Skip to main content

Police Accountability

Volume 515: debated on Monday 6 September 2010

The introduction of elected police and crime commissioners to hold their chief constable and force to account through a strong public mandate will restore the connection between the police and the people, ensuring that the police are held to account democratically, not bureaucratically by Whitehall.

Government attempts to make police forces more accountable to local people are welcome. Thames Valley police has decided to scrap the basic command unit. In the light of that, how does the Minister intend to ensure that central resources previously held by the basic command unit will still be allocated fairly across Thames Valley police?

Decisions on whether to continue with the basic command unit structure within forces are a matter for chief constables to decide, and not one on which the Government have taken a view. I appreciate my hon. Friend’s concerns about resources and am happy to discuss them with him and to find out from the chief constable when I next see her, which will be this week, what she plans to do to allay them.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that a partnership between the police force and the local community is the best way to tackle crime?

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend, and I know that Opposition Members will also strongly agree. The police, important though they are, cannot fight alone. It is essential that they work in partnership with the public and local authorities to prevent and drive down crime.

I thank the Home Secretary for banning the English Defence League march in Bradford. She listened to the calls of local residents and the police and was right to support the banning order. However, that was for a march, and a static demonstration happened. Can we look at the legislation again to see whether we can stop even the static demonstrations, which cost taxpayers a huge amount of money?

As the hon. Gentleman may know, we are considering peaceful protest and ensuring that rights of peaceful protest in this country are protected. However, extremist activity, or activity that can inflame and damage communities, is not acceptable. We will ensure that we achieve the right balance in relation to peaceful protest.

If the Conservative party believes so fervently in direct accountability, why is the unelected deputy Mayor chairing the London Metropolitan Police Authority?

It is entirely a matter for the Mayor whether he wishes to delegate those functions. That is permissible in London, but ultimately the buck stops with the Mayor and Londoners know that.

Yes, well, it is not very reassuring that the most prominent, high-profile Conservative Mayor—the Minister and I agree that the Mayor should take responsibility for the police—steps down and allows his unelected deputy to chair the Metropolitan Police Authority. That person, Kit Malthouse, says that chief constables are “mini-governors” who “control a standing army”. Does the Minister agree with that? Does he think it right that the deputy Mayor of London should chair the Metropolitan Police Authority when he says that elected commissioners would be able to “wield the rod” over chief constables? Is that the purpose of the reforms?

First, I should say that the Labour Government’s legislation introduced the arrangements that allow for the transfer of functions to the deputy Mayor. The right hon. Gentleman seems to have changed his mind about that. On our proposals, he knows that we want to enhance the accountability of local policing. Police will remain operationally independent.

“Strong, transparent accountability is vital for community confidence”—

they are not my words but those of the previous Government’s Green Paper when they proposed direct accountability and then reneged on that pledge.