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Clause 1 — Police and crime commissioners

Part of Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:45 pm on 12th September 2011.

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Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 5:45 pm, 12th September 2011

I agree with my hon. Friend about the logic of the Government arriving at the date of 15 November. In speaking to the amendment in question, the Minister in effect just said, “We’re changing the date,” in what amounted to not much more than a shrug-of-the-shoulders argument. The House deserved more than that, because many people say that if we are going to delay this, it is much more sensible to delay until May 2013. Why has this date been chosen? Why is it so special? What discussions have taken place with the Liberals?

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.”