Police and Crime Commissioners — Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:13 pm on 3 December 2014.

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Photo of Lord Imbert Lord Imbert Crossbench 3:13, 3 December 2014

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the success or failure of Police and Crime Commissioners, particularly in comparison to the cost, democratic accountability and competence of the Police Authorities they replaced.

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My Lords, in 2010, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary found that only four of the 22 police authorities inspected were judged to have performed well in two of their primary functions: setting strategic direction and ensuring value for money. More than 5.8 million votes have been cast to elect accountable police and crime commissioners, who are providing an impetus to reform and are innovating and delivering policy locally and more effectively.

Photo of Lord Imbert Lord Imbert Crossbench

I thank the Minister for his Answer but he will be surprised that I and thousands of others do not share the enthusiasm for this system. Surely it cannot be right, or indeed safe, to introduce the evils of party politics into policing decisions and activity. Does the Minister agree that politics and policing should be worlds apart and that politics should have no influence on policing activity or decisions—particularly operational decisions which, despite what the protocol might say, is likely to happen? He who pays the piper calls the tune.

Would the Minister care to comment on the television programme “Meet the Police Commissioner”, in which the only police and crime commissioner to put her head above the parapet was asked about her daily workload? She was asked what her first task was when she arrived at her office in the morning, to which she replied, “I do my nails”. When her large staff, who I think amounted to 16, appeared to be downcast or bored she said that she took her dogs into the office to cheer them up—the staff, I presume, and not the dogs.

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My Lords, first, I pay tribute to the noble Lord’s distinguished service in the police service. I recognise his points, and will respond to one of them by saying that when he was serving in the police he was accountable to political leadership through the police authorities. What we now have is directly elected police and crime commissioners and, whereas only 7% of people knew that the police authorities existed, 5.8 million people have now voted for their police and crime commissioner. That is progress.

Photo of Lord Rosser Lord Rosser Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

My Lords, the National Audit Office has said that there are “few checks and balances” on police and crime commissioners between elections. The Home Secretary has referred to placing PCCs on probation because of cronyism in the hiring of deputies from groups of friends and political associates. The Deputy Prime Minister has described PCCs as a failed experiment, and polls indicate that few people believe that PCCs give them more say in how their local area is policed. Despite the good work done by some PCCs, do the Government not realise that the system—created at considerable expense—is flawed and that fundamental reform is needed to give people a greater voice in how they are policed, with proper accountability at force and neighbourhood level, as we are proposing?

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

In relation to that, the National Audit Office has actually said that the commissioners could add important benefits in providing faster decision-making and greater transparency. The Home Affairs Select Committee acknowledged that individual police and crime commissioners are providing “greater clarity” for policing in their areas, and an increasing number of people are voting in the elections. I would have thought that that was to be welcomed.

Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Liberal Democrat

My Lords, in the light of the report in the Times at the weekend, which claimed that more than half of the police and crime commissioners had been investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, do the Government consider it necessary to reconsider the whole issue of the accountability of police and crime commissioners?

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Of course, because they are now elected and accountable, they can be referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. Previously, the chairs of police authorities could not be referred to that organisation, so it is a step forward.

Photo of Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate Non-affiliated

My Lords, given that one of the key reasons for appointing police and crime commissioners was that it was alleged that the chairmen of police authorities were not identifiable and that nobody knew them, is there any evidence that members of the public actually know who police and crime commissioners are?

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

A few people in South Yorkshire might know who Shaun Wright is. The South Yorkshire chief constable, who gave evidence before the Home Affairs Select Committee, said that during his seven years he could not remember the name of either of the chairs of the police authority that he had had, but I am sure that he knows the names of Shaun Wright and his successor.

Photo of Baroness Henig Baroness Henig Labour

My Lords, when the legislation to establish police and crime commissioners was going through this House, many of us on all sides of the Chamber warned strongly that a lack of effective governance arrangements would have dangerous consequences. In light of the fact that, as we have already heard, over half of all police crime and commissioners are under investigation as we speak, will the Minister now agree that his Government’s pigheaded refusal to listen to what everyone was telling them at the time has resulted in the new arrangements not only being completely discredited and financially ridiculous, but having had serious consequences for public confidence?

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

First, on the facts, it is not true that half of police and crime commissioners are under investigation; 14 of them were referred to the IPCC for not providing the data that they are required to under the legislation that the noble Baroness referred to, and that case was dismissed. With regard to oversight, it is clear that they are looked into by the independent inspections carried out by the Home Office, and ultimately they will be subject to the inspection of the electorate in 2016.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Labour

My Lords, to be perfectly honest, the Minister is in a hopeless position on this issue, as were his predecessors piloting this legislation through with all the warnings that my noble friend has referred to. I ask him, as it is part of the role of Minister in this House, at least to mention to the people back in the Home Office that not a single question today has been supportive of police and crime commissioners. If the concept is as friendless as that in this House, there is a fair chance that it is friendless among large sections of the population.

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The noble Lord might also like to ask his colleagues who are serving excellently, including former Ministers such as Tony Lloyd—who commissioned that excellent report by Ann Coffey on child exploitation, which could not have happened before but is happening now under police and crime commissioners—what they think of the law. They seem to support it.