Schedule 17 — Temporary class drug orders

Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:13 pm on 31st March 2011.

Alert me about debates like this

Votes in this debate

  • Division number 249
    A majority of MPs voted to introduce Police and Crime Commissioners, to give local councils more powers in relation to licensing, and in support of the other measures in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill.

Amendments made: 53, page 215, line 26, after first ‘that’, insert ‘—

(a) the Secretary of State has consulted in accordance with section 2B and has determined that the order should be made, or

(b) the Secretary of State has received a recommendation under that section that the order should be made.

‘(3A) The Secretary of State may make the determination mentioned in subsection (3)(a) only if’.

Amendment 54, page 216, line 6, at end insert—

‘(6A) The power of the Secretary of State to make an order under this section is subject to section 2B.’.

Amendment 55, page 216, line 10, at end insert—

‘2B Orders under section 2A: role of Advisory Council etc

(1) Before making an order under section 2A the Secretary of State—

(a) must consult as mentioned in subsection (2), or

(b) must have received a recommendation from the Advisory Council to make the order.

(2) The Secretary of State must consult—

(a) the Advisory Council, or

(b) if the order is to be made under section 2A(1) and the urgency condition applies, the person mentioned in subsection (3).

(3) The person referred to in subsection (2)(b) is—

(a) the person who is for the time being the chairman of the Advisory Council appointed under paragraph 1(3) of Schedule 1, or

(b) if that person has delegated the function of responding to consultation under subsection (1)(a) to another member of the Advisory Council, that other member.

(4) The “urgency condition” applies if it appears to the Secretary of State that the misuse of the substance or product to be specified in the order as a drug subject to temporary control, or the likelihood of its misuse, poses an urgent and significant threat to public safety or health.

(5) The duty of the Advisory Council or any other person consulted under subsection (1)(a) is limited to giving to the Secretary of State that person’s opinion as to whether the order in question should be made.

(6) A recommendation under subsection (1)(b) that a temporary class drug order should be made may be given by the Advisory Council only if it appears to the Council that—

(a) the substance or product is a drug that is being, or is likely to be, misused, and

(b) that misuse is having, or is capable of having, harmful effects.’.

Amendment 59, page 219, line 24, after ‘2A,’ insert ‘2B,’.—(James Brokenshire.)

Title

Amendment made: 56, line 3 after ‘alcohol’, insert ‘, and for the repeal of provisions about alcohol disorder zones;’.—(James Brokenshire.)

Third Reading

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department 5:24 pm, 31st March 2011

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I start by thanking the hon. Members who sat on the Public Bill Committee for the scrutiny they have given this important piece of legislation. I thank in particular my ministerial colleagues, the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice and the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend James Brokenshire, for their work in Committee. I also thank all hon. Members who contributed on Report, when we had further detailed debate about the impact and implications of the Bill. In addition, I thank all the officials and Officers and staff of the House who have enabled the Committee’s work to take place.

The Prime Minister recently said that we had the best police force in the world, and I agree, but that does not mean that there is no room for improvement. The Bill will help our courageous police in the fight against crime, and police and crime commissioners will reconnect the police with the public they serve. An overhaul of the licensing regime will help the police and local communities to crack down on problem drinking premises, and temporary banning powers will stop the harm from so-called legal highs. Powers to deal with permanent encampments will give Parliament square back to the British public and a fairer process for universal jurisdiction arrest warrants will allow Britain to engage properly with prominent international statesmen.

Photo of Mark Tami Mark Tami Opposition Whip (Commons)

Bearing in mind the reorganisation and costs involved, will the Home Secretary confirm that she will be at Monday’s debate on police cuts?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I have been generous in giving way once already, but I can never resist giving way to the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Shadow Minister (Justice) (Political and Constitutional Reform)

Those words will not do her any good I am afraid, but I am grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way.

I am sure we all agree that we have the best police force in the world. Has the Home Secretary come across Chief Constable Steve Finnigan of the Lancashire constabulary, who has said that

“we can do an awful lot of work around back-office, around efficiency, around bureaucracy and certainly in Lancashire, in my force, we are doing a lot of that, but we cannot leave the frontline untouched and that is because of the scale of the cuts”?

Will the Home Secretary be straight with the British people and say that there are going to be front-line cuts because of what she is bringing in?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Many chief constables have made the point that what is happening will not mean that there will be no change to front-line services but that they can protect front-line services. That is exactly what chief constables such as the chief constable of Greater Manchester have made clear. There might need to be reform in front-line services, but that does not mean a reduction in the front-line services available to members of the public.

Directly elected police and crime commissioners will bring real accountability to local policing. They will ensure that the police focus on what local people want and not on what the national Government think they want.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I see that the piece of paper has been passed to the right hon. Lady, so I will give way to her.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Home Secretary, Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) (Women and Equalities)

I want to follow up that point with the Home Secretary. She is right, I have the full quote to which my hon. Friend Chris Bryant referred, which was from the “Today” programme. Chief Constable Finnigan was asked:

“You are chief constable of Lancashire which has a bit of both”— meaning urban and rural areas—

“are you going to have to reduce frontline policing in order to meet the budget cuts that the government wants to see?”

His answer was: “I absolutely am”. Faced with that categorical statement from a chief constable, will she admit that front-line services are being hit as a result of her decisions?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I have to say to the right hon. Lady that her intervention and that of the hon. Member for Rhondda betray the difficulty that the Labour party has had, both in government and in opposition, with this issue of front-line services. Chief constables such as Chief Constable Steve Finnigan have said that they are determined to protect the front-line service that is provided to members of the public. There is a difference between the service that can be provided and the number of police who are there, and the trouble with Labour is that it has always focused on numbers. What we have seen recently is that there are great variations in, for example, invisibility and availability of the police who are out there on the streets being seen by members of the public. Percentages can vary from 9% of police being available and visible to the public to 17%, as in Merseyside. If that highest figure was followed by every force, then just under 8,000 more officers would be visible and available to members of the public. This is about the efficient use of resources. Police and crime commissioners, as I have said, will bring accountability to local policing.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I might be able to help the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Gentleman in a few minutes, as I am going to make a specific comment in relation to Wales. I suspect that they are going to ask me about Wales, so it might be in their interest to wait until then before they intervene.

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Conservative, Portsmouth North

I have been through police numbers with my chief constable in Hampshire, and there is not going to be any change to police numbers in community policing and in the policing of serious crime, or in the number of police who deal with sex offenders.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. That is a good example, and there are other examples of forces such as Gloucestershire, where the number of officers visible and available has been increased by the chief constable as a result of what he has been able to do in other ways to deal with his budget.

We have already given communities across England and Wales access to detailed street-level crime and antisocial behaviour data. Only two months after launching the country’s first ever nationwide street-level crime maps, the website has received over 400 million hits, so we are already giving power back to the public. The Bill takes that local accountability to the next stage. The Association of Chief Police Officers has been fully engaged in the process of refining our proposals. We have listened to its suggestions, and to those of hon. Members. We have responded and been able to accommodate some of those suggestions.

We have included provision for each chief officer to become a corporation sole, which will allow them to employ staff and will give them greater control over their own force. We have strengthened the proposed oversight arrangements by including provisions for candidates to be subject to confirmation hearings by police and crime panels, who will be able to veto an appointment with a three-quarters majority. We have amended the Bill so that anyone who has been convicted of an imprisonable offence at any time will be unable to stand as a PCC. Any PCC convicted of such an offence would automatically be disqualified from office.

We have made a commitment with ACPO, the Association of Police Authorities and the Association of Police Authority Chief Executives to develop a protocol setting out the distinct role and powers of chief officers, PCCs and other bodies in the new policing landscape. It will be my responsibility as Home Secretary to issue a strategic policing requirement for the response to national threats. These are all sensible and constructive changes that will give us a better Bill and ultimately an even better police service. I thank ACPO and hon. Members for their help with that.

I am delighted that in Committee, the Opposition conceded the principle of democratic reform in policing. Unfortunately, they are still suggesting the wrong type of reform. Only 7% of people have even heard of police authorities, and only 8% of local authority wards in England and Wales are represented on their police authority. Police authorities are not effective at doing what they are supposed to do. Fewer than one in three police authorities inspected last year were found to be performing well. They have neither the democratic mandate to set police priorities nor the capability to scrutinise police performance, so tinkering at the edges of police authorities, as the Opposition spokesmen seemed to suggest in Committee, will not do.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Substitute Member)

On democratic accountability, does the Home Secretary accept that voter turnout is likely to be much higher in low-crime, leafy suburbs than in high-crime, poorer areas, so the democratic mandate is likely to contradict directly the need to prioritise the focus on crime? What is more, people will lose access to the interface with MPs, Assembly Members, councillors and so on, so there will be less democracy, less crime prevention and more cost.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I completely reject what the hon. Gentleman says, particularly the idea that people who live in high-crime areas will somehow have less incentive to take an interest in the way in which their local area is policed or in going out to vote for PCCs. It is in precisely those areas that people are concerned about what is happening to local policing. We need a properly elected and accountable individual, with the mandate, the capabilities and the powers to set police priorities locally and to hold their chief constable to account for police performance.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I am conscious of time and wish to make a little more progress.

The Opposition’s scepticism about the merits of directly elected police and crime commissioners will be tested when it comes to deciding whether to field candidates for the elections next year. Indeed, according to media reports, the former Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, intends to run as a candidate. Before moving on, I would like to make it clear that responsibility for policing and policing governance in Wales is reserved to this House. This House has determined that the provisions for police and crime commissioners should be implemented in Wales and in England. There cannot be two tiers of governance for a police service whose officers and assets so regularly cross the regional boundary between England and Wales in tackling crime.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The right hon. Gentleman may wish to intervene after I have completed my point about the vote that took place in the National Assembly for Wales. I think that it is regrettable that the Assembly did not agree to the legislative consent motion that would have allowed police and crime panels to reflect the unique nature of local government in Wales, as we wanted. That would have included giving the Welsh Assembly Government a seat on the police and crime panels in Wales.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow PC Spokesperson (Wales), Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The reason why Assembly Members did not endorse it is quite simply because they do not believe in the idea of a directly elected police commissioner. They did not want the panels and so voted against the proposal. Unfortunately, this place decided to ride roughshod over their wishes and the wishes of democratically elected people in Wales, thus showing little of the respect agenda and acting in a hugely undemocratic way.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

That is not correct. It is precisely because we respect the Assembly’s decision that we are removing police and crime panels from local government structures in Wales. The Assembly had the opportunity to put in place a legislative consent motion that would have enabled that to take place. Such a motion was tabled by the Welsh Assembly Government, but they then chose not to support it, even though they had put it forward. As a result, the view of the Welsh Assembly was that police and crime panels should not form part of the local government structure in Wales. Instead, the PCPs will be freestanding bodies.

I want to make it clear that in taking a power to appoint those freestanding bodies I will not be telling, instructing or forcing any authority to do anything. I will invite local authorities to nominate a member to the PCP for each force area, and if an authority fails to nominate a member, I will invite members directly while having regard to the political balance within the force area. I think that the amendments will ensure that the appropriate checks and balances on police and crime commissioners can apply in all force areas in England and in Wales.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission

Order. I am listening carefully to the Home Secretary, who has given way generously, which is appreciated by the House, but I gently point out to both Front Benches that there are some Back Benchers who would like the chance of a snippet as well if the opportunity presents itself.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

We have also taken the opportunity in the Bill, as Members can see, to make improvements to the police complaints system. There are of course other important aspects to the Bill, notably those relating to licensing. I think that Labour’s disastrous Licensing Act 2003 made the problem of binge drinking in this country worse, not better. Far from giving us the continental café culture that we were promised at the time, the Act did nothing to help police and local communities in their ongoing fight against alcohol-fuelled crime and disorder. That is why the Bill will help to turn the tide by ensuring that all those affected by licensed premises have a chance to have a say in the licensing process, allowing early morning restriction orders and the late-night levy on licensed premises opening after midnight to help pay for late-night policing and other services, such as taxi marshals or street wardens.

We have brought forward an amendment to introduce locally set licensing fees so that the fees can achieve what they were intended to, which is to recover fully the costs of licensing authorities in discharging their duties. I think that local government will feel that this is long overdue. We have also repealed the previous Administration’s legislation on alcohol disorder zones, and there was overwhelming support in our consultation for doing that. Those measures, together with a number of others, show that we are committed to stopping the harm caused by alcohol abuse.

As well as measures to tackle alcohol abuse, we will be providing powers to crack down on the damage caused by so-called legal highs. The Bill introduces the power to make year-long temporary class drug orders, which will allow us to take swift action to ban temporarily substances that have been specifically developed to get around existing drugs legislation but that can still cause significant harm.

I hope that the whole House will agree that for too long Parliament square has been subjected to unacceptable disruption and damage from the long-term encampment.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

No, the whole House does not agree, and I should have pointed out that the hon. Gentleman made his views very clear in our previous debate and through the amendments that he spoke to.

The Bill contains, I think, a tough but proportionate package of measures to deal with encampments and other disruptive activity, and we have responded to Members’ concerns about the powers for authorised officers.

The Bill also makes sensible changes to the procedures for obtaining an arrest warrant for universal jurisdiction offences. We have heard the objections from a small number of hon. Members on the matter, but the Government continue to believe that the requirement to seek the agreement of the Director of Public Prosecutions that a case has a realistic chance of success is a fair and proportionate measure.

The Bill is a balanced package of measures to tackle real problems in our society. It includes directly elected police and crime commissioners, to give people back power over policing locally and to help to cut crime; tougher rules on licensing and drugs to help stop the harm that alcohol-fuelled disorder and legal highs can cause; and appropriate powers to restore the right to peaceful protest outside the mother of Parliaments, while removing the long-term encampments that cause so much damage, disruption and distress. We have had very good scrutiny of, and good debates about, the Bill. I believe that it is a very good Bill, and I commend it to the House.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Home Secretary, Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) (Women and Equalities) 5:40 pm, 31st March 2011

After 50 hours of debate and evidence, the Commons stage of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill has come to a close. The Members from all parts who endured the Committee stage will doubtless be delighted that in 19 minutes they will be released from custody. The Policing and Criminal Justice Minister will, I am sure, be relieved to have reached the end of this round of interrogation and hope to be released without charge, with his DNA destroyed and his fingerprints wiped.

I thank all Opposition Members for their work, but I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend Vernon Coaker, aka Station Sergeant Coaker, who has ably led our investigative team, and of course to my hon. Friend Mark Tami, Custody Sergeant Tami, who has granted but few bail applications and always on the toughest terms.

Members have had the pleasure of debating the details of pub drinking, the definitions of a duvet and whether a toothbrush counts as sleeping equipment, and during the passage of the Bill we have welcomed some of the Government’s measures to which the Home Secretary referred, such as those on supporting local government, on licensing and on universal jurisdiction.

Other measures still have us baffled, however. The last time the Home Secretary spoke in the House on legislation she told us that the Government offered

“a chance to roll back the creeping intrusion of the state into our everyday lives, and to return individual freedoms to the heart of our legislation.”—[Hansard, 1 March 2011; Vol. 524, c. 205.]

Today, she has defended a Bill that lets councils leap to the barricades when their byelaws are breached. She will support them in confiscating dogs that foul verges, guitars that are played near churches and even shoes that leave mud on the pavements. More importantly, she has supported a Bill that puts at risk centuries of independent policing, free from political interference, and concentrates considerable policing powers in the hands of one individual with hardly any checks and balances. That is hardly a defence of traditional British liberties.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I hesitate to interrupt what started as a comic turn by the right hon. Lady, but she knows full well that throughout the debate on the Bill we have been at great pains to ensure that there is operational independence for chief officers and for forces. We will defend that operational independence. The police and crime commissioners do not have policing powers; they have powers to ensure that the police are accountable, and respond to local people.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Home Secretary, Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) (Women and Equalities)

That is what the right hon. Lady says, but where is the protocol? Time and again we have been told that there will be some sort of code of practice or some kind of protocol to reassure people that there will be operational independence, but where is it? We have not yet seen it, and the House is being asked to let the Bill go through without being given the opportunity to vote on such a protocol or agreement when it is reached. A draft has been given to the Association of Chief Police Officers, yet this week ACPO still raised some serious concerns about the way in which impartial policing will be protected, and that leaves us with considerable suspicions that she is not yet close to reaching an agreement with ACPO about how the operational protocol will perform. I have to say to the Home Secretary that asking the House to give consent to this Bill without providing crucial reassurances about the operational independence of our police is frankly irresponsible in the light of the traditional and historic British liberties that she has previously been so keen to defend.

During these 50 hours of debate, the Bill has not changed in its fundamentals. This period follows one in which crime fell by over 40%, public confidence in policing went up, and substantial improvements were made in the fight against crime. Yet instead of building on those improvements made under the Labour Government, this Government instead want to launch a massive experiment in governance alongside the steepest cuts in many generations.

The Government are putting considerable policing powers in the hands of individual politicians without any of the serious safeguards or checks and balances that are needed. We do not support the approach of elected police commissioners. During the passage of the Bill, we have tried to suggest ways of limiting the damage and providing additional checks and balances, yet each time they have been rejected. People want responsive and accountable policing, but they also want impartial policing that is accountable to the rule of law—a tradition secured in Britain since Peel. The Government face a grave challenge from the most senior police officers in the country, who have argued this week that that tradition is being put at risk by the Bill. ACPO said that

“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 will not be compromised.”

That is a very serious charge.

We still wait for the protocol and for other explanations of how this will work. This is about the impartiality of our police force and the public perception of that impartiality. For the first time, policing powers will be concentrated in the hands of individual politicians, with hardly any checks and balances on what they do. The Home Secretary at least has to answer to Parliament. She has to persuade her Cabinet colleagues. She can be scrutinised, she can be challenged, and she can even be sacked if she makes a real mess of it—which I am sure, of course, that she will not—but a police and crime commissioner is there for four years, with just a toothless watchdog to keep guard in between.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The right hon. Lady is continuing to use the term “policing powers” in relation to the responsibilities of the police and crime commissioners. That is inaccurate and wrong. These individuals will not be “policing”—they will be elected to hold the chief constable to account to ensure that the local voice is heard and that what local people want in policing is being undertaken. There will be checks and balances through the police and crime panels. She talks about politicians having a relationship with the chief constable in relation to operational independence. Politicians already have a relationship with the chief constable through the police authority.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Home Secretary, Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) (Women and Equalities)

Unfortunately, none of those reassurances has been enough to convince the most senior chief constables in the land that their operational independence will be safeguarded. That is the primary issue that this House should be worried about. We do not think that the Home Secretary has done enough to, for example, provide enough powers for the police and crime panels to allow them a stronger role as checks and balances in the system. Time and again, she has not provided enough safeguards for national policing. She will know that some experts have raised concerns about corruption, too. Of course, the public do not want this either. A YouGov poll commissioned for Liberty found that 65% of people preferred to have a chief constable reporting to a police authority, compared with 15% who wanted her reforms.

Then, of course, there is the cost: £100 million to be spent on elections and bureaucracy at a time when 2,000 of the most experienced officers are being forced into early retirement. If she ditched the police and crime commissioners and put that money back into policing, she could save almost a third of those jobs.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Home Secretary, Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) (Women and Equalities)

I will give way if the right hon. Gentleman will tell us what he would do to safeguard the jobs of the 2,000 experienced police officers whom he is pushing off the front line as a result of his cuts.

Photo of Nick Herbert Nick Herbert Minister of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office) , The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice

The right hon. Lady challenged us on cost. Can she tell us how much her proposal for directly elected police authority chairs would cost, and is she aware that it would cost considerably more than our proposal?

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Home Secretary, Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) (Women and Equalities)

My proposal is to ditch all of it, and that would save £100 million. [ Interruption. ] I am afraid that it is. We have offered Government Members several ways to limit the damage of their proposals if they want to protect British freedoms. If they really want to do something sensible, they should save £100 million by ditching it altogether. That is what we will be voting for this evening.

Most importantly, this drastic re-engineering at the top of policing—this massive experiment in governance—comes in the middle of the deepest cuts that police forces have had to face for many generations; at a time when 12,500 officers and 15,000 police staff will go; at a time when a report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary shows that 95% of police officers are not in back-office work; and at a time when front-line services across the country are being hit. If the Home Secretary and the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice continue to deny that front-line services are being hit, they will just show how out of touch they are, not just with the police but with communities across the country who can already see changes happening in their areas and know exactly who is to blame. We know that neighbourhood police officers who want to stay in their jobs are being cut, and that steep cuts are being made in probation, youth services and action to prevent crime.

We know why the Home Secretary really wants police and crime commissioners: so she has someone else to blame when it all goes badly wrong. These policies were not the Home Secretary’s idea. It was not her idea to cut 20% from the police—it was the Chancellor’s, but she did not fight to stop it. It was not her idea to bring in police and crime commissioners—it was the Prime Minister’s, but she did not stand up against it. It was not her proposal to cut DNA use and limit the power of the police—it was the Deputy Prime Minister’s, but she did not prevent it. She is ducking the big battles and is not standing up for people across the country, who need a Home Secretary who will defend their views. She is the Home Secretary, and in the end she carries the can. On Second Reading, she claimed that that crime would be cut as a result of these reforms. The truth is that she is starting to fear that the opposite is happening, and she needs someone to blame.

The clouds are gathering over the Government’s crime and policing plans, and we have raised the warning. We will vote against these plans today, just as we will vote against the police cuts next week. Ministers are creating a perfect storm; at some point it will blow, and it will be communities across the country who pay the price.

Several hon. Members:

rose —

Photo of Mark Reckless Mark Reckless Conservative, Rochester and Strood 5:52 pm, 31st March 2011

As the only Member of this House who is a member of a police authority, I congratulate Ministers on this Bill and welcome it. The Home Secretary made it clear on Monday that she wanted elected commissioners “in charge”. She said just now that commissioners will make sure that what local people want to happen in policing will happen. That is to be welcomed.

Unfortunately, Opposition Members are on the wrong side of this debate. The shadow Minister, Vernon Coaker, said that

ACPO is clearly telling the Minister that he needs to amend the Bill”—[Hansard, 30 March 2011; Vol. 526, c. 404.]

Apparently, the Association of Chief Police Officers thinks that

“the Bill places too much emphasis on local considerations giving disproportionate power to the” elected commissioner. But it is this House that decides, not ACPO. The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice has said that we have to rebalance the tripartite system and put greater emphasis on the local and democratic element because too much power has gone to the centre. He was too diplomatic to say it, but ACPO has taken that power as much as the Home Office, and it needs to be rebalanced.

We will attempt to reach agreement on this protocol, and Ministers are no doubt working hard on that. We believe, of course, that in individual investigations and arrests there has to be complete independence for the police, and that politicians should have no influence in that. However, in wider issues such as policing policy, the budget and the priorities, it is surely right that there should be democratic control and oversight.

Photo of Steven Baker Steven Baker Conservative, Wycombe

I welcome my hon. Friend’s remarks, and associate myself with them. I also welcome the way that he set out the law on operational independence yesterday. Does he agree that it is vital that senior police officers and Opposition Members accept the legitimacy of elected representatives ensuring that the public get the policing that they deserve?

Photo of Mark Reckless Mark Reckless Conservative, Rochester and Strood

Of course I accept that, and I thank my hon. Friend for his comments.

In the short time available, I want to make one point about an aspect of the Bill that I disagree with and how it is to be implemented, and that is the setting of the precept. There is a great focus on having more local democratic control, but there is perhaps some misunderstanding about how the panel will work in relation to the precept.

We have heard that Liberal Democrat Members want a strong panel, and that there is currently something called a veto in the Bill. However, the small print shows that the panel will have no veto on the precept. All that it will get to do is say, “We don’t like this.” The elected commissioner will have to take into account what it has said, but he can then impose what he wants. At the moment, it is the Secretary of State who is to have the power to intervene and hold a referendum, not the local panel. I hope that will be reconsidered and changed in the other place.

When the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice explained the relevant regulations on Report, he said it would be for the panel to put forward an alternative, and then the public would decide. In Committee, however, he said that it would be for the police and crime commissioner to give an alternative that was not excessive, and then the referendum would be to choose between the two. The local people should be in charge—that is the focus of the Bill, and I hope the matter will be considered in the other place. I commend the Bill.

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett Labour, Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough 5:55 pm, 31st March 2011

Who would ever have believed that it would be a Conservative Home Secretary who took the Home Office back to the pre-Michael Howard era, when there was an overwhelming belief that neither the Home Secretary nor the Home Office had any part to play in reducing crime, co-ordination across boundaries or understanding the sophistication of organised criminality? Today, of course, e-crime and cybercrime can be added to that list.

Who would have believed that a Conservative Home Secretary would oversee a 20% cut in policing in this country, or chide a Labour Opposition for being obsessed with police numbers? I was proud to be the Home Secretary for the four years when we increased the uniformed police service by 15,000 officers. That was what the communities that we represented were demanding, and that was what they got. That was why there was a 43% reduction in overall crime in this country, and a much greater reduction in burglary and car crime.

Perhaps the Home Secretary could never in her wildest dreams have realised that she was going to come to the House and say that she could not present a protocol for the relationship between the new elected police and crime commissioners and chief constables, because the Government had not yet managed to put it together. They do not know what the relationship is going to be.

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice rightly quoted the document about accountability that I presented to the last Home Secretary but one. He was right to say that I was concerned about power lying where accountability was held, and that, of course, is with the chief constable, the leadership team and the neighbourhood commanders who respond directly to the neighbourhood that they represent. I was proud to introduce the neighbourhood beat teams and police community support officers, which brought us close to our neighbourhoods.

Now we are going to see total confusion, with policy decided by an elected police commissioner and delivery decided by a chief constable who has to do as they are told, and with no proper, organised cross-boundary working. There will be a breakdown of direct accountability, including in the role of elected councillors, and of the partnership approach that is so crucial to the reduction of crime and the engagement of the citizenry. That engagement is part of the process needed to ensure that we can continue to have the tremendous legacy that we left the current Government.

Photo of Julian Huppert Julian Huppert Liberal Democrat, Cambridge 5:58 pm, 31st March 2011

I will try to be very brief. I thank Ministers for the helpful discussions that they have had with us and for the fact that we have managed to improve the Bill. I thank them for agreeing to our suggestions on removing the power for council officials to use reasonable force in protests and on ensuring that the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs plays a role in assisting on temporary banning orders. I thank them very much for agreeing to those requests, because that has improved the Bill.

There are still some issues to discuss as the Bill continues through the Lords, but it is very good. Liberal Democrats stood on a manifesto commitment to bring democracy into such matters. Unlike Yvette Cooper, I think the public should have their say. Democracy is very important.

I am particularly pleased that the Government propose to use a preferential voting system to elect the commissioner. That is a much fairer way of electing people who have such a critical role.

I am also pleased that we are unwinding some of the disgraceful measures introduced by the previous Government to stop protests in Parliament square. Unlike Mr MacShane,

I do not believe that Parliament should be protected from the public. Parliament and the police should be accountable to them, which is what will now happen.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The House divided:

Ayes 274, Noes 161.

Division number 249 Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill — Third Reading

A majority of MPs voted to introduce Police and Crime Commissioners, to give local councils more powers in relation to licensing, and in support of the other measures in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill.

Aye: 274 MPs

No: 161 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Absent: 210 MPs

Absents: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time and passed.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Treasury)

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wonder whether you have had a request for a statement, either tonight or tomorrow morning, from the Minister of State, Cabinet Office. In response to a question from my hon. Friend Ian Murray, he told the Environmental Audit Committee this afternoon:

“we took the view collectively in Cabinet that we faced an immediate national crisis in the form of less growth and jobs than we needed”, in relation to the recent Budget. We were not aware of those conditions before the Budget vote on Tuesday. The Minister accepts that we have an “immediate national crisis”, so has he given any indication of the need for a statement? We face unemployment at a 17-year high, a contracting economy, increasing VAT, and a jobs growth crisis in Britain. If the Minister is discussing with the Environmental Audit Committee, he should come to the House to explain himself.

Photo of Ian Murray Ian Murray Labour, Edinburgh South

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I was serving on the Environmental Audit Committee this afternoon. Given collective Cabinet responsibility and the admission of a national crisis, I wonder whether you could help us new Members of the House by saying whether, under the circumstances, Cobra should meet.