has been pointed out by my noble friend Lord Hunt, Mr Bratton is vehemently opposed to the concept of directly elected police commissioners. The Prime Minister's chosen adviser on policing, brought from across the Atlantic at no doubt considerable expense, is to be listened to in all respects save this rather crucial one-the direct election of police commissioners.
I support the Motion tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Condon. I bear in mind the observations of the Electoral Commission, which have not yet been mentioned. It has reported that it has concerns about the date of
However, if those appointments were to take place in May, of any year, both the commissioner and the panel would have an opportunity to be fully involved from an early stage in the process. It should be borne in mind that commissioners will come into an entirely new field, unless they have been involved as members of a police authority. Who is to say whether that will happen? They will have only a matter of weeks to absorb all that complexity and difficulty before passing a budget. They will surely not be capable of producing a police and crime plan, which you would have thought would shape and provide context for such a budget, in that time. It seems quite impossible.
Noting the reactions of the colleagues of the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, in another place, I am irresistibly reminded of the Grand Old Duke of York, who marched his army to the top of the hill, only for them to be led down-in this case on the basis of an offer of only six months' deferment of the election. The noble Baroness is of course a resident of the great county of Yorkshire. I hope she will not find herself in the position of-forgive me-a grand old duchess of York, leading her troops to the top of a hill, only to find herself abandoned by the self-same troops as they slide silently downhill. I fear from the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that that may indeed be her fate, which would be unfortunate.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, also referred to independent members. The Bill provides for very little in the way of independent members of the police and crime panels-many fewer than currently serve on police committees. Therefore, the independence argument hardly persuades one.
The amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Condon, are sensible and practical. They ought not to be voted down on the basis of a rather cheap deal whereby Liberal Democrats are bought off with, as I say, a temporary deferment of elections as part of an arrangement in another place. My noble friend Lord Hunt's proposal for a commission clearly makes sense. The very powerful arguments advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Imbert, should certainly carry weight in this House. I hope that the noble Baroness will, even at this late stage, see the logic of these positions and acknowledge that your Lordships have made substantial arguments, which should remain as the Bill goes back to another place.