the requirement to have regard to the views of people and the business sector and the voluntary sector in its area about policing in that area (to be measured by independently conducted local attitudinal surveys of public satisfaction) and its compliance with.
Amendment 77, in clause 1, page 1, line 11, after people, insert
, local authorities, the business sector and voluntary sector.
It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Nicholas, and you are correct that this sitting marks the beginning of the meaty scrutiny of the Bill.
I would like to place something on recordand I am sure that these are sentiments that the Minister sharesbecause the part of the Bill to which the amendments relate is entitled Police reform. It would be wrong of me not to begin scrutiny of the Bill without bearing testimony to the hard work that policemen and women of all ranks do up and down the land. It is a dangerous and demanding job, and the office of constable imposes on those men and women constraints that many ordinary employees are not under, such as restrictions on what they can do when they are off duty. I wish to begin on that positive note. Clauses in this part 1, on police reform, are important to me as the shadow Police Minister. My hon. Friends and I wish to conduct the debate in the spirit of instructive scrutiny, particularly in relation to the police.
Amendments 76, 48 and 77, standing in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch, go to the very heart of the accountability debate. Sir Ronnie Flanagan, in his final report on policing in spring last year, which was instigated by the Home Secretarys predecessor but accepted and welcomed by the current Home Secretary, said at paragraph 7.12, page 81:
If a body of citizens is dissatisfied with the service they receive or the scrutiny of it, they have little means of redress.
He went on to talk about the need for more accountability in the scrutiny of the performance of the police service in England and Wales.
We all agree on that. Later in our proceedings, the Liberal Democrats will explore their view, with their alleged enhancement of police accountability. We have our own view, which is for a single directly elected police commissioner. In the clause stand part debate, we shall talk about the Governments initial position in the Bill and their position now. My hon. Friend and I have sought an amendment to put a duty on police authorities to consult not just with people but with certain bodies. We are not confident that the views of local businesses, or even local authorities, are being taken account of by police authorities, and we think that the clause as drafted does nothing to redress that problem.
There is a reference in the amendment to seeking the views of the business sector. Why the business sector? The Federation of Small Businesses hasover many years, not just recentlyworked long and hard to point out that crimes targeted against business are not, in the experience of its members, given due attention by some police forces. In short, businesses do not believe that they are listened to when it comes to reporting crime. That is not a new point in any shape or form. The business sector, particularly in this dire economic climate, should be listened to in many forums. Press reports show that as long ago as last August, Her Majestys Government and the Cabinet Office were predicting an increase in acquisitive, or property, crime as a result of the economic downturn. If acquisitive crime is on the increase, we need to pay more attention to the views of the business sector than we would do in boom times.
Let us look at some facts. Figures presented to me by the Federation of Small Businesses show that crimes against business make up a fifth of all recorded crime in the United Kingdom. According to the federation, only 45 per cent. of businesses report crime, becauserightly or wronglyof their lack of faith in the system of police response. I think that that is too much of a blanket criticism, but it is certainly the case that in some police force areas, businesses do not report crime even through they have experienced it. They are not sure that it is worth the time and trouble to get what will perhaps be an inadequate response from the local force.
My hon. Friend makes a good point about the interconnection between business, policing and enforcement. Does he agree that the Government have not helped the situation by telegraphing a message through the policing Green Paper that implied that the police do not have to worry about targets, in particular those relating to shoplifting? Shoplifting was mentioned specifically in the Green Paper as something that the police almost did not need to bother about.
With typical perspicacity, my hon. Friend has focused on something that is a live issue, now more than ever, given the dire economic climate faced by the country. We face an increase in acquisitive crime and the questionit is only a question, which my hon. Friend and I have been pondering over the last few daysis whether it is always an adequate response for the public, or indeed retailers, to see repeat shoplifters only ever receive a fixed penalty notice. The allegationmuch of it anecdotal, but no doubt the Minister will give a viewis that there is no likelihood of magistrates court proceedings for the mythical theft of a Mars bar, for example, a couple of times from a corner shop.
The question is whether there should be harder interventions for high-volume crime of a low-level nature. What should be the response of the police in that situation? Should they exercise discretion as the crime is low-level or, where there is a pattern of persistent shoplifting by an individual, should they throw the book at them? I would be grateful to hear the Ministers response, as we are talking about how, through this clause, the business community will be able to seek greater accountability from local police. That is the purpose of the amendments.
To continue with some salient facts, according to the FSB, 45 per cent. of businesses fail to report crime because of their apparent lack of faith in the system. Over two thirds of businesses are not even aware of the neighbourhood policing units that have been rolled out across this country. The Home Secretary and the Minister are proud of saying that neighbourhood policing unitsthe teams that have been rolled out across the countryare an initiative that is working. Her Majestys Opposition support it, although we think that it can work better. I have seen work to the effect that neighbourhood policing budgets are going to be ring-fenced for an extra year. That is a good thing but, according to those statistics, over two thirds of businesses are not even aware of their existence. It is clear that any accountability body, whether a police authorityor under the Conservative model, an elected police commissionerwhich is a democratic, lay representative, overseeing police performance, should actively seek the views of the business community. If those views are taken on board, that should be better reflected in the distribution of resources and the crime-fighting priorities of a chief constable and his officers.
The scale of the problem should not be underestimated. The FSB indicates that the average cost of crime per annum is against them. Averages do not mean much to the typical business because the problem is widespread, but the cost is £13,000 a year, which affects profitability and staff morale. If people consider the FSB unrepresentative of the business community of England and Wales, I would pray in aid the views of the British Chambers of Commerce, whose 2008 crime survey provided data that supports the FSBs view. There was a worrying decline in the confidence that businesses have in work to tackle crime against business in their community. The survey, which formed part of the representations for the Green Paper last year, said:
Two thirds of businesses did not display confidence that police were dealing with these issues.
Three in ten businessesnearly double the number in the 2004 surveyare choosing not to report all crimes committed against them. The majority of businesses surveyed felt that there should be a greater role for the business community in local crime and disorder partnerships. Over 80 per cent. of businesses believe that crime against business is a problem in their local area.
Rather than listen to me list businesses concerns, it might be useful for the Committee to understand why there is a systemic problem. It is not just the business community having a go and wanting things to be better. It is a structural problem, which goes to the heart of how we measure business crime. As many Committee members will be aware, the British Crime Survey, on which the Home Secretary relies a great deal, measures the victimisation experience of households and individuals over and above recorded crime, but it does not measure the victimisation of commercial businesses or industrial concerns. The last commercial victimisation survey, which is not part of the annual BCS, was conducted in 2002. These are one-off, ad-hoc surveys of the victimisation experience of businesses. They are not in the annual British crime survey, which covers the experiences of individuals and households rather than of businesses. In 2002, it was estimated that there were 14.6 million offences which would not be included in the annual British crime survey. A fuller picture of crime in this country should include, on a more regular basis, what happens to businesses and industrial concerns.
Should we have regular surveys of crimes against businesses, as judged by surveys of the victimisation experience of businesses? The Minister will no doubt say that such surveys are expensive to carry out. Having considered the matter, my view is that the sample size and the attendant costs of a proper business survey in this country should at least be considered every two years, so that we had useful trend evidence of what the business community is complaining about. By reference to statistics and research, I have set out those concerns in detail.
The amendments in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch refer to the voluntary sector because voluntary sector bodies and charities also have offices and are not comprehensively covered in the annual British crime survey. Like businesses, their offices can be broken into and office equipment can be stolen, and fraud can be committed against them. Voluntary bodies are concerned about crime and whether it is always worth reporting it to the police. The views of the voluntary sector need to be understood better.
The third category in the amendments is local authorities. Let me say at the outset that I do not agree with everything that local authorities say about making the police accountability arrangements more modern and more focused, but on this matter, I and my hon. Friends agree with the Local Government Association. In connection with the original Green Paper arrangements, which we will get to on clause stand part, the LGA said that the police and the crime and disorder reduction partnerships need a much closer working relationship and that the police authorities need to do more to consult district and borough councils. It asks, quite rightly:
Who, after all, are the partners with the police in CDRPs
Whether we pursue the model of policing authorities as allegedly modernised by the Bill or the model of a directly elected commissioner as proposed by Her Majestys Opposition, we can all agree that local authorities will continue to have budgetary control over some crime-fighting moneys and resources and that CDRPs, under the Governments model or ours, will continue to work collaboratively. As I never cease to repeat in public forums, the police cannot fight crime on their own and we should not expect them to try.
The world has moved on: the police have a critical role, but not without strategic advice and the local authorities work on the ground, especially on antisocial behaviour, primary care trusts, drug action teams and such. Partnership working is essential right across the board, as it would be under any future Conservative Administration. What is in the clause to give comfort to local authorities? What is there to show them that their hard work and efforts will be recognised when, under the current regime, police authorities set priorities with chief constables? What is there to show them that police authorities will take account of the views of local authorities when those priorities are set with the chief constable? That is the purpose of the amendment, which refers not only to the business and voluntary sector, but to local authorities.
I shall conclude my remarks on the amendments by observing that the clause as drafted appears to place a new requirement over and above what is in the Police Act 1996. The Act will be amended to include the requirement to take into account
the views of people in the authoritys area about policing in that area.
In the Bill, upgrading the 1996 Act, that is coupled with an extra responsibility for Her Majestys inspectorate of constabulary to carry out an inspection and report to the Secretary of State on the new requirement under clause 1 as drafted. Does it make a significant, practical change to the 1996 Act? That Act already gives police authorities a duty to make arrangements for knowing the views of local people on matters concerning their policing area, and obtaining co-operation and preventing crime under section 96. As a lawyer in a former life, albeit I did not practise for long before becoming an MP, it seems to my tired, legal brain that there is not a significant or notable difference between the clause and the precursor legislation in the 1996 Act.
Will the Minister reflect on what Liberty said about the clause and the part of it to which the amendments refer? Liberty takes a different view from Opposition and Government Members. It thinks that the idea of greater lay accountability is bad, but it is surely right of Liberty to make an interesting drafting point by querying how people are to be defined and asking
If just one or two people in the area express their opinion must the PA take that into account in discharging its function?
How many people? Can we put a number on it? Liberty observes that the community
may in reality consist of a number of communities and different communities that are judged by
ethnicity, gender and socio-economic status.
It would be useful if the Minister explained whether he is relying on a common-sense meaning of the words, or whether he has an idea of the numberthe quantumof people or communities that he anticipates would be caught by the clause. The part of the clause to which the amendments relate is designed to enhance accountability, but my first problem arises from how it differs from the 1996 Act in a material sense.
My second and final question is about important information to enable the Committee to understand about where the Government are coming from on accountability generally. That question is in order for reasons that I hope will become clear in a minute. At the time it was passed, the Government made much of the Police and Justice Act 2006. That Act places on local councillors a duty to respond to what it calls a community call for action from anybody living or working in an area on a matter concerning crime and disorder, including antisocial behaviour and behaviour adversely affecting the environment or substance abuse in that area. Such matters are covered by section 19 of the 2006 Act.
It was suggested that the response of the councillor in the ward must show what, if any, action that councillor proposed to take to resolve the subject of the complaint by the individual citizen in the area. Because that goes to the heart of accountabilitythe key to that part of the clausecan the Minister say whether that provision is in operation and, if so, on how many occasions it has been utilised? If we do not have an answer to how the existing legislation on local democratic accountability is being utilised, we cannot get to the heart of why the amendmentsor indeed the whole clauseare important.
My hon. Friend has latched on to an important point in the community call for action. I remember the debate in the relevant Bill Committee on the 2006 Act. One concern expressed at the time was that the community call for action might get in the way of existing arrangements that the police had establishedward beats and ward panel meetingsand a formal requirement such as going to a new committee at the local authority might add to the levels of bureaucracy that the police already have. Is that a concern that my hon. Friend has picked up or that he shares?
My hon. Friend, who was on the Committee for that Bill, is entirely right. It is a concern that I have picked up. Police with whom I have spoken are sceptical of the concept. In fairness to the Minister, it is also right to say that many policenot allare sceptical of the arrangements that the Government outlined in their Green Paper, but are not wholly in agreement with Her Majestys Opposition. However, on the community call for action, police sceptics are surely right. It is more bureaucratic and shows no signs of being implemented in any significant way. Like so much criminal justice legislation since 1997, it seems to be a case of the legislation being put on the statute book, announced with a fanfare and getting a press release and a bit of coverage on the airwaves, only for silence to follow. Nothing happens and the police say that it is another bit of useless legislation. That, in answer to my hon. Friend, would be my assessment, unless the Ministers reply tells me otherwise.
I can be specific on this point, which I hope is helpful to the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend. The community call for action has become the council call for action, as he will be aware, and is to be implemented in April this year.
I am grateful to the Minister. I hope that he will have even more important points of information that he can share with the Committee, but with that I conclude my remarks. I look forward to the Ministers answers to some of the wider points, particularly in relation to business crime.
May I echo the comments about the pleasure of serving under your chairmanship, Sir Nicholas? Like you, I travelled down from the north, but yesterday rather than Sunday. I shall only observe that it is amazing how the south grinds to a halt when we get a little bit of snow.
Turning to the business in hand, in principle we agree with the thrust of the amendments. Should the police consult business about local crime problems and how they should be dealt with? Of course they shouldthat is self-evidentjust as they should be consulting with every section of the community. The British Chambers of Commerce original submission in response to the Green Paper, which has already referred to, gave some excellent examples of how business feels that it is often not consulted by the police and how problems such as business crime on out-of-the-way industrial estates or shoplifting are ignored. The submission also gave some excellent examples from places such as north Staffordshire, Barnsley and Rotherham, and Greater Manchester, where local action and partnerships between chambers of commerce and police forces led to some very good effects on crime on those patches.
Of course we support the principle that the police should consult with business, as with every other part of the community. Like other MPs, I can draw examples from my local patch. Recently, a group of business men came to see me about an outbreak of petty vandalism and arson, which could have led to a death in one case, that was affecting one roadabout six or seven businessesnear to where I live. There was a mixture of businesses, from a corner shop to a hairdresser's to an accountant to a picture framers and several others. As I sat talking to them about this outrage, which had taken place over a month or two, the first question was, Have you reported it to the police? Two out three of the people who came to see me said, No, of course not, there is no point because were not going to get a response.
I pointed out that I know that Derbyshire police pursue an intelligence leg of policing whereby each week they review the computer profile of where the calls are coming from, be they nuisance calls or calls about vandalism, shop break-ins, burglaries and so on, and they direct the scarce police resources to the pressure points. I pointed out to the business men that, unless they reported these incidents, providing something to be logged on the police computer, the police would not be alerted to the fact that a pattern was emerging in one particular area of townin this case, around the small row of shops and businesses where they operate.
Similarly, last year some publicans came to me about Pubwatch, which they have set up with great enthusiasm in Chesterfield town centre. However, they felt that they were not getting a good enough response from the authorities to make Pubwatch work effectively. They had looked at what the scheme had done in other parts of the country, where local businessesin this case publicanswere working well with the police and the local authorities to tackle the crimes of alcohol-fuelled misbehaviour and violence around the town centres. They said that they want more of that in their area, but they felt that they had to come to their local Member of Parliament to ginger up the police and authorities to be a bit more responsive. There are a lot of examples like that, which everyone could recount.
Like so many other parts of the community, businesses feel that there is no point in reporting crime and that they will be ignored if it is relatively low-level, petty crime, or the sort of victimless crime involving property rather than people. They feel that the police and authorities will not pay attention to them. As the British Chambers of Commerce submission and examples such as Pubwatch show, if the two sides interact they can get excellent results. There are some superb examples of partnerships.
The same principle applies in parish councils and town councils. I was a parish councillor for four years and I well remember the local beat constable coming along regularly to report what was happening in the patch and to get the feedback from members of the community who attended those meetings. I chaired one of the local community forums for Chesterfield borough council, and we always used to have the local beat officer along. We used to make a big point of moving the beat officer right to the top of the agenda, because there was nothing worse than a beat officer having to spend the whole of a two or three-hour meeting listening to all the business that was on the agenda before it got to the point that was relevant to them. That would have been two or three hours that they could have spent pursuing their duties elsewhere. We can impose duties to consult and to listen to all sorts of groups on the police, but we need to do it in a way that will not tie the police up in yet more bureaucracy and meetings to no avail.
Although I agree with the principle behind amendments 76, 48 and 77, I have one or two questions. One relates to the obligation that would be imposed on the police to carry out regular, independent surveys through an opinion poll company or similar, to find out what the local community felt about policing and what the issues and the responses were. How regularly would those independent surveys be conducted? Who would bear the cost of them? What response would the police then be required to give?
We are now back into the territory that we discussed on Second Reading and when taking evidence from witnesses last week. The Bill as drafted states that local police authorities and police forces will have regard to what the local community tells them. What exactly does have regard mean? In this case, it means they must have regard to the findings of frequent opinion poll surveys of business people, but how are the police to decide to which source of information and views they should give priority, especially when the Bill gives Ministers extra powers to direct police authorities to do certain things? We have already raised that question in previous debates: what happens if the Ministers direction and the local communitys response of, No, this is what we need, clash?
That takes us to the territory highlighted by Liberty, which has already been discussed, relating to what will now be called the council call for action. I will come back to the issue when we discuss new clause 2 and new clause 4, which stand in my name. The call for action in the 2006 Act calls for a local councillor to take prompt action when approached by members of their ward, which in this case could be local businesses. Councillors must indicate what action they propose to take to resolve the problem.
What can that individual councillor do? A district or a borough councillor has no direct input to the police authority. A county councillor or a city councillor who is not on the police authority has no direct input to the police authority, either. Through the local crime and disorder reduction partnership, individual councillors might be able to have some impact, but by and large they will not. Do not the provision in the 2006 Act, the provisions in the Bill about ministerial direction and having regard to community calls, and the amendments requirement to have regard to views of businesses gathered through independent surveys carry the risk that the police authority will be unable to reconcile all the different people instructing it? It is a balancing act.
If the police authority is constantly going to be directed from London, as well as be expected to take notice of local opinion, there will be a tension. When I asked about this last week, I was told that it would sort itself out, but it is not that simple. If responsibilities are being placed on the police to do this, this, this and this, especially when they do not have control over their own funding and manpower levels, at some point they will have to take decisions. They will ignore that instruction, or that request from the community, or that request from business in order to do something else.
I believe that we should give the police authorities more independence to take those decisions purely in the light of local circumstances. In principle, I support the amendment, but I should like some clarification of how frequent the surveys should be, who will bear the cost and how the police authority will have regard to what these surveys reveal in their regular reports.
This is the first time, apart from an intervention, that I have got to my feet in this Committee. May I start by welcoming you to the Chair, Sir Nicholas, of this formal part of our proceedings?
I also welcome all other members of the Committee. As is customary, I welcome to the Committee my shadow, the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds. He, the hon. Member for Hornchurch and I have had many interesting and informative debates. I will try to answer all questions I am asked. Although I may not always agree with people, I will try to make progress and to take account of the opinions and views expressed. Where possible and where I believe it appropriate, I will try to change and adapt. It is good to be here.
I join the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds in his generous tribute to the work done by police officers and staff up and down the country: they do an excellent job. As he said, they often do that job in difficult and dangerous circumstances. I am sure that the hon. Member for Chesterfield shares those sentiments.
This is an important debate and the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds has raised some interesting points. He and the hon. Member for Chesterfield spoke about businesses not reporting crime and people not feeling confident about reporting crime because they do not feel that it will make any difference. It does not matter whether it is a business, an individual, a youth club or a family: everybody should report crime. That is a basic principle and a basic standard. I take the point that sometimes people say it is not worth it, but the starting point has to be that people should report crime when it occurs. I know that the hon. Member for Chesterfield would agree with that and I know he was making a particular point about business, but it is important to set out right at the start that reporting crime, regardless of the category one could be put into, is of particular importance.
I know that businesses say what the hon. Gentleman recounted. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department is working hard on some of the issues that businesses have raised, such as dealing with repeat offenders. I talked to the police and the Crown Prosecution Service about that when I had responsibility for that area and I know that my hon. Friend has done so, so.
Variation across the country is an issue. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds made the point that, in some parts of the country, businesses do not feel that they are included in neighbourhood policing work and CDRP work. However, in other areas of the country, businesses say that they have a fantastic relationship and that they do brilliant work; they say that the police respond quickly and appropriately, as does the local authority. As the hon. Member for Chesterfield said, the challenge is to ensure that we bring everybody up to that standard. At local level, the CDRP can prioritise business crime as a particular challenge in its area. Important though we think business crime is, we are all for local decision making, so we will not dictate that CDRPs must do that.
I will deal with a couple of the other points raised by the hon. Members for Bury St. Edmunds and for Chesterfield before making some more general comments on the amendments. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds is quite right to talk about the ring-fencing of the neighbourhood policing budget for a further year next year. It will be uplifted, subject to tomorrows announcement, by 2.7 per cent. to £332 million.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the difference between clause 1 and what is in the 1996 Act, which also came up in the evidence session. It is important to recognise that the 1996 Act talks about obtaining the views, whereas we are placing a duty on police authorities
to have regard to the views.
The lawyers tell me that that is a much stronger obligation. I often approach such issues from a common-sense point of view and it seems much stronger to me. The vast majority of people would see must have regard to as a much stronger requirement on police authorities than simply obtaining the views. With the latter, the views can just be collected in, the box ticked, but nothing done. If regard must be given to the views, it must be possible to demonstrate in inspections that account has been taken of the views.
The hon. Gentleman also asked who are the people. There is no new definition: they are the same people to whom section 96 of the 1996 Act refers. There is no strict definition. He asked whether we should assume that it refers to the common-sense definition of the people that we would all understand. The answer is yes. It has been interpreted as all the people, or at least a representative sample of people who live and work in the area. Hopefully I have gone some way towards answering his question.
The hon. Member for Chesterfield asked whether the clause gives local people the power to interfere in policing matters. It does not require the police authority to follow somebodys views automatically simply because they put their hand up at a public meeting. That would be ludicrous. We have all been to public meetings where people have put their hands up. That is clearly not the intention behind the measure. However, clearly, we can also not ignore peoples views. That is why the clause says that authorities must
have regard to the views...of people.
It would be ludicrous if five people in five different meetings put their hands up and said, We think this or that should be done, and could automatically expect any police officer or police authority to do it.
I am sorry if I gave the hon. Gentleman the impression of being dismissive when I gave evidence; I was not trying to do that at all. However, there comes a time when judgments have to be made. We have different views on how to make people accountable for making those judgments, but people nevertheless have to make judgments about what they should or should not do.
We have to do that as Members of Parliament. The hon. Gentlemans constituents will go to him with a view about something, and say that everybody agrees with them; five minutes later, someone else will have a completely different view about the issue and say that everybody agrees with them. Members of Parliament, police officers and police authorities alike must, at the end of the day, demonstrate that they have listened and had regard to peoples views, but there will be times when they have to make a judgment. Is that representative? The duty to ensure that views are represented is required under section 96 of the Police Act 1996, and under the Bill.
I agree to an extent with the point made by the hon. Gentleman, but the amendment is unnecessary. Why? I agree that the views of local authorities, and the business and voluntary sectors, should be considered when the police authority carries out its functions. To that extent, as I said, I accept the sentiments that are behind the amendment. Howeverthere is always one of thosethe hon. Gentleman seems to think that people does not include local authorities, businesses and the voluntary sector. The Committee should be clear, as I am, that
the views of people in the authoritys area is a wide standard. It can include people who live and/or work in the area; people in businesses; people in the local authorities; and people in the voluntary sector organisations.
If the hon. Gentleman puts those groups in the Bill, why not include the charitable sector, lobby groups or pubs? Why not include a range of other people and organisations?
That would not change the fact that if we list people in the Bill, others could be left out. We expect the duty to reach everyone within a community. That does not mean that people who are part of organisations should be ignored, but it does mean that they should be considered as individuals, not members of a specific body.
I listened to the Ministers exchange with my hon. Friend. As he rightly says, pubs are businesses, and are thus included in the amendment, and charities are part of the voluntary sector. I am struggling to think of an example of a sector that would be different from the wider sectors in the amendment. Will the Minister offer one?
Whether or not I come up with an example, the point is that as soon as we designate a list of organisations in a Bill, other organisations will come forward and say, We dont fit into this or that category. All the things that the hon. Gentleman and hon. Lady want included are included in any common-sense understanding of the word people.
Would a compromise between the two sides beso there could be no doubtif the Bill said, after people, insert including local authorities, the business sector and the voluntary sector? That would put them on the face of the Bill, and people would still comply with the Ministers definition of people.
It is unnecessary to do that, because those are included in the definition of the term people. There is not actually any disagreement between us. I agree that the voluntary sector should be consulted. I agree that businesses should be consulted, as I agree that any of those on the other lists that I have put forward should also be consulted. It is not necessary, however, to include them on the face of the Bill. There are regulations with respect to the Police Act 1996, as with respect to this Bill, about who should be consulted. We want a wide range of people to be consulted, and that is what will happen as a consequence of the Bill and the arrangements that will be made.
The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds did not say much about local attitudinal surveys, but I thought the point he was getting at was the same sort of point he is making with respect to people. What he is concerned abouthe is quite right to be concerned about itis what consulting people actually means. I thought that, as well as the points he was making about people, he was going to talk about the meaning of local attitudinal surveys.
I am trying to be helpful to the Committee. I said at the evidence session that I do not believe that consulting the public should be just a leaflet pushed through the door. There are those who would say, Oh, we consulted with the local people. We gave out a leaflet. That might be how some of our police authorities would say they had fulfilled that duty. That is not sufficient. They may well need to survey, whether or not it is a local attitudinal survey. The hon. Member for Chesterfield is right to raise what that means, who would pay for it and other issues around it. That would be a matter for people to sort out locally. But there are issues about surveys and about how they should be included. There are issues about public meetings and how they fit in with the neighbourhood policing teams, the pledges and all the other things that people are committed to. There are also other ways of doing it, such as inviting people to write in. Not only is it about who should be consulted: there is a big issue about how they should be consulted, and ensuring that they are consulted in an effective way. Surveys should be part of the consultation, whether or not they are local attitudinal surveys, but they do not need to be put on the face of the Bill. The arrangements that we will put forward deal with this.
Moreover, it is important to ensure that we do not just survey, send leaflets or get to public meetings. The same people always turn up at public meetings and respond to surveys. Part of this has got to be about trying to get to those people who usually do not respond. We can call them hard-to-reach groups or anything else, but there are often a number of people whom we ordinarily do not reach.
That is extremely important. I do not want the situation that sometimes occursI am sure that we have all experienced thiswhere one goes to a meeting about hospital closures and meets a group of people there, and then one goes to a meeting about a level crossing, and the same people turn up. We must find a way to encourage more people to participate.
This has been an important debate. There is a distinction between obtaining the views of and having regard to. We need to ensure that we consult the widest possible group of people. We also need to consider how we consult them. It should not just be a question of putting out the odd leaflet; it should be a wide range of things. I would say that that should include surveys, although they would not be the only measure. Again, I would not put that in the Bill, but I have read those things into the record and they are important.
In many respects, the points that I have made agree with the points made by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds. The only difference between us seems to be that he believes that those things should be in the Bill, whereas I think that they are implicit in the work that has been done since 1996, following the Police Act. In addition, the comments that I have just read into the record take into account the points made by the hon. Gentleman and demonstrate the importance that we attach to a wide range of people being consulted, in exciting and innovative ways, so that we obtain the views of the broadest cross-section possible of people, businesses, voluntary organisations and others.
I am not sure that the Minister has touched on the community call for action or councillor call for action that my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds raised and the concerns highlighted during the brief comments made on that. Will the Minister expound on how he sees the councillor call for action operating and what impact it will have in the context of the various points that he has highlighted?
Well, some legislation is not implemented, but quite a considerable amount is implemented. The hon. Gentleman specifically asked when what was the community call for action would be implemented. That has been announced before, but clearly it has not reached as wide an audience or cross-section of people, including members of the Committee, as we would have hoped. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the overview and scrutiny committees were set up under that Act. One specific part of it required a trigger to get that going: the crime provisions. For the overview and scrutiny committees of local authorities to consider the crime reduction aspects, there had to be a trigger, and we have announced the implementation of that. It will start in April 2009.
On the councillor call for action, the councillor will receive, in the way that the hon. Member for Chesterfield pointed out, information or requests from somebody in their community. The councillor will then have to decide whether they will take that forward. From April 2009, they will be able to take it to the overview and scrutiny committee. They will be able to say to the committee, This point has been raised with me by somebody and I am bringing it to the committees attention. The overview and scrutiny committee has a legal obligation to consider that point. It has a legal obligation to decide what it will do with that. In the normal way in which people are held to account, it will have to consider that.
The other point, which I was asked about directly by the hon. Member for Chesterfield, is why that is importantI am trying to remember the hon. Gentlemans question. It is important because it is about partnership. Reducing crime and disorder in an area is a matter not only for the police but for the local authoritythe hon. Gentleman reflected that in his comments. The accountability that he mentioned is that of the local authority to reduce crime in their area, as well as that of the police. Alongside the measures relating to the police, it is exceedingly important to have a local authority responsibility clearly laid out in the councillor call for action.
No, I do not think so. If the hon. Gentleman thinks about it, a local councillor operates under a huge number of statutory obligations relating to a whole range of different measures. For example, local councillors have to take account of planning and housing matters, and there are statutory obligations regarding leisure and recreation. There is a huge range of measures that a local councillor must have regard to and take responsibility for. That does not mean that they are legally liable in any way when they try and operate those functions, but it means that they have a responsibility to act within that legal framework.
The legal framework is set out with respect to houses, recreation and leisure. It will be exactly the same with the councillor call for action. As long as the local councillor has shown due diligence and has operated appropriately, actively and according to the law, that will be the correct way forward.
This has been an important debate. I hope that I have reassured the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds that the amendments are not necessary for certain measures to be included in the Bill. I agree with the sentiments that he has expressed about people and businesses and so on, and I hope that he will withdraw his amendment.
I know that the Minister has many gifts, but I did not know that he was a great environmentalist. I did not think that he was capable of such recycling of announcements. He has recycled, or reannounced, the councillor call for action, but I do not know whether he will get as much coverage as his predecessor when that was announced it a couple of years ago.
I am grateful for the Ministers honesty on at least that pointthe measure was announced with a fanfare but nothing much came of it. Second time lucky perhaps. We have fundamental objections, some of which were touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch, particularly in relation to how the police will react to this. However, let us see the operation in practice, as this has not been tried before.
I will not detain the Committee much longer, but I wish to make two points. First, I am not entirely convinced that the must have regard to new duty is significantly different from what is in the 1996 Act. I heard what the Minister said, but I am still not persuaded.
The Minister raised a point about the Opposition not talking about attitudinal surveys. He has probably read my remarks on that subjectI am a great believer in such surveys. I am sure that he has seen in the west midlands and elsewhere very good examples of where attitudinal surveys operate not just to give high levels of satisfaction to the publicbecause they think they are being listened tobut as an important source of feedback for the police operationally. We will touch on that during the clause stand part debate, should I be fortunate enough to catch your eye, Sir Nicholas.
I would finally say that there has been an important interchange regarding the business community. As I have said, business should not be privileged among other victims of crimeI think that was the gist of the Ministers speech. My remarks were a modest plea to flag up the fact that in this dire economic climate, in which acquisitive crime is on the up, businesses need to be heard even more than they normally would. The statistics that I cited show that there is a deeper structural problemthe Minister did not touch on that, but perhaps we can address it laterthat goes to the heart of how crime is perceived.
Crimes against business property and other related business crime are not in the British crime survey and the commercial victimisation survey is very much an ad hoc affairit is not published annually. We in this House, the police service and the wider public do not get a clear read-out of the amount of crime committed against business. That was one of the motivations that drove me to table the amendments. I was not persuaded by what the Minister said, so I wish to press the amendments to a vote.
Let me help the hon. Gentleman. I am, naturally, prepared to allow a vote on the lead amendment, but the other two amendments in the group are down only for debate, not a decision. Of course, should he wish to bring forward one of the other amendments over the lead amendment, I would grant him a Division on that.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: new clause 2Composition of police authorities
For section 4 of the Police Act 1996 (Membership of police authorities etc) substitute
Composition of police authorities
(1) Where a police authority has the same boundary as a local council, that council will be the police authority.
(2) Each police authority established under section 3 shall consist of 17 members.
(3) Where a police authority boundary and a local council boundary are not coterminous, two-thirds of the members of the police authority shall be directly elected by Single Transferable Vote.
(4) The members of the police authority subject to clause (3) above shall be elected once every four years on the same day as all or most of the local government elections in the force area.
(5) Elections per clauses (3) and (4) above shall be voted on by all members of the population over the age of 18 who reside within the relevant police authority boundary and whom are eligible to vote in local government elections.
(6) Where subsection (2) above applies, one-third of the members of the police authorities shall be nominated from local councillors within the police force area.
(7) Under subsection (1) or (2) above, police authorities may co-opt extra members to ensure diversity, experience and expertise.
(8) In subsection (4) above, co-opted members may be
(a) magistrates, or
(b) any person deemed appropriate by the existing members of the police authority to which outside members are being co-opted..
New clause 4Responsibilities of police authorities
(1) Each police authority will have the ability to determine its own local precept agreement with the relevant local council or councils as appropriate to its individual requirements.
(2) Each police authority will have the ability to determine its own fiscal priorities in accordance with its individual requirements.
(3) The Secretary of State may not give unsolicited directions to police authorities on local precepts, minimum budgets or fiscal priorities.
(4) Each police authority has a duty to consult with the Secretary of State, and to take account of national policing authorities.
(5) The Police Act 1996 is amended as follows.
(6) In section 6(2) (general functions of police authorities), leave out paragraph (a).
(7) In section 6(2)(c) leave out whether in compliance with a direction under section 38 or otherwise.
(8) In section 6 subsection (3) is omitted.
(9) For section 37A (setting of strategic priorities for police authorities) substitute
Each individual police authority must determine objectives for the policing of their own local area.
(10) For section 38 (setting of performance targets) substitute
Where an objective has been determined under section 37, the relevant police authority shall establish levels of performance (performance targets to be aimed at in seeking to achieve the objective).
(11) Section 39 (Codes of Practice) is repealed.
(12) Section 41 (Directions as to a minimum budget) is repealed.
(13) Section 44 (Reports from Chief constables) is repealed.
(14) The Local Government Act 1999 is amended as follows.
(15) In section 31(9) (major precepting authorities: further recognition), after 1992, insert , but excluding police authorities and the Metropolitan Police Authority..
The clause is interesting because of what it does not say. The previous debate indicated that it was a limited reform of police accountabilitya very modest change. Of course, however, that was not what Her Majestys Government promised us, or indicated that they wanted to do, last summer. Sir Nicholas, you will recall the publication of the policing Green Paper in the middle of July, just before the House rose. It was an important document that borrowed from, but did not follow too closely, the final Flanagan report of February 2008.
If a body of citizens is dissatisfied with the service they receive or the scrutiny of it, they have little means of redress under the current arrangements. He went on to say in paragraph 7.23 of his final report, which, as I say, informed the Green Paper that was published last July:
the most critical shift which needs to occur is to enhance the responsiveness and answerability of policing services in local communities. To achieve this, we must bring about an acceleration in fully adopting a citizen-focused approach to policing; putting customer service and the interests and needs of local people at the core of priority setting.
It was worth reading that out, because it was not a politician saying that there needed to be improved police accountability, but Sir Ronnie Flanagan, a massively distinguished serving officer in Northern Ireland and, of course, the head of profession, as many police officers would describe the position of Her Majestys chief inspector of constabulary. This is not prating, complaining or grumbling by lay people or politicians.
I certainly believed until last summer, when I heard what Ministers were outlining, that they broadly agreed with the thrust of what Sir Ronnie was saying. Of course, the means of achieving such greater accountability will be different, depending on ones political party and political taste, but I thought that there was at least an understanding that something had to be done.
It was not just Sir Ronnie Flanagan who flagged up the problem with the amount of accountability that the public have in respect of police performance in their area. The crime and communities review conducted by Louise Casey, a Government official, made the point even more effectively than Sir Ronnies excellent review, because she gave statistics. The Casey review, which was also published last summer, found that 67 per cent. of people did not know who to complain to if they were not happy with how their local area was being policed. According to that reviewthe Governments own reviewonly 7 per cent. of people understood how police accountability worked in practice. The review also found that 68 per cent. of people agreed or strongly agreed that there should be a person elected by local people to hold the police to account on behalf of the community, which is an argument for direct election of some kind.
I repeat that although the Conservative proposition would be a single elected police commissioner, the Government have certainly contemplated an element of direct election to a body that would hold the police to account. As we know, there are county councillors on police authorities at the moment, but they are indirectly elected. Those elected county councillors are nominated on to the police authority and thus serve indirectly.
The Home Secretary went into some detail in the policing Green Paper on how the accountability gap diagnosed by Ms Casey and Sir Ronnie would be solved. In paragraph 1.71 of the Green Paper, she set out something very pertinent to our debate about the clauseI observe the fact that you are a strict taskmaster in this respect, Sir Nicholas. In the paragraph, which mentions legislation, the Home Secretary said:
We will legislate to reform police authorities, making them more democratic and more effective in responding to the needs of the local community. We will retain the crucial role that independent members play, and they will be appointed as they are at present.
She went on to say:
The majority on each police authority will, however, no longer be formed from local councillors...Instead, people throughout England and Wales will directly vote for individuals, known as Crime and Policing Representatives (CPRs), to represent their concerns locally.
I have quoted the Green Paper verbatim because it will assist our deliberations on the clause.
At paragraph 1.73, the Home Secretary said that the CPRs, which are to be directly elected,
will sit on their local CDRP (England) or CSP (Wales), ensuring that local issues are being addressed through existing partnership structures...One of the CPRs in each area will also chair the CDRP/CSP. Second, they will sit on the forces police authority, and, amongst their other duties, will ensure that local issues are reflected at the force level. Police Authoritiesnewly constitutedwill retain their current responsibilities particularly around ensuring forces are working together to address regional and national issues.
That was the vision of direct election that, last July, the Home Secretary said that she would legislate for. She did not say that she might legislate for it, or that the Government would review certain detailed prescriptionsshe said that they would legislate. It was therefore somewhat surprising to discover in the autumn that all that was to be set at nought, and that the Government had changed their mind. That is certainly one of the first questions to which I would like the Minister to respond. Given the wealth of detail that I have just mentioned, given the work that was clearly being done in the Home Office on directly elected representatives, and given the detail of the proposition, will he tell us why it has all been junked?
That proposal did not find favour with everyone. ACPO indicated, among its many objections, that such a system would not enable the delivery of strategic protective services. It was concerned that collaboration, and other arrangements to close the level 2 gap, to use the shorthand, would not be properly addressed. It made comments to the effect that there would be an unhealthy local populismin other words, that directly elected representatives would pay too much attention to parish pump politics and local crime, and lose the big picture, for example, of what was happening in serious organised crime across the region. I disagree with the ACPO argument, because it did not give enough due to democratically, directly elected representatives, whether under the Green Paper model of Her Majestys Government or our model. More respect has to be given to elected representatives and their ability to do the right thing, whereas ACPO has argued that they would not pay attention and not do the right thing regarding the more high-flying, strategic jobs that local forces have to do in delivering more joined-up responses on protective services.
The Association of Police Authorities did not much like the initial Government proposals, which were set out in detail in the Green Paper and which the Government said they would legislate for in this Bill, either. The association did not much like the idea of direct elections. Some of its objections were well made, but one struck me as being a non-sequitur. In its response to the Green Paper during the consultation phase, APA said:
Direct elections would not increase the opportunity for greater equality in police authority appointments and diversity in the membership.
I wonder why the APA takes such a dim view of directly elected representatives, suggesting that they would have no interest in greater equality in police appointments. What possible evidence base is there for anyone to say that directly elected representatives would not care about those things?
The APA went on to talk about the potential for the politicisation of police authorities. It is incumbent on me at this point to say that the Conservative party believes that the best reformI shall not go into detail, because I do not wish to be out of orderwould be a single, focal point of police accountability. In the words of my right hon. Friend, the Leader of the Opposition, it would be a person whom people knew and had seen; one person to whom they could complain to get something done if policing was not as it should be in a police force area, and they would be able to kick that person, that elected commissioner, out at the ballot box every four years if he or she did not deliver an improved service through their scrutiny of a chief constables work.
The new clauses state their own view of how to inject more direct democracy into the current arrangement, but can we just agree on something? It is a modest plea. For the APA and others to say that nefarious and improper politicisation will take place is to argue against democracy. We do not say for a single second that one man cannot oversee Greater London, which is one of the greatest metropolises, if not the greatest metropolis, on planet Earth, with several million citizens. We do not say, We cant have a directly elected mayor, as it would be wrong. How could so much power reside in one man? Parliament passed an Act stating that there would be a directly elected mayor, and, since then, we have had Mayor Livingstone and Mayor Johnson. No one said, The direct election of one person could result in a British National party individual becoming Mayor of London. Arguments for democratising police authorities must not morph into criticisms that reform might turn up left or right-wing extremists, because that is an argument against local council elections if ever there was one.
We should move on, but first I want to go through the list of critics of the Governments original proposals, including the APA and ACPO. The Police Federation, in its response to proposals for crime and policing representatives in the Green Paper, said:
We are unconvinced that directly elected members would ensure greater representativeness of the local communities that a police authority is there to serve.
Nevertheless, even when those critical views were made known, the Government said that they would press ahead with directly elected CPRs. As recently as 5 November 2008, the Home Secretary said in a speech:
We are committed to greater accountability at neighbourhood level through neighbourhood policing. It is right that we also provide a direct link to the public within police governance.
All the indications were that legislation would be introduced in a police Bill, and I, like those who are interested in police reform, should like to know when the Home Secretary suddenly decided that directly elected CPRs were a bad idea, because, in the first week of November, she still seemed to be in favour of it.
The new clauses were tabled not by me but by the Liberal Democrats, but it might be useful if I comment new clause 2. New clause 2(3) refers to a police authoritys representatives being
directly elected by Single Transferable Vote.
The argument about politicisation, which has been made many times, is not a silly one, and I am not saying that it should not be made. The idea is that direct elections in any formwhether Liberal Democrat, Conservative or the original Government form from last Julywill lead to the election of extremists, whether on the left or right. The British National party is normally mentioned in connection with the right, but obviously the argument does not apply to extremists on the right onlythere are extremists on both wings of the political spectrum. A single transferable vote, rather than the popular votethe first past the post voteis more likely to lead to representation from extremists. I wonder, therefore, why the Liberal Democrats have drafted subsection (3) in that way. I know that they have a long-standing, touching attachment to a new voting system of proportional representation, which in various versions relies on STV.
Yes, I think of the Asquith Government, then the Lloyd George Government, which were the last fully functioning majority Liberal Governments. However, since then, they have changed their view, if my history is rightI stand to be corrected, but I think that it is.
For those who are worried about the politicisation that would come with direct election to police bodies, the reference in subsection (3) to the single transferable vote poses a massive problem for the Liberal Democrats. Statistically, it is much more likely that an extremist will gain some representation under STV than under a first-past-the-post system. Will the Liberal Democrats answer that point when they speak to their new clauses? I have been very open in concedingI would be a fool not to concedethat there are concerns about the politicisation that comes with direct election. My basic answer is that that is an argument against democracy, and I have pointed to the example of councils. We allow people to vote in council elections on a first-past-the-post basis. We do not say that they should not have a vote because an extremist might be voted in. Of course, those on the centre ground of modern British politics, such my hon. Friends and myself, hope that extremists of whatever stripe do not reach public office. We believe that government in this country, whether at the local or central Government level, should be from the centre, where common ground can be found. Nevertheless, one cannot argue that the potential election of extremists is a reason to deny people a vote in a direct election. However, the Liberal Democrats have to answer the question that pops up regularly about the election of the BNP.
New clause 4 refers to the setting of performance targets. The Liberal Democrats wish to amend related provisions in existing legislation. Her Majestys Opposition have long railed against the performance culture taken to extremes. I am a reasonable man, and I have had constructive debates with the police service and Ministers. The Conservative position is not that all performance data must be abolished. No serious politician in, or aspiring to, government could argue that there should be no measures of police performance. The Government are seeking to enhance the measures in place for the assessments of policing and community safetythe successor to the police performance assessment frameworkbut that is still being worked out. We understand that, but there are all sorts of questions about what kind of duty there is on police forces to comply with a rigid APACS regime. We do not know what the final version of APACS will look like but, from what I have seen as a member of Her Majestys OppositionI am not in government, so I am not privy to all the detailed briefingsI have reservations about it. However, it is certainly the case that a performance management regime is required, whoever the Government are. Otherwise, how can the police service possibly navigate the delivery of good policing and how can any inspectorate possibly work out whether a police force is doing a good or a bad job? The reform of targets which is touched on in this new clause is important.
I am afraid that I am not seduced by the big claim from the Home Secretary that all performance targets have been abolished save for one target relating to public confidence. We often hear that bandied around, albeit without too much conviction in front of police audiences, because the police know it is at best, wishful thinking, and at worst a dreadful hoax. Of course, there are many more targets behind the priority actions under public service agreements, which are targets by any other name. My understanding is that Home Office Ministers say, No, no, no, these are understandings between the Home Office and the Treasury. There are four targets relating to the Home Office, all of which have priority actions underneath them. The police I speak toand my reading of these agreementssuggest that they are targets. They have not been abolished, so for the Home Secretary to argue that there is one target left is, shall we say, a terminological inexactitude.
My hon. Friends and I would like to take a new look at targets. We concede that there must be some performance data, but we want to drive down the setting of local priorities to police force areas. Our proposal would not be in the form proposed by the new clause, but we certainly see a role for local priority setting by the directly elected police commissioner. They will stand on a platform at the ballot box and they wish to be re-elected, they must stand again on their record and whether or not they have delivered local priorities. The priorities in West Mercia will be different from those in Essex, and the priorities in Suffolk will be different from those in Kent or Northumbria, because there will be different locally elected commissioners. [Interruption.] I see the hon. Member for Chesterfield nodding.
While we support different meansthe hon. Gentleman believes in greater local priority setting and his clause attempts to achieve thatwe should not have national targets imposed from on high, from Whitehall. Neither do we want to hear the phrase Well, its a postcode lottery. There will be different priorities in different parts of the country, which is a good thing, but I am not satisfied that new clause 4 delivers that as well as the Conservative proposal. We certainly see a new role for directly elected representativesin our case, our representativesto set targets, and we would measure the performance of locally elected commissioners.
First, there should be a simple level of total crime that is published annually, supported by local detection rates. That would be the first measure of the performance of a commissioner and indeed the chief constable and force that the directly elected commissioner would be scrutinising and overseeing. Secondlyand I am coming on to the attitudinal surveys that the Minister spoke aboutwe would want to measure not just total crime but the fear of crime by introducing robust, independently conducted attitudinal surveys. The third measure would be public confidence and satisfaction. Again, that would be measured through robust, independent attitudinal surveys, with particular reference to the views and experience of those who come into contact with the police, whether as victims, witnesses or individuals reporting crime.
To help me understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying about attitudinal surveys, does he envisage the survey being done at a fixed point or over a period of time? I ask that because a problem with fixed-point measures, which try to understand the fear of crime, is that someone only has to cite something that has happened recently in the local areaa terrible knife crime or something like thatand it completely skews the result of the survey. How one finds a true measure of crime that is not influenced by an abnormal act is a real problem, and it is something with which we are wrestling. Does the hon. Gentleman think that a fixed-point survey or something that takes place over a period of time is appropriate in respect of that problem?
It would be something taking place over a period of time. The hon. Gentleman will have spoken to forces that do these attitudinal surveys. He makes a good point that relates to the whole issue of the measuring of crime and the fear of crime. There is a good book called Nudge, which refers to social norms and other things that were fashionable before the dire need for state interventionism that was necessary as a result of the credit crunch. The author talks about how, psychologically, people are disproportionately affected in their behaviour by things that happened to them recently. It seems an obvious and trite point, but it does relate to the point about crime.
In my constituency, there was an example of exactly what the Minister and my hon. Friend have been discussing. Hon. Members will be aware that a post office worker was recently murdered in my constituency in what is normally an incredibly safe and lovely area in which to live. Inevitably, I have had a lot of correspondence from people who feel vulnerable, troubled and upset. That is bound to express itself in the surveys about which the Minister and my hon. Friend have been talking.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Indeed, in terms of crime levels, West Mercia is one of the more fortunateor perhaps I should say successfulforces in the country because it seems to keep them below the average. I am sure that all Committee members have had such an experience. I remember that five years ago, in the rural part of my constituency in Suffolk, we had the third lowest crime rate in England and Wales. However, there was a spate of two burglaries in one village. Of course, the local newspapers in that part of mid-Suffolk were full of nothing but that crime wave for two weeks, because that particular village had not had a burglary for a long time. Two burglaries occurred pretty much at the same time and everyone was full of fear that their houses were going to be invaded.
There is no party political point at issue here, but if we all want good attitudinal surveys, they must be independently conducted. They should not be a snapshot and, above all, they should not be a replacement for hard data on the total level of crime. Such surveys are a supplement to that data. All of us who are involved in what will be an ongoing debate about improving police accountability should focus on the fact that there will be two parts to it. There will be a greater focus on the main concern in local communities, which is whether fear of crime is being reduced, whether people are satisfied when they come into contact with the police and whether the police return calls in a timely fashion and investigate incidents. However, the Opposition believe that there will never be any substitute for a total crime number in an area. We are not devaluing the importance of total crime levels by talking about attitudinal surveys. Those surveys support the crime figures; they do not replace them. We must be extremely clear about that.
I said that the debate was ongoing for one reason. We have interesting ideas on which we are consulting as an Opposition who hope to form a Government if we are fortunate enough to win the election; one would expect nothing less. However, it is to the credit of the Minister and to Home Office Ministers that although they may have temporarily junked the detailed crime representative proposals that I outlined at great length at the start of my remarks, they have not junked them fully. I understandperhaps the Minister will touch on this when he respondsthat they have merely parked them in a review that is being conducted by the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), with a view to publishing a new form of police accountability arrangements.
Perhaps the Minister will tell us whether his right hon. Friend is consulting on whether the CRP proposal should be put into the Labour party manifesto at the next general election. Should Labour form a Government of any kind during the next Parliament, they will seek to enact that manifesto promise. It would be extremely useful, particularly as we are debating clause stand part, to get a clearer understanding of whether the Government and the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside are consulting on the CRP proposals in the Green Paper, which, alas, we do not see in the Billmores the pity. We could have had a much fuller debate about direct democracy, which the Minister or the Home Secretary do not wish us to have at this stage.
The Minister, in closing his comments during the previous debate, said that he was sure that I would add my support to the admiration expressed for the police. That is certainly true. About two days before Christmas, I was on late-night patrol with a police community support officer in Chesterfield. A few weeks before that, it was the special constables, and in previous years, it was regular officers on the beat, traffic police, response cars and so forth.
I have a great admiration for the work that the police do in difficult circumstances. I suppose that it began back in the early 70s, when I was still a schoolboy and my older brother was a police constable in Sheffield. To this day, he still has a Life on Mars attitude, and he cannot see why that popular TV series was so controversial in the attitudes that it depicted. None the less, a brave police constable on the beat is one of the first things that inspired me to appreciate the work of the police.
Clause 1, as we have heard, is a bit of a damp squib. It talks about increasing police accountability, but it does so by using the phrase having regard to. We really do not know what that means. The chair of the Association of Police Authorities, while giving evidence last week, said in response to that question, Well, it wont really make that much difference. Obviously, the Minister disagrees, but in terms of creating more police accountability and responsiveness, it is a damp squib.
As has been pointed out, it is not what the Government originally intended. Front-Bench Members of all three parties represented here want a more directly elected and accountable system of police authorities, although they differ about what format that might take. We know that the police authorities and ACPO, for example, do not want any change in the existing system, and we know that the police on the one hand and Liberty on the other fear that any change might lead to politicisation. I have found that point a little hard to understand completely, given that police authorities are already politicalthe majority of people on existing police authorities are elected politicians, albeit elected to one authority and seconded to the police authority. They are still elected as politicians.
That is an obvious point, although well worth making. Would the hon. Gentleman agree that it is also the case that the precept-setting power is very much in the hands of the elected councillors and that they have the whip hand? The majority of those indirectly elected councillors have to approve the precept. The engine room of police authorities, which one could argue is precept-setting, is essentially the province of the indirectly elected councillors, not the independent or other members.
I agree absolutely. In fact, the hon. Gentleman has stolen my next sentence. Not understanding the fear of politicising police authorities, which are mostly elected politicians anyway, I was going to make the point that politics certainly does enter into the key issue of setting the precept. Last year in Derbyshire, the police authority took a decision very much based on a direct political instruction from the majority party group on Derbyshire county council. That group instructed its councillors on the police authority not to agree to a higher precept, which everyone else on the police authority wanted in all departments to offset the fact that Derbyshire is £5 million underfunded every year, by the Governments own admission, under their formulasomething we might return to tomorrow in the Chamber. Therefore, politics is already thereelected politicians sometimes take clearly political decisions on something as important as setting the precept.
The Conservative party has made it clear that it sees the solution as a directly elected commissioner. Less kind people refer to that as a directly elected sheriff or robocop to express their fears about having one individuala sort of hero-worshipat the apex of power who can take decisions without necessarily having to consult too widely. That is one of the failings in the operation of elected mayors in some parts of the country. That is one way of approaching the issue of introducing more accountability, power and independence for police authorities, so that they can operate more in response to their communities and less in response to the Government of the day instructing them from London.
We remain convinced of the merits of direct election as part of a responsive and fully accountable police service.
However, she went on to say that
I believe that it is right to do more work in this area before pressing ahead[Official Report, 19 January 2009; Vol. 486, c. 521.]
with a proposal on how to achieve that.
In a spirit of helpfulness, for which Liberal Democrats are well known, I will put forward some alternative routes, which I hope will inform the internal deliberations of the Secretary of State and the Minister before they come up with a new proposal for directly elected police authorities.
The essence of what we suggest is in new clauses 2 and 4. New clause 2 is about the direct election of police authorities. New clause 4 is about giving that directly elected police authority complete control over setting its precept, without being subject to the directives of central Government and, therefore, without the rate-capping and precept-capping powers, for example, that we have lived with for 20-odd years or more. It also talks about giving the police authority more power and independence to set its own objectives in response to its own local needs, community and electorate. As was pointed out by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds, those objectives would differ in different parts of the country. We hear about postcode lotteries but to some extent that has to be accepted. If local bodies are elected, whether they be health bodies, local councils or police bodies, to represent local views, there will be some differences in where communities in different parts of the country prefer to put the emphasis.
I understand the hon. Gentlemans point about local policing. However, I do not understand how the model that he is proposing will allow regional and national priorities to be addressed as well as local ones if the only electorate that provides accountability is the one he has described. I would be grateful if he explained that to me and the Committee. We will discuss that challenge further under later clauses. If the only emphasis is that described by the hon. Gentleman, there is a danger that the police may not deal with things other than the local, even if they think it is appropriate.
Each police authority has a duty to consult with the Secretary of State, and to take account of national policing authorities.
That would carry on as it is, but with less directed power from central Government and with a responsibility to consult and take account of national priorities. What chief constable or police authority would not do that?
I know from conversations with the chief constable of Derbyshire about the concern over issues such as serious and organised crime. Derbyshire is seen as a lovely shire county, but the Peak District national park is within one hours drive of 20 per cent. of the UKs population, based in cities such as Nottingham, Derby, Sheffield and Manchester. If it is within one hours drive of 20 per cent. of the population, it is within one hours drive of organised crime, such as drug pushers and organised gangs of car thieves.
I was in the control room in Chesterfield at 2 am at the exact time when CCTV cameras caught somebody breaking into a car. When the police arrested them, it turned out that they were from a Sheffield gang that regularly drove the 20 minutes down the bypass to carry out their operations in what they regarded as the softer police authority of a shire county. They turned out to be wrong because they were caught and arrested. Perhaps they also went there because they were less well known in that area. With the magic of the motor car they could get away from their home patch to another area.
Such problems exist, so what chief constable or police authority would not want to collaborate with other authorities? Derbyshire and the east midlands forces are starting to collaborate extremely well in a number of areas. What chief constable or police authority would not work with central Government on national issues such as terrorism? Again, Derbyshire is a wonderful shire county and people may think that there is no problem there. However, a number of terrorist alerts from the security authorities come to Derbyshire, centring around Derby and south Derbyshire. Of course forces will work together and with national Government because it is sheer common sense.
It is not as if this system would be brand new if introduced in Britain. It exists in most other countries. Rather like the argument on proportional representation that we will come to later, this is not some wild, crazy idea that we have for England. It is the norm in most of the democratic world. I have been in small towns and states in the USA, Sweden and Norway and I have seen how their systems operate. The system we are proposing is not the centralised top-down system that this country tends to have.
The hon. Gentleman will know that new clause 4(4), which he quoted, says to consult and to take account of. He will accept that that is considerably weaker than the current power, which allows the Secretary of State to make strategic direction when she considers it to be in the regional or national interest. I accept that he can paint a picture in which everybody will consult, but his proposal would be much weaker in achieving what he has described. Not all regions are as good as his and mine in the east midlands. Why does he want to weaken this power, which would be a good reserve power to have should the picture he has painted not happen?
There is a fundamental difference of approach. Britain is the most centralised democracy in western Europe, especially with regard to how it raises taxes. Some 90 per cent. comes into London and is handed out to the regions by the various Departments with the appropriate strings attached. That happens regardless of whether it is health, local government, policing or social services.
We are a highly centralised nation and, as such, untypical of democratic countries. As Liberal Democrats, we believe that we should reverse that. I know that localism has been in vogue as a buzz term for the past two or three years, but devolution and decentralisation is something that the Liberal Democrats have believed in for many decades. By that I mean giving up some of the power and some of the grip from the centre. There could be problems if, for example, police authorities or health authorities go off in directions that the Government at the centre are not sure about. None the less, in most democratic countries that is they way it is.
The US was founded on that very principle. If one goes into the US, many Scandinavian countries, France, or Germany, there is not the same degree of central direction on anything that is to do with domestic policy, including the police. There are other ways around it. If these more powerful, directly elected, locally accountable police authorities were failing to co-operatealthough I do not know why any serious chief constable would do that in a world in which we are all aware of international terrorism, drugs gangs and serious and organised crimewould alternative solutions be considered? The US has the FBI and certain national levels of policing as opposed to local levels. That is one way of doing it. We have done a little bit of that in this country. We have set up specialist squads to deal with matters such as the proceeds of crime. Such squads try to overcome the purely localised aspects of policing.
Moving to a serious belief that locally elected communities can govern their own affairs is a change of direction. They do not need a nursemaid or a nanny, or to be controlled from the centre. We would apply that belief to every area, including local government, education, police, health and to all such domestic policy issues. Most countriescertainly most western-style democracies that I have visitedtake that as read; that is the way it is. The idea that someone sitting in the capital citywhichever one it istells them what to do with their local police, schools or hospitals is anathema in most democratic countries. Therefore, it requires some shift in thinking.
In proposing that greater independence and power, we are not accepting the status quo; the way that the police authorities work at the moment. There has been disquiet from councillors groups and the Local Government Association, which have said that they do not want to change the system. We could see the point of not rocking the boat if we were talking about just the existing system. The Liberal Democrats propose a substantially altered devolved, decentralised system.
If police authorities are being given the power to levy their own precept without rate-capping from the centre, their power is being significantly enhanced. We are not talking about the status quo. If we give the police authorityas we propose in new clause 3, which we will discuss elsewherethe power to appoint chief constables without having to go cap in hand to get the approval of the Minister or the Secretary of State in London, that is a significant step forward in power for a police authority. It is not the status quo.
Just so I am clear about capping, does the hon. Gentleman say that any new capping regime should be subject to a local referendum along the California model? It would be useful to understand the Liberal position. Is he talking about lifting the cap completely, which would mean that exorbitant increasesthere being no capwould be subject to disapproval at an election rather than at a local referendum in between elections?
We are lovers of the single transferable vote. There are dozens of varieties of proportional representation. We picked just about the worst one for the European elections. The single transferable vote is one of the more common ones that is used around the world. New Zealand adopted it when it moved to proportional representation. One reason for doing so is that if local authoritiesin this case police authorities, but this would apply equally to local authorities in general or to health authoritiesare given that power to raise funds without capping from the centre, there could be a danger, as has been pointed out, of local taxes soaring away.
At the moment, under first past the post, there is no effective democratic control, as was seen widely in the 70s and early 80s, before capping was introduced. Under first past the post, there are massive distortions in the way that people vote, and it is hard for any party other than the one or two that are already dominant to break through. That can be done, but it is difficult; in Chesterfield, we have totally reversed the political structure in the past 20 years.
First past the post is an electoral system that has many inbuilt barriers to reflecting properly the democratic views of a local population. Proportional representation of various kindsone of the best being the single transferable voteis a democratic accountability mechanism that would make it much more difficult for a council, police authority, health authority or other body to introduce massive tax increases and not be accountable at the ballot box. That accountability is one reason why we are so keen on proportional representation, particularly STV. If over years of experience that were found to not be working well enough, there would be the other routes. One or two councils have already experimented with referendums such as those proposed, and some countries have them automatically built into their political systems. There are other ways of working, but having a properly accountable reflective electoral process, such as STV, would put that brake on what people do.
In Greater Stockholm, an area with 2 million people, the authorities are in charge of everything. They run the health service, the police, the fire brigade and the schools, with no interference from the Government, even though they are based in Stockholm. That is true of all nine areas into which Sweden is divided. There is absolute local control over local domestic political issues, and the fundraising to go with it. When I visited Stockholm, we talked about Alzheimers drugs not being available, because the funding was not available. They said, Yes, we had that problem, too, and in Stockholm at election time, we had a referendum and asked people if they wanted to pay some extra taxes and have the drugs. They said yes. Somebody from a more rural part of Sweden said, We did that and they said no. That was a postcode lottery; through a democratic system people in one bit of Sweden chose to do it one way, and people in another bit chose to do it another.
I am interested in the hon. Gentlemans remarks. I understand that Liberal Democrat policy is to abolish the police precept cap, but is it also the partys policy that, whenever a high precept is levied, any excessive increases should be ratified in a one-off local referendum, before the elections under STV? Are referendums part of Liberal Democrat policy?
Thank you, Sir Nicholas. As the clause makes clear, there is provision not for referendums, but for directly elected police authorities through STV. Referendums and other mechanisms would be either for future constitutional changes or for local authorities to introduce, as some have already done experimentally.
I will give again the example of Derbyshire police authority. We want absolutely to give police authorities the power to raise precepts under the clause. Derbyshire has been underfundedit was one of the F40 group that campaigned until 1997so the Government changed the formula and said, Yes, youve been underfunded, but you cant have your money for about another 10 years. So we remain £5 million a year underfunded, and over the past three or four years, the police authority has therefore put up the precept a number of times by more than inflation, more than the county council rates and more than the borough council rates. In my experience, voters in my area have not objected to that, because they could see a clear link between paying a higher precept to the police authority in Derbyshire and getting more police on the beat there. They could see that link as opposed to saying, Lets pay a bit more income tax to the Government in London and we might get more police. No one believes that, whether or not it is true, but people are willing to act in relation to a local precept.
In response to a police statement in the Chamber, the then Minister with responsibility for the police spoke in glowing terms about one authority. I am not sure whether it was Surrey or Sussexit was somewhere near Londonbut the police precept was already providing about 50 per cent. of local police funding, with only 50 per cent. coming from the centre. The Minister said that that was perhaps the way in which we needed to go. I can understand the case for local people saying, This is our police authority. We elected it directly. It takes decisions for us. We can see the link, and if we think that we need more police on the beat, we would be willing to pay more money.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for telling us about his experience of Derbyshire. However, in my experience of Worcestershire and Bromsgrove, I have never received a letter from a constituent saying, Yippee, they have put up the police precept and I am really happy to pay an extra 10 per cent. About five years ago, we had massive increases. I received shed loads of letters saying how dreadful that was. It was interesting to hear what the hon. Gentleman said about Derbyshire, but I am not sure that it applies to the rest of the country.
What mail is received could be a matter of political party perspective, but the difference could also be due to variations between urban, rural and affluent areas. The right hon. Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin), who is also a member of the Conservative party, made the point that some of his constituents are not keen on the precept increasing, because they never see a police car in their villages. However, in the last few years, people in Chesterfield have seen the difference as a result of PCSOs and police, in particular, being back on the beat in areas from which they had disappeared for years. They can see the connection. I have been a Member of Parliament for eight years and I was a councillor before that, and I have heard nothing but good comments from people in Chesterfield about that change. If people were aware that direct elections were held for police authorities and that they set their own precept and could levy more moneyor not, depending on whom we electthey would better understand the link, whereas most people do not really understand how the police are financed at the moment.
The thrust of new clauses 2 and 4new clause 3 is part of the package, but will be debated at a different timeis to give much more power, independence and accountability through the ballot box to local police authorities and to the chief constables that they would appoint to run their local police force. That means considerable changes in financing and in the amount of micro-management that we receive from the centre.
As for the councillor call for action under clause 1, which has been discussed already, I do not see how it will make much difference. Let us suppose that the local borough, district, county or city councillor gets the call from people in their ward that they want more police to deal with vandalism, shoplifting, groups of kids drinking in the park, businesses that are being robbed and speeding trafficall the usual stuff. The councillor would then go to his committee and explain the issues, as would all the other councillors in the area, and the committee might say that it will have to pass them on to the police authority. The police authority might say that the Government will not let it have enough money to employ more police to do anything about such matters. The danger is that things will then go round in a big circle. The people who said at the start that they were using the wonderful new power under the Police and Justice Act 2006 to get action would have to say a year later that absolutely nothing had happened. A directly elected policy authority, with its own precept-setting power, would mean accountability with power, whereas the Bill will provide accountability without the power to do anything about it.
The hon. Gentleman made an unusually cynical point for him. Clause 1 deals with police authorities in a broad sense. The councillor-call-for-action process is trying to respond to local authorities, local councillors and local CDRPs, by saying that the councillor should have a role in bringing to the attention of local authorities things such as graffiti, damaged fencing, street lighting and so on. I should have thought that a councillor would be able to do that, and whether they respond well when a member of the public raised such matters would be up to them. To use the logic used by the hon. Gentleman in the rest of his arguments, how well the councillor deals with such matters would be one of the things that people would use to judge whether they should re-elect him or her.
I agree with the Minister to a point. But, again, I cannot see how any decent councillor does not do that now. I certainly would not expect any of my councillors in my town not to do that when their constituents and ward voters brought them such an issue. The obstacle is that, having run around and brought it to the attention of this or that committee, the answer that comes out is that there is not enough money or police to do anything about it. We want to give police authorities some real accountability: they should be directly elected, respond to the community, raise the funds and put on extra policing if that is what the community wants, but the community must also realise that it has to pay for it. It is not something that just appears, like manna from heaven.
The final issue that I want to tackle is politicisation. The problem with one alternativethe directly elected single figure, the commissioner, the sheriff, the Robocop, however we wish to term itis partly that I have never quite understood the desire for the single heroic figure who is right at the centre of everything. As we have seen with mayors in some parts of the countryI am thinking about the north rather than London at the momentthey can just ride roughshod over what the majority of the councillors in their area want and go off on their own personal tack. There is a big danger in that, and we have seen part of it here in London.
The Mayor of London played a very active public role in getting the police commissioner to resign and to be replaced by another. Is that quite the role that we want an elected politician to play individually? We see the Mayor of London going to the press after an MP is arrested and their office is searchedwhatever the rights and wrongs of thatand almost immediately saying, Well, Ive looked into this and I dont think that anything will come of it. Is that what we want elected police commissioners of some kind to be doing all over the country?
If we look at the example in the US that that would be modelled on, we see that the average commissioner lasts about two years in the job before they are pushed out of office either as result of electoral fortune or political circumstance. In this country, chief constables sign a five-year contract and quite often serve at least two terms. Certainly, the previous chief constable of Derbyshire, who retired last year, did. Do we want commissioners who are politicised on the American modeldirectly elected individuals, subject to all sorts of highly political pressures, who demand action because they are up for re-election and get shoved in and out of office very quickly?
The lobbies that I got from the west midlands were about the single personthe commissioner and that focus. I do not know sufficient about Chesterfield or Bury St. Edmonds to know about the local political set-up there; but in the west midlands, we have a significant problem with the British National party. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds was talking about democracy, but I feel that the BNP is an affront to it. BNP candidates have been elected as local councillors on low turnouts. It is quite possible that, on a similarly low turnout, that could happen in this case. That would be horrific for any part of the west midlandsStoke, Dudley, Sandwellwhere we have significant problems. That is what really got to the police authority, as I understood from lobbying by councillors. To have the BNP in charge of policing across the west midlands would be absolutely horrific.
I agree with those comments, and I will return to the question of the BNP in a couple of minutes, as I finish this last section.
I want to consider new clause 2 with regard to how one would directly elect a police authority and why that would be better than direct election under first past the postwhich is what the Government initially proposed but have now withdrawn, perhaps temporarilyor directly electing a single person as a commissioner. We propose the direct election of the police authority by single transferable vote.
If we were to start from scratch, we would not start with the local government system that we have in this country, which has developed over 200, 300 or 400 years and is a bit of a mish-mash. Problems arise whenever people try to reform it. If we could simply say, Were going to give all these powers to the police authority and give it independence from London. Well let the local councils do it, because they exist and are elected already, that would be fine. Eight police authoritiesonly eight out of 43are coterminous with elected councils. What do we do about the other 35, when we cannot just say, Well let the locally elected council also be the elected police authority.?
The fudge that we have at the moment, with far less powerful police authorities, is that people are co-opted: they get elected to the county or city council, or unitary authority, and then indirectly to the police authority. They are still elected politicians, but there are lots of barriers and buffers between them and the people who voted for them. If we went to Chesterfield, for instance, and asked people who their representative is on the police authority, many would not have the slightest clue, and they would not really know the difference between the police authority and the council.
For the 35 police authorities and councils that are not coterminous, we would elect two thirds directly by single transferable vote. The other third would still be appointed from the councils that make up the composite area that the authority covers. In that way, the councils would get some input, and two thirds would be directly elected.
We would provide that independent people such as magistrates could still be appointed. That is a great strength of the current system. Why not make that a third of the authority, as it is now? Simply put, under the single transferable vote, there would not be much need for it. Most people to whom I have spoken, or who gave evidence, said that one virtue of the one-third appointed system is that that third can represent all the under-represented groups in society, meaning women, ethnic minorities and so forthpeople who are not white, middle-aged councillors or MPs, if we were talking about this place. They are the ones who tend to get picked for co-option to redress the elected imbalance.
One great virtue of the single transferable votethey found this in New Zealand almost immediately after its introduction, and in Scotlandis that it creates a much better balance of elected candidates. Under the first-past-the-post run-off, when the winner takes all, people tend to go for the safe figureit might be someone who has always been a politician, meaning, by and large, a white, middle-aged male. Under the single transferable vote, panels of people are elected, so a greater mixture of people tends to get elected.
In New Zealand, not long after the system was introduced, more women and ethnic minoritiesMaoris and South Pacific islanders, for examplewere elected. That did not happen because of all-women or black and minority ethnic shortlists, or any of the mechanisms that we consider using in this country, but because the electorate said, Im electing four people for this council area. I can spread the way I vote and pick different people. The proof is how such systems operate in the real world. As I said, this is not a wild, mad idea that we want to introduce in England even though it has never been tried anywhere: it has been tried and tested all over the democratic world, and it works. It produces better democracy and accountability, and a more mixed slate of councillors, as it would of MPs, if it were used in our election process.
As we heard, there is a danger that members of the BNP could be elected, but they could be elected under whatever systemsome 50 or 60 BNP councillors out of about 12,000 in the country were elected under first past the post. Under STV, people have to get a quota to be elected. It is not like the Israeli system, by which if a party gets 1 per cent. of the vote, it gets 1 per cent. of the representatives. Only a serious, organised group has a chance of getting people elected under STV. As the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds pointed out, we should not say that we cannot have democracy because people whom we do not like might be elected. They could get elected in any democratic system. The STV tends to work against that and produce much broader slates.
One of the things about having an elected police authority with, say, 17 councillors, rather than one police commissioner, is that there is a broad and balanced group, and eight or nine of the group have to be convinced to vote a certain way. A single police commissioner has much more dictatorial power, certainly with the press, whatever constitutional restraints are placed on him or her. If that person, who might cover an area such as Stoke, which I know reasonably well because I have friends there, happened to be BNP, he or she would have a lot of power, but that could happen under any electoral system.
From police authorities, ACPO, Liberty or the LGA, no, but neither have I found anyone supportive of what the Government or the Conservative party propose. We are generally agreed there should be directly elected and accountable police authorities, but we differ on the mechanism and the process. They want the status quo, but for different reasons. Some want it because it works well, as a very close friend of mine in Chesterfield who is on the police authority says. Liberty and the police, seeing it from opposite directions, fear directly elected authorities with more power because it might make authorities politicised. I have not found the police or the LGA to agree with my view, but then they do not agree with the view of either of the other two party spokesmen. Sometimes one has to lead from the front.
My final point about what the Government proposed but have now withdrawnperhaps only temporarily, from what the Secretary of State saidis that if an authority was directly elected under first past the post, as opposed to STV, which we now use in Scotland for example, it would lead to those huge electoral distortions that we always see. University research found that if we applied the 2007 local election results to the directly elected police authorities proposed by the Government, there would be massive electoral distortions. For example, outside London, the Conservatives, with 38 per cent. of the vote in 2007, would get 66 per cent. of the seats on those authorities. The Lib Dems, with 26 per cent. of the vote, would get 14 per cent. It does not take a great genius at electoral arithmetic to work out that that leaves 20 per cent. for the Labour party, the Greens and others to share between them. That would not be a very good democratic electoral outcome, in terms of the votes cast for people. That, again, is why we should go back to PRpreferably STV, but there are other varietiesfor this system.
I am under no illusions that the Government will accept the two new clauses, but I hope that the debate helps the Secretary of State and the Minister in their pursuit of a suitable method of directly electing an accountable and independent police authority, which on 19 January the Secretary of State said she was going to consider.
From the Chair, I perhaps interpret democracy slightly differently. My interpretation of it is that the whole of the Bill should be scrutinised by this Public Bill Committee. We are making slightly slow progress today. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee will take account of that, so that slightly faster progress can be made and the whole Bill, all of which is important, can be debated.
I want to begin, as others have, by commending my own police force, West Merciaan excellent force that delivers a first-class service, while receiving among the least amount of money. The force does an excellent job, is ably led by Paul West and, I might add, has a good relationship with its police authority, especially when it came to opposing Government plans for merging police authorities, which would not have been satisfactory in my area.
I was interested in the exchange of views that took place. I start by accepting the premise that there is a democratic deficit in how police forces are accountable. I see it from my own experience as a constituency MP, very much recognising the figures mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds on how many people know how to complain about the police service, when that is necessary. People come to me because it seems an obvious port of call, but they are not aware of the structure. I was not at all surprised to hear those figures on how many people understand how the system works. Very often, especially when it is aggravating behaviour, the public feel genuinely aggrieved that they have no real mechanism of forcing people to take action to address their concerns. I fully accept that that is a serious problem.
It goes wider than the publics experience, however. In our household, we have a particular view of one of the chief constables in Wales, who seems to have an obsession with speeding rather than anything else that the public might get aggrieved about. While I am sure that that is extremely important, it would not be my priority when it came to police resources. How does one curtail and contain a chief constables obsession and look at the publics wider concerns?
I have sympathy with the argument that we have not got it quite right, but at the risk of upsetting my hon. Friends, I also have sympathy with the Governments desire to proceed with caution. The important thing is to make the system better, and not just to reform it for the sake of reforming it because it is not as good as it could be at the moment. We have to consider how we proceed on that basis.
Elections are clearly the most tempting way forward. All parties represented in the room today are not just flirting with the idea, but looking at it with great seriousness. One of the things that has been teased out by the debate is just how many forms of democracy there are, and therefore which, if any, it would be preferable to take forward. I shall look with interest at my partys and the Governments conclusions on how we should proceed. Compared with how we have operated our police service over time, this will be a new way of going about things.
We are not America. I applaud the way that America is very democratic and requires a democratic input to its public services, but it is an alien structure to us. Americans are used to knowing that it is a police commissioner who is responsible for the kids at the end of their road and what the responsibilities are of the attorneys and everyone else they elect. They are completely signed up to that system. It is how they operate their democracy, and I believe it works. I was interested to hear that the commissioner gets changed every two years if he or she has not done the job properly or to the satisfaction of the voting public. It is, nevertheless, part of the way they operate. It has not been part of the way that we have operated, up until now. Therefore, while I do not wish to get into bed, so to speak, with Liberty or police constables, I understand where they are coming from.
I sympathise with the view of my constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for Stourbridge, that there would be a terrible risk of the BNP being elected for the West Midlands force. That cannot be a good thing. Quite a few hon. Members have said that we must not be afraid of democracy, that it is great and that whatever the outcome, it is acceptable, but, at the risk of upsetting you, Sir Nicholas, some countries around the worldIsrael, perhapsmight want to change their form of democracy. If Israel did things slightly differently, it might be better off in relation to the answers that it seeks in the middle east peace process.
Democracy has a variety of forms. The way in which a democracy is organised has a big impact on the outcome of an election. We should not proceed merely on the basis of the mantra of democracy, as if that were the only way forward, which cannot be gainsaid because it has to be a wholly good idea.
We have to think carefully about how we make the police responsible to an elected representative. Todays ideas on how we could do that, and whether it should be one person, were interesting. Although the idea of having one person is attractive, the problem in my police area is that there is not a complete community of interest. It is a collection of counties. Bromsgrove is a very long way from most parts of Shropshire. How does that one person become relevant to all the people whom he is supposed to represent? Will people feel comfortable with that person representing them? How tempting would it be for someone to seize on a dreadful murder, such as the one that happened in my patch, and exaggerate its impact to acquire the votes that he needs to be re-elected? That is a huge risk.