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Clause 1 — Police and crime commissioners

Part of Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill – in the House of Commons at 9:00 pm on 12th September 2011.

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Photo of Michael Crockart Michael Crockart Liberal Democrat, Edinburgh West 9:00 pm, 12th September 2011

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In Committee, Mark Tami asked the Minister what percentage of amendments moved by Liberal Democrats were withdrawn rather than pressed to a Division.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, 8 February 2011; c. 456.]

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.