Amendment 278

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill - Committee (10th Day) – in the House of Lords at 6:15 pm on 22nd November 2021.

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Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb:

Moved by Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb

278: After Clause 170, insert the following new Clause—“Referendums on abolition of Police and Crime Commissioners (1) A referendum is to be held for each police area listed in Schedule 1 to the Police Act 1996. (2) Each referendum is to be held on the same day as the next Police and Crime Commissioner election.(3) The question that is to appear on the ballot papers is—“Do you think that your local police force should be overseen by an individual Police and Crime Commissioner, or by a Police Authority made up of a committee of local councillors.”(4) The alternative answers to that question that are to appear on the ballot papers are—“My police force should be overseen by an individual Police and Crime Commissioner”, and“My police force should be overseen by a Police Authority made up of a committee of local councillors”(5) Those entitled to vote in the referendum are the persons who, on the date of the referendum, are allowed to vote as electors in the Police and Crime Commissioner election.(6) Where the referendum results in a majority for a police area being overseen by a Police Authority made up of a committee of local councillors, the Secretary of State must by regulations made by statutory instrument make provision for the purposes of implementing the result within one year of the passing of this Act.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment is intended to establish referendums to determine how each local police force should be governed.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green

The two amendments I have tabled in this group are not on such a weighty issue as the sexual crimes we have been discussing. But they are on an issue of democracy, and I thank the Government on this occasion for making the Bill so gigantic that these two amendments come within scope. There are two distinct issues in my amendments. Amendment 278 focuses on the abolition of police and crime commissioners, and Amendment 279 is about abolishing the £5,000 deposit needed to stand as a candidate in police and crime commissioner elections.

Under the referendum idea, each police area would have its own referendum held on the same day as the next police and crime commissioner election. The question would be whether to keep police and crime commissioners or return to police authorities made up of a committee of local councillors. Importantly, for a referendum, my amendment also includes provision that the Secretary of State must then implement the result by statutory instrument, because this is intended to be a binding referendum, not an advisory one with no legal consequence.

The Green Party does not believe that police and crime commissioners have been a success. They have replaced a democratic, committee-based system with a directly elected position subject to very little scrutiny. Most normal people do not pay much attention to politics, and that is true across the board, but when you get as far down the pecking order as police and crime commissioners, even many political boffins probably could not name their local PCC. It was an unnecessary political experiment, and local people should be given the option to return to the old system of committee governance.

We have one former Met commissioner here, and he might be able to agree with me that the Metropolitan Police Authority and the assembly committee charged with holding the police to account worked extremely well. I am not suggesting something that has not been proved to work in the past.

Amendment 279 is about deposits and is limited to PCC elections due to the scope of the Bill, but election deposits should be abolished completely for all elections. Supposedly, they exist to deter joke candidates, allowing only serious candidates to stand for election, but it is obvious that this does not work. There are plenty of joke candidates who are not deterred by the deposit. One only has to think back to the Prime Minister’s election battle against Lord Buckethead, Count Binface, and a person dressed as Elmo. All three lost their deposits and seemed thoroughly to enjoy doing so. The 2019 general election saw 1,273 parliamentary candidates each lose their £500 deposit, totalling £636,500. The figure included 465 Green Party candidates, 136 Liberal Democrats, 165 Brexit Party candidates and 190 independent candidates.

Therefore, joke candidates were not deterred, and neither were very committed candidates who wished to stand for election to help improve their local area. However, the outcome was that the established parties—the Conservative Party and the Labour Party—kept most of their deposits, with anything that they did lose a drop in the ocean of their overall party budgets, while the smaller parties and independent candidates suffered a huge financial disadvantage. Election deposits are nothing more than an election tax on people who want to participate in the democratic process, and they should be abolished. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Harris of Richmond Baroness Harris of Richmond Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I have added my name to these amendments, which are indeed timely. Back in May 2011, during the passage of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, I tabled an amendment which effectively scuppered the then Government’s wish to bring in police and crime commissioners. It was a pyrrhic victory, of course, because when the Bill went back to the other place, almost everything that the Government wanted was reinstated. They got their police and crime commissioners. However, it was very much a cross-party effort to bring forward hundreds of amendments, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, will recall.

Looking back on those amendments, it is quite clear that we were right in our condemnation of moving from police authorities, which had 17 or 19 members, to a stand-alone police and crime commissioner. I declare my interest as a former chair of a police authority and as a vice-chair of the former Association of Police Authorities. Much of what we warned has come to pass. Commissioners are political creatures. Hardly any have been independent, which was the wish of the former Prime Minister, David Cameron. We said that this would happen, and it did. We also said that there would be some good commissioners, which there have been, and others varying from not so good to downright terrible.

This has been borne out in my own area of North Yorkshire. Allegations of bullying brought against our first PCC, among other strange decisions that she made, lost her the support of her political allies, so they got rid of her. We had another expensive by-election, which was of course won by the Conservative candidate. Within a very short time, public opinion hounded him out of office because he made incredibly damaging and insensitive remarks following the murder of Sarah Everard. We are shortly to find out who will succeed him, as we have yet another election, the third in 10 years. Up and down the country, PCCs have been found wanting, which I simply do not recall happening in the days of the old police authorities, when checks and balances were shared by having local councillors—elected representatives from different parties—magistrates and lay people to help in the governance of their local police force.

Most Members of your Lordships’ House recognise the dangers inherent in politicising the police. Amendment 278, which proposes a referendum on the abolition of PCCs, or having local councillors to hold the police to account, as was the case for many years before the PRSR Bill came into being, will allow for the governance of policing to be brought back into greater local accountability, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, has said. Amendment 279 would remove the need for an election deposit of £5,000 for PCCs, thus enabling a wider selection of people to apply to become commissioners. Amendment 292D is also timely, as we have at present at least one PCC who has been convicted of a crime.

This experiment has not been the success that it was promised to be. As we have heard, most people still have no idea who their police and crime commissioner is, or what the cost is of running a dedicated office. Certainly, I managed with an office of three personnel. Different PCCs run many more than this, although I am happy that the former Association of Police Authorities has come through the changes with relative ease and just a slight change of name. The work that it did for us was phenomenal and I am sure that its successor organisation is equally excellent, but it has its work cut out with some of its members. This is the first time in 10 years that we have had the opportunity to return to a better system of police governance. I hope that we will take it.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Labour

My Lords, Amendment 292D is in my name. I hope that noble Lords will indulge me if I respond with a few remarks on Amendments 278 and 279. I will do it all in one go and be as brief as I can. I do not intend to take up very much of the Committee’s time with these issues.

Amendment 292D perhaps should not be part of this group but it is, so I will move ahead with it. It is because of the scope of this Bill that I have been able to table this amendment. I will start with two case histories. The first is about a 19 year-old, who, a long time ago, during the Italia 90 World Cup—which noble Lords in the Committee will remember—was in a public house with a friend, watching the football. An incident in which the friend was involved meant that the police were called. The first individual tried to stop his friend from making an even greater idiot of himself by assaulting the police and, for his pains, he was charged, no doubt properly, with obstructing the police. He was not charged with assault, but he was fined £20. Since then, he has never been in trouble again. He has been a councillor for many years and, ironically, he chaired the community services team—that part of the council which works closely with the police to reduce crime. He also happens to be the regional secretary of a very important organisation covering the whole of the Midlands and, to add irony upon irony, he is just celebrating his 20th year as a magistrate. Public-spirited, he applied to be a candidate for the position of police and crime commissioner in his area some years ago, only to be told that his conviction banned him from doing so.

I will very briefly outline case history number two, concerning a person who was 16 in 1972. He had an old scooter and, with his friends, he visited a hospital, where one of his mates handed him an old scooter helmet which was apparently useless, and which he put in his family’s garage. He was charged with handling and was fined £5. Since then, he has never offended again. In 1972, he began working for a local newspaper. He had a highly successful career in journalism, became head of regional media, and worked for the NSPCC as a press and information officer. He has also been a TA soldier for many years, and indeed was the company sergeant major. He is a county councillor where he lives, currently serving his fourth term. Again, the irony is that he was a member of the local police authority—bodies which have just been praised so highly—and now he is a member of the local police and crime panel, which holds the police and crime commissioner to account. Noble Lords will be able to imagine his surprise, exactly 40 years later, in 2012, when the first PCC elections were due to be held and he wanted to stand as a candidate, when he was amazed to be told he could not because of the 1972 conviction. I remind the Committee that he was 16 at the time.

A week ago, I listened to an outstanding debate in this House on IPP prisoners. It was one of those occasions when the House—and the Committee here—shines and, with one voice, points out a serious wrong that needs to be put right immediately. My Amendment 292D is very minor in comparison, and yet it too asks Her Majesty’s Government to remedy what may be a small thing but is an obviously wrong and unfair position.

I too, in a small way, want to right a wrong. Section 66 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 is clear that, if a person has—I want to emphasise these words—at any stage in their life a conviction for any offence which, if they were over 18 at the time, could carry a sentence of imprisonment, that person would remain ineligible to be a candidate in a police and crime commissioner election for the rest of their life; not just until the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act kicks in, and not just for five, 10, 20, 30 or 40 years, but for all their life.

It is of course obvious that no police and crime commissioner should have a recent or serious previous conviction; no one is arguing anything different from that. Recent cases—cases that are being dealt with now—are not relevant to what I am talking about. Those people with recent or serious previous convictions— even if committed when they were young—should of course be excluded, in my view, from standing for election for that particular post. But I ask the Committee this: what can be the rationale for preventing a person who, when a child or young person, committed a minor offence and has since led a blameless life, perhaps even becoming a leader in their community, and has committed no other offence of any kind, standing for the position of police and crime commissioner?

The real point here is that no other position that I can find in our society carries this restriction. It does not apply to elected Members of Parliament or elected councillors, High Court judges, the Home Secretary, the Prime Minister, or even, with the greatest respect, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury. Why does it apply uniquely for police and crime commissioners?

Will the Government’s response be that the public would be appalled by the thought that either of the two individuals whose cases I have outlined could become police and crime commissioners? Of course not. Would the Government suffer a backlash from the people of this country at such an outrageous decision? Of course not. This is a chance for this very minor difficulty—this minor wrong—to be put right.

Many years ago, I was in the position where the Minister sits, and I have had to put forward ridiculous arguments in the past—I admit to that freely—to defend the Government’s position. I know that he is fairly new to his job, and expert at it, but I ask him to please consider really carefully the argument here, which seems, to me at least, to be absolutely overwhelming that this small change should be made and a very a small injustice put right.

I have to change my mood slightly now to deal with the amendment from the noble Baroness. I want to do this as quickly as I can. I very much welcome a discussion surrounding the role of police and crime commissioners, but I have to say at once that I could not possibly support an amendment of the sort that she has moved, and I dare say, with some confidence, that I do not think the Government could either. I promise the Committee—I hope noble Lords believe me—that it is not only because I have just completed five years as a police and crime commissioner; it is for other and better reasons, which I will outline very briefly.

First, the thought of yet another referendum fills me with absolute dread, and I suspect that might be true for a number of other Members of the Committee. Secondly, and more seriously, this would be no practical way of changing the system, leading to, I would have thought, an unworkable scheme that would make life absolutely impossible for police forces around the country, for elected metropolitan mayors—who, by the way, act as police and crime commissioners in their area—and indeed for any Government of any political persuasion. Thirdly, if you really want to abolish police and crime commissioners—I happen not to want to—there are better ways under our system to do so than to have a rough and ready referendum, as is proposed. I hope that those remarks are sensible.

I welcome the discussion, and it is right that we have not discussed police and crime commissioners enough over the last 10 years; we should do so more. I very much hope that one day—shortly, perhaps—there will be a full debate on their virtues and their faults, because both absolutely exist.

As someone who started out as a sceptic—indeed, I voted for the Motion in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, and my noble friend Lord Hunt, which sent the matter back to the Commons in the first place, all those years ago—I now find myself as someone who believes that, given that the existence of police and crime commissioners is only nine years old, it would be extremely premature to disrupt the system so soon. In my view, on balance, and particularly in the last few years, there has been substantial progress in this difficult but vital area, in a free country, and in the really difficult debate about police accountability and the public. I am not saying that police and crime commissioners are the final answer, but I really think that, if you move away from that position, you have to do it in a responsible and sensible way.

To change it radically now, before it has had a proper opportunity to show its worth or otherwise—I do not think nine years is enough—would be irresponsible. Faults it certainly has; I put some of those down to the Government of the time. It is generally agreed that the Government failed completely to explain to the public what the new scheme was and even that it existed. The Government refused to provide information for the first election, held in the month of November, pretty absurdly, in 2012. It was therefore hardly a shock when the turnout was as pathetic as it turned out to be. PCC elections have suffered ever since, although at each successive one there has been an increase in turnout. Even now, I argue that the Home Office is strangely reluctant to publicise the role of police and crime commissioners enough.

An even greater mistake, I am afraid, was in the year-on-year cuts in police spending that the Government of that time committed, which obviously affected society in general. It also prevented new PCCs, who were starting their jobs, from making their mark and being able to do anything innovative, because there was not the money for the force that they worked in.

Among the most obvious misunderstandings—with the greatest respect, we have heard it again this afternoon —is a belief that the old police committee system somehow worked so well or better in holding chief constables to account. There is also the crucial work that police and crime commissioners do in partnership to reduce crime and keep people safe. I do not think the old police committees worked that well, even though there were clearly outstanding members and chairs among them who played an important role. I am not surprised that police chiefs at the time fought very hard to keep that system and prevent the new system coming in. One might ask why.

To reinvent that now would not be a progressive move of any kind. It would very much be a step backward in my view and, I hope, that of the Government. If there is a better scheme, let us go for it at some stage; but to move back to a scheme that is already nine years gone, and one that a lot of people would argue did not always work very well, would be a mistake. It may have worked well in the Met but it certainly did not work all that well everywhere else.

What is left out of this debate is due to a fundamental misunderstanding of a police and crime commissioner’s role. Of course an essential part of it is holding the chief constable and his or her force to account on behalf of the public, but this leaves out that commissioner’s responsibilities to fight crime and support the victims of it, protect the vulnerable and make people feel generally more secure. That more general part of the work—not the holding to account, important though it is—gave me the greatest buzz, as I have said to this Committee before. The responsibility for victims was given by the Government to police and crime commissioners. They fulfil a crucial role which never happened under the old system.

However, these duties require police and crime commissioners to work all the time with other partners—not just the police but a much wider number of public partners and charities. Police and crime commissioners are in an excellent position to co-ordinate, and sometimes to lead, these initiatives. If this duty existed before, it has expanded exponentially over the last nine years. This may be the work that takes a long time to show results. It is often slow, and sometimes depressing, but surely no one in the Committee today would doubt that this kind of work is valuable in itself. Police and crime commissioners are well placed to play a leading part in that.

I want to praise the Government here for taking that on board in the last few years. They have seen the value in setting up violence reduction networks and safer streets programmes, all done through police and crime commissioners. Since the appalling murder of Ms Everard, there is also the new money coming in for the position of women, particularly young women. There are, of course, outstanding police and crime commissioners and some who are not so outstanding. That is true of most elected places, whether it be a council or, if I dare say so, the other place. A good police and crime commissioner can make a huge difference, in the same way that a good elected mayor can. A bad one can place the whole system into disrepute; I accept that.

I have attempted to say just a few words—

A noble Lord:

You failed.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Labour

I am sorry that it has taken so long. I have waited a long time for this opportunity in the Committee and I am sorry if I have abused it.

A good police and crime commissioner should be a combination of a diplomat and an innovator, with a sense of responsibility while doing the job. I am glad to say that the vast majority of them, if not all, see the position in that light. They deserve some support and not always denigration.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Labour

My Lords, I have added my name to these two amendments and I hope the Minister will agree to take them away. I did so, first, to support my noble friend Lord Bach, and, secondly, not so much to agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, on her actual amendment but to try to develop a debate on the role of police and crime commissioners. As my noble friend has said, unfortunately we have had little opportunity to do so since the Bill in 2011 and the Act that was subsequently passed came in.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, said, I led for the Opposition at that time. We were very glad to work with her and opposed the concept. It was defeated in the Lords and the Bill went back to the Commons without a reference to police commissioners, which was subsequently put back in. The fear at the time was always that it would risk undermining tolerant policing in this country by bringing political partisanship too close to police operational matters. I suggest that there is still that fear around the way in which PCCs have operated. There have of course been notable successes—I mention my noble friend Lord Bach, Dame Vera Baird and David Jamieson in the West Midlands as examples—but there have been failures too. A number of police and crime commissioners have had to resign prematurely under what one might call somewhat unfortunate circumstances.

During the passage of this Bill we have debated policing quite extensively, particularly in relation to lamentable performances on domestic violence. My noble friend Lord Bach, whom I rarely disagree with, thinks that nine years is too short a period on which to make a judgment. However, I think I am entitled to point out that on the cultural issues which are very much at the heart of police failures in relation to domestic violence, I cannot see much evidence that this new leadership has been able to tackle those effectively.

A two-part review of PCCs is going on at the moment. The first part reported in October last year and there is a second review. It is interesting that this review is not getting anywhere near the heart of the issues around PCCs. It is also interesting that, in the first review, a lot of reference was made to the dismissal process for chief constables, which reflects the fact that there has been a fallout in many areas between the PCC seeking to exert his or her power and the chief constable. There has been instability. Because of this, there is a shortage of candidates for chief constable roles—not surprisingly.

Of course, the tension between chief constables and police and crime commissioners was built into the legislation. PCCs were there to provide political leadership for policing in their area, but they were not responsible for leading their force. Police chiefs retained operational independence, making independent decisions supposedly free from political interference on operational matters. Of course, there is no definitive list of operational matters, nor an expectation that operational decisions should be free from political scrutiny altogether. Inevitably, a grey area was built in between policing matters that PCCs can influence and those that are at the operational discretion of chief constables.

Going back to our debate on the Bill, where policing culture and failures in domestic abuse have been so evident, it is interesting that Ministers and noble Lords who have debated this extensively have laid responsibility clearly at the hands of chief constables. PCCs have hardly had a mention. Why not? If PCCs cannot get a handle on crucial issues such as this, what on earth is the point of them in the first place?

Obviously, the model that the Government started with was a US model. The logic, when they first brought in the Bill, was for PCCs to be given much more power than they have been given because of their democratic accountability. However, the Government backed off, partly through fears of politicisation, but also because of the usual Whitehall paranoia about letting go. One of the stated aims of PCCs was for police forces to stop looking up to Whitehall and be more accountable locally. If anything, in the last 10 years, we have seen more and more interventions by Home Secretaries into the work of chief constables and pronouncements on strategic policing requirements. Home Secretary interventions have become the order of the day. The end result is utter confusion as to where accountability lies, ambiguities and tensions between the role of the PCC and the chief constable and a sense that policing lacks effective direction.

I look forward with interest to part two of the review that the Government are undertaking but, when one looks at the areas that they are inquiring into, it seems that none of them goes to the heart of the issue of what PCCs are really for and whether they are going to be given the powers to carry that out. That is a matter of regret.

Photo of Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood Chair, Sub-Committee on Lords' Conduct, Chair, Sub-Committee on Lords' Conduct

My Lords, I briefly but strongly support Amendment 292D, but not the other two—I say that without needing much elaboration. I have two main reasons for supporting Amendment 292D. First, it is promoted by the noble Lord, Lord Bach, for whom I always have the greatest regard. He now has the expertise and experience of this job, so his judgment on it, as he knows what he is talking about, is surely worth listening to. We should take advantage of the expertise that he now has in this field and his appreciation of the crunch issues that are involved.

The second main reason is this: I am generally against these absolutist or purist positions such as those adopted uniquely—it appears—in this legislation. Once you have sinned, you are out for life. It is ridiculous. Some small measure of discretion or flexibility is generally an advantage. Of course, it is unlikely to happen that often, but we have surely heard two wholly compelling instances where it is a flagrant injustice to say to these people, now in maturity, having served the public, that because of one slight error in their youth and having strayed once they are never eligible again. This is a point of genuine principle: we ought not to pass this opportunity of putting it right.

Photo of Lord Hogan-Howe Lord Hogan-Howe Crossbench

My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Bach, in his amendment. He could have added police officers to his list of occupations that would not have been barred. He chose not to, but it seems rather odd that only police and crime commissioners can be excluded entirely by a previous conviction.

I do not agree with the amendments proposed by the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and Lady Harris, and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. I do not know whether I have unique experience, but certainly I have experienced both police authorities and PCCs as a chief constable and then as a commissioner. Having been the person held to account, I am probably the person to whom you would least listen—I may have the most prejudice. I find both roles to be about equally effective and, frankly, equally ineffective.

Police authorities had the great benefit that they were a broadly based group of people, rather than one person. They were not directly elected, but they tended to create an awful lot of committees. The consequence of creating committees is that things take an awfully long time: that may not be understood here, but people take a lot of time to make decisions. That was my experience. Police and crime commissioners, where you could get a good relationship, tended to make quicker decisions, but, frankly, in somewhere like London, they struggled to be representative of the nearly 9 million people or to hold all the views—particularly of minorities —through one person. That was a challenge, but it could be overcome at times. Certainly in London, which was my latest experience, there has been a plethora of accountability regimes, whether it be a police and crime commissioner selected by the mayor, the Home Secretary, 32 local authorities, the police and crime scrutiny committee and a number of committees of Parliament. I am not sure that that made it better accountability; it just made more of it.

We ought to think carefully about how we govern the police. I am not sure that this is the best way to address that problem. It could be improved, but I am not sure that this is the best way. There are three reasons for this. On the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, is the fact that you are only getting one applicant for the role of chief constable good evidence that this is because of PCCs? It may be, but I think that it is more to do with the fact that the officers who are applying believe that the solutions have already been determined. They believe that the police and crime commissioners, usually with the sitting deputy, are going to select that person, whereas in the past, with police authorities, at least there was a broad spectrum of people and it was far harder to arrange a conspiracy. I think that it is good evidence, but perhaps for the wrong reason. It is a problem that needs to be addressed and it is not helping the police leadership to develop in the future.

My objections to the amendment are around logistics. If we end up having a referendum at every PCC election, the danger is that we will end up around the country with a mixed tapestry of governance. In some places it would be PCCs and in some places it would be police authorities. We might even flip them at the succeeding election, although I guess that you would not get one if you had a police authority—there would not be another opportunity to have a referendum and then reselect a PCC.

In our current police tapestry, we have 46 forces, 43 of which have local accountability. This has to happen nationally, whether it be the police authorities or PCCs; we need to make national arrangements to govern these things. We already have a complicated arrangement: with 46 governance sets—with different governance sets as well—that is a tapestry too far.

If these things are to be changed, we should look at it properly, and in the round. We should see what has worked and what has not to make improvements. What we should not do is decide it locally. This is a role for government; the governance of the police should be set centrally. There may be local affiliations, but the Government have responsibility to set the governance of the police. As I have said before, I would have far fewer police forces, which might make this a little easier. Whether one agrees with that or not, I would not have a referendum every time a PCC is elected.

Photo of Lord Carlile of Berriew Lord Carlile of Berriew Crossbench 7:00 pm, 22nd November 2021

My Lords, I also rise to speak particularly about Amendment 292D. I support the noble Lord, Lord Bach, with all his experience of being an excellent police and crime commissioner.

There are many other examples. The noble Lord gave two. I shall just give one. A 59 year-old senior civil servant who worked for the Ministry of Justice in a responsible position connected with the criminal justice system, wished to retire and stand to be a police and crime commissioner. He was disqualified because, at the age of 13, he had been fined £5 for each of two minor juvenile offences. It is completely disproportionate and absurd that such people should be disqualified.

I seek to compare those disqualification rules with the rules applying to Members of another place. The last figures I saw produced by IPSA, the standards authority for Members of the other place, revealed that, in recent years, 43% of the Members of the other place had convictions of one kind or another. Maybe that tells you a lot about the other place. Nevertheless, this distinction makes its own point.

In passing on to the other issues, I agree very much with my noble friend Lord Hogan-Howe. Fundamental to this problem is the fact that we have 43 territorial police forces. This number ought to be at least quartered. If so, the structure—including police and crime commissioners—would be much more coherent. There would be far greater consistency and police forces which currently struggle to deal with very complex inquiries would be able to deal with them because they would have the critical mass of staff.

I turn next to police authorities. I hesitate to disagree with those noble Lords who tabled the first amendment in this group because I respect them all. Part of my experience as a Queen’s Counsel has been to advise police authorities when they have got into difficulties. I recall one case from the north of England in which the police authority concerned was institutionally corrupt and in the pockets of a small group of senior police officers. It had got itself into a hopeless mess and at least one criminal prosecution ensued. To describe it as an example of democratic effectiveness was an insult to both democracy and effectiveness.

I accept, of course, that some police commissioners are better than others. So are some Cabinet Ministers. So are some head teachers. So are some doctors. So are some Members of Parliament. This is inevitable. Some of the commissioners are very good, such as the noble Lord, Lord Bach, and Dame Vera Baird, who was referred to earlier. Where police and crime commissioners are effective, they are very effective indeed.

Just think about it territorially. If one of these referendums took place and there was a police and crime commissioner in Cheshire but not in Lancashire, or one in north Wales but not in Dyfed-Powys, people in the areas that did not have a police and crime commissioner would be unlikely to say, “Oh, how wonderful; this is going to be run by our local council.” In the modern world, they will say, “Our democratic rights have been diluted.”

Other noble Lords remember, as I do, when the Welsh Assembly was created. In many parts of Wales, people said, “Nobody will know who their Assembly Members are. It’s all a waste of time. It will be completely ineffective.” It is true that, for a time, people tended not to know who their Welsh Assembly Members were. Today, however, if you look at the evolution of the Welsh Government during the last 20 years or so, it has become remarkably effective. It has brought people much closer to government.

I believe that police and crime commissioners are still evolving. They have a valuable role to play, particularly, as I said earlier, if the Government have the courage to reform the territorial policing services in this country.

As to the deposits, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. The £5,000 deposit is not reasonable. I would not oppose a much lower deposit of the kind that has to be put down by somebody standing to be elected as a Member of Parliament. The election process is expensive. Some kind of gatekeeping requirement of this kind is helpful.

Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, with the greatest respect to the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, when he started talking about amalgamating police forces again and the Welsh Assembly, I wondered whether this was turning into a filibuster. However, we move on.

The issue raised by Amendment 292D that we all agree on is that it is ridiculous that somebody convicted of a very minor offence at a very young age should be disqualified. The other side of the coin is that there is no process for the recall of a police and crime commissioner who commits an offence in office or is guilty of misconduct. Because they are democratically elected, the only way to get rid of them is by another election. Compare this to MPs, for whom there is now a process by which a by-election can be triggered. I agree with Amendment 292D, but there is another side to the same coin which also needs to be addressed.

We on these Benches have always been opposed to police and crime commissioners, notwithstanding, as everybody has said, that there are some outstanding ones, as the noble Lord, Lord Bach, was. Not just because he used to be my boss—this is the House of Peers now—I agree with almost everything the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe has said.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Labour

Would the noble Lord forgive me for a moment? I know his view has always been consistent on this, but the truth of the matter is that the Bill got through only because of the support of both parties in the coalition; one of those parties was the Liberal Democrats. It is very easy to say now that you are not in favour of it as a party, but you clearly were in favour of it because you passed it into legislation. I am sorry if it is a crude point, but it happens to be true.

Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Yes, and, as the noble Lord will very well know, in a coalition there have to be compromises on both sides. You cannot get through the things you think are absolutely important unless you give way on others. However, the policy of this party now is to oppose police and crime commissioners. I am very grateful to the noble Lord for allowing me to clarify the position of the party on that.

It is very difficult for one person to represent both rural and urban areas in policing, or perhaps an area where there is a large African or Caribbean community and another where there is a large south Asian or Chinese community, or even an LGBT community. These could and do exist within the same police area—as in London, for example. Therefore, with one police and crime commissioner for that whole area, it is difficult for that one person to represent all those communities. It is important to be represented when it comes to accountability around policing, particularly for minority communities, where trust and confidence in the police are not as strong as they are with others.

As others have said, the majority of police and crime commissioners are party political. Therefore, there is a danger that a small “p” political difference between a police and crime commissioner and a chief constable, or even a commissioner—without pointing at any particular examples of that—could result in a good chief constable or commissioner having to resign over that small “p” political difference, or even a personality difference with the police and crime commissioner

As the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, has said, we are in a position where, because it is one person hiring and firing the chief constable, we are not getting a range of candidates applying for the chief constable post. The assumption is that the incumbent deputy will have a good relationship with that police and crime commissioner and have a natural advantage over any outside candidate, and therefore it is not worth applying. For all these reasons, we feel that having a range of people holding the police to account—particularly if they are democratically elected councillors —as opposed to one person, would be preferable. But I agree with other noble Lords that the suggested way to replace the system is probably not through a series of referenda that could result in different mechanisms in different parts of the country.

As far as the abolition of deposits in elections is concerned, that is perhaps slightly wider than this Bill should be considering. Of course, as Liberal Democrats, we would have to declare an interest as far as that is concerned. I absolutely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, about potentially reducing the size of the deposit, rather than getting rid of it completely.

Were police authorities better? In some places, I think they were. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, has said, the Metropolitan Police Authority was certainly very effective. The noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, who experienced both, said there was not much to choose between the two on accountability.

For the reasons that I have explained, we agree that there should certainly be an examination of how effective police and crime commissioners are.

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

My Lords, I agree with the comments of my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and other noble Lords, that we have had mixed experiences of police and crime commissioners—some have been very good, and some not so good. I will not go further than that, though, in relation to Amendment 278.

I wish to talk in particular about the amendment in the names of my noble friends Lord Bach and Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. They have drawn attention to the consequences we have witnessed as result of potential candidates for police and crime commissioner being debarred if they have been convicted of any offence, however many years ago, for which they could have received a custodial sentence, irrespective of whether they did actually receive such a sentence. I do not wish to pursue any individual cases but rather the general point, as others have done, of whether there should be another look at the reasons, in respect of previous convictions, for which a potential candidate for the office of police and crime commissioner can be disqualified.

When the issue has been raised previously, the Government have argued that it should not be reviewed because there was cross-party support for this requirement to be included in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011. If that argument was followed through to its logical conclusion, there could never be any change to any legislation that originally had cross-party support, which is a bit of a nonsense.

The other argument advanced was that people must have complete confidence in the probity and integrity of whoever it is they elect as a police and crime commissioner because of their responsibilities and powers in relation to their police force, including the chief constable. Clearly, that is true, but whether an offence committed decades ago that could have resulted in a custodial sentence but did not—because it was not considered of a sufficiently serious nature to justify such a sentence—should automatically still be regarded as calling into question the probity and integrity of a potential candidate for police and crime commissioner, and thus disqualify them from holding such an office, is questionable, to say the least. It is certainly questionable when one looks at other positions that have powers and responsibilities in relation to the police and the criminal justice system but have no such similar restrictions on being able to stand for office or be appointed to an office.

The Home Secretary has far more powers and influence in relation to the police and chief constables than a police and crime commissioner, who is not permitted to get involved in operational matters, which are the preserve of a chief constable. The present Home Secretary has made it clear on more than one occasion that she speaks regularly to chief constables—and I do not think it is to discuss the weather. At the time of the vigil in London following the murder of Sarah Everard, the Home Secretary made it clear that, on the day, she had been in regular touch with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. It is inconceivable that the Home Secretary was not asking what was happening, what the police were doing and why.

The Home Secretary also has a key role in the appointment and tenure in office of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. Yet unlike the position of police and crime commissioner, there is nothing that disqualifies a person from being Home Secretary if they have been convicted of an offence, however many years ago, for which they could have received a custodial sentence. A Home Secretary has overall responsibility for the police and proposes legislative changes affecting the police, including police and crime commissioners. Indeed, it was the then Home Secretary who sponsored the legislation that applied the current restriction on potential candidates becoming police and crime commissioners, but did not think the same restriction should apply to the office of Home Secretary.

As far as I know, there is no national legislation that precludes a person who, at some time, has had a previous conviction for which they could have received a custodial sentence becoming a police officer. As a police officer, that person could rise through the ranks to become chief constable. There is no legislation that disqualifies a person who, at some time, has had a previous conviction for which they could have received a custodial sentence from becoming a magistrate, a Member of Parliament or, as far as I know, a judge. Why then does the existing restriction continue to apply to the post of police and crime commissioner, irrespective of whether a custodial sentence was handed out, how many years ago the offence was committed and the nature of the offence? Like my noble friend Lord Bach and others, I believe it is time to reconsider whether the current restriction on being able to be a police and crime commissioner should continue to apply in its present sweeping and absolute form.

We certainly do not want people with criminal tendencies, or with no respect for the law and policing, becoming police and crime commissioners. Equally, we do not want to preclude people of ability or who have much to offer from being able to be a police and crime commissioner on the basis of a minor offence, committed many years ago, and certainly not when that restriction does not apply to other equally or more influential positions that also have public involvement with policy and direction related to the running and functioning of our criminal justice system.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 7:15 pm, 22nd November 2021

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and the noble Lord, Lord Bach, for giving us this opportunity to discuss police and crime commissioners and matters relating to their election. I also thank all noble Lords who have participated in this debate.

PCCs, as directly elected individuals responsible for the totality of policing in their area, are a far more transparent and visible model of police governance than the predecessor model of police authorities. As the Home Affairs Select Committee found in its 2016 report, the introduction of PCCs has had a beneficial effect on public accountability and the clarity of leadership in policing. It concluded that the PCC model is here to stay.

The Government are committed to strengthening and expanding the role of PCCs—indeed, it was a manifesto commitment—and, earlier this year, the Home Secretary announced the recommendations from part 1 of a review into the role of PCCs to do just that. That announcement was repeated in your Lordships’ House by my noble friend Lord Greenhalgh on the same day, 16 March. These recommendations will further strengthen the transparency and accountability of PCCs, as well as make it easier for the public to make an informed decision at the ballot box about the record of their PCC. Part 2 is currently under way, and the Government will report on those recommendations in due course. I note in response to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, that this review will also assess the benefits and demerits of a trigger mechanism for the recall of PCCs; it is being debated.

Amendment 278 would provide for force-wide referendums to abolish PCCs. As I have said, PCCs are here to stay. The PCC model provides a clearer form of democratic accountability for police forces. The Government see no benefit in returning to a system of invisible and unaccountable police authorities. Under the old system, the public had no direct powers to elect a police authority chair or its members. Moreover, this amendment would provide for costly local referendums, siphoning funding away from front-line policing, and potentially leading—as many noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, have noted—to a confused patchwork of police governance arrangements across the country. Therefore, the effect of the amendment could well be to damage public confidence in police governance at a time when it is crucial that we do everything in our power to strengthen it.

While Amendment 278 seeks to abolish PCCs, Amendment 279 seeks to make it easier for anyone to stand as a candidate for election by removing the £5,000 election deposit for candidates. I shall stick to PCCs and not expand to cover other elections, for obvious reasons.

The requirement for candidates to pay a £5,000 deposit was introduced to ensure that a high calibre of candidates put themselves forward for the role of PCC. These should be people committed to being the voice of the public and to holding their police force to account. Candidates who poll more than 5% of the total number of valid first preference votes cast in that police area will have their deposit returned, ensuring that serious candidates are not out of pocket.

I am sure that noble Lords would agree that we must protect our electoral system from abuse. The £5,000 deposit is designed to ensure that individuals who have no intention of seriously contesting the seat do not use the election process as an opportunity for free publicity.

Amendment 292D, put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Bach, concerns the disqualification criteria for PCCs, and I fear that my ice thins a little here. I understand the noble Lord’s motivation and respect his powerful and perfectly valid examples, but the Government do not agree that we should lower the bar on the standard we expect of elected PCCs. As a PCC previously himself, I am sure the noble Lord will recognise the need for the highest levels of integrity, given the nature of the role.

Under the current disqualification criteria, a person is unable to stand for or hold the office of PCC if they have previously been convicted of an imprisonable offence. There is no bar on people standing for election who may have a previous conviction for a low-level offence punishable by a fine only. Neither is a caution, whether for an imprisonable offence or otherwise, a bar to election. These rules governing who can stand as a PCC are, as the noble Lord noted, the strictest of all rules for elected roles in England and Wales and, we believe, are necessary to ensure the highest levels of integrity on the part of the person holding office and to protect the public’s trust in policing.

This high standard was set with cross-party agreement and with the support of senior police officers There is a serious risk of damage to public confidence and the integrity of the model if PCCs are able to take office with a history of serious criminal offence. I would also suggest that were a PCC to hold office with a previous conviction for an imprisonable offence, both the PCC and the chief constable might find it untenable to maintain a professional and respectful relationship, given the role the PCC plays in holding the chief constable to account. Having said all that, I have heard everything that has been said around the Chamber this evening, across party, and I will make sure that those arguments are reflected back to the Home Office.

In conclusion, this Government are firmly of the view that, far from seeking to abolish PCCs or weaken their standing, we should further strengthen their role. On that basis, I invite the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green

Is the Minister advising me to withdraw my amendment or asking me to withdraw it?

I made my opening remarks quite short, because I did not think that the amendment would be very contentious. I thought that people would not like it, but I had no idea that it would generate so much interest. I thank all noble Lords who have contributed, especially the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, for her personal recollections of disastrous commissioners. I, too, have some personal recollections of disastrous commissioners, starting with Boris Johnson, who as Mayor of London was completely useless and had to pull in people to do it for him, some of whom did not know what they were doing either.

I more or less thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, for his partial support. I was interested in the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Bach, because he has five years’ experience as a PCC. I have 16 years’ experience on police committees and of PCCs, so the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, should perhaps have accepted that I might have a valid point of view on PCCs as well.

I ask all noble Lords: can you actually name your PCC? There is a shake of the head beside me. If you live in London, it is easy: it is Sadiq Khan. If you live anywhere else, it is much harder. Could the Minister name his PCC? He says yes.

I thank noble Lords very much for this debate. I find this issue endlessly interesting. I will think about the offer made by the noble Lord, Lord Bach. He said, for example, that there are better ways of getting rid of police commissioners. I would be happy to put forward an amendment with a quicker way to do that rather than having a referendum; I am not wedded to referendums. Having said all that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 278 withdrawn.

Amendment 279 not moved.

Photo of Baroness Scott of Bybrook Baroness Scott of Bybrook Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, we will do one more group before the dinner break. I remind noble Lords that we have to get through 14 groups today. That means that we have nine more. Can we try to be a little briefer so that we can get on? We have only one more day on this Bill, so we need to get as far as possible tonight.