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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 Nick Herbert Nick Herbert The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice 9:15 pm, 12th September 2011

I hope to be able to answer my hon. Friend’s question in a moment.

I had already sought to addressthe issue of the position of Cornwall as a unitary authority, which my hon. Friend Dan Rogerson raised very well with his amendment. I hope that my earlier comments about the power under the Bill will help to answer his concern.

Having spotted that the amendment did not allow the Secretary of State to impose unilaterally members who had not been proposed by the police and crime panel, the hon. Gentleman raised the interesting question of what would happen if the panel did not propose any co-opted members. He was right to suggest that we would not have the power of direction, but discussions would of course take place, and I have already indicated that we would be unhappy if a proposal for additional members of the Devon and Cornwall police and crime panel did not reflect geographical balance. We would certainly seek meetings with the relevant local authorities to discuss the issue.

I think it was right to give the power to local authorities, because that is the basis on which a panel is constituted to decide on increasing the number of co-opted members, rather than the decision being imposed centrally. However, we have the ability to approve membership, and I believe that our safeguards are sufficient to ensure that a sensible arrangement will be reached. We will certainly bring the full weight of Government to bear to ensure there is a proper balance between Cornwall and Devon.

My hon. Friend Mark Reckless raised the issue of the procedures relating to the veto that a police and crime panel may exercise on the setting of a precept, and the role of the Secretary of State in relation to an excessive precept. I should like to clarify a couple of the points that he raised, although I should be happy to discuss with him further an issue that he has raised with me separately, and about which he has written to me.

I can confirm that our proposed regulations will be able to specify how a disagreement will be dealt with, and to deal with what the phrase “have regard to” would mean in such circumstances. What we have been trying to avoid is a situation in which there is endless argument about the precept, and in which the system is effectively halted. We must establish a mechanism to resolve differences.

I believe that the regulations will deal with my hon. Friend's concern. I do not accept the claim that this is a weak power simply because the police and crime commissioner must only “have regard to” the veto. I believe that the police and crime panel has a de facto veto over a precept that it does not want, but procedures for resolution must be built in. I should be happy to discuss with my hon. Friend how the regulations would work, and indeed we should be grateful for the benefit of his experience as a member of the police authority.

As for the powers of the Secretary of State, I should point out that he will not decide the precept, but will decide the threshold at which a referendum should be triggered. Such a referendum would put the decision in the hands of the people, so it cannot be characterised as a centralist power or a denial of localism. My hon. Friend is a passionate localist, and he knows that I am as well. I can tell him that I am satisfied that the final say would rest with the people, and, in that sense, would be far more legitimate than a power exercised at an earlier stage in the process by the police and crime panel.