Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

New Clause 4 — Commencement of Part 1

Alcohol Marketing – in the House of Commons at 2:08 pm on 30th March 2011.

Alert me about debates like this

Votes in this debate

  • Division number 242
    A majority of MPs voted against requiring an inquiry by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary on the impact of introducing Police and Crime Commissioners, and to consider its recommendations before introducing them.

‘The Secretary of State must not make an order to bring sections 1 to 103 of this Act into force until—

(a) an inquiry by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary into the impact of the introduction of police and crime commissioners in England and Wales has been completed, and

(b) the Secretary of State has considered the recommendations of that inquiry.’.—(Vernon Coaker.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government amendments 6 to 10, 12, 13, 15, 20 and 14.

Amendment 134, clause 156, page 102, line 24, at end insert—

‘(2A) Commencement of Part 1 of this Act is subject to Clause [Commencement of Part 1].’.

Amendment 135, page 102, leave out line 27.

Government amendments 31 to 40, 135A, 136 to 138, 42, 50 and 51.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

It is very good to be reunited with many of the members of the Committee who did such sterling service upstairs. It falls to us now to scrutinise the Bill on Report, to consider the various improvements that the Government will seek to introduce and—from the Opposition’s perspective—to continue to point out the Bill’s various deficiencies.

As hon. Members will have seen, new clause 4 states that the commencement order for clauses 1 to 103 should not be brought into force until an inquiry into the impact of the Government’s arrangements, which will be given effect in England and Wales by the Bill, has been completed. In other words, the provisions should not be brought into force until we have begun to understand what the impact of police and crime commissioners will be. Obviously, we would ask Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary to conduct the inquiry, and that before commencement the Home Secretary has to consider the recommendations. The Minister knows that we oppose the introduction of directly elected police and crime commissioners, which constitute the major part of this part of the Bill, and we will continue to do so. I seek again to persuade hon. Members across the House of some of the deficiencies we see in the Bill, and hence of the need for us to calm down, row back and consider what is happening and what the Government are proposing.

The Minister has provided no evidence of the need for the change. In fact, the responses to the policing and crime White Paper “Policing in the 21st Century” seem to be a mystery. After nearly 900 responses to the White Paper, all the Government did was publish a summary of them—they did not publish any of them. I challenge him again to publish all 900 responses. I have a sneaking suspicion that had those 900 responses been in favour of the introduction of police and crime commissioners, we would not have seen him for dust as he moved to publish them. He would have published them with a fanfare of glory, called a press conference and said to everyone, “Look, the introduction of police and crime commissioners supported by me, the Prime Minister and a couple of other people and whipped through the House of Commons is supported by these 900 people. No need for an inquiry. No need for anyone to be concerned.” However, he did not do that; he published a summary, on the grounds that it would be disproportionate to go further.

The silence from those who support the Government’s proposal is deafening. I do not know about other hon. Members, but I have not had people queuing up outside my surgery, knocking on my door and telling me that the introduction of police and crime commissioners is one of the foremost policies they want introduced in their communities. No doubt, the Association of Police Authorities would be among those to whom HMIC would want to talk in its inquiry. However—and I hope that hon. Members have read the Committee deliberations—the Minister does not think that the APA is worth listening to, because obviously it would be opposed to anything that the Government put forward. Clearly, given that the Bill seeks to abolish police authorities, it is thought that there is not much point in listening to the APA.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Chair, Home Affairs Committee 2:15 pm, 30th March 2011

I am following my hon. Friend’s arguments carefully. The new clause would put a lot of responsibility on HMIC. Does he feel that it has the resources to deal with what he would have it deal with? As we know, it published a report only yesterday on police numbers. Does he not think that if we give it this responsibility, it would need the resources to deal with it?

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

My right hon. Friend, who is Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, makes a reasonable point. Of course, there would be a resources issue for HMIC that the Government would need to consider, but given the importance of the reform that the Government are seeking to introduce, and given that the police themselves say that this would be the biggest change to the policing model in this country for centuries, I suggest to my right hon. Friend that it is incumbent on us to say to HMIC that we will ensure that it has the necessary resources.

The Local Government Association—I do not know whether the Minister has a higher regard for it than for police authorities—is also totally opposed to the reform. It is difficult to find a single council that supports it. Surrey county council sometimes edges towards it, but it is difficult to find many others. I would have thought that if this were a great reform, the police would be coming forward and saying, “This will make a huge difference”, but of course they are not. The challenge, therefore, is to find the demand for the change. Local people are not demanding it, so who actually is? The Minister seems to be driven by a belief that he knows best. He accused others of being elitist, but if everybody is saying that the Government have got it wrong, there might be an element of truth in it.

Photo of Mark Reckless Mark Reckless Conservative, Rochester and Strood

The hon. Gentleman asked for an example of a council that supports the reform. My council—Medway council—of which my hon. Friend Rehman Chishti is also a member, has supported the reforms, and our council leader, Rodney Chambers, has been a strong proponent, with me, of direct election for those who oversee our police. Surely the key thing, however, is that the electorate voted for it. The Lib Dems stood on a platform of direct election for police authorities, and we stood on one of directly elected commissioners. We now have this compromise involving a panel. The APA commissioned an opinion poll that showed that most people wanted direct election for those who oversaw the police.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has cleared up the issue—there is one council in favour of the proposed changed across the country. However, I disagree absolutely with what he said about the electorate voting for this measure. The model in the Bill was not voted for by the majority of people. As he said, the model in the Liberal Democrat manifesto was completely different from the one in the Bill. He gave the game away when he said, “Of course, in the coalition agreement, there was a compromise”. Well, if there was a compromise, it obviously happened after the election, not during the election, so I do not think that anybody actually voted for this model.

Photo of Julian Huppert Julian Huppert Liberal Democrat, Cambridge

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the key issue is about having elected people looking after policing? That was the common ground between our two parties. The outcome was not exactly as we would have liked, but it was a balance between the two options. Does he further agree that there is a problem at the moment, in that police authorities do not represent those on district councils? District councils do not have a direct input. In fact, does he think that police authorities, as they currently are, work well at all?

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I do not think that police authorities are as bad as they are portrayed. There is some variation among them, but many do a reasonable job. Perhaps they are not as visible as they might be, and perhaps people do not understand exactly what they do, but people such as Mark Reckless, who sits on the Kent police authority, do a good job.

As for elections, let us say this. We can come forward with different models for this election or that election. However, as Dr Huppert will have heard me say in Committee, whatever the arguments about direct elections, the Government’s model is at totally the wrong level of accountability. I do not get people queuing up at my surgeries to say, “Do you know what, Mr Coaker? Nottinghamshire police’s counter-terrorism strategy”—or its fraud strategy or trafficking policy—“is wrong.” People come to my surgery to say, “Mr Coaker, we’re absolutely fed up with the kids at the end of our street,” or, “We’re totally fed up with the drug dealing going on from cars in a car park down the road.” I am sure that that is true for most hon. Members.

That neighbourhood, street-level accountability is what people want, which is why, to be fair to the hon. Member for Cambridge, his party proposed elections at a very local level. Whether that was the right model or the wrong model, if we are looking at where we need to strengthen accountability arrangements, it is precisely at that neighbourhood and street level where we need to do so. We can have neighbourhood policing, community meetings, beat meetings, and so on—all the things that have happened in a calm and measured way, and which have made such a difference to confidence at that level.

Photo of Julian Huppert Julian Huppert Liberal Democrat, Cambridge

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have discussed that idea in another venue, along with how important ultra-local policing is and how it is different from governance at a higher level. However, I am trying to understand where he is heading. In Committee he proposed directly elected chairs of police authorities, so I am glad that he now prefers the Lib Dem model—I do not remember him saying that before the election, but it is nice to hear that he is moving our way. Why does he think that having a directly elected chair of a panel would be so different from having a single directly elected person who would also act across a whole area?

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

We are opposed to directly elected police and crime commissioners as set out in the Bill. Having said that, the Bill will presumably go through—unless Government Members vote against their own Whip—so then what should we do? The proper and responsible thing to do is to acknowledge that fact and propose another model—the hon. Gentleman will have seen our amendments. If we are to have a directly elected individual, then as well as saying that we are opposed to that in principle, what we as a responsible Opposition should do is say how we would improve it. The amendment that we moved in Committee—the hon. Gentleman knows this, but I am repeating it for the benefit of other Members—would have made that directly elected individual the chair of the police and crime panel, and thereby would have introduced proper checks and balances in the system.

The proposal that we are putting before the House today offers another way forward. What we are saying is, “Keep them as two distinct entities”—that is, have a police and crime commissioner as a figurehead, but also have a police and crime panel with significantly enhanced powers. These are all things that, with a proper inquiry and proper research, we could check to see whether they might be more appropriate, but I will tell the hon. Gentleman this. If he was stood where I am and he was opposed to something that the Government of the day were doing, he would say that he was opposed to it, but he would also seek to improve and adapt it, to take some of the edge off. That is what we did in Committee and that is what we are doing now.

It is not just the Opposition; hon. Members will no doubt have read Lord Imbert, the former chief constable of Thames Valley police and a former commissioner, setting out his opposition in The Times today. He will not be alone, although it is easier for him, as a non-serving police officer and a noble Lord, to say why he is opposed. He says:

“If passed unamended, this Bill will undermine” the policing model that we have had in this country for years,

“threatening the crucial political independence and non-partisanship of the police and the Rule of Law itself.”

Yesterday, Liberty published the results of a survey conducted on its behalf by YouGov, which showed the lack of public trust in elected police commissioners. In answer to the question “Who would you trust more to protect your family from crime?”, 65% chose “A Chief Constable reporting to a Police Authority, as now” as their preferred option. “A Chief Constable reporting to an individual politician elected as a Police and Crime Commissioner” was the preferred option of just 15%. Just to show that that goes across the length and breadth of the country, I found out that a survey had been conducted in Hampshire showing that only 5% of the public there support having a single elected police and crime commissioner.

That is just the sort of evidence that any inquiry would have to look at. However, the Government’s response is simply to stand back and pretend that those people are all dinosaurs who would inevitably say that, because they are looking to protect their own interests, when in fact they are trying to say to the Government, “You need to slow down a bit and look at the consequences of what you’re trying to do.” All the Minister says is, “We believe it’s the right thing to do.” I have said to him before that, with respect, simply asserting that something is the case is not the same as arguing the case. Where is the evidence for this change to policing, which will make such a fundamental difference to governance arrangements?

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Conservative, Northampton North

Does the hon. Gentleman recall saying when he was Police Minister:

“only direct election, based on geographic constituencies, will deliver the strong connection to the public which is critical,” and if so, did he have any evidence for saying that?

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

The model of policing governance that we were considering at that time was exactly the sort of model that I was describing to the hon. Member for Cambridge. We were looking to see whether direct elections at a neighbourhood and local level would lead to improved governance arrangements, but let me say this to the hon. Gentleman. When all those people lined up to oppose the idea, I took the view—as did the Home Secretary at the time—that if everybody opposed something that we were trying to do, we should sometimes step back and reflect on whether we had got it wrong and whether, in all honesty, we should change direction. Some say that that is a sign of weakness or not knowing what we are doing, but we cannot have it both ways. We cannot propose to do something, have a public consultation and then say, “We don’t care what the public consultation says. If we disagree, we’re not going to take any notice.” What Michael Ellis described was something that was proposed at the time to deal with governance issues, but it was also something that we withdrew because we listened to what people were saying.

We could look at other issues, but I will leave the evidence there. Any inquiry that HMIC conducted would need to consider a range of other matters, but the Minister—and others on the Committee, given that we did not manage to carry the day—had no concerns about politicisation. We will come later to the debate on operational independence and the code of practice—it was a memorandum of understanding, but it has now become a protocol. Whatever: the serious point is that, given that the Government have agreed to the protocol, they must be worried that having a directly elected individual who is responsible for policing in an area risks politicising the role of chief constable. Many people have raised that issue at great length with us.

There are real worries about the issue, again dismissed by the Government, but if somebody is elected and has a mandate in a particular area, what will the nature of that mandate be and who will decide how that area ought to be policed? The Association of Chief Police Officers, which is concerned about the lack of checks and balances in the proposed model, released a statement yesterday saying that

“our professional judgment is that an effective framework of safeguards is essential to improving the Government’s ambition without creating substantial threat to the impartiality of police officers making decisions, such as the deployment of resources. Our professional view is that creating effective safeguards for such a radically different accountability regime is extremely challenging. In any event, the developing framework of safeguards is too undeveloped and uncertain, and in several respects too weak, to be confident that it will effectively ensure that this Peelian principle”— the Peelian principle to which the association referred before—

“will not be compromised.”

That is a fairly strong statement from the most senior police officers in this country about the lack of checks and balances, and about their concerns regarding politicisation in the Bill.

Photo of Mark Reckless Mark Reckless Conservative, Rochester and Strood 2:30 pm, 30th March 2011

ACPO, the hon. Gentleman tells us, has suggested that there are issues with checks and balances in the new system, but is not the real issue in the current system, with the lack of checks and balances on both the Home Office and the chief constable, and with the weakness of the police authority leg of the tripartite process? Is it not right that we do something, such as introduce direct elections as proposed in the Bill, to bolster the power of that third, local, democratic pillar?

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Nobody has said that the existing system is absolutely flawless or does not need improving. I said to the hon. Member for Cambridge that it is important for police authorities to improve their visibility, but I suggest to the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood that we are discussing the Government’s proposals for the future. If ACPO tells us that the Bill’s checks and balances are simply too weak, should we not then say, “We need to look at this, think about it and try to understand what we should do to further improve the system that we want”?

The Minister gets very upset when I say this, but I am going to say it again. The police and crime panels are one way in which the police and crime commissioner is supposed to be held to account, but the panel is a completely toothless watchdog with no real power. It has two vetoes: one on appointments, as the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood knows, but only with a three-quarters majority; and the other on the precept, in respect of which the hon. Gentleman has tabled an amendment, but again with a three-quarters majority. That is it.

The Minister will say, “The panel has to be consulted, referred to and involved,” but how can it be right that there will be a police and crime commissioner, without anybody able to do anything about what he does, providing obviously that what he does is within the law?

Then we come to the huge number of representations about the size of the area that that one person will have to cover. Again, the Government do not think this is a problem. They say, “Oh, there’s no problem with this; it’s fine,” but there is no evidence to support that, and that is why the House should adopt the new clause so that we may have an inquiry and the HMIC can look into the matter.

The Welsh Local Government Association points out that the system in Wales works very well, and it does not believe that replacing between 17 and 19 members of the individual police authorities in Wales

“with a single elected commissioner will…improve public accountability of the police”.

The association does not believe that one individual can properly reflect all

“the divergent communities that exist in police force areas”,

and it cites the huge area of Dyfed Powys, where one individual will cover the whole area.

We can cite other examples. The Avon and Somerset area covers 1,855 square miles, from Thornbury to Yeovil to Minehead. It has a population of 1.6 million and large rural areas such as Exmoor, major urban areas such as Bristol and Bath and significant market towns. One individual will represent all those areas. That police authority area and one or two others that I will mention across the country all point out the difficulty, and we should listen to them.

Photo of Simon Hart Simon Hart Conservative, Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire

As the only representative from the Dyfed Powys area here, may I ask the hon. Gentleman whether he agrees that there is very little connection between the voters in our area and the general policing priorities? The indication that I get, which I wonder whether he agrees with, is that an elected police commissioner for the Dyfed Powys area is in fact likely to bring us closer to the policing process, rather than removing us from it. That is the feeling that I, as the only representative from the area that the shadow Minister cites, get.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I do not see any evidence for that at all, and there have been no such representations. On the situation that the hon. Gentleman mentions, people in Dyfed Powys, in other parts of Wales and throughout the country have a problem getting police at a neighbourhood level to deal with the issues that they think are important, and that is why in Dyfed Powys and other areas throughout the country, through the introduction of neighbourhood policing, panel meetings and town and village hall meetings, people want accountability improved at that very level. I fail to understand how one individual representing that huge area will be able to do that. The hon. Gentleman knows the area far better than I do, but how will somebody in

St David’s, in that beautiful part of the country, know about that and then be able to compare it with something 40 or 50 miles away?

We talked about moving an amendment in Committee to require this one individual to attend all the parish and ward meetings in an area, so that they really had local and detailed knowledge. These are huge issues, and one person will simply not be able to do the work. Police authority after police authority has made that point to us.

Photo of Matthew Offord Matthew Offord Conservative, Hendon

I was fortunate enough to sit in Committee with the hon. Gentleman, and I am sure he recalls the evidence given on 19 January by Ian Loader, a professor of criminology from All Souls college, who said:

“We have gone through a decade or so of trying to run the police from 10 Downing street, and a broad move to try to reorganise the police under the rubric of local democratic accountability seems to me to be important.”––[Official Report, Police Reform and Social Responsibility Public Bill Committee, 19 January 2011; c. 47, Q 5858.]

That runs exactly counter to the hon. Gentleman’s argument now.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

My point is that the system the Government are seeking to introduce will not deliver the improved accountability that we want. The hon. Gentleman does not agree, as I said in Committee, but, to return to the point I was making, at least he has tried to use a piece of evidence—a small piece, but a piece none the less. Where is the massive amount of evidence that contradicts all the evidence that I have brought forward? The Government made great play of evidence-based policy when they came into power, and the main driver of our new clause is that an HMIC inquiry would allow policing experts to collect evidence to understand whether these improved governance arrangements would lead to the improved accountability that we all want.

The Devon and Cornwall, Cumbria, West Midlands and Greater Manchester police authorities all say that one person in charge of policing in their area will mean far too much work.

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Conservative, Northampton North

Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that a good piece of evidence is the fact that such a system is already working in London?

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

First, if the system in London was working so well, why would the Government want to change it? Secondly, the change that the Government are making is to a completely different system from that which operates at the moment. The Metropolitan Police Authority is being abolished. The person who, through primary legislation, is going to be put in charge of policing in London through the Mayor’s office for policing and crime will be an unelected individual appointed by the Mayor of London. They will not be a directly elected individual as per the rest of the country, but an appointee of the Mayor following the abolition of the Metropolitan Police Authority. The hon. Gentleman asked why, if the system works so well, we should not expand it to the rest of the country. If the system in London is working so well, why are the Government changing it? Why not just leave it as it is? We are not changing the system in London to that in the rest of the country—we are completely changing the system in London to another system.

The inquiry would also need to look at the arrangements between a police and crime commissioner and the local democratic framework. One of the great successes of the current policing arrangements has been the introduction of the neighbourhood policing model, with the development of community safety partnerships in Wales and crime and disorder reduction partnerships in other parts of the country. Those arrangements have brought together all the various partners at a local level in order to try to tackle crime and improve confidence. The police and crime commissioner is not a responsible authority under the terms of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.

What, then, is the relationship of the police and crime commissioner with the police and crime panel? Again, we do not understand that, and the Bill is unclear about it. I have referred to the complete lack of power that a police and crime panel has, leaving an omnipotent individual in charge of policing. Police and crime panels will have one person from each local authority—if there are not 10 authorities, we can make up the number with another couple—and a couple of independent members. If there are more than 10 local authorities, we can have a few more so that we stick to the basis of one person per authority. There is no reference to how many people might be in that local authority area or to its size—the reference is just to one person per authority, so it could be a tiny district council and a massive local authority area. My hon. Friend Bridget Phillipson mentioned Northumbria, which is a huge area covered by one council and a very small, highly populated area covered by another.

Photo of Julian Huppert Julian Huppert Liberal Democrat, Cambridge

Does the hon. Gentleman think it is right that under the current system district councils such as Cambridge city council have no representation on the police authority at all?

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

That is a fair point. We can, of course, make changes and improvements to the current system. However, the point is that we are introducing police and crime panels when we have not had a proper debate about what their constitution should be; we have merely said there should be one member per authority. The size of the district council area in terms of population is not mentioned. These are clearly things that we need to understand.

We have had numerous representations from people saying that they are concerned about this. Cumbria and Surrey police have expressed their reservations. Cheshire—I do not know if there is anyone here from Cheshire, but I might as well go round the country—says that the police and crime commissioner

“must be able to influence relevant partners if their Police and Crime Plan is to be effective in delivering improvements in community safety and crime reduction. However, if the PCC is not a ‘responsible authority’ they have no statutory role and could, therefore, be ignored.”

That is a serious flaw in the Bill that the Minister needs to address.

Another aspect that members of the Committee reflected on, as would many others, is the cost of the introduction of police and crime commissioners. That will be a particularly important area for HMIC to look at. Different police authorities across the country tell us that there will be a significant cost involved. A police and crime commissioner will have people supporting them—a chief finance officer, a chief executive and other staff. A police and crime panel will presumably need resources to be able to carry out its function properly. A chief constable will become a corporation sole—in other words, a legal entity—and able, unless the Bill is amended as the Liberals tried to do, not only to control staff but own property and assets and so will presumably need more staff to be able to do that.

The Association of Police Authorities said in a submission to us in January this year:

“Independent analysis suggests that the cost of the proposed reforms of police governance over the 5 years…will be a minimum of £453million. That is £101million more than the entire cost of running police authorities during the same period, and the equivalent to the removal of over 600 police officers.”

The Minister has stated that the new governance model should not cost any more than the current model, excluding, as he will no doubt say in his reply, election costs, but again, nobody out there accepts or believes that that will really be the case. Yesterday’s HMIC report showed that only 5% of police officers and police community support officers are in back-office roles. In looking into this, the HMIC will be interested to know what the costs are of the new governance arrangements, given that the police service finds itself facing 20% cuts from central Government. It will want to know whether this model will be real value for money. Will it add to the policing effectiveness in an area, or will the fact that 95% of police officers and/or PCSOs are not in back-office roles be threatened by its introduction? These are all huge issues with respect to the introduction of police and crime commissioners and police and crime panels.

I will finish by going back to where I started. This reform is based on an ideologically driven, philosophical desire to introduce police and crime commissioners in an untested, untried way, with no evidence, because the Minister and No. 10 believe that it will improve the effectiveness of policing in this country. I say to the Minister again: publish the evidence that shows that to be the case. There is none apart from that from the odd—I do not mean that in a disrespectful way—council and one or two individuals. This is a hugely significant change. The Local Government Association, the Association of Police Authorities, chief constables, police officers, communities, individuals and many Members of Parliament on both sides of the House see this as a deeply worrying reform. The Minister needs to argue his case rather than simply assert it. I commend new clause 4 to the House.

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. Members have to stand if they want to speak—bobbing up and down like this does not help me. I call Julian Huppert.

Photo of Julian Huppert Julian Huppert Liberal Democrat, Cambridge

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I apologise for being confusing; I was trying to be helpful.

It is a pleasure in many ways to continue the work that we did on the Bill Committee with many right hon. and hon. Members whom I see around the Chamber. These are slightly larger, grander surroundings than those in which we had our last, rather extensive, discussions.

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Conservative, Northampton North

But about the same number of people.

Photo of Julian Huppert Julian Huppert Liberal Democrat, Cambridge

Indeed. We have had a fair discussion in Committee, and I am glad that we are continuing it.

The shadow Minister spoke about a desire for delay, and I can understand why he sees that as his role. I am sure that the Minister will respond to the detailed points that he made. I was rather touched by the shadow Minister’s comment about how I would behave if I were in his position. He did not make it clear whether that was in a scenario where the Labour party had completely collapsed and was now a minor party, whether that had happened to the Conservatives, or whether there was a Labour-Conservative coalition. I am sure he can comment on that later.

I want in particular to speak about Government amendment 14, which deals with a rather detailed point raised in Committee by my hon. Friend Mike Crockart. It is a great pleasure to see him in his place. He spotted that lines 4 and 16 on page 22, in clause 30, did not quite fit together—that there was a drafting error. That led to an interesting discussion in which we genuinely explored some ideas—I think we all learned a lot—about what should be the process for suspending a police and crime commissioner, the standards and thresholds and the effects of such a suspension. There is an interesting balance to be struck as regards what should happen. The amendment corrects the drafting error and leaves the provision that a commissioner may be suspended by the panel—I emphasise that the term used is “may” rather than “must”—if charged with an offence that could lead to a term in prison of greater than two years.

Is the balance right? First, the position of police and crime commissioner is very responsible and we would not want to see a holder of it being seriously investigated for a major crime, which would put them in a position that would simply be untenable in the public eye. On the one hand, one could suggest that we should bring the threshold lower and lower until, if we want to be absolutely sure, they would be suspended if they were accused of anything. I think that would be going too far, and I shall come up with a suggestion on that point a bit later.

The flip side of the argument, however, is that such a commissioner has been charged, not convicted. There is a clear difference and a clear principle. Members on both sides of the House mentioned in Committee that we should not punish people excessively based on the fact that they have been charged. There is the principle of innocent until proven guilty that still applies to most public law—I shall avoid talking about terrorist offences on this occasion. Clause 30(3) says that during a suspension period, a commissioner does not draw their salary, their pensions or their allowances. That is a punishment, in effect.

We had a number of discussions in Committee and the Liberal Democrats have had some discussions about our proposals on the way forward. We have also discussed that with the Minister. There is the question of what offences we wish to catch. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh West gave a number of examples of offences that would not be covered by the rules for the possible suspension in the context of offences with sentences greater than two years. I shall not go through every example, but they included racially or religiously aggravated assault or harassment, and I think we would have concerns about a police and crime commissioner who was charged with that. Other similar offences include aggravated vehicle taking, causing damage to property and causing injury. Vehicle taking without consent has a sentence of six months, as does assault on a police constable, as my hon. Friend pointed out. One would have great concerns if a police and crime commissioner was being charged with assaulting police constables, particularly on a regular basis. That would suggest that the relationship was not working

We must work out what to do. Our proposal—I hope that the Government will respond to it and will consider it as a way forward, and I look forward to hearing any other contributions—is that the period should be brought down from two years to six months, as suggested in the amendment originally proposed by my hon. Friend. It should be specified that the charge should be carried out by the Crown Prosecution Service—by a prosecutor—rather than a police officer, as they have powers to charge in some circumstances. We do not want police constables to be able to get at a commissioner with whom they disagree over some issue.

The flip side of bringing the threshold down to give greater public certainty is that there should be no loss of pay, no loss of pension and no loss of other allowances that would be incurred in the job—the person might not be doing that job during that period, but there might be some ongoing costs. That would avoid excessive punishment while providing public certainty that a prominent figure in such an area was not under a cloud and could not get out from under it.

There should also be a provision, regardless of the threshold, for the commissioner to be able effectively to suspend themselves and to say that there is an allegation against—

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. May I remind the hon. Gentleman that we are discussing quite a narrow set of amendments? I am not sure that he is on the point of what we are discussing now—that is, the new clause and the amendments that are being debated and have been selected.

Photo of Julian Huppert Julian Huppert Liberal Democrat, Cambridge

I was speaking about Government amendment 14, which I think is in this group.

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. The hon. Gentleman said at the beginning—and this is my understanding—that that is a drafting amendment and a correction, yet he seems to be making rather a substantial point of debate. If the Government have accepted a change by tabling their own drafting amendment, it normally follows that it is quite minor. That was why I asked him.

Photo of Julian Huppert Julian Huppert Liberal Democrat, Cambridge

I had almost finished, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I shall do shortly. There was an interesting debate in Committee about whether we wanted just to correct the drafting order or to go further—

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. With respect, people can read the Hansardreportof the Committee. I have given the hon. Gentleman a great deal of latitude. I think he has come to the main point of what he wants to say, so if he could now conclude on that point it would be helpful.

Photo of Julian Huppert Julian Huppert Liberal Democrat, Cambridge

I am happy to do so. I hope that the Government will consider what I have said as well as the self-suspension ideas.

Photo of Paul Murphy Paul Murphy Labour, Torfaen

I support new clause 4, the case for which was so powerfully made, characteristically, by my hon. Friend Vernon Coaker. I hope that the House will divide on it.

I support the idea of deferring the commencement of part 1. Later, there might be the opportunity to debate my amendment, which would exempt Wales from part 1, but this is an opportunity to reflect on a less drastic course of action—that is, the deferral of the commencement of the Bill. There are one or two reasons for that and I hope that the House will bear with me as I set them out.

Not very long ago, the National Assembly for Wales took the unprecedented decision not to give legislative consent to part 1. That, in my experience—which goes back a few years in such matters—is entirely unprecedented. It has never happened before. As a consequence, the Communities and Culture Committee of the National Assembly has asked for the deferment of part 1. Its headline recommendation reads:

“We recommend that the Welsh Government has dialogue with the UK Government to persuade it to defer introducing those aspects of the bill related to the abolition of Police Authorities, and establishment of Police Commissioners and Police Crime Panels in Wales, at least until the effectiveness of their impact in England has been assessed.”

That is not a million miles away from new clause 4, which asks for the deferral of the commencement until such an assessment has been made by HMIC. That is why I support the new clause.

Policing, as the Minister will know, is not devolved in Wales, although it is in Scotland and Northern Ireland, but it is different in Wales from in England. I cannot see any evidence that there has been any sort of negotiation, discussion or proper Government-to-Government relationship on the issue of policing in Wales in so far as part 1 is concerned. There might have been, and doubtless the Minister will let us know when he winds up.

In Wales, there is a rather different relationship between the Welsh Local Government Association—to which my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling has already referred and which, incidentally, is not in Labour’s hands but is controlled by independents and non-Labour Members—police authorities in Wales, of which there are four, and the Welsh Assembly Government. That relationship is very special because it touches on a working partnership arrangement between the police authorities in Wales and the National Assembly that is unique in the United Kingdom. It seems proper to me to repeat the arguments used in Wales by local government, by the police authorities, by the National Assembly and by the Welsh Assembly Government to ask for the commencement of part 1 to be deferred. One chief reason those bodies ask for the deferment is the fact that there are rather different financial arrangements in Wales for policing. Half of Welsh police forces get their money from the Welsh Assembly.

In addition, the proposals for police commissioners will inevitably be very expensive, as my hon. Friend said. I understand that only £30,000 per police force will go towards meeting the gap in paying the salary of the police commissioners and paying for police and crime panels. Over the next few years, Wales faces a reduction in its funding through the Barnett formula of nearly £2 billion. It is absolutely daft to introduce such highly expensive measures in Wales when, frankly, there is no appetite for them.

I read in the Official Report of the Public Bill Committee that the Minister said that there was evidence that in 2008 only 7% of people in England knew what police authorities did. There is a counter-issue in Wales, where a survey that was taken much more recently than 2008 indicated that 82% of Welsh people knew precisely what police authorities did. That is because in Wales, we are different and we are smaller.

The final point that I wish to make—I know that other Members want to speak—is that the decision by the Assembly not to give legislative consent to part 1 of the Bill and the decision by a major Committee of the Assembly to ask for deferment of the commencement of the Bill place this decision on a rather different level: it is now about the relationship between the United Kingdom Government and the devolved Administrations. A day or so after the general election, the Prime Minister came to Wales and talked about a respect agenda, in which he would respect the views of the devolved Administrations in Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast. It seems to me that there is little respect in this measure, unless we can get a positive indication from the Minister that there will be a deferment of part 1 as far as Wales is concerned. If that is not the case, I suggest to the Minister that the Welsh Assembly Government will invoke the Joint Ministerial Committee, which is in place to ensure that disputes are resolved between the United Kingdom Government and the devolved Administrations. Otherwise, in addition to what I think is a deeply flawed measure, there will be an issue between two Governments in the United Kingdom, which we definitely do not want.

Photo of Simon Hart Simon Hart Conservative, Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire 3:00 pm, 30th March 2011

I will restrict my comments to the impact of elected commissioners in west Wales, an area that has been referred to already. My comments are driven not by ideology, as some have suggested, but by my practical experience of the area, the reaction of police officers both junior and senior, and, perhaps even more importantly, the reaction of members of the public.

The context to this debate is the ongoing consultation about the future of the coastguard. One might wonder what the connection is, but it is simply that around Milford Haven—the important waterway that divides the constituency of Preseli Pembrokeshire from Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire—there is an enormous local attachment to and affection for that emergency service, which might not immediately appear to be an emergency service. Our community is proud of it, feels that it is part of it, and feels that it owns it. It is part of the fabric and architecture of the community. People in the community know only too well that if they pick up the telephone, they will get a trustworthy and local response to what are often traumatic problems.

The reason why I paint that little contextual picture is that Dyfed Powys police, to whom the shadow Minister referred, cover a vast and diverse area. The Minister is not entirely unfamiliar with the area. The police force is not devoted purely, as some would flippantly suggest, to sheep rustling and stolen quad bikes. One in seven terrorist incidents in the UK have a connection to our constabulary. It has the onerous responsibility of looking after the UK’s most important energy hub in Milford Haven, which has two refineries, two liquefied natural gas terminals, and the biggest gas-fired power station under construction in Europe. It is an important strategic area, which our stretched police force has to look after. That is the reason for the great connection with the local community, which I would argue is not enhanced under the current arrangements, but would be enhanced under the proposed arrangements.

Opposition Members may argue that I am simply trotting out the ideological prose as laid out by my elders and betters, but I consulted just three people in preparing the comments that I am about to make: two police constables currently serving in the Dyfed Powys force, and one rather more senior officer with whom I had a conversation at the weekend. The local police authority has—reasonably, sensibly and in a measured fashion—repeated the concerns that the shadow Minister articulated.

The two police constables, without any provocation, said to me, “At long last we’ll be able to do the job that we originally joined up to do.” I pushed them on this point, and their responses entirely endorse the Government’s proposals. They endorse, welcome and encourage the involvement of the local community. The crime panels, which are not directly related to new clause 4, will provide the accountability that some suggest is missing. The involvement of local authorities and elected individuals who are accountable to their wards and regions is a crucial piece of this jigsaw. As was said by two police constables and a more senior officer, whose rank I cannot reveal lest I give away his identity, that involvement will lead to improved prioritisation, which is in the community’s interests; improved cost effectiveness, which is vital in the Dyfed Powys force; and improved customer satisfaction—a phrase I hesitate to use.

In discussing cost and budget reductions in the coming weeks and months, the senior officer was certain that Dyfed Powys police could maintain a decent police force that would safeguard the interests of the community and businesses. However, he said that it would be different. It will not smell the same, and in many regards there will be an entirely different form of policing from what we have been used to. That does not mean that it will compromise the safety of the community or that crime will rise. Those ideas are being bandied about irresponsibly by mischief makers. The changes do not mean for one minute that people will sleep less safely in their beds; quite the opposite. There is a realistic recognition that things have to change, that they will change and that they will look different, but that those changes will guarantee a reasonable cost-effective police force for our community.

Only this morning in Prime Minister’s questions, as Members will recall, there was a suggestion that the proposals will compromise safety and the interests of the communities and the many businesses that rely on police protection—particularly in Milford Haven. I really would urge caution, because that is not the case. It is irresponsible for Opposition Members to bandwagon, to make political statements and to suggest that the proposals will damage the safety of our communities.

The House need not take this point from a lowly Member who represents a distant part of west Wales that most Members, I regret to say, have probably never heard of. As evidence, I put to the Minister the impassioned pleas of two police constables and a senior officer in one of the forces that will be most affected by the proposals. They say that there is nothing to fear, and that with a reasoned approach and a sensible balanced debate we can produce an outcome that is in the interests not only of the Treasury, which always lurks somewhere in the shadows of these debates, but of our communities, which have such great affection for their police forces, upon which they so permanently and reasonably depend.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Chair, Home Affairs Committee

It is a pleasure to follow Simon Hart, who rightly put the debate in the context of what is happening locally in his constituency. Every right hon. and hon. Member can talk about the local impact of the changes that the Government are making, but I will concentrate my remarks on new clause 4, and particularly on the desire of Opposition Front Benchers that there should be an impact study of the Government’s proposals before they are put in place.

The Government have embarked on a very ambitious and challenging policing agenda. I have just finished reading the speech that the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice made on Monday, and he used in it the memorable words:

“Reform cannot wait; we do not have the luxury of delay while a committee of wise men”— slightly politically incorrect—

“deliberate and eventually agree to differ.”

I am not sure whether the Home Secretary would compose a committee of that type, but what the Minister was saying was that the Government want to get on with reform.

Those of us who serve on the Home Affairs Committee have been pretty exhausted by the amount of proposed legislation and the changes that the Government have brought into effect since last May. However, one would expect that from a Government who took office after 13 years in opposition. Of course Ministers, particularly the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, who I know has a passion for the debate on policing, want the Government to get on with what they want to do.

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Conservative, Northampton North

Was the right hon. Gentleman not also exhausted by the 13 years of the previous Government and their 10 criminal justice Bills and 3,000 new criminal offences?

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Chair, Home Affairs Committee

I say to the hon. Gentleman, who has recently joined the Home Affairs Committee, that I was totally exhausted. That was why I hoped we would have a little break when the new Government got into office. Members of the Committee who are in their places today—my hon. Friend Bridget Phillipson and the hon. Members for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless) and for Cambridge (Dr Huppert), and indeed the hon. Gentleman himself when he is freed from the Protection of Freedoms Bill Committee, on which he is currently sitting—know that the change is rapid. I therefore have some sympathy with the Opposition Front Benchers’ proposal that there ought to be an impact study.

However, I am not absolutely convinced that the best organisation to perform the impact study is Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary. I hope my hon. Friend Vernon Coaker will convince me of that by the time we get to the Division Lobby. I am not sure where that organisation will fit in the new landscape of policing. If my hon. Friend believes for one moment that a report by HMIC, even though it is under the distinguished leadership of Sir Denis O’Connor, will unite the House or provide the basis for moving forward, he can look at what happened to the report that it published yesterday. Opposition Front Benchers accepted it, but I caught a glimpse of the Minister on the BBC yesterday, and he did not necessarily accept the report. He may or may not have accepted part of it, but as we all know, he certainly did not accept that front-line policing would be affected. It was interesting to hear the Prime Minister’s views on that today.

My plea is that the enormous reform and challenging agenda ought perhaps to pause for a short while, to allow Parliament to consider in even greater detail what the Government are proposing. The Home Affairs Committee has published a report on police commissioners. We did not comment on the idea, because we took it as read that the Government wished to introduce them, depending on the outcome of the Bill, which has yet to be finally voted upon. We examined the implications of what the Government planned to do once the commissioners were in place. I am glad to see that the Government have accepted a number of the points that we made, particularly about clarifying the relationship between the commissioners and the chief constables. We will discuss that in a later debate.

My concern is that we are not stopping and thinking clearly enough, even if we might want to go in the direction that the Government suggest. The Home Affairs Committee examined the need for a study of the proposals, and obviously the most appropriate body to make one would have been the Committee itself. However, we have been rushing to deal with each piece of Government legislation as quickly as we possibly can. I am not sure that HMIC should produce the study, though.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling was one of the best Ministers in the last Government, and when he left the Home Office he had gained a huge reputation for what he had done. He will correct me if I am wrong, but I am not sure that when the previous Government introduced radical changes they asked HMIC for an impact study or paused to allow other bodies to conduct inquiries. I can well remember, as Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, a proposal from the then Home Secretary to replace police committees. Then, all of a sudden, we received a letter saying that the Government had changed their mind, having accepted in full our recommendations on the subject. There is a danger in picking the wrong organisation to undertake the study. The point that I believe my hon. Friend is trying to make in new clause 4, which is the right point to make, is that we should stop and consider the matter, not that we should necessarily delay it.

In his speech on Monday, in the section on reform, the Minister was clear that he rejected the idea of a royal commission. He quoted Harold Wilson as saying that royal commissions are agreed in minutes and take years. But the process need not necessarily take that long. The Minister has a close view of the nature of policing, and the Home Affairs Committee has started a new inquiry, which I hope will not last longer than our previous policing inquiry. We hope that it will last about four months. We will examine the nature of the new landscape and take on board what the public want and need.

In his speech the Minister also spoke about the need for the people, not the Government, to run the police force—he was citing the views of Ian Blair, the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner. There are many stakeholders, including the Police Federation, the Association of Chief Police Officers, the superintendents, the public and many others, and they all need to be consulted on the changes.

Because of the background to the discussion, which we all accept is a cut of 20% in police finances—I mean that we all accept that that is the background, not that we all accept the cut—this is a very difficult time for the police service. I am sure the Minister will not accept new clause 4, but we are looking for words from him that will show that the Government understand the need to pause. Perhaps there is not a need for a royal commission lasting years and years, but there is a real need for a debate about what policing means to ordinary people. That would be extremely helpful, including to the Home Affairs Committee in its current deliberations.

We have not started our report yet, but we hope to have it ready by the end of July. We hope that it will give the Minister the opportunity to fashion his new landscape not from the top downwards, but starting with the public and moving upwards. Sometimes we worry a little too much about chief constables and the people right at the top, and not enough about the police constables. That is why it is was so interesting to hear what the hon. Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire said. It is the bobby on the beat, the neighbourhood police officer, on whom the policing reforms will have an impact. Let us start with them and move upwards, rather than start at the top and move down.

Photo of Nick Herbert Nick Herbert The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice 3:15 pm, 30th March 2011

First, I apologise to the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, Keith Vaz, for exhausting him. I look forward, of course, to his inquiry. I very much hope that he will invite me to give oral evidence, but that is entirely a matter for him and his Committee. I am sure that the Home Office will submit written evidence, but of course I welcome the inquiry, as I have welcomed all his reports since he assumed the chairmanship.

It seems to me that the purpose of new clause 4 is to delay the enactment of the important part of the Bill that will create directly elected police and crime commissioners. That has been expressed pretty openly. Paul Murphy was explicit about the fact that he sought that for Wales, so I will seek to address that point.

As I argued in my speech to the Institute for Public Policy Research on Monday, which is on my website and which I am happy to send to any hon. Member—I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Leicester East for quoting it—I do not believe that there is time for delay, because the changes that we need to make to policing are urgent. The democratic deficit must be addressed, and there is a need to drive savings at local level more strongly than they have been driven before. We therefore need to undertake this reform.

Furthermore, if the Government signal any kind of delay now, which the Government emphatically do not wish to do, we would create uncertainty, at a time when, subject to the further deliberations of the House and the other place, others outside are preparing in the expectation that the Bill will become law—the House gave a Second Reading to the Bill—and that the first elections for police and crime commissioners will take place in 2012.

The Home Office has a transition board, which I chair, which includes all parties, including ACPO and the Association of Police Authorities. Those parties may not have proposed the Government’s measure, and they may not be wholly happy with it, but they nevertheless sensibly recognise that it makes sense to sit down and discuss how the changes should be put into place.

I want to emphasise that although the Government are determined to proceed with the Bill and its reform, we have listened. I hope Vernon Coaker accepts that we listened in Committee, when I believe we had a constructive debate. We also listened to those outside—important views have been put to us—and to the Home Affairs Committee. We will come to debate what the Committee describes as the memorandum of understanding to protect operational independence—we call it a protocol—but we agree that it is a good idea.

We also listened to ACPO’s concerns on ensuring that strategic policing is addressed despite the greater localisation expressed in the Bill. As a consequence, the Bill provides for the strategic policing requirement. We have also strengthened the powers of police and crime panels. The Government have listened and sought to address concerns, but we nevertheless remain committed to the introduction of police and crime commissioners, with the first elections in May 2012, although we could move sooner in London, which already has a Mayor.

The right hon. Member for Torfaen referred to the National Assembly for Wales Communities and Culture Committee request for a deferment of the provisions and asked whether the Government have held discussions with the Welsh Assembly Government. I must reassure him that, right from the beginning, we have sought such discussions and to respect the devolved arrangements in Wales. I have met the Minister responsible, as has the Home Secretary, and our officials have had a great deal of discussion.

The Assembly Government have made it clear that they do not favour police and crime commissioners, but of course, policing is a reserved matter, and the House of Commons has decided that police and crime commissioners should apply in England and Wales—that is what the Bill says. The question is whether we can find arrangements that respect those aspects of the devolution settlement that are within the competence of the Welsh Assembly. We sought to do that through the legislative consent motion that we tabled, which we will shortly debate further.

I very much regret that the Welsh Assembly did not pass that motion, but I repeat that we have at all times sought to address the Welsh Assembly Government’s proper concern, while recognising that it is equally proper that the House of Commons decides on that reserved matter. Saying that we must always follow a request from the devolved Parliament or one of the Assemblies for a deferment is tantamount to saying that the matter is no longer reserved. For so long as the matter is reserved, I believe that the right decisions have been taken.

Photo of Paul Murphy Paul Murphy Labour, Torfaen

I remind the Minister that things are not quite as simple as saying that policing is reserved. Policing is of course reserved, but aspects of the Bill touch on matters that are not reserved. Local government, which is wholly resolved in Wales, has a huge role to play on the panels, so it is not quite as simple as he says it is. There is more room for negotiation with the Welsh Assembly Government on those very important matters.

Photo of Nick Herbert Nick Herbert The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice

I absolutely accept what the right hon. Gentleman says. Local government matters are not reserved and local government touches on the panels, but that is precisely why we negotiated the legislative consent motion. It is deeply unfortunate that despite the fact that I negotiated that motion with the Minister responsible, Carl Sargeant, and he agreed it, he did not vote for it. As I said at the time, I regret that, because it was self-defeating. The motion sought to put in place the special arrangements for police and crime panels in Wales, on which the Welsh Assembly Government would have representation. I emphasise to the right hon. Gentleman that we really tried to reach an arrangement and to respect the devolution settlement.

Photo of Mark Tami Mark Tami Opposition Whip (Commons)

The point that my right hon. Friend Paul Murphy makes is that the mechanism for election to police panels is a devolved matter, meaning that the Assembly is responsible. How does the Minister square that circle?

Photo of Nick Herbert Nick Herbert The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice

If I may, I will come to that matter when we reach that specific group of amendments, because the Government have tabled amendments to address it. We must find a way to ensure that the Bill is consistent with the wishes of the Welsh Assembly, which it expressed in rejecting the legislative consent motion. I shall address that question at the appropriate time, but I wanted to respond specifically to the right hon. Member for Torfaen.

When moving new clause 4, the hon. Member for Gedling made a number of wider points in which he attempted to open up once again the arguments for and against police and crime commissioners. I shall not dwell on those other than to say that he has expressed support in the past for the concept of a direct component in police authorities, as was ably pointed out by my hon. Friend Michael Ellis.

In addition, in Committee, the hon. Member for Gedling moved an amendment for directly elected chairs of police authorities, and the previous Government twice proposed a democratic element. I accept that there is a difference between that Government and this one, but the difference is not that this Government do not believe in democratic reform of police authorities—it appears that all parties do. Rather, the difference is that the previous Government backed down twice, but we have no intention of doing so, because there was a Conservative party manifesto commitment, and as my hon. Friend Dr Huppert pointed out, because having directly elected police authorities was separately a Liberal Democrat manifesto commitment.

We now know that the latest proposal from the hon. Member for Gedling is for directly elected chairs of police authorities. In moving and voting for that amendment, the hon. Gentleman wholly undermined his argument on cost, because implementation of directly elected chairs of police authorities would cost not the same as police and crime commissioners, but more. Therefore, the most expensive proposal for democratic reform of police authorities in the House of Commons is from the Opposition spokesman.

What is wrong with proposed new clause 4—I agree with the right hon. Member for Leicester East on this —is that it would put in the hands of the inspectorate of constabulary the power to hold an inquiry, and thereby to delay implementation of the Bill. Constitutionally, that would be very difficult. It would place the inspectorate in an invidious position. Parliament should decide reforms of this kind, after taking into account the views of both Houses and consulting widely. The idea that we can somehow park these matters into an inquiry by an independent body that is meant to look at the effectiveness and efficiency of policing is wrong. It would be very wrong for that organisation to do that, as it would effectively set up the inspectorate as judge and jury on a decision that Parliament had made. We therefore believe that these measures are the right thing to do, and we intend to proceed with them. Nevertheless, we are listening and will continue to do so.

In conclusion, on new clause 4, I would like to point out that, when the previous Home Secretary, Mr Blunkett was proposing democratic reform of police authorities, he said that those who claimed to have the power, and who wished to hold the power, should therefore be accountable for the power. That is the right principle, and the basis on which we should proceed.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Chair, Home Affairs Committee

I do not wish to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman’s peroration, but I want to make a point about the timing of the election. During the course of the inquiry, the Select Committee picked up some concern about the election taking place in May next year, just before the Olympics, when people ought to be concentrating on security measures and related issues. Is the Minister quite satisfied that this is the right timing?

Photo of Nick Herbert Nick Herbert The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice 3:30 pm, 30th March 2011

The right hon. Gentleman makes a genuine point. There are two answers. First, I have said that the Government wish to move sooner in relation to London. The transition in London could therefore be made before the elections in 2012. Secondly, the measures relate to a change in the governance of policing. The Bill will not affect the police forces themselves. There are important changes being made, but this is principally a change to the governance of policing. There should be proper discussion, to ensure that in the run-up to the transition the police authorities do not lose sight of such important matters and that the forces that they hold to account do not do so either.

The remaining group of Government amendments will not, I hope, be controversial. They are all of a minor and technical nature, and I will summarise them briefly now. Amendments 6 and 8 will clarify the wording of the Bill so that a commissioner—or, in London, the Mayor’s office for policing and crime—will be obliged to consult a chief officer of a force on a new or revised plan only to the extent that its content is actually new. At present, the wording of the Bill includes two repetitious obligations to consult on the plan—for example, in clause 5, subsections (6)(b) and (8). It would make no sense legally to compel such individuals to consult again on material that had already been discussed. I would expect such discussion to occur naturally and when necessary between a commissioner and his chief officer, so this new wording merely puts a duty on the commissioner to ensure that new content is drawn to the chief constable’s attention. Any more burdensome requirements would be needlessly bureaucratic and prescriptive.

Amendment 9 will bring the police and crime plan issued by the Mayor’s office for policing and crime into line with other mayoral strategies, in regard to some of the matters that the Mayor has to bear in mind when drafting the plan. It is right that there should be a consistent and joined-up approach to the plan and the other strategies. Amendment 10 will clarify the scope of the duty on commissioners and criminal justice bodies to co-operate with each other. On the purpose of the co-operation, it replaces the word “in” with the word “for” in the phrase

“so as to provide an efficient and effective criminal justice system in the police area” in relation to a commissioner’s responsibilities for criminal justice “for their force area”. This reflects the fact that elements of the system such as a court or a prison that are outside the geographical area of the force may still contribute to the criminal justice system inside the area.

Amendment 12 makes it clear that the general bar on a commissioner delegating the discharge of his functions to another commissioner or a chief constable does not prevent the delegation of functions in the context of a formal collaboration agreement. Amendment 13 will correct a reference to the wrong subsection in the provisions dealing with the delegation of the functions of the Mayor’s office for policing and crime to the Deputy Mayor for policing and crime.

Amendment 14 will correct an internal inconsistency in clause 30, which deals with the suspension of a commissioner. We noted the inconsistency in Committee. Clause 30(1) makes it clear that the threshold for suspension is that the commissioner has been charged with an offence carrying a maximum term of imprisonment exceeding two years, but clause 30(4) incorrectly refers to the limit as a maximum sentence of two years or more. The amendment ensures that those references are consistent. I have noted the suggestions of my hon. Friend Dr Huppert for a better way to proceed on suspensions. We had a debate about that in Committee, and I suspect that the other place will return to the matter. The Government will pay attention to the concerns that are expressed. However, we are clear that the current threshold is proportionate, striking the correct balance between protecting the public from criminals and not suspending the public’s representative for trivial offences.

Amendment 15 will correct an inconsistent use of language in the amendments that the Bill makes to the Police Act 1996, reflecting the fact that a commissioner will have the same function of maintaining the police force in his police area as a police authority has now under the 1996 Act. Amendment 20 will ensure that, while members of a commissioner’s staff may be compelled to answer questions and provide documents to a police and crime panel, they will not be required to divulge advice that may have been provided to the police and crime commissioner. That brings the provisions on commissioners into line with the existing arrangements for the Mayor of London, which we are retaining while replacing the Metropolitan Police Authority with the Mayor’s office for policing and crime. Not doing so would weaken a commissioner’s decision making power, as all discussions could potentially be subjected to criticism, which would discourage the free and frank flow of ideas.

I apologise to the House for going into such detail, but I think that it is important to give the public clarity on the amendments. Amendments 31, 32, 38 and 39 concern the appointment of a commissioner’s chief executive. The current wording refers to a “qualified” person. However, the Bill does not impose any qualifications in respect of candidates for appointment as chief executive—in contrast to the position of the chief finance officer, who must be financially qualified in accordance with local government legislation—so there is no need to include the word “qualified”.

Amendments 33 and 40 correct a drafting error in which references to the chief constable in amendment 33 and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner in amendment 40 should have been references to the police and crime commissioner and the Mayor’s office for policing and crime, respectively. Amendments 34 to 37 and 135 to 138 are included to make references to police staff consistent with the rest of the Bill, which refers to them as “police civilian staff”. Amendment 42 is included simply to clarify the Bill. In its present wording, it is unclear what paragraph (2)5 of schedule 7 is referring to when it uses the phrase “for these purposes”. The amendment makes it clear that this means the purposes of sub-paragraph 6.

Amendment 50 will correct a minor drafting error in relation to the replacement of the strategic policing priorities with the Home Secretary’s new strategic policing requirement. It amends the section of the Police Act 1996 that deals with policing objectives, which in future will apply only to the Common Council of the City of London in its capacity as a police authority, with the effect that the Common Council will frame its objectives so as to be consistent with the strategic policing requirement, rather than strategic priorities. This will bring the Common Council into line with other policing bodies. It was our intention to achieve that outcome, but the Bill as drafted did not do so.

Finally, amendment 51 changes a reference to “authorities” in respect of arrangements for the police negotiating board to “persons and bodies”. This is simply to reflect the fact that police and crime commissioners are replacing the word “authorities” and it will no longer be applicable in this context.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I thought the ending of that was brilliant.

Let me say in all seriousness to the Minister that he is introducing a change to the model of policing in this country—the biggest change for centuries—without one shred of evidence that it is the right thing to do. In his response, we heard not one study cited, not one chief police officer quoted, not one police authority quoted, not one council quoted—as I say, not one shred of evidence in support. All the Minister did was repeat what he has done before—stand at the Dispatch Box and assert that he knows best. He accuses me of elitism, but I can see where the elitism lies when it comes to someone saying that they know best. This is no way to reform the police service; it should be done on the basis of evidence.

I have a couple of quick points. I agree with my right hon. Friend Keith Vaz, the Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, that Governments sometimes need to pause and look at what they are doing. That is the purpose of the new clause. It invites us to reflect on the evidence and on what people are saying and then to legislate and reform on the basis of that evidence, not ideological commitment. My right hon. Friend may well think that there is an alternative to Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary when it comes to who is best placed to carry out the report. Perhaps his Select Committee or other bodies should be involved, but it does not alter the fact that, as he says, we sometimes need to take stock and reflect on how best to move forward and make change.

I also want to deal with what was said by my right hon. Friend Paul Murphy and Simon Hart. When the hon. Gentleman goes back to his constituency, he should tell the people he has been talking to in his local authority and others that, as my right hon. Friend said, proposals in the Bill mean that if local authorities do not nominate members for the police and crime panels, the Home Secretary will take upon herself the power to impose individuals on those panels. That is why my right hon. Friend and others from Wales are so upset by the proposals, which effectively drive a coach and horses through the devolution settlement. Yes, police and crime commissioners are a reserved matter, but local authorities are a responsibility of the Welsh Assembly. That explains why there is such upset and disquiet about the proposals in Wales.

This is a hugely important issue. As I said, the Association of Police Authorities, the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Local Government Association, council after council and ordinary police officer after ordinary police officer all oppose this measure. We have heard not a shred of evidence from the Government. That is why we say there should be an inquiry so that we can take stock, reflect and reform on the basis of evidence, not ideology. I therefore press the new clause to the vote.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

The House divided:

Ayes 224, Noes 320.

Division number 242 Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill — New Clause 4 — Inquiry Before Introducing Police and Crime Commissioners

A majority of MPs voted against requiring an inquiry by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary on the impact of introducing Police and Crime Commissioners, and to consider its recommendations before introducing them.

Aye: 224 MPs

No: 320 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Absent: 101 MPs

Absents: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I have now to announce the result of a Division deferred from a previous day. On the question relating to local government, the Ayes were 297 and the Noes were 187, so the Ayes have it.

[The Division list is published at the end of today’s debates.]