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Clause 1 — Police and crime commissioners

Part of Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:00 pm on 12th September 2011.

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Photo of Nick Herbert Nick Herbert The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice 5:00 pm, 12th September 2011

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.