My Lords, in moving the Motion standing in my name I should like to declare my membership of the Independent Police Commission, my chairmanship of the Security Industry Authority, the fact that for 16 years I chaired the Lancashire Police Committee and then the Lancashire Police Authority, and that for 15 years I was first chair and then president of the Association of Police Authorities.
Policing over the past 20 years has been extremely successful. Essential partnerships with local authorities, social services, the probation service and health bodies have been very effectively forged. Neighbourhood policing, one of the biggest success stories of recent years, is delivering tangible results to appreciative local residents. Police and community support officers have added a new and important level of resilience and response. Not surprisingly, crime has fallen markedly, by up to 40% in the past 15 years and public satisfaction has risen. You could be forgiven for thinking that any sensible Government seeking to exploit this success would adopt an organic and incremental approach to sustain these major improvements and build upon them. But clearly we do not have a sensible Government. As far as policing is concerned, we have a dogmatic and destructive Government. In the past few months, this coalition has launched a veritable tsunami of revolutionary change across the policing service. National bodies have been scrapped. New entities are being created, while at the same time changes to long-standing police terms and conditions and police career structures are being forced through. Novel governance arrangements at the local level threaten to destroy not just all the good work of the past 20 years, but the Peel principles themselves, which have been the fundamental bedrock of British policing for nearly 200 years. No wonder morale among police officers is at a record low.
I want quickly to run through all the changes that are currently taking place, just to give a clear picture of their sweeping scale. The Serious and Organised Crime Agency has been abolished, and the National Policing Improvement Agency and the Police Senior Appointments Panel are about to disappear, if they have not already done so. A new National Crime Agency is being established, and some of the National Policing Improvement Agency's responsibilities will transfer to a new College of Policing, which is currently in an embryonic state. Other NPIA functions have gone back to the Home Office and we are to see a new IT body, NewCo, emerge some time next year. At this point, we do not know much about it. There is a big question mark over ACPO, especially over its important operational activities and professional leadership role. We know that ACPO will no longer be funded nationally, but it is currently unclear what workstreams will pass to the new College of Policing, what operational work will still be carried out at the national level by senior officers, how this might be commissioned in future by the Chief Constables' Council, and whether police and crime commissioners will put any of their or their forces' funding towards this work. The police inspectorate, which for decades has worked closely and effectively with forces and authorities, is being changed in scope and responsibilities into a more regulatory body, headed up for the first time ever by someone who has never served as a senior police officer. Simultaneously, far-reaching changes are being forced through in police terms and conditions with minimal consultation. The second phase of proposed reforms is currently out to arbitration.
As if that is not enough change, at force level across England and Wales, police and crime commissioners are to be elected two weeks from today with wide and sweeping powers to challenge and undermine the work of their forces, and with the capacity to cut across the crime fighting partnerships that have been so carefully and patiently built up in their areas. Most, if not all, of these commissioners will be elected on a party political ticket. This is the most revolutionary change of all: the importing of a highly politicised American model of local police governance into this country. The public have made it very clear, and are still making it clear on the doorstep and in the columns of many of our newspapers, that they do not want this to happen and that politicisation will reduce their confidence in policing. This is hardly surprising when police officers in this country, despite all the events of recent weeks, are still held in far higher esteem than party politicians. It seems extremely perverse, if not downright dangerous, to put individual politicians directly in charge of police forces, with the power to undermine operational independence by withholding funding or questioning the operational judgments of senior officers and, in the last resort, by dismissing them.
No wonder the public are alarmed and so many of them will refuse to sanction this new model of police governance, by not voting in the elections. We know that turnout will be extremely low, as some of us forecast a year or more ago when we tried as much as we could to shift these elections towards next May, when at least they would have been held in tandem with other elections, which would have increased turnout quite considerably. As it is, turnout will be extremely low, with a further damaging loss of confidence in the validity of the results.
All this is going on in the face of savage cuts to police budgets of around 20% over four years-front-loaded cuts-with the inevitable loss of thousands of front-line police officers. Miraculously however, up to £100,000 has been found for this novel injection of direct democracy into policing that is taking place on
My concern is with public confidence and public safety. That has always been my concern in policing ever since I became involved in it. Policing should be what the public want it to be-that is absolutely fundamental and why we have to look at all these changes in the light of public confidence and public safety. I will highlight four issues that I believe will seriously erode that confidence and undermine that safety.
I have already mentioned the first issue: bringing party politics into policing, in a direct way, for the first time ever in the history of British policing. In the next few months, between one-third and one-half of chief constable posts will need to be filled. It might interest the House to know that there are currently around a dozen acting chief constables and another half-dozen chief constable posts to be filled in the next few months. Our commissioners will have a completely free hand in the appointments process. They will inevitably choose chief constables in their own image, and I fear very much that the public will begin to perceive chief constables as being in one party political camp or another. This must surely undermine public trust in the impartiality of policing.
Furthermore, with only 18% of commissioner candidates being women, and hardly any ethnic candidates, it is absolutely certain that most commissioners will be white middle-aged males with, I suspect, very strong personalities. In turn, they are likely to appoint white, male, middle-aged chief constables. As a result, we will see less diversity in senior ranks, which, again, we know will impact seriously on public confidence. There are inevitably going to be arguments and disagreements between the commissioner and the chief constable in respect of strategy, staffing and financial policies, and I cannot see how it is possible to argue-although it has been argued in this House-that operational independence will remain unscathed. There are all sorts of ways in which that independence is likely to be undermined and, again, the impact on public confidence, and possibly even on public safety, cannot be overstated.
Secondly, the PCCs will not be subject to any impartial inspection or scrutiny process, unlike police authorities. Although they will operate under the watchful eye of the police and crime panels, which may provide some sort of check on their activities, I fear it will be a much more feeble one than some of us would like to see. The performance of the commissioners, we are told, can only be fully and appropriately judged after four years, at the ballot box. So if they are slow learners, poor performers, mavericks or dangerous ideologues-and we have seen such people elected in recent mayoral contests up and down the country-the public are stuck with them. Imagine the possible damage to a force's performance or the changes that could take place in four short years. We could see massive outsourcing to private companies to save money, without essential safeguards in place to protect the public interest. It is not difficult to predict enormous variations in policing quality and levels of service across the country, with the result, again, of undermining public confidence and public safety.
The third issue I wish to highlight is the impact of the election of commissioners on local partnerships. I have spent a lot of time in the past few months at policing meetings up and down the country, hearing about the work of local partnerships involving the police, and how successful they have been. What has been most striking is the level of police integration into a range of local networks that are delivering impressive results, which is what lies behind this sustained fall in crime. But there is considerable anxiety about how the election of commissioners will impact on existing partnerships.
We know that some of the funding that went to community safety partnerships is already being redirected to commissioners, who will be able to spend this money as they choose. They will be able to commission a range of local services, and naturally they will want to make their own mark and establish their credentials, with an eye on the next set of elections. We will see them announcing their presence locally with a raft of eye-catching new initiatives, challenges to divisional commanders or local authorities-a series of high-profile activities. Can it really be assumed that there will be a smooth transition and that the commissioners will galvanise local groups into new and more productive relationships, or will they not rather undermine the effectiveness of what already exists and is delivering results? We can only guess at this stage, but establishing local priorities and giving funding to one group and not another is a complex and sensitive task, best done by a body representing a range of interests. One party-political commissioner handing out largesse at local level to some groups and not to others will be a sure recipe for public unrest and loss of confidence, with the danger that marginalised groups, vulnerable young people or unfashionable causes will be ignored.
My final concern is in many ways the most serious. How much importance will the new commissioners attach to the national and regional policing requirements that their forces currently meet? With the scale of cuts to police budgets already in the pipeline, will commissioners really be willing to see reductions in local policing services while a range of regional and national responsibilities continues to be shouldered by the force? That seems unlikely. Yet counterterrorism work, international drug-smuggling rings and slave traffickers cannot be dealt with by the new National Crime Agency alone. That body will need support and operational assistance from individual forces, and at the very least there is going to be creative tension between PCCs, chief constables and the National Crime Agency. At worst, there could be serious friction, with commissioners perhaps trying to exercise a veto over the directive powers of the National Crime Agency.
Will commissioners do more than pay lip service to the strategic policing requirement? If another round of riots were to sweep the land, can we be sure that commissioners will agree the necessary financial arrangements and force deployments so that the threats will be met by a co-ordinated national response, or will their focus inevitably be on local policing? I have made the case many times that in this 21st century we need fewer, larger forces working more closely together. The impact of elected commissioners will be to accentuate the local and parochial at the expense of the collaborative, regional and joined-up operation. That, I fear, is a serious challenge.
Too many changes are taking place too quickly, without an adequate level of co-ordination. A whole number of new jigsaw pieces have been created, but they are not being joined up and I believe that the public could be exposed to increased levels of danger as a result. Police morale is very low at the moment and that makes the problems worse. In a recent survey of superintendents and area commanders-an absolutely crucial layer of policing leadership at divisional level-44% of those who responded said they had seriously considered leaving the service in the past year. This is a major cause for alarm at a time when the policing landscape is changing so dramatically. The danger is that the service is becoming more fragmented, just when the nature of global threats requires joined-up, committed and vigorous responses.
I hope that when he comes to reply, the Minister will be able to tell the House how the Government intend to limit the damage their policing revolution is causing to public confidence and public safety, and what they are going to do as a matter of urgency to restore police morale. I beg to move.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, on securing this debate at this timely moment in British constitutional history. It is particularly appropriate that the debate should be introduced by the noble Baroness, because I have always thought of her as someone who would make an ideal police and crime commissioner. She has a deep and sincere commitment to making our communities safer. She also has an impressive track record as an effective local politician. By this I mean that not only did she know how to win elections, but that as chairman of the Lancashire Police Authority and of the APA, she also knew how to get things done.
Those are the two personal characteristics which I regard as essential for a successful and effective PCC. First and foremost, a successful PCC must have a strong commitment to making his or her community a safer place in which to live; a safer place in which to bring up children; and a safer place for those who deserve and expect a peaceful old age. But good intentions are not enough. A successful PCC must also be able to get things done. He must be able to identify and prioritize the policing needs of all those he represents and know how to get these policing needs met. Getting these needs met efficiently and effectively will not be achieved by threatening to fire the chief constable, although of course he or she will have the power to do so.
No, a successful PCC will get things done by working with the chief constable; by setting clear objectives for him or her; and by inspiring, motivating and supporting him. But the PCC's contribution to making his community safer will not be limited to simply tasking and encouraging his chief constable. The successful PCC will also reach out to secure the active collaboration of all the other local agencies with a part to play in fighting crime and antisocial behaviour, and will mobilize the thousands of volunteers who are ready to help. In short, the successful PCC will be the leader of a community-wide effort aimed at achieving more effective local policing and safer communities.
That is a tall order, but from what I have seen of the candidates so far, I believe that, for the most part, they will have no difficulty meeting this challenge. That is why I get so angry when I read articles bemoaning the quality of the candidates and arguing that, for this reason, this radical extension of local democracy has already proved a failure, even before a single vote has been cast. Some of these articles are, of course, simply mischievous and others are making cheap party political points. Others, however, are more depressing because they are based on a deliberate misunderstanding of the role of the PCC and, more significantly, a deep cynicism about democracy and politics.
The misunderstanding relates to the relationship between the PCC and the chief constable. No matter how often Ministers and others have made the point, there are some people who still do not understand that the PCC is not the operational head of the local police force. That is the job of the chief constable. That is what the chief constable and his management team have been trained to do and that is what they are paid to do. I can assure your Lordships, on the basis of my own first-hand experience of policing on both sides of the Atlantic, that our chief officers do not need any help from politicians on how to carry out their operational responsibilities.
To be a successful leader of a community-wide effort to make the community safer-as I describe the role of the PCC as being-the PCC does not need a deep knowledge of policing; he needs a deep knowledge of people. He needs to know how to listen, to prioritise, to inspire, to motivate and to lead. The PCC is, in the end, a leader, not a manager. He is a politician, not a police officer.
This brings me to my point about the widespread cynicism in this country about democracy and politics. Sadly, there are too many people in this country who do not like politicians. They do not trust them and they do not respect them. These are the people who complain that there are not enough former generals, police chiefs or successful businessmen standing as PCCs. These are the people who see no need for democratically elected PCCs. They are content to have their local policing needs identified and prioritised by professionals; that is, by chief constables and Home Office bureaucrats. They use phrases like "let the police get on with it" or "policing is too important to allow amateurs to get involved with it, especially politicians".
It is these people who are attracted to so-called "independent candidates", candidates who are running on a platform that they are "experts" whose personal judgment is unassailable simply because they are unaffiliated to any established political party, or at least not formally or openly. Their manifesto is simple: "Trust me to take care of your interests. I know best". It is these people who believe, as someone said in a letter to the Times last week,
"I am not competent to decide who should be our local commissioner ... I certainly have views on policing, but I am not competent to prioritise what should be done, and I suspect that no other lay (non-police) person is".
I find this attitude rather depressing and, frankly, worrying.
The right to hold free elections to choose those who will govern us and the right to form groups of like-minded individuals to contest these elections as groups or parties are very precious to us. Countless of our citizens have given their lives over many generations to protect these rights.
The election on
My Lords, I offer my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Henig. She a said a great deal with which I agreed. They were the arguments that I used when I voted against this legislation, but, of course, the Government persevered with it, very much at the pressing of the noble Lord, Lord Wasserman-I shall come to that in a few minutes-resulting in the policy that we have today. However, I have to admit my interest as I will be fighting in this election in two weeks' time to become a commissioner and I admit to being a white male candidate-probably old as well-but I hope that I shall be able to put the case.
My case is about whether the new police governance structure which the Motion before us today is about, and the policy that the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, was critical of, are satisfactory for us. It cannot possibly be that there was a failure in the policy that the Government inherited. In fact, that was not the case; if anything, as the noble Baroness pointed out, it was a very successful policy. It is 20 years ago that Tony Blair announced that he would be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. His emphasis on the causes of crime was quite important, but it was laughed at at the time. But if we look at the analysis 10 years on, we find that the rate of criminal offences that have taken place has reduced dramatically. It is not just in my own area of Humberside, where it has gone down by 40%; in every area of England and Wales, crime fell by around 40%. Whatever the judgment in this House is and whether it is a democratic one or not, I assume that it is really about reducing the incidence of crime. Then there is also the participation of the social mechanisms involved in it; the criminal side and the police and social causes are two sides of the same coin in any successful policy-and that clearly came about.
So it cannot be that the policy is failing. I think that it is because the Government think-and there are a number of reasons given for it-that it is costing a lot more than it should. That is a fair point to make; the Government have an argument. Policing in austerity, as Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary said, will have an effect. That is probably true, but is the choice then to cut about 20% in resources and get rid of 15,000 police? If anyone believes for a moment that that will improve the situation or help the decline in crime to continue, they are living in another world. Indeed, it is obvious that, whatever crime statistics you take, if you take away the resources and reduce the scale of policing, there will be an increase in crime. So you have to make the judgment whether the priority is to save the resources or to keep the community safe with an active police and social policy in this area. That is a judgment that we can all make. Certainly, this new policy of reducing on such a scale will have that effect. So I need to look at other reasons.
I can understand the argument on austerity, although I am bound to say that Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary made it clear that these cuts were at twice the rate that they needed to be. In my area that makes quite a difference-and I think that that is so in every area. So while not rejecting the idea of austerity, we must ask whether it has to be so deep and quick as it is at the moment. I as a commissioner would be expected to produce a five-year plan within five weeks. I do not know what the extent of the cuts will be, and we still have the public expenditure review to come. We will have £23 million in cuts and I do not think that that is the end of it. They have already cut £500,000 from the community safety management programme, so we have not stopped the cuts. Presumably, whatever the circumstances, these cuts will continue.
You have to ask yourself why this is happening, in those circumstances. To a certain extent, the public expenditure cuts are one reason-then there is decentralisation. This Government talk about decentralising and taking policing away from the Home Office, but if you look at the proposals that have just come out the very opposite is happening. The policy concentrates more and more power in the hands of the Home Secretary. The proposals are to abolish ACPO; there will now be another council of chief constables, which will presumably report to the Home Office. The proposals are to replace the Inspector of Constabulary with Mr Winsor, and the report basically threatens the confidence of the police. The National Crime Agency is a body that can overrule the chief constable and it is related to who? To the Home Secretary. That concentrates power not in the local area but in the Home Office.
Then there is the abolition of police authorities, which is supposed to give greater democratic accountability. The noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, is a great force in democracy. Looking at his background, I do not think that he ever took part in an election. He is a great civil servant, great scientist and a great adviser on both sides of the Atlantic, but absolutely useless in understanding the democratic process. Of course, he is entitled to speak as an individual-but do not give us the quote of experience, because he has got none of it. The noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, has been one of the biggest gurus in the development-is he going to get up?
I presume that was to stop me in my flow. I hope that that will be taken into account when it comes to the eight minutes.
On the democratic accountability and the election of the PCCs, November is the worst time to hold an election-everybody agrees on that-with a voting system that does not necessarily mean that you need 50%. You can have a very low proportion of the vote and still be a commissioner. No doubt there will be a question about the legitimacy of someone being a commissioner on such a low vote. No money is being given for the election candidates, or information about the candidates. Do we really accept that this Government are interested in democratic accountability? It is a load of nonsense-they never have been. To that extent, we will get a low turnout.
The PCCs have been given the opportunity to provide a plan. They have to do that in five weeks-it is already ready and agreed with the Home Office. It just gets handed to us. I will not do that; I will not accept that kind of analysis. It is not fair. It is certainly not politically accountable because it is the Home Office telling us what we do with the plan when we should be asking the people in our area what should be the priorities in the plan. We are not doing anything about that and the chance to do so is denied to us because of resources. In all these areas we are finding a loss. In Humberside it is £23 million. We have the difficulty of cutting too fast and face a basically bleak future, with crime increased.
Why did we pursue this policy? I will finish on this point. The noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, is one of the gurus-I have read more about him: this guru has been over to America and come back here, and he is an adviser to the Home Office and to the Prime Minister. God help him, he does not seem to be getting many answers right but let us leave that aside. He has given that advice and yet he refuses to appear before the Select Committee in the House of Commons to answer what this new IT company will be doing. I understand that he will be chairman of this new IT company, which recommends £500,000 be paid to the chairman-three times the amount given to a Prime Minister. Is the noble Lord going to be chairman? I hoped he would speak after me but I notice that the organisation shoved him in front so I cannot ask him that. But I will tell you what this IT company will do: it will privatise the intelligence and technology. All this is about creating space in the police force for privatisation.
We saw that the Home Office is still trying to advocate privatisation, though Surrey and Midlands have rejected that so far. In my area, Lincolnshire already has G4S in. God help them. We saw what happened at the Olympics but G4S is already in on contract. This is about privatisation.
The noble Earl must be fair: he got up before. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Wasserman: you are advocating democracy. You are adding more accountability. I read in one of his speeches that Lords should encourage people to vote. Why did he then sign an article saying that I should not be the commissioner in Humberside? Quite frankly, who the heck is he to say that and appeal to my electorate not to vote for me? I say to him: come up to my area, debate with the people as to who has the right to make that decision-advisers like him who will not speak openly, or politicians, who are accountable. I am a politician. I am accountable. Come up and debate with us instead of hiding behind your position.
My Lords, I think the noble Lord has stopped even if he has not concluded. I had in my head that the title of this debate was about challenges facing the police service. In fact, it has a rather more neutral title. Noble Lords on the Cross Benches will not have the experience that the rest of us have of a shoal of invitations arriving during July and August to speak at our party conferences about different topics. I was very struck in the case of the Liberal Democrat conference by the stakeholders who used the term "opportunities". They were organisations dealing with victims and young people-of course, young people can also be victims. They generally sought debate on the role of police and crime commissioners in the context of the criminal justice system and the rehabilitation landscape. I take my cue from their attitude. Let us not talk down police and crime commissioners. Let us look for the opportunities.
Of course, the agendas will be set substantially by local communities. One of the challenges for police and crime commissioners will be to work up mechanisms to listen to the public, with things likes effective public consultation arrangements-I stress "effective" as those of us who have been used to democracy as well as bureaucracy are used to seeing what is badged as consultation actually being information-including people who are likely to be victims of crime, and working out performance indicators. I am not a particular fan of targets but there is a place for indicators which properly reflect local priorities. There is also sharing performance data with the public.
Police and crime commissioners will have quite a lot of local autonomy, which they will need to use to the best effect. One mechanism, which I have seen to some extent in local government, may be to have what in the jargon is participatory budgeting. That uses the budgeting exercise as the basis of a debate with-again, I hate the word-stakeholders as to how the budget should best be spent and involves those who have a stake in it in working towards the decisions. The budgetary role of the commissioners will be one of the most important, even if it is not immediately one of the most obvious.
The local community includes, of course, stakeholders and partners. Most organisations will fall into both categories. Local authorities will be one of those. I think that I have referred before in this Chamber to the work undertaken in the London Borough of Sutton where, for the best part of a decade, the local authority has worked in partnership with the police-crucially, having set up a structure to deal with community safety that has a single line manager-and where multi-agency liaison has been worked on as part of the interface between the Safer Sutton Partnership board and participant agencies. It seems from all the figures, to refer back to performance indicators, to have been very successful. Other partners will be within the wide area of criminal justice.
Earlier this week, noble Lords discussed community sentencing in the context of the Crime and Courts Bill. There was much reference to restorative justice, which is to get its first legislative recognition, and to the importance of the understanding of that by the police. I heard quite a lot about that at the party conference meetings that I mentioned. The new structure, as the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, said, includes police and crime panels. I have said before that despite their limited statutory role, to which she referred, I hope they will be ambitious. They need good access to experts and to others who can assist them in their work, even if they cannot co-opt them. They also need access to both information and to face-to-face meetings with senior officers. Scrutiny is an exercise which I have always thought of as being pro-active, not simply reactive.
Big personalities have been mentioned. I have always been instinctively uncomfortable with personality politics but big personalities have the opportunity to act as leaders, and leadership, as the noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, said, is important in this new structure. There is nothing wrong in itself with an eye-catching initiative; if that is all it is, yes, but if it takes people forward then it may be a good thing. Leadership is important to bring to the local community things that may not immediately be obvious to it, although it should be. Trafficking is an obvious example.
We have heard about the NCA and the College of Policing. One has to admire the Home Secretary who, by sheer force of personality, seems to have brought these two things about. That is not to say that I am not enthusiastic about the National Crime Agency but, as she and others have said, these amount to a lot of change that is not evolutionary. I hope that we do not lose professional development in all this. The police are professionals and I want to keep that in the forefront of my own thinking.
I end by saying that having been defeated in my attempts to persuade the Government that these changes should be piloted, as we are going to see them across the country, that does not mean to say that these changes should not be evaluated and assessed. There should not be an expansion of the role of police and crime commissioner until that has been done. Changes are happening but let us make sure that they happen as well as possible.
My Lords, I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, for focusing on this timely issue just before the country-in very large numbers, we hope, but perhaps they will not be-goes to vote for its local police and crime commissioners. As a declaration of interest, I remind the House of my service for some years in the police service.
We are here to debate the challenges to the police service in the new landscape. This is not necessarily the time to debate too deeply the rights and wrongs, perceived or otherwise, of the concept of police and crime commissioners; we have done that at length in your Lordships' House in previous months. I personally have supported the concept; I am wary of many of the pitfalls but hope that they will not present themselves. In the short time available, I want to pick up on three issues that I think will define the whole landscape of policing as the new PCCs emerge and begin to make their mark on what is certainly a fundamental change to the whole landscape of policing as we know it. I want to pick up on the lack of a five-year plan, on the National Crime Agency, which has just been mentioned by the previous speaker, and on the whole issue of professionalism.
First, a five-year plan does not exist. Unlike the Armed Forces, which have a national defence review where every five years the whole of the international landscape is scanned, against which one then tries to measure the response that our Armed Forces may well need to adopt to counter growing threats and situations, we do not have one in this area and we never have. It has been a matter of some dismay to me that we do not. Funnily enough, the PCCs, who are essentially elected on local issues, are in a strangely privileged position to be able to address this. I hope that they will not fall into the trap of parochialism. Rather, I hope that, as they almost certainly will, they body together as a grouping of 40 or so individuals nationally every so often to discuss mutual problems. I hope, when they meet as that national body, that they will reflect on the fact that no national business, no commercial concern, with 40 or more regional divisions-that is how one might well look at the police service in this instance-would ever exist without a regular scan of the distant horizon. In business they would need to look, as indeed they do, at demographic issues, socioeconomic issues, climatic issues, the international dimension and so on. There is a need for that, and if the Home Office has not done it-no Home Office under any Government whom I know of has ever done this-then there is a role for the PCCs to do it, and to help with their own local input against the broader canvas.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said that she was not too sure that she supported the National Crime Agency, if I understood her correctly. I understand where she is coming from as there are indeed doubts about it, but I personally have long supported the concept of it. There is a power for the National Crime Agency to direct the PCCs if push comes to shove, but I hope that that is a stick that will remain in the cupboard. I look for, hope for and probably anticipate that there will be a good deal of mutual understanding between the NCA on the one side and the PCCs on the other, seeking to fit the local issues into the national landscape.
With regard to national and international crime, the national landscape is a problem, and I shall give the House an indication of how big that problem is. Recent estimates are that 30,000 individuals, grouped together in 7,500 groups, are involved in organised crime affecting the UK and its interests. Over 50% of the 7,500 groups operating in the UK are involved in drug trafficking. Last year, Serious Organised Crime Agency-led activity recovered over £450 million worth of drugs in seizures.
The National Fraud Authority indicates that organised crime group activity has resulted in £9.9 billion-worth of fraud committed against individuals in this country. Cybercrime is confidently estimated to be in the order of £27 billion. The last figure I shall weary the House with, in order to put this into a more human dimension, is that the UK Human Trafficking Centre's assessment is that there were 2,077 adult and child trafficking victims in the UK last year.
All that will have to be played out face to face with the local issues that the PCCs will deal with. I recognise the tensions that may exist, but I indicate my support for the National Crime Agency. It has to be with us, and I hope it will work in harmony with the PCCs.
Finally, I turn to professionalisation in the service. We have recently received two reports from Mr Tom Winsor, who was recently appointed as Her Majesty' Chief Inspector of Constabulary. Those reports, taken together, produce the most radical review of policing we have seen for at least 50 years. There has been opposition, perhaps understandable opposition, from the Police Federation, and the media interest on the days of the reports' publication seemed to focus on compulsory fitness tests for police and little else. I support compulsory fitness tests, but there is much more in the reports than that. Mr Winsor seeks, quite rightly, and I support him in it, to sweep away outdated practices in the police service and attract the best recruits to it. His stated aim-and I ask the House to reflect on this-is to create a white-collar profession rather than a blue-collar job. I think that that is long overdue. He seeks to replace the Police Negotiating Board-the PNB-with a salary review body. That is admirable. The PNB has served its purpose very well over the years, but I believe that it is no longer fit for purpose. It needs streamlining; it needs to flatten the rank structure; and particularly, it needs to reward those who contribute massively to the police effort rather than those who are along just for the ride.
I shall touch briefly on two-tier entry. I have spoken before in your Lordships' House on my support for a streamlined, two-tier entry system. Winsor talks of a three-tier entry system, but I shall leave that for another moment. The two-tier entry system deserves a fair wind because there is no doubt in my mind that we do not get a sufficient number of Russell group graduates coming into the police. The police are not seen as an obvious career of choice in that group. We need to recruit people at that level who have the essential character qualities of integrity, personal value sets, common sense and moral courage and who are leaders, not just managers.
There is one other issue I shall touch on: the college of policing, not the Bramshill staff college. I support it and hope it will see success in coming months and years. It is badly needed to set standards, ethics, style and purpose for the police in a way that has not altogether been clear before. It is something that one hopes will eventually grow to command status and respect like the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, the Royal College of Physicians and so on. In that landscape, PCCs will have a vital role to play. They may find their role difficult at times, but I believe that they will contribute much.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, for bringing this debate to the House. From the number of speakers, your Lordships can see what a popular and hot topic this is. I look forward to hearing the speeches from so many noble Lords who, from their professional backgrounds, are knowledgeable and experienced. I want to concentrate on one aspect about which I have true knowledge and I shall speak from the heart. I refer to victims and how we will be served in the light of the new policing challenges that lie ahead.
I am a huge supporter of the police. I am very honoured to be one of the judges of the police bravery awards. However, when we read reports about where policing has gone wrong, poor record keeping, lack of communication, leaving it for others to do and passing the buck feature in every one. Sadly, the Hillsborough report, the serious failings in Rotherham and the inappropriate relations with the press we have seen in Leveson have knocked the public's confidence in the police.
Police and crime commissioners are the most significant democratic reform of policing in our lifetime. They will work with the police to cut crime, give the public a voice at the highest level, hold forces to account and help restore trust. They are an independent voice but, most importantly, PCCs will have a duty to listen to victims and champion their interests. For the very first time, victims of crime will have a clear role in determining what the police should focus on and how. This is a massive step forward in helping the police and other services do their best for victims and put their experiences at the heart of how they deal with crime. It has to be less bureaucratic as real people's lives are being blighted. For me it is about the language we use, understanding the problem, owning the problem and, more importantly, the solution.
What is it like being a victim? I am not going to go into my full story because I think noble Lords know it, but I shall tell the House how it feels. In 2007, I lost my late husband, but before that I was an activist in my community. The police never came out. They gave you a criminal record number for criminal damage. When you constantly go to meetings to say that you have problems on your street, you do not see the chief constable, you see messengers. While they might be very good officers, they are messengers. For me, it was essential that we got the top man. If you are at the top, you work for the people and speak to the people. I never saw that. As I walked back from a community meeting, I said, "Nothing will be changed until somebody is murdered". Sadly, that was my late husband, Garry. You are made to feel vulnerable, you are made to think that it is in your mind, you have no solutions and nobody comes to your door.
A joined-up partnership is essential to stop this. It is a silent killer when nobody gives you an answer when you daily suffer intimidation and criminal damage to property that you work damn hard to keep nice. When you are told that it does not affect your street by somebody who lives on another street, it is very irritating. PCCs have a remit to bring all agencies together. I am concerned that we do not do that now. My late husband was killed in 2007, and I have had so many insults from agencies that do not work together. At a conference that I was speaking at, someone from one agency honestly and openly said to me that he had looked at his data and said, "Oh thank God, they weren't on my patch". How dare an individual who is at the top of his game in an agency that is there to protect the public say to me, "I could sleep". I could not sleep, and I lost my husband because I could not sleep. This is the reality of real life on the street.
Whitehall talks a different language. I have to admit that I do not know a lot of that language, but I am honest and will say, "Could you put in plain English?". I have no disrespect for your knowledge or your work path, but people on the street are not interested in police budgets or in the internal bickering and infighting. They want to feel safe on their streets. At the moment, while we say that crime is down, the perception of crime is very high.
Therefore, I would say to police and crime commissioners that the public are not interested in the colour of the party they come from. They want to feel safe in their streets. PCCs should not use victims or communities as a strapline and then go away. That strapline has been broken. We need issues to be resolved. The public need to know that they have a police and crime commissioner that they can go to. He or she is pinnacle. No one should be dismissive of anyone when they do not know who is going to be elected. No one knows what is going to happen but there will be good and bad practices. Everything is risky.
I have to say that I did not know my chief constable until Garry was murdered in 2007. In 2012, I want to know who my police and crime commissioner is and, by God, I will be knocking on his or her door to make sure that he or she makes the community safer and sticks to the manifesto. Policing has to be accountable and must have a level of governance. People's lives cannot be used. Lives are being lost and the lives of others are being blighted.
My Lords, I declare my interest as chair of the All-Party Group on Policing, vice-president of the APA and adviser to various providers of services in the policing market. It is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, and to hear the powerful sentiments she expressed about listening to the voices from the community and victims. We are all grateful to my noble friend Lady Henig for giving us the opportunity to consider these matters today. The Motion focuses on the effects of the new governance landscape.
In my view, it is important to remember the scale of the other challenges facing the police service. Police numbers in England and Wales are now at their lowest level since 2003, with a fall of 5,000 in the past year alone. Overall policing budgets are being reduced by around 20% in the current CSR period with the expectation of more to follow. At the same time, the police's partners in reducing crime-local authorities, youth services, probation and so on-are also facing substantial budget reductions. Last year's riots demonstrated the thinness of the thin blue line.
Public respect for the police service has been damaged by the revelations in the Leveson inquiry and the report on Hillsborough. At the same time, many police officers are becoming increasingly despondent that Ministers hold them in contempt, which was all brought into sharp relief by the behaviour of the former Government Chief Whip at the gates of Downing Street. Let us not underestimate the deep disquiet felt by a large number of officers about the Winsor reforms to their pay and pensions.
Over the next few years, the pressures will become greater. We can only speculate what the impact of prolonged, slow growth will be on crime trends. We have the globalisation of crime and the burgeoning consequences of e-crime and cybercriminality, together with a speed of communication that can turn any police interaction with the public into a world-wide internet sensation in moments but can also facilitate flash mobs and the like. The consequence of this is that we face the very real prospect of a vicious cycle in our policing where fewer officers with less public support and less support from partners are facing increasing challenges. Amidst all that, the arrival of 41 newly minted, directly elected police and crime commissioners may seem like a bit of a distraction.
I strongly believe that police accountability is extremely important and that strong figures to lead this are needed. However, the flaws of the new system are significant. There are no proper checks and balances in the governance arrangements and there is a real risk of politicising aspects of operational policing that should not be politicised. I should like to illustrate that by looking at London where a variant of the new system has been operating for a while. It will not have escaped your Lordships' attention that in London we have a directly elected mayor. Since October 2008, the Mayor of London has been able to appoint himself or another person to lead what was then the Metropolitan Police Authority. In January 2012, the authority was abolished and replaced by the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime.
London has already shown up some of the problems. The first is a lack of transparency. Information about the operation of the police service or about key financial decisions that was previously made available in published police authority committee papers is no longer available or is available only in very abbreviated form. The second is the lack of visible answerability of senior police officers. A few weeks ago, the new deputy mayor for policing and crime instructed Bernard Hogan-Howe, the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, not to attend the London Assembly's police and crime committee eight minutes before the meeting was due to begin.
The third problem is that the deputy mayor has to act on his or her own, as PCCs will have to do. As the current incumbent has commented to me, he does not have what he calls the "band width" to address all the topics that the public might expect him to pursue. It is simply impossible for one person to do so. When I chaired the police authority in London, I had 22 members to whom I could delegate matters. Those 22 members could also keep an eye on me, which meant that capricious decisions could not be taken. But the Government, in their wisdom, have declined to provide a standards framework in which PCCs or their equivalents in London should operate. The Government seem to believe that having police and crime panels will be a sufficient safeguard against misconduct.
However, the money being made available for the servicing of these panels outside London is to be just £53,000 per year, which is barely enough to cover the cost of one member of staff who has to co-ordinate the work of and support a disparate group of local councillors drawn from up to a dozen or more different local authorities. Even in London where the police and crime committee of the London Assembly has been better resourced and the 12 members all know and work with each other on a regular basis, it has struggled to get the answers that it wants. There is the potential for problems and inappropriate interventions in operational matters.
Will the Minister tell us whether he regards it as appropriate that an elected PCC should be regularly briefed about the course of a policing operation and should then, almost as a matter of routine, have contact with those who are subject to that operation, and, what is more, then fail to disclose that those contacts have taken place? Perhaps your Lordships will think that such a scenario is far fetched but I have to say that it is not. On
At the same time, the mayor's deputy was raising, in an ostensibly jocular way, concerns that too many detectives were involved in investigating phone hacking, so much so that assistant commissioner Dick had to remind him, as she disclosed to the Leveson inquiry, that operational policing decisions were a matter for senior police officers, not elected politicians. The Mayor of London has form for this sort of thing. In February 2009, an investigation was conducted by Jonathan Goolden, a solicitor, at the request of the monitoring officers of the GLA and the MPA-roles that will not exist as far as PCCs are concerned-into the behaviour of the Mayor of London in contacting Damian Green MP at the time of his arrest on suspicion of involvement in breaches of the Official Secrets Act. Mr Goolden found that the mayor's action in contacting a potential suspect in a criminal investigation was "extraordinary and unwise". These contacts followed briefings that the mayor had been given about the case.
The changes in the governance of policing that the Government have introduced are ill worked through. They provide no safeguards of any substance against a police commissioner who misbehaves or persistently behaves in an extraordinary and unwise fashion. They will do nothing for transparency and little to improve accountability and they are taking place against a background of profound challenges for policing in this country.
My Lords, I would like to focus my remarks on the specific issue of the Independent Police Complaints Commission, the workings of which are critical to the future of the police service. The IPPC was established in 2004 to oversee the police complaints system in England and Wales. Its most valuable function is to maintain public trust in the police.
Until 2004, the police themselves had sole responsibility for investigating allegations of police misconduct. Rightly or wrongly, this created a public perception of whitewash and cover-ups. The establishment of the IPCC ought to have solved this problem. Sadly, it has not because the IPCC effectively delegates most investigations into serious complaints back to the local police force concerned. This situation continues to jeopardise public trust in the police. Trust is a very valuable commodity. It is very hard to win but very easy to lose. This is particularly so for the police where allegations of serious misconduct by a few officers can undermine the superb work done on a daily basis by the vast majority of police officers.
Maintaining trust is vital for the police because of the unique nature of British policing. Our police are civilians in uniform, not a paramilitary force imposed on the people. Ever since the days of Sir Robert Peel, we have maintained Peel's principle that:
"The police are the public and the public are the police", but that principle can be upheld only with the consent of the people. The recent controversy over the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, to which other noble Lords have referred, is a spectacular reminder of the harm that can be done and demonstrates why independent scrutiny of the police is essential.
When the IPCC receives a complaint, it can, at its discretion, allocate it to one of four "modes of investigation", depending on the seriousness of the complaint. The system looks good on paper but, in practice, the IPCC is fully hands-on in only one of the modes of investigation. In the other three, the local police force concerned remains effectively free to run the investigation exactly as it sees fit. Perhaps the most controversial type of complaint about police misconduct concerns deaths in, or following, police custody. Through some freedom of information requests, I have discovered that in the year 2009-10, 17 such cases were referred to the IPCC. Of these, only five were independently investigated. In 2010-11, 16 out of 21 such cases were investigated independently, and in 2011-12, 10 out of 15 cases were independently investigated, but should not all deaths in, or following, police custody be independently investigated?
The IPCC's own published figures reveal that during the three years 2008 to 2011, it received 837 referrals of cases of police corruption. Of these, just 2% were subject to an independent investigation while 70% were investigated locally. How can this be right? Some powerful case studies illustrate how things have gone wrong over the past eight years. I shall give just one example: the botched investigation by South Wales Police into the murder of Lynette White in 1988. The outcome of the original investigation was the wrongful conviction and imprisonment of a number of innocent men in 1990, who were not released until 1992. The investigation of the resulting complaint to the IPCC was delegated to none other than the South Wales Police themselves who had been responsible for the original investigation. It led to one senior officer being required to investigate his former boss, which is clearly unsatisfactory. Subsequently, eight police officers were charged with perverting the course of justice, but the trial collapsed in dubious circumstances concerning non-disclosure by the South Wales Police. Meanwhile, those wrongfully imprisoned continue to suffer and have not seen justice done. Another man later confessed to the murder and was imprisoned.
We cannot allow this sort of malpractice to undermine public trust in the police. We must ensure that the IPCC stops delegating to the police investigations into serious complaints. The IPCC should investigate such complaints itself and the Government should provide it with adequate resources to do so. I recognise, of course, that in a time of austerity this could mean a bigger budget for the IPCC, but it would also mean less waste on ineffective self-investigations by local police forces and it would restore trust, which is a commodity beyond price.
My Lords, I should also like to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, on securing this key debate. I declare my interests as chair of the Independent Commission on the Future of Policing in England and Wales and as a former serving police officer and former commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.
As we have heard, over the past 15 years policing in England and Wales, in partnership with others, has been highly successful. If change aims to bolster this success, I, for one, welcome it. However, change must not simply be made for the sake of change. In addition, it requires the buy-in from those most affected: namely, the public, the police service and key policing partners.
I, and, I am sure, all in your Lordships' House, accept that in a time of austerity and budget cuts, from which the police should not be exempt, change is inevitable. My concern is that the manner in which change has been implemented has been very detrimental to the morale of those working within the police service. I should point out that this is not simply my opinion but something that has been highlighted in surveys and meetings, to name but two methods, undertaken by the commission. They started in May and the next survey is due to be released imminently.
While I welcome efforts aimed at making the police service more accountable to the public we serve-I am sure we all welcome those steps-I am yet to be convinced that the elections for police and crime commissioners under the supplementary vote system, which many people in England and Wales are not fully familiar with, are best placed to deliver this. This, however, is my personal opinion and I should like to assure critics of the commission's work that our findings in regard to this matter will be firmly led by evidence. I invite anybody who questions the independence of the commission to look at the website to see who is involved in it and to note the 23 academic institutions ranging from Harvard University and the LSE to Oxford and Cambridge Universities which are underpinning this work academically. Needless to say, there are Members of your Lordships' House who are also on the commission, and I would not ever want to doubt their independence.
As I mentioned during debates held in this House pertaining to the passage of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, prior to it receiving Royal Assent, I have serious concerns that the term,
"have regard to strategic policing requirement", does not fully mitigate against the risk of local policing issues being put before national policing issues and priorities. The commission has been around the country listening to Victim Support; talking to members of the public; talking to members of police authorities, police forces and the like; and taking evidence from people in this House, including former Home Secretaries, and the head of the Independent Police Complaints Commission, to mention a few. There is a very real fear among many people about what some referred to as "headline-grabbing" policing initiatives that will improve a police and crime commissioner's chance of securing re-election. I would be very sorry-as indeed would your Lordships' House-to see the introduction of police and crime commissioners undermining efforts being made up and down the country to protect young women from grooming and address cases of domestic violence in a manner that continues to put the victim first. That is absolutely essential.
I also have concerns that there would appear to be a lack of measures in place preventing private security companies lobbying police and crime commissioners as candidates and when they are appointed. Furthermore, in light of comments made at a meeting yesterday in regard to police and crime commissioners, I have concern that data available to them could easily be misconstrued. As part of that, only 25% of recorded crime in their area will be subjected to independent analysis, and there is a lack of standardisation in data interpretation throughout England and Wales.
We hear claims that police and crime commissioners will facilitate chief constables in focusing on fighting crime. That is difficult to envisage at this stage. As noble Lords have heard, there has been a record 40% reduction in crime in the past 15 years. In some areas, the reduction is more. The question has to be asked, will the changes help that reduction to continue, as the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, said? I and the commission have heard from many senior officers who continue to express concern over the lack of clear understanding pertaining to the issue of corporate sole, and I reiterate that there is still a very real chance that operational independence could be affected in respect of that. We heard from my previous chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Harris, about the lack of resources going in to back up the police commissioners in their areas. I and others think that this could undermine the result of the introduction of the new policing governance structures.
From the feedback gleaned from these many meetings, which will continue until spring next year and are held as part of the commission's evidence-gathering initiatives, it has become apparent that there is a clear lack of training for police and crime panel members. If he would be so kind, the Minister needs to take note of the guidelines in relation to the panel, which state that members must have the "skills and experience" required to function effectively. We have found out that some are having no training, and this is very much driven by what I would refer to as a postcode lottery. Although there is still more work to be done, we on the commission fear that there may well be a lack of people fully trained to take up the posts.
I should like to end by saying that your Lordships' House needs to understand, and has the promise, that this independent commission will continue to monitor and assess the roles of the commissioners, as it will continue to take evidence from and assess those people-victims and others on the street-who need to be listened to in terms of what the future of policing will be.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington, and, like others, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, for giving the House the opportunity to debate the future landscape for policing. She will not be surprised to know that I was very disappointed that in her 15-minute address to the House I struggled hard to find anything positive in what she envisaged in the future. I really would like to assist her with this. I would like her to go home today with a little ray of light somewhere on the distant horizon, knowing that in the debate, whatever people's reservations and concerns about change, there is an awful lot of goodwill to make things work, even if people were not initially in favour of them. There has already been a sense of that in the debate, and that is positive. I welcome that, and I hope that she will find some comfort. I do not like to see her looking so disappointed.
Change is always difficult, particularly in institutions, and it requires great skill to bring about. Listening to the diverse points that noble Lords have made in the debate-people with a great deal of knowledge-there is no doubt that there is a real challenge in the future of policing. Budgetary constraints have been raised and noble Lords have acknowledged that the police should, along with other parts of the public sector, be subject to the need to pull back on the amount of expenditure. We are asking everyone else to do that. However, no one should be in any way dismissive of the difficult decisions needed to make those changes and tighten budgets.
As regards the two reports by Tom Winsor, looking at both the short and long terms, particularly in relation to the pay and conditions of police officers, I understand how contentious they are. Most of my life was spent in the private sector before I entered politics at the age of 45 and, having worked for companies, I know how dramatic changes in the private sector are difficult to bring about. However, it was often clear why those changes were needed. When we consider why there is a need for change, although we may debate its pace or the need to make many changes at once-I appreciate that there is to be a lot of change-none the less, there is change elsewhere that we should not ignore in this debate.
Whatever the successes of or concerns about policing in recent years-and I go back right across different Governments-there has been change, too, in the way that criminals operate and the type of criminality that we face, not just within our shores but across international borders. Criminals have taken advantage of the changes, and that has posed a challenge to those with responsibility to legislate, police and make sure that we as a society stay one step ahead of the criminal mind. That perhaps is the biggest challenge of all that we face in the current climate.
The riots that we saw last year have been mentioned and most people found them quite shocking. The cases that were brought to the courts were particularly shocking because, while there might have been an initial impression-it was only an initial impression-that perhaps a lot of it had developed out of social need, it was clear that by the time these cases had been through the court the situation was much more complex. It was relatively new to our country to see cities-not just London, but elsewhere-faced with public riot. On cybercrime and fraud-again the changes in what is available electronically to assist a criminal mean that we really have to recruit the best people. Our structures and management of them have to be right and we have to employ the cleverest and the best to stay that one step ahead of the criminal.
Of course, there is also the terrorist threat, which is still with us and is very real in this country. People trafficking has taken on a complete new dimension in recent years. We hear more about it and it manifests itself in different ways. When I was a girl I remember hearing about the white slave trade and we all wondered what that was. We are only too familiar with the horrors of people trafficking-not just from shores a long way away from our culture and society but within the European community. That is quite shocking and must be addressed. That, too, is a challenge.
In my very short sojourn as a Minister of State at the Home Office last year, the extent of organised crime was a revelation to me-even the extent of metal theft today, which people sometimes think is small-level crime. It has at its heart big, organised international crime. These are the policing challenges. It will not be a surprise to the House when I say that I had the privilege of taking the Police and Social Responsibility Bill through the House, to the opposition of most of the people surrounding me today. None the less, I felt that we had constructive debates at the time, and I appreciated them. Points were raised on all sides and I hope that the House feels that the Government made quite a lot of concessions as the Bill proceeded. Constructive points came from all sides of the House to try to improve the Bill. I believe that police and crime commissioners have an important role to play.
I made this point rather facetiously in a previous debate, but on some of the negative points still going round about the police and crime commissioners, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, of whom I am really secretly rather fond, that I would not worry about having a November election. The Americans have a vote in November-perhaps a rather more important one. We do not hear them complaining that it is snowing or that there are floods. If the Americans are up for it, so are we. I shall quote from some of the candidates who have put themselves forward. It would be invidious if I were to put names to them but one or two might recognise what I am about to read out. It is commendable that people have given up important, well-paid jobs to stand as candidates in these elections. There are comments on the police elections website, including that commissioners will be people who have some influence; and that priorities include cutting crime because safety for families is the public's top concern. A Welsh speaker believes that the role of commissioner will be a bridge between the community and police. If that is the attitude of candidates and a clear recognition of the public service that they will provide, we all-the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, in particular-should take some comfort from that.
First, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, for securing this important and very timely debate. Policing, of course, is one of the most important functions in any civilised society. If it works well-generally the police go about their work unnoticed-everybody feels good about it. However these days, as has been mentioned, the issue is rarely out of the news and the ensuing publicity can trigger a number of varying emotions. It can lead to a feeling of tragedy and grief, as with the deaths of the two young policewomen in Manchester recently. It can lead to fear, as when a police state operates outside the rule of law using death squads. It can lead to anger when corrupt police turn a blind eye, cover up or leak confidential information. It can lead to praise when heroic officers try or succeed in saving lives, such as the six officers last week who selflessly dived into the river Avon to save the occupants of a motor vehicle. It can lead to relief, as in the recent arrest of Muslim jihadists before they launched a bombing campaign in London described by one of the suspects as "another 9/11".
In this country the importance of the policing function is recognised by the removal of the right to take industrial action, which is quite right. It is a fundamental right granted to most other workers. It follows that the management, organisation and accountability of the police service is crucial. The whole concept of the new police was laid down in 1829 by Sir Robert Peel when he established the Metropolitan Police as being unarmed civilians in uniform with very few more powers than the citizens they were policing. That principle still applies to this day and we do not have an armed police force. We have, for example, fewer officers trained in the use of firearms than when I joined the police service in the 1960s, but, of course, they are trained a lot better.
On the whole the system has worked well and most informed commentators would agree that we have one of the best law enforcement systems in the world. It has evolved, of course, and this is the best way to develop policing. We have had amalgamations and the abolition of small, corrupt watch committees. Institutional corruption in the Metropolitan Police was tackled by Sir Robert Mark in the 1960s and police authorities were established by the Police Act 1964 with a mix of governors who were elected councillors and magistrates. At present, there are allegations of institutional police misconduct in South Yorkshire during the Hillsborough disaster and also during the miners' strike. These are, rightly, to be independently investigated. One of the important marks of a civilised democracy is the way in which a state deals with complaints against the police and investigates misconduct.
Now, of course, the coalition Government are imposing a totally revolutionary structure with the election of police and crime commissioners, to make the police even more accountable. Each commissioner will have a lot of power with the right to appoint and sack chief constables. That seems to be mirroring the American system which elects sheriffs, judges and even prosecuting attorneys in many areas of governance. If someone asked your Lordships if they have a better system of law enforcement in the United States than in this country because of this so-called democracy, I doubt whether many of you would think that they had. Giving the new system the benefit of the doubt, the jury is out and we will see in due course how it works. I have serious reservations, as have other noble Lords and I hope that the policy does not lead to political interference in policing operational matters or the appointment of political placemen as chief constables.
My concern is that I firmly believe that the police should not be dragged into the party political arena. As a former senior officer-I declare an interest as a former president of the Police Superintendents Association-I took a neutral stance and served Governments of both colours without any indication of party alignment at that time. I campaigned and lobbied Conservative and Labour policy teams, on behalf of the police service, on issues such as the setting up of a paedophile register, the modification of the right to silence and the abolition of the antiquated double jeopardy law.
The police should be politically neutral, as are the armed services and the monarchy. They serve the Crown and are accountable under the law, and this is how it should be. I fear that under the coalition's new regime they will be politicised, and that if they do not toe the party line they could be dismissed if the elected commissioner loses confidence in them. The noble Lord, Lord Blair of Boughton, had a right to be suspicious, because that is exactly what happened to him when the newly elected mayor, Boris Johnson, took charge of the police in London. We never found out quite what happened to the position of the noble Lord, Lord Blair, but it is very difficult to work with someone who openly declares that they have lost confidence in you. I hope that this will not become common practice in future.
I differ from the noble Lord, Lord Blair, on his advice to people not to exercise their democratic vote. We should all support democracy because it has been so hard fought for. My advice is that every member of the public should exercise their vote, and that they should vote for the best candidate, regardless of party. I am very fortunate in Durham, where we have a Labour candidate who is also a former deputy chief constable of great experience-in my case, it is a no-brainer. Incidentally, the Labour candidate in Humberside is a big beast who has similar strengths and great experience, contrary to the views of the noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, whose brainchild this dog's breakfast is.
Finally, crime is at its lowest for a quarter of a century and is still falling. It has fallen by one-third in the past decade. This is in the middle of a recession in which we have reduced police numbers, so the police must be doing something right. I believe in the old adage that if it ain't broke, don't fix it. I will point out one other fact. The prison population has never been higher. When the noble Lord, Lord Howard, was Home Secretary, he famously said that prison worked. He, too, reduced crime substantially. Perhaps he was right.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, for initiating this debate. She was right; we debated the proposals for police and crime commissioners at great length last year, and many views were expressed about the nature of the commissioner's role, the powers that would be vested in them, their relationships with chief constables and local councils, and how checks, balances and scrutiny would be preserved. We on these Benches urged that pilots should be undertaken before final decisions were made.
I do not seek to revisit all of those issues, but I will identify what is of concern to me as elections for police and crime commissioners are about to take place. These concerns relate to: the nature of the elections and the public's engagement with them; the location and extent of powers; and the need for early and continuous review.
Polling day is two weeks away and postal votes are going out. I hope for a high turnout, because the elections need to be a success, and those elected need to feel that they have a mandate. Given what we learnt recently about Hillsborough, strengthening public oversight of policing matters greatly. However, I fear turnout may not be high. The reason is that many people do not understand what they are being asked to do, and the amount of publicity given to voters has been woeful. I have lost count of the number of people who have asked me why the elections are being held, why most candidates are party political, and why so little has come through their letterbox. I can direct people to the leaflet delivered with poll cards, but that is mostly about procedures. Voters who can access the website discover comparatively little about the candidates and about their plans if they are elected. I do not understand why a booklet was not sent to every voter, as it was with the London mayoral election. I hope that turnout will be high, but if it proves to be very low, the Government, and particularly the Home Office, should ask themselves why they have wished an outcome-namely, greater democratisation of policing-without delivering the full publicity campaign needed to ensure that it happens as it should.
Commissioners will be entrusted with great power. They will set priorities through a five-year plan, in consultation with the chief constable. They will hold the chief constable to account, set the force budget and the local precept, and, where necessary, appoint a chief constable and, if required, suspend them. They need a very clear democratic mandate to justify this degree of power. The police and crime panels that will scrutinise the commissioner remain comparatively weak. In the Electoral Commission leaflet delivered through my front door, they were not even mentioned. They cannot veto the commissioner's police and crime plan, or the budget, or the dismissal of a chief constable. They will be consulted on the plan and on any proposal to dismiss a chief constable, but their powers do not include a veto. They will of course be able to confirm or veto the commissioner's appointment of the chief constable, and confirm or veto the level of the council tax precept-though only with a two-thirds majority.
With good will and mutual understanding between commissioners and panels, the structure could work reasonably well-and probably will in most places because the people involved will want it to work. However, that structure could very easily cause conflict. We will start to discover quite soon what will happen, because budgets and precepts will need to be set for 2013-14. Formal plans will need to be put in place quickly to underpin those budgets and the precepts asked for. Because a number of chief constable appointments are pending, we will see very soon how the procedures for appointment will work. Above all, we must ensure three things: first, that we do not politicise the police but preserve their neutrality, even though party-political candidates dominate the ballot papers; secondly, that we do not produce conflict in electoral mandates between commissioners, panels and local councils; and, thirdly, that the allocation of resources and operational command is impartially delivered. Making sure this happens will require early and continuous review.
I understand that the Electoral Commission will report on the conduct of the elections-and, frankly, the earlier the better. I suggest that reviews are then conducted over the next few months in these areas: the success of the appointments process for chief constables where there are currently vacancies; the success over the next few months of the procedures that are followed for the creation of the policing plan, the budget and the precept; whether any changes should be introduced for 2014-15; whether the make-up of police and crime panels ensures that they represent the spread of opinion geographically and politically in their force area; and whether the training of all members of those panels is adequate. It would be helpful to hear from the Minister what research and evaluation will be undertaken, and by whom, and to what timescale, to ensure that this new governance structure turns out to be a success. In the mean time, we should urge people to cast their votes as part of this major constitutional and governance reform and opportunity.
My Lords, quite simply but most importantly, the post of a police and crime commissioner is that of a politician in a high-visibility jacket who says to the public: "It is me you contact with your concerns about policing, and if you are not happy you can get rid of me".
While I appreciate the concern about the involvement in policing of party politics, I, too, am saddened by the attitudes of some to this change. Emmeline Pankhurst must be turning in her grave when people are being actively encouraged not to vote. This could mean that the most is not made of what is a great opportunity: a direct line of accountability from police governance to the public.
I will focus briefly on three reasons why this direct line is vital at this time. The first reason concerns reputational issues. Unfortunately, while most police officers are hard-working and honest, the police have caught the national disease of institutional reputational slide. The Riots Communities and Victims Panel stated in its neighbourhood survey that the data indicated that a significant minority had doubts about the integrity of the police. Some 34 per cent thought that corruption was fairly or very common in the police. A ComRes poll taken in the context of phone hacking and the police found that 77% of people worried about wider corruption in the police. These results were, of course, before the Hillsborough panel's report, so I would be very surprised if the trend has changed. I cannot remember a time when we lost two chief constables-Sir Norman Bettison and the chief constable of Cleveland-in less than three weeks to these kind of allegations of gross misconduct, namely lying. Having one person who is clearly visible and the people have chosen to hold the police to account could be a vital plug in this sapping of confidence in the integrity of the police.
Secondly, there is the matter of a swifter response to issues of public concern which are not necessarily of police concern. No, this is not a suggestion that involves the operational involvement of the police and crime commissioner-that is sacred ground which the PCC should not touch-but I hope that the presence of the PCC will mean that it will not take cases such as that of Sean Rigg where comments from the coroner have prompted a review by the Metropolitan Police Service into deaths in custody and mental health policing headed by the noble Lord, Lord Adebowale. It has been most unhelpful to the police and to public confidence in policing that such a poor perception in some communities developed around deaths in custody. A good police and crime commissioner will be taking those concerns directly to the chief constable.
Thirdly, on the issue of young people, a single point of contact with a good social media presence will be able to have a profile among young people. An imaginative PCC might think about creating a young person's PCC role. With such high levels of young people out of work it is becoming increasingly important to keep one's finger on the pulse of the feelings of young people. The demographics of the riots offenders has, I hope, taught us this.
However, only one person can wear that high-visibility jacket at a time, which means that the need for diversity is even more important. Here I share the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Henig. I know that when one repeats something which seems like an age-old mantra, some people will sigh and say, "Is that really necessary? Surely all that matters is that the police detect crime and that they are honest, firm and perhaps personable". I think that that is not all that matters, not because it is politically correct to think otherwise but because some of Peel's seven principles tell us so. Those principles were outlined by Charles Rowan and Richard Mayne-the first and joint Commissioners of the Metropolitan Police-but I shall cite only two: namely, always to recognise that the power of the police to fulfil their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect; and, perhaps most famously, that the police are the public and the public are the police. If that is the case and if democracy is to be legitimate, the PCCs must be representative of the population they serve and police.
So, what are the scores on the doors now that nominations are closed? The following mathematics is my own, as I could not find a current break-down of statistics anywhere. First, I note that 28% of the candidates are independent. Of the 192 PCC candidates, 13 are from ethnic minority communities-that is 6.7% of the total. It is sobering for all the main political parties to note that nearly two-thirds of those candidates are standing as independents. Only 3.6% of candidates standing under any party-political label are from black and minority ethnic communities. I remain concerned about the message that will be sent by the PCC's equivalent of the G20 leaders photograph after these elections. It is unlikely that members of the police and crime panel will have a public face in policing, but I expect that the deputy PCC will have such a role-even if it is only when the PCC is on holiday-and so the selection of those candidates is vital.
Let me sound a couple of cautionary notes before I close. The success of this role will be determined not so much by voter turnout as by the professionalism of the police and crime commissioners. Some candidates are former chairs of PCCs, such as Fraser Pithie in Warwickshire and Bishop Derek Webley in the West Midlands, but some have little background in policing. It is a shame that there will be no centrally funded and organised training for the new PCCs. With a professional body on policing being recommended, what about professional standards for PCCs? I always remember my friend, who has been head of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, asking a senior MP, "So, politicians do not have to do continuing professional development? We've been doing it for decades". Perhaps confidence in politicians generally would be increased if we adopted an ongoing training scheme which is standard practice in virtually every profession nowadays.
Secondly, let me sound a cautionary note on unheard voices. Only today, the C S Lewis Twitter feed which I follow stated:
"I have learned now that while those who speak about one's miseries usually hurt, those who keep silent hurt more".
With the rise of professional lobbying and vocal, often middle-class voters, the PCC will need to be ever more mindful of those who suffer in silence-those who do not reach for the Twittersphere and would not think of going to their MP or PCC. The voiceless are often victims of crime and anti-social behaviour in certain areas; often they are hidden, sometimes they are elderly, and sometimes they are people who are just too busy keeping their lives together that making a complaint to the PCC would be that one thing too many.
I hope that in a few years we will see PCCs who have surgeries like MPs, who have the most Twitter followers locally among young people, who will be a critical friend to the chief constable and who will be the key person facilitating probation, CPS, social workers and other agencies to work together. I hope that these elections and the role of the PCC will be like the Olympics. We looked at that event with doom and pessimism but surprised ourselves with the success of the risk that we took and what we all achieved.
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, for initiating today's debate. It has been extremely useful and shows the House at its best and the degree and depth of knowledge and experience among your Lordships.
The noble Baroness, Lady Henig, rightly criticised the Government for not building on the success we have already seen in fighting crime, including the partnerships. She outlined the sweeping and wide-ranging changes in governance, organisations and structures. I shall not repeat the detail that she gave but lack of funding to help make the transition to these changes and a lack of clarity in many areas about what is involved have caused enormous concern.
I wish to look specifically at the creation of the National Crime Agency, the abolition of the National Policing Improvement Agency and the police and crime commissioners. During the debates on the Crime and Courts Bill, which will shortly continue, we raised our concerns about the lack of clarity and the lack of detail. Far too often it seems that policy is made up on the back of an envelope and is then coloured in with the detail later. At the last election, one of the Government's flagship policies, as we have heard, was the election of police and crime commissioners, and yet, despite the rhetoric, the Government seem determined to undermine this office.
As your Lordships know, and as we have heard today, we opposed the creating of those positions. Not only is it expensive at a time when the Government are cutting to the bone but there remains a woeful lack of clarity and understanding about how the relationship with the chief constable, the Home Secretary and the new National Crime Agency will work. The noble Baroness, Lady Henig, highlighted the problems that could occur from what could be seen as a politicisation of our police force. Despite the spirited and committed defence of the policy by the noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, it was flawed by not recognising the existing role of local councillors, local partnerships and local community partnerships, which work and are very successful at present. The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, asked specific questions around those relationships and operations which I hope the Minister will be able to answer today.
If the Government's initial rhetoric about PCCs being at the heart of the community and the voice of policing is to be believed, surely that would lead to them wanting the highest possible turnout and participation in these elections, and yet, unlike with mayoral and many other elections, there is no free postal delivery of candidates' information to voters. So not only is it difficult for the public to have any information on the candidates, it also makes it harder for those standing as independents to let the public know what they stand for. Indeed, it makes it difficult for any candidate, given the huge areas that they intend to represent. Moreover, the idea that holding stand-alone elections in November would somehow help turnout is ludicrous. I noted the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, about America, but I think that at the moment most Americans, particularly those on the east coast, would not exactly welcome November elections.
The Government's response that information is available online is really quite insulting and inadequate. The Electoral Reform Society has estimated that turnout could be as low as 20%, and the Government have taken no serious or meaningful action to address that. I concur entirely with my noble friend Lady Henig's comments about the appalling adverts that are somehow supposed to increase enthusiasm and anticipation for people to vote in these elections. The ones I have seen-there may be others-show one example of fly-tipping and numerous examples of young people attacking older people. Dealing with those problems is not the only role for police and crime commissioners and it undermines the very serious role they will play. Despite all this, we have some really able and committed candidates who will do an excellent job as PCCs. They will certainly try their best, but they are being let down by the Government and they deserve better.
Alongside these new positions, we have seen so much change in the structure of how the police operate. I will not repeat the excellent analysis made by my noble friend of the range of changes and the effect that they may have. What worries me is the lack of detail that has been made available. We all want the new National Crime Agency to be successful, but throughout our debates in Committee on the Crime and Courts Bill, we were never able to conduct any meaningful scrutiny of the National Crime Agency because the framework document-the fundamental document setting out what the NCA will do and how it will do it-has not been available. The Minister's response at the time was that it might be available for the Report stage, but if it was not, it would be available for when the Bill reaches the Commons. Again that is completely inadequate, and I hope that the Minister will be able to give us an assurance today that when we reach the Report stage later this month, he will have ensured that the framework document is available for discussion.
The National Policing Improvement Agency has been abolished before the legislation has even been passed, and yet still there is no complete clarity on where all the functions of the NPIA, its responsibilities and its staff, will be allocated. It is starting to look like another back-of-the-envelope policy where the colouring still has to be added in. It takes no account of the changes and reforms that the agency had already made.
Finally, I turn to the significant changes. The Government have now announced that they are minded to opt out of all the pre-Lisbon policing and criminal justice measures where we co-operate with other European countries. Earlier this week I attended a conference in Berlin of the European Confederation of Police, the umbrella organisation for organisations such as the Police Federation. Senior members of its committee were discussing various issues, including that of policing across borders. How can we expect our police effectively to fight cross-border serious crime such as terrorism, sex abuse and the trafficking of drugs and people without European co-operation? How would the British police have been able to co-operate with the French police to return Megan Stammers to the UK and her family if we were not part of the European arrest warrant system? Yet again we have proposals for further changes that do not seem to have been fully worked out.
As my noble friend Lady Henig made very clear in her comments, there have been too many changes made with too little co-ordination. Also, all of these changes and potential changes have to be seen against a background of cuts in budgets and resources-and as my noble friend Lord Prescott pointed out, it is not just the Government making cuts. Crime and disorder partnerships and other partnerships have been cut by local authorities.
The new National Crime Agency will take on the roles of SOCA and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, and it will have increased responsibilities around the issues of border control and revenue and customs. Your Lordships will know that no change is ever cost free. The election of police and crime commissioners, the abolition of the NCA and the creation of new bodies such as the new National Crime Agency are all taking place at a time when resources are precious and deep and unprecedented cuts are being made. I am seriously worried about effecting deep and fundamental change without ensuring that the resources are available to ensure that it works. We know that resources are tight and we know the pressures that the police are operating under. We also recognise that cuts would have been made under a Labour Government, but the difference is one of scale and size. Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary made it very clear that cuts over 12% were unsustainable and would lead to a worse service. The Government have ignored that advice and have instituted cuts amounting to around 20%. In my county of Essex, we are losing one in 10 of our front-line police officers. We no longer have any 24-hour police stations and a number have closed completely. That is not unusual as other noble Lords have told the same story from where they are.
But this is not just about abstract numbers and concepts. It can really make a difference, and I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, did this House a service by focusing on how victims are being impacted by these policies. Noble Lords may have seen press reports of the murder in Southend in Essex of Jeanette Goodwin, following harassment and threats made by Martin Bunch which had already led to several arrests and a conviction for battery. Reading through the reports of this case show that it is clear that there were a number of failings along the line in the criminal justice system, although no criticisms were made of the police until that final day. Laura Smith, of the local newspaper, the Echo, after reading reports and interviewing serving police officers, identified serious problems with staffing on that day. A number of officers were sick, another had to provide constant supervision for a prisoner in the custody block and one was sent to the operations management unit at police HQ to deal with appointments there. The result was that there was an acting sergeant and five constables on duty. They were extremely busy because of another 999 call to a violent domestic incident. The police have admitted that even if the final call that Jeanette Goodwin ever made had been classified as urgent, there still was not anyone to attend. The reports make it clear that the man in question was intent on causing her harm. One call handler said that when she arrived on her shift, there were more than 100 incidents on the "open list" and many had not even been allocated. There were a number of other failings across the criminal justice system as a whole, but despite those other failings, there must always be the question that had the police responded immediately with a patrol car, had they been up to full strength on that day, and had they not had to absorb such a high level of cuts, would Jeanette Goodwin still be alive? I do not know the answer, but if we fail to ask the question and continue just to talk about processes and procedure, we fail in our duty to the public and to victims.
When I have asked about cuts in services, I have been disappointed with Ministers' replies. They say that cuts are the responsibility of chief constables, but Ministers set the budgets within which chief constables have to operate. However good a police and crime commissioner is, he or she can only act within the budget that is to be given to them by the Government. I hope sincerely that the Government do not say, "It is not our responsibility, it is for police and crime commissioners", because they are acting within the Government's budgets.
The public must have confidence in the police; it is something we all want to see. We want the public to have respect for the police, and in turn we want the police rightly to earn that confidence and respect. My fear is that the Government's obsession with changing structures and governance, often not fully worked out and often not having fully understood what was already in place, ignores the serious underlying issues and concerns. The public have not been set alight by the PCC elections and they are not queuing up to vote. However, we want them to do so because for these provisions to be successful, we need to see a greater buy-in from the public. But if the Government really believe in their policy, they are facing a lost opportunity. They need to stop obsessing about structures and look instead at resources, commitments and a whole range of factors that will make policing in this country a success story that we can be proud of.
My Lords, I share the gratitude expressed by all noble Lords to the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, for tabling this debate. I also thank noble Lords for their contributions, which have ranged from passionate to thoughtful, but none without conviction. All those who participated in this debate have brought their experience to bear on what is an important subject in contemporary politics. I do not share the downbeat views of some noble Lords opposite, and I reflect particularly on the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon. Listening to some speeches, once or twice I thought, "Heaven forfend that these changes should be a success". I am at one with my noble friend Lady Berridge on this issue. Policing has a great future in this country and there are opportunities to change it so that we really have a policing system fit for our times.
We have embarked on the biggest reform to the policing landscape for 50 years. This is being achieved alongside changes to the funding settlement that are challenging for the police service, but they have been shown by the majority of police forces to be manageable. At the same time, we have confounded those who suggested that emergency response times would increase; they have actually held up. Most important of all, as most noble Lords have acknowledged, we have continued to meet the challenge of reducing overall levels of crime. Under this Government, recorded crime has gone down by 10%. This is across key crime types, with recorded violence down 13%, burglary down by 7%, criminal damage 22%, vehicle crime 15%, robbery 5% and knife crime 9%. All have come down. Noble Lords will be pleased with that achievement, of which the police can be particularly proud.
We are meeting the challenge of delivering better value for money and reducing crime while delivering a programme of radical reforms to the policing landscape. Future generations will look back on 2012 as a year when our country was at its best and we had significant legacies set into our history books through the magnificent Olympic and Paralympic Games and the Diamond Jubilee. It will also be a year in which future generations will see another lasting legacy being born, with the most significant reforms in policing being laid by the first direct elections of police and crime commissioners, the emergence of the National Crime Agency and the establishment of the police college.
The single most significant change to policing, as many noble Lords have commented, comes in exactly two weeks' time, on
The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, is concerned that we learn lessons from the way that these elections are run. The Government are clearly going to take note of that, and it would be very useful to have his input to discussions after the elections. Meanwhile, I hope that all noble Lords will encourage people to be involved in this extension of democratic influence and encourage their favourite candidates to succeed in the elections.
Noble Lords will be familiar with the famous words of Robert Peel, which were repeated by my noble friend Lady Berridge:
"The police are the public and the public are the police".
The police have always accepted that they should be accountable to the public, and the election of PCCs is the logical conclusion of that belief in accountability to the public. The introduction of PCCs will introduce greater transparency and accountability to a service of which we are rightly proud but which can sometimes be too distant from the public it serves and can fail adequately to reflect their concerns and priorities. These reforms are about democratic accountability and putting power in the hands of local communities. PCCs will drive value for money, deliver cost savings, reduce bureaucracy and prioritise the front-line services that they know the public want and, more importantly, which the public have every right to expect.
I know that there has been some discussion between my noble friend Lord Wasserman and the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, on the efficacy of this process. However, I am sure that the outcome of the elections will be a more effective policing service and a greater accountability to, and closer relationship with, the public at large. After all, if a PCC fails to represent their community and deliver on their priorities, the public will be able to tell them what they think of them at the ballot box-by voting them out if they need to. The noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate, made a generous speech despite his reservations about the policy. I believe that the noble Lord shares in the essence of what this policy is about, which is the need to make policing a community activity.
Some noble Lords think that having an election in November is a bad idea; but this will not necessarily happen next time, because there will be the opportunity to have the election in May. It may be a more seasonal time of year to have elections, but as noble Lords have pointed out, the vote was not achieved easily, and I am certain that we will find people wanting to participate in these elections in future.
The noble Lord, Lord Prescott, made an extremely passionate speech and I am sure he is sincere in wanting to make a success of his candidature in these elections. However, it will be for the noble Lord, if he is successful, to write, set and implement his plan. It will not be the Home Office writing the plan or implementing it. The PCCs will have the responsibility.
As this House will know, the police and crime panels-the PCPs-will also form a key check and balance in the model. As a result of amendments that this House argued for, PCPs will both challenge and support PCCs in making good their important role. This balance was emphasised by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, who has enormous experience on this matter. The noble Lord, Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington, who is an extremely experienced policeman, emphasised how important it is to have this check within the system. This system is working very well. It would be disingenuous to say that the system in London was without some teething problems but the service is now working well and in the interests of the citizens of London. The office of PCC has a statutory monitoring officer in the chief executive, who exercises controls over contact and whose post is politically restricted.
Fortunately, we have all 41 PCPs in place. They represent all local authorities within the community, not just county authorities as used to be the case. That means that PCP members will be engaging with their councils and their local expertise to hold the PCC publicly to account.
It is encouraging to see a rise in the number of people who are prepared to get involved in protecting their communities, a powerful example of which are the special constabulary and police support volunteers. I am delighted to note that the number of special constables is now more than 20,000-a rise of 10% from last year.
The Government are alert to the need to communicate with the public-a point made by my noble friend Lady Newlove in a very emotive speech-and to ensure that policing policy puts victims first. We are taking a new approach by setting out proposals in our White Paper, Putting Victims First, for faster, more flexible and effective powers that will provide a real deterrent to perpetrators and better protect victims and communities.
With these measures, we are taking a local response to local problems, recognising that these cannot be solved by central direction from Whitehall. This will leave the Home Office to refocus on its proper role, to ensure that this new, radical model is put to work, and in particular to secure a more effective response to national threats and to co-ordinate strategic action on issues of public interest.
In July, we published the strategic policing requirement, which sets out the most important national threats to which PCCs and chief constables must have regard. This will ensure that the national response is rooted in local policing, with local forces playing their part in both regional and national issues.
One of the key national threats is that posed by serious and organised crime, as brutally demonstrated by the recent shootings in Greater Manchester. Around 30,000 people and 7,500 gangs are involved in organised crime in the UK, at a cost of £40 billion to our economy every year. Last year, we launched the first ever cross-government organised crime strategy so that we can bring to bear the full power of the state and its agencies against organised criminals. We are already seizing more criminal assets than ever before. From next year, PCCs and chief constables will work closely with the new National Crime Agency, which will be responsible for spearheading action against serious and organised crime.
It has been suggested that police forces are facing cuts of 20%. No police force has faced cuts at this level. The police service nationally receives around a quarter of its income from the police precept elements of council tax, and the exact proportion varies from force to force. The level at which it is to be set in future will be a matter for individual PCCs to decide.
We are delivering these reforms alongside a drive to deliver better efficiency and value for money. The Government have been very clear that reducing the budget deficit is our number one priority. All public services must constrain their spending, including the police. The Home Office has been doing its bit. We are setting up a police ICT company, which will improve police systems and save money in procurement. We are also helping forces to enjoy economies of scale in the purchase of other goods and services.
We have also been prepared to step in to mandate co-operation between forces. The creation of the National Police Air Service, for example, will provide a better service for forces across the country at a lower cost to the taxpayer. This new police-led, government-supported scheme will keep 98% of people in England and Wales 20 minutes or less away from police air support and will save up to £15 million a year.
The police service must also do its part. At the start of the spending review, the service was spending more than £14 billion a year. It is therefore only right that the police make their contribution to the savings that are needed, while ensuring that the service that the public receive is maintained and, where possible, improved. This can be done, and it is being done. By changing the way police forces work, getting officers out of the back office and on to the front line, and stripping out bureaucratic processes, officers can be freed up to do the job they joined up to do-to fight crime and protect the public.
We are also taking action to improve standards across all aspects of policing. From December, the new College of Policing will be driving professionalism across the whole of policing, in the public interest. Professionalism was rightly mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Dear, and lies at the heart of improvements within the police service. My noble friend Lady Hamwee made very much the same point. The opportunity is now there for the College of Policing to become the guardian of professional standards, shaping and maintaining the ethics and values by which they are delivered. It will also set the professional development framework for policing, ensuring that all officers and staff have the right knowledge and skills to do their job effectively.
My noble friend Lady Doocey mentioned the importance of the Independent Police Complaints Commission. We are looking to expand the powers of the IPCC to ensure that it can function effectively as the policing landscape changes. In the light of many high-profile occurrences, which go to the heart of the public's anxiety, it is important that we maintain the integrity of our police service. In such circumstances, the IPCC has a clear and important part to play.
We are delighted to have appointed Alex Marshall, the chief constable of Hampshire Constabulary, as the chief executive officer of the new College of Policing. Mr Marshall has an impressive track record of driving down crime, supporting innovation and cutting bureaucracy-all skills that will be integral to the College of Policing.
Half way through the Parliament, we have made great progress in our programme of police reform: PCCs elected later this month; the College of Policing about to be launched; the NCA operational next year; wasteful spending reduced and efficiency savings achieved. Taken together, these reforms add up to a realignment of policing in this country that will free up the police from central targets and bureaucracy and place power back in the hands of local people.
We believe that the public should be in charge of how their communities are policed. Although crime maps, beat meetings and neighbourhood policing are all crucial in this respect, the election of PCCs is the change that will truly give the people their voice. From
I believe that these reforms will be seen as one of the great achievements of this Government. I am confident that this is something that Sir Robert Peel would have recognised and would have approved of.
I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate and the Minister for his response. As the Minister has said, there have been many notable contributions-from the noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, at his most super-optimistic to my noble friend Lord Prescott at his battling best. No wonder so many chief constables are nervously awaiting the election of all-powerful commissioners. We have had important speeches: from the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, on the victims of crime; from the noble Lord, Lord Dear, on professionalism; from the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, on the IPCC; and from the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, on the work of the Independent Commission on the Future of Policing. I was particularly interested in the issues around diversity, or rather the lack of it, that the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, raised. We have also had a worrying reminder from my noble friend Lord Harris about the dangers of politicising operational activities with reference to phone hacking and the Metropolitan Police.
I listened carefully to what the Minister said about the elections in a fortnight's time. I have been asking everyone that I have met in the past month whether they are going to vote. I accept that this is a rather imperfect survey, but it was the best one I could have. I asked everybody, "Are you going to vote in a fortnight's time?". I have to tell the Minister that nine out of 10 people I have spoken to have said no. They have said that because they do not know about the elections-some have said that-or they said, "These elections have nothing to do with me", or they have said no because they do not approve of bringing party politics into policing. In a way, that last group of people should concern us most. These are people who have voted in every election, local and national, and yet have said to me, "We are not voting. We do not believe that voting is appropriate for police commissioners". The Government may not like that, but that is the reality. That is what people are saying to me. That is what is being reflected in newspaper columns.
I take the reproof of the noble Baroness, Lady Browning. I take her point that she feels that I am being too pessimistic in my assessment of what is happening in policing. I would respond to her by saying that it is very easy to stand in this Chamber and welcome change and to be optimistic that it will all work out. My interest is in those people out on front line up and down this country; people in communities who actually have implement these changes, and do so effectively. My point is that if you bring in so many disparate and disconnected changes simultaneously, it undermines people's ability and capacity to join everything up at the local level. That is my fear.
I have never been against change which is organic, or change which builds on what is already working. However, what I am against is wholesale revolutionary change which can be damaging and very dangerous. That is what I was trying to draw attention to in this debate.
The challenges facing policing now are unprecedented in their scale, compounded as they are by the savage financial cutbacks. For me, nothing could be more damaging to the fight against crime than a wholesale loss of public confidence in the policing service. It is for this reason that I tabled this Motion for debate today. My hope remains, despite what has been said from the opposite Benches, that the Government will start to realise how much damage their policies are causing to the police service and will engage constructively with the leaders of that service in a way which restores public confidence and police morale. If they do not do this urgently, my concern is that that thin blue line will become so demoralised and badly stretched that it will snap, with incalculable results for all of us.