Before we begin, I have a couple of announcements. First, would all Members and members of the public ensure that their mobile phones and pagers are switched off or turned to silent mode? For the benefit of Members, as a general rule my co-Chair and I do not intend to call starred amendments that have not been tabled with adequate notice. The required notice period in Public Bill Committees is three working days. Therefore, amendments should be tabled by the rise of the House on Monday for consideration on the following Thursday, and by the rise of the House on Thursday for consideration on the following Tuesday.
I appreciate that not everyone is familiar with the process of taking oral evidence in Public Bill Committees, so it may be helpful if I briefly explain how we will proceed. First, the Committee will be asked to consider the programme motion on the amendment paper, for which debate is limited to 30 minutes. We will proceed to motions to report written evidence and to permit the Committee to deliberate in private in advance of the oral evidence sessions, which I hope will be taken formally. Assuming that the second of those motions is agreed, the Committee will move into private session.
Once the Committee has deliberated, the witnesses and members of the public will be invited back in and our oral evidence session will begin. If the Committee agrees to the programme motion, it will hear oral evidence this morning.
Tuesday 18 January
Until no later
Than 1 pm
The Association of Police Authorities; Louise Casey,
Victims’ Commissioner; the Association of Chief
Police Officers; Police Federation of England and
Until no later
Than 6 pm
Ian Loader, Professor of Criminology and Director of
Criminology at All Souls College, University of
Oxford; Chief Constable of West Midlands Police;
Rick Muir, Institute for Public Policy Research
Until no later
Than 10.25 am
The Local Government Association; the Chair of the
Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs; the Wine
and Spirit Trade Association; the British Beer and Pub
Until no later
Than 3 pm
The Metropolitan Police Service; Liberty; Keir
Starmer QC, Director of Public Prosecutions
I beg to move, as an amendment to the resolution of the Programming Sub-Committee:
Line 28, leave out the final entry in the Table in paragraph (2) and insert—
Until no later
Than 2.30 pm
The Metropolitan Police Service; Liberty
Until no later
than 3.15 pm
Keir Starmer QC, Director of Public Prosecutions’.
May I formally thank the Ministers for the programme motion? Obviously, there will be a lot of debate, and we will see whether there is enough time but, at the outset, we have agreed the list of witnesses and the timings. Although we have strong debates, people know that that does not, generally speaking, spill over into unnecessary messing around. I wanted to put that on the record. We also have no problem with the amendment, which is perfectly reasonable.
Until no later
than 1 pm
The Association of Police Authorities; Louise Casey,
Victims’ Commissioner; the Association of Chief
Police Officers; Police Federation of England and
Until no later
than 6 pm
Ian Loader, Professor of Criminology and Director of
Criminology at All Souls College, University of
Oxford; Chief Constable of West Midlands Police;
Rick Muir, Institute for Public Policy Research
Until no later
than 10.25 am
The Local Government Association; the Chair of the
Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs; the Wine
and Spirit Trade Association; the British Beer and Pub
Until no later
than 2.30 pm
The Metropolitan Police Service; Liberty
Until no later
than 3.15 pm
Keir Starmer QC, Director of Public Prosecutions
Copies of memorandums received by the Committee will be made available in the Committee Room.
We will now take oral evidence from the Association of Police Authorities, the Commissioner for Victims and Witnesses, the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Police Federation of England and Wales. Thank you for coming. For the record, will you kindly introduce yourselves to the Committee?
Thank you very much for coming this morning. Before I call the first hon. Member to ask a question, I wish to remind all hon. Members that questions should be limited to matters within the scope of the Bill, and that we must stick strictly to the timings in the programme motion to which the Committee has agreed. I shall try not to interrupt in mid-sentence, but will do so if that becomes necessary. I call Mr Vernon Coaker.
Thank you, Mr Benton. Good morning, everyone. It is nice to see you here. Obviously, the introduction of police and crime commissioners will be a radical change to the existing structure of policing and police accountability in this country. Clearly, the aim of us all is to reduce crime, prevent crime and reduce reoffending. Fighting crime and reducing reoffending are obviously everyone’s top priorities. What would be of interest to the Committee and, I am sure, the general public is how that particular change will enable the police more adequately to improve their ability to prevent crime and reduce reoffending. Will the witnesses tell us what improvement they think the reform will bring to the agenda of tackling crime and reducing reoffending? Do they have any reservations about that? Will each of the witnesses comment?
Sir Hugh Orde: I am happy to start. My first point, Vernon, is that the service is wedded to the notion of an independent accountability framework, which holds us to account for what we do. A balance is struck between that independent oversight and the operational independence of chiefs to do their best to reduce crime, working with local communities to understand fully what they want us to do, but balancing that with national concerns.
Will the measure make a step change? It is a different form of local accountability; I am not sure whether it will be better or worse—we must see how it works. For the first time, however, a police and crime commissioner, not just an individual, will hold the police to account.
One positive step in the provision is that, hopefully, we will have one person trying to drive the whole criminal justice business at the local end. There may be benefits in terms of ensuring that victims’ cases are pushed through if that person focuses not only on what the police are doing but on what the whole criminal justice system is doing.
Paul McKeever: It is difficult to predict whether the measure will have a positive or negative effect on the underlying requirements for what police officers do until the model is in place and we see it working. Clearly, as Sir Hugh has said, it will focus attention much more than has been the case in the past, which is no criticism of the police authorities. A clear line of direction, however, might be helpful and we hope that that pans out when the provision comes to fruition. There is potential for positive outcomes.
We will have to wait and see how it will affect the officers on the street, whom I represent. That is tangential to what they do and to much of the business that is carried out in every day matters in police stations across the country, so it is difficult to tell. There is a long way between what a police commissioner does and what a police constable is doing on the streets. There are also an awful lot of layers of supervision and management between them and the commissioner, which must be taken into account, too. We must consider the whole picture. We have seen how police authorities are working—some are very good, and work well with their chief officer. It is hard to predict, however, until we see the provisions up and running in practice.
On that point, do you think that introducing a pilot scheme before the full roll-out would be beneficial, so that we can learn the lessons of failure and success?
For your people on the ground—the officers whom you represent—if there were successes, that would be great. Failures, however, would impinge on officers’ effectiveness to deliver on the ground. From the perspective of your members, would it be better to have a pilot?
Paul McKeever: I do not know whether it would be better or worse. My experience of pilots over the years is that they are almost always implemented anyway, so one would only be a precursor to the actuality of what we will face in future. Is it worth running a pilot, therefore? That would simply be saying, “That’s what we are going to have after the pilot has been run.” It would only delay the inevitable.
May we hear the views of the other witnesses?
Rob Garnham: I was going to come in on both points—Mr Coaker’s, too. On the first question about whether the Association of Police Authorities thinks that the new system will help to drive down crime, the APA does not welcome the new system, and opposes it. If, however, we follow the principles that police authorities have been successful in implementing, we have played a big part in driving down crime since we came into existence. Crime has gone down under a Government system of accountability through police authorities.
We think that there should be a transition period. Something as major and radical as the measure—it has even been called revolutionary—needs to be tested and handled carefully, so that we do not go to the cliff edge, lose the experience of all those in police authorities who have delivered lower crime, and then move straight into an untried system. We would prefer, therefore, that a transition period be introduced.
Louise Casey: I am very grateful to be here today taking part in this debate on behalf of victims. It is very important that we are here and represented. I am grateful to Members for giving me the time to be here. It is clear, Mr Coaker, that something needs to change. I was a senior civil servant from 1999 right through to last year and spent a lot of that time working on crime, policing and specifically policy in relation to antisocial behaviour. In 2008 I was asked to do a fairly independent review from the Cabinet Office that was a first and very fundamental look at the public’s views on crime, policing and the criminal justice system.
What we know from that, and what is therefore important and relevant to your question, is that the public are very clear about their priorities. They want to know that criminals—I use that word specifically—face consequences for crimes they commit. They want to know that the police and others, such as local authorities, are tackling the issues that matter to them, and obviously community crime, antisocial behaviour, neighbourhood crime—whatever you want to call it—is pre-eminent in that. Thirdly, they want to know how to contact the police and what to expect.
If they do not get those things, which they do not get at the moment anywhere near as sufficiently as they should, they do not pick up the phone and report crime. The confidence in the police and the criminal justice system to act on their behalf to tackle criminals is not good enough. One of the reasons for that is that there is a disconnection in police accountability to the public. The previous Administration—it is no secret as it is in the public domain—wrangled for years over how to get police accountability right. It is my view that this step is better than what currently happens because the reform will mean that somebody, somewhere has to answer the public and victims very directly about what is happening to tackle crime in the neighbourhood, what the priorities are and how things are done. That, frankly, would be a major step change in the right direction. That has not happened so far and it is a mismatch.
People do not have confidence in the criminal justice system; 80% of the public think it is there to support the needs of offenders and only about 30% think it is there to support the needs of victims. I accept that there is a wider picture that Sir Hugh outlined, but certainly elected commissioners could well be a very positive step in the right direction. I personally throw my weight behind it for that reason.
Louise Casey: Look, I have worked as a senior civil servant for almost 12 years. One gets tired of pilots and a bit ground down by them. It is up to the Government what they do about it but, frankly, it is a major radical reform. People should be throwing their weight behind it to make sure that we get it right and that we get the difference between operational independence and a politically motivated person telling the Sir Hughs of this world whom to detect—[Interruption.]
Order. I am sorry to interrupt, but there is a mobile that keeps causing interference. Can we establish whose it is and would they kindly switch it on to silent mode?
Louise Casey: Sorry, Chairman. My final point is that the issue we should be looking are things like operational independence versus setting public priorities, rather than necessarily whether there should be a pilot here or a pilot there. For me it is more about getting this right and making it work effectively.
Do you fear that the commissioners are being set up to fail in this Bill? Do you think they have enough powers? For instance, they have to agree a policing plan with the chief constable but ultimately the chief constable has a power of veto. So all the things that you say the commissioners will champion on behalf of their communities, they will have no powers to impose on the operations of the police.
Louise Casey: Again, it is a major step in the right direction. To be honest, the words “veto”, “scrutiny”, “oversight” and “advice” probably need to be worked through in a bit more detail so that we can grip them. For me, it is whether a member of the public knows whom to hold to account when something is not done in their neighbourhood to tackle crime or when they are a victim of crime and nobody sees it through. My worry, if it is anything, is about the police and crime commissioner. There will be a panel. I am not quite sure of the status of that panel and still there is a chief constable who is responsible to the citizens for what they are doing on crime. Those sorts of things need to be made clearer.
So, you are saying that the Bill is not adequate; that it is not clear about the role of the commissioner in championing what local communities want.
Louise Casey: I must admit I was very pleased that—on the back of some discussion and lobbying by us—the Bill includes measures on having to take account of the views of victims of crime, when putting together a policing plan and before issuing it. I was pleased on behalf of victims that that concession was made.
But does that mean the plan is accountable through the commissioner to the local community? If, as the Bill says, the police only have to have regard to the plan and then can take operational decisions as and when they see fit, is that sufficient to achieve what you say you want to on behalf of victims and communities?
Louise Casey: It is a major step in the right direction. It is for other witnesses on the panel to think this through in terms of operational independence versus accountability. This is a major step in the right direction of getting greater transparency to the public about what the police do, why they do it, why when my house is burgled barely anyone turns up, yet in another postal district somebody gets the British version of “CSI”. That is what the public want to know: why are some crimes treated in some ways and others in another? That is the starting point. A politically elected person— somebody elected and accountable to the public—should crank open that door of information and transparency, which at the moment feels, and the evidence shows this is the case, very closed. This proposal is a step in the right direction. I do not know whether it is the panacea but I think it is better than what is currently there at the moment.
Rob Garnham: May I just jump in on the agreement of the local policing plan by the chief constable? I think that is a flaw in the drafting of the Bill. If we are going through this pain and are increasing accountability, as proposed in the Bill, that electoral mandate that the commissioner would have on behalf of the people and victims, we are going to tie one of their hands behind their back, because whatever they draw up as a policing plan on behalf of the public, the chief constable can say, “No, I do not agree with it.” If we are going through this pain to have the desired accountability, then to give the ultimate veto to the chief constable would not be correct.
Sir Hugh, may I ask you whether, if a police commissioner is elected saying they want a police officer on every street corner, and the local police chief officer does not agree, how do we resolve that?
Sir Hugh Orde: I am grateful for the question. I have a couple of points to make on the answers given, as a matter of clarity. According to the British crime survey, 69% of the public say that they have confidence in their local police. I do not think we need to undersell what the service is doing. Likewise, as Rob has pointed out, crime has been reducing for many years, so something is working.
As for accountability, we are probably the most accountable police service in the world. We are accountable not just to the police authorities but to the Home Secretary and the law. That is a critical point in the current tripartite arrangement, part of which is being modified and part of which we have no difficulty with.
The other point we should make and reinforce, is that my experience of negotiating with my police authority, which was quite challenging for seven years, was a process of negotiation and sensible conversations around the best possible service being delivered to the local community, balanced with the very difficult and increasing challenges we have to face to keep citizens safe through the national policing agenda. One of the unique features of this country is that that is delivered through local policing. If we do not have that sensible conversation, the biggest danger is that the new commissioner or current police authority would come up with a plan that the chief, on his or her best professional judgment, says is simply not deliverable with the resources they have. That is the fine balance.
We are currently facing substantial threats through terrorism, and the public order agenda is increasing, as experienced recently in London. The national police response enabled us to support the commissioner in London with resources from other parts of the country. Many of the home counties sent assistance to London—it is a two-way process. We have to protect that if we are to protect the critical national infrastructure, as well as deliver local policing. That is the complex balance that I hope would be resolved in 99% of the cases, through sensible conversations between the police and crime commissioner and the chief.
The biggest difference is that we will have somebody who is elected. It is a very different structure, with 17 or 19 people being replaced by one person with an elected mandate. There may well be some tensions. As I have commented to the Minister on a number of occasions, if I wanted to be elected in Sussex, which is where I live and where the Minister’s constituency is, my agenda would understandably be local. That is what the public would be interested in, and that is what the public would be voting on. We have to make sure that it is clear that a chief constable must deliver his or her national obligations while using their operational independence to make judgment calls about how to apportion resources. None of that means that we shouldn’t be held to account vigorously for what we decide.
Louise Casey: This debate is in the public domain and it has now happened over a number of years. When I was a civil servant I was working for Ministers, so I was unable to say what I am about to say.
The public are not daft. They are not stupid. I came here on the tube this morning, and I am watching the 7/7 inquiry with some interest. I hope to God that the Metropolitan police, and everybody else in the police service and in government, are looking at what we can do. I realise that they have to do it behind the scenes and behind closed doors, but I hope that they can do it in the same way as the work I have seen Lancashire police do behind closed doors on child exploitation, which is an issue that has also been in the newspapers over the weekend. If we say to the public—police and crime commissioners should be able to do this—“I support the chief constable in fulfilling the national priorities. Do you understand that you won’t know a great deal about X% of their work, but it’s about stopping another 7/7?” you would get cheers in public meetings.
This is about accountability, transparency and information; it is not about saying that the public want you to tackle just the burglary in my neighbourhood, or just the anti-social yobs that mean I can’t leave my house at night to buy a pint of milk. We are more sophisticated human beings than that. I think that politicians and everybody else need to trust the public and realise that we are slightly more sophisticated than the boxes that we are perhaps sometimes put in by this debate.
Do you think there is a risk that some victims’ voices will be louder than others and that important issues will be overlooked amid the clamour when it comes to someone being elected? I am thinking of domestic violence, sexual violence and child protection, which I think will be overlooked in order to put police on the streets.
Louise Casey: That is interesting—I did not expect to be the person who spoke the most this morning, so I need to rein myself in, because my esteemed colleagues probably should be saying a great deal more than I am—and it is an inherent tension that chief constables, borough commanders, sergeants and PCSOs have to manage every single day. Yes, you are absolutely right that it puts a different dimension on it, because those people aren’t door-knocking to get votes in order to get elected. However, I hope that we have people in public life who are able to manage that tension, and manage it maturely, and that there are some checks and balances in this process. I agree that there are some issues on the panels and other such things, but there should be enough checks and balances in here. If there are not, it is up to this Committee, the House, Ministers and Home Office civil servants to make sure that they are there.
Tensions of that kind already exist, and this puts a greater spotlight on them, but I think that they should be able to be managed. Part of my job, the job of victims’ champions locally and the jobs of other organisations is to make sure that their voice is heard. Some of the good work on, say, domestic violence, sexual advocates and those sorts of things is continuing under this Administration, and I will lobby very hard to make sure it does.
What discussions have you had with victims and the victims’ groups on these specific proposals?
Louise Casey: On the specific proposals, I have had no more than I have had when I met some 300 victims in the course of my current duties, but, fundamentally, I did a massive review from the Cabinet Office in which we reached out to hundreds of victims and members of the public. Right now, you’re living through the tensions that the previous Administration also tried to get right in terms of accountability, but this has a different edge to it, because this is a more radical proposal.
Rob Garnham: I have said that what I would see as the best work of this Committee is its taking forward some of the best parts of police authorities in the past. That goes very close to the question about domestic violence and such issues. As chairman of a police authority, two years ago I wrote to my chief constable setting out strategic direction. I said that we would expect equal weight to be given to neighbourhood policing, protective services—including all those issues such as domestic violence—and response policing. The chief constable followed that kind of discussion over the strategy.
I have just written again saying that although those three things are important, in the financial climate that we are in and with the risks that we face, we still expect them to be addressed but we are giving them greater freedom, so that in one part of the year you might give more weight to one of those and not the other. You still need the commissioner to be able to write to their chief constables and give that kind of strategic advice after consulting the public. If you take that away, we will not achieve what we are trying to achieve here.
I will just go back briefly to this question of the pilots, which Mr McKeever and Ms Casey are perhaps understandably a bit fatigued with now. Given that this is such a major and radical reform, and to the best of my knowledge there is no systematic evidence that supports it—there is a lot of anecdotal evidence about people being dissatisfied with the operation of police authorities, but I am not aware of any systematic evidence that says that this is the way forward—and given your aversion to, or fatigue with, pilots, do you think there should be some systematic Home Office review and research into how this works so that we are clear that we are learning some lessons about this process, or do you think it should be another Government initiative that we take on good will and faith?
Paul McKeever: I come back to what I said before, which is that it is not really for me to decide how we should be held accountable and how Government should go about their business. I take the point that there will be some unintended aspects of whatever is implemented and whatever is brought in. That will only tell when we start working within the new system.
In terms of how it is going to work, we have to keep in our minds the fact that there will be a very important human relationship and dynamic taking place here. As Louise says, most people involved, either as commissioners or chief constables, will be very professional and there will be some excellent examples around the country. I think there will be one or two, perhaps, where there will be some grating between the chief and the commissioner as well; I think that is inevitable. We do not have a single model, and we cannot answer for how every relationship between the commissioner and the chief constable is going to work. Clearly, there will be 42 or 43 different models around the country, depending on those relationships that they build up. I am sure that the press will be more interested in the relationships that do not work than in those that do, and we have to bear that in mind.
To come back to the pilot, I am not a great fan of pilots anyway. They tend to be fairly skewed, and they do not represent the true dynamic within which something will be rolled out and operated nationwide or wherever. I very often find that they do not actually prove very much at all. If the Government want to introduce a new form of accountability for us, that’s for them to do.
Sir Hugh Orde: I think that the world has moved on, as there is a clear Government intention to this, which is why we are saying that although we understand and respect that, we must have absolute clarity on how this works. Frankly, the clarity is not yet there, but we are certainly working with the Government to achieve it. I recently attended a transition board chaired by the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, where a lot of good work was done, and where some of our concerns are clearly being listened to. There are big challenges, and I think some of them have already been raised here.
The strategic policing requirement is the result of our conversation with the Government, and it is a clear recognition that we must establish with some precision what it is that chief officers deliver to the national agenda and how that is protected against the local agenda. Part of that is very much about checks and balances, and again some shifts have taken place as a result of our conversations around the power to hire and fire the chief constable. That must now be referred to the police and crime panel; you will have to form your own view on whether that is an effective second chamber, for want of a better description. Likewise, regarding those who are eligible to become chief constables, we would argue very strongly that they must be professionals who are qualified to deliver that job, so they must already be serving officers who have attended the senior command course and the police national assessment centre. Much of that needs to be thrashed out in Committee.
The role of the PCP I see as very important. The notion of one person representing the 2.5 million people in the constituency of West Yorkshire with one chief constable—clearly that individual will need some support and advice from the diverse communities we are charged with protecting if we are going to deliver that bespoke policing service we all talk about. It is a huge ask for one person. Again, clarity on whether there is any consistent structure, which would support this individual, would be helpful and would reassure the public. If there is just one person, they will be busy, not only with police issues, but with other issues around the criminal justice system. We need clarity on whether there will be a proper infrastructure, so that we can be held to account professionally, properly and from a well informed position.
May I tread back into the murky waters of operational independence and who makes decisions with a specific example that we have been discussing in the Home Affairs Committee and that is a live issue within the Cambridgeshire police authority? Let us say that under the new model a police commissioner was elected, having said that they did not want officers in their force to use Tasers. If the chief constable wanted to use a Taser, whose decision would that be? I would be interested in a relatively brief response from all four of you, because this issue highlights the lack of clarity.
Rob Garnham: I will start. If that situation came before me as a chair of a police authority, I think a chief constable needs to have that operational decision; they have the experience and the training to say, “We need to use Tasers in this situation,” or “We should send an armed response team.” That clearly has to be an operational decision. A commissioner or the chair of a police authority will want to know how much we are spending on Tasers, and how it is planned to use them—what are the circumstances, and the accountability behind that; we have to make sure that we are not saying, “Okay, go and buy them and use them,” because the commissioner, or as happens now, the chair of police authority, is answerable to the public. Furthermore, with a commissioner, if something goes wrong, it will not only mean the Independent Police Complaints Commission, an investigation and letters; it will be the commissioner in the press who says, “You’ve got to hold your chief constable to account over this.” It is still an operational decision, quite rightly, but whether the constabulary buys them, where it will use them and the guidelines, protocols and training are something that the commissioner will have a say on.
Sir Hugh Orde: First, operational independence is not murky; it is complicated and it is a hugely important area to us. Rob has aptly described it. I lived through exactly the example that you gave, Dr Huppert, when I was in Northern Ireland. Understandably, a number of members of that police authority were completely opposed to the issuing of Tasers. What we did not do was say, “It’s a matter of operational independence.” In law, we would argue that it was, and we took legal advice on that particular point. There was a case on it that was recently decided in Northern Ireland, which supported our position.
We spent a lot of time in discussion with the authority, bringing world experts to brief it on the medical implications of Tasers—for example, what if these things were used against children, young people or vulnerable people, as they quite often sadly have to be? The other side, which we made the authority very clear on, was “If you deny us, or are very keen for us not to have, Tasers, there is a consequence: you are denying a less lethal option than a firearm. You are restricting my officers’ ability to use a less lethal form of violence in appropriate circumstances, which, sadly, may have more severe consequences.”
The debate was full, and it took a long time. We did not resolve this issue in less than 12 months. In that time, I was prepared to carry the risk of an event like that happening, where we shot someone—I had a fully armed service and armed response vehicles, but that is no different from here—where we could have used something that we were not allowed to have. I thought that that was a risk worth taking and a balance to be struck, because it gave the board the proper place; a very public debate took place. I agree with Rob—it is an operational decision. That does not mean that we steamroller these things through. We listen very carefully to those who hold us to account.
Paul McKeever: I agree with what Rob Garnham and Sir Hugh have said. I see it very clearly as an operational decision, but that decision must be accountable to the police commissioner, and you must explain why it is that you want to use Tasers or any other weapon or implement in the service. The commissioner should not be allowed to impinge on that operational side of policing. That is the sort of area that needs to be clarified as the Bill goes through Parliament, to ensure that there is an understanding and that we do not have bickering. The last thing you would want is to have a grating between the commissioner and the chief constable about whose toy it was that they were playing with. That has to be established at a very early stage. If you do not establish that at an early stage, you are just paving the way for dispute. That is not where we want to go. We want to have smooth operations.
What tangible benefit will an individual living in a force area actually see, or feel that they get, from this change, other than the right to vote once every four years for a police and crime commissioner?
Paul McKeever: It is quite high-level stuff. For most people, their experience of policing will hopefully be rare and remote. That is how we would like to live our lives. Involving the police often means that something has gone wrong or could be going wrong. For them, it does not impinge on their everyday life, and they are looking at it from more of a strategic view.
Strangely enough, that is also the way that most police officers see it. They are going to carry on performing in pretty much the same way as they did before. The overall direction might change slightly, and the overall targets—if I can use that word here—might change slightly as well. The actual processes that they go through on the street, however, will remain pretty consistent.
It is much like having a management change or a new way of doing business in another organisation. The actual processes that you undertake should stay the same. I think that the best organisations, such as Proctor and Gamble, keep the structure and processes the same, but you can change the management team if you want to. Effectively, that is how most police officers view what is happening here. It is the same for members of the public: it is not going to impinge on their everyday life. However, if things start going wrong, they can say that they have a way of calling an individual to account.
By voting once every four years.
Paul McKeever: As I say, it is high-level stuff that they are talking about. It is not something that is going to impinge on most people’s everyday life. There will be people who are interested and active in it. We see that in the communities that we serve, when we go along to community surgeries and when we deal with the public on a day-to-day basis. There are some people who are invigorated—you will no doubt see this in your surgeries as well—and others who are not. I am sure that that is how we will see it working when it comes to the elections, too.
Am I right in thinking that most people are interested in what is happening in their immediate environment? I represent a constituency that is covered by Humberside police, and people are not interested in Humberside; they are interested in what happens in their little area in Hull. For most people, actually having a police commissioner for the whole of Humberside, which, as you say, is a high-level matter, will not directly affect their day-to-day living, will it?
Paul McKeever: My reading is that it is not meant to affect their day-to-day living. We have to remember that we are held accountable in 101 different ways anyway. We are held to account through our local communities and through consultation with them, and that is right and proper. We should be held to account, and we should be held to account locally.
You are right: when a police officer goes along to the local surgery and speaks to the 20 or 30 people who may turn up, they are not even interested in local priorities of perhaps robbery, burglary or drugs; they are interested in car parking and dogs fouling the footpaths. That is an experience that police officers have on a regular basis, too. The strategic level of accountability, however, is where the Bill actually addresses the issues that it is intended to. I do not think that it is at all intended to work on the micro level. That is my understanding of it.
Louise Casey: Do you mind if I jump in at this point? There are two things that I want to say. I think it would be such a shame if this major reform did not do something much better for the public than what has just been said. In my view, regardless of politics, the public need to know what is happening, in terms of tackling crime in their area. At the moment, they do not know that in sufficient detail. People are not informed as to why they are unable to leave their house or let their children play out. When they go along to meetings, they do not always get the answers that they should. People just say, “Sorry, we can’t tell you.” I dispute the fact that, in Newham and in areas of Greater Manchester, people are talking about dog crap. They are talking about knives and about the fact that teenagers are being killed, and they are extremely worried.
Up to around September of either 2008 or 2009—I cannot remember which—the top concern of the British public was crime. That was overtaken by the economy only as the recession started to bite. It was not health or education, but crime. Sometimes one just has to step aside from how you implement all these things and realise that, yes, they may not be local enough, and I agree with that. However, one of the things that these police and crime commissioners should surely be doing as part of their job is ensuring that the police chief in Hull—whoever it is—is accountable in a more transparent way than at the moment. I do not just mean being able to know whether crime is up, down or going sideways, but who they have nicked, when those people were nicked and what type of prison sentence they have. That is the type of information that the public want. Police and crime commissioners should surely be trying to drive forward that type of reform.
There should be a revolution in information and transparency for the public. That was what the previous Administration were attempting to do with the policing pledge, community payback and the neighbourhood crime and justice proposals that I was personally accountable to Ministers for. We have all been pushing in the same direction for a long time, and this is another approach to try to do it; and yes, it is more radical because of the elections. However, I think we should all share the intention that the public should have more of a say in what happens in their area, whether in Hull or across the whole of Humberside.
Sir Hugh Orde: The question, “What does this mean for individuals?”, is, I think, a really good one. I am not entirely sure, apart from the opportunity to remove that person four years later if people do not think they have done a good enough job. For me, the criticality of accountability is as described by Paul: making sure that it is not just this one person. There is a PCP, with a group of people, which is by definition more diverse, that will cover the large number of constituencies that people are going to operate across. Under that, there are formal, semi-formal and informal methods of control that get you into those communities, where—I absolutely agree with Louise on this—people are concerned about violent crime, but we are talking about something that can be delivered locally. It is unreasonable to expect the chief to have all that, plus run a force against a reducing budget and deliver against the national agenda, hence the need and search for clarity.
Rob Garnham: It is about the elections. As an elected councillor, I see more people through my police role, in consulting people on policing priories and budgets, than I do as a councillor. I do not have to be elected to do that. The question is: will it make a difference if the person goes out and votes? I have done telling outside a school, and I can remember, at a European election, meeting a lady. I did not know whether she was collecting her child or voting, so I asked, “Can you tell me whether you are voting?” She said, “Not today.” That is the battle that we have. You are going to say, “If you vote for me, I will solve all your problems,” and they will think that if they vote, we will; it is public expectation.
May I ask the panel’s view on the police structure in London? In essence, we have there a tested model of a police and crime commissioner. There is an elected Mayor who is accountable for the reduction of crime, who works hand in hand with the Met and who has operational independence to reduce crime. Evidence shows that crime has reduced in London. Do you think it is working in London?
Sir Hugh Orde: I am sure that you will be inviting the acting commissioner to give evidence. It would be wrong for me to comment in detail on the structure. I have to say that it is slightly different. Of course, apart from policing, the elected Mayor is responsible for everything else in London; transport, for example, and all the other things that keep him very occupied. It is a different model or structure in the counties as envisaged, where the police and crime commissioner will do pretty much just the policing agenda and some other bits around the criminal justice system. Of course, the Mayor also has a non-elected deputy to run the system on a day-to-day basis. I think it is slightly different, and it would be far more helpful to the Committee if the acting commissioner came and gave evidence on the detail, because he understands it far better than I do.
Paul McKeever: I concur strongly with that. I think you have to be careful about trying to make a direct correlation between why crime is falling and the implementation of a new system of governance in London. It may well be the case, but I have not seen any empirical evidence for that. It is certainly promising, but whether it is due to the introduction of the commissioner style of governance in London, I am not sure. As Sir Hugh rightly says, that is a very important question to ask perhaps Kit Malthouse or Tim Godwin.
May I probe this question around Kit Malthouse a little further? He gave evidence to the Select Committee on Home Affairs recently and was asked virtually the same question, on what his role means for the individual in London. He said that his role
“allows there to be a kind of funnel for public concern. For instance, when I was appointed to this job in May 2008, and given the job title Deputy Mayor for Policing, the postbag at City Hall on community safety went from…30 letters a week…to…300…The letters just came and came.”
Does the panel think that the Bill will simply extend the accountability and visibility that Londoners have to the rest of the country?
Rob Garnham: I would quote the Association of Police Authorities’ independent research, conducted by Ipsos MORI, which found that the public like the idea of an individual who they know can be held to account for policing, or is the person they can go to for policing. But the same public who liked that idea said that they did not want that person to be appointed through the ballot box. Their distrust of politicians came out in the research. They like the idea of knowing the name of a person they can go to, but not the idea of that person being there through the ballot box. That research was done by Ipsos MORI. We can give you that research if necessary.
On the issue of voting and democratic accountability, there are currently 3.5 million people missing from the electoral register. When the Electoral Commission did its research, it found that the people missing from the register are black and ethnic, and live in council houses, social housing, privately rented houses and houses of multiple occupation. They are young people, generally from poor and deprived neighbourhoods. Those people are not even on the register. No vote, no voice. So if we have a middle class area with a massive 80% or 90% turnout, and areas that are not even on the register, who will a democratically elected commissioner pay more heed to? In theory, you will say, “Everybody equally”, but in practice, who will a streetwise, savvy PCC pay more attention to? Will it be somebody in a middle class area who says the branches on his tree are too low, or will it be somebody in another area saying, “I’m being terrorised”? We have limited resources and a 20% cut in funding in north Wales. Who will that police commissioner listen to?
Sir Hugh Orde: That is why it is absolutely critical that operational independence is maintained and clearly understood. That is why we, in many very constructive meetings with the Home Secretary and the Minister, have been asking for consideration of a clear code or memorandum, so that we understand the parameters by which we operate. Otherwise, I think you have a huge issue. The big danger is the politicisation of policing for the first time in the history of our country. We can fix that by having a proper accountability framework decided by the Government, as is their absolute right, balanced by the right of a chief to say, “I know, in my professional judgment, having listened to all the people we would clearly listen to, that the best way of keeping everybody safe in this area is by doing x or y and using these tactics, because we know they work.”
We do not police majorities. We police everybody. In particular, as you have just articulated, many of the people we spend more time with are those who, for all sorts of other complex reasons, are not majorities. They are minorities that deserve our protection. There is a balance around being held to account for what we do and where we put our resources—that is completely legitimate and absolutely proper—but we have to make the decisions about where we put our people, informed by the debate in the policing plan, so that we do not fall into a trap in which anyone is able to accuse this service of being politically driven and of doing as it is told for political reasons.
Rob Garnham: That is why there need to be powers in the police and crime panel. Our worry in the APA is that we end up with an all-too-powerful chief constable or commissioner. Having checks and balances through the police and crime panel is extremely important, because a member of that disfranchised community could say to the panel, “Do you know what’s going on here?” and the panel will quite rightly say, “Hold on, Commissioner. We need to bring you in,” and “Let’s have a debate on this.” We should not underestimate the power of the PCP—the panel—in representing communities. It needs to be given sufficient power to ensure that those kinds of events do not happen.
Louise Casey: I agree entirely with what both Hugh and Rob have just said. It comes back to Mr McCabe’s question about how this is looked at and by whom, and I think it is quite important. I know from my own career in the voluntary sector and charities, and also in the civil service, that crime affects people in poor areas significantly more. We also know that quite often those people have the least voice in terms of determining change, so I think you are right to say that this needs to be looked at. This goes back to your question to me earlier, Miss Phillipson: these things need to be looked at carefully so that a very close eye is kept on this extraordinarily fundamental reform, and so that the sort of things the Committee has raised today, across the board, are looked at carefully to ensure that they are guarded against. One would not want, as victims commissioner, people in poor areas, which already suffer the worst crime, to take a downturn. I am not in the business of wanting that to happen. This has to improve things for people, not make them worse. We need to look at it carefully.
Can we go back to the previous question, which referred to the arrangements in London? The evidence of the Greater London Authority says:
“The Bill gives the Metropolitan Police Service Commissioner significantly more powers and the local elected policing body significantly less than at present.”
The next paragraph says:
“It cannot be right that the Metropolitan Police Service Commissioner can refuse to deliver the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime Plan and Priorities, both national and those that matter to Londoners.”
If this diminishes the role of the elected body, is it not a backwards step? Should not we be at least improving on the role of the elected body and setting that up across the country, rather than moving backwards? Would anyone like to comment? Is this a backwards step?
Rob Garnham: I agree. The way I see it at the moment is that we believe, as police authorities, that the Bill does not achieve what it sets out to achieve. For instance, transferring staff assets to chief constables takes away from the person who it is proposed will be held accountable through the ballot box. That goes back to the view I just gave. What the reforms must not do is end up with an all-powerful chief constable who does not have to give due regard to the elected person, or an elected person who does not have to give due regard to the chief constable or the public. The checks and balances will be important in the Bill, because the democratic mandate will win out in public opinion and the media in the end. That means, yes, there is operational independence, but there cannot be areas on which a chief constable can turn to a chair of a police authority or a commissioner and say, “Can’t ask me about that. That’s operational.”
Sir Hugh Orde: Just by way of reassurance, Chairman, having been here for over a year and knowing my chiefs as I think I do, I cannot think of a situation in which a chief constable would refuse to answer a question from an authority, regardless of what type of accountability he or she was being held to account by—the new or the old. The issue is about the mature debate that follows. We should have some confidence that the vast majority of the people in the roles I represent and those who will stand for election will be mature individuals who can have those conversations. It is not about a head-to-head—the last thing we need are 43 head-to-heads on day one. We need to have those mature debates, which is why we would argue very strongly that there must be checks and balances to ensure clarity of understanding before we go into this, rather than trying to work it out as it happens. That goes back to the national requirement, the local requirement and the bespoke roles the commissioner will hold, such as holding us to account and the responsibility to the chiefs to deliver operationally independent views on how they should deliver policing.
With all due respect, that was not my question. My question was: does this reduce the role of the democratically elected authority, and do you see that as a retrograde step?
Sir Hugh Orde: Again, I think it is a matter for the commissioner. I speak to the commissioner very frequently, and my sense is that he would not say that he is all-powerful. I know he takes the current structure very seriously. I know he feels that he is held to account daily by the deputy Mayor. My sense is not that there is a sudden shift in favour of the police at all, but it is important that he has the opportunity to articulate those concerns and facts himself.
Before we continue, we have a long series of questions to put to you and we have spent a long time on this subject, so I am going to call this section to a close shortly. I want to establish whether any hon. Member has not had the opportunity to put a question during this particular line of questioning; I intend to call only one or two more people before we move on. I call Bridget Phillipson.
On Mr Malthouse’s comments, he said that there was a massive increase in the correspondence that he received, but he also said that he had a struggle to cope with the volume of that correspondence. That raises the issue of resourcing the commissioners. What do you say about that?
Sir Hugh Orde: I heard that. He must be very busy responding to letters rather than taking on his strategic responsibility. The key has to be to make sure that the one individual, who is replacing 17, has a proper infrastructure so that he or she can do a proper job, otherwise they will get stuck into the detail and will not be able to raise their eyes to look at the key issues facing the area that they are now holding the chief to account for. We seek clarity on the Committee’s view on how that individual is supported.
Rob Garnham: It is extremely important. Police authorities vary in the size of their support structure. Obviously, some with a bigger population and a much bigger constabulary will employ 17, 18 or more officers.
My own example is that of Gloucestershire. I have two full-time officers. I have a third who is a youth worker, and I have some support clerks. It is very lean. That is how I have done it. The aim is to give the strategic overview, but I can see that it would not be able to cope with the amount of work that I see coming initially out of the public expectations of a commissioner. We shall therefore have to look at how much resources we spend on increasing that support structure to deliver what is required. If the elections go ahead and the public awareness is raised, they will have their expectations raised. We must handle that, otherwise it will fail too soon.
Louise Casey: The interesting thing about Kit Malthouse every time he says that is that I think, “Isn’t that interesting on behalf of victims?” Something that will need to be sorted in the years to come if this presses ahead is the right of redress of the public.
In my experience, and from receiving correspondence from MPs over the years, one hits the brick wall of not knowing how to get a problem sorted out in a neighbourhood and wondering why anything is not going on. I wonder what he does with his 30 letters when he gets a letter from someone in Newham, which says, “Nobody is listening to me. I have been living with this. It’s not going anywhere. What can you do about it?”
I have worked for plenty of people and know plenty now in the room who know that I have said relentlessly that I do not think we are getting complaints and the right of redress of the public right. The police crime commissioners will get traffic of that kind. My question is what will they do about it because at the moment the way in which the complaints procedures are set up is all about the conduct of a police officer. Whether he has overstepped the mark is a disciplinary issue. Such matters are not about “None of us in our street can leave our houses on a Friday night. We have evidence of that. No one is doing anything about it.” “What are you, crime commissioner, going to do about it?” is where such matters will head.
Such issues will presumably have resourcing implications, but they are also about feedback to the public and transparency, and that is where some of the tensions will be. At the moment, the public do not get an answer to that question in a straight way at all or else I would not get letters from MPs asking me such questions. It is also one of the reasons why the concession from the Government to get the voice of victims literally in the face of the Bill was so important. That is the sort of thing that they are concerned about. They want to know how to get a right of redress, and that will come up during the consultation process.
It just was not clear from Mr Malthouse whether an increase in correspondence necessarily means that victims feel that there has been an improvement.
Louise Casey: Indeed. I don’t think that we know the answer to that question at the moment. I have visited most housing estates in this country, and I have sat in meetings at which people feel that they banged their heads against a brick wall. They do not have the answer to some of those questions, and that is what they will have to get right.
As for whether an increase in correspondence is a good thing in and of itself, just having someone that the public feel they can write to with their problem or complaint is a good thing. It is better that they feel they can write 300 letters a week, rather than 20 or 30, even if solving those problems will, by definition, be difficult, intractable or all sorts.
I put it to the panel—and I am interested in your comments—that communication is a better public service anyway. Actually, notwithstanding the conduct of officers that Louise talked about, a result will be that if lots of letters come in about a problem, perhaps that will lead to the police looking at policing that road, street, or area in a different way, which could lead to solving some of the problems. Just having that communication makes the situation better than it was before.
Paul McKeever: I agree, to an extent. Just writing a letter can be a cathartic release and be an end product that is satisfying to the writer. We are making a number of assumptions about what these letters are about, but we do not know. What would be more important and of more interest to me is what these letters are about.
Does Kit Malthouse think that he can come to satisfactory resolutions with the tools he has at his disposal? If not, why not, and what should be put in place to ensure that that happens? It is the outcome we are interested in and not only the volume of letters. Perhaps it would be useful to go back to Kit Malthouse and gain further evidence to find out what he does. How does he resolve them, and if he does not have the tools, what does he need?
As a police officer, you will be used to dealing with the public and their satisfaction levels. Surely, as a member of the public, you are a bit more satisfied if you know who you can write to, as opposed to not even feeling you have anybody you can influence or contact?
Rob Garnham: The worst thing you can do is introduce a system that encourages people to write to you, but then you do not have the resources to answer them or do anything about it—and that assumes that we do not have anything at the moment. I do not have a great mailbag as a chairman of a police authority. I can tell you, however, that I have dealt confidentially with issues from members of the public. They have felt that they are not getting the redress they want on a whole range of issues, which I will not go into, but those matters have stayed confidential and have never gone into the public arena.
People know to get hold of police authorities—it may be that not enough people know. The challenge will be that, with limited resources and when the Government and the Bill are saying that the commissioner shall not cost more than a current police authority, you are going to have to look very closely at these resources. You are raising public expectation. You are raising the expectations of victims that a person has been elected who will solve all the problems.
Solving all those problems takes an awful lot of time—even writing back to acknowledge and say what you are going to do about it takes time—and that is the crucial matter when we talk about costs and extra costs. Whether one side says it will cost more and another says it will not, those matters will have to be addressed, because you are raising public expectations through an elected commissioner who will solve all the problems.
Louise Casey: I understand what you are saying, and I can see why you are saying it. I get the visibility thing—I actually think it was us that paid Ipsos MORI to find out the information that Rob talked about earlier, about people wanting an identifiable figure. I think that was in the 2008 review that we did, so I get all that.
What I would say is that over what is now quite a long period of time, this right of redress of the public has not been dealt with. My worry is about poorer people in poorer areas, who are not used to writing letters, e-mails, and hassling to the same degree. If we do not get some sort of structure around Kit’s 30 letters—what I am looking for is a slightly more formal way of dealing with situations where people are not tackling the thing that worries our residents group, and we are not getting an answer either from the local authority or the police. Who is going to sort that out for us? The formal process behind that, I think, is missing.
“Complaints” is not necessarily the right word. This is not necessarily about a complaint about a police crime commissioner or the conduct of a particular officer; it is about saying, “Why is this problem of a neighbourhood in my area not being dealt with?” Articulate, middle-class people in posh areas are probably able to negotiate their way through the system on that pretty well, but I question whether some people in some areas are able to do that to the same degree.
We need to make sure that we balance that out. Again, that is why I come back to the fact that I was utterly determined and very pleased that we got this concession. Frankly, I need to milk it to make sure that when victims are asked and consulted as part of the plan, these are the sorts of things that they are able to say to the police and the police crime commissioner. I am hoping that the door from Ministers is open to helping me fulfil that responsibility.
One quick final question from Steve McCabe.
I was just thinking about how my constituents would feel if they were listening—that an extra number of letters is a way of defining success. I think they would think that I had gone mad. I am not against people getting redress where they have a problem. In the context of taking evidence on this Bill, surely the measure has to be: what kind of complaints did you get, who did they come from and how were they dealt with? Surely, that has to be written into the policing plan and any scrutiny of it. Otherwise, all that is going to happen is that when councillors get someone complaining, they are going to say, “Ah, what you do is write to the police commissioner.” When MPs get somebody complaining, they are going to say, “Ah, I know where this goes now.” It is nonsense. That is not a way of creating better redress; that is a way of creating an extended communication chain.
Surely, as witnesses you should be telling us that something has to be written into the Bill—at the very least into the policing plan and the scrutiny of it—that tells us what happens to all these things, what they are and how they are dealt with. Otherwise, I feel I am living in a fantasy land. I do not think there is a hope that I could explain this to any of my constituents, who are genuinely fed up with the redress that they are getting at the moment.
Louise Casey: If I didn’t make myself clear, Mr McCabe, I am saying that for a number of years, including 2011, the right of redress for the public on crime issues has never got the sufficient priority it should. There is an opportunity with police and crime commissioners. Whether it is 30 or 500, it is not about letters. It is about when I am out on that estate—and I am there at 7 pm or 9 am—those people are sick to the back teeth of nobody doing anything about the problem. Who is going to deal with that? Is it you as MPs? Is it the local councillor? Is it the police and crime commissioner? Who is it? For years and now, it is my view in my current job and previous roles, no one has ever dealt with the issue. There are not huge numbers of problems, but there are still some in some areas and they should be dealt with better.
Nor will they be addressed if we become fixated on somebody describing the number of letters as the definition of performance or success. Is that not the problem?
Order. We are going to move on. We have had an hour and a quarter on this particular tack. We move on to another theme.
May I say, in conclusion on that last piece, that the issue of operational independence hangs in the air? Similarly, the criminal justice system keeps being mentioned. The police and crime commissioner has no responsibility for the criminal justice system.
I am interested in the debate between a force-wide commissioner and the accountability that a force-wide commissioner brings to a local community, and how that reconnects in the way that we would all wish, or improves the system of accountability. If you take somewhere the size of Devon and Cornwall or north Wales—or indeed my own situation in Nottinghamshire—and elect a police and crime commissioner for the whole force area, why would the people in one part, such as the Isles of Scilly, feel that the introduction of the police and crime commissioner improves accountability for them, if that commissioner is in Exeter?
How would the commissioner know the needs of that particular community? There might be one particular type of crime they want addressed in the Isles of Scilly, while in Exeter it might be another, in Plymouth another, in Portsmouth another. Whether it be knife crime, antisocial behaviour, burglary or whatever, I do not see how accountability or reconnection between the public and the police would mean anything on a force-wide level.
The question to each of the witnesses is: why would having one person representing an enormous area make somebody 70 or 100 miles away feel that accountability is improved? Would people not prefer improvement at a neighbourhood level? Would they not prefer that level of accountability, in terms of getting a better response, rather than having a remote commissioner, with one person taking on the responsibility of 17 or 18 people? Whatever we think of all the different checks, balances and operational independence, is not the model itself flawed, because it does not give people the accountability that they want?
Rob Garnham: On whether the model is going to improve that situation, our concerns are about taking away local accountability. We were asked to give evidence to you today: just under half of police authorities were inspected. There was no evidence that the current system was flawed or was not delivering in terms of linking one member of a police authority to one geographical area, and making that person responsible for local community consultation, be that on budget or policing priorities. Those 17 members, who are responsible for a geographical area or a community in that patch, then feed back to their committees and chairs.
That highlights the problem that we discussed earlier. A chairman or a resource board of a police authority committee might say, “Everything seems to be fine.” However, having that local accountability gives that member the ability to say, at police authority meetings, “Actually, you may think that—the figures and stats may say that—but on my patch, it is not fine.” We value that highly, because the person on the patch knows their inspector, their safer community teams, the public and the community. They are working on the patch and then feeding back. That system was not found to be at fault—it works.
Sir Hugh Orde: One person is going to be very busy. Will crime prevention police have more of a role than the police authorities undertake? That might reassure communities that they have got more than one person to speak to.
Paul made the point that the measure does not dismantle many of the other local, less formal structures that exist, and will continue to do so, under the model. They are still regarded as important, but they will not add value if they do not feed up.
It comes back to needing clarity about how the system will work, because it is a big job. You touched on Devon and Cornwall, which has 18 parliamentary constituencies, so one person will be stretched across a geographically difficult territory. If a mechanism is to work, it must allow local people to feel connected. The individual commissioners must then have the right information to hold the chief properly to account, because if they are not effective, the system will quickly lose credibility.
Paul McKeever: I concur with everything that Sir Hugh has said. I return to the point that it is not for us to decide how we should be held accountable; that is a political decision. We will look, and point out any flaws that we might see, but we are not here to decide how we should be held to account.
Louise Casey: The model puts a great deal of pressure on the police commissioners to listen in a huge range of areas. I am pleased that they must have regard to the views of victims and to those of the wider public, but doing that in the ways that colleagues have described means that they will have their work cut out. One needs to look at that carefully.
I agree with Sir Hugh that the pressure will be on those police commissioners to reinforce and support local relationships that already exist and are working well. The question is, where those relationships do not exist—where the public and the police are not in connection—will commissioners have the wherewithal, across such a huge geographical area, to create them, so that information can be fed back? That is my worry about the stretch.
Ideally, there would be something more local, so that, as your colleague said, there would be a commissioner for Hull instead of for the whole of Humberside. It is natural for the public to identify with more local areas—we have an understanding about local matters, such as to whom we pay our council tax.
The measure will be quite tough for commissioners to achieve. But to do their jobs properly they will have to listen and take account of the views of victims and witnesses. That is now in the Bill for them to do and they will have to think really creatively and proactively about how they do it.
The idea that a member of the current police authority is accountable to a local area is news to me; I have never had experience of that. I would have thought that having each district council represented on the police and crime panel would help. It would be much more transparent. Every district will have someone, and you will know who that person is. Presumably it will be the leader or the cabinet member for public safety. Do you not think that that would help that link rather than hinder it? If there is a weakness in police authorities it is that the public would never dream of going to them if there was a problem in their area. If you want some evidence of that, the Gloucestershire constabulary website has a link to the police authority on its front page; it is a long way below freedom of information, data protection, useful links and SMS texting, but above police memorabilia. I guess there is some progress. I think you are citing an advantage that I have never seen.
Rob Garnham: One would ask first whether you have had a problem with the police that you have not been able to address or where you needed to find the police authority. I could give you countless names of people who have had a problem and have found the name of the person in their area to deal with the local policing problem. But the question is whether, as the Bill is written, the idea of a panel made up of representatives from the district council will help with some of the fears and risks that I have highlighted and yes, I think it will.
I just want to understand what this police and crime commissioner would do, once elected. In view of the size of some of the force areas and to fully understand the issues that affect the people they represent, would you expect the commissioner to visit every ward in the force area on a quarterly basis and to visit every neighbourhood watch? I understand that local mechanisms are already in place, but it seems to me that this person will have so much vested in him or her to reflect the needs and concerns of the people he or she represents. Everybody will want to speak to him or her. How do you think this will work practically for this one individual covering such an enormous number of wards and constituencies?
Paul McKeever: It is difficult to be prescriptive. You have 43 very different models around the country. We have one good example of Devon and Cornwall, which is geographically enormous. There are some force areas like the West Midlands where there are 10,000 police officers covering a huge area. Next door there is Warwickshire where there are around 1,000 police officers. So you are not comparing like with like. To be prescriptive and say you must do this, this and this, might work in one police area, but it might not work in another. You have to be careful that you are not too prescriptive, but at the same time that you put in those requirements so that they will engage in some way, shape or form. What that is, at this moment I do not know.
Rob Garnham: It goes again to the point about making use of the panel and the strengths and powers of the panel underneath. One individual could be pulled two ways. One, the panel could demand so much of them that they could not do their job or the chief constable could demand so much of the commissioner that they are briefed on so much that they cannot do the job. That is why we would say strengthen that panel and perhaps a word that might be missing is “overview”. If in a large area something is highlighted on crimes, victims or the way policing is conducted, you could say to the panel, “Look, we are getting some noises coming from that area, we think it is about drug abuse.” It could be any issue, but you could ask the panel to do some work on that and have a look at it. Whether the panel does the work or it goes back to its councils and does the work, or the commissioner commissions some of that work, you will need a strong panel with the ability to do that but also to understand the constabulary. The failing in the system as proposed is that the panel will just scrutinise the commissioner. The panel needs to be able to scrutinise the constabulary performance as well, hand in hand with the commissioner.
Sir Hugh Orde: I absolutely agree with Rob that they will need to understand the business. How they go about that will be a matter of personal choice, but I sense that chiefs would give them every opportunity, if they want to get involved in understanding how we operate. To make sure that they are fully informed, so that they can hold us properly to account, would not be a problem. Part of that may be about visiting and understanding what we do. Certainly, as an operational police officer, you learn far more by visiting a local police station than you do by sitting in your office. The police, and indeed, the public, would welcome that involvement. Of course, there is that fine line, which I am sure can be managed, between understanding the business and not trying to direct it from an operational perspective. Visiting police stations is different from actually trying to run them. Again, making sure that there is clarity about whose role is whose will be very important in achieving that.
It has been suggested, and the example of Cornwall has been used, that one person might be stretched in fulfilling the role of police and crime commissioner. Is it not the case that we already have individuals, such as the chief executive of Cornwall council, the chief constable of Devon and Cornwall police or the chief fire officer of Cornwall fire and rescue service—or those in any other county—who have operational responsibility as well as strategic-direction responsibility? The police and crime commissioner will also have staff. Does the panel not agree that there is every reason to believe that, appropriately staffed and resourced, the police and crime commissioner will be able to handle that, in the same way as those other officials and chief constables can no doubt handle their operational responsibility, especially looking at this as the difference between operational and strategic? Does the panel agree that there is not that need— whereas a chief constable may wish to visit every police station in his area, the strategic responsibility of the commissioner is different? Would each member of the panel like to address that?
Do not get that wrong.
Rob Garnham: I knew that I would fall down somewhere. Cornwall council is not seeking the electoral mandate, which is important, because once commissioners have that mandate from all over the patch, through the ballot box and by talking to people, they will have the confidence of the public. They will be elected to do a job; chief execs do not have that. Chief executives can choose their risks and their priorities—that this is a higher risk than that—but they do not individually go back to people and say, “I would like your vote for the job that I did for you.” If commissioners are so stretched that they cannot do the job, the whole system fails.
You are introducing a system under which you will say to members of the public or victims, “Here’s a police and crime commissioner, who will give democratic accountability and hold the chief constable to account all across the policing patch. You’ve access to him and you now know who he is.” That person has got to be able to respond to all people, wherever they are, because otherwise, when he comes up for re-election, should he seek that, the public will say, “Well, I’ve got no confidence in you. I never saw you. You never answered my letters,” or whatever. The reason why you have officers and politicians is that chief execs do not have the same kind of view of the public, I should imagine, because they are not chasing votes. They want to provide a good service, but that electoral mandate is extremely important.
Does not the position of the Mayor of London gainsay that argument, as he has even wider responsibilities? Has it not been said that the Mayor’s position is in some respects more powerful than that of some Prime Ministers—not in this country, of course, but in other countries?
We need some clarity on the composition and number of the panels. My force area is Northumbria, which is a huge and very diverse geographic area, being rural and urban—varied. If someone was elected in Berwick, on the Scottish border, they would serve the area right down to the border with Durham. If we are talking about representatives from district councils, such councils do not exist in Sunderland, which is a city of 280,000 people. Would we have only one representative, while an area with a smaller force but several district councils has more people on the panel, so that we would have reduced representation? I do not know how that would work, and I am not sure whether it would increase accountability.
Rob Garnham: It goes back to the two questions I was asked. How can one person do the job of 17 at the moment? The value of 17 is that they are from different geographical areas. Will 10 district councillors help? Yes, it will help, so I offer the question back. Would it help in your geographical area? I think that is left to be seen, and that is the concern that we have. At the moment, as I have said, we have a system that has been inspected and has not been found to be failing in that respect. It is being replaced by a different system, and you have to ensure that the public in each and every corner have a voice, because they have a vested interest in the commissioner they have elected.
I want to move the debate on slightly and ask Sir Hugh, with his links to America and its experience of police commissioners, if he would like to give some insight into the way it works there.
Sir Hugh Orde: As you know, there is no one system in America. It is a remarkably complicated policing environment, with more than 15,000 law enforcement agencies, some 80% of which consist of fewer than 30 people. Many have elected sheriffs, sworn officers who are elected and have to stand for re-election based on how the generally small local communities think they are doing. There are some sheriffs, in California, for example, who are in charge of huge geographical areas.
There are some clear facts. Bill Bratton was over recently—I have known Bill for many years and he is now quite an institution in policing—and he would describe this proposal as nothing like anywhere in the United States. This is different from the United States, which is why the Committee needs to look at it on its merits, rather than comparing it, and, frankly, making some fairly false comparisons, with the United States, because there are all sorts of other systems in America.
If one takes New York, for example, it is a fact that the mayor can hire and fire the chief constable. There have been two-and-a-half times as many commissioners in New York as there have been in London over the same period of time. It is a matter of judgment whether that is a good thing or a bad thing. Mr Bratton was fired for being too successful, rather than failing in that state. A fair analysis would be that he out-mayored the mayor, as a result of which he disappeared.
There are also lots of checks and balances. New York has many checks and balances on policing. The city council is a very powerful body that not only can order anyone to attend to give evidence on policing issues, but sets the budget or agrees the budget set by the mayor. There are also other checks and balances. Federal investigators can be appointed, and, indeed, Mr Bratton operated under a consent decree for the whole seven years he was in Los Angeles. In other words, there was Government involvement in local policing.
My personal judgment—having known and on the odd occasion spoken to many of the outstanding police leaders in America, for whom I have great respect—is that it is very different. One has to look at the United Kingdom and, in this case, England and Wales and work out, against our policing model, what is the best system. It is a matter of fact that people travel from across the world to examine and look at the British policing model, because of the principles upon which it is built, which go back to Sir Robert Peel and are still in place. So it is very different, and it is a bit risky just to look to see if there are any parallels.
You say that it is based on the Peel model of policing. We are particularly looking not so much at that, but at the tripartite structure. I believe that Ministers are concerned that—this has been my experience—there has been a democratic deficiency, particularly on the behalf of police authorities, because local people do not know who is in charge. I refer to Louise Casey’s report “Engaging Communities in Fighting Crime” in which 67% of the public said that they did not know who to go to with a complaint about the police if they were unhappy with policing in their area and 59% said that they found it very difficult to challenge local police on the way in which their areas were policed. Having been a councillor in the past, I have experienced that both in metropolitan London and in more rural areas such as Cumbria, although not in Devon and Cornwall.
I would like to ask Councillor Garnham about the statutory duties in the Bill to take into account the views of local people. How do those duties compare with the current statutory duties to which the police authorities are subject?
How do you consult?
Rob Garnham: I personally consult in a number of ways that have been used over various years. I see more people through my policing work in a consultative capacity than as a councillor on my local patch. Certainly, I have the experience of at least four police and public crime meetings where I sit with my local inspector. Sometimes those are about giving feedback on policing. I always give feedback about not only what is on the patch but on regional crime fighting as well.
Do you invite people to those meetings?
Rob Garnham: Yes. My average attendance is probably 30 to 35 people. That’s happening in 17 places, four times a year. It is just changing, so I am saying it has happened, across the county of Gloucestershire. There is also the force-wide consultation, and we make sure that we have questions in that. One of my frustrations when dealing with local government, for example, is when local government officials say, “Well, you’ve done your crime survey, Rob; we need to do one.” They start off with questions such as: what is the priority? Is it feeling safe at night? Well, everyone is going to say, “Yes, it is feeling safe at night,” but actually they are safe at night, so stop asking inane questions of the public. So there is that consultation.
The second part of the question was about how we would do that in the future.
Under the Bill.
Rob Garnham: That has to be there. We consult, and we have to take the views of the public. That is not only on precept and the policing plan but on redress, because that is an area that needs to be tackled. A member of the public who has a complaint against the police is quite often told, “Oh, well, the best thing is to make an official complaint and then we will definitely deal with it in so many days.” After six months they are told, “Well, actually, the officer was not negligent and we have looked into it. Isn’t everyone happy?” No. We probably could have solved that by—and I have done this—the police authority member and the local inspector going round to visit the member of public and saying, “What’s your beef? What happened here?” After talking to them, the police say, “Look, we’re sorry this happened. These are the steps that we’re taking to make sure it doesn’t happen again.” That is how we should be dealing with the less serious complaints, because people get immediate redress and they know they have been listened to. I would hope that the Bill gives powers to commissioners to address such issues and work with the Independent Police Complaints Commission to make sure that those small, lower-level complaints can be dealt with and that redress can be had without recourse to a long administrative, bureaucratic system.
We are slightly going off the question. The question was: what are the statutory duties in the Bill to take the views of the local community into account compared with the statutory duties currently placed on police authorities?
I think Paul McKeever said before that we should not be prescriptive about where the PCC should go, but if you do not have some guidelines there are a number of ways in which a PCC will decide where he is going to go. He may get invites from neighbourhood watch and residents’ associations; where you have got social capital and where you have civic society operating he will get loads of invites, quite often in middle-class areas. Where you have not got it, he will not get those invites. So if he is just responding to invites he will go to middle-class areas. If he is politically savvy, he may want to go to those geographical areas where his vote is. But I would suggest, and I think there need to be strong recommendations on this, that person should be going to the most crime-ridden areas in the first instance. Whatever system we develop on that, details of his or her public visits should be publicly available—where the PCC went, how long he spent there and what the outcomes were. Otherwise, that person, if he is a directly elected politician—if he is a police commissioner, he will not do it—is going to seek to please. He who votes the piper in picks the tune. They will definitely be chasing votes. What are the panel’s opinions on that?
Paul McKeever: I can understand that. I think it represents generally—I have to be careful here—how perhaps politicians would work. You are absolutely right. I became a police officer because I cared deeply about the most vulnerable in society. That is why I became a cop. I saw what was happening where I was living when I was at university in south-east London. I wanted to do something to help. We must ensure that the most vulnerable—the very people whom you highlight—are not neglected, that they are accounted for and that their views are taken into account, which is very important. I said that we must not be too prescriptive —there must be some prescription there—but if that is the sort of area that Members feel is important, it should be taken into account. They are the ones who need us the most, they are the ones who are most likely to be the victims and they are then ones who we are probably working among the most as well.
Sir Hugh Orde: I think what you have identified is one of the tensions that chiefs have to manage. Clearly, it depends on who stands and who gets elected, as some may have a substantial in-depth knowledge of policing already, but some may not. They all start from fairly different places, but if they are doing their job properly and asking the chief challenging questions about where their resources are, that should point them in the right direction.
One would hope, and I am pretty confident, that the vast majority of resources are deployed against those who need our protection the most, which, as you have defined, will be in the areas where crime is high and where there are more victims of crime, rather than places where crime is low. The tension that the individual will have to manage will, I suspect, be the frustration of some of their constituents who feel that they should have more policing, when the stats and numbers simply do not add up to them deserving more policing. There are many low-crime areas that are almost self-policing and rightly so.
Louise Casey: I want to say, in answer to both issues, that my review—thank you for quoting from it—showed that what is really interesting is that we are really bad at asking the public what they want, and we are certainly even worse at telling them anything about crime. Most people do not want to trip out on a wet Thursday night to a local community meeting when there is nothing wrong in their area or nothing is happening to them. They do, on the other hand, want to know what the crime issues are and what is being done to tackle them. I can get fairly obsessed with police websites, newsletters and meetings, and there will be a greater tension, because I have sat through police authority consultation meetings, and, Rob, they are fairly dry to say the least.
Louise Casey: I am in front of a Committee of MPs, so I am being polite.
There is a difference, however, with neighbourhood meetings that I have been to, where, if there is a real problem in that area, people will turn out. Where there are problems, people turn out to meetings. Where there are no problems, people do not. You are MPs. You know this stuff. I am talking to you about stuff that you should already know. We are not great at consultation, and we are even worse at informing the public as to what is going on in relation to crime. The third statistic, which is one of the most striking, that I often quote from my review is that something like 40% to 50% of the public said that knowing that action would be taken and that they would be kept informed would most encourage them to report crime. That goes straight back to the first question in this Committee, which was put by Mr Coaker, which was whether this is about bringing crime down and improving the lives of victims and the wider public.
One of the jobs of the police and crime commissioner, which they should be able to ensure happens with their colleagues in the police, because their door is normally open for this, is to get greater transparency and flow of information. On your colleagues’ website, you should be able to see clearly—if you can be bothered to look at the website—what is happening in your local area. I do not mean showing that the percentage has dropped by 3.8% this month, and that it is up by 2.7% in the next; I mean saying, for example, “We had a problem with burglary in Finsbury Park, and we did this about it.”
Somebody has to tell the public, whether it is the police or somebody else, what happens to criminals. That is the thing that the public want to know the most about, and it is what we are really bad at doing. I no longer care who does it, Hugh; I just think that it is something that the public deserve to know about. I had high hopes that this Administration would make that one of their priorities, and I am hoping that it will happen in terms of getting information to the public from the criminal justice system.
Rob Garnham: Can I just address the issue of politics? A living example would be myself. I am a Conservative councillor, and I became chair of Gloucestershire police authority in 2007. Up until that time, the chair had been a non-elected member. I was proposed by my own group and those non-elected members, and they say, “Chair, we keep you there, because you don’t play politics.” Now, if I turned around to the chief constable and said, “Look, I know where the Conservative votes are in Gloucestershire, that’s where we need a few more police on the street to show a bit of presence. Never mind over there, that’s a bad crime area and they’re not Conservatives”, my 17 members would raise that as a public item and probably have a vote of no confidence and throw me out. We have to make sure that that kind of politicking cannot take place.
It is built into the new system.
Rob Garnham: Yes, you have to have the strength of the panel. You would not have a panel that can veto everything, because why would we go through this? Why would you have an elected commissioner? You have to have the panel to ensure that those kinds of politics are not played—that is extremely important. The representation of the people is important. It is not just about meetings in rooms; it is about going out and talking to the people. You have to take the views of the public, but not use them in a political way in policing. That cannot be done.
I was interested in Louise’s comment that the public mostly want to be informed about what happens, because that would seem to tie into Kit Malthouse’s point, which I raised earlier, that 300 letters a week is better than 30 letters a week, because at least they have some way to go on being informed. The debate then started to move on into the interesting territory of the type of personalities who will stand for this position and be on the panel. Sir Hugh, you mentioned that you would be interested to see the type of people who run for this post. I wondered whether Rob, in particular, and the panel had a view on whether people with police knowledge, such as existing police authority members, should be allowed to stand for the role of police and crime commissioner and, if so, why? What sort of people do you envisage coming forward for this?
Which they are in the Bill at the moment.
Rob Garnham: But I think that, while the letter of the Bill says that they are ruled out, what needs to be in the Bill is that perhaps when the election is declared, a member of the police authority should stand down. Rather than fighting for a new role, you might have one or two in the same police authority.
Is that something that you would be interested in, while we are on it, or would you rule that out?
Rob Garnham: I have been asked a number of times whether I would stand for commissioner. I want to see the commissioner’s role as something that is worth while. It has to be a role which you are going to do and have the power to do. If it is a role where all the power has been taken from an elected individual and given to a chief constable, it is not a role that I would sacrifice other things to do. That is why the balance has to be there. My personal judgment is to wait and see what the role is.
You have a pretty good idea of what the role is, so I will push you on it. Is it a worthwhile role or not?
Rob Garnham: If the Bill is amended such that you do not have an all too powerful chief constable or an all too powerful commissioner, is that something I would look at? At the moment, it does not have that balance and you need to amend it. I do not want to play the game of what ifs. Keith Vaz tried to put me in that situation.
You asked me about the kind of people who might stand—I think that members of police authorities should be allowed to stand. With such a radical change in policing, you need the experience carried forward. If you do not have a transition period and pilots, you should not throw everything out. Whether they stand down at the point of election, or whether they are allowed to continue, but with awareness of purdah—that they cannot make announcements—I would not want, for instance, to see a chief constable or senior officer being allowed to retire one day and stand for election the next.
Why do I say that? Some people might say, “Well, that’s the chairman of the Association of Police Authorities; he has a vested interest.” My worries would be about a number of situations. One is the tensions that may be caused in the run-up to an election, where a chief constable is trying to instil public confidence in policing and run a constabulary. Others might see a tension, because they want to be commissioner and could be the chief constable’s elected boss a few months down the line. There could also be a situation in which a chief constable thinks, “I’m retiring in a couple of years’ time. I want to be on the front page of the newspaper instead of the commissioner.” You would then have a battle between the commissioner and the chief constable. Both of them should have an eye on delivering good policing and public confidence, but they might suddenly get into a political battle about who is on the front page of the newspaper. There are, therefore, various reasons why I think a police officer should not be able to stand for membership of a police authority for four years, as it is at the moment. That should be carried through to the new system.
Will independent people stand? I am sure they will. People have said to me that independents will have no chance of getting in, and it will all be political parties sorting out the candidates. However, it happens in Parliament; I cannot remember the name of the gentleman who got in over the hospital issue. That might perhaps be opened up a bit more in policing. The public might say, “We do not like the politics. Here is someone I know. Let’s have a look at them as an independent.”
It worked for Bloomberg in New York.
Just so that I am clear, why do you not think that that moratorium should be read across to members of police authorities? I could make the same arguments about interference and teeing it up for an election that you have just made about a chief constable being elected chair of a powerful police authority, as you have been describing this morning.
Sir Hugh Orde: Unless I have misread the Bill, I understood that the suggestion about excluding chief constables came from the Home Affairs Committee. The point is still right—it is a determined effort to keep me out of the equation on behalf of the Policing Minister, but there we go.
I think we will wait and see who stands. I think the common wisdom is that the majority will be on a party ticket, because the infrastructure needed to campaign across such a large geographical area makes it inevitable. One would assume—
Sir Hugh, I apologise for interrupting, but that was not the case in the first mayoral elections here in London, where a candidate stood as an independent. He was subsequently allowed back into the Labour party, but he stood as an independent and won.
Sir Hugh Orde: Time will tell on who stands. Some independents may well stand, but it is not a matter for us to go into who we would like to hold us to account; there is a fine line.
Regarding whether I sense concerns from the recommendation of the Home Affairs Committee, that chief constables should be excluded for four years from standing in the area where they were chief—I think that was the precision of it—I can entirely understand the notion that if I were to hold to account the incoming chief of an area that I had been responsible for, there might be some conflict, so I am not too excited about that. However, I think it was a precise recommendation —I do not have the Home Affairs Committee’s recommendation in front of me—to limit the measure to the area where the chief was in charge, rather than on a wider scale.
Paul McKeever: The parties are clearly going to be very involved in the matter, and whoever becomes a commissioner will certainly be allied to a political party. I cannot see there being much room for independents, although I am sure independents will stand. As for the dynamics, if you look closely locally, you may already see one or two people in some police authorities making a play by raising their profile. I think the campaigning has started already.
Before I call the next speaker, may I say at this point that we have a series of questions that we have made little headway on? That is not a criticism. The meat of the debate has centred on the main issues, but we are clearly nowhere near the end of our list of questions. Therefore, with the short time that remains, I ask members of the Committee to forget about the set agenda for the next half hour. I will call people as and when they indicate, and if you bear in the mind the questions that you would have originally asked, hopefully, we will get everyone in for an opportunity to ask. I hope that that is okay with the Committee; it seems the only logical way we can possibly do it.
One of the ways that was suggested to get around the conundrum of one person being responsible for a huge area was to stress the importance of the police and crime panel and the people who will be on that. Bridget Phillipson already mentioned the issue of population difference between some of the constituent authorities. Sir Hugh has referred on a number of occasions to the lack of clarity around a whole range of different measures in the Bill, none more so than with respect to the police and crime panel. On reading the Bill, it is not clear to me whether the purpose of the police and crime panel is to actually oversee or scrutinise the work of the commissioner or to hold the commissioner to account. That is not clear. The only evidence we have is the fact that the police and crime panel has very little power. It has a couple of veto powers, but to use them it has to have a three-quarters majority, which seems quite excessive. Given that we are saying that, to reconcile the fact that one person in the neighbourhood deals with some of the issues that have arisen, the police and crime panel is an important body, what do each of you think the purpose of the panel should be? Should it be a simple rubber stamp? An oversight body? Should it hold the commissioner to account? What should its function be? I am not clear from the Bill exactly what its function should be. I personally think it has a very important role and should oversee what the commissioner is doing and hold him or her to account. What is your view on the role of the panel and do you think there is clarity in the Bill?
Rob Garnham: My concerns centre around seemingly providing too much clarity—perhaps that has not been provided—because here is a chief constable, the commissioner will hold them to account, and the PCP will hold the commissioner to account and scrutinise what they have done. Does that mean that they cannot then request the chief constable to come along or look into or request information from other officers? I think the strength of this will lie in the powers of the police and crime panel, which is extremely important.
It has already been given some veto powers. What do I mean by power? It has to be public and it has to be transparent. Perhaps some operational discussions will be held behind closed doors between the chief constable and the commissioner, but the two of them cannot get together and start taking decisions on issues that quite rightly should be in the public domain. Public transparency is an important part of the checks and balances of the police and crime panel. You have to make sure that the police and crime panel is not given an adversarial role and does not say, “Right, we’re going to get the commissioner. We disagree with what they are doing.” The panel has to have the buy-in of what success looks like. What do we want to be policed? How will we measure the success of policing in this county? I can see close work between the commissioner and the PCP.
As a councillor, I am seeing the power of petitions at the moment. I would also see the public petitioning to request the officer or commissioner to attend a debate or to answer questions in the public arena. We are seeing that coming through local government at the moment. It is extremely powerful. That would answer some of the earlier questions about areas that may feel disfranchised. Some 5,000 signatures demanding the public appearance of either the chief executive or commissioner to come along to answer questions is a powerful tool. We have to have that transparency, and it will be powerful.
If, as an elected individual, you want to sell a case to the electorate, you might do it in a different way when you are being held to account by your peers. Your peers might say, “Never mind all the flannel and what you’ve told the media, and what you might have told some of the public. Here are the facts. Here is where we can compare. You are not doing the same, and Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary tells us you are not doing the same as the commissioner next door. We need to hold you to account.”
It is not only the adversarial role. Ensure that the Bill says that they have bought into what successful policing looks like in their area. That would be a strength of the panel.
Sir Hugh Orde: As a chief constable, it is clear that the chief is held to account by the police and crime commissioner, not the police and crime panel. That does not mean that chief officers should step back from speaking to panels in any sense, but there is need for clarity about to whom the chiefs are properly held to account. As you know, panels carry specific functions. From our perspective, they confirm the appointment of a chief, but they cannot overturn it. However, there is a clear role if a chief is to be dismissed. It requires a veto of 75%. Panels may consider consulting Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector. We argue that they should consider the professional judgment of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector when looking at the dismissal of a chief officer.
It would be a matter of fact in many parts of the country. For want of a better description, the political colour of the panel will be the same as that of a commissioner. Again, the Committee will have to reassure itself whether that is a proper and effective check and balance. The old system and one of the great strengths of the Police Authority for Northern Ireland was the role of independence. Less independence will be found in the current model. What was added from a police perspective were different areas of expertise on which they could advise the chief, be it business, finance, personnel, human resource issues and so on. Again, the panels may need to look at how such advice could be drawn from the current structure because that was seen as quite a value to chiefs.
I shall be grateful if the witnesses will tell me whether there is anything that is not specified under the Bill that they would like to see in it.
Paul McKeever: No, there is not. I come back to the point that I have made a number of times. It is not for us to decide how we should be held to account. As long as the safeguards are put in place—we have talked about almost everything that I could have thought of here today—we will work with that.
So you are happy that everything is in the Bill.
Louise Casey: I was very pleased with the session about having to take account of the views of victims and the wider public. If a door is open, I always push it to the nth degree. I would be happier if there was still more on how that will happen so that we can make sure we know the views of victims and the wider public. I want to know how it will actually happen so that I can be reassured that the Bill will not be reliving how the police authorities currently consult or some of the poorer police practice. I want to be sure that we do not set up a system that just goes through the motions of what we are already doing and does not tackle what is needed. We need a radical approach to informing the public regularly about one of their top issues. That is what is worrying me about the Bill. However, I am satisfied with what I have so far, but if the door were open, I would push it further to get a greater description of the level of service provided to victims and their treatment, although that does stray into criminal justice.
I wish to make a point about the last thing that I was ruminating on because it is connected. I am troubled slightly on behalf of victims about the roles. We have a police crime commissioner, a police chief constable and more likely borough commanders who often are in the frame for most of the debate about what happens locally. Now we have a police and crime panel as well. I do not know whether such an issue is put in a Bill or in guidance, but I am slightly troubled by the public now having three different people who are potentially holding each other to account. For what?
At the moment, there is not enough transparency and accountability for the public. The elected police commissioner is supposed to help to deal with that, so that the public know who is accountable for the local policing priorities, can go to them on that basis and know that their views will be taken into account. The position needs to be made clear. I accept that it is less of an issue in respect of scrutiny and those sorts of things, but I do not want the public to have yet someone else to have another conversation with.
A police chief has operational independence to deal with what needs to be dealt with locally, and there is a police and crime commissioner who I vote in. Yes, it is only every four years, but I vote them in and they are responsible to me for whether or not they have done what I voted them in to do. It is a bit like MPs. There is clarity in that process. It is not for me to have a view on such matters because I am not involved in the bureaucracy, but I am troubled by the third element of the police and crime panel and whether it is somehow another wheel to the axe that I am supposed to hold to account? I have enough already, Rob, and I do not really want to add in another one for members of the public. I ask the MPs scrutinising the Bill to take that plea into account.
Paul McKeever: Can I just come back and expand on what I said? The reason why we in the federation are pretty reticent to engage too much in this particular argument is that it is, as we see it, mainly to do with the strategic overview of the force. We represent officers from chief inspector to constable rank, and I accept fully that the Bill will have an effect on us, but it is not a direct effect. It will affect the business of officers of Association of Chief Police Officers rank much more, and we have perhaps let them engage much more in the debate than we have because of that. I am not saying that we are satisfied, but if they are satisfied, we do not want to tread too much on their territory. That is why we perhaps acquiesce more than you might expect, given that we generally have a comment on most things.
I apologise, Mr Chairman, if I directed my question to the wrong person. Perhaps Sir Hugh would be kind enough to give his views.
Sir Hugh Orde: I am grateful for the opportunity. There are a number of things. The strategic policing requirement is an essential part of this Bill, which recognises in explicit terms the need for the local contribution to the national policing agenda if we are to make sure that we keep this country safe from 21st-century threats in the absence of any decision by this Government or the last to look at the policing structure itself. So, we need to do that.
That needs to be underpinned by a code, a memorandum of understanding or something that is pretty explicit about the roles that the PCC plays, so that we understand the distinction in strategic terms—one role being to hold us vigorously to account for what we do, and the other being to be make sure that operational independence is not offended.
Finally, from a slightly selfish point of view, we think it is important that the people who are eligible to be appointed to chief constable status should be qualified to be so appointed. We think that should also be in the Bill.
Rob Garnham: Perhaps I can just give a few points, thinking off the top of my head. I think there is agreement that you need a national body to represent the commissioners, and whatever form that body takes—that is for commissioners to decide—it should be a statutory consultee to keep the strength of the tripartite. I think the Bill is removing that at the moment. I see that as extremely important.
I would like to see the control of police staff and assets remain with the commissioner and not be transferred to the chief constable. Greater emphasis on the commissioner playing a role, for instance, on local criminal justice boards is extremely important. These are police and crime commissioners, and there is a way through for that. That needs to be in.
I would probably also, to represent some of the views heard from Opposition Members, like to see local flexibility. Will one size fit all? Will the governance of Gloucestershire, with 550,000 people, be the same as that of Devon and Cornwall or West Yorkshire, with a massive population spread over a large area? Is there any way of creating local flexibility in the way the panel is constructed?
What I am pushing all along is that if you give the PCC an electoral mandate, they have to be involved in governance from the local level all the way through to the setting up of the national crime agency. If you do not involve them from the local to the national, and you have people who are perceived as being elected on local issues, some of the national measures and efforts to tackle crime across the country will be doomed to failure. You have to tie the local into the national, as Sir Hugh said.
What does the panel think about the proposal that we are looking for a local individual who can be identified as a champion of the local community and victims of crime, given that some of these areas are so large that it will be difficult for one individual to achieve that at a local level? Would it not be more sensible to boost the role of the members of the local policing authorities as champions in their local areas? Effectively, those bodies would become collectives of local police commissioners for their local areas. That would achieve the same thing, albeit in a more localised version.
Rob Garnham: That is a view I have had for a long time. We hear figures showing people do not know who their police authorities are and that authorities are invisible. Actually, when you look at what police authorities were set up to do—to deliver an efficient and effective service in their areas—I think we have done pretty well on that. We have delivered on every Government efficiency agenda and target that we have been given, and crime is down. On the idea of making us stronger—I think you can do that with the stroke of a pen. Police authorities disappear and you have renamed us independent policing boards. I think the public would suddenly say, “Ah, here’s an independent board I can go to.” It is publicised and you have done the job in one; but we are where we are, are not we?
Sir Hugh Orde: I think there are other ways of doing it, but as we said at the beginning, at the risk of sounding rather mealy-mouthed, it is not our role to say how we should be held to account; but I would say, in fairness to Rob, accountability is not necessarily a function of noise and visibility, and I certainly felt that I was rigorously held to account by a structure that is slightly different, I accept, from the general UK model, in Northern Ireland. But it was very public, very visible, extremely noisy and very challenging indeed. There are models of doing it, but what we would ask for is that whatever else happens as the Bill proceeds, it must be an effective way of holding police to account, because the cornerstone of British policing has always been the citizen being held to account by the citizen, albeit now in a slightly different form.
I want to focus on a fairly narrow issue, aimed probably more at police authorities and those of ACPO rank. It is the nuclear option, the hiring and firing, which at the moment extends to chief constable, assistant and deputy; but it is envisaged in the Bill as it stands that that would only relate to chief constables. Is that merely about your worry about giving chief constables too much power, or is it the view that perhaps it is an operational decision for a chief constable to live with those types of things?
Rob Garnham: I think there is the view that if there is even more direct accountability of the chief constable to the commissioner, and it is public-facing, you will have those debates. The commissioner is going to hold the chief constable to account in, it will be perceived, a much more public, open way. I think chief constables are saying, “Well, therefore I need my team around me—the team that I choose in a professional manner.” The concerns would be “How is that team chosen?”
At the moment, for instance, with my last assistant chief constable, deputy chief constable and chief constable, we moved to a system where the police authority sat on the side and we asked the candidates to present to a panel made up of members of the public, representing health, local government, young people—that kind of diverse panel. We wanted to judge the interaction between the teams and how they were going to work with the public. Then, as the police authority, we made the decisions. I think whenever decisions are made at those senior ranks about selection, you have to give weight to the question, “Will this person work, understand our locality, the public, the authorities they have to work with?”
So I would see collaboration in choosing that, but I can see where the views of chief constables are coming from: “I would like to choose my team.” The commissioner needs to make sure that team is chosen for the right reasons, and due regard is given to the population that they are serving.
Sir Hugh Orde: From our perspective, that is exactly how we would see it. If we are being held to account by an individual who can hire and, indeed, fire, we must have the right to select the right people, who we think will complement the decision. Again, clarity would be helpful, I think, as the Bill goes through, on how chiefs will be appointed, because at the minute, it is within the power of one individual, and there may be some issues around that, which Members may want to consider.
I just want to return to the PCPs. If they are to be as effective as I think most of us want them to be in holding the commissioner to account and scrutinising and being effective, am I right in thinking that they would need their own support and resources? You would have the administration support for the commissioner; and obviously the chief constable has his administration and bureaucracy as well. So are we setting up another bureaucracy to support the panel, for them to be as effective as we want them to be? Is that the view, or are we just leaving those people to turn up to a meeting without any support?
Sir Hugh Orde: For people to be effective they need information. Much could be provided by the police service in the routine of its daily business to ensure they are informed of figures about where people are and so on. If it wants any capacity, it would have to be staffed to do it. My sense is that this is a very different structure from the current police authority model. The Government have been very clear on that. As for the notion of whether this is a different form of the old police authority, my sense is that is not the Government’s vision.
Rob Garnham: You cannot just leave people. I know you do not mean it literally, but you cannot just say, “Here’s a good idea, let’s go along to the meeting. We’ll chew this subject over.” It has to be structured. The clarity needed is over whether it is the body corporate with the commissioner and the PCP, or is the commissioner the sole individual, with the police and crime panel separate? One of the community scrutiny panels, on a district-wide area or upper tier authority area, might morph into that police and crime panel. In that case, you have local government picking up the cost—and I know the Local Government Association has said it does not want to do that—but the commissioner is then standing alone. That is the debate that we need to tease out. Is it going to be the commissioner? That is similar to what is there now—is there a body with a leader and someone holding them to account, or does the PCP sit in upper-tier government, and they and fund, manage and support it?
Paul McKeever: Like any board in business or industry it has to be effective and you have to ensure that people have the capability to do the job. That means they have to have the support put in, and that is something that will have to be looked at very closely. Otherwise, you will just have people sitting there who are ill-informed and poorly supported. As anybody who sits on a board knows, that is not a good way to do business.
Louise Casey: If I can just go back: it is really important with these panels to see where they fit in. Are they the bit that the public are supposed to expect that the PCC is accountable to or not? I am not sure that I would agree with what you have just said. Are the panels meant to advise, provide an overview, and checks and balancing? Or do they have a scrutinising role, with lots of power, and the PCC has to worry a lot about them? The public need to know that the person they elect has the power to do the job that they have been elected to do in that local area, with checks and balances but without the recreation of a police authority by a different name. I am possibly the least qualified person in the room to suggest to Members that that might be the direction that people may be heading in.
I want to come to the question that Mr Efford put earlier. In my review, it was clear—and this was from polling rather than by asking the usual suspects—that over two-thirds of the public agreed that they should be able to elect a person locally whom they could hold to account. I think they do want to hold an individual, a personality, whatever way you want to look at it, to account locally for issues of crime. When they are at force-level or county-level or such an “up here” level, the danger is that they are not necessarily able to fulfil what the public want of a person locally whom they can hold to account. It is a conundrum that needs to be worked through.
On the question of where that balance lies, we have picked up a difference between Paul and Louise on where that balance would be. Do you think that the panel has the appropriate power to do that job? What is to stop the commissioner saying, “Thanks very much but I am elected and I will be subject to the electorate rather than what the panel may or may not have concerns about.”
Paul McKeever: It is difficult to say, because we do not know who is going to be on the panels. Again, we are talking about 43 different models around the country. As long as assurances are given that they are supported and will be capable and effective in what they do, with an effective board, that is fine. The crossover must not happen. The commissioner is there to deal with the chief constable, not the panel. The panel is there to hold the commissioner to account, if you like, not to hold the chief officer to account. It skews the whole relationship. All you are then doing is creating a commissioner who is just a member of a panel who might have some more powers than the rest of the panel. That is not how I see the Bill being written. There is a distance.
Sir Hugh Orde: In direct answer to your question about what power the panels have, on my reading of the Bill—very little. They have the power to publish. They have the power to require reports, quite properly, and to call the commissioner to see them. But the powers are limited to vetoes of 75% and the requirement to hold certain hearings and the suggestion that they may—we would say should—speak to the profession when they are looking at the dismissal of a chief.
Sir Hugh, you have spoken of the importance of citizen policing and the connection between the citizen and the police. Ms Casey, you have spoken of the importance of transparency and accountability and the fact that two thirds of the general public when surveyed are interested in having someone that they can directly make accountable. This Bill does that, does it not? It localises, does it not? It gives more power and is much more likely to engage local people and has masses more transparency and accountability than the current rather anonymous system. Ms Casey would you agree with that? Mr McKeever, do you think that will reduce the bureaucracy, because the centralising system that we have had heretofore has perhaps encouraged bureaucratic endeavours and this will have a lessening effect? Can I put that to you both, and perhaps the other two witnesses might like to contribute?
Paul McKeever: In terms of bureaucracy, we have tied ourselves up an awful lot in the past with the specifics of what we actually do. Jan Berry, who may still be sitting in the room behind me, did some very good work to identify those areas and processes where we get tied up in red tape and bureaucracy. I do not think that it would have a great effect on what we do so much in that respect—the actual specifics—but it could change the culture and have an influence on that. We disregarded that to a large extent in the past. It is the culture that generates a lot of the bureaucracy. Very often it is the culture of fear, worry and having to record things for the sake of recording them. So it might cut the Gordian knot and release us from a lot of this bureaucracy, but only time will tell—we do not know. There could be a positive outcome. I am not saying that it will happen. It might not—it depends on the individuals, how motivated they are and how good they are. Again, we will have 43 different models.
Sir Hugh Orde: Just on Paul’s comments, I think freeing the front line up to succeed is something that is completely supported by every chief constable. We will certainly look for top cover when officers do not write things down for the right reasons at the right moment in time, when post-event analysis chooses to castigate them for not completing every form in triplicate, which they have been required to do because of that post-event analysis of the imprecise world in which we live. In terms of the model, I do not know, to answer your question, whether it is a better system until it is tried.
Not necessarily better, but transparent and more accountable.
Sir Hugh Orde: My experience of the current model is that while it may have offered varying degrees of visibility, every chief took it extremely seriously. They always attended the meetings as required. I cannot think of one event when a request—one can only be requested—to attend a police authority meeting was turned down by any chief. In Northern Ireland, I was obliged to attend. The law was far harder. They never had to use that law because I always attended.
I do not see the current system as opaque. My system was slightly different. It was a very transparent system. If one looks at British policing in the round, its willingness to commission investigations if it is found to be wanting, the willingness to report on things where we have not got things right, we have a fairly good record. I wait to see whether the new model is even more transparent. We welcome transparency. It is part of the British model of policing. It is a transparent service of citizens in uniform being held to account by the citizens themselves. We would support anything that makes that a better system.
Rob Garnham: The aim is to achieve that greater transparency and accountability. I have spoken to a number of people who have almost echoed that and said that if that is what you want to achieve, significant amendments need to be made to the Bill to deliver it. I am not going to argue or debate the merits of the current system with you because we have different views, but I go back to making sure that governance from the local to the national is watertight in this Bill to deliver that accountability and transparency.
Order. That brings us to the conclusion of this session. On behalf of the Committee, may I thank our witnesses for their full answers? It has been most useful. Thank you very much indeed.