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Clause 1 — Police and crime commissioners

Part of Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill – in the House of Commons at 9:15 pm on 12th September 2011.

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Photo of Dan Rogerson Dan Rogerson Liberal Democrat, North Cornwall 9:15 pm, 12th September 2011

I defer to the right hon. Gentleman, who has lived and breathed the panels for a long time.

As we have heard, in neighbouring Devon, where they still have district councils, every council will get representation on the panel, as I understand it, regardless of the huge disparities in population between some of the smaller district councils in Devon and the Cornish unitary authority and the unitary authorities in Torbay and Plymouth—the major city on our peninsula. The message coming strongly from members of the public and elected representatives—in the form of Cornwall councillors—is that they are deeply dissatisfied that this issue has not been resolved to the point where they feel that all areas are getting equal representation. I am sympathetic to that.

The Minister has set out, very helpfully, the possibility of using co-option. As my hon. Friend Mike Crockart said, that has been pressed for a while, and I am delighted that the Government have responded by allowing this flexibility so that local circumstances can be accommodated. We are familiar with the police authority model—I accept that it is a different type of body—under which geographical areas are represented. We want to ensure a range of views on those bodies, and co-option has been used to ensure that people from different backgrounds, for example, are represented on those organisations. That is important. Before the census this year, people in Cornwall pressed for the opportunity to recognise their Cornish identity and for it to be enumerated in the census. I was delighted when a friend of mine sent me a picture of her son’s data-monitoring form in Hertfordshire, where they were able to circle “White, Cornish”.

I am departing from the point a little, but I am merely trying to make the point that those of us in Cornwall who are proud of our Cornish identity would not want to feel that we were being given less of an opportunity to put our point across than our neighbours in the most westerly English county, Devon. Amendment (a) would give a bit more of a steer on how the power of co-option could be used to ensure that such concerns are dealt with. I do not think that the amendment goes far enough to reassure everybody in Cornwall that there is equality of opportunity in seeking representation on the panel, but given where we are in the passage of the Bill, it is as far as we can go while still being in order, given what is in Lords amendment 80.

I want to ask the Minister about the Secretary of State’s discretion to approve or not to approve the pattern of co-option that members of a panel put to her. Clearly she could decide to reject a series of proposed co-options on the basis that they did not reflect adequately the geographical make-up of that policing area. The Minister pointed that out, helpfully, although I hope that it would not be necessary. As Sarah Newton said, we would hope that the members of the panel who were there as of right would seek automatically to use the power of co-option constructively to secure proper representation. Hypothetically, however, should they not do so but instead seek further to entrench the position of their communities with regard to the make-up of the panel, it would be reassuring to know that the Secretary of State could have regard to the need to secure equality and therefore reject the co-options.

However, it occurs to me that were such a panel happy not to alter the geographic balance, it might simply not put forward any co-options at all. That is the fear, although we are dealing with a hypothetical situation, and I imagine—indeed, I hope—that, as the hon. Lady said, those appointed under the Bill as it stands would not seek to do that, but would listen to our debate today and to the debate out there in the community, and would reassure people by using the power of co-option in the way that the Minister has suggested would be helpful. Therefore, my question for the Minister is: if those panels decided not to go down the co-option route, what message could be sent to say that the Secretary of State would be looking to them to act in that way? What discussions might the local authorities have among themselves prior to the constitution of the panel to address some of those concerns?