I beg to move, That this House
disagrees with Lords amendment 1.
With this it will be convenient to consider Lords amendments 2 to 4 and 6, Government motions to disagree, Government amendments (a) to (d) in lieu, amendment (i) to Government amendment (a) in lieu and amendment (ii) to Government amendment (b) in lieu.
This Government are determined to swap bureaucratic control of the police for local democratic accountability, replacing police authorities with directly elected commissioners. In the past there has been too much central interference with decisions that should have been taken locally and by professionals, yet too often the centre has been weak where it needed to be strong, such as in ensuring the fight against serious and organised crime or better co-ordination between forces. Our aim is to reverse this position, giving greater freedom to professionals to do their job and sweeping away central interference and bureaucracy, while re-focusing the Home Office on key priorities and threats.
But we cannot just take away central direction and leave the police to get on with it. Like any public service, the police must answer to someone. Politicians do not and should not run the police, but they should and they must hold the police to account on behalf of the public whom the police serve. Officers must be accountable for their actions and forces must be accountable for their performance. Both parties in the coalition were committed in their manifestos at the last election, in differing ways, to enhancing the democratic accountability of policing. The coalition agreement pledged the introduction of directly elected individuals, subject to strict checks and balances, by locally elected representatives.
The Bill seeks to establish clear and democratically accountable leadership for police governance, but amendments in another place would remove those provisions. The Lords amendments do not try to increase the local accountability of the police. They do not even try to ensure that there are adequate checks and balances in place. They amendments simply say that the status quo should be preserved and that the chair of a police authority should be called a police and crime commissioner. This re-branding of the status quo will not suffice.
The whole purpose of the Government’s reform and its strength is that local councillors will still be involved in the governance of policing, but an elected individual, with a mandate from the people, will take the executive decisions.
The Minister is preaching a great sermon on how everything will be transformed by the creation of commissioners, but my concern is that what he means by the word “local” is not at all what is going to be brought about. The South Wales police force area covering Swansea and Cardiff—two cities that have never particularly loved each other—and large chunks of the valleys, which have a very different policing agenda from those two cities, could not possibly be constituted as a single political unit by anybody who was starting afresh. So my worry is that there will be less political accountability to local people and more accountability to one individual, who will probably be more likely to represent somebody in Cardiff and Swansea than somebody in the valleys.
Although I think there is a serious debate to be had, I disagree with the hon. Gentleman for a number of reasons, principally that he may be making an argument for smaller forces—that is not a proposal that the Government are making, or one that, I suspect, the Opposition would support—but if a single chief constable can be in charge of that whole force and be responsible for the operation of the force across the varied area that the hon. Gentleman describes, why should not a single individual be capable of holding that chief constable to account? In London we have seen the Mayor taking responsibility for policing over a very much greater population, including a diverse population with a large number of local authority components.
What I have found in the past few years in South Wales police is that although it is true that the chief constable is not particularly accountable, what has made the police accountable is the local PACT—Police and Communities Together—meetings, where members of the public get to know they can get in touch with their local beat police officer. It is that transformation of the police that will render policing far more effective, rather than the somewhat bureaucratic system that the Minister is setting up.
We are hardly setting up a bureaucratic system. It is one that involves direct democratic accountability. The two things that the hon. Gentleman describes are not mutually exclusive. It is possible to maintain neighbourhood policing and local accountability while still introducing direct democratic accountability and governance, for the reasons that I set out.
I must say that I disagree with my hon. Friend Chris Bryant on the usefulness of PACT meetings. The Minister referred to accountability and to the Metropolitan police. There is an issue with the governance of the Metropolitan police, because they do not and will not have a police commissioner, as that is part of the Mayor of London’s muddle of responsibilities. Of course, the Metropolitan police’s activities go far beyond London and have implications not only for other parts of England but for Scotland and Wales, yet we have a Mayor with devolved responsibility getting rid of a Metropolitan Police Commissioner. Is there not a bit of a muddle over the accountability issues right across this new pattern of policing?
I do not accept that there is a muddle. The right hon. Gentleman will know that it was the previous Government who set up the current governance arrangements in London. The Metropolitan police have national policing responsibilities and therefore answer in part to the Home Secretary, which makes them unique. However, the reforms in London to give greater local accountability have been popular with the public, and it is that principle that we seek to extend. Indeed, the principle of having one accountable individual directly responsible for the totality of force activity is crucial to the Government’s vision. Policing governance by committee has led to an unelected body having power over the precept, with no one being properly held to account for decisions or poor performance and no one truly being in charge.
If the hon. Gentleman had been paying attention, he would know that I was talking about the popularity of the reform that his Government introduced —the introduction of the Mayor of London. Evidence from opinion polls shows that a large majority of the public welcome the idea of enhanced local accountability for policing.
“Under the current system, 93 per cent of the country has no direct, elected representation.”
Indeed, only 7% of wards in England and Wales are represented on a police authority, so it is no surprise that only 7% of the public understand that they can approach their police authority if they are dissatisfied with policing. Most people have no clue who their police authority chair is. How can a body be an effective link between the police and the people if it is invisible to the people? I agree with the former policing Minister, who said that people must “know who to go to” and be
“able to influence their policing through the ballot box.”
That was the hon. Member for Gedling.
Some say that this visibility does not matter and, provided that a wise committee takes the right decisions, there is no need to refer to the people. That is the argument that favours rule by quangos over democratic decision making. The defenders of the current system of governance say that it works well, but I am afraid that I disagree. Only four of the 22 inspected police authorities were assessed by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and the Audit Commission as performing well in their most critical functions. I understand why police authorities oppose their own abolition, but there are few who believe that the authorities can remain in their current form. Even the Opposition do not share that view.
I welcome the Minister back to the Dispatch Box after his recent illness. We have missed him. There have been riots and both the commissioner and the head of terrorism have resigned, so the Minister’s re-emergence provides great stability for all of us who are interested in policing issues. I agree with him about the invisibility of police authorities. The Home Affairs Committee considered this matter in the last Parliament when the Government wanted to introduce an element of election. What concerns me is the progress on the protocol, which the Committee believed was extremely important in defining the relationship between the chief constable and the new police and crime commissioner. If he does not plan to refer to this later in his speech, will he tell us now what is happening about the protocol?
I share the right hon. Gentleman’s concern to ensure that we get the protocol right. We have made very good progress with it, and I will deal directly with those remarks, if I may, later in my speech. I also thank him for his kind words.
I was making the point that Opposition Members do not share the view that police authorities can remain in their current form. Even Ed Balls, hardly a champion—in so far as I am aware—of reform in any sphere, was forced to concede when shadow Home Secretary that police authorities were “not optimal”. Twice before, the Labour party tried to reform police authorities and to introduce democratic accountability into policing, but it backed off in the face of vested interests. We intend to see this reform through.
In Committee, the shadow policing Minister proposed directly elected chairs of police authorities. He felt so strongly that this was the right idea that he pushed it to the vote. So, there we have it: the Shadow Home Secretary says that
“elected chiefs would make things worse.”
The shadow police Minister says that
“only direct election...will deliver the strong connection to the public which is critical.”
Which is it?
Yvette Cooper claims that extremists might be elected, but why would that not happen under her own Front Benchers’ plans for directly elected chairs? We know what the shadow Minister thinks about the arguments that extremists might be elected. He has said in past that those arguments are “ridiculous”—and they are.
The British National party polled just 2% of the national vote in the general election. It has never won direct election in any constituency larger than a local authority ward; and, in fact, it has never come better than third. It is simply inconceivable that the BNP could win a majority of votes in an area as large as a police force area; inconceivable that a BNP candidate would be one of two going forward to a count on second preferences; and inconceivable that they would take sufficient second preferences from other parties to win. So, saying that extremists will win such elections, as the shadow Home Secretary has today, is silly and irresponsible scaremongering, and she should stop it now.
The right hon. Lady has also criticised the cost of the elections, but the shadow Minister’s proposal would actually cost more, and the truth is that Opposition Members know that they cannot defend the status quo. They have three times supported democratic reform, but they just do not want to admit it—just as they do not want to admit that they would cut police spending by more than £1 billion.
I am just going to make a little more progress. Let me deal with costs, and then I will come back to the hon. Gentleman.
The shadow Home Secretary says that the reform will cost “well over £100 million.” No, it will not. She reaches that figure by counting in the running costs of police authorities—money that, apparently, should not be spent. So, this is Labour's latest policy: not just no elections for those who hold the police to account, but no one to hold them to account at all—because, apparently, police authorities would go as well.
The only additional cost of the Government’s reforms is the cost of elections. That will normally be £50 million every four years, £12.5 million a year on average, or 0.1% of what is spent on police forces.
The argument over the figure of £100 million will go on, but it is now accepted that the postponed election will cost £25 million, and that equates to 2,000 extra police officers.
I will come to that immediately. There will be a one-off additional cost for holding the elections in November next year, rather than in May, and the cost will indeed increase: it will increase from 0.1% of police spend to 0.15%, and then it will go back down to 0.1% again. So, this is apparently the full weight of the Opposition’s argument: a delay in holding an election will temporarily cost 0.05% of police spend. That is a risible case.
But why is there a delay? The whole House knows why: it is because the Liberal Democrats do not want the elections on that day—despite the fact that the Liberal Democrat leader has previously said that the electorate are perfectly capable of understanding different elections on the same day.
Hon. Members have spent their whole time trying either to stop the reform or to delay it, and now, when an introduction is delayed for a few months, they apparently do not want that, either.
The central point is that, in any case, the cost of elections is not going to come from police budgets. It is just nonsense to claim that the money for elections could instead be spent on police officers. That is a poor argument. It ill behoves an elected politician to complain about the cost of democracy. It was Labour that made the police more accountable to a new Mayor of London. The referendum itself cost £3 million to conduct, and the elections still cost £18 million every four years. Did Labour then say that this money could be better spent on police officers? No, of course not. If greater democratic accountability is a price worth paying in London for a quarter of all policing, why not in the rest of the country?
The Minister will know that the impact assessment said originally that the cost of elections was £50 million. He will also know that the Prime Minister told us, and he has confirmed, that additional costs for the one-off election were another £25 million. Will he also confirm that the impact assessment contains £37 million of transition costs to the new arrangements, which do take the figure to over £100 million?
No, I do not accept what the Opposition have constantly been saying, which is that the overall cost of this reform is over £100 million. That is based on a figure that the Association of Police Authorities has been using, where it appears that it has been counting two elections into the cost. I go back to the point that I have made: the only additional, ongoing cost in relation to this reform is the cost of holding elections. It is a very bad argument to suggest that a democratic reform should not go ahead simply because elections will cost money, and it is not an argument that Labour Members were willing to use in the past when they supported all sorts of proposals for elections, including in relation to the Mayor of London.
I have never supported the politicising of the police, and I will not do so under the Minister’s plans. My anxiety is that when a politician comes along, they usually do not just want a little office in the corner; they want lots of other people to service that office. I suspect that the cost that he is allowing for now will be hideously understated by the time we have had these people in place for four years. However, the bit that I completely do not understand is why we have to have elections next November. Surely, if we were trying to save money and one believed in having these elections, they should be at the same time as the other local elections six months later.
I will come to that issue. However, I will say to the hon. Gentleman now that if the elections were delayed for a further six months to take them to May 2013, incoming police and crime commissioners would be unable to participate in the budget that would already have been set for that year. They would be unable to take the key decisions—[ Interruption. ] It will still be the case, even though the elections will be delayed by six months, that incoming police and crime commissioners will be able to set the budget and the plan for the following year, as originally intended. I do not accept that there would be no difference as a result of a delay until the following year.
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I am going to move on.
I want to come back to the issue of London’s Mayor, which was much discussed in the other place, as it has been here. I want to credit the Opposition for the creation of the office of Mayor, which, as I have said before, has been a popular reform. As we debate these issues, the Mayor has been playing a key role in the decision over who will next lead the Metropolitan police. He has given Londoners an important voice in policing.
How many Londoners would prefer their police force to answer to an invisible committee? Now the Opposition are criticising the Mayor’s role in policing—well, they invented it. Of course the Opposition do not like the current Mayor. They may not like what he does, but that is not a reason to dislike the office or to object to the same principle of greater democratic accountability being introduced in the rest of the country.
Let us be clear: the Mayor does not run the police in London; he holds them to account, and that is the principle that we are advancing. The British model of impartial policing must be retained, and it will be retained. Our aim is not to abandon the tripartite arrangement of police governance between the Home Office, local representatives and forces but to rebalance it.
The name of the new Metropolitan police commissioner has been announced as the Minister he has been speaking from the Dispatch Box, and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will tell the House who it is. I will leave it to him to make the announcement rather than me. [Hon. Members: “Go on!”] No, no, no. I do not want to spoil the fun. [ Interruption. ] Perhaps the Minister does not know, but it has just been announced. Will he assure the House that it was done with the full agreement of the Mayor of London, that there was no dispute, and that we will all now be able to unite behind the new commissioner, whose name, I think, is winging its way over to him as I speak?
I am sorry to disappoint the right hon. Gentleman, but I am not going to make an announcement before it is confirmed to me that the name has been formally announced.
To prevent too much power from being vested in a single individual, we are putting in place strict checks and balances. This is an important part of the argument. The checks and balances include local police and crime panels with representatives from each local authority and independent members, which will have the power to scrutinise the commissioner’s actions. District councils will have a stake in police governance for the first time. They do not currently have that position in police authorities. The panels will have teeth. They will have the power of veto over excessive precepts and the appointment of chief constables, and they will have the weapon of transparency.
We have listened to concerns and have strengthened the safeguards in the other place. I will go into the detail of those changes when we discuss them later. However, I want to highlight three important areas where we have listened, not least to the professional advice of senior police officers, and acted. First, in response to the point made by the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee on the operational independence of the police, it is fundamental to the British system that the police remain operationally independent. No politician can tell a constable—a sworn officer of the Crown—who to arrest. Forces will continue to be under the legal direction and control of their chief constable. There is no change in those legal arrangements.
Since the Bill left this House, the Government have published a draft protocol that clearly sets out the roles of the chief constable and the police and crime commissioner, and how they and the other actors, including the police and crime panel, will interact. We did that partly in response to the recommendation of the Home Affairs Committee. Senior chief constables, including senior leaders of the Metropolitan police, welcomed the publication of the draft protocol. They have said that it provides clear direction on the future roles of chief constables, police and crime commissioners and the Home Secretary, and that it ensures the balance between operational independence and appropriate public accountability. I agree with chief constables that we must include in the protocol the fact that the police and crime commissioner must set the strategic direction and objectives of the force and decide the budget of the force, while being clear that chief constables remain operationally independent.
We also amended the Bill in the other place to make it a statutory requirement for the Home Secretary to issue the protocol. This work is not over. We will continue to work closely with the Association of Chief Police Officers and others to ensure that the protocol covers all the necessary issues in the necessary depth. It is vital that we get this right. We have made tangible progress in ensuring that the operational independence of police officers will be protected under this Bill.
The protocol is intended to govern the relationship and it will be issued by the Home Secretary. The legal control and direction of the force will remain, as I said, with the chief constable. The protocol describes the appropriate legal arrangements. I have no doubt that, as we have seen in London, those who stand for election will understand that.
Secondly, we will ensure that policing in this country is able to deal with national threats. It has been suggested that police and crime commissioners will be focused on local issues to the exclusion of those that require a strategic response, making them too parochial. I disagree. PCCs will be responsible and accountable to the public for the totality of policing. However, the fight against terrorism and against serious and organised crime is an area in which the central Government have a legitimate role.
The new national crime agency, working with police forces, will transform the fight against organised crime. The Home Secretary will issue a strategic policing requirement, which will guide forces on their responsibilities for serious and cross-boundary policing challenges such as terrorism, organised crime, public order and responding to major incidents and emergencies. Police and crime commissioners and chief constables will be under strong duties to have regard to that requirement. This is not about addressing a problem created by the introduction of police and crime commissioners. The strategic policing requirement, alongside the national crime agency, is a critical refocusing of the Government’s role to address an existing set of policing challenges for which the response to date has been lacking. We continue to work closely with the police service to ensure that that happens. The passing of the Bill will by no means be the end of the conversation, but let me be clear: ensuring that police forces can continue to deliver on national and strategic issues, and meet national threats, remains a priority for me and for this Government.
Thirdly, we will ensure that policing is not politicised. We judge that it would be both wrong in principle and unworkable in practice to ban political parties from fielding candidates as police and crime commissioners, although some suggested that. However, that does not mean that party politics will be introduced into police forces. Commissioners will not be permitted to appoint political advisers. Police and crime commissioners will be permitted to direct officers to make an arrest no more than a police authority is so permitted. They will not be permitted to sack or appoint officers other than chief constables. We have strengthened the safeguards relating to the dismissal of chiefs by ensuring that the police and crime panel hears from both the chief constable and the police and crime commissioner, as well as by ensuring that they have the opportunity to get advice from Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary.
Additionally, we will ensure, through regulations, that proper procedures are put in place. Police and crime commissioners must have the power to dismiss chief constables, just as police authorities currently do, but we must guard against capricious decisions, and we will put in place the arrangements to ensure that we do so.
I apologise to the hon. Gentleman, but I was reading a note and was not properly listening to what he said. Will he say it again?
Do concentrate! If all of what the Minister says is true—that the police and their operational independence should not be politicised—how can it be right for the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, to say that the phone hacking allegations at the News of the World were codswallop, and that the police should not investigate any further because it is a story got up by the Labour party?
Surely the hon. Gentleman misses the key point. First, the Mayor should not seek to direct an investigation any more than the Home Secretary should. Secondly, the Mayor will be held accountable for all issues, which is what Londoners expect. The point is that, before the Mayor, accountability was invisible. We seek to introduce that greater accountability elsewhere. The issue is not whether the hon. Gentleman thinks that the Mayor was right or wrong. There is now a figure who can be held accountable for the performance of the Met.
The Minister will know of the constabulary of Dyfed-Powys police in west Wales. There are probably 15 elected politicians of various parties representing people for that area, including in the Welsh Assembly. Does he agree that if there were any hint of a police commissioner taking a political line, the 14 other elected members of various assemblies and Parliaments would hold him to account and ensure that that did not happen?
I agree with my hon. Friend. We are putting in place very strong accountability arrangements, but also checks and balances and transparency. That will ensure the visibility of decisions when they are taken. Panels of locally elected members will be able to hold the commissioner to account and to scrutinise the decisions that are made. All of that will be done in full view of the public, in a way that the current proceedings of police authorities simply are not.
I am afraid that I must briefly detain the House on other formal matters before us. In lieu of the Lords amendments, I shall move a Government amendment to re-establish the Secretary of State’s power to issue a financial management code of practice for police and crime commissioners. A code of practice is currently issued to police authorities, which are required to have regard to it in the discharge of their financial functions. This enables the Home Office accounting officer to assure Parliament that funds given to the Department are used appropriately.
The Bill repeals the general power to issue codes of practice to police authorities under which the existing financial management code was issued. To ensure that we adhere to the principles of financial regularity, propriety and value for money, we propose that the Bill be amended to retain the power to issue codes of practice, but to restrict it to codes relating to financial matters only. The code will set out to PCCs and chief constables how they are expected to conduct the financial management within their force area and ensure good governance of public funds, the majority of which falls within the ambit of the vote from this place. It will be the responsibility of the Government to ensure that the code is fit for purpose and that it enables a PCC to set a budget that is responsible and, crucially, responds to the needs of their local communities and priorities. As such, I cannot agree with the Opposition amendments.
Government amendment (b) in lieu of Lords amendments 1 to 4 and of Lords amendment 6 will move back the date of PCC elections by six months, from May 2012 to November 2012, to allow more time to ensure that all the necessary preparations are in place. That will give good quality candidates, including—I hope—independents, the time to come forward, plan and campaign. PCCs will still be able to lead the strategic planning for 2013-14, as originally proposed—that was the point I made to the hon. Member for Rhondda. Thereafter, elections will revert to May every four years. Reform in London can still take place early because the Mayor is already in place.
In respect of the amendment giving the Welsh Assembly the power to set the first election date in Wales, the Government have placed on the record, in this House and another place, the efforts and negotiations in which I took part and which we undertook with the Welsh Government in order that the National Assembly for Wales could play a stronger role within policing governance in Wales. We have made it clear that we cannot legislate potentially to provide two different systems of governance within England and Wales. Moreover, we cannot withhold from the people of Wales the necessary reform that will give them a stronger voice and visible accountability for how policing is delivered within their four police force areas by delaying the implementation of these reforms until the National Assembly sees fit. As the House knows—and, indeed, has determined through statute—policing remains a reserved matter and therefore the House shall decide when and how policing governance will be delivered. That said, we hope soon to restart constructive discussions with the Welsh Government so that they can consider positively how to work in partnership with both PCCs and police and crime panels.
In conclusion, these reforms are essential to address the democratic deficit in policing, to end the era of central Government’s bureaucratic control, to reduce crime and antisocial behaviour and to drive value for money. There will be benefits all round. Chief constables will be liberated from targets and central direction so that they can be crime fighters. Police officers will benefit from a less bureaucratic system in which discretion is restored and someone close to their force has a strong interest in driving out waste and prioritising the front line. Local authorities will benefit from a continuing say in the governance of policing, and district councils will have a role for the first time. The taxpayer will see better value for value money as commissioners, who will have responsibility for the precept, focus relentlessly on efficiency in their forces. Local policing will benefit from a strong democratic input, focusing attention on issues of public concern. The Home Office will be focused on its proper role, especially to address national threats and to co-ordinate strategic action and collaboration between forces. Above all, the public will have a voice in how they are policed. PCCs will have the mandate and the moral authority to reflect public concern about crime.
In the end, the House has a choice. The shadow Home Secretary repeatedly described elected police commissioners as a “US-style reform”. It is striking that Labour seems to think that democratic election and accountability are un-British. The Government trust the people to elect representatives to make the right decisions and to kick them out if they do not. It is strange that so many democrats are so wary of democracy. I believe that we can and should trust the people.
With the indulgence of the House, let me start by endorsing the comments that the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee made in welcoming the Minister back to full health. I know that the Minister has not been too well, and we missed him on the TV over the summer. In all sincerity, I am pleased that he is back and functioning well.
However, I do not intend to let my feelings of good will towards the Minister prevent me from saying that for a moment at the end of his speech it was like being in church—the “Hallelujah Chorus” was all that was needed to illustrate the promised land to which the Minister believes he is taking us. However, let us be clear about this: what we are doing is quite extraordinary. We are not just repairing a bit of damage or tweaking that the Lords have done; what the Minister is having to do—and in a way that is hugely embarrassing for the Government—is reinsert in the Bill the whole concept of police and crime commissioners. In other words, he is having to reinsert the absolutely fundamental principle of the Bill.
However, one would not have known that from what the Minister said, which was that what we are doing today is nothing more than a tidying-up exercise—a bit of tweaking that the Government have found it necessary to do to ensure that the Lords did not inadvertently cause a problem that they had not intended. However, let us be clear: the Lords absolutely wanted to create a problem for the Government on this issue. What they were saying was that, unlike the Government, they recognise that the proposal has absolutely no support in the country. The only people who support the policy are the Minister, a few of his friends, a couple of people at No. 10 Downing street, a few Back Benchers, a couple of think-tanks and the whipped masses, who we will no doubt see later.
I will in a moment; I am just getting going. If the hon. Gentleman lets me, I will make a few points and then give way to him—he served on the Committee.
One of my hon. Friends asked the Minister where the evidence was that there was a demand for his proposal out there in the country. The answer was that there was none. I and many others have consistently asked the Minister to publish the results of the public consultation on “Policing in the 21st Century”, a document to which there were approximately 800 responses. We have not heard a word from a Minister about those 800 responses. I wonder why that is. I am sure that if a large number of those responses had been in favour of the proposal, the Minister would have published every one. However, he cannot do that, because we know that very few of those responses were in favour. This Government—who, we are told, are in favour of listening to the people, in this new dawn of not imposing things—say that in this instance they know best. The fact that nobody supports the proposal does not matter to the Minister.
Don’t worry; I have not forgotten the hon. Gentleman.
The same goes for councils. We have just heard about the objections of the Local Government Association and the Association of Police Authorities. The Minister’s answer to them is: “We don’t care what you say—you’re dinosaurs. You’re in the way of me reaching the promised land; you’re in the way of me reaching what I regard as the best reform. You’re people who are out of touch. You will inevitably vote against this proposal because it’s like turkeys voting for Christmas.” However, there are individuals on those local councils and police authorities—members of all parties or none—who have dedicated their lives to the service of their communities and to policing in their communities who fundamentally believe that the Government’s proposal is a bad reform. To dismiss them purely as people who do not want to vote themselves out of a job does them no service at all.
The hon. Gentleman says that there is no support for the reform, but let me read him two quotations. The first is from the Lib Dems’ manifesto, which says on page 72 that they will
“Give local people a real say over their police force through the direct election of police authorities.”
This is the second quotation:
“only direct election, based on geographic constituencies, will deliver the strong connection to the public which is critical”.
That was the hon. Gentleman himself, in a speech in 2008. Rather than there being no support for reform, is it not true that the case for reform of police governance has been made right across the political spectrum?
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman admits it. I have never known anyone vote against their own amendments, but there we go.
Mr Burley will know that the Liberal Democrats did not propose that one individual should be directly elected to hold the police to account. Their manifesto proposal was for directly elected police authorities, with a multiplicity of people holding the police to account. He will also be aware that the Green Paper that the last Government introduced in 2008 proposed a model not totally dissimilar from what the Liberal Democrats proposed at the last election. It is also interesting to witness the difference in approach between those who go out to consultation and listen to what people say, and those who go out to consultation and say, “We don’t care what you said. We’re going to do this anyway.”
I agree with nearly everything that the hon. Gentleman has just said. The point is that there is cross-party agreement on the need for reform of police authorities, but there is disagreement on the form that the new model should take.
I do not think there has ever been any disagreement, either in Committee or in any of our other debates on police governance, about the need to make police authorities more visible and find ways of helping them to work more successfully in their neighbourhoods. That has never been in doubt. However, people have certain concerns relating to the introduction of direct elections—whether using the model involving a directly elected police authority, or the one involving a directly elected individual—and I will discuss those worries in due course.
The Minister has failed to provide the House with the evidence for why the Government are taking forward these reforms. He says that there is support for them, but he has failed to put any evidence for that before the House. Let us look at the detail of the Bill. Interestingly, when the Minister argues against the points that have been made on this matter, he simply says that people are wrong, and that he does not agree with them. However, we all know that there are serious issues involved that need to be addressed. He and the Liberal Democrats might have sorted out a way of getting the Bill through, but that does not negate the real concerns that were mentioned by Members on both sides in Committee and that have been mentioned again since.
The Minister says that there is no way in which a police and crime commissioner would be able to influence a chief constable or interfere with the operational independence of the police. He dismisses the politicisation argument with a sweep of his hand, but he knows that real concerns have been expressed about operational independence and politicisation. It is worth repeating some of the points that have been made. Let us imagine that, if the Bill is passed, an election will take place at some time in the distant future, perhaps on
By putting these provisions back into the Bill, the Minister makes it difficult for us to believe that there will not be a conflict between someone elected on a manifesto like that and a chief constable who says, “Hang on a minute. I don’t think that is the right policing priority for this area. The right policing priority for this area is not having police in that neighbourhood. My professional judgment says that they should be placed here and there. I am going to take some officers from their duty in that neighbourhood and put them into a domestic or sexual violence unit or a fraud unit. These will be front-line officers, but not in the sense of being visible, uniformed officers on the street.”
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, but he lulls us into thinking that this is a new thing. Was not Tony Blair’s summit on knife crime when he was Prime Minister—when he called all the chief constables to No. 10 Downing street to discuss what could be done about that crime—an example of a politician quite rightly reflecting public concern over a type of crime and influencing the police to do something about it? Is that not exactly the same as the power of influence that the police and crime commissioners will have, and is it not a good thing?
Obviously, people try to influence what the police do. I have no problem with that and, of course, I sat on some of the summits that the Prime Minister called, which brought chief constables together to deal with a national issue of importance and concern. What is different is where someone is elected on a manifesto at a local level, which might contain specific commitments about what should happen in that local area. That is the fundamental difference between those circumstances and what the Bill proposes.
Because the person will have a specific local democratic mandate and will have been elected on certain pledges, it is different from a Prime Minister or other national politicians responding to a problem that has arisen and working with the police to try to deal with it. The context is totally different.
Before my hon. Friend moves away from specialist units, their work is very important, but the general public might not see what those officers are doing in the local area. Such units are often set up because of the failings of traditional policing after tragic events like the Soham murders or other instances when the police forces might have failed to work effectively together.
That is the point I am making. Front-line officers are not just uniformed officers visible on the street; they might include officers in the specialist units to which my hon. Friend refers. I agree that they are particularly important.
Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a big difference between this and the approach adopted under the Labour Government, which was about highlighting a problem or concern when something needed to be done? It was about how to hear from the police and how to learn from them about what was needed to tackle issues like antisocial behaviour, for instance, thereby providing the tools necessary to do the job. It was about teamwork between the Government the police, which contrasts greatly with what is happening now.
That is absolutely right. The teamwork, collaboration and partnership working was, I think, one of the consequences of a Bill that my right hon. Friend took through in 1998. I believe that was one of the most successful reforms carried out under the last Government.
Let me deal with a fundamental issue that will be dealt with more fully in the next group of amendments. It is important, so I shall refer to it now, as it is one of the crucial issues on which the hon. Member for Cannock Chase might want to reflect further. When Tony Blair was Prime Minister, one thing he could not do was sack chief constables in individual areas. Under the Bill, however, the police and crime commissioner will be able to sack the chief constable, without the police and crime panel having any power to control it. That is an important difference; in my view, it is a big flaw in the Bill.
Is my hon. Friend as puzzled as I am that although, apparently, the new Metropolitan Police Commissioner has had a photo call with the Home Secretary—before she came into the Chamber—and the policing Minister has been at the Dispatch Box, there still has not been an announcement to Parliament of the new appointment. Everyone knows that it is Mr Hogan-Howe, but apparently the House of Commons does not know. Has my hon. Friend been told the name of the new Metropolitan Police Commissioner?
Order. It might be helpful if Vernon Coaker gave way to the Home Secretary.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.
I am tempted to say that there is no need for me to rise to my feet now, given that the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee has given the name of the new commissioner. As I have just come into the Chamber, the policing Minister and I were discussing the best way to announce to the House the appointment of Bernard Hogan-Howe as Metropolitan Police Commissioner. He is the former chief constable of Merseyside, where he had a fine record of crime fighting, seeing crime levels go down by just under 40% over three to four years. I am sure that he will bring that crime-fighting capability to London and the Metropolitan police.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is good that the Home Secretary has now spoken to the House, but before this debate, when the Chancellor was at the Dispatch Box, the new commissioner’s appointment was widely publicised on television. So, as my right hon. Friend the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee was suggesting, the appointment has not come to the attention of the House as quickly as it should have.
The right hon. Gentleman has been in the House a long time and will recognise that that is not a point of order. He has put his point on the record.
The issue of the politicisation of operational independence is important, but Members have also referred to the huge problems that will be caused by having one police and crime commissioner to represent such a large number of areas and communities. Despite that, the Government are reinserting the proposal in the Bill with no indication of how they expect such problems to be overcome. We have heard from Devon and Cornwall and Avon and Somerset about this issue of size, yet the Minister just says that it will not be a problem. We also learn from the Minister that he believes that the Bill contains proper checks and balances and that, therefore, the reinstatement of the provision is not a problem. However, he fails to point out to Members that the police and crime panel has only two powers. One—to be fair to the Government, they have amended the majority that is required from three quarters to two thirds—is the veto over the appointment of the chief constable, and the other is the veto over the precept. That is it. The police and crime panel has no other power. The policing Minister wants us to disagree with the Lords amendments on the basis of his assertion that the Bill contains proper checks and balances, but I say to him that the police and crime panel has only two real powers to hold the police and crime commissioner to account.
Is not the hon. Gentleman doing a disservice to the future police and crime panels? They will doubtless be composed of notable members of the community, perhaps with expertise in crime and the justice system, and they will have an incredible platform from which to address the local media and engage in a debate on local television and radio. I envisage that kind of check and balance on a potentially wayward police and crime commissioner coming from the panels. So they will not have just two powers; they will probably have three, the third being the power of voice.
Of course they will have the power of voice. I have the power of voice here, but I shall still lose the vote, unless something goes dramatically wrong. I can still argue for what I think is right, but at the end of the day a police and crime panel will have no real sanction or power to change what a police and crime commissioner is doing if it believes it to be wrong, apart from the two specific powers that I have mentioned. As will become clear when we debate the next group of amendments, the panel will not even have the power to veto the sacking of a chief constable. The police and crime commissioner will have a completely unfettered power.
The Minister told us that the Government had listened to what the Lords had said, and that a chief constable who was to be sacked would be able to go to the police and crime panel and tell it why the police and crime commissioner was wrong. The panel would not have any power to do anything about it, but the chief constable could make representations to it. That might be a good thing, but it does not alter the fact that a chief constable in that position would have no proper right of appeal. The hon. Gentleman is right in saying that the police and crime panel can say what it thinks, but ultimately it can be ignored by the police and crime commissioner, except in the two specific instances that I have mentioned.
In what circumstances does the hon. Gentleman believe that a police and crime commissioner would go solo and make a serious decision like that against all the interests of the community and, indeed, the other elected politicians and councillors who might reside in the area? How likely is that to happen?
There are a number of possible examples. Let me give the hon. Gentleman one of them. If an election is approaching and a chief constable is refusing to follow the priorities on which someone intends to stand, what would prevent that person from saying to the chief constable, “Unless you announce that you will introduce neighbourhood policing, put bobbies on the beat and keep this police station open, all of which I will include in my manifesto, I will sack you”? There is no power for anyone to stop a police and crime commissioner from doing that to a chief constable.
I know that the hon. Gentleman takes a keen interest in this matter, and I know that he would be as anxious about such circumstances as I would be. He may think that they will never arise, but he and I both know that many situations arise that were not predicted. I should have thought that any Government would want at least to include a provision ensuring that police and crime commissioners did not have an unfettered power, but as the Bill stands it is completely unfettered.
My hon. Friend's point speaks for itself. It illustrates some of the problems that can arise in connection with police and crime commissioners.
I will not rehearse all of what has been said before, but the Minister has asked us to disagree with the Lords in their amendment, and to reinsert the original proposals on police and crime commissioners in the Bill. The “one person” argument, the “operational independence” argument and the politicisation argument are all still there, as is the lack of power for the police and crime panel—the fact that it is a toothless watchdog—yet the Minister is telling us that he is right, and that everyone else is wrong. In their amendment 6 on the police commission model, the Lords attempt to overcome some of the existing problems—such as having one omnipotent person, as the Government would like—by ensuring that the police and crime panel is established as set out in the Bill and that the police and crime commissioner is appointed from among that group of people.
This group of amendments also addresses the delayed election issue. I know some of my hon. Friends want to say a little more about the Welsh aspect of that, and I fully understand and support their argument.
We oppose in principle both the elections and police and crime commissioners. We also believe that if the Government are going to press ahead, May 2012 is a ridiculous date given issues such as the speed with which things would be required to be put in place and the Olympics. The Government apparently now agree with that, but have come up with the equally stupid idea of holding the elections in November. That would be costly, and there would also be further problems that have been pointed out not by the Opposition—my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary has not pointed this out—but by the Electoral Commission, including the problems of daylight hours and of the electoral canvass going on at the same time. The Electoral Commission is a body that is independent of this House, and it has pointed out to the Minister that it is silly to delay things until November. Moreover, members of that commission have said that the cost of such a delay would be significant.
I therefore ask the Minister to tell us how on earth the Government have arrived at that date. Why are they delaying the elections? Is there any truth in the newspaper reports that it was in order to ensure that the Liberals voted for the Bill in totality? Is this another example of the tail wagging the dog?
If we give the Government the benefit of the doubt and accept that the delay is to allow more time for candidates to campaign and make themselves known to the public and for the untried and untested arrangements to be developed to the point where they might actually be implemented, would it not make sense to delay the elections until at least May 2013? That would enable the Government to increase the turnout and save on cost, whereas what they are doing is reducing the chances of a high turnout and increasing the cost, which seems completely nonsensical?
I agree with my hon. Friend about the logic of the Government arriving at the date of
There has been much debate about the cost of the elections. How has the figure of £25 million been arrived at? The Government have accepted the sum of £50 million, and £25 million is now to be added to that. As shown by Channel 4’s “FactCheck”, there is now a debate. We have also seen that a referendum that was held on the same day as other elections cost £89 million. Admittedly, that did not include Scotland, and this arrangement is just for England and Wales.
Again, there is no proper explanation, and that fault runs all the way through the Bill. Most of the time the Minister relies on assertion and saying, “This is the right thing to do” or “I don’t agree with what other people say.” Very little evidence is given, and there is seldom any resort to any studies that might have been done. Instead, there is just an assertion of what the Minister thinks is the right thing to do.
I shall conclude, as I know that many Members wish to speak—and I see that you are getting a bit restless as well, Mr Deputy Speaker. The Government have offered no real argument as to why these measures should be put back into the Bill, and they have no real answers to the questions that were raised throughout the Committee’s proceedings. They have offered no real argument as to why they think this delay is right, nor have they made any real assessment of the costs involved. They have offered no real argument as to why everyone else is wrong and they are right.
Even at this late stage, the Minister pretends to us that another little tidying-up exercise is needed. The change in respect of the financial code of practice is presented as merely a technical amendment, yet one of the key demands made in the Lords was that a code of practice was necessary in respect of the police and crime commissioners. However, apart from a few sentences of assertion from the Minister, we have no real idea even at this late stage about this financial code of practice, which will govern the way the police and crime commissioners operate. The Government have therefore produced not just another tweaking amendment, but have had to bring forward a major change. That is why we tabled our amendment about the importance of this change to chief constables. The Minister again just dismissed this, but perhaps he would agree with those who say, “Why shouldn’t the chief constable have some real say about what should be included in that financial code of practice and about the impact of police grant cuts on officer numbers?”
This is the wrong reform at the wrong time. If we were to ask people whether they would set as a higher priority this Government spending more than £100 million on the ideological experiment of police and crime commissioners or instead spending that money on police officers on the street, I think almost everyone in the country would say, “Let’s have police officers on the street and not spend £100 million on elections that nobody wants.”
I support the Government amendments, and would like to favour the House with some recollections from the two and a half years before the last general election when I did the job that Vernon Coaker does. In the course of my shadow duties, I had occasion to speak to a great number of police authorities, crime reduction partnerships and voters and I came to the following conclusion: while police authority members believed for wholly honourable motives that the proposed step was retrograde and potentially dangerous, I could find very little antagonism and opposition to the idea of elected police and crime commissioners—and I challenge the Opposition to produce evidence that that idea is unpopular with the British public.
If we rely on MORI—I do not see why we should not rely on it—we know the following about British public opinion. Over the past five or six years, it has regularly produced findings that demonstrate that police authorities, as vehicles for making the police accountable to the public they serve in any locality, are invisible. That is not a term of abuse. Some of my best friends are members of police authorities, and they take umbrage when it is suggested that they do not do a good job. Many of them do a good job, but the fact remains that they are invisible to the public.
The main thrust behind this proposal is to have a single focal point of accountability, much in the way that the disparate things that used to happen under the Greater London council and all the other bodies associated with the running and governance of London were brought together in the shape of a directly elected Mayor. By and large, that has been a very popular programme of government and a very good idea. Having a single focal point of accountability focuses people’s minds, as the public know that if something is going wrong in policing, there is one man or woman to whom they can go to find out whether it can be fixed and when it will be fixed.
I acknowledge the experience that the hon. Gentleman brings to these debates from his former shadow policing role. He challenged me to produce evidence of where this approach was not wanted, so may I refer him to the Liberty polling evidence produced a few months ago? I cannot remember the exact month when this was produced, but when people were asked who they would trust more to protect their family from crime, 65% said:
Some 15% said that they would prefer:
“A Chief Constable reporting to an individual politician elected as a Police and Crime Commissioner”.
There is some evidence for him.
I will not take issue with the skewed nature of the wording—“politician” is often a dirty word. I have no knowledge of the survey, but what many of the respondents would probably not understand is that the majority of those serving on a 17-person police authority are politicians—nine of them will be indirectly elected council members. So a clear political element is already involved, which brings me on to my next point.
It is true that the members of police authorities are indirectly elected and are party people. However, is not the difference that most of the commissioners will owe their allegiance directly to the political party that maintains the machine that gets them into power? They will have two people to whom they are obligated—they will have an obligation not only to the electorate, but to the political machine—and so they will be party political commissioners.
The hon. Gentleman makes the reasonable point that these people will fly under party colours. However, when getting elected as Members of Parliament for our constituencies we all fly under a party label and rely on a smooth-running local party machine—that is what we hope it is—to get us elected, and yet once elected our duty is to serve all our constituents without fear or favour. I know that he is a diligent constituency man, as I hope I am. I take up the issues and concerns raised by each individual who comes to see me in my advice centre, regardless of race, creed, colour, faith, party political persuasion and even whether they are nice to me or rude to me. All of us take that view, because it is in the nature of the office we hold. I would be very disappointed if a police commissioner, elected at the ballot box, as we hope will be the case a year this coming November, did not take that same view.
I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman is an extremely diligent MP who does not judge the people who come to his advice centre. The difference is that when a member of the public approaches him they know perfectly well that he is a Tory MP—I do not say that in any disparaging sense, because they would identify me as a Labour MP—but when they approach a member of the police they expect that person to be a politically neutral member of the police. People would not expect such a person to be the Tory or Labour police commissioner, and that is surely the distinction here.
There is a difference here, because we are not talking about having police officers—actual law enforcement officers—being party political, and neither is the hon. Gentleman. The commissioner will be a mode of accountability—on behalf of the public, who will have voted for him or her, they will be able to hold the chief constable to account in a more focused and single-minded way. They will do the job that the police authority attempts to do at the moment. We believe that it can be done better by one individual.
I wish to deal with the issue of politicisation and the democratic mandate. In the last Parliament, the Labour party came to a pretty similar conclusion to my party about the accountability arrangements—the answerability arrangements—that currently pertain, as did our colleagues on the Liberal Democrat Benches; we came to the conclusion that those arrangements were not adequate and that there was a democratic deficit. We know that because of what was said by the hon. Member for Gedling, and although that has already been cited by my hon. Friend Mr Burley, I wish to reinforce the point. In 2008, the then Labour Government’s draft legislative programme announced that there would be a Bill including proposals to provide
“a clear and powerful public voice in decision making through directly elected representatives”.
I understand that in the Committee stages of this Bill there were mild flirtations by Labour Members with various forms of direct election, and I think it is entirely proper for the Labour party to change its mind. I understand that the shadow Home Secretary now wants to ditch the whole idea of elections. However, let us just be non-partisan for a moment and accept that in the previous Parliament all three major political parties concluded that there was an argument for having a sharper, keener focus of responsibility. That involves letting the people or person holding the chief constable to account have a mandate from the public, arising from a direct election, on the basis of one person, one vote, in the police authority area over which a police and crime commissioner would preside. There is something incredibly important about a mandate being secured in that way, as both Labour and the Liberal Democrats were conceding in their policy pronouncements as recently as the end of the previous Parliament. So let us not kid ourselves that the end of the world is nigh as a result of this proposal for police and crime commissioners.
I accept the hon. Gentleman’s argument that there is a democratic deficit and that that needs to be addressed. I even accept his argument that the people making the decisions at the moment are not visible. But does he not recognise that there is another problem with electing someone who has responsibility for just one service: it excludes them from the normal political decision making that has to be undertaken by anyone elected to government or local government? Normal decision making would mean that the person involved would have to measure priorities for policing against those for social services, education or recreation. We are really going only half way if we elect only a police commissioner who does not have the rest of the local public services to deal with.
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. He has huge experience from being leader of one of the great cities of this country, he knows what he is talking about and he spoke eloquently in August about how the riots affected Manchester. His is a genuine point that is not easily resolvable. The idea is that a directly elected police commissioner will be able to set the precept, and one of the strengths of a police authority—probably the only strength I can think of—is the fact that a proportion of the members of that police authority also sit on the precept-raising authority with their councillor hat on. That means there is a connection between the council raising the precept and individual members of that council, wearing a different hat, sitting indirectly on the police authority. That was a useful nexus and it will not necessarily be the case here.
In practice, I would expect any police and crime commissioner worth his or her salt to listen carefully to the priorities of, and arguments put by, the leading group on the relevant precept-raising authority. I do not pretend that this proposal is perfect in that regard. There will be quite a big disconnect between the person wishing to set a police precept and the authority that has to go out and raise it, but that might be the rough edge of an otherwise quite unremarkable proposal. That returns me to my theme and my next point.
This is not a radical revolution that will throw all the police cards up in the air and it is not a case of letting the chips fall where they may. I do not believe that that is a sensible way to make public policy and neither do I think it is a sensible way of running the police service. I think we are in agreement on that point. However, many of the powers and duties of the new police and crime commissioner will be virtually identical to those of police authorities at the moment.
At the end of the last Parliament, I was rather a sad individual and I counted the number of duties and powers that police authorities had under a wide range of legislation from the Local Government Act 1999, under which they had value-for-money audit responsibilities, to the police Acts and so on. There were about 120 to 130 such duties and responsibilities and it seemed to me that those authorities exercised quite a lot of power over the police, such as the power to call police officers to account. I struggle to see how the panoply of powers possessed by the average police authority is very different from the powers, duties and responsibilities that a police and crime commissioner will have. We know that the setting of a precept is an identical power and we also know that police authorities, in conjunction with a chief constable, set police priorities and objectives for the year. Police authorities have strong views on the strategic objectives for a local police area and it seems to me that the police and crime commissioner will have similar strongly held views but will have the advantage, at least, of a public mandate through the ballot box when he or she sits down with the chief constable and they set out their plan to run the force in any given police area. Equally, police authorities can appoint and, in certain circumstances, dismiss chief constables. That is a power that police and crime commissioners will have, too. For me, those are the big ticket items.
Given the hon. Gentleman’s experience, I am interested in his view about the unfettered power of the police and crime commissioner to sack the chief constable. Does he believe that should be subject to the same veto provisions as the police and crime panel has for appointment and the precept?
My understanding is that that is not in the Bill, but I envisage that the occasions on which a police and crime commissioner will wish to dismiss a chief constable will be few and far between. As we know, under the old legislation, police authorities had the power to dismiss chief constables, but it was rarely used. Mr Blunkett intervened publicly to say that a police authority should exercise its power to dismiss an allegedly underperforming chief constable. Police authorities used the power extremely rarely, and I have no reason to suppose that an elected police and crime commissioner would be very different.
I say to those who are not taking comfort from my exposition of the fact that many of the duties of police authorities are merely being passported to police and crime commissioners that the Government have bent over backwards to put in place a panoply of safeguards. We have already heard about the police and crime panel. I know that the hon. Member for Gedling thinks that it has only two significant vetoes on the appointment of chief constables and on the precept, but its third duty will be to create a vibrant debate and hold the police and crime commissioner him or herself to account.
The hon. Member for Gedling spoke of a police and crime commissioner deciding to take beat officers or neighbourhood officers from their role and to put them into a rape crisis unit or domestic violence unit. I would fully expect the police and crime panel to pick up on that. I understand that there will be regular hearings at which the police and crime commissioner will be available to the police and crime panel to answer for such decisions. There will be a full and frank exchange of views in public. I hope that police and crime panels will hold hearings in the localities with witnesses, similar to those that take place in the Select Committees of this place, to put the police and crime commissioner through his or her paces on some of the strategic decisions he or she is making.
The police and crime panel will be an important safeguard, on top of which there will be the protocol referred to by Keith Vaz, the distinguished and eminent chair of the Select Committee on Home Affairs. Police authorities never overstepped the mark in discussing policing priorities with chief constables, partly because of the well understood convention enshrined in common law whereby the operational independence of a police officer is inviolable. I would expect the same restraint as we see exercised by elected politicians sitting indirectly on police authorities to operate in the case of police and crime commissioners.
In case we are not happy with that, however, there is the protocol. The right hon. Member for Leicester East was right to say that it is an important document that must be scrutinised, but I do not have any concerns that it will not put on the record what a police and crime commissioner can and cannot do in relation to their strategic priorities. My word, if that police and crime commissioner were to overstep the mark, I would be staggered if the chief constable and the police and crime panel did not investigate that and draw it to public attention. What better set of safeguards than the panel and the protocol could there be for ensuring that the inviolable operational independence of our police is observed?
I think the Government have probably gone further than many of their well-wishers would want them to go. We have put a great deal behind the argument that there should be openness and checks and balances; there should not be unfettered power in the hands of one elected commissioner.
There is another check or balance that might be more nebulous but is worth pointing out for the benefit of Members—the new role that we envisage Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary taking, particularly since the appointment of Sir Denis O’Connor. He has done all of us in the House a huge service in changing HMIC reports into police forces, their shortcomings and where they could deliver efficiencies from being turgid, boring documents that few people read into customer-facing documents, to use his phrase. He told me that the reports are written in plain English for the public. I see a huge role for HMIC of going into forces and not just talking to chief constables but interacting with police and crime commissioners and putting out data that measure the performance of the commissioners.
We need more sunlight to be shone into the corners of various police forces. It will not be just for the police and crime commissioners to do the awkward question-asking: it will also be for a wholly independent HMIC to tell the public in any given area how the police are doing and whether police and crime commissioners are making any difference—whether crime and the fear of it have gone up or down. It will also say whether enough attention is being paid to level-2 protective services and other things that are not so sexy, if I can put it that way, politically—things that will not necessarily be at the top of someone’s manifesto when they are campaigning to be a police and crime commissioner.
Some of those Cinderella services have been mentioned today. Examples include the shocking lack of attention that is paid to fraud in various forces and the way in which child protection, a specialist service that the police provide, does not get as much coverage as hooliganism, graffiti and antisocial behaviour. Those are all issues that the HMIC could address in its new-style reports. We should not forget that crime maps are another resource available to the average member of public to help determine whether standards of policing in a given area are improving and whether a police commissioner is contributing to that better fight against crime.
Let me address one last point. I have been asked by various members of my police authority in Suffolk what difference this measure will make and what one person could do, if they were elected as the police and crime commissioner for Suffolk, that the police authority could not do. My answer is that in all police forces across the country, on average, there were two very worrying statistics earlier this year, according to HMIC. First, on average, only 12% of the police officers on duty at any one time are, to use the jargon, visibly available to the public. Secondly, there are more officers available for duty and visibly so on a Monday morning at 9 o’clock than on a Friday at 9 pm. Those two statistics tell me that we are not running the police service as efficiently as we could. So, that one elected person could go to a chief constable and ask, “Hang on a minute—why have you got more uniformed officers on duty at 9 am on a Monday than at 9 pm on a Friday?” I believe that 9 pm on a Friday is when, to use the parlance, things kick off; we know that that time is bound to be busier.
Even in Bury St Edmunds, I dare say. Let me repeat the other statistic, because it is quite shocking. Fewer than one in eight uniformed officers are available to respond to the public visibly. That includes not only response units going around the streets but also those handling such calls—the visible availability. There must be a better way of asking any chief constable searching questions about why that is happening on their patch or police force area.
I conclude by saying that police authorities have had many years to ask some of those difficult questions, but those two statistics, shocking as they are, represented the situation in July 2011. The police authorities have had their fair crack but they have not been able to squeeze the efficiencies and to ask the difficult questions that they should have. It is time for them to move over and for the police and crime commissioners to have a crack and see whether they can do better. It is in that spirit of cheerful optimism that I support the amendments moved by my right hon. Friend the Minister.
It is a pleasure to follow Mr Ruffley, who is very knowledgeable about these matters. I shall speak only briefly and I begin by apologising because I have to be away before the end of the debate because the chairman of the committee on homeland security from the United States Congress is coming to meet members of the Select Committee to discuss counter-terrorism.
I want to speak very briefly on these matters and I do not want to repeat the debate we have had before about the principle of police commissioners. However, I accept what my hon. Friend Vernon Coaker said about this being an attempt by the Government to reposition police and crime commissioners at the heart of the Bill. I know that all Members have heard the arguments before and, as we have just heard, opinions are deeply held on both sides of the House.
I shall concentrate on three issues. First, I was disappointed that the announcement of the new Metropolitan Police Commissioner was not made to the House. It has become a feature to announce resignations to the House and I think that such important appointments ought to be announced here first rather than to the BBC and Sky News. However, I am glad that the Home Secretary heard the mood of the House and rushed in here to make her announcement by intervening on my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling. I join the Home Secretary and my hon. Friend in congratulating Bernard Hogan-Howe on his appointment; I know that he comes with enormous experience. He was the only candidate for the position of chief executive of the new National Crime Agency, but he was plucked from that job and made the acting deputy commissioner, and now hehas the top job. It is a very demanding job and I wish him well.
Let me make two quick points about the Bill. As I said in my intervention, I welcome the Minister back, and I think he has done excellent work on the protocol, which is an example of what can happen when a Select Committee makes a recommendation. We called it a memorandum of understanding—we started with the Magna Carta, but felt that was too grand and downgraded it—and it has become a protocol. The Minister and others have been in discussions about the protocol and we look forward to seeing the latest draft—he sent me a draft in July—because it is important that the Select Committee is involved in these processes. That is especially true of Mark Reckless, who is not in his place at the moment but is very keen on these matters and wants to be involved in the discussions. We have to remember that although ACPO and the Home Office may agree the protocol, the third part of the triangle has not even been elected yet. We do not have any police and crime commissioners, but if we are to have a protocol, they will have to be consulted on it in some way.
I should point out that the protocol was negotiated with the deputy mayor with responsibility for policing in London and with a representative of the Association of Police Authorities—the chair of a police authority. That side of policing governance was therefore represented. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that that is important.
Indeed. I thank the Minister for reminding me. I know that he has mentioned it to me before. He is right. It is important that those two individuals are consulted, but neither of them is going to be a police and crime commissioner. Kit Malthouse is very experienced, but he is already there. A bit of wiggle room may be needed when we get to the end of the process. Let us wait and see. However, the Minister has made excellent progress.
I am concerned about the timing of the election. When Ministers appeared before the Select Committee they were emphatic. We asked them to delay the election until May 2013, after the Olympics, but they emphatically replied that they thought everyone would be able to cope and the election should be held in May 2012. Delaying it until November at an additional cost of £25 million, over and above the cost of police and crime commissioners, is in my view an example of the fact that money can be found when there is a political will to find it.
When negotiations have to be conducted with the Treasury, Ministers are very willing to enter into such negotiations, but I understand from the Home Secretary that the matter has not yet been signed off by the Treasury. When she appeared before the Select Committee on Thursday, she said that she was in negotiations with the Treasury. I should have thought that if the Prime Minister says, “Find the money,” and the Home Secretary says, “Find the money,” even the Chancellor of the Exchequer ought to accept that. I am not sure what the negotiations are about, but I assume the Minister will get his £25 million.
There is an issue about money, but does my right hon. Friend share my concern that in the past the Government have resisted setting a threshold for the elections? Holding them in November is, as we heard, likely to depress the turnout. What level of turnout would give a new commissioner legitimacy—for example, in the west midlands, with a population of 5 million?
I shall leave it to my hon. Friend to decide what level of turnout is acceptable for the west midlands, with its population of 5 million. My concern is the electoral register. At that time, electoral registration officers will be involved in their annual canvass. Nobody likes to campaign in November. I cannot remember the last time we had elections in November, although the Minister will no doubt tell us when he winds up. It has certainly not happened in my time in the House, and I have been here for more than 24 years.
November is, of course, not the best weather to campaign, and I am not sure that everyone will open the door to Members of Parliament, even Members as charming as the Minister and the shadow Minister. The register will be in the process of being compiled, it will not be complete, and the basis of the register will be May 2013. The Minister needs to reassure us on this point, but I hope very much that we will take into consideration some of the comments that have been made. I look forward to hearing replies to some of them in the Minister’s winding-up speech.
It is always a pleasure to follow Keith Vaz. May I say how glad I am that he had such a good shooting trip over the weekend, which I fixed for him with the Indian cricket team? I hope their shooting was better than their cricket.
I support the Government’s attempts to reverse Lords amendments 1 to 4. If I had not been convinced of the arguments for doing so before tonight’s debate, I would have been convinced after I heard Vernon Coaker. I suspect he might accuse me of misquoting him, but he said that one of the problems with the election of police commissioners is that they will have a democratic mandate. Surely that is what the proposal is all about. Arguing against it on the basis of a fear that somebody might have a democratic mandate does not sit comfortably with the whole direction of the coalition Government.
I shall concentrate on two themes—first, communities and the police, as they are affected by the election of police commissioners, and secondly, a wider discussion of the broader consequences. Hon. Members know that I represent a small part of the Dyfed Powys constabulary in west Wales. There is always a perception that the priorities and work load of rural police forces are different from those of other forces, and to a great extent they are, but even a constabulary such as Dyfed Powys, which has a huge geographical area to cover, covers some intensely urban and suburban areas which have all the same problems as any other part of Britain.
That is a particularly good example for the House to consider and to which we can apply the principle of elected commissioners to see whether the arguments stack up. I do not think that anyone on either side of the argument is suggesting that the current situation with respect to police authorities is perfect. Of course it is far from perfect. Nobody is arguing that the proposal is perfect in every detail but it is argued, with some validity, that it is considerably better than the situation we have put up with for 50 years. Let us not forget that police authorities have largely been operating under the same structure for that length of time, yet the challenge facing policing and the social dynamic of Britain has changed radically over that period. It is entirely sensible that we should seriously consider reforming the manner in which governance is applied.
There seems to be no question but that the relationship between communities, whether they are urban, rural or suburban, is at best remote and strained, and that when these recommendations are in place, it will be considerably enhanced. Much of the debate has been about the politicisation of the role. I think we exaggerate that. Having read over the weekend some of the contributions to the debate in another place, I recommend to hon. Members the contribution of Lord Dear, who was a serving officer in the west midlands for 40 years. He was happy to go on the record as saying that his initial reservations about the proposal had been gradually eroded as the debate unfolded.
The idea that there is no politicisation now is absurd. There is a huge degree of politics in policing now. Chief constables make rather adept politicians, as it turns out. They agonise over press releases and over the relationship that they have with politicians in their area. In an intervention, I mentioned my force, Dyfed Powys. I feel rather sorry for the chief constable. Not only does he have a wide range of MPs to deal with from various political parties, but he has a wide range of Assembly Members representing different parties, and several different local authorities. He has to balance the relationships that he has with all those individuals.
The idea that a single elected police commissioner can storm into that relationship, overpower a chief constable and not be held to account by the numerous other elected representatives in that area is exaggerated. It is an excuse to try and undermine a good idea, rather than an evidential basis upon which to do that.
The role of commissioners will be the political one. To coin a phrase, the commissioners will do the politics, enabling the chief constables to do the policing. I do not know whether many Opposition Members look at the website “Labour Uncut”—it is probably their equivalent of “Conservative Home”—but even “Labour Uncut” thinks this is one of the Prime Minister’s better ideas. I think it goes so far as to say that it is his only good idea, a view that I do not share. It grudgingly reaches the conclusion that this democratic improvement is something that the coalition Government got right.
Continuing the theme of politics interfering with police forces, Lord Dear’s speech in April this year referred to his time in HMIC and in particular to Derbyshire police authority 15 to 20 years ago. If ever there was an example of intense political interference with a police force, that was it. It was staunchly party political and had a hugely debilitating effect on that police force. The consequence was that Lord Dear, in his position in HMIC, had to judge the force to be not fit for purpose as a direct result of the party political interference and the sub-standard police authority at the time. Therefore, the idea that this risk applies only to future proposals and has in no way poisoned the operation of constabularies in the past is also a complete myth. I concede the points made by the hon. Member for Gedling and acknowledge that there are concerns. The Minister has addressed some of those and, I am sure, will address more as the evening wears on.
Taking this from a police officer’s perspective, we can see that it is all the more important to address these concerns publicly now. The argument that this is a one-size-fits-all solution and that, because constabularies are not all the one size, it cannot possibly work in all places needs further explanation. The officers’ concerns about the ownership—not in the physical sense—of staff issues, building-related issues and the more mundane elements of policing are, in debating terms, unfinished business.
We also need to reassure people about political ideology. In our various debates on police reform, political ideology has somehow been labelled a negative influence. If political ideology includes the desire to make a police force more accountable and cost-effective and to give better value for money, that is an ideology that I am more than happy to sign up to. In going about our duty, we should not attempt to scare potential voters in these important elections into believing that someone who adopts ideology should be avoided at all costs. There will of course be political ideology, whoever ends up in these positions and whatever party they represent. Even if the status quo were to continue, political ideology pervades the system.
The Minister will no doubt offer some reassurances on the points raised about the crime panel, although I am less worried about it than others seem to be. There will be a large number of locally accountable people in my area of Dyfed Powys who will be very sensitive to the risk of one man going off piste and running a solo political operation at the expense of the voters who put him there, which I think would be extremely unlikely.
The hon. Gentleman says that he thinks that would be extremely unlikely, but given the fact that it could happen, however unlikely, and the seriousness of a PCC’s unfettered ability to sack a chief constable, does he not agree that the Bill should at least provide HMIC, for instance, with a reserve power to refer such a sacking to the Home Secretary so that he or she could judge whether anything untoward had happened? Is not some sort of reserve power necessary to protect against such an eventuality, however unlikely?
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, but I am not sure that that necessarily needs to be in the Bill. I think that there are sufficient checks and balances in the process anyway. His question pre-supposed that the existing system is risk free, but clearly it is not. We have all seen examples of the relationship between police authorities, local communities and chief constables breaking down. I argue that the proposals we have heard debated on numerous occasions so far during this Parliament represent a better and safer version of what we currently have. I share neither his concerns, nor his optimism that we can design a piece of legislation that is 100% risk free. I do not think that that is possible either in this area, or in many others.
To me the arguments that this is an improvement on the existing arrangements are reasonably compelling. However, I take the hon. Gentleman’s point and do not think that it has necessarily been answered in a way that is convincing for us, let alone for the people it will affect directly, either those who will vote, or those who will do the enforcing. Both deserve a clear answer. On that point, further clarification on what action will be taken in the event of a failure is significant, because I am not convinced—I am not sure about other hon. Members—that if the relationship between the chief constable and the elected commissioner breaks down for any reason, there are sufficient checks and balances to ensure that that will not have a negative effect downstream.
I want to move on to some of the broad consequences of what we are discussing, because as the year has worn on the debates that we have held here have clearly affected the morale of officers, both senior and junior, and volunteers and civilian staff in police forces. This debate, and what the Minister has said and will continue to say, is a good opportunity to try to attach some certainty to the proposals. If police officers in Dyfed Powys are anything to go by, it is the lack of certainty on what the future holds that has contributed to the unease, which I think we should all attempt to avoid.
Members on both sides of the House are guilty of bandying about statistics as if they were the only thing that matters. Perhaps we could be a little more circumspect when talking about the numbers of officers on the front line. That can have a very demoralising effect on those officers who provide a fantastic service across Britain and yet somehow feel that they are becoming the subject of criticism when we mention a figure of 12% for the front line. I think it behoves the Government—dare I say it—and Opposition Members to ensure that the statistics we use are meaningful and contextualised, rather than just used in throw-away comments, which can have a pretty debilitating effect on forces attempting to do difficult jobs in difficult circumstances. I am constantly concerned about how it sounds when we dismiss the role of back-office police staff.
There are constant attacks on the back office, or the middle—a term introduced today—as if these people sit around doing nothing. I do not know what they do, but that is the image that the Government are trying to put across, as if we can sweep all those people away and service will be unaffected.
I certainly do not think that that is the Government’s position. It might be the position taken by some of the media, but I do not believe for one minute that the Government are attempting to underplay the importance of some of those jobs. I just think that sometimes, in the interpretation, we attach less value to the back office than we do to the front line. That seems to be an interpretation of the tone in which Members from both sides of the House sometimes speak. For those doing vital back-office intelligence jobs, or even those providing relatively mundane services to support front-line officers, that can have a very debilitating effect. I think that the packaging, tone and messaging of this kind of debate is an area where we owe the recipients rather more care than perhaps we have been able to provide so far.
A police officer said to me only this morning that the House is sometimes guilty of basing this argument purely on efficiency. The expression, “We’re all in it together” sometimes triggers a groan from Opposition Members, but for many officers who are looking with a pretty uncertain eye at what the future might hold for them and their families, it would be more helpful if we were to say that what is happening is part of rectifying a wider economic issue than we have perhaps been able to stress so far. I also think that there has been a fixation—I try to be balanced about these things, but Opposition Members sometimes test the patience of all of us, and on this particular point a little too far—that somehow there is always a correlation between police numbers and police efficiency. Whatever survey or piece of evidence we tend to look at these days, there is an increasing amount of information, which should enable us to come to the view that the two things are not always connected. They are some of the time, but the idea that an efficient police force is a big police force is a myth that this debate has to some extent helped to dispel.
In public opinion terms, however, we have to go quite a lot further, because that idea leads unfortunately to a problem whereby the public have confidence in their police force only so long as it is a bigger police force which is expanding its numbers, whereas we should be reassuring voters and, in particular, vulnerable members of society that an efficient police force, which finds ways of carrying out its work better for less and involving fewer people does not mean that they will not be safe in their beds at night. We exploit the fixation with numbers irresponsibly if that someone happens to be a pensioner wondering whether they are going to be burgled.
What emerges from that intervention is that the hon. Gentleman reads Tory leaflets and I do not, and he can keep reading as far as I am concerned, but the fact is that evidence now goes so far as to show even opposite trends. We do not have to go into that now, because I suspect that it is slightly outwith the amendment, but I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman uses his time so wisely.
Having started from the position of being a little sceptical about how a police commissioner covering such a vast area of urban and rural Wales could be effective, I have slowly but enthusiastically come to the conclusion that they will have an incentive to take into account public mood, public aspiration and public desire in a way that the current arrangements do not, and that it is a good thing, because it will therefore automatically lead to police priorities being more sensitive to a community’s requirements. If that happens, public satisfaction with and confidence in the police will I trust improve, and if that happens so will value for money in real terms and the perceived value for money of police forces, which are undoubtedly having to do some things that neither we nor they wanted them to do.
Although significant concerns have been well and reasonably articulated in the House, they in no way override the benefits to my constituents of proceeding with elected commissioners next year. We all know that they will not work perfectly everywhere all the time—no proposal that any of us has seen will do that—but one thing is certain: they will bring the community closer to their police force than is the case at the moment, and that is all the more to their credit.
I believe firmly that if we have good chief constables, which by and large we do, and if we have good police commissioners, which I have no doubt we will—let us face it, they are going to earn twice as much as a
Member of Parliament, which probably means that they will be twice as good, and there is no reason to believe that they will not be extremely efficient and conscious of the impartial role that they have to play—that will lead to a vast improvement on the existing situation, recreate public confidence and trust in the police force and deliver value for money. As our friends in the Treasury remind us, that is never far away from such debates, but sometimes we lose sight of the fact that we have an economic mountain to climb.
We do not need to go into all that now, but this is one small part of the climb, so I will happily support the Government in opposing Lords amendments 1 to 4, and I hope that other Members will do likewise.
I will be brief, because I know that other hon. Members wish to speak.
August reminded us why our police service matters. In the face of the worst outbreak of rioting and arson that that this country has seen in 30 years, terrorising communities all over England, including in Birmingham, our police were truly heroic. They were the thin blue line, acting decisively to restore order in the most difficult circumstances, and they were under outstanding leadership from their chief constable, Chris Sims, a man who acted decisively not because he needed to be told to do so by politicians returning from holiday, or by putative police commissioners, but because he was going to put right a terrible wrong—the outrage of what we were seeing on the streets of Birmingham.
In that process, Chief Constable Sims made it clear to Birmingham Members of Parliament that he was utterly determined to defend the British model of community policing. What was so impressive about the way he put it was this: he told us how he had become a police constable a year before the 1981 riots; how he had lived through some dramatic moments throughout the ’80s, ’90s and into this century, with tensions on the street and, sometimes, widespread public disorder; how he, like the rest of our police service, had learned painful lessons from the mistakes of the past; and that what the police service had done was to fashion a model of community policing that he and his fellow chief constables were absolutely determined to defend—what he called the bedrock of our ability to police more generally and to restore order in those most desperately difficult circumstances.
That model is based on trust, confidence and consent, and it must never, ever be put at risk by the politicisation—of the wrong kind—of our police service, be it loose talk from Ministers of water cannon and baton rounds, which would have been exactly the wrong thing to use, or this proposal to elect police commissioners. We undermine that British model of community policing, with independent chief constables able to make crucial operational decisions, at our peril and at the peril of the model itself.
The proposal for the election of police commissioners is also a grotesque waste of money: £112 million to be spent on the election of 41-odd police commissioners, some of whom might well indeed be odd. That money could put back on the streets 3,000 police officers. In the west midlands, the proposal would also see one man or woman elected to cover an entire conurbation, the nature of which is very different from one end to the other, of 5 million people.
The Government appear determined to plough on regardless with this proposal, as they do with the cuts to our police service—1,200 police officers will go in the west midlands. Ministers must recognise that if they want to spend money they should do so on police officers at the sharp end and on supporting them, not on elected police commissioners, not least because the impossible pressures being generated by Ministers are leading to perverse outcomes at the sharp end in the midlands. They include the revelations in the past fortnight that the police have had to use G4S to undertake major police functions, such as the investigations into the tragic killing of the three young men in Winson Green, the shooting at the Barton Arms during the riots and the murder in terrible circumstances of a 63-year-old in Northfield.
Because the police are so short of key staff, they are having to use G4S, employing many “A19” officers to perform the same duties now as they did in the past, in circumstances where they would far rather be in a bobby’s uniform than that of G4S—and at £20 an hour, which is far more than police officers would have been paid. The part-privatisation of our police service is the perverse consequence of the pressures that the Government are putting on chief constables at the sharp end.
I would like any hon. Member in this House who went to the people of his or her constituency last May and said, “Vote for me—I will cut the police”, to put their hand up. I suspect we will be waiting for that for a very long time. As my hon. Friend Vernon Coaker said in his excellent contribution, we must work without hesitation further to improve how democratic accountability operates. At a time like this, elected police commissioners are the wrong priority at the worst possible time.
I say this to Government Members, including Ministers: at the heart of this debate has been a creeping attempt by Government to undermine confidence in our police service. I know from talking to police officers at the sharp end that they strongly resent the constant assertion that they do not understand what the people in the communities they serve need and want from their police service. By working with those communities and elected police authorities, the British model of community policing sees fine men and women in uniform far more attuned to what their communities want. We put that at risk at our peril. Ministers should stop undermining the police.
I endorse the opening remarks of Jack Dromey in as much as I pay tribute to the police for the way they handled the recent riots and the like. Where I differ from him is that I would argue that recent circumstances have strengthened the argument in favour of elected police commissioners.
Two of the most widely used words in Government and public administration are “transparency” and “accountability”, and rightly so, yet the idea of proper meaningful oversight by a democratically accountable individual is being rejected or it is argued should be watered down in such a way that it would do little more than maintain the status quo. The question has been asked, “Where is the demand for this from the general public?” Of course, that demand is inevitably somewhat limited. Those such as ourselves, local councillors and the like, who take a day-to-day interest in these matters, will argue the case one way or the other. The general public—most of them, anyway—come into contact with the police only on relatively infrequent occasions, and it is then, if something goes wrong, that they want to know who to turn to for assistance.
Police authorities are anonymous and deliver no real accountability. To give an example from my constituency of Cleethorpes, which is part of the Humberside force area, the two councils on my side of the Humber—North Lincolnshire and North East Lincolnshire—have three representatives on the police authority, which has 17 members. On alternate years, they have only two representatives; it is a bizarre situation. People do not know who to turn to because the authority is completely and utterly anonymous.
In the same way that the profit motive energises the private sector, the democratic process and the electoral mandate that it generates energises and gives vitality to public bodies and authorities. Without it, they face a real danger of becoming inward-looking and, very likely, of not delivering the service expected of them by the public. I reject the argument that having elected commissioners brings politics into policing and destroys Sir Robert Peel’s vision, which has served us so well for many generations. As Keith Vaz said, there will need to be clear ground rules that establish the working relationship between the commissioner and the chief constable. I was pleased that the Minister addressed that and recognised that we must get exactly the right protocols in place.
Once these ground rules are in place, it is imperative that neither the commissioner nor the chief constable move away from them. Inevitably, the commissioner will have to articulate the concerns of those whom he or she represents and ensure that the policies put forward at the time of their election are implemented. He or she must not publicly undermine the authority of the police chief; neither must the chief constable or his officers undermine or publicly criticise the commissioner.
I said that recent events—the riots and the like—have strengthened the argument for commissioners. The exchange of arguments between highly placed officers who made some very unacceptable and unwarranted remarks was unseemly and undermined the authority of Ministers—or the police, depending on which side of the argument one was on. These attempts to undermine political authority go further than the outspoken comments during the recent riots: such political interventions by the police can trickle down even to parish level. I am sure that many Members will have experienced in their past days as councillors, and so on, the arguments that are constantly put forward to councils—parish councils and the like—that the problem is all due to budget cuts made here or there. In effect, that undermines the elected authority that oversees the police, despite the fact that it is, as I said, somewhat anonymous.
There are alternatives. We could muddle along with the existing system of anonymous authorities manned by sincere, hard-working individuals. However, that system does not meet the needs of a modern democracy, which, if it means anything, must give our constituents a choice between competing candidates and their views on how we should be policed. There have been arguments in favour of elected police authority chairs. Many years ago, I was an advocate of that, but the more one looks at it, the more difficult one can see that it would be. What if the unelected appointed individuals on the police authority disagreed with the elected chairman? Who would win out in that situation? There is a parallel with planning inspectors overruling planning committees; we all know the arguments that that can give rise to. Because of the artificial geography of police force areas such as mine—Humberside—we are not quite moving towards localism, but getting there.
This is not the end of British policing as we know it but a major step towards introducing a system that can deliver the transparency and accountability that I am sure the whole House would approve of.
I am grateful to be able to speak to the amendment in my name and the names of my hon. Friends. The amendment is specifically about how the Bill affects Wales. In particular, it is about the relationship between the National Assembly for Wales, the Welsh Government and the British Government, and about the decision to hold the election for police commissioners in November.
When we last debated this, we talked about the so-called respect agenda, which respects the views, positions, functions and responsibilities of the devolved Administrations, Assemblies and Parliaments in the United Kingdom. The Minister touched on this in his speech when he rightly pointed out that the business of policing is not devolved—that it is still a reserved matter. My right hon. Friend Mr Blunkett, who is sitting in front of me, agreed, when he was Home Secretary, that there should not be devolution of policing as we know it to the Welsh Assembly. However, 10 years of devolution have passed, and we now have a shared responsibility for matters that touch on police, crime and justice. Although the National Assembly for Wales does not have a specific responsibility for policing, the Minister knows that half the money that goes to police forces in Wales comes from the National Assembly, because local government in Wales is devolved. In addition, the Assembly and the Welsh Assembly Government have functions and duties that are central to the operation of policing. The relationship between the Home Office, the Welsh Assembly Government and the National Assembly is therefore crucial. I fear that by continuing to push the Bill through both Houses, the Government will damage the relationship between Cardiff and London.
The Minister and the House will recall that, uniquely, the Welsh Assembly refused to give legislative consent to part 1 of the Bill. That is unprecedented. Similarly, because of the special relationship that the Welsh Assembly has to policing, the Culture and Communities Committee of the Assembly asked the Government to delay the implementation of police commissioners in Wales until it saw how the measure worked in England and could understand how it would affect Wales. That request was ignored.
Worse, the Government are now insisting on a November election in Wales without consulting the Welsh Assembly Government or the National Assembly. We have more elections in Wales, as we have had over the past year. We have had the referendum on extra powers, we have elections for the National Assembly and there are local government elections next year.
The Minister knows that the cost of the election for the whole of the United Kingdom, which was a matter of debate some hours ago, will be at least £25 million more than was expected. He says that that money would not necessarily have been spent on policing, but it could have been. He dismisses the additional £25 million on top of the £50 million that was already to be spent. One should compare that with what was said by the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, Mr Harper, who told the House not so very long ago—this is rather pertinent because of today’s and tomorrow’s news—that reducing the number of Members of this House of Commons by 50 will save £12 million. By changing the day of one election, that amount has been doubled over night—so much for those predictions about money being saved.
Who on earth wants elections in November? All of us who have been involved in elections for too long to remember know that elections in November have disastrous turnouts. Add together the dark evenings and an electoral register still under discussion, and I would place a bet here in the House of Commons that the turnout for the elections for police commissioners will be rock bottom. Heaven only knows who might be elected on a low turnout.
The Minister and others talk about operational accountability. Of course Prime Ministers, Secretaries of State and Ministers do not tell the police what to do. When I was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and held responsibility for policing, I never told the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland what to do, although we would discuss it. However, can it be imagined that those who want to be elected on a very local level as police commissioner will not campaign on what are effectively operational issues? Add to that that the nuttiest people are likely to be elected if the turnout is low. That is a dangerous development that we face.
Our constituents simply will not understand how we can spend £25 million on changing the day of the election for police commissioners, £50 million on the elections themselves, and millions of pounds on administering the position of police commissioners, when over the next two years in Wales at least 800 police officers will get the sack.
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will help me by spelling out the effect of his amendment. Would the Welsh Assembly not need to hold elections for police commissioners or would it still have a duty to select a date for the elections?
Welsh Members of Parliament, the majority of Assembly Members, the majority of the non-Labour members of the Welsh Local Government Association, every single police authority in Wales and virtually every police officer I have talked to thinks that this is a bad idea.
In a devolved system in which the Government share responsibility for policing, the Government should immediately hold discussions with the Welsh Assembly Government and the National Assembly for Wales to talk about the principle of the election and the efficacy of the policy. To put it through in the way they are doing is the complete reverse of a respect agenda. Simply saying, “It is our responsibility in the British Parliament and only the British Government can do this,” completely goes against the spirit of proper negotiation and discussion that was a part of our United Kingdom. That goes to the heart of what this Government are often about: they say one thing and do another.
On this Bill, I join all my right hon. and hon. Friends in asking the Government to think again. In particular, on behalf of those of us from Wales who are concerned about this matter—many of my right hon. and hon. Friends have signed the amendment—I ask the Government to have an immediate discussion so that at least the people of Wales are heard and this preposterous and daft measure can be deferred.
I rise to support the Government motions. I start by adding my congratulations to those of the Home Secretary and the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee to Mr Bernard Hogan-Howe on being named the new Metropolitan Police Commissioner. It is the toughest job in British policing. Following the riots, I am sure that everyone in this House would wish him well in his new job.
I will briefly restate the case for the reform of police authorities and explain why it is important, before addressing some of the challenges that have been posed by Opposition Members. The first thing to remember is the simple fact that the police are a monopoly service. The public cannot choose their force. Therefore, officers must be accountable for their actions and their performance. As this Government release the grip of Whitehall by scrapping centrally imposed targets and performance measures such as the policing pledge, the stop-and-account form and some of the uses of stop and search, we need to put in place other means to ensure that police forces deliver. What we are doing with police and crime commissioners is swapping bureaucratic control of the police for democratic accountability. In my view, we are putting in place far greater, far harsher and more publicly visible accountability—the accountability of the ballot box. Anybody who does not believe me should ask any sitting MP.
The second thing we must remember is that most crime is local. It is therefore far better that forces answer to local communities than to box-ticking officials in Whitehall. If local accountability is to substitute for the centralised performance regime of the past, it needs to be strong and democratic local accountability.
The problem, therefore, is extremely simple: police authorities are not strong enough to exercise that alternative governance, and they are not sufficiently connected to the public whom they are supposed to serve. Consider this: only four of 22 inspected police authorities have been assessed as performing well in their most critical functions by HMIC and the Audit Commission; only 8% of wards in England and Wales are represented on a police authority; and according to a Cabinet Office survey conducted just a couple of years ago, only 7% of the public understand that they can approach their police authority if they are dissatisfied with policing in their area.
Virtually no one in that survey knew who their police authority chairman was. In fact, I would be interested to know how many hon. Members can intervene and tell me who their police authority chairman is.
Only two Members of the House could intervene and tell me who chairs their police authority, which tells us everything we need to know about their visibility. That is from MPs, not the public—we are supposed to know.
These invisible police authorities are supposed to serve the public. That is the same public who have no idea who they are, no idea what they do, no idea how to contact them, and certainly no idea that they cost them £50 million a year.
The Government prayed in aid an opinion poll that said that 7% of the people of England did not know anything about their police authorities or what they did. The hon. Gentleman might not be aware, however, that a recent survey in Wales showed that 82% of people did know about their police authority and believed that it did a good job.
I understand that the survey to which the right hon. Gentleman refers was commissioned by the police authority. It might be that it posed the question to get the answer it wished to get.
A more recent survey has found that a typical police authority receives just two letters per week from the public. Let us compare that with what the de facto police and crime commissioner for London, Kit Malthouse, told the Home Affairs Committee in December last year. He said that when he was first given the title of deputy mayor with responsibility for policing,
“the postbag at City Hall on community safety went from 20 or 30 letters a week up to 200 or 300…We had a problem coping with it. That indicated to me there was a thirst for some sense of responsibility and accountability in the political firmament for the police”.
He said that having one person
“allows there to be a kind of funnel for public concern”.
However, the absence of a direct line of public influence is problematic not only for the public, but for police forces. Back in the 19th century, the founder of modern policing, Sir Robert Peel, said:
“The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon the public approval of police actions.”
After a decade in which public approval of the police fell, it has now started to rise again. That is a welcome trend, but still only 56% of the public say that the police do a good or excellent job, and a survey by Consumer Research last year found that nearly a third of those who come into contact with the police—I do not mean criminals —were dissatisfied. Of the minority who complained, nearly two thirds were unhappy with the way the police dealt with their complaint. The police were among the worst performers of the public services.
Does my hon. Friend agree that people feel dissatisfied with the police—unfairly, in many cases—because of the lack of visibility of police on the streets compared with previous years, and the ludicrous deployment of police in back room jobs, rather than out in customer-facing roles?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. For me, the natural corollary of that frustration at not seeing police on the streets or feeling that there are too many in back and middle offices, is that the public feel that they have no one to complain to. People do not know how to complain. They do not know who their police authority is—we have seen that from the surveys—and there is no single, high-profile, accountable individual to whom they can complain. That compounds the frustration that my hon. Friend talks about. They do not know to whom to go to say, “We want more police on the streets and we are going to hold you to account at the ballot box unless you deliver it.”
Perhaps I can help my hon. Friend with his argument. A person who is minded to complain about Derbyshire police might try to find the police authority link on the front page of the Derbyshire police website, but they will find it right down in the bottom left—it has about the same significance as the link to the male voice choir.
My hon. Friend makes my point for me. I would be fascinated to know whether any of the 43 police and crime commissioners elected next year will have such low visibility on their websites for people who want to contact them or complain about the police. All those points show why the introduction of police and crime commissioners is so important. They are a key element of the Government’s programme of decentralisation, where power is returned to people and communities.
I want the new commissioners to be big local figures with a powerful local mandate to drive the fight against crime and antisocial behaviour. After all, they will decide policing strategy; set the force budget and the local council tax precept; and appoint, and if necessary dismiss, the chief constable—that point has been made throughout the debate. They will do those things on behalf of the public who elected them, and who will then hold them to account at the ballot box.
A key point is that the role of commissioners will also be greater than that of the police authorities that they replace. That is the significance of the words “and crime” in their title. Police and crime commissioners will have a broad remit to ensure community safety within their budgets, and to prevent crime and tackle drugs. They will work with local authorities, community safety partnerships and local criminal justice boards, helping to bring a strategic coherence to the actions of those organisations at force level. In future, their role could be extended to other elements of the local criminal justice system, ensuring that the police and those who manage offenders operate together, working to break the cycle of crime.
In short, police and crime commissioners will be big beasts: highly visible, highly accountable and highly effective. The contrast between them and today’s police authorities could hardly be greater.
Is the hon. Gentleman arguing for criminal justice commissioners? In other words, does he want locally elected people in an analogous role to that of police and crime commissioners in respect of chief constables? In my view, he does want that, but is that what he is arguing for? The House would like to be clear on whether the next stage is to have criminal justice commissioners elected by the local population.
I am not arguing for that, but speculating how the role of commissioners could develop over time. The key point that I would make to the hon. Gentleman is this: there will be pressure on elected police and crime commissioners to do things in a different way. There will be pressure on them to be far more collaborative with other forces and other police and crime commissioners, for example, as was mentioned earlier in the debate, to drive efficiencies through procurement. There is no real reason at the moment for police forces to collaborate to purchase cars or uniforms together. They have not had that driver, yet they have had increasing budgets for 10 years. The guys who are elected next year will want to work with neighbouring forces. If I were elected as police and crime commissioner for Staffordshire next year, the first call I would make would be to the police and crime commissioner in west midlands, to ask, “Can we do things together? Could we collaborate to procure things together?” I would have a reason to want to reduce my budget so that I can spend it on delivering the pledges that I put in my manifesto, such as a pledge to get more officers on the beat.
The hon. Gentleman and I discussed Tony Blair’s knife-crime summit. I was thinking through his logic after he answered my question, but I still do not understand it, so perhaps he could help. It was okay, at a national level, for an elected politician—the former Prime Minister—to hold a summit at No. 10 Downing street, inviting all the chief constables from around the country, who no doubt could have been doing other things with their time, to ask them what they were doing about knife crime, which he had identified as an issue in this country. No doubt he was coming under a lot of pressure from the public, who were contacting him and their MPs demanding that something be done, and quite rightly he called together the police forces to bang heads together and come up with a strategy to deal with knife crime.
Vernon Coaker seemed to suggest that that was okay because it was a “national priority”—I wrote down his words—but that it was not okay locally. I cannot follow that logic at all. Let us imagine that we have a problem locally—it might be knife crime or kids racing cars down a disused road. Why is it okay to have a national priority and do something about it nationally, but not to have local priorities and to do something about it locally? I cannot understand the logic at all.
I am beginning to feel sorry for the hon. Gentleman, who seems to live in a really poorly policed area. My area has neighbourhood forums that the police attend. There are ward action teams involving local councillors. There are area committees on which the police are represented. There is an overview and scrutiny committee. In the police’s view, they are almost scrutinised too heavily. The link should be through democratically elected local councillors. There is no shortage of scrutiny of the police in my area. I feel sorry for him.
I am fortunate to live in a very well policed area. Staffordshire has an excellent chief constable. He is one of the few chief constables to come out and say that, despite his budget reductions, he will be making absolutely no cuts to the front line until 2013. We have forward looking police forces.
He has confirmed to 2013. I do not know how long the hon. Gentleman wants him to confirm.
On the point made by Mr Ward, I would simply quote his party’s manifesto back at him. Page 72 of the Lib Dem manifesto—I do not know whether he helped to write it—stated:
“We will give local people a real say over their police force through the direct election of police authorities”.
Clearly, there is a problem. All the bodies that he named are bureaucracies. He just reeled off half a dozen bureaucratic bodies that no one has heard of, that no one knows how to contact and that do not deliver what local people want. His own party’s manifesto proposes a highly visible individual who is accountable at the ballot box, whom people know how to contact and who is not next to the male choir on the website. How can that not be an improvement?
I meant “commissioners”.
In the time left, I would like to deal with a few of the objections raised today. People listening to this debate in the Gallery could be forgiven for thinking that only the Conservatives want to reform police authorities. This is simply not true. As I said in an earlier intervention, the case for reform of police governance has been made across the political spectrum. There is party consensus in favour of the democratic reform of police authorities, although I accept that there are differences about the best model. I have read out the Lib Dem manifesto, but I ask Members to consider the following quote:
“Only direct election, based on geographic constituencies, will deliver the strong connection to the public which is critical”.
“under the current system, 93 per cent of the country has no direct, elected representation. This is why we have proposed the Green Paper model; so that people know who to go to and are able to influence their policing through the ballot box.”
The hon. Gentleman is talking about Staffordshire. People in my part of Staffordshire do not want £1 million spent on these elections. They want local policing and they feel that the directly elected councillors who sit on the police authority do a good job.
The hon. Lady speaks for her part of Staffordshire and I speak for mine. I can tell her that people in my constituency do not feel that they have ample opportunity to influence the policing priorities in their area, they do not know what the police authority is, they do not know how to contact it and they do not know how to get involved in all these bureaucratic panels and committees that the hon. Member for Bradford East rattled off.
The Opposition’s latest form of direct accountability is not a million miles from what we are proposing—directly elected chairs of authorities. That is the Labour party’s proposal. It was an idea proposed in an amendment by the shadow Minister in Committee. I was on the Committee and remember him pushing it to a vote. In my view, that would be the worst of all worlds, because we would have an individual with a mandate but unable to deliver it because he could be outvoted routinely by a committee of appointees. This model would cost more and not produce the single focus of a police and crime commissioner.
Many Labour Members have made the point today about the cost of delaying the elections. I think that we should start by reflecting on some wise words:
“We’ve got to go further in demonstrating value for money and delivering efficiency. We are investing a lot of money in public services, it’s got to deliver results”.
That was the now shadow Home Secretary in an interview with The Daily Telegraph in January 2008, when she was Chief Secretary to the Treasury. I could not agree with her more. In fact, I also agree fully with the next quote from the interview:
“Margaret Thatcher did talk about, you know, the housewife adding up the sums. Every family recognises the need to make sure that you can manage each month.”
Quite right too! I am glad that she and I agree with Lady Thatcher.
As so often with Labour, however, when it comes to public spending, it is a case of, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Its NHS national IT programme had a budget of £2.3 billion, but has now cost £12.6 billion—an overspend of 450%. Its pensions transformation programme at the Department for Work and Pensions had a budget of £429 million, but the current cost is £598 million—an overspend of 39%. Its A46 improvement programme had a budget of £157 million, but the current cost is
£220 million—a 40% overspend. But worst of all was the cost of the millennium dome. It cost £789 million to build and £28 million a year to maintain.
I thank you for your direction, Mr Deputy Speaker. I shall focus my remarks. In April 2002, the National Audit Office showed that £28.4 million was spent on the dome’s maintenance in the year after it was closed. For just one year of maintaining the dome, we could elect someone who represents our views; for one year of maintaining the dome, we could let local people have a say over how their area is policed; and for one year of the dome, we could replace bureaucratic accountability to Whitehall with local accountability to the people. We will therefore take no lectures from Labour on how to spend £28 million. It is far better to spend it on reconnecting the public to the police than on Tony Blair’s Teflon-coated, flattened mushroom.
The Opposition object to delaying the election to November 2012. I am glad that it has been delayed to
In conclusion, policing is a monopoly service. The people cannot choose their force. This public service has to answer to someone, and we think that local people should have the power to do something about the problems that blight their towns and city centres. We are determined to rebuild the link between the people and the police forces that serve them, which is why these reforms are right for the people, right for the police and right for the times.
I was not going to speak in this debate, but so many interesting points have been made that I decided I would. The most interesting and perverse point was made by Mr Burley when he reached his conclusion. He said—I do not have the exact quotation; I am sure that it will be in Hansard—that he envisaged non-political elections taking place. I think that all elections—certainly all those to major positions representing millions of people, as they would in the case of the west midlands, Greater Manchester and our other great urban conurbations—are necessarily bound to be political. I would therefore suggest that he think through a little more what he is saying and doing, because what he described is completely impossible.
I am going to vote with my party against the Government on these Lords amendments for two reasons, even though Government Members have made significant arguments that I support. The first reason is that having elections in November is difficult to say the least. Some older Members of this House may remember that local government elections used to be held in the autumn. They were moved from the autumn because turnout was low, and also because they were a long way from the rate-setting process—it was thought that the finances and the elections should be put together so that the electorate could have a direct impact. They are solid arguments: it would be a mistake to have low-turnout elections in November.
However, that is not the most significant reason why I will not vote with the Government. The second reason is that there is clearly a democratic deficit with the police. There are many good councillors on police authorities in the metropolitan authorities, but they are not directly elected to that position, which means that it is more difficult for elected politicians to have real political accountability to the electorate. However well the chair of the police authority in Greater Manchester does—and Councillor Paul Murphy does an extremely good job in that position—he is not directly elected to that position. However, although I recognise that democratic deficit—I believe in direct elections for local politicians to control the police—it is not just the relationship with the electorate that is deficient; it is the relationship with other local public services.
It is good for the police to have to argue for their budget against other services. It is good for police forces to have to sit down with people whose jobs are about child protection, care of the elderly, transport and so on and argue for their priorities, so that they can understand more what is going on. Unfortunately, we are 30-or-so years into a series of ad hoc changes to local democracy—many have been made for good reasons; some have been made for poor reasons—which have left us in a mess. We need to take a more fundamental look at what is going on in local democracy than just saying, “We’ve got a problem with policing; we can make it more effective by introducing democracy.”
Those are the reasons why I will not be supporting the Government. On the other hand, I should like to remind some of my hon. Friends that democracy is expensive. If we asked most members of the public whether they would prefer money to be spent on two nurses or one Member of Parliament, virtually all of them would say that they wanted two nurses. However, if we asked them, “Do you want to be denied the right to determine locally who provides services?”—whether it be transport, policing or whatever—they will say that they want that right, and that right comes with a cost. Therefore, when people on this side of the Chamber say that now is not the time to spend money on improving and increasing democracy, I do not agree with them. Democracy is important and we have a deficiency; it is just that the Government’s proposals are not good enough at the moment.
The second thing that has been said is that rascals or the wrong people might be elected. Unfortunately, the electorate sometimes get it wrong—some people in the Chamber will know and respect that fact—but that is the nature of democracy, and hopefully they will put it right next time. However important policing is, it is not right to say that we can have a bureaucrat, however high up they might be in the police service, telling elected police commissioners or polices authorities that they have got it wrong. The people who tell elected representatives that they have got it wrong are the electorate at the next election, not bureaucrats, and I do not think that we can have those decisions made failsafe.
The third point on which I would take issue with some Members on my side is this. I support the police—as I suspect every hon. Member in this House does—but that can sometimes be taken to mean that we cannot be critical or say that they could do the job better. They clearly could, and the riots are an interesting example to look at policing in this country. When the riots took place in Greater Manchester, the police could, in my view, have done a more effective job. That is not to criticise individual police officers who were on the streets, showing extreme bravery; it is to take issue with, potentially, the tactics and strategy used on that night. It is to take issue with the Greater Manchester police’s procurement policies, which put officers from tactical aid units on the streets of Greater Manchester with 17 or 18-year-old equipment that was too heavy. It is to take issue with the tactics and strategy that sent well trained police officers from Greater Manchester to sit in coaches in London. This is essentially about saying that we should have been able to do better than we did in protecting the property and people of Greater Manchester on the nights of the riots.
That is not about not supporting the police; it is about saying that however brave they are, things can be improved, as in every other public service. That is part of the democratic process, which is about being able to be open and critical and about trying to improve those services. However good Councillor Murphy and the other members of the police authority are, having somebody directly elected for the whole of Greater Manchester would have meant a more creative and better public debate about what was happening that evening. Indeed, it is almost impossible to imagine that not being the case.
I commend the hon. Gentleman for making a thoughtful and measured speech, but surely his points are equivalent to those made by my constituents in north Wales. They feel the same support for the police, but they occasionally feel frustrated. However, because we have six local authorities in north Wales, they do not know who to approach to get their message to the local police force. The Government’s measure will allow them to identify an individual who they can go to and make their point, so that they can ask for change while supporting the police.
I do not disagree with that. The hon. Gentleman makes a clear and explicit point; the point that I was trying to make is that there should not be just one person, who has only one service to think about. That person should also have to engage with the rest of our public services.
Greater Manchester has had an interesting history with its last four chief constables. They have been very different people. James Anderton ran a prejudiced police force. He was openly prejudiced against gay people, while the force that he ran was secretly—although most people knew—prejudiced in a racist kind of way. David Wilmot, who followed, was a very different chief constable who tried to improve relationships with the country. Mike Todd, who followed him, was a different kind of chief constable altogether, and now we have the current one. The interesting point is that the electorate of Greater Manchester have been left out of any of the debates about who their chief constable should be—from the bigot to the effective police officer to the peacemaker—and I do not think that that is a proper process for one of the most important services that is provided locally.
I am sorry, in a way, that I cannot vote with the Government, because there is a powerful argument for improving the accountability of police commissioners and the police service, and I hope that some of the people who have spoken on my side of the House will think a bit harder about some of those democratic arguments. Unfortunately, however, the Bill is seriously flawed, and I wish that the Government would go back and think again.
In the few minutes remaining, I want to pick up on a few of the points that have been made. First, however, I should like to add my own congratulations to Bernard Hogan-Howe on his appointment as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. He had a fine record of fighting crime when he was with Merseyside police and, since then, as one of the inspectors of constabulary. He has a challenging task ahead of him, and I am sure that the whole House will wish to congratulate him on his appointment.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I would like to extend that note of commiseration to all three unsuccessful candidates, all of whom have given great service to policing in their current jobs. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reminding me of that.
Vernon Coaker, the shadow policing Minister, raised a couple of issues that I would like to address. The first related to the transition costs resulting from this reform, and if I heard him correctly, he suggested that they would amount to some £37 million. He is not nodding, so perhaps he cannot recall mentioning that figure. I would like to ask him where he got the figure from, because it is not one that the Government remotely recognise, and I challenged him on it at the time. If he reads the impact assessment that we published in conjunction with the Bill, he will see that we estimated the transition costs at just £5 million. It does not help the debate if inflated costs are put about. It has been bedevilled by exaggerated costs for the reform and the elections, and I have put on record the fact that I disagreed with some of the figures presented by the Association of Police Authorities. Indeed, I have remonstrated with the association about them. I do not know whether those are the figures that the hon. Gentleman is using, but they are not right.
The hon. Gentleman really must do better than that; he has been a policing Minister, as I now am. As far as I am aware, those consultants were commissioned by the Association of Police Authorities. They made a number of assumptions, including about the additional use of Home Office official time, and those assumptions are wrong. The figures that I gave the hon. Gentleman are the official figures produced by the Government, and it is our formal view—I am basing this on the advice that I am given by officials—that the estimate of the transition costs made by the Association of Police Authorities is wrong; I want to say that again.
The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of November elections. I am advised that, in the dim and distant past, elections have been held in this country in November and, in the more recent though still fairly distant past, in October. It is of course the case that the presidential elections in the United States are routinely held in November. The next such elections will be held in November next year. Indeed, it was thought possible at one time that the former leader of the Labour party and former Prime Minister was going to call an election in 2007. Presumably, that would have been held in late October or early November, but the right hon. Gentleman chickened out, as we all remember. So November elections are not such an unusual proposition.
I would like to pick up on something that Mark Tami said when he challenged my use of the term “middle office”. He said that I had just invented it, but in so doing, he betrayed his lack of knowledge on these issues, and the fact that he has not read Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary’s report, in which the inspectorate helpfully offers a definition of the front line. Indeed, “middle office” is a standard term in policing; it is one that the inspectorate uses. It denotes functions that are not directly public-facing but nevertheless involve fighting crime.
I want to return to an important point that I made during questions earlier. A very considerable amount of police resource, and a third of all human resources, are not on the front line. That is what the inspectorate’s report said, and it is clear that the hon. Gentleman has not read it; otherwise, he would not have been so astonished at the term “middle office”. Hon. Members should read that report. If they did so, they would see the inspectorate’s assessment of the number of officers in the back and middle office—the figure is well over 20,000—and of the way in which chief constables should consider whether those officers are in appropriate roles. As the Opposition are making a great deal of the fact that 16,000 police officers must be lost, it behoves them to look more carefully at where police officers are actually employed. There is no need for the front line to be damaged, provided that the right decisions are taken and that policing is made more efficient and transformed in the right way.
Jack Dromey paid tribute to the role of our police officers in dealing with the riots, and it was remiss of me not to have done so earlier, because that was the first opportunity that I have had to do so in the House. I certainly join him in paying tribute to everything that those officers did to protect the public and property, and to everything that they went through. I remind the House that a considerable number of officers were injured during that period. In my view, it is right that the justice system operated swiftly in order to deal with the perpetrators.
In the three minutes remaining to me, I should like to comment on the speech made by Paul Murphy on the relationship between Cardiff and London and the significance of the reforms in Wales. I have been engaged in discussions with the Welsh Assembly Government, and specifically with Carl Thomas—
I am sorry; I meant Carl Sargeant. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman.
In those discussions, I tried hard to reach an agreement with Carl Sargeant that would respect the devolution settlement in Wales. I recognise that he did not support the reform, but I pointed out that policing was a reserved matter. We wished to go ahead with it, but we also wished to ensure that the arrangements, particularly those relating to local government—a devolved matter, as the right hon. Gentleman pointed out—reflected the wishes of the Welsh Assembly Government. We came up with the legislative consent motion.
I must put it on record, however, that, quite extraordinarily, Welsh Assembly Ministers then proceeded not to support their own motion, in spite of the fact that I had negotiated it with them in good faith. I said at the time that I thought that was a pity because, in doing so, they denied the special arrangements for Wales that this Government had tried hard to promote. It is important to understand that we tried very hard and will continue to try to respect the devolution settlement in Wales on this matter and, through constructive dialogue, to make the reform work in Wales.
“The police are the public and the public are the police.”
The reforms are about devolving power, giving it to the people, protecting the operational independence of the police while ensuring that the public have a right and proper say in how policing is delivered in their communities.
Question accordingly agreed to.
Lords amendment 1 disagreed to.
Proceedings interrupted (Programme Order, this day).
T he Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (
Lords amendments 2 to 4 and 6 disagreed to.
Amendments (a) to (d) proposed in lieu of Lords amendments 1 to 4 and 6.—(Nick Herbert.)
Question put, That the amendments be made.
The House divided:
Ayes 291, Noes 224.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Lords amendments 7 to 42.
Lords amendment 43, Government motion to disagree and Government amendments (a) and (b) in lieu.
Lords amendments 44 to 52, 54, 55, 58 and 60 to 79.
Lords amendment 80 and amendment (a).
Lords amendments 81 to 97.
Lords amendment 98, motion to disagree and amendments (a) to (c) in lieu.
Lords amendments 99 to 162.
Lords amendment 163 and Government amendment (a).
Lords amendments 164 to 168.
There are many amendments to consider, and I shall be as brief as I responsibly can be in taking the House through them.
Since the Bill was first introduced, a number of points have been made against it, principally on the issues of operational independence and the alleged politicisation of the police, and on the police and crime panel’s relationship with the police and crime commissioner being unclear with the panel having insufficient checks and balances to be able to scrutinise the police and crime commissioner properly. I want to reassure the House that the Government have listened carefully to those concerns. We spent many months considering them, and I believe that we have responded to all the key issues. That is reflected in the amendments we made in the other place.
I will not say any more now about operational independence, as we fully discussed that in our previous debate. I also alluded to the checks and balances, saying that we had made changes to strengthen them, and I want briefly to set out what they are. We have increased the powers of police and crime panels by allowing a veto of either the police and crime commissioner’s proposed precept or proposed candidate for chief constable through a two-thirds, rather than a three-quarters, majority. That was pressed on us early on, and we agreed to it. The panel will also have the power to request the chief constable—or Metropolitan Police Commissioner in London—to attend before the panel to answer questions, alongside the police and crime commissioner; that was also urged upon us.
The changes will also give the police and crime panels more discretion to decide their own make-up, thereby allowing a more diverse mix and better geographical spread. I know how important that is to many hon. Members. The panel will now be able to co-opt additional members, and the provision restricting the number of co-opted members to two will be removed. Instead, provided it is with the agreement of the Secretary of State, panels will be able to co-opt further members, so long as the total membership of the panel does not exceed 20. A local authority will also now be obliged to nominate a locally elected mayor, should there be one. These changes further remove the provision preventing co-opted members from being local authority members; instead, there will merely be an insistence that at least two must be non-authority members. That change allows maximum possible discretion as to the panel’s membership and flexibility across larger force areas or areas where local government structures vary.
Similarly, we are freeing up arrangements in London, where the London assembly will be able to decide the composition of its panel and allow the panel to contain persons who are not members of the assembly. Our approach will further allow the panel to decide the composition of its sub-committees, and allow for them also to contain non-assembly members. We have further strengthened the powers of the panel in London to allow it to veto, by a two-thirds majority, a candidate for the position of deputy mayor for policing and crime, if that individual is not a member of the London assembly. I remember discussing these issues in Committee, so I hope that Clive Efford will be pleased that we have moved towards some of the suggestions he was making then. The changes place a new duty on the police and crime panel to support, as well as challenge, the police and crime commissioner, helping to ensure that they work together in the public interest, rather than having an adversarial or political relationship. That concept of support and challenge is important, and I am pleased that it has been introduced by way of these amendments.
The changes ensure that the London assembly will have all the necessary powers to require reports of the Mayor and to decide the constitution of its police and crime panel. They will also allow the assembly to hold a binding confirmation hearing should the Mayor wish to appoint anyone other than an assembly member to the post of deputy mayor for policing and crime. Our amendments will ensure that regulations regarding the handling of allegations of misconduct can be made in relation to not just police and crime commissioners, but to deputy PCCs, the holder of the Mayor’s office for policing and crime and the deputy mayor for policing and crime.
On PCCs working with police, the criminal justice system and local government partners, the changes will help to ensure that PCCs work well with their local government partners by requiring PCCs to send copies of their police and crime plans to community safety partners and by placing a reciprocal duty on PCCs and community safety partners to have regard to each others’ objectives. The changes will also ensure that PCCs hold chief officers fully to account for the way in which they carry out their duties to co-operate in safeguarding and promoting child welfare under the Children Act 2004. Our amendments will ensure that PCCs have the right powers to hold chief officers to account; they ensure that PCCs can obtain the right information from forces and that the chief officer cannot borrow money or enter contracts, except of employment, without the police and crime commissioner’s consent.
We are also proposing changes in relation to deputy PCCs. These will ensure that should a PCC wish to appoint a deputy, they would have to do so through a specific process and could not appoint certain people, for example, another PCC. That will ensure greater transparency in senior appointments within the PCC’s office. I should emphasise that there will be no requirement to appoint a deputy PCC; our amendment will simply allow it to happen. That inserts further flexibility and localism into the Bill by allowing PCCs the freedom to manage their affairs as they see fit.
We have discussed the appointment and dismissal of chief officers and I raised it briefly in our debate on the previous group of amendments. I wish to reiterate that it is a key part of a PCC’s role and it is essential that it is properly undertaken. Chief constables should not be appointed or removed on a whim or for improper reasons. Police and crime commissioners must take these key decisions fairly and reasonably, and the arrangements must include appropriate safeguards. We have ensured that the chief constable will have the right to attend a hearing of the police and crime panel should they be facing dismissal, and to make representations at that hearing, rather than simply being able to answer questions.
We will also consult the Police Advisory Board for England and Wales on regulations for these arrangements. We have made amendments to allow a retired chief officer to be re-appointed as a chief officer, whereas previously the Bill would not have allowed that. The change will widen the pool of talent available to the service and allow PCCs to appoint the right people to the right jobs. I wish to repeat what I said about the first group of amendments, which is that it is important to get the checks and balances on appointment and dismissal right. I hope that what I have said this evening will reassure chief officers that the Government intend that proper arrangements should be in place to deal with those procedures.
On elections and eligibility, the changes would ensure that the elections for PCCs can be properly regulated by the Electoral Commission, especially in terms of campaign spend. A lively debate took place in the other place about the role of peers in the House of Lords should they wish to become a PCC. There was a strong feeling in the other place that peers should be allowed to stand for this position and, following that debate, we introduced changes that will allow them to do so. We will allow a candidate to serve as many terms as a PCC as the public wish them to serve, rather than be limited to two consecutive terms. That will allow the public truly to decide who they wish to serve as their PCC and heighten the pressure of democratic accountability over them. It seemed on reflection that the two-term limit, which was a constitutional innovation in this country, was not necessarily appropriate.
By introducing a two-stage process for the transfer of police authority staff, the changes will allow police and crime commissioners to be properly involved in the decision about how staff will be split between themselves and the chief officer rather than the decision being made for them by police authorities before they come into office. That will be complemented by a power of the Secretary of State to direct a policing body to vary a transfer scheme, which is an oversight power to ensure transfers are handled effectively. I believe there is general support among police authorities and chief constables for such a two-stage process.
I ask the House to agree to all these amendments and to pause to note that they represent the fact that the Government have listened to the debates on a range of subjects in the Commons as well as in the other place and responded by tabling amendments. That is contrary to what Vernon Coaker was saying. We have listened on some of these important issues and have shown ourselves to be willing to amend the Bill and to introduce the necessary checks and balances.
The Government tabled amendments in the other place to allow the police and crime commissioner to suspend or remove a deputy or assistant chief constable who is standing in for the chief constable. I ask the House to disagree with amendment 43, because the Government have tabled new amendments in lieu of it. They achieve the same effect as Lords amendment 43 in respect of deputy or assistant chief constables, but also give the Mayor’s office for policing and crime the same powers of suspension and dismissal in respect of an assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan police who is standing in for the commissioner. Meanwhile, we are amending Lords amendment 163, which gave the police and crime commissioner responsibility for complaints against a deputy or assistant chief constable who was standing in for the chief constable, again with the intention of applying it to London as well. I ask the House to agree to this Lords amendment, as amended.
Let me turn now to a couple of amendments tabled in this place. First, I want to discuss the amendment tabled by some of my hon. Friends on the Liberal
Democrat Benches. I understand that the amendment is an attempt to deal with what I know is a considerable concern—the matter was raised at Home Office questions today—about the position of Cornwall. As it is a unitary authority, it would have had only one member of the police and crime panel under the Government’s previous proposals. As we debated the matter in Committee, there was general recognition that that would have to be dealt with. We listened carefully to the concerns and that is why the Government amended the Bill in the other place to allow panels to co-opt additional members up to a maximum of 20. In the case of Devon and Cornwall, that will allow an additional five councillors to be co-opted. If the councils agreed to that, once it had been submitted to the Home Secretary it could potentially bring Cornwall’s representation up to six members, which is proportionately higher than its current share of the police authority.
The amendment would mean that when exercising that power, Durham, Devon and Cornwall and West Mercia police and crime panels would have to try to make representation on the panel as proportionate to the population as is reasonably practicable. Although I do not disagree with those principles, I believe we can trust elected local government representatives to make decisions in the best interests of the public. I do not think that councils would want to take advantage of a perceived benefit by denying other councils in their area sufficient representation. Government cannot prescribe in detail how those relationships can work, but it is important to note that the Secretary of State has the final say in approving the additional members of the police and crime panel who might be appointed. As I said in a letter to the leader of Cornwall council, which I copied to my hon. Friends who are Members of Parliament for Cornwall, the Home Secretary is fully aware of the situation and the potential imbalance in membership of the police and crime panel between Cornwall and Devon. We therefore expect that, in meeting the geographical balance criteria now in the Bill, as a consequence of the amendment that we tabled, police and crime panels with balanced county representation will be produced. That is now provided for in relation to the new members.
I fully understand why my hon. Friends seek to promote the amendment and I fully understand that they do not wish the power of determination about who should be on the panels to be in the hands of another county, as they see it, but I hope they will be reassured by the important checks provided by the Home Secretary’s having to approve the amendments and by the geographical balance provision. I believe that we have acted in a way that will meet the concerns of people in Cornwall about being properly represented on the panels. On the basis of that reassurance and on the understanding that the Secretary of State will address these issues in the approval of schemes, I ask my hon. Friends to withdraw the amendments.
I very much appreciate my right hon. Friend’s reassurance and his answer to my hon. Friend George Eustice earlier. We like to have a lot of confidence that our colleagues in Devon will act in the honourable way that the Minister has described, but can we have an absolute assurance from him that if that were not the case, the Secretary of State would intervene to make sure that Cornwall had its fair representation on the panel?
I am happy to reassure my hon. Friend that were proposals brought forward that did not give that proper, balanced county representation on the panel, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would not be happy with those proposals. It is quite clear that Parliament’s intention in promoting these amendments is to ensure a proper geographical balance. The changes are being made precisely and explicitly because there are situations in unitary authorities where that would not be achieved. If there were any attempt to subvert that by nominating members in a way that did not reflect the proper geographical balance, my right hon. Friend would not feel able to approve such a scheme. I hope that my hon. Friend is reassured by those comments, but the Government stand ready to meet her and other Members of Parliament from Cornwall, and the leader of Cornwall council if that is appropriate and he wishes it, to reassure them. Had the Bill not been amended, I would have fully understood the depth of their concerns, but I believe that the amendments address them.
On the Opposition’s amendments about the appointment and dismissal of chief officers, I have explained the changes that we have made and proposed on this issue. Important safeguards are being put in place and will be put in place through regulations. The Opposition suggest that even though the panel will already be required to scrutinise the proposed dismissal of a chief constable and even though the police and crime commissioner will be required to consider the panel’s recommendation, the panel should also be able to block the dismissal. I understand that that would be the force of their amendments, but that would give the police and crime panel the power to act as judge and jury on the police and crime commissioner’s electoral mandate to set the direction of the force and to hold the chief constable to account. It would also circumvent the governance structure of the chief constable, who is accountable to the police and crime commissioner, not to the panel. In establishing police and crime commissioners, we are giving the public a strong and powerful elected representative to hold their chief constable to account. Ultimately they should be able to appoint and dismiss that chief constable, subject—in relation to dismissal—to the proper safeguards. That power is available to police authorities. It is fundamental to the reform.
I repeat that chief constables should not be appointed or removed on a whim or for improper reasons. Police and crime commissioners must take these decisions fairly and reasonably. The amendments are not the right way forward. It would create an impossible situation if, in effect, a police and crime panel were able to veto the dismissal of a chief constable who would otherwise be properly dismissed under the arrangements that we are putting in place, as well as under the existing arrangements. That would produce an impasse. No doubt Vernon Coaker tabled some of the amendments in order to probe the safeguards. I fully respect that, but I hope that on reflection he will recognise that the amendment goes too far and the Government would have to resist it.
The changes that we have made will all help to bring about the much-needed democratic accountability to the public, while ensuring that the strict checks and balances that we were committed to introducing are in place, and that concerns about operational independence have been fully addressed. I am grateful for the scrutiny of the Bill in another place, which enabled us to secure a number of important amendments. I commend to the House our amendments and the approach that I have set out.
It is fair to say that a number of the amendments that the Government have accepted improve the Bill. The Minister was right to point out some of them. I was particularly pleased to see Lords amendments 5 and 7, which place a duty on the police and crime commissioner with respect to the well-being and the safeguarding of children, a topic that we raised in Committee. Those are important amendments with which we would all agree, and I am glad the Government have accepted them. Many of the other amendments have improved the Bill, given that following the last Division the Bill is going through with provisions in place for the appointment of police and crime commissioners.
As a result of the Lords amendments, there is now a requirement for elected mayors automatically to be members of the police and crime panel. I gently point out to the Minister that it will be interesting to see the clash of mandates that may occur when the mayor is elected on one crime mandate and the police and crime commissioner on another.
I shall not detain the House. As I said, I accept that many of the amendments mentioned by the Minister improve the Bill. I do not want to intrude on the private grief of Devon and Cornwall. I can only imagine the private meetings and surreptitious phone calls, amendments tabled and withdrawn, reassurances given about meetings, and so on.
Amendment 98 and the amendments in lieu that I tabled would give police and crime panels the power to veto the dismissal of a chief constable. I cannot for the life of me understand why the Minister does not want at least some sort of power to be made available to either the Home Secretary through HMIC, or the police and crime panels, whereby the dismissal of a chief constable can be vetoed.
To be fair to the Minister, the Government have rightly changed the majority required to veto an appointment from three quarters to two thirds, showing that they have listened in that respect, but why do they regard the dismissal of a chief constable to be different from the appointment? A police and crime panel can veto an appointment or a precept with a two-thirds majority. The Minister questions why we would want to fetter or in any way circumvent the power of a democratically elected individual when it comes to dismissal, yet they have done that with appointment and precept. The logic seems to be that if that is wrong for dismissal, we would not have it for appointment or precepts either. I say to the Minister that I honestly believe that this is a significant and serious flaw. Indeed, I think that it is a dangerous flaw.
The Government have included the protocol, which must be agreed by affirmative resolution of both Houses, in the Bill, but we can imagine a locally elected politician with sole responsibility for the police in their area believing that they should be able to do certain things or require the chief constable to do certain things. The chief constable could say, “No you can’t, because that breaks the protocol”. The Minister ought to tell us what would happen in those circumstances. Where there is such a conflict, what will happen if the chief constable says, “I’m not doing that because it’s contrary to the protocol”?
Even if there is a legal means by which the chief constable could try to resist such pressure, each and every hon. Member present can imagine the emotional pressure and the strain on normal human relationships that would result from knowing that, unless they conformed to what the police and crime commissioner was asking, they could be sacked. Who stops the police and crime commissioner from doing that? The Minister says that it is okay because the Government have amended the Bill so that the chief constable can now go to the police and crime panel and make representations. What use is that?
The police and crime panel, having heard those representations and listened to the chief constable say, “I am being treated unfairly and required to do things that are inconsistent with my view of how I should conduct policing in this area”, may actually agree, but ultimately it can do nothing. The police and crime panel can say to the chief constable, “We absolutely agree with you. The police and crime commissioner is acting unreasonably and has it wrong.” What can it do? The answer is nothing. It can veto an appointment, as I have said, but it cannot veto a dismissal. What sort of framework is that for the Government to set up?
Our amendment would not even require a simple majority, because it accepts the Government’s logic and view that there must be more than just a simple majority. So, we accept two thirds, and a significant number of police and crime panel members would have to regard the dismissal as unfair in order to veto it, but there is no power in the Bill at all.
That goes back to what I keep saying to the Minister: if he wants to demonstrate that the police and crime panel is more than what I think it is, he has to give it some teeth. In this area, however, the Government have quite clearly failed. He said, “We don’t want to give the police and crime panel that power,” and, in the remarks that he just made to the House, “We don’t want the police and crime commissioner to have to go to the police and crime panel, where it could act as judge and jury.” Well, by that logic the panel will act as judge and jury on appointments and on precepts, but on the most fundamental question of all it will not be able to do so.
There are few hon. Members present, unfortunately, but I hope that others hear some of the debate, because I do not believe that most Members think it sensible to give that amount of power to a police and crime commissioner, however unlikely it is that such a situation may occur. One hon. Member said that it is extremely unlikely to occur, but unlikely does not mean impossible, and it is incumbent on the House to include in the Bill something that would give us the safeguard that is required.
Everybody I speak to is worried about the issue. Senior police officers are worried about it, and, although I know that the Minister does not give particular credence to these organisations, I must tell him that the Local
Government Association, the Association of Police Authorities, Liberty and individual Members I speak to are worried about it, too. If he does not want to give the panel the power of veto, he might like to know that in another part of the amendment we say, “Okay, why not have a reserve power for HMIC to refer a dismissal to the Home Secretary for her or his consideration?” Looking at it, the Home Secretary would be able to say, “I believe that in this particular instance the PCC has got it wrong.” If the police and crime panel is not the right vehicle for undertaking such a measure, why not HMIC?
I hope that the Government are right and the situation will never occur—that a police and crime commissioner will never sack a chief constable for reasons that generally cannot be supported. But, the danger is of a Government seeking to ensure the proper policing governance of this country which cannot happen. I am frankly astonished that the Government have not sought to include in the Bill at least some sort of safeguard to prevent the misuse of that power. It really is unbelievable. I cannot believe it, most people I speak to cannot believe it, and I do not believe that if most Members thought about it they would understand the logic of allowing appointments to be vetoed and precepts to be vetoed, but not dismissals. It goes right to the heart of the Bill, and, as I have said to the Minister before, it is dangerous.
Such is the importance of the matter, I must say that, from a procedural point of view, I should like amendment 98 and the associated amendments in lieu to be put to the vote at the appropriate time.
I want to speak in favour of a number of amendments. Before doing so, however, I make a plea from the heart as a new Member of the House. I am working with the Plain English Campaign to urge simplicity and transparency in product design and communications coming from the financial services industry. Having faced a minefield of amendments, amendments to amendments and disagreements with amendments over the past few days, I suggest that the Plain English Campaign could well assist this House with some of its processes.
Let me start with amendments 70 to 78 and 80 to 83, which deal with the composition of the police and crime panels. Originally the Bill allowed for a minimum of 10 members from local authorities, or one member from each authority for police areas with 11 or more authorities, and two non-political co-opted members in each instance. Our amendments in Committee sought to create additional capacity within the membership of the police and crime panels. The Lords amendment would mean that there was still a minimum of 10 political members and two non-political co-opted members but allow for a resolution by each panel to appoint any extra number of co-opted members provided that the total number does not exceed 20.
We spent a great deal of time on this subject in Committee and debated at least 40 probing amendments to the Government’s initial proposals. Then, as now, the key issue for the composition of the panel was how well it could manage to meet its balanced appointment objective as set out in schedule 6(30)(3), which bears quoting:
“The ‘balanced appointment objective’ referred to in this paragraph is the objective that the appointed members of a police and crime panel (when taken together)…represent all parts of the relevant police area”— it says “parts”, not “local authorities”, to seek to ensure geographical balance—and
“represent the political make-up of…the relevant local authority, or…the relevant local authorities (when taken together)”.
That is a very important sub-paragraph. Our amendments proposing to increase the size of the police and crime panels would have given the PCPs a small amount of wriggle room to meet those geographical and political balance objectives. That involved an extra two members specifically to address concerns about balance.
The Minister agreed to reflect on those amendments, and I am happy to see that what has come back here today is a significant improvement, not only on what was initially proposed but on what was included in my amendment. While my amendment would have given an additional two members to help with the balance, these new proposals give a potential eight extra members who could be co-opted on to a police and crime panel, all of whom would be subject to the balanced appointment objective. This is a significant change which gives the vast majority of PCPs the flexibility they will need to ensure that we achieve an effective body for reviewing and scrutinising the police and crime commissioner across all the constituent local authorities. Of the 41 police areas, 31 would have the potential to use the maximum eight additional co-optees and only five would have fewer than an additional four members.
The one question that remains, although the Minister has already dealt with it to a great extent, is what constitutes, or indeed necessitates, the agreement of the Secretary of State to allow for the further co-opted members to be appointed. It is clear that this power is necessary. It would be bitter-sweet to have identified the issue and proposed the amendment to deal with it only for the Secretary of State to fail to agree to the use of that power. I would like to hear more about what circumstances the Secretary of State would take into account before making that decision—as, I am sure, would those who tabled amendment 80. I do, however, thank the Minister for listening and welcome this improvement to the Bill.
Lords amendments 69 and 98 deal with the power of veto for police and crime panels over the setting of the precept and the proposed appointment of a chief constable. The issue that consumed more time in Committee than any other was that of the powers available to the PCP to discharge its duty to review and scrutinise the decisions and actions of the commissioner. We had a wide-ranging debate that examined many possible additional powers. We agreed that the sharpest teeth—or some might argue the only teeth—that the PCP will have is the power to veto the proposed precept and the proposed appointment of a chief constable.
I tabled amendments in Committee to achieve precisely what is now being proposed by the Government. In doing so, I challenged the Minister to reflect on whether any other veto power had such a high threshold of 75%. We argued, with the support of the Local Government Association, that the three-quarters majority required for the veto was too stringent and impractical to provide an effective block on the commissioner. No democratic system places executive power in the hands of an individual without providing suitable and strict checks and balances, and no strong democratic body requires a three-quarters majority to provide such a check on the executive. A veto by a two-thirds majority vote is given to the London Assembly and councils with directly elected mayors in budget matters. That would be strongly preferable and would give suitable strength to the authority of panels. It would align the commissioner model with a tried-and-tested framework for holding a democratic executive to account.
The move to a two-thirds majority will strengthen local democracy and accountability, and it will be a major step forward. When I made that point in Committee, Vernon Coaker agreed with me, so much so that he was desperate for me to push the matter to a vote, despite the promise of the Minister to reflect on the points raised. However, I took the Minister at his word and I am happy to see these amendments today.
No, those are not the matters that the hon. Gentleman pushed to the vote.
In Committee, Mark Tami asked the Minister what percentage of amendments moved by Liberal Democrats were withdrawn rather than pressed to a Division. He was told to work it out for himself. I am happy to help him today. It was 100%. And yet, here we are with significant changes to the composition and powers of the police and crime panels. The Minister said in Committee:
“We are all adjusting to coalition politics, but it is interesting that Opposition Members are finding it harder than we are.”––[Official Report, Police Reform and Social Responsibility Public Bill Committee,
Seven months on, that does not seem to have changed.
Finally, I would like to consider a missed opportunity that the Government may live to regret, although I hope not. Government Lords amendments 33, 87 and 88 relate to clause 31, which covers the suspension of police and crime commissioners. We discussed this provision in Committee and identified a drafting error, which I am happy to see has been corrected. We also discussed whether the correct threshold had been set for suspension. At present, suspension is possible only when an individual is charged with an offence punishable by a
“term of imprisonment exceeding two years.”
That threshold rules out a number of potential charges which, were they hanging over him, would seem to make it incredible that a police and crime commissioner could continue to hold a chief constable to account. Those charges include assault with intent to resist arrest, racially or religiously aggravated assault, racially or religiously aggravated harassment and a number of others that were outlined in Committee. I am disappointed that the Minister, after reflecting, has not included this change in his amendments.
The Minister did propose that the power for a police and crime commissioner to stand down voluntarily would be introduced. He said that that would provide a better way to deal with such situations. Alas, unless I am looking in the wrong place, that is not in the Bill or in the amendments. That is a missed opportunity, because it leaves the potential for embarrassing situations to arise.
In conclusion, the proposals go a long way to strengthening the police and crime panels and, I believe, will deliver the strict checks and balances as laid down in the coalition agreement. The Bill will bring about public accountability of the policing function, and bring it out of the shadows and subject to the full scrutiny of every member of the electorate.
I want to know exactly where the Liberal part of the Government stands on this. Can the hon. Gentleman tell us whether he supports my proposal that the police and crime panel should have the power to veto the dismissal of a chief constable?
I will make it very clear that I do not support the hon. Gentleman’s proposal, although there is an outstanding question and some further work is required. Employment law would look on the ability to dismiss someone without an appeal as being dubious at best, so there is possibly a legal aspect to look at. However, when we look at the powers in the Bill on the suspension and removal of chief constables, we see that the situation is not quite as simple as the hon. Gentleman makes out. It is not just a case of the police and crime commissioner wanting to get rid of the chief constable and his being gone the next day. A long, public process—six weeks—is kicked off, involving the panel, notifications and representations.
I do not believe for a second that any police and crime commissioner would set out on such an open and public process without a very strong case for the dismissal of a chief constable. To do so would lay the commissioner open to a very high level of public scrutiny. I cannot see a publicly elected official opening themselves up to that level of scrutiny without sufficient cause. The process that the Bill lays out will effectively stop that situation ever arising.
To conclude, the Bill brings public accountability of the policing function out from the shadows. Community safety, and the fight against crime and disorder, deserve nothing less.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Mike Crockart, who has followed this Bill throughout its passage. He served on the Public Bill Committee, as have other right hon. and hon. Members who are in the Chamber, and he has clearly devoted a huge amount of thought over recent weeks and months to what aspects of the Bill need to be amended. Given that I am arriving at this late stage of the debate, I am grateful for the benefit of his thoughts, just as I am grateful to other hon. Members for their contributions.
My hon. Friend referred to his work with the Plain English Campaign on simplifying the language of financial products and so on. For new Members and perhaps those of us who are perhaps less familiar with speaking in debates on Lords amendments, he also pointed out how important it is to ensure that we get our terminology right. In that light, I am rising to speak to amendment (a) to Lords amendment 80, which is in my name and those of my hon. Friends. Other Cornwall Members who are in the Chamber are very sympathetic to the proposal, although their names are not appended to it, and we heard another hon. Member raise this issue in Question Time.
Vernon Coaker, with whom I had the pleasure of spending some time to discuss the Academies Act 2010, said that he did not want to intrude on any private grief in Devon and Cornwall. I can assure him that it is not grief, and nor is it private—we are here discussing the matter in public. It will not come as a surprise to him or anyone else that concerns have been raised in Cornwall, which is represented by a unitary authority that brought together the functions of the previous six district councils and Cornwall county council to form one body. The concern is that, as of right, we would have only one representative on the police and crime panel or crime and police panel—whichever way round it goes.
I defer to the right hon. Gentleman, who has lived and breathed the panels for a long time.
As we have heard, in neighbouring Devon, where they still have district councils, every council will get representation on the panel, as I understand it, regardless of the huge disparities in population between some of the smaller district councils in Devon and the Cornish unitary authority and the unitary authorities in Torbay and Plymouth—the major city on our peninsula. The message coming strongly from members of the public and elected representatives—in the form of Cornwall councillors—is that they are deeply dissatisfied that this issue has not been resolved to the point where they feel that all areas are getting equal representation. I am sympathetic to that.
The Minister has set out, very helpfully, the possibility of using co-option. As my hon. Friend Mike Crockart said, that has been pressed for a while, and I am delighted that the Government have responded by allowing this flexibility so that local circumstances can be accommodated. We are familiar with the police authority model—I accept that it is a different type of body—under which geographical areas are represented. We want to ensure a range of views on those bodies, and co-option has been used to ensure that people from different backgrounds, for example, are represented on those organisations. That is important. Before the census this year, people in Cornwall pressed for the opportunity to recognise their Cornish identity and for it to be enumerated in the census. I was delighted when a friend of mine sent me a picture of her son’s data-monitoring form in Hertfordshire, where they were able to circle “White, Cornish”.
I am departing from the point a little, but I am merely trying to make the point that those of us in Cornwall who are proud of our Cornish identity would not want to feel that we were being given less of an opportunity to put our point across than our neighbours in the most westerly English county, Devon. Amendment (a) would give a bit more of a steer on how the power of co-option could be used to ensure that such concerns are dealt with. I do not think that the amendment goes far enough to reassure everybody in Cornwall that there is equality of opportunity in seeking representation on the panel, but given where we are in the passage of the Bill, it is as far as we can go while still being in order, given what is in Lords amendment 80.
I want to ask the Minister about the Secretary of State’s discretion to approve or not to approve the pattern of co-option that members of a panel put to her. Clearly she could decide to reject a series of proposed co-options on the basis that they did not reflect adequately the geographical make-up of that policing area. The Minister pointed that out, helpfully, although I hope that it would not be necessary. As Sarah Newton said, we would hope that the members of the panel who were there as of right would seek automatically to use the power of co-option constructively to secure proper representation. Hypothetically, however, should they not do so but instead seek further to entrench the position of their communities with regard to the make-up of the panel, it would be reassuring to know that the Secretary of State could have regard to the need to secure equality and therefore reject the co-options.
However, it occurs to me that were such a panel happy not to alter the geographic balance, it might simply not put forward any co-options at all. That is the fear, although we are dealing with a hypothetical situation, and I imagine—indeed, I hope—that, as the hon. Lady said, those appointed under the Bill as it stands would not seek to do that, but would listen to our debate today and to the debate out there in the community, and would reassure people by using the power of co-option in the way that the Minister has suggested would be helpful. Therefore, my question for the Minister is: if those panels decided not to go down the co-option route, what message could be sent to say that the Secretary of State would be looking to them to act in that way? What discussions might the local authorities have among themselves prior to the constitution of the panel to address some of those concerns?
My hon. Friend is making a comprehensive and thorough argument for the depth of feeling of people in Cornwall. He is getting to the essence of the issue, which is that we would prefer to have our positions in Cornwall by right, along with our colleagues from Devon and the Isles of Scilly. Therefore, our great desire is to have it made crystal clear this evening—so far we have been unable to achieve this—that we will have our positions by right and that the Secretary of State will make every effort to ensure that we truly are represented fairly on that panel.
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. She is absolutely right, and that is the reassurance that people in Cornwall are looking for. Our amendment (a) to Lords amendment 80 is an attempt again to put on record the strength of feeling and the concerns that exist.
There is a wider point, which is that occasionally there are anomalies in legislation—this has applied to Governments historically—which, by their nature, will not apply to the vast majority of cases and are therefore not felt to be at the heart of what that piece of legislation is trying to do. However, as we—I hope—move as a country down the route of localism, where different authorities perhaps decide to take on different responsibilities and powers, it is important that we should have different ways of working locally and that legislation be drafted to take account of that. Perhaps that could be done through secondary legislation, to address specific examples such as Cornwall. I appreciate that there is a concern about time—the Minister will want to move towards the elections for police commissioners, and therefore the appointment of panels—but where only one or two specific areas are affected, following them up through such legislation might be a better approach. It might be too late to do that in this legislation, given how it is drafted, but the message for the Government generally is that, as we have different systems in different parts of the country, we should take the opportunity to pick that up and deal with them separately without holding back the overall thrust of legislation as it applies to the country as a whole.
I am grateful to the Minister for responding to that concern—he has corresponded with people back in Cornwall about the issue. However, I seek a reassurance from him that should the panel not to seek to co-opt, there will be a direction from the Secretary of State or some discussion with the local authorities involved to ensure that the debates that have taken place outside and inside this House—those that we have had this evening, as well as over previous months, in other stages of the Bill’s progress—are taken into account, so that people are reassured and we can proceed to a panel in which people can have every confidence.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friends the Members for North Cornwall (Dan Rogerson) and for Edinburgh West (Mike Crockart). I wish to speak to Lords amendments 69 and 98. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh West is leaving the Chamber, but I would just like to tell him that I enjoyed his contributions in Committee, and that when I was on a Home Affairs Committee trip to Turkey, I spent several long bus journeys reading his voluminous contributions, including those on Lords amendment 68. He put the case for the panel being able to veto certain mechanisms with a two-thirds, rather than three-quarters, majority. I was persuaded by his arguments, and I welcome the fact that Ministers have now adopted those proposals.
I oppose Lords amendment 98. I am also concerned that, despite the late stage of the proceedings, Vernon Coaker does not appear to have grasped a key element of the Bill. He seemed to suggest that there was a distinction between the dismissal of a chief constable, when the panel would not have a veto, and the appointment of a chief constable, on which he was correct. The veto of an appointment would mean that the commissioner could not then appoint that individual. Presumably, if he then put forward another individual whom the panel did not like, it could veto that individual as well and, in theory, that could carry on ad infinitum, or until an agreement was reached. That would clearly be a veto.
However, the hon. Gentleman went on—incorrectly, I fear—to draw a parallel with the setting of the precept. He stated that a police and crime panel would be able to veto a police and crime commissioner’s precept. The Bill states that the panel may do that, but if the hon. Gentleman reads further in the Bill about the mechanisms that would apply, he will see that it is far from clear that there would be a veto. In the case of a so-called veto of the commissioner’s precept by a two-thirds majority of the panel, the commissioner would have to “have regard” to the veto, yet in the next step, he could set the precept anyway. I presume, given the extent that he has to have regard, that precept could not be exactly the same as the one he set before, but there is no mechanism to require him to do what the panel wants, or to allow the panel to come back. There might therefore have to be a slight change to what the commissioner wanted, but it is quite wrong—despite the language in the Bill—to suggest that the panel has a veto or that it can in any sense be judge and jury in this matter.
My concerns are accentuated by the proposed
On Report, the Minister told us that if there was a problem, a mechanism would exist whereby a referendum could be held and the local electorate could decide between the police and crime commissioner’s precept and the one proposed by the police and crime panel. That is not the case, however. The provisions for a referendum on the precept are entirely unrelated to the police and crime panel, or to whether or not it exercises a veto, or to the degree to which the commissioner has to have regard to that. The process of setting the police precept—a very small amount of the council tax—could therefore have four different actors: the commissioner, the panel, the Secretary of State and the local electorate.
There is, however, no mechanism to resolve any conflict between the panel and the commissioner. The commissioner will set the precept, and the panel could then say, “Hang on, you haven’t had regard to what we want.” The commissioner could say, “Yes, I have”. What happens then? There is no mechanism for settling such a dispute. We are told that there will be regulations, but they will have to respect the Bill, which states that the commissioner must “have regard” to the panel’s veto. What will those regulations do? They will not allow a ruling that is definitely in favour of either the panel or the commissioner. Perhaps we should split the difference, or toss a coin. I suspect that, in fact, the regulations will provide for the Secretary of State to determine the precept, which would be a complete reversal of the intention of the Bill, which is to devolve power. So we are going to set up an elected commissioner and a panel of elected councillors, acting as checks and balances on each other, but if they disagree over the key issue of the police precept, we shall have no answer to the question of what will happen next.
I fear that if the Secretary of State sets the precept, we infantilise these two new actors even before they are set up. How can they act as a check and balance against each other if they are looking over their shoulder to the Secretary of State? How can the police and crime commissioner develop a mature, responsible relationship with his chief constable if he cannot even get that chief constable money in return for the two of them agreeing a strategy to improve the local area? Do we still envisage the Secretary of State looking over 41 force areas and deciding what is an excessive precept? Will that be a single figure across the country, or will it respect the different needs and requirements of all the different areas, particularly after the spending reductions?
What on earth is the point of having an elected commissioner and a panel of elected councillors if the key decision about the precept is left with the Secretary of State—or, I fear, if these regulations do not do their job, and I cannot see how they will, letting it go straight to the courts? What does “have regard” mean? We need an answer to that question; we need some mechanism to settle it.
The mechanism I proposed—it was discussed on Report—has not yet been developed, I am afraid. My Liberal Democrat colleagues, Tom Brake and Dr Huppert have given this proposition their support and a number of my hon. Friends have supported it, but in order to simplify the process so that we do not have these four different actors setting the precept and also to provide some mechanism so that we know what will happen if there is a dispute between the panel and the commissioner, I have suggested that the power to hold a local referendum should not lie with the Secretary of State, looking over the shoulders of these 41 actors across the country, but that there should be a mechanism by which the panel can resolve a dispute with the commissioner. If that panel is made up of local councillors and if the councils in the local area had to pay for a referendum if such were called, we know that the panel would exercise that power responsibly. If it felt that the commissioner had not listened and had not had regard to what it had said, this mechanism would provide the ability to deal with the situation—without the courts intervening and without infantilising the two new actors on the policing landscape by giving the Secretary of State even more power than he now has over setting the police budget locally, which should be a matter for local democratic accountability.
No amendment has been tabled here to deal with that situation, although I believe that the amendment I proposed on Report would have done so. The mechanisms in the Localism Bill, however, would allow the referendum to be used, but only if that Bill were amended to state that, in the context of policing, the arrangements were entirely different because a special panel of councillors from every council in the area and two independents had been set up to scrutinise the commissioner, to look over the budget and ostensibly to veto it. With that veto, however, nothing much can be done: the commissioner has to have regard, and then we know not what.
I propose that we should frame an enabling power within the Localism Bill. It would not require Ministers to do anything, but it would leave all the options for regulation open to the Home Secretary, as previously discussed. If, between now and November next year, a mechanism for the budget that will work can be developed, and will not lead to litigation and if that mechanism will not leave the Minister to decide what is going to happen all the time, and if the referendum proposals for policing can be allowed for in the Localism Bill to enable the panel rather than the Secretary of State to decide, that could provide a mechanism for precept-setting that works, that empowers local democracy and that will not have this House and this Government blamed for every local decision about the precept or police numbers. Instead, it would provide a chance for that panel, that commissioner and that chief constable to develop a mature, local and responsible relationship.
We have had a good debate and a rather more technical one on this group of amendments. Vernon Coaker began by setting out the reasons for his amendment that was intended to achieve a veto over the dismissal of chief constables on the part of the panel. I addressed the issue when I first spoke to this group, so I shall not detain the House by repeating all those arguments, except to say that I think there is a distinction between the area of the appointment of the chief constable and that of dismissal.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that there is process around dismissal, as my hon. Friend Mike Crockart pointed out very well. We are introducing further safeguards in regulations, and we have given a stronger role to the inspectorate of constabulary. The exercise of the power of dismissal is not untrammelled: proper safeguards are in place. However, giving a panel of appointees the power of veto over a dismissal that would be merited under the existing arrangements and through proper process, and allowing them to insist that the chief constable remain in office when the police and crime commissioner legitimately wished that chief constable removed, would be a recipe for complete deadlock in local policing. That is one reason why it would be inappropriate to extend the veto in that regard. I fear that we will simply disagree on the matter, but I agree about the principle that there should be proper process around dismissal.
Should the Government find out that there was a problem with the process in due course, would primary legislation be required to change it, or could it be changed through an order-making power or a process other than primary legislation?
We are putting in place regulations in relation to the procedures for when a police and crime commissioner wishes to dismiss a chief constable. We are discussing that with the police advisory board. There is an order-making power.
To clarify the matter for the hon. Gentleman, the procedures do not extend to the power of the panel. If we wanted to give the panel the power of a veto, that would have to be determined by primary legislation. The matter must, therefore, be settled now. I have set out the Government’s case fully, but it seems that he disagrees with us.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that what he is saying would apply also to my point? Although the Localism Bill contains mechanisms for a referendum, were we to want to use that to settle a dispute between the panel and the commissioner, the provision would have to be on the face of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill or, perhaps better, the Localism Bill, for the panel rather than the Secretary of State to have that power. Without that, we are left solely with the “have regard” formulation.
I hope to be able to answer my hon. Friend’s question in a moment.
I had already sought to addressthe issue of the position of Cornwall as a unitary authority, which my hon. Friend Dan Rogerson raised very well with his amendment. I hope that my earlier comments about the power under the Bill will help to answer his concern.
Having spotted that the amendment did not allow the Secretary of State to impose unilaterally members who had not been proposed by the police and crime panel, the hon. Gentleman raised the interesting question of what would happen if the panel did not propose any co-opted members. He was right to suggest that we would not have the power of direction, but discussions would of course take place, and I have already indicated that we would be unhappy if a proposal for additional members of the Devon and Cornwall police and crime panel did not reflect geographical balance. We would certainly seek meetings with the relevant local authorities to discuss the issue.
I think it was right to give the power to local authorities, because that is the basis on which a panel is constituted to decide on increasing the number of co-opted members, rather than the decision being imposed centrally. However, we have the ability to approve membership, and I believe that our safeguards are sufficient to ensure that a sensible arrangement will be reached. We will certainly bring the full weight of Government to bear to ensure there is a proper balance between Cornwall and Devon.
My hon. Friend Mark Reckless raised the issue of the procedures relating to the veto that a police and crime panel may exercise on the setting of a precept, and the role of the Secretary of State in relation to an excessive precept. I should like to clarify a couple of the points that he raised, although I should be happy to discuss with him further an issue that he has raised with me separately, and about which he has written to me.
I can confirm that our proposed regulations will be able to specify how a disagreement will be dealt with, and to deal with what the phrase “have regard to” would mean in such circumstances. What we have been trying to avoid is a situation in which there is endless argument about the precept, and in which the system is effectively halted. We must establish a mechanism to resolve differences.
I believe that the regulations will deal with my hon. Friend's concern. I do not accept the claim that this is a weak power simply because the police and crime commissioner must only “have regard to” the veto. I believe that the police and crime panel has a de facto veto over a precept that it does not want, but procedures for resolution must be built in. I should be happy to discuss with my hon. Friend how the regulations would work, and indeed we should be grateful for the benefit of his experience as a member of the police authority.
As for the powers of the Secretary of State, I should point out that he will not decide the precept, but will decide the threshold at which a referendum should be triggered. Such a referendum would put the decision in the hands of the people, so it cannot be characterised as a centralist power or a denial of localism. My hon. Friend is a passionate localist, and he knows that I am as well. I can tell him that I am satisfied that the final say would rest with the people, and, in that sense, would be far more legitimate than a power exercised at an earlier stage in the process by the police and crime panel.
There are two potential issues in the Secretary of State’s involvement. One of them is to do with setting an excessive precept level in respect of the Localism Bill, and the other arises when a panel vetoes and the commissioner “has regard to” and the panel and the commissioner have a dispute. My concern is that unless the commissioner or panel make a decision—although I cannot see how that can happen given the reference to “have regard”—these regulations will lead to an appeal to the Secretary of State, who will then in some respect have even greater central power than under the current system.
I appreciate my hon. Friend’s point to the extent that there are two checks in this process: the check that is provided by the police and crime panel, thereby giving a voice to local authorities in this matter, with every local authority in the policing area represented on the panel; and the check that is provided ultimately by the people, triggered by the Secretary of State suggesting that there may be an excessive precept and substituting, effectively, a democratic lock for an administrative lock. My hon. Friend is right that two procedures are riding side by side in this respect, and we have to work out how they fit together. We hope to achieve that through the regulations. We are, effectively, following the proposals on the democratic lock set out in the Localism Bill, but I repeat that I would be very happy to have a meeting with my hon. Friend to discuss how these regulations will be shaped and how we might establish procedures that are workable and that ensure policing does not grind to a halt if there is a dispute. I hope that what I have said reassures my hon. Friend in the interim, and I look forward to having those discussions with him.
I think I have now responded to all the issues raised in what has been a useful, if somewhat technical, debate.
Lords amendment 5 agreed to.
Lords amendments 7 to 42 agreed to.
Lords amendment 43 disagreed to.
Government amendments (a) and (b) made in lieu of Lords amendment 43.
Lords amendments 44 to 52, 54, 55, 58 and 60 to 97 agreed to.