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Clause 1 — Police and crime commissioners

Part of Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:30 pm on 12th September 2011.

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Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 5:30 pm, 12th September 2011

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 15 November 2012 or on the first Thursday in May 2013. What are the manifesto commitments that the candidates for police and crime commissioner are going to stand on? They are not going to stand on the promise of a better counter-terrorism policy or a decent fraud policy for the pensioners of their area. What they are going to stand on is something like, “We want to see police stations kept open in our community” or “We want to see more visible police officers going up and down our streets every single day”. That is the sort of manifesto on which police and crime commissioners will stand.

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.”