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Clause 1 — Police and crime commissioners

Part of Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:30 pm on 12th September 2011.

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Photo of Simon Hart Simon Hart Conservative, Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire 6:30 pm, 12th September 2011

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.